Robert Quinn: Star Tackles, Star Potential…Star Development?

The 2011 draft class was special…so is Robert Quinn.

Back during the buildup to the 2011 NFL draft, the only thing greater than North Carolina Star Robert Quinn’s potential was the doubt that surrounded his future. Quinn’s potential had come apparent during his sophomore year in college, when he finished second in the ACC Defensive Player of the Year voting. However, that season wasn’t the one that preceded the 2011 draft, Quinn spent his final season in college in the stands after being ruled ineligible by the NCAA.

Along with missing his junior year through being ruled ineligible, Quinn also came with some mental question marks. While in high school, Quinn was told that he had a brain tumour and that he “should have been brain dead.” The tumour would later be proven to be benign, but in a process that is infamous for picking apart every minor aspect of a person, it was something that would have caused pause for some teams considering taking him.

For whatever variety of reasons, Quinn passed 13 teams in the first round of the draft before the St. Louis Rams selected him 14th overall. As a rookie, the then 21-year-old was a situational pass-rusher for the most part, starting just one game all season long. With Chris Long and James Hall entrenched as the starters at the defensive end spots, Quinn was limited to a rotation role but still managed to play 584 snaps during the season.

At his age without any experience, the expectations for Quinn were relatively low considering where he was taken in the draft. He quickly reminded everyone of his potential however. Quinn made some plays on special teams and had a number of splashes on defense as a pass-rusher. On 341 pass-rushing snaps, Quinn had six sacks, nine quarterback hits and 21 hurries.

He did enough that when James Hall moved on, the fanbase was very excited to see Quinn become a full-time starter. From there, the hype has only continued to grow…

Layout of the Process

Every sack was considered and examined under this set of criteria:

  • Where and how the defender lined up.
  • Whether the player beat a blocker or not.
  • The quality and position of those blockers was also noted.
  • Whether the player was double-teamed or not.
  • Whether the player was involved in a stunt with a teammate or not and the effects of that stunt.
  • The primary reason for the sack.
  • The game situation ie: time, quarter, score, down and distance.
  • How the player beat attempted blocks.
  • Whether the player attacked the football or settled for the tackle on the quarterback’s body.
  • How long it took the player to get to the quarterback.
  • How many yards each sack pushed the offense back by.
  • Where the player broke into the backfield.
  • Where the player tackled the quarterback.

Quinn’s Overall Results

Of the Rams’ defensive linemen, only defensive end compatriot Chris Long played more snaps than Quinn last year. Long played 900 exactly, while Quinn finished the year with 849. Just like Long, Quinn never dropped into coverage, instead rushing the passer 541 times.

Quinn got to the quarterback 11 times for 10.5 sacks. That is good enough for a 2.03 sack percentage, which makes him the only player of this series so far to have a lower sack percentage than his teammate Long.

Never once did Quinn venture away from his right defensive end position for a sack, while he always started those plays with his hand on the ground. There were no sacks that were a result of stunts, but he did have two sacks against double teams, both against the San Francisco 49ers. On his first sack against a double team, he beat 49ers’ left tackle Joe Staley to take down Alex Smith, but on the second he benefited from Colin Kaepernick leaving the pocket as he didn’t beat a block.

Just one sack came when the Rams were playing from behind, against the Washington Redskins when he beat left tackle Trent Williams. Three of Quinn’s sacks came when the game was tied, but only two came when the Rams were leading by more than a touchdown. Quinn had three sacks in the first quarters of games during the season, two in the second quarter, two in the third quarter and four in the fourth quarter.

Quinn only ever beat left tackles. Being that he is a very talented speed-rusher, it’s no surprise that the majority of his victories against offensive tackles came on the outside. Only three times did he beat the blindside protecter past his inside shoulder for a sack. Quinn had two unblocked sacks, both of which ended outside of the pocket against Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.

Not a single one of Quinn’s sacks came within seven yards of the line of scrimmage. He had three first down sacks, six second down sacks and two third down sacks. Discounting his first down sacks(which were each first and 10), the average distance between the line of scrimmage and the first down marker on Quinn’s sacks was 10.375 yards.

Method Analysis

Timestamp Players Beat Speed Bull Combination Move?
DET, Q3 11:16 Jeff Backus Yes No No No
WAS, Q1 05:56 Trent Williams Yes No No Leverage
SEA, Q4 04:20 None No No No No
ARI, Q2 06:52 D’Anthony Batiste Yes No No Leverage
ARI, Q3 04:44 D’Anthony Batiste No No No Inside Step
ARI, Q4 01:41 D’Anthony Batiste Yes No No No
GB, Q1 11:55 Marshall Newhouse Yes No No Leverage
SF, Q1 14:20 Joe Staley No No No Inside Step
SF, Q4 14:33 None No No No No
BUF, Q4 00:27 Cordy Glenn No Yes No No
SEA, Q2 11:29 Russell Okung Yes No No Inside fake

There’s no other way to look at Quinn right now than to see him as a speed rusher. Considering he was just 22 during last season, it’s no surprise that he is still developing into an all-around player and pass-rusher still. He has plenty of time to reach his full potential, but in the meantime he can still be a very effective player for the Rams.


Quinn’s burst off the line is exceptional, but it’s his speed around the corner that makes him a potentially special player. For his first sack of the season, the Lions looked to chip him at the line with Tony Scheffler before he ran into the flat. Scheffler got his hands on Quinn, but Quinn was so fast off the line that he couldn’t do anything but try to push him off balance. When Scheffler tried to chip Quinn, his feet were already further down the field than his stance while he was able to shrug off his attempt with his upper body strength.

From there it was a straight up sprint to the corner between he and left tackle Jeff Backus. Backus never gets in a position to protect his quarterback because Quinn gets on top of him very early on and is able to take away his angle. Much like a receiver taking away a cushion from a cornerback, Quinn beats Backus so bad early on in the play that he is rendered helpless when he tries to push him past his quarterback.

Stafford could have climbed the pocket quicker than he did, but Quinn deserves all the credit for forcing the play with his athleticism.

The best left tackles in the NFL are typically left tackles who are overwhelming in stature but have exceptionally quick feet. While Jeff Backus couldn’t be put in that category last year, Trent Williams certainly could have. Even someone as physically gifted as Williams has to adjust to Quinn’s speed and even when he does, that’s not all he has to try to handle.

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Quinn is lined up very wide, indicating that he will look to use his speed rush to get past Williams’ outside shoulder.

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Williams gets enough depth to stay between his quarterback and Quinn. From this position, Williams should be able to maintain his base and hold Quinn on the edge. Williams has his arms raised also, so he is in the perfect position to react to any moves that Quinn looks to make.

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Quinn is going to use his leverage to beat Williams, but first he must be able to set up Williams in order to gain the right position. With his swinging arms, Quinn knocks Williams’ arms out of his way before bending his shoulder into Williams’ chest. Once Quinn gets to this point, Williams can’t use his power to knock him off his course towards the quarterback.

By getting underneath Williams, Quinn has used his leverage to create a lane to the quarterback.

Screen Shot 2013-07-01 at 23.24.23

Once Quinn gets a free lane to the quarterback, and is in a position to fend off Williams, he makes an easy tackle on Griffin in the pocket.

As Quinn develops, he will get better and better at determining how to make best use of his speed and how to build off of its success. Having that initial threat allows Quinn to always have the offensive tackles assigned to him on the backfoot. Putting that kind of pressure on the offensive tackle opens up different avenues for the pass-rusher.


When D’Anthony Batiste overplayed Quinn’s speed-rush in their matchup, Quinn was able to break inside at the perfect time for what turned into another relatively easy sack. Because of his physical build, Quinn can absorb hits from blockers once he has gained a favourable position. He showed every aspect of that off in the above sack.


From there, Quinn can look to use that inside threat to then set up an outside speed rush again. That is exactly what he did against Russell Okung of the Seattle Seahawks. Okung didn’t even bite hard on the inside fake, but one strong step was enough because of Quinn’s exceptional outside burst. Quinn turned the edge at such speed that Okung was left lying on the ground while he was tackling Russell Wilson.

Of course, for a young player, it’s always very important to understand the caliber of player that he is facing. Or more importantly, beating:

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*PFF Grade is for pass blocking only
All Statistics courtesy of PFF

Too often I have compiled these charts during this series of analysis and come across a who’s who of the worst tackles in the NFL. This is not the case with Robert Quinn. Quinn beat some of the most talented players in the league at their positions. He was the only player in the league to beat Jeff Backus for a sack…in 716 attempts! Russell Okung only gave up two all season, while Trent Williams and Joe Staley both had outstanding grades from Pro Football Focus.

Quinn only had 26 hurries and eight quarterback hits throughout the season outside of his sacks. That speaks to his inconsistency. Inconsistency is a part of development and growth. The longer in the league, the more consistent we should expect him to be. Had he only beaten bad offensive linemen, this would be a much bigger worry than it actually is.

The talent is obviously there, the consistency will hopefully come as he grows.

Timestamp Quarterback Players Beat Attacks Ball? Time Elapsed Yards
DET, Q3 11:16 Matthew Stafford Jeff Backus No 3.6 9
WAS, Q1 05:56 Robert Griffin III Trent Williams No 2.8 9
SEA, Q4 04:20 Russell Wilson None No 3.7 8
ARI, Q2 06:52 Kevin Kolb D’Anthony Batiste No 2.4 9
ARI, Q3 04:44 Kevin Kolb D’Anthony Batiste No 2.6 5
ARI, Q4 01:41 Kevin Kolb D’Anthony Batiste Yes 2.6 7
GB, Q1 11:55 Aaron Rodgers Marshall Newhouse Yes 3.6 4
SF, Q1 14:20 Alex Smith Joe Staley No 3.5 2
SF, Q4 14:33 Colin Kaepernick None No 4.0 0
BUF, Q4 00:27 Ryan Fitzpatrick Cordy Glenn No 2.3 9
SEA, Q2 11:29 Russell Wilson Russell Okung No 3.3 2
Total N/A 9 2 34.4 64
Average N/A .82 .18 3.13 5.82

Playing on the quarterback’s blindside, you would like to see Quinn attack the football more often, but considering his list of priorities in terms of his development, it’s a minor detail for the moment. As a speed rusher, Quinn is very quick to the quarterback. Excluding Chris Long, because of all the unblocked sacks he had, only Cameron Wake was quicker to the quarterback than him of the players studied.

He was only slightly faster than JJ Watt.


The 2011 NFL Draft was special. Quinn isn’t often considered when people look to discuss just how special it was, however that is largely because he wasn’t a part of the top group of superstars. Being selected 14th overall to a team that wasn’t a focus of national media meant he has pretty much gone unnoticed so far in his career. His career is still only starting out, so that’s not really a concern.

If you redid the 2011 NFL draft, he probably wouldn’t go much higher, but that is more a reflection of just how special that draft has proven to be so far. The Rams took him over Mike Pouncey and Nate Solder, two players who would have had major effects on the Rams’ offensive line, yet nobody can really argue that they should have taken either player ahead of him. Pouncey and Solder have done more to this point, but Quinn could be really, really special one day. He has that level of talent.

He’s still a work in progress, but entering his third season at just 23 years of age, Robert Quinn has so far proven all his pre-draft doubters wrong.

You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf

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