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, displaying the mean streak he had been missing in his career. Kouandjio’s ability to play left tackle makes him an attractive possibility, but he can continue to improve his feet and balance in pass protection and get better blocking on the move. If he can address those issues and his knee is right, the sky is the limit for Kouandjio. On tape, he looks like a top 75 pick, but questions around his health could dramatically alter that projection in either direction.
Vitals & Build
Kouandjio measured 6’7” 322lbs at the scouting combine with 35 5/8” arms. He has prototypical size, arm length, and build for the left tackle position. Kouandjio has good strength and makes effective use of his hips to maximize his functional strength.
The overarching question with Kouandjio comes down to the medical. Reports coming out of the combine have suggested that Kouandjio’s knee will be an ongoing problem, has arthritis and will ultimately prevent him from being the player he should be. However, as with anything, there is a healthy amount of cynicism to have with these reports and who could potentially benefit from that type of information being out there. That does not change the fact that Kouandjio has shown issues with his knee, his legs and it could ultimately change his NFL outlook, perhaps altering what position he could play or if he can play at all. If Kouandjio’s knee can get back to full strength and improve, there is a good amount of potential mobility that can be gained or regained, allowing Kouandjio to be one of the best tackle prospects in the draft. The difference, which could vary by the team, could mean the difference between a first round pick on some boards and undraftable on others.
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.
Kouandjio was primarily a position blocker coming into the season, getting in the right spot to shield opponents from the play, but did more to impose his will this season and be more powerful. He would get off the ball quickly, but would be satisfied to simply be in the way. That has been a pleasant change this year, looking to dominate opponents and wear them down mentally as well as physically.
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.
A meaner streak and issues with his leg made it so Kouandjio’s run blocking surpassed his pass blocking. 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 in the process. He had more issues getting out and stopping opponents from attacking the edge with his feet, but his length and ability to recover allowed him to correct and erase some mistakes.
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. His knee clearly presented problems for him and he was not playing as well as he could be, were he fully healthy, making him look far more vulnerable than he otherwise might be.
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.
His punch has gotten better and his hand placement has gotten more effective. He plays meaner, is able to jolt and control opponents more effectively. Kouandjio will occasionally catch too much and be too passive in pass protection, but it has improved.
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.
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.
Kouandjio is the prototypical gap scheme tackle. He is at his best when he is part of a group that pounds the ball downhill and uses that to set up the pass and play action, making it easier to operate in pass protection. He has the ability to play left tackle provided his knee is sound. He could also play right tackle and might end up kicking inside to guard if his range is compromised for any substantial length of time.
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.
The other issue that these two have in common is a big injury question hanging over them coming out of college. With Kouandjio, it is his knee, but for McNeil, it was his back. Many teams took McNeil off of their board because of his back and concerns that he would not be able to survive long in the league. He outlasted almost any expectation anyone had for him, playing at a high level before his back issues did ultimately catch up with him in the end.
Cyrus Kouandjio absolutely looks the part of a franchise tackle. He is the prototype in terms of how a team would draw a tackle up from scratch. His feet have never been ideal but his length and ballast made up for a great deal of it. With the knee questions now, that could have a dramatic impact on his stock. If his knee can recover and he can get back to being fully healthy, he has the ability to be one of the best tackles in this class. Failing that, he could be a shell of himself and may have to slide inside to be a guard. On tape, Kouandjio is a top 75 pick, but teams could rank him in the first round or take him off their board completely depending on how they evaluate his knee.