Depending on where you look and who you ask, Alabama OG Arie Kouandjio is either a sure-fire second rounder or, at best, an end of Day 3 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft in May. Brian Filipiak analyzes this prospect’s skill sets for guarding the line, protecting the passer, and run blocking.
A two-year starter for the Crimson Tide, the wide-bodied offensive lineman suffered multiple knee injuries early in his collegiate career, but managed to stay healthy over his final two seasons, starting all 27 games at left guard. The Cameroon-born Kouandjio is the older brother and former teammate of offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, who was selected in the second round by the Buffalo Bills in last year’s draft. Arie received first team All-SEC honors as well as second team AP All-America accolades following the completion of his redshirt senior year. Looking to follow in his brother’s footsteps, Kouandjio’s impressive size, physicality and surprising agility make him one of the more intriguing draft prospects at a position that appears weak depth-wise this year.
Tale of the Tape
At nearly 6’5” and 318 pounds, the soon-to-be 23-year-old Kouandjio (pronounced kwan-jo) participated in the 2015 Senior Bowl. According to Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com, the offensive guard possesses a seven-foot wingspan and recorded a 40-yard dash time of 5.43 seconds.
What He Does Well
Kouandjio’s mountainous build and short-area quickness proved very effective in head coach Nick Saban’s predominantly zone-blocking running scheme.
Quick First Step
A common element to Alabama’s ground attack is the outside zone run, such as these stretch plays, in which the left guard demonstrates power, lateral agility, and consistency in working to the second level:
Instead of engaging a defender right at the snap, offensive linemen in an outside zone run are coached to take an immediate step to the play-side in an effort to gain leverage and drive the target back inside, or toward the sideline depending on the angle.
As shown in the cutups above, Kouandjio exhibits a steady ability to achieve proper positioning by executing a technically sound stretch, or first step, on reach blocks to the front side of runs as well as on cut-off blocks on the backside. He works angles to his advantage, adeptly positioning his hands while tracking to the linebacker level with authority. He also displays the strength to get movement at the point of attack and generally stays as square to defender as possible when fitting into the block.
In addition to his experience within a zone-blocking scheme, Kouandjio also has experience in power run concepts that pull the left guard on trap and lead blocks:
Similar to the outside zone blocking concepts, Kouandjio’s quick first step to the play side is vital to the timing of the power and counter runs shown above. But while accelerating to the point of attack shows off the lineman’s lateral agility, Kouandjio also displays good use of technique with his hands, maintaining tight elbows to stay inside the shoulders of the defender in order to prevent separation. By utilizing proper hand placement to stay close to his target, the lineman is able to sustain blocks for a longer period of time.
Showing a strong anchor and active hands on contact, Kouandjio rarely gives up ground against power-based pass rushers:
When facing bull rushes and similar power moves, Kouandjio uses a mix of sheer strength and decent lateral movement to control and steer defenders away from the QB. The lineman possesses a strong initial punch and shuffles his feet well enough to keep defenders in front of him. Kouandjio can be a wall in pass protection, particularly eating up defenders with average burst and a limited repertoire of moves.
The able-bodied left guard also demonstrates solid awareness against line stunts and blitzes:
Displaying good instincts, Kouandjio understands when to pass off blocks, anticipating stunts and blitzes well ‒ a sign that the lineman puts plenty of time in the film room. Since he is likely to see even more exotic pressure schemes at the NFL level, the lineman has a good foundation to build upon in terms of his recognition and response skills to stunts and twists. Once the big left guard can get his mitts on the defender, it usually results in a win for Kouandjio.
Second and Third Effort
When run blocking, and even in pass protection, Kouandjio shows a willingness to keep working blocks beyond the first level and past the whistle:
Combining solid technique with a nastiness factor, Kouandjio aims to punish any and all in his way even after finishing off his initial block. Among his fellow offensive linemen, the left guard was the one blocker consistently found well beyond the line of scrimmage, looking to make second- and sometimes even third-effort blocks as shown above.
Although his overall body of work in the run game remains a positive, Kouandjio still exhibits some lapses in technique from time to time.
The lineman has a tendency to get ahead of himself and does not always contact his target at the appropriate aiming point, leading to improper fits when finishing blocks:
In both examples shown above, Kouandjio tangles himself up and positions his hands poorly, allowing the defender to slide off him, unable to fit the target and properly work the angle. In similar instances of poor technique, Kouandjio will sometimes play too high, misstep (like above), and play with a high center of gravity, making him susceptible to speedier defenders. His aggressive style of play can also lead him to whiffing on blocks, an area that will quickly need to be coached out of him through more repetition in practice at the next level.
As the help (uncovered) blocker in pass protection, Kouandjio will occasionally stop moving his feet when not directly engaged with a target:
Although neither instance shown above leads to a sack, flat feet generally cause trouble for offensive linemen. In order to be better equipped to handle pass rushers from all angles, Kouandjio needs to do a better job of shuffling his feet and keeping his head on a swivel. Speed rushers coming off twists at the NFL level will be able to take advantage of a lineman reacting from his heels.
Against speedier pass rushers, Kouandjio has a tendency to overset, giving up position early as he tries to compensate for the physical attributes of the defender:
In the plays above, the lineman is caught anticipating a move instead of quickly reacting to the defender’s penetration. By firing out so quickly upfield, Kouandjio lunges forward, loses power from his base, and becomes far too reliant on his initial punch. By giving up position (oversetting), Kouandjio can open up the gate into the backfield for a defender. While infrequent, it’s an area that needs to be corrected at the next level – free shots at the QB will land an offensive lineman on the bench, if not out of the league.
Though largely beyond his control, one of the more significant question marks surrounding Kouandjio will likely come during medical evaluations at the NFL Combine. While he remained healthy in his final two years for Alabama, concerns regarding his durability may deter some teams from assigning him a second-day grade. The lineman had multiple knee surgeries early on at Alabama.
Comparable Player: Rodger Saffold
Kouandjio, who played against high level competition in the SEC, has the ideal size and strength to handle NFL interior defensive linemen at the point of attack. Although not always the most fluid-looking athlete on film, he does display enough agility to get by at the guard position. In the running game, he has both short-burst quickness to get to the second level to clear out room, as well as the lateral movement to be an effective pull blocker in a power run scheme. In pass protection, Kouandjio excels against bull rush moves where he can anchor and stay strong on the spot, but he did reveal a bad habit of oversetting against speedier rushers, leaving him and the QB he’s protecting vulnerable.
Still somewhat raw and inconsistent in his technique and occasionally aggressive to a fault, Kouandjio may not be “plug and play” draft pick. However, the combination of his physical tools and willingness to play past the whistle make him a short-term project that the right coaching staff can mold into a starting-caliber NFL lineman for a number of years.
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Brian Filipiak knows about proper blocking technique, the basics of run defense, how to defeat an overload, and the point-of-attack.
Raw footage courtesy of JimLightFootball.com