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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Out of the Woods?

Has Forrest Lamp Beaten the Injury Bug?

By: Thomas Frank Carr

Buffalo Bills General Manager Brandon Beane made an under the radar signing last week when the Bills picked up former Los Angeles Chargers left guard Forrest Lamp on a one-year deal. While the specifics of the deal have yet to be released, the former second round pick is an intriguing free agent with a fascinating career to this point. It’s fascinating in the fact that he really hasn’t had one. Thanks to a cascade of injuries over the last several seasons, Lamp played his first full NFL season in 2020 for the Chargers who selected him with the 38th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. 

Here’s a brief timeline of Lamp’s injuries, which was first compiled by Buffalo Rumblings

To summarize:

Lamp did not play more than 1,000 snaps in a season from 2016-2019.

As you can see it’s quite the extensive list of injuries to one body part for Lamp. So it’s a simple question. What is left of the former top 50 player of the 2017 NFL Draft? Lamp was a standout and a highly regarded prospect at the time he was drafted. Before we get further along and see what he is now, it’s important that we refresh ourselves on the initial NFL evaluation of the Hilltopper. While evaluations vary, here is a snippet from Chris Burke at si.com.  

Strengths

The combine is not a be-all, end-all tool in evaluation, but it does help paint a picture of a prospect, especially in terms of measuring athleticism. Lamp’s numbers: 5.00-second 40-yard dash (fourth among all offensive linemen), 34 bench reps (second), 111-inch broad jump (tied for third), 7.55-second three-cone drill (fifth).”

Weaknesses

Lamp’s arm length has been a focal point during the evaluation period. He checked in at the combine at 32 1/4 inches, up from what seemed to be flawed Senior Bowl measurements but still below the ideal number for an NFL tackle. 

Injuries then would be a major concern for a player who made his way through his career with exceptional athleticism. With so many surgeries on the same leg, does Lamp have any of that left? Let’s look at his tape from 2020 and see if he does. 

Film Analysis 

The good news is that yes, there is still some juice for the soon-to-be 28 year old on film. He’s a mobile blocker who can pull well and does a good job of getting to the second level and moves well in space. His movement skills may not be elite anymore, but he would grade above average at the very least. 

He’s also a decent technician who does a good job of executing his assignment, even if it’s not a dominant run rep in the running game. 

The Chargers ran quite a bit of zone blocking in 2020, something that the Bills have been going back-and-forth with since 2018. The addition of a player like Lamp might indicate that the Bills hope to invest more into zone blocking in 2021. They also used a lot of mobile pockets and moved the point of attack for rookie QB Justin Herbert. This significantly reduced the workload of the offensive line. 

What seems to be lacking though, is explosive movement skills and power. Lamp struggles to beat players off the snap in short areas and doesn’t win unless he can use technique to his advantage. Also, if he’s not moving freely in a straight line, his skills deteriorate quickly. There’s a stiffness to his change of direction and a lack of redirect skills once he’s lost a rep. 

While there is some evidence that he’s lost some pop in his punch, it’s not like power was initially part of Lamp’s game. To that extent he’s a similar player to what he was at Western Kentucky, even if he’s a less powerful version of himself. The problem with that is that he didn’t have a lot of power to give and at  6-4 and 310 pounds, Lamp may simply lack the at component of his game going forward.  

To that point, he’s simply not a difference-maker at the point of attack. He can technically execute his blocks and doesn’t whiff very often, but he does not generate much movement in the run game when he’s asked to get a defender off of his spot. He can also get blown up by truly powerful linemen. 

As a pass protector there’s some things to like about his performance last season. He’s an alert player who is always looking to help his linemates and isn’t burying his head in the sand as a football player. He shows a general awareness to his assignment and gets in the way of pass rushers, even if he doesn’t dominate any rep in particular. 

Yet his lack of ability to make up ground or anchor when he loses becomes apparent when he is caught out of position. He struggles to recover on stunts, which became something of a theme once defensive coordinators picked up on this problem. He also struggled when more aggressive pass rushers were able to get under his pads.  

Conclusion

It does seem as if the injuries over the last five years have taken a toll on Lamp physically and his first year playing wasn’t particularly pretty. He’s done an admirable job learning to play with technique and awareness to make up for those deficiencies but what made him a special player coming out of college only shows up in ghost-like moments on film. A realistic scenario for the Bills is that the play of the men around him elevates his play and Lamp becomes an NFL-average guard. After all it’s easier to block stunts if the players next to you are also executing their assignments. Lamp played next to a revolving door at tackle for LA in 2021 and center Dan Feeney was not much better. His situation with the Chargers is a far cry from potentially playing between tackle Dion Dawkins and center Mitch Morse. 

The most encouraging factor however, is the Bills themselves. The team has notably taken on injury risk players in the past and been rewarded with stellar play, namely with right tackle Daryl Williams. While Williams’ injury history was not as extensive as Lamp’s, the Bills medical staff should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to a player’s ability to perform on the football field. Based on his film it was pretty clear that Lamp was rusty in 2020 and not playing at full strength yet he still gutted it out and played for the Chargers. With a full offseason to do actual training instead of rehab there’s a chance that he can regain some of his former lower body strength that made him a coveted player in the 2017 draft. At the very least he could work himself back to being a passable player, which is something the Buffalo Bills have lacked for two seasons now.

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