Detroit’s entire offseason changed when news of Taylor Decker’s shoulder surgery emerged last Tuesday. Since then, the Lions started searching for both internal and external options to answer their problem at left tackle.
The team signed journeyman Tony Hills, brought in Cyrus Kouandjio for a visit—then signed him over a week later—and have just traded for a once highly-touted prospect in Greg Robinson.
Drafted second overall in the 2014 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams, Robinson was supposed to be the cornerstone of their offensive line for years to come. Check out a quote from Mike Mayock during NFL Network’s coverage of that draft:
“Hey Marshall [Faulk], take a look at him, okay. First tape I put in: Orlando Pace. That’s the first guy I thought about.”
Needless to say, here we find Robinson changing teams—for a sixth-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft—and all before he starts his fourth season in the NFL.
Consistent play, subpar performances
Robinson was named the starter after just five games into his rookie season, and since then, his durability hasn’t been an issue after 38 consecutive games to begin his career. Robinson’s streak was put to an end last season, however, when he was benched and left off the active game day roster in Week 12’s matchup with the Saints, and again in Week 15 against the 49ers.
Pro Football Focus graded the Rams offensive line as the 27th-best unit in the NFL, up four spots from their ranking last year, but it wasn’t Robinson’s performance that led to their improvement:
It’s probably time to give up on Greg Robinson at left tackle. Robinson was flagged (sic) times this season, and those penalties didn’t save him from surrendering eight sacks and 40 total QB pressures on 567 pass-blocking snaps.Robinson was also among the worst run-blocking tackles in the league, earning a 36.1 run-blocking grade on the year.
Not once since coming into the league did Robinson earn a grade higher than 41.3—his 2014 season—but it was a combination of poor play and mental distractions that led to the Rams choosing to part ways with Robinson.
When it came time to discuss the status of his fifth-year option this offseason, the Rams balked and decided to spend big during free agency. Instead of trying to see where they went wrong with Robinson and reboot him under the guidance of a new coaching staff, the team snatched up veteran Andrew Whitworth—the former Bengals tackle who will be 35 years old by season’s start—to the tune of $33.7 million over three years.
“I was progressing and there was a lot of things that could have distracted me,” Robinson said. “But I just felt like I just stayed the course and tried my best to get better.”
Robinson’s distractions seemed to be the point of frustration for the Rams organization according to Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson:
#Rams were frustrated w/ Robinson from a mental standpoint. Felt he was still making far too many mental mistakes and needed a fresh start. https://t.co/0ZB3Jr6EG6— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) June 15, 2017
Those mental mistakes were a huge stumbling block for Greg Robinson, especially in 2016. He was flagged 15 times last season, and with 11 of those flags accepted, Robinson was the eighth-most penalized player in the NFL—and the fourth-most penalized at his position.
Prior to Week 17’s matchup against the Cardinals, the Orange Country Register found Robinson was stuck in a place of uncertainty when it came to where he stood in the team’s plans.
“It kind of caught me off guard,” Robinson said. “I don’t really know what to expect, week in and week out. It was a decision they made as a staff, and I just took it on the chest and I’ll try my best to be positive about it.”
A change for the best
One potential idea was to move Robinson inside to guard, but after the signing of Whitworth, the plan was to move him to the opposite side of the Rams offensive line and play right tackle. But even that ended up falling through with Jamon Brown getting first-team reps at right tackle from the onset of minicamp.
The next day, Robinson was sent to Detroit and a change of scenery, and offensive scheme, led some to think it could to the benefit of both:
What the Lions teach upfront and their philosophy is a great fit for Robinson. Jump sets, ball out quick. They could use his run blocking— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) June 15, 2017
The measurements Robinson recorded leading up to the NFL Draft were eye-popping:
shoutout to @MathBomb because he does all the work. here's Greg Robinson's RAS card. dude checked off a lot of boxes. pic.twitter.com/L1xecCCkdh— Ryan Mathews (@Ryan_POD) June 15, 2017
Along with the measurable, his potential made him a worthy pick at No. 2 overall. That room for growth and development he showed on tape, especially from a technique standpoint, is important to keep in mind: Robinson didn’t play tackle until arriving at Auburn. 25 starts later, he declared for the draft as a redshirt sophomore.
Since then, it’s been a well-documented struggle for Robinson at the next level. In St. Louis and Los Angeles, the Rams were at a loss with how to handle the distractions and the lackluster play.
“He’s been a little slower to develop than we all would have liked,” remarked general manager Les Snead during last season. “He’s got some skills that we can make successful. We now have to go back to the drawing board and ask, in our plan for success, where have we gone wrong? Where have we gone right?”
The drawing board was thrown out in favor of a draft pick and now the 24-year-old Robinson finds himself in a new city with a new scheme, and a chance to hit restart on his career.
The Lions will need to find a way to tap into those skills the Rams couldn’t to in order for the team to reach the success they envisioned their offense having at the beginning of this offseason. If not, Detroit will have to rely on their other options to help realize that potential.