Greg Robinson has what the Falcons need
February, 21, 2014
By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com
INDIANAPOLIS -- Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff made it clear Friday that he wants to add more rugged players -- but not, in his words, a "thug."
Well, meet Greg Robinson.
The Auburn offensive tackle has the type of qualities the Falcons sorely need up front. He’s a big, intimidating presence at 6-foot-5, 332 pounds. He put up 32 reps in the bench press at the combine, which would be welcomed strength for a Falcons team that has been pushed around as of late. And Robinson accounted for 130 pancake blocks this past season, which would make any running back trailing behind him get wide eyed.
You just get the feeling that Robinson could be so nasty on the field. But not thuggish, of course.
"I’m far from a thug," Robinson said Friday at the NFL scouting combine. "I’ve never been in any trouble besides growing up; I was kind of bad, but that’s because I had older brothers. But if [the Falcons] aren’t looking for a thug, they can invest in me."
Robinson, 21, continues to make a steady rise up the draft board and might not be there if the Falcons stand pat with the sixth overall pick. Maybe he’s one of those guys worth trading up for, such as South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesSophomore left tackle Greg Robinson was the foundation of an Auburn rushing attack that was the most prolific in the nation.
The Falcons should prioritize drafting an offensive tackle such as Robinson if Clowney isn’t a legitimate option. Robinson’s makeup reminds me of D.J. Fluker, who looked like a man among boys during his combine appearance last year before being drafted by the San Diego Chargers. Fluker made an immediate impact as the Chargers' starting right tackle.
Robinson and Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews have been the offensive tackles most linked to the Falcons this draft season. Michigan’s Taylor Lewan wants to be considered among the elite group as well. Notre Dame’s Zack Martin and Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio are right behind.
"Honestly, there’s probably four or five offensive tackles that can come in and start," Dimitroff said. "There will be challenges like any new player has, but these guys can come in and be starters in this league."
Dimitroff is fully confident in both his and his staff’s ability to evaluate offensive linemen, so as Dimitroff prepares to evaluate this year’s draft prospects at the combine, he won’t go into it overly concerned about the outside perception of Atlanta drafting busts along the offensive line in recent years.
But Dimitroff needs to be conscious about constructing a group of five offensive linemen capable of working in unison. Such was far from the case for the Falcons during a pathetic 2013 showing.
The Falcons sorely need to improve up front. Matt Ryan was the most pressured quarterback in the league last season, in large part due to offensive line woes. Steven Jackson and crew couldn't prevent Atlanta from having the league’s worst rushing offense, because the Falcons couldn’t get it done in the trenches.
So what’s the quick fix? The process started with the firing of offensive line coaches Pat Hill and Paul Dunn and the hiring of former head coach and long-time NFL tough guy Mike Tice. The next step was adding Scott Pioli -- a guy who drafted Pro Bowl offensive linemen Logan Mankins and Matt Light to the New England Patriots -- as assistant general manager to bring more expertise to the scouting process. Then, the Falcons added former NFL offensive lineman Russ Bolinger as a scout and extra pair of eyes. You just have to wonder if all those minds will think alike.
While free agency is the next phase in the retooling process, the Falcons won’t target a veteran offensive tackle -- not when the draft is so deep at that position. Signing an offensive guard, however, has to be the priority.
So then comes the draft, with the Falcons having to weigh which side of the ball needs to be addressed first as they strive to get tougher up front. Robinson seems to have that mean streak in him.
Robinson was asked Friday if he plays angry.
"I wouldn’t say angry," he said. "But I’m not trying to be nice."
The Falcons could trade up to land Clowney or even stand pat at No. 6 and draft a pass-rusher such as Buffalo’s Khalil Mack or UCLA’s Anthony Barr. Such a move would mean digging deeper into the draft pool of offensive tackles with a player such as Virginia’s Morgan Moses or Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson.
Whatever the case, both Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith agree the draft is full of talented offensive tackles. If the Falcons find a starting tackle later in the draft, it could be just a matter of whether that player would come in to play on the left or right side.
"I think it’s going to be much more of a mental thing for those guys," Dimitroff said. "Some people are more comfortable being off of one side or the other. It’s going to be a transition for them to ever do that.
"But, again, if they’re athletic, I think the transition can be fairly sound as long as you have a good coach, and we believe we do in Mike Tice."
Dimitroff believes Tice is capable of making the current group of offensive linemen into better players. That’s why Dimitroff still has faith in players such as Peter Konz, Lamar Holmes and newly signed Gabe Carimi -- even if most people outside the organization don’t. That’s why Dimitroff believes Sam Baker will be the same player he was back in 2012 as he returns from a serious knee injury.
Tice will be in charge of instilling the toughness that the Falcons sorely need.
"A team will be much more apt to give up a little bit in athleticism if the trade-off is getting more toughness, ruggedness, passion and strength," Dimitroff said.
If the Falcons decide to go with Robinson, they might find someone with all those characteristics -- plus the athleticism to go with it.