Once considered a lock to come off the board during the draft’s first round, Alabama‘s Cyrus Kouandjio didn’t hear his name called until pick No. 44 overall last month. The Buffalo Bills, looking to improve a right tackle spot that held the running game back in 2013, were willing to look past Kouandjio’s red flags when they nabbed him the second round.
The fall of Kouandjio’s draft stock began during his final year at Alabama, when he was exposed in pass protection versus speed as a junior. His poor performance at February’s combine, highlighted by running the slowest 40-yard dash among all participants, raised more doubts about his ability to handle speed. Completing the demise of his first-round chances, Kouandjio reportedly failed several physicals because of an arthritic knee in the pre-draft evaluation process.
The long-term uncertainty surrounding his condition was simply deemed too much of a risk for numerous clubs. The Bills, however, were not one of those teams. Although a gamble, rolling the dice on Kouandjio could be remembered as one of the biggest steals of the second round.
Concerns about his ability to protect the edge are perhaps valid, but a move to right tackle, where he’s been lining up with the Bills at OTAs, could make him one of the league’s most effective bulldozers. In a run-heavy scheme, which Buffalo employs, Kouandjio’s skill set could become a true asset.
Proving to be a quick study and not a liability in pass protection will be in order for Kouandjio during his rookie training camp, though. Despite being the favorite to start at right tackle come Week 1, the incumbent starter, Erik Pears, won’t be easily surpassed.
Pears, who has been splitting first-team reps with Kouandjio thus far, was dependable in pass protection last season, grading as Pro Football Focus’ 29th-most effective pass-blocking tackle while giving up a mere four sacks and six quarterback hits.
The Bills will surely be willing to sacrifice some pass-blocking efficiency to improve their running game, however. As the third-worst run blocking offensive tackle in the entire league last year according to Pro Football Focus’ grading, Pears isn’t the road-grading right tackle Buffalo covets. Kouandjio, with a massive frame and long limbs, has the potential to be.
Also working in Kouadjio’s favor is the cap space the Bills can save by purging Pears. Nearly $3 million against the cap can be preserved by ousting the veteran in favor of the rookie.
Proving to be adequate in pass protection while avoiding recurring knee issues is in order for Kouandjio this summer. But if he can fulfill both requirements in addition to upgrading the running game like he projects to, Kouandjio should run away with the competition and crack the staring lineup in Week 1.
Cody Strahm is an NFL Senior Writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter.