With the 2014 NFL draft fast approaching, it’s time for all 32 NFL teams to start getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. And to that end, Doug Farrar and Chris Burke have assembled their own definitive Big Board, consisting of the players they feel deserve to be selected in the first two rounds.
The SI 64 – which can be found in its entirety here – uses tape study to define the best prospects in this class and why they’re slotted as such. As we head into the final three picks, it's time to name the man we think is the best overall offensive lineman in this class -- a player who could be even more special at another position.
No. 3: Auburn OT Greg Robinson
Bio: When it comes to draft prospects, NFL teams often have a choice between two types -- the athletic marvel who needs more functional work, and the more finished product with perhaps a lower ceiling. The two best left tackles in this class, by all accounts, present franchises with just such a conundrum. While Texas A&M's Jake Matthews impresses with his ability to do just about everything required of him, it's Auburn's Greg Robinson whose name has attracted a bigger buzz. That's what happens when you stand 6-foot-5, weigh 332 pounds, and run a 4.92 40-yard dash at the scouting combine. And he's no workout wonder -- just watch the tape and see a player with a rare gift for setting himself apart in a purely physical sense.
On the downside, Robinson still has a bit to learn when it comes to the finer points of his current position. Which is fine -- if Robinson had Matthews' experience and technical ability, he'd be a more appealing possible first-overall pick than Jadeveon Clowney.
The good news? When he was grilled at the combine about certain technical inefficiencies, Robinson was very open about them -- and assured everyone that he's on whatever it takes to improve.
“I talked to a few teams and they told me it’s really just staying consistent with stuff like hand placement," he said. "I look at it as ... run-blocking you can be really as aggressive as you want. As long as you get a good piece of your body on your defender. When I come off a run block my main focus is to just get myself in a position to block and just use my lower strength to make the best out of the block.
“On pass protection, you’re a little more cautious because you don’t want to be too aggressive, because that’s how you get beat. As far as run-blocking, it’s just easier because you can come off the ball how you want to as long as you have yourself in good position to get the block."
Yes, Greg Robinson will take a little time to get the hang of things at the next level. But few developmental prospects in the last decade have been more worthy of that investment.
Strengths: Regardless of position, there is no better run-blocker in this draft class than Robinson -- he uses a devastating combination of size and leverage to maul the defenders he's blocking over and over. When he gets under the pads of the man he's blocking off the line, it's not pretty for that poor opponent, because at his best, Robinson can make those one-on-ones look positively comical. When he pushes defenders back, he keeps his hands inside the pads and blows the opponent off to one side, leaving huge lanes. And even when he doesn't use optimal leverage, he's strong enough to get away with it -- he won't frequently lose traction based on poor technique.
Didn't get a lot of tight end help to his side in Auburn's offense, and he doesn't need it -- especially in the run game. Moves his feet well from gap to gap -- though he's not incredibly fast in a straight line, Robinson is impressively agile in the box. Has the will to assert physical authority over his opponents -- he's not a gentle giant, and any team looking for an ass-kicking offensive lineman should start right here. Will occasionally use a club move as a defensive lineman would to move through lines; Robinson plays very aggressively.
Weaknesses: Where Robinson falls short at this point is in any blocking scheme that requires to do more than fire straight out -- in delayed blocking, he struggles to keep his feet under him and can be beaten by quickness and agility. He will occasionally lunge at ends who are looking to cover or move around him, and his hit percentage in those instances is not exceptional. Has the speed to get to the second level quickly but tends to mince his steps at times, and he takes a while to zero in on his target. Basically, in open-field situations, he's very much a work in progress.
In pass protection, he has a decent straight-back kick step, but he could stand to be quicker with it, and he's not exceptionally quick to adjust from side to side against edge rushers. And he won't be able to get away with as many technique flaws in the NFL -- at the pro level, you can't always just bull your way around mechanical issues. Not especially adept with combo blocks and certain zone principles -- tends to stay in his lane.
Conclusion: Robinson's eventual NFL team will have an interesting problem when it comes to where he fits best. I believe that he could very well be the best guard in the NFL over time - he has the build, the attitude, and the ridiculous functional strength to dominate in short areas. And he could be taught to pull as most guards must -- with his short-area lateral movement skills, he could be truly special. As a pure left tackle ... well, there's work to be done. Robinson has a rare group of athletic talents, but there's more to that when it comes to blind-side pass protection. As a right tackle, taking on bigger ends and personifying a more physical, aggressive approach, he could be equally dominant. The question is: No matter how good he is, would a guard or right tackle be worth a top-five pick? Robinson could run into a situation where positional value trumps raw ability. Or, an NFL team in the top five will view him as high-grade raw clay and set him loose on what will likely be a very grateful coaching staff.
As a tackle, I'd say that Robinson reminds me of San Francisco's Anthony Davis in size and athletic temperament. As a guard ... well, Carl Nicks came out of Nebraska at 6-5, 340, blowing people away with his 5.20 40s. And I think Robinson could mess people up inside as much as Nicks did in his prime.