BBD Staff Writer: Joe Marino
Until Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson declared for the 2014 NFL draft as a redshirt sophomore, Texas A&M senior offensive tackle Jake Matthews was the consensus top offensive tackle in the class. Now there is an apparent split among scouts and draftniks as to who should be the first tackle off the board.
Jake Matthews enters the draft as one of its most decorated players at any position. A starter since halfway through his freshman year, Matthews was a two-time all-SEC first-team selection, a FWAA All-American as a junior and a consensus All-American as a senior. Additionally, Matthews earned the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ Bobby Bowden Award, which annually honors a player who conducts themselves as a faith model in the community, classroom and on the football field.
Robinson’s résumé only includes two years of starting experience, but he joined Matthews as a first-team All-SEC selection in 2013.
Protecting for a quarterback like Johnny Manziel, who plays with very little timing, holds onto the ball for long periods of time, and scrambles around the backfield on a high percentage of his pass attempts, is no small task.
Matthews made it look easy. His pass-blocking excellence gave Manziel the opportunity to make the many plays he did during his career.
Matthews may have the most pass-blocking upside of any NFL draft prospect since Joe Thomas in 2007. With quick footwork and a natural ability to mirror his opponent, his quarterback can be confident in Matthews protecting his blindside.
From his flawless and fluid kick step to his superb hand placement and his ability to bend at the knee, Matthews is consistent with his technique. Matthews has a powerful anchor to hold his positioning and can recover when he gets off-balance. He plays with perfect foot width and is patient when dealing with speed rushers. His pass protection seems effortless.
Robinson is not nearly as polished as a pass blocker, which can be partially blamed on the system Auburn runs. Robinson was not asked to pass protect frequently in college, leaving that area in his game less developed. When he has pass blocked, his protection schemes have usually involved a moving pocket.
A wide base lack of depth on his initial kick-step create balance issues and problems redirecting for Robinson. Though he has great length, He doesn’t use it to his advantage in riding rushers past the quarterback. His foot speed and change-of-direction skills, however, are solid. All of his flaws are correctable, and his skill set suggests he can become a more than adequate pass protector.
Though Robinson does not touch the ball, one could say the Auburn offense ran through him because of his ability to create significant movement in the run game. For an Auburn offense that ran the ball 729 times this season and passed only 285 times, Robinson played a huge part in the Tigers making it to the BCS National Championship Game.
Robinson is an elite run blocker. His technique, hand placement and leg drive are flawless. He generates incredible power from his legs that shifts through his hips and to his arms. He has a strong initial punch and creates huge running lanes off the line of scrimmage. He can sustain and finish blocks at an extremely high level.
Jake Matthews isn’t on Robinson’s level as a run blocker but quite honestly, few are. Matthews is more of a technician in the run game, but he can effectively seal off his opponents. He adequately sustains his blocks and generates movement while opening lanes for runners.. He plays with good pad level, arm extension and leg drive.
Blocking in Space
Robinson is an excellent second-level blocker. He anticipates where linebackers will be and seals them off with authority. He can also breakdown in space against secondary players to block them downfield.
Matthews can do the same things, but not at the same level of dominance. That said, an argument can be made that Robinson’s aggressive nature will work against him in the NFL against better athletes, while Matthews’ more controlled approach will allow him to succeed immediately.
Because of that, there is no decisive advantage between the two when comparing their abilities to block in space.
Both Matthews and Robinson have the athleticism of a starting NFL offensive tackle. Both have quality agility and change-of-direction skills combined with the foot and hand speed to succeed at a high level. Both should test very well at February’s NFL Scouting Combine.
The only athletic trait that either has a decisive advantage in is Robinson’s strength. Robinson overwhelms his opponents with his ability to drive them off the ball and stabilize them as a pass protector. While Matthews doesn’t lack strength, few have the functional strength that Robinson has.
In baseball, if you hit a lot of doubles, you score a lot of runs. If you swing for the fences, sometimes you hit a homerun but many times you strikeout. I take this approach when scouting and developing my views and rankings.
Both of these offensive tackles are top-five overall prospects, but Jake Matthews is the higher ranked player. I envision him as a Day 1 starter who can immediately start at left tackle, perform at a high level and keep a team set at the position for a decade. Considering his father, Bruce Matthews, played 19 NFL seasons while making 14 Pro Bowls, it might be even longer than that.
After playing right tackle for the first three years of his Texas A&M career, Matthews transitioned well and proved to be better and more natural on the left side as a senior, which increases his value.
Robinson has a higher ceiling than Matthews but a much lower floor. His flaws might keep him from being a successful pass blocker early in his NFL career.
With no real weaknesses, Jake Matthews is my choice for the top tackle in the 2014 NFL Draft.