CFF Player Profile: Laken Tomlinson, G
Argue all you want about upside or how he’ll translate to the NFL, but you can’t deny that Laken Tomlinson was the ‘cleanest’ guard in college football a year ago. Whether it in the run game or pass protection, no one was consistently effective as Tomlinson. There are certainly weaknesses in his game, but they show up so infrequently that he’s still our favorite guard in the class.
Overview and Stats
Tomlinson played 943 of a possible 1011 snaps at right guard for the Blue Devils last season and graded positively in all but one game (vs. Miami). He finished as our second-highest graded guard and was downgraded on just 4.34% of his snaps in 2014, the lowest percentage in the country. A Senior Bowl invite followed and he was by all accounts fantastic during the practice sessions in Mobile. During the actual game Tomlinson graded out positively, but had a few hiccups in pass protection that were uncharacteristic.
His combine performance wasn’t anything to write home about, but he’s not close to garnering a ‘poor athlete’ label by any means. His average athleticism will in all likelihood keep him out of the discussion for the first day of the draft, but his NFL ceiling is still incredibly high.
Run blocking is Tomlinson’s calling card. There wasn’t a guard in the NCAA last season that handled himself better in one-on-one situations at the line of scrimmage. His ability to drop his hips and leverage defensive linemen was second to none. Unlike some, Tomlinson routinely finishes his blocks by working himself between the defender and the point of attack and not letting them back over the top. Pulling around on power or even pulling to the edge, Tomlinson showed the capability to locate, engage, and generate movement that is rare for someone of his size (6-foot-3, 323 pounds). Just ask Syracuse’s Ryan Sloan whom Tomlinson buried into the turf after pulling left with 0:50 remaining in the first quarter of their Week 11 matchup.
He’s not without flaws, though, and any imperfection that shows up on tape now will get exacerbated at the next level. Tomlinson too often leans his chest on defenders and drives instead of locking out his arms. Defenders used that against him and were able to get their hands inside Tomlinson and shed. He wasn’t as proficient at finding linebackers on the second level as you would like to see from a guard in a zone scheme. Foot speed and lateral agility will be a limitation for Tomlinson throughout his career. As you can see from the chart above, though, for all of Tomlinson’s shortcomings he still was rarely beaten and that’s what’s most important at the guard position.
This is the main reason for pause with Tomlinson. While he was as stout as they come against the bull rush, the same agility constraints in his run blocking show up in his pass blocking. Counter moves and tackle-end stunts accounted for almost all of Tomlinson’s pressures yielded in 2014. He just doesn’t have the quickness to adjust when a player gets the edge on him. With the rise of sub-package interior rushers, Tomlinson could struggle early on in obvious passing situations.
With that being said, these are all just projections of areas he could be deficient. The fact of the matter is that he was the best pass protector in the NCAA last season. The numbers above are simply remarkable as he allowed four total pressures on the year playing in a Power 5 conference. While the Duke guard managed to skirt the talented interiors from Clemson and Louisville in the ACC, he can only play who’s in front of him and he dominated any and all comers.
Tomlinson makes up for a lot of his change of direction drawbacks by having a rock solid initial punch that deadens any momentum the defensive lineman has. You often hear of linemen described as waistbenders or lungers and Tomlinson is neither of those. He sits back patiently and is on balance through initial contact. This can sometimes lead to a late punch and leave his chest open to a bull rush, but he has such a strong anchor that he’s rarely worried about that possibility.
The big question is how much is his athleticism going hinder Tomlinson in the NFL? Besides him not being a great fit for a zone-heavy scheme, specifically outside zone, all of my run game concerns are minor nitpicks at best. As far as pass protection goes that could be a different story. They only get quicker on the NFL level, but it’s hard to call six downgrades all season in pass protection a glaring concern.
There are far worse athletes than Tomlinson getting the job done in pass protection at a high level right now in the NFL. He may not have the freakish qualities of a Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper and because of that he’ll go much later in the draft than those two did, but he has easily the fewest issues in this year’s guard class.
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