Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of stories previewing the 2014 NFL Draft, which begins on Thursday.
Catching a glimpse of Big Foot or a UFO seems more likely than witnessing a man of Greg Robinson’s size execute gymnastics moves.
But the players and coaches connected to Auburn University’s football program know Robinson’s superhuman athletic ability is not a myth. Robinson, who’s 6-foot-5 and weighed 332 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February, can supposedly do a backflip.
“Yeah, he can,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said in a recent phone interview. “That is true.”
With the power of a sumo wrestler and the agility of a ballerina, Robinson is a coveted offensive tackle widely projected to become a top-five selection Thursday in the NFL Draft. It would be considered a surprise if the Browns picked Robinson or Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews fourth overall, but it can’t be ruled out if General Manager Ray Farmer is hell-bent on taking the highest-rated player available.
Still, many analysts have predicted that the St. Louis Rams will select Robinson No. 2 overall. Last season, Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes said he thought Robinson could’ve been the No. 1 overall pick if he would’ve entered the draft in 2015.
“There’s no doubt,” Malzahn said. “He’s special just because of his athleticism, his competitiveness and his toughness. He’s got all three.
“His best days are ahead of him. He had one redshirt year and then he had two years he started. So he’s still learning the game and has great upside.”
At the combine, Robinson admitted he has yet to reach his potential. The third youngest of Rhonda Robinson’s seven children, he decided to leave Auburn after his redshirt sophomore season so he could support his family.
“It’s basically the financial situation back home,” he said. “I didn’t come from much.”
Robinson didn’t play offensive line until his junior season at Thibodaux High School, which shares the name of his hometown in Louisiana. With Auburn, he started 11 of 12 games at left tackle as a redshirt freshman and all 14 games last season. He was vital to the Tigers advancing to the BCS National Championship Game in which they suffered a 34-31 loss to Florida State.
“We always felt like when we first got here, he had a chance to be a special player,” said Malzahn, who recruited Robinson. “He just improved each game. [Last season] was his second year to start, so that’s the natural progression, and the second half of the season, he was playing as good as anybody or better than anybody in the country.”
Draft gurus praise Robinson’s run blocking but insist his technique in pass protection needs to be polished.
“He’s a very good gap blocker,” Malzahn said. “He’s a very good zone blocker. At the point of attack, that’s his strength. He can provide movement. This past year, he provided movement on everybody we played. We ran behind him specifically in the second half of the year.
“I think he’s got very good skills for pass protection. He’s got a good set. He’s got a strong punch. He got a lot more technically sound this year, and I think he’ll even improve more and more as he goes.”
Part of the reason Robinson is considered raw as a pass blocker is because Auburn’s scheme didn’t require him to do a lot of it one-on-one against edge rushers.
“I understand about the run blocking because I worked on a lot,” Robinson said. “I’ve also worked the pass — it was limited. I feel I’m decent enough, and I will prove myself if there’s anybody doubting that I can’t pass block.”
Robinson’s natural talent certainly gives talent evaluators reason to believe he’ll be able to correct technical flaws as he gains experience. Among the offensive linemen at the combine, he finished second in the 40-yard dash (4.92 seconds), seventh in the bench press (225 pounds, 32 times) and third in the broad jump (9 feet, 5 inches).
“We were sitting in the suite at the combine when Greg Robinson ran, and [owner] Jimmy [Haslam] turned and was like, ‘How big was he?’ ” Browns General Manager Ray Farmer said last week during a pre-draft news conference. “So you go back and you start reviewing the numbers and the size and the movement and then his play, and [he’s a] very, very interesting prospect as to what he can possibly bring to a franchise.”
In late March at the NFL owners meetings, Browns coach Mike Pettine said Robinson takes advantage of his innate abilities on the field.
“Outstanding tackle,” Pettine said. “He’s a player that has all the measurables. The nice thing that you like about him is the toughness. He’s a finisher. He’s going to knock you down, and he’s not going to help you up.”
Pettine also went out of his way to make it known that having seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas on the roster wouldn’t necessarily preclude the Browns from picking Robinson. Pettine pointed out that Robinson played guard in high school, and he mentioned how Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden started at left guard as a rookie with the Baltimore Ravens in 1996 before transitioning to left tackle the following year.
In other words, the Browns could use Robinson as a right tackle or a guard in the early stages of his career if they really want him.
“When you get to the situation where you’re looking for the best player available, that name pops up whether you have that player on your roster or you have Joe Thomas on the roster at left tackle,” Pettine said. “So you don’t want to say, ‘We’re not going to take him because we have one.’ You take a great lineman, especially one that’s played other spots, you can put him on the right, you can put him at guard.”
Malzahn believes Robinson will be best suited as a franchise left tackle but that he could excel in other spots if asked.
“I think he could,” Malzahn said. “I think he’s got a good understanding of the game, but my feeling is he’s a special tackle that you wouldn’t want to move around.”
He also might be the best offensive lineman Malzahn has ever coached.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to coach some really good offensive linemen,” Malzahn said. “But I think strength wise, athleticism, I think he’s probably in a class that very few have been before.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.