In one of the most dramatic stories in the 2014 NFL Draft, Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, whose life and family were blown up by Hurricane Katrina, was selected No. 2 overall Thursday by the St. Louis Rams.
"Thanks for this opportunity, I will not let y'all down," Robinson said immediately after being selected.
The selection means that Rams coach Jeff Fisher has faith that Robinson can harness his raw but outstanding ability to help protect quarterback Sam Bradford. However, because Robinson still needs to learn the nuances of pass blocking, the Rams may first put him at guard.
"They can expect 110 percent of Greg Robinson, I promise," the player said, which is promising a lot since he is a 6-foot-5, 332 pounder.
By taking Robinson over Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews, the Rams validated evaluations that the Auburn lineman has more upside. Attempts to describe his incredible physical ability have led others to mention the names of Hall of Fame linemen.
Already a force of nature, he was not asked to learn pro-type techniques in the simplified Auburn offense.
Unlike Matthews, whose father Bruce was a Hall of Fame lineman, Robinson steps into NFL history as a brave pioneer from a family that has no rich or glorious football past. In fact, his mother could not afford to attend his final game for Auburn -- the 2014 BCS Championship Game.
Robinson honored both his mother, Rhonda, and grandmother by bringing them to New York on Thursday. His father died in 2012, and Robinson is trying to be the savior for a family in which his mom has seven children, including three in deep trouble with the law.
This family is still seeking stability after being rousted from its Houma, La., home when Robinson was 11, when they were evacuated to Houston after Katrina demolished their home. Two years later, they returned to salvage what they could.
"When we got back, some of our things had been destroyed," he said, "but we packed just about everything we had. I didn't have much."
One byproduct of the Katrina drama was that Robinson says he began to eat a lot and grow a lot.
Now, against all odds, Robinson has coaches and scouts salivating over his superhuman skill set. He startles, even scares, defenders and shocks scouts with brute strength and surprising athleticism.
Perhaps more scary is that his game is far from refined, and he knows it. But because college football can't even help pay for his mother to see his games, Robinson opted to go pro this year.
"I'm not at full potential right now, I still have a lot to go," Robinson admits. "I started last year as my first season starting. The guys they have ahead of me like Jake Matthews, he started since he was a freshman. That's just something I feel I need to prove.
"It's basically the financial situation back home, I didn't come from much. I told my mom I was going to go back and get my degree, but when the NFL Draft board advisory committee came back with a good grade, it made my decision easier."
Robinson took his responsibility for his family even more seriously after his father, Greg Blackledge, died. Robinson said his mother, who works multiple jobs as a nurse's assistant, asked him for money, and he needed to borrow it from teammates.
He is going to work to pay back debts, help fix up his mother's home, pay for the college educations of his two younger siblings and help four others, including Jamaha Robinson, who is expected to be released soon from his 15-year prison term, and Joshua Robinson, who also did time for selling drugs.
"That's the norm where I come from," Greg Robinson said.
He wants to overcome that norm with his abnormal ability.
His startling game performances were quantified at the Indianapolis combine, where he was officially measured at 6-5, 332 pounds. His announced time in 40 yards was 4.92 seconds, but his best time was 4.85 seconds, which is astounding for a huge offensive lineman. Only two years ago, at 315 pounds, he was still doing backflips, not bad for a guy who can also hoist 225 pounds 32 times on the bench.
Still, some scouts were most impressed with his interview at the combine, where they admittedly tried to rattle him by showing some of his worst plays of the season.
"He didn't make excuses," offered one scout. "He said, 'Those were bad plays, but they were early in the game, early in the season and if you look further you will see I learned and didn't repeat them. I don't know what my potential is, but I know I haven't reached it.'"
"He is totally right," said Auburn defensive teammate Dee Ford. "And that should make NFL opponents scared. Very scared."
--Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, covered the NFL and the draft since the 1960s and is a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.