The Buffalo Bills selected Cyrus Kouandjio in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft with the expectations that he’d be replacing Erik Pears as the team’ starting right tackle. Instead, the 6’7” lineman that weighs 322 pounds was a disappointment throughout training camp and the preseason and was inactive for 15 games in his rookie year. Now, heading into the 2015 draft, the Bills still have question marks along the offensive line, but it’s premature to write off Kouandjio just yet.
Just 20-years old when drafted, Kouandjio was a raw prospect both mentally and physically, as he needed time to grow into his massive frame, in addition to learning proper technique for the position. When drafted, General Manager Doug Whaley had this to say about the second-round pick:
“Prototypical right tackle. Very aggressive run blocker, people are going to say that against smaller defensive ends he had some trouble. We’re excited about his size and his length and what he may lack in a little foot quickness, he’ll make up in length and make them take a bigger arc to get to the quarterback. We expect him to be contributing early. Opening day? Not sure. I can’t put a timetable on it; it depends on how he comes in and grasps the offense.”
During his career with the Crimson Tide, Kouandjio tended to rely too much on his sheer size and strength which led to a lot of inconsistent play. In order to get a grasp on what Kouandjio’s future with the team looks like, I went back and watched several of his collegiate games to see what his major flaws were to see what needed to be fixed.
As Alabama’s starting left tackle, Cyrus Kouandjio was a big reason why players like Mark Ingram, Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon enjoyed so much success. Kouandjio is a big, powerful lineman that proved capable of moving defenders off the ball and opening wide rushing lanes for the backs. In the following clip against Louisiana State, Kouandjio gets his hands on the defensive tackle and blocks him down the line, moving the defender several yards off his spot and clearing a huge hole for a decent gain.
Kouandjio is an aggressive and violent player that will consistently play through the whistle.
When he uses proper technique, keeping his feet square with his hands up, he’s doesn’t surrender much ground in the run game.
However, as games wore on, Kouandjio had a tendency to get overly aggressive and shy away from good technique. He’d bend at the waist and lunge at defenders, causing him to lose balance and leverage which often resulted in ugly reps.
Kouandjio’s bad habit of lunging was his most glaring issue in both run and pass blocking. He has the size and power to dominate defenders, but when he’d bend forward at the waist, that size and power meant nothing as you can see in the next clip.
Kouandjio isn’t the best athlete, as he posted a 5.59-second 40-yard dash with a 7.71 three-cone time, which is why he projects better as a right tackle, where his ridiculously long arms (35 5/8”) and 10 ¼” hands will help him maintain a distance against the bigger left defensive ends he’ll be facing. At tackle, Kouandjio has the prototypical frame you look for at the position, but he needed to work on his technique to be more effective. In the following clip, Kouandjio wasn’t beat badly in either rep, but he keeps his hands and elbows low, negating the advantage he has in terms of length, and lets the defender get inside his pads.
On tape, Kouandjio lacked the functional strength you’d expect from a 6’7” 322-pound man, and that was backed up by his 21 bench press reps at the Scouting Combine, the second-lowest total at his position. In the next clip, this lack of strength is clear, and while he’s not beaten in this particular rep, he’s moved a considerable distance off his spot.
While technique continued to be his primary issue, he also flashed the ability to get wide against a speed rush and mirror the defender. In the next clip against Auburn, Kouandjio shows a fluid kick-step and gets in front of then-freshman edge defender Carl Lawson on the first rep, and first-round pick Dee Ford in the second, giving his quarterback A.J. McCarron a clean pocket to work with.
After going back and watching several of his college games, it became clear that Kouandjio’s biggest issues appeared to be coachable. We’ll never know just how much he progressed under Doug Marrone’s tutelage last season, but he’s spent the offseason training with LeCharles Bentley (@OLineWorld65), a former two-time Pro Bowl lineman who’s promising career was cut short due to injuries, at his Offensive Line Performance Academy. Bentley is one of the most respected offensive line trainers in football and his training center is the first and one of the only training centers dedicated solely to offensive linemen. His academy focuses on teaching proper nutrition and workout methods as much as it focuses on position-specific techniques.
“This is all offensive linemen work.” Kouandjio said in an appearance on The John Murphy Show. “I’m training with all offensive lineman. All we do is offensive line drills, we don’t waste time out here. We work six days a week, take Sundays off. A really strict died. You’re surrounded by people who are like-minded in what they want to do in their lives. It’s a really positive environment. I like it.”
It’s clear that Kouandjio’s transformed his body over the past year, as you can see by the following picture showing him when he joined the team compared to just a few weeks ago.
There’s been some discussion surrounding the possibility of Kouandjio stepping in at guard, but after a closer look, I think he may still be better suited at tackle.
Kouandjio is 6’7” with 35 5/8” arms and when looking at ProFootballFocus’ top 20-graded guards in 2014, just two were taller than 6’5”- Brandon Linder and Kyle Long, both of whom are 6’6”, but have arms at least 1 ¼” shorter than Kouandjio’s.
Kouandjio’s length is an advantage on the edge, where he’s able to get wide and force pass rushers to take a wider arc to the quarterback. When he was in a tighter split with a tight end outside of him, similar to how it would be at the guard position, he struggled with inside moves
Now, this isn’t saying that Kouandjio can’t play guard, but it’s probably best for him to continue at tackle. He’s already totally transformed his body in just one year with the team, so it’s not far-fetched to think that he’s also improved on some of the technique issues that hindered him. It’s important to remember that Kouandjio is still just 21-years old, so having a year off the field to grow into his body and work on his technique could be a blessing in disguise for him.
There are no guarantees for Kouandjio after fellow rookie Seantrel Henderson started at 16 games at right tackle last year, but it’s definitely far too early to write off the former second-rounder as a bust, like many fans already have.