Sep 1, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio (71) on the line of scrimmage during the second quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Cowboys Stadium. Alabama beat Michigan 41-14. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NFL Draft: Pre-Season Breakdown - Cyrus Kouandjio, OT Alabama

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The engine behind the Alabama offense that has been able to power them to three national titles has been their offensive line.  The Crimson Tide line has become an extremely proud tradition since the arrival of Nick Saban had they had three offensive linemen drafted this past year (two in the first 12 picks) and the two remaining starters up front will eventually be drafted.  There are some who believe their left tackle, Cyrus Kouandjio, could not only be another first round pick, but has the potential to end up the best of the bunch.

Kouandjio was tasked with protecting A.J. McCarron’s blind side in addition to helping to help power the Tide running game.  As impressive as Kouandjio was, he has the potential to continue improving and really iron out some of the issues in his game and expand what he already does well.  Kouandjio’s ability to protect the left side has him as a late first round pick at this point, but he can continue to improve his feet and balance in pass protection and get better blocking on the move and just playing with more of a mean streak in the running game.  If he can address those issues, the sky is the limit for Kouandjio when he decides to enter the NFL Draft, either after this season or next.

Vitals & Build

Kouandjio is listed at 6’6” 310lbs with prototypical size, arm length, and build for the left tackle position.  He still possesses the frame to continue adding strength but he is going to want to be careful with getting too big as it could hamper his quickness and impact his ability to play left tackle at the next level.

Athleticism

Kouandjio is more athletic than he plays, but his balance gets him in trouble and makes him look clumsy at times.  He can get off balance and taken off his feet or basically trip when he tries to pull or getting to the second level.  Kouandjio possesses the athletic ability to get out and block in space, albeit not with ease, but he is explosive off the snap and able to get in position or get to the spot where he needs to pull; he just needs to maintain his balance to make the blocks.

Run Blocking

Kouandjio is primarily a position blocker at this point that does a good job of getting in the right spot to seal off defenders and protect the lanes in the running game.  He gets off the ball quickly and is able to get in position quickly, but is too satisfied with just getting in the way.

If he wants to take the next step, he needs to start working to dominate and start being more of an earth moving type of linemen that can take the will out of his opponent.  He has the ability to do so and he can create movement when needed but increased functional strength will help, but he has shown the necessary power to dig opponents out of the hole.  Ultimately, it comes down to the will to want to do it and just deciding that making the block is not enough but driving his opponent into the ground or putting him into the opponent’s bench to break their will is up to him coming into this year.

Kouandjio does a great job with his hands and is always working to take away angles and keeps going to work opponents and take away their inside shoulder.  He also does a good job of maneuvering his feet to keep his body moving so he stays in between the ball carrier and the opponent.  Occasionally, he will overextend and end up off balance which can get him in trouble but his sheer girth and ballast makes it difficult for opponents to get around him.

Kouandjio has the athletic ability to pull but often does a poor job on the move, often falling down early or lunging at the opponent that will have less than stellar results.  He also has not been real good at hitting a moving target and needs to be more patient and get on top of them before firing at the opponent.  This is also a rather large issue when it comes to him getting to the second level and he ends up lunging and missing his opponents and being unable to land the block.

Pass Protection

Kouandjio is at his best in pass protection between his length and smart use of his feet.  He is able to slide into position to protect and keep opponents in front of him with good angles, but his feet are not great and he can get overextended and be off balance, which opens him up to be beaten with speed or a counter move.  For the most part, Kouandjio is just so wide and possesses such long arms that he is able to control and shield off opponents with few pressures given up throughout his sophomore year.

Kouandjio is more comfortable dealing with and fighting against power as he is able to sit down, absorb it and re-anchor to protect the quarterback, giving up little ground in the process.  He does his job of consistently working from the inside out and is able to adjust to stunts and blitzes and be in position to land blocks.

His length and technique make it so speed rushers have to take a wide angle and his feet are quick enough and he takes the angles enough to catch up and seal them off from getting to the quarterback.  Kouandjio seems to be at his most vulnerable with speed to the outside that gets him off balance enough to counter back inside and get the pressure or sack.

Technique

Kouandjio’s hand use is the best part of his game at this point as he is able to control opponents and get into their body and keep them out of his rather easily.  He keeps working, always trying to get the best area of control and take away what they want to do.

Having said that, Kouandjio’s punch could use work and he is content to catch opponents in the passing game too often, which can enable them an opening to beat him.  In both the running game and the passing game, Kouandjio could use his arm strength better to stun opponents and get them off balance and out of rhythm rather than simply being a post they can more or less lean against and get accustomed to over the course of the game.

As long as he is balanced, he stays upright in good position as a knee bender and maintains position, so he is able to absorb power without giving up much of any ground, even to the most powerful opponents.

Footwork

Kouandjio does not have the lightest feet in the world but he is judicious with his steps, which makes it so he can maintain his balance for the most part.  He is patient and does not overstep to get outside to catch the outside rush, but trusts that he has the reach to do it and makes sure they are going out there as to make sure he is not being set up and giving away an inside lane.  Being able to move and slide more quickly would certainly help him as when he does get stressed, he can find himself overextended and off balance giving opponents an opening to get around him or use a counter move and come back inside against him.

He needs to do a better job of maintaining his balance when he is on the move, especially when he is asked to pull as he has struggled to this point in just getting to his block, let alone making contact and actually blocking the opponent.  Kouandjio shows he can be explosive out of his stance and has the ability to do the job; he just needs to do it.  It is largely the same problem when it comes to blocking at the second level as he will lose his balance and get overextended when he lunges to make the block rather than just trusting that if he runs into a linebacker, even a huge linebacker at 250lbs, if he just runs into them, he will make an impact and land the block.

System Fit

The best fit for Koudandjio is on a team that wants to run the ball to set up the pass, but he can play in just about any scheme.  He might not have the ideal feet for everyone but he has shown enough to do the job and it should be an area he can improve by the time he gets to the NFL Draft.  Kouandjio is likely to end up as a left tackle, but it is possible that someone could take him and put him at right tackle.

Schedule

Sat, Aug. 31 vs. Virginia Tech
Sat, Sept. 14 at Texas A&M
Sat, Sept. 21 vs. Colorado State
Sat, Sept. 28 vs. Ole Miss
Sat, Oct. 5 vs. Georgia State
Sat, Oct. 12 at Kentucky
Sat, Oct. 19 vs. Arkansas
Sat, Oct. 26 vs. Tennessee
Sat, Nov. 9 vs. LSU
Sat, Nov. 16 at Mississippi State
Sat, Nov. 23 vs. Chattanooga
Sat, Nov. 30 at Auburn

Notable Games

It always depends on the how opponent wants to line up, but the first game of the season against Virginia Tech could have Kouandjio with some snaps against James Gayle, the Hokies hybrid pass rusher with athleticism and length.  The Crimson Tide also play Ole Miss and their defensive end prospect C.J. Johnson.  It remains to be seen who will step up to take him on, but LSU at home, Mississippi State in Starkville, and the Iron Bowl in Auburn could be a tricky stretch at the end of the season with a scrimmage against Chattanooga mixed in between the Bulldogs and Tigers.

NFL Comparison

At this point in his development, Kouandjio resembles Marcus McNeil, formerly of the San Diego Chargers.  McNeil was a huge, powerful blocker out of Auburn who came into the league with a questionable back and managed to play about seven years as a high quality tackle protecting both Drew Brees and Philip Rivers before injuries wore him down into a shell of his former self.  Coming into the season, there will be some questions about Kouandjio’s feet as there always were with McNeil, but their length and smart footwork enable them both to do the job.  Koudnajio can continue to work and refine his game, but that is the player he resembles after his sophomore year.

Draft Projection

Kouandjio has shown enough as a pass protector on the blind side to warrant a late first round grand or at worse a top 50 player, but if he can continue improving as a player, he could really move up boards.  Nothing would help him more than improving his feet and balance to make himself play quicker on the edge, but if he can play with more of a mean streak and get better at making blocks in space, he could ultimately end up battling for the top tackle spot in the entire draft.  It will not be easy with the competition at that position in this draft, but Kouandjio has the talent to do it should he declare.

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Tags: 2014 Mock Draft 2014 NFL Draft Alabama Crimson Tide Football Cyrus Kouandjio Offensive Tackles

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