2014 NFL Draft: Cyrus Kouandjio 'dark horse' candidate for Giants at No. 12

Cyrus Kouandjio - Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Cyrus Kouandjio has been pushed down throughout the pre-draft process. Could he still end up as the 12th overall pick for the Giants?

Last year with the 19th pick in the NFL Draft the New York Giants selected Justin Pugh out of Syracuse in a move that shocked most. Pugh was rarely connected with the Giants in the pre-draft process. He was generally considered a second-round value, but ended up a top 20 pick. Prince Amukamara before him was the opposite -- an expected top 10 pick who fell into the Giants' lap. The point is the draft is unpredictable and right now when you read mock drafts the picks seem to have come down to four choices -- Taylor Lewan, Eric Ebron, Mike Evans, and Aaron Donald -- but that is obviously not the case. The Giants can go in any number of directions, which is why I decided to highlight a few real possibilities in this series of 'dark horse' candidates for the 12th pick.

We continue the series today with a powerful offensive linemen who has had a whirlwind of a pre-draft process, but whose "draft stock" is finally starting to settle right where it belongs -- in the top 20. We are talking about Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio.

Kouandjio had information leaked (most likely by a team interested in drafting him) that there were serious problems with his knee, and while Kouandjio has said himself that he has had a few teams ask about his knee, Dr. James Andrews cleared him, and more tellingly he was NOT invited back for additional medical checks (which Scouting Combine players with significant injuries always are). He hasn't missed a start at Alabama since his injury. With the information we have we can assume that with only one or two exceptions Kouandjio has a full clean bill of health, which is why he's a potential Giants' target in the first round.

Kouandjio is a massive man (6-foot-7, 322 pounds) with massively long arms (35 5/8 inches) and massive hands (10 1/4 inches) and was the No. 1 offensive lineman recruit in his class when he entered Alabama. Kouandjio has been a productive blocker and a First-Team AP All-American. He is powerful (21 bench presses with those long arms) and when he latches onto a defensive linemen he can drive him into the ground. Kouandjio uses his long arms to ride his man away away from the quarterback, and has good feet for a man his size.

Kouandjio has all the tools NFL teams are looking for, according to long-time NFL scout Greg Gabriel of the National Football Post:

Cyrus' anchor ability is second to none. You never seem him get bull-rushed. Kouandjio has better physical traits than Matthews (Texas A&M) and Lewan (Michigan), but at this time, he is not as good with his technique. The question teams will have to answer on draft day is, do they go with upside or what the player is now?

Upside and talented is a theme that will appear often with Kouandjio. When talking to scouts about Kouandjio, Bob Mcginn heard these thoughts:

Talented guy but still very raw," one scout said. "Still makes raw mistakes. He's got more upside than Matthews. I think he is smart. Just doesn't have much football background."

And from another scout:

"Outstanding pass protector," a second scout said. "You're talking about a left tackle for a long, long time."

In talking to personnel men for NJ.com's draft previews, Mark Eckel heard this from scouts:

"He had a bad combine, so that’s going to throw some people off him," the personnel man said. "But he looked good on tape. He’s big, long, and he competes. I like that."

"He’s a better pass blocker right now than he is a run blocker," the executive said. "He’s still raw, but there’s a lot of upside."

"We like him," the scout said. "We have him rated pretty high."

Kouandjio's value has been effected by what seems to known be exaggerated reports about his knee, but he was the NO. 9 player overall on my last big board and will definitely end up top 20. He is 19th overall on Greg Gabriel's big board. Kouandjio has been compared to Tyron Smith (CBS Sports), D.J. Fluker, Michael Oher (Daniel Jeremiah) and Andre Smith (me).

Like Kouandjio both Smith and Fluker had questionable draft slotting leading into the draft. Smith looked fat and out of shape and had a terrible combine (but still was drafted sixth overall -- and has become a very good offensive linemen for the Bengals...+18.5 PFF score last year). Fluker was considered a "right tackle" guy only, but still went 11th overall last year to the Chargers (and played very well most of the season). Michael Oher was still a first-round pick and had some good NFL seasons.

To me, Kouandjio is getting beaten up by the media in the pre-draft process unfairly. He's a player that is still way overlooked now. He is definitely a better prospect to me than Fluker was last year. I think he's more athletic, I think he's a guy who can play a very effective left tackle in the NFL and might be an All-Pro right tackle in the league. He's a guy the Giants could draft in the first round with the expectation of playing him as a swing tackle until he refined his technique to take over for Will Beatty next year (or this year) if he struggles again, or for Pugh next year (and move Pugh to left guard and Schwartz to right guard) and that's the type of prospect the Giants like. Prototypes who might need a little bit of work, but guys they know can play in the NFL.

The Giants are never scared off by these types of guys and if he passes their medical checks (which seems more likely now) they shouldn't be. When you look at the player comparisons for Kouandjio you see guys like Andre Smith, D.J. Fluker, Tyron Smith -- all guys who went in the top 12. And you should ask yourself not why would the Giants draft this guy? Rather, why wouldn't they? Why is the media comparing Kouandjio to top 10 picks and then mocking him out of the first round? Big, talented guys like Kouandjio don't fall that far in the draft (and guys who do like Cordy Glenn end up being very good players for their teams -- ask Buffalo).

Zack Martin is a possible option, too (and he's been connected to the Giants thus not a dark horse candidate) and he's a good player, but Kouandjio is better I think in many ways now, and definitely in the future. Kouandjio is a left tackle, Martin may not be, which is why if Robinson, Lewan, and Matthews are all off the board the offensive linemen the Giants select at 12 might (and should be) Kouandjio -- not Martin.

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