Cam Robinson will be tested by Arkansas pass-rusher Deatrich Wise Jr.
Much has been made of Alabama’s defense this season, and it will continue to be the primary driver behind talks of a potential national championship repeat. Led by true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, the Crimson Tide offense is becoming a worthwhile story of its own this year, and provides us with one of the more intriguing one-on-one matchups as Alabama travels to Arkansas on Saturday. Left tackle Cam Robinson will be tasked with slowing down Razorbacks defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. and preventing pressure from reaching Hurts. If Arkansas is to spring the upset, they will likely need a big performance from Wise, their top defensive player—but who has the edge in this matchup?
Why Alabama LT Cam Robinson can win
Pick any random early 2017 mock draft, and you’ll probably find Cam Robinson in the first round—likely even in the top 10. The truth, though, it that his position as a future first-rounder is based a lot more on potential than it is on production, at least before the midway point of last season. This year, Robinson looks like a much-improved player, delivering a more consistent performance over the first five games of the season. After allowing seven sacks, two hits, and eight hurries last year, he has allowed just one hit and five hurries though five games in the 2016 season. Robinson has allowed a pressure on just 3.1 percent of his pass-blocking snaps.
You can trace Robinson’s improvement back to midway through the 2015 season; Alabama’s Week 10 outing against LSU was the last time he allowed more than two total pressures in a single game. Even more impressive is the fact that he has allowed zero sacks and just one quarterback hit since that game, meaning just one quarterback knockdown over a period of time that spans 360 pass-blocking snaps. That’s something that has to make Hurts feel much safer in the pocket, with Robinson allowing an Alabama quarterback to be knocked to the ground on just 0.3 percent of his past 360 pass-blocking snaps. That being said, he is going to be tested by Wise Jr.
Why Arkansas DE Deatrich Wise Jr. can win
When discussing the top pass-rushers in the SEC, the first names listed, unsurprisingly, are typically Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, Missouri’s Charles Harris, Auburn’s Carl Lawson, and Alabama’s Tim Williams. Arkansas DE Deatrich Wise Jr. often doesn’t get credited as being part of that group, and there’s a good chance he would have a better reputation in a conference that didn’t have as many ridiculously-good pass-rushers as the SEC does. That said, Wise is a very productive pass-rusher in his own right, registering four sacks, five hits, and seven hurries on 127 pass-rushing opportunities so far this season, working out at a pressure of some form on 12.6 percent of his pass-rushing snaps.
A small concern is that his production as a pass-rusher is down a bit on last year, when he got pressure on 17.2 percent of his pass-rushing snaps. Part of that could be a result of Wise playing a lot more this year, seeing the field on 70.0 percent of Arkansas’ defensive snaps, compared to 42.9 percent last year. That being said, getting him back to the level of production he was at in 2015 would be a huge boost for the Razorbacks, and certainly a tougher test for Cam Robinson.
What the grades say
Through five games this season, Robinson and Wise are very close grade-wise. The Arkansas DE has out-graded the left tackle slightly, though, at 80.1 to 78.8. While he has a slight edge, how close they are in grades tells you just how close a matchup this should be. It’s a one-on-one meeting that college football fans and NFL scouts alike should be intrigued by, and thankfully, with Wise’s usage in 2016 so far, we should see plenty of it. Wise has spent 131 of his 226 snaps so far this year lined up against the opposing team’s left tackle, so if that holds true this week, we should see him matched up with Robinson on 57.9 percent of his snaps.
This game represents a huge opportunity for both players, with Robinson having the chance to keep up his improvement and show he can handle one of the top pass-rushers in the SEC; Wise gets the chance to make some game-changing plays and give Arkansas a shot at the upset. Either way, it’s going to be an intriguing matchup to watch.