Why Alabama’s Cam Robinson has the potential to be a franchise left tackle

Allow me to sum up the Cam Robinson experience in one GIF:

Obviously, there’s a lot more to Robinson’s Alabama career than can be gleaned in one five-second clip. A few things to notice on this play vs. USC, though, because they help highlight running themes of Robinson’s résumé.

1. That initial punch. When Robinson has these one-on-one run blocking opportunities off the snap, he can stagger defenders. There are balance issues created by how aggressively he fires forward (which we’ll get into shortly), but so long as he makes contact, he often gets his man back on his heels and generates push.

2. The physical edge. Robinson stood 6’6″ and 322 pounds at the Combine. Because of USC’s pre-snap movement, Robinson winds up blocking a 235-pound linebacker here — one who’s late arriving to his spot. An offensive tackle should win that matchup every time, and Robinson does. He has the same advantage against 270-pound edges, though, and he does not let it go to waste. When Robinson gets his hands inside and locks out a defender, it’s exceptionally hard for that defender to push back.

3. The finish … or lack thereof. This play ends with Uchenna Nwosu shedding Robinson’s block. Robinson allows this to happen on a consistent basis, both on passing and running plays. He ends up on the ground quite a bit, too, as his forward drive really requires a defender to lean on.

And so, take all those elements into account and decide where to focus attention on this play. Is it on the uneven balance and failure to bury Nwosu? Or, is it on the fact that Nwosu had no chance at the outset and was a good 5 yards downfield before he freed himself?

The recommendation here is to pay attention to the latter. The negatives stand out with Robinson because the positive plays appear to come so naturally. He is just dominant enough to leave one wanting more.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

Robinson is at left tackle there, as always. The play turned out to be an incompletion — really, a throwaway snap in a 33-14 Alabama win over Texas A&M.

However, the casualness of it all for Robinson is sort of the point. The player he’s blocking? Myles Garrett, almost a lock to be the first player selected in this year’s draft. Granted, this was one of the games in which Garrett was most hindered by an ankle injury, but Robinson toyed with him on that Jalen Hurts attempt.

Robinson was quick in his drop step, covered a ton of ground and flat-out engulfed Garrett. You won’t necessarily see this play on any of Robinson’s draft highlight reels because he didn’t send Garrett flying, but this is what he can do. He is big enough and skilled enough to make very difficult tasks look smooth.

Textbook. He drew an assignment other than Garrett on the above play, but the outcome was the same. Robinson absorbed an initial punch, then walked his man along the exterior of the pocket, allowing his QB to set and throw. (Side note: Alabama’s entire O-line barely budged an inch there, so … yeah, that team is good.)

What’s even more encouraging for any team considering Robinson is that pass protection is arguably the weaker aspect of his game. As a mauler in a ground attack, Robinson should be able to have a significant impact immediately for an NFL team.

Again, Robinson meets Garrett and drives off his mark. Remember what I mentioned before? It’s all evident on this play, up to and including Garrett shaking off Robinson late to pull back into the action.

I’ll ask one more time on that point: So what? It would be great to see Robinson end every snap by driving his opponent into the ground, but if he clears run lanes and holds pass blocks for four or five seconds, isn’t that the important factor?

Robinson is a menace on down blocks, and he has the awareness/athleticism pairing necessary to work the second level with effectiveness.

Throughout his college career, Robinson also tended to raise his game against elite players, like Garrett. While ideally he would keep it full throttle all the time, being able to raise his game to his opponent’s level bodes well given what he’ll face in the NFL.

“It may just be the competition,” Robinson said at the Combine. “If you’re going against a guy you know who’s a great player, as a natural competitor it brings out the best in anybody.”

The task for his NFL team will be improving upon what’s there — fixing the issues from both motor and technique perspectives, so Robinson can max out as an offensive tackle. Because his Alabama performance wasn’t all sunshine and roses.

The edge rusher smoking Robinson there is Derek Barnett, yet another SEC prospect destined for the first round this year. Most times, Robinson is adept reacting to the snap and getting into his set. But there were a handful of times per game where he’d be out of sorts — either a step slow, like on that Barnett sack, or prone to taking pre-snap penalties (false starts or lining up too far into the backfield).

The aforementioned balance problem also falls under the “needs repair” category. Robinson does not have much issue working back in pass protection, but his torso gets way ahead of his feet when he’s run blocking. Hence, those falls to the ground.

Then there’s the footwork. He is excellent on those multi-level blocks, but he doesn’t always have the speed to get out on the edge.

Robinson may never be a blocker on the move like a Ryan Ramcyzk or a Garrett Bolles — his game best translates to a man-blocking system, with an emphasis on the power game. Nothing else in his body of work is beyond repair.

And the starting point is encouraging, if perhaps a bit below the top tackles of past drafts. Robinson has the length to play the blindside in the NFL, as well as the strength to be a plus-run blocker and the footwork to drop and protect his QB.

He has flaws, like all the other offensive tackles in this class. He also has the potential to be a franchise left tackle.

(All gifs via GIPHY)

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