Cyrus Kouandjio: Hype or Substance?
The above tweets show that Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio is obviously held in extremely high regard at this point in the process. I noticed that after these tweets (and others), came out in favor of Kouandjio, there was a good deal of hesitation on the part of the draft community. Most people seemed to think it was merely a product of the SEC love fest, or the Alabama hype train. While these are likely factors in analysts getting projection happy at times, I think the disconnect in this situation comes more from a the fact that at times the "ugly" of Kouandjio's game can look really poor. While Kouandjio got beat on more than a few occasions last year, he's still an upper echelon talent, who's likely to become even better in the following season. Kouandjio shows an extremely strong conceptual understanding of his position, a plus physical skillset, and on top of this, Kouandjio played his entire Sophomore year at the age of 19. The consistency and totality of his play should not have him as the top rated OT yet, in my mind (due to the presence of a prospect as proficient and refined as Jake Matthews), but Kouandjio’s Junior season could easily vault him up to the status of his pre-season hype.
The most impressive part of Kouandjio’s game is his play as a run blocker. I’m of the belief that he could enter the NFL today and be an elite run blocker, and he has the potential to be a transcendent one. Much of this comes from how well versed Kouandjio is; he displays a knowledge and understanding of angles that are well beyond his years. While the job of the interior offensive line is to create space on interior runs, the objective for offensive tackles in more frequently to maintain space. The following clip showcases Kouandjio’s explosive lateral step, and then his ability to turn his body in order to wall off his defender:
As impressive as it would be for Kouandjio to pancake his man, or blow him five yards off the football, on a run that is going to the opposite side of the field, it’s simply unnecessary. The following sequence of photos shows the play broken down into steps, and shows exactly why Kouandjio is such a fantastic run blocker.
Another thing that I noticed when watching Kouandjio’s run blocking is his effort and commitment to the play call. While it may seems like a small component to an offensive lineman’s game, I can assure you that OL coaches are going to love his prowess in this area. While the “effort” part is more about driving your legs, pushing piles, and having that “nasty” demeanor that everyone wants from their offensive line, the “commitment to the play call” is shown in the clip below. The clip shows Kouandjio’s blocking on a draw play and it currently stands as my favorite play I’ve seen from him:
The objective for an offensive tackle on a draw play call is simple; bait your man into getting upfield. This can be done very passively, but often isn’t very effective. Defensive lineman generally can sense a screen or draw is coming when there is no effort made on them. Recognizing this gives them the opportunity to change directions and get back into the play. As you can see, Kouandjio takes a hard first step, and then uses his right hand to throw his man out of the play. While Kouandjio whiffed on the following attempt (mainly because the defensive lineman grabbed onto him for dear life), just like I diagrammed earlier, he still attempted to square himself to the defender.
One thing I’ve seen amongst draft analysts is that thought that Kouandjio might be cursed with “heavy feet” and that he lacked balance. I’ll admit, I was initially fooled here. I tended to agree with that thought, but as I reviewed the tape, I had a suspicion that was confirmed. Kouandjio played his Sophmore season coming off a knee injury that his coach, Nick Saban, referred to as “pretty significant”. That should tell you enough, but I wanted to know more, and found a quote from Kouandjio in which he described the injury as a “tear of the ACL and MCL in his left knee.” While I’ve mentioned a few times that I felt as if Kouandjio had a long way to go with his pass set (frequently citing how much energy was expended), that knee injury makes a lot of sense. I’ve already mentioned how quick Kouandjio’s first step is laterally, and this same trait is shown when he has to get to the second level. It’s also very apparent in his pass set when you concentrate on his initial step. The following clip shows why I think Kouandjio has more than adequate feet, bend, and length to play the LT spot:
However, clips like the following are the "ugly" ones that stand out in terms of foot speed and balance with Kouandjio:
There are more than a few plays like this when you watch his film, but I think the problem derives after his initial step. Once his left leg lands, all of the tension is placed on his left knee, the one that was severely injured the season prior. In my opinion, Kouandjio was not only tentative about planting on that leg, but wasn’t getting full flexion from that knee. I feel as if this is where his issues with foot quickness and balance derive from. If he’s tentative about planting off that leg, it’s tough to always get adequate depth and maintain quick feet. If he’s not getting proper flexion, his pad level is going to be extremely high (and as a result, give him issues with defenders knocking him off balance):
Some people might think that these issues are inherent flaws, and we'll have a better idea of whether or not this is the case in the upcoming year. Still, it's hard for me to watch Kouandjio's tape and not think that the leg played an issue, especially when I see it clearly limit him, like in the clip below, where I think he's clearly dragging it.
While I’m not giving Kouandjio a pass for his struggles, I think lingering doubts over his knee are a very likely issue for his struggles and inconsistencies. We’ve seen many cases of guys lacking comfort in their first year back off a major injury. If Kouandjio is unable to make strides in these areas in this upcoming season, I find it unlikely that I will mark him as my top OT, but the potential for him to garner that spot is certainly there.
All videos and images courtesy of draftbreakdown.com