The case against moving Alabama OT Cam Robinson to guard

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31: Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Cam Robinson (74) waits in his stance during the 2016 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Washington Huskies on December 31, 2016, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Scott Donaldson/Icon Sportswire)
(Scott Donaldson/Icon Sportswire)

Scouting Academy Director Dan Hatman posed a simple question: “What are people’s reasons for saying Cam Robinson cannot play LT?” The question comes in response to a sudden push in the draft community to kick the Alabama LT to guard after three years of starting as a bookend. The catalyst for the idea appears to stem from Mike Mayock, who recently listed Robinson as his No. 1 interior offensive lineman.

That’s all well and good. But Hatman’s question yielded an explosion of different theories and justifications, ranging from heavy feet to slow reaction time and even a mention of Alabama lineage at the position. Make no mistake: Cam Robinson is a left tackle and he’s also the best one you’re going to find in this year’s draft. Many times, players do not fit the “prototype” mold of what one thinks of at a position.

Aaron Donald had detractors for his height. Russell Wilson had his detractors because of his height. This year, people also claimed Obi Melifonwu was slow and stiff because of his frame prior to him posting one of the most impressive athletic performances the Combine has seen this decade.

Cam Robinson fits this mold. He’s big. Much better than what you’re expecting to see for a blindside pass protector. And like Melifonwu, his athletic prowess is deceiving. The issue? Bigger bodies have longer levers. It takes more space and longer time for a 6-foot-5 person to take a step than for a 5-foot-6 person to take a step. This often gives the illusion of heaviness or diminished speed when in fact the same amount of ground is being covered.

Now, this does not excuse Robinson’s lapses in footwork and technique. There are times in which he’s caught flat-footed at the snap. Other times he appears lazy with his drive step out of his stance. And one would be remiss about the 24 penalties he’s been hit with over the course of the past two seasons. The general theme here? Cam Robinson’s issues as a prospect are mental, not physical. And moving Cam Robinson inside to guard is not a magic elixir that masks mental inconsistencies. As a matter of fact, they accentuate them.

The closer one aligns to the football, the faster things happen. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Bears lineman Kyle Long and Browns lineman Joel Bitonio had to say a few years ago on the matter:

So the general thesis for many who have issues with Cam Robinson is to put him inside at guard when that, in fact, is going to further expose his most notable flaw as a prospect? I’ll pass on the idea. Instead, draftniks should be focused on Robinson’s high-end space traits, which will allow him a much greater chance of success at the NFL level. Take this pass set against Tennessee’s Derek Barnett as an example:

Barnett has a favorable angle to flatten out and get into the quarterback thanks to Robinson’s initial drive step out of his stance being a bit too flat. Barnett keys the snap count well and gets a good release, causing Robinson to open earlier than preferred. But there’s recovery length here and functional strength from a less than desirable base and Robinson is able to run Barnett (the Volunteers’ leading sack artist in program history) past the pocket. Another rep from this same contest shows how Robinson’s foot quickness is not the issue it’s frequently made to be:

Again, the initial drive step to get depth out of his stance leaves something to be desired. But the step frequency once into his set is much more in line with what one would expect to see from a left tackle. And then Robinson’s length and strength again overwhelm a defender trying to work back inside and cross his face.

Robinson’s streaky play leaves many fans and analysts wanting more, and rightfully so. But don’t make the comparison to the likes of Ereck Flowers, who lacked requisite mirror ability to protect on the edge to begin with (NDT Scouting had Flowers rated as a mid-second round value in 2015).

He’s also not Greg Robinson, as Cam has been exposed to notably higher frequencies of pass sets and has illustrated in large portions of his body of work to have a grasp on angles in the pocket and drive/catch mechanics in his pass sets. Robinson is a super talented NFL offensive lineman prospect with lapses in the mental side of the game. He may become a bust. I would bet he doesn’t, but the point remains. Players who struggle with consistency are not magically fixed with a move inside.

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