Justin Pugh has endured his share of highs and lows for the New York Giants this season. After all, he's a rookie being thrust into action right away on a team with only two wins in eight games.
But the No. 19 overall pick in April's NFL Draft has caught the attention of one analyst -- former offensive lineman and current NBC Sports analyst Ross Tucker -- who told NJ.com that among a crop of unimpressive rookie linemen, Pugh is the best.
"Eric Fisher has been terrible in Kansas City. Lane Johnson has been a little bit better than that in Philly. (No. 2 pick) Luke Joeckel was OK in Jacksonville before he got hurt," Tucker said. "Justin has been fine, but fine compared to his draft class is pretty darn good ... He's been the best of the bunch, probably even better than (No. 11 pick) D.J. Fluker, who struggles in pass protection as well."
Fisher was taken No. 1 overall by the Kansas City Chiefs. Joeckel was scooped up second by the Jacksonville Jaguars and Johnson shortly after at No. 4 by the Philadelphia Eagles. Fluker was snatched up 11th by the San Diego Chargers -- all ahead of Pugh at No. 19.
Of course, the Giants offensive line has been a weak link for the team for most of the season, unable to create running lanes early on and struggling to protect Eli Manning.
Week 3 against the Carolina Panthers, Pugh put forth one of -- if not, his worst -- performances of the season. Starting at right tackle, Pugh earned a team-low -4.5 pass-protection grade by Pro Football Focus, allowing two sacks, two hits and five hurries against Panthers rush end Charles Johnson. Pugh was beat along the edge, on inside slants and via the bull rush.
Just three weeks later, though, Pugh seemingly turned a corner. Pugh earned a +3.9 in pass protection against the Chicago Bears' defensive end Shea McClellan, the best performance of his career up to that point.
Not only did Pugh excel pass blocking that game, but the rookie thrived creating holes for the running backs. Pugh drew a +2.6 run-blocking grade as Brandon Jacobs topped the century mark rushing and found the end zone twice.
Compared to the other offensive linemen taken ahead of Pugh in the 2013 NFL Draft, Pugh has excelled largely due to his smart play and quick feet, according to Tucker.
"Pugh has probably been more solid than any of those (other rookies). It's really been because of his feet, and he's playing smarter," he told NJ.com. "Those guys are lunging. Those guys are whiffing. You don't really see that from Pugh. He'll get beat late sometimes, but you don't see him outright whiffing."
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