After the New York Giants didn’t sign a right tackle in free agency, it was long expected that one of their first three selections in the 2019 NFL Draft would be used to add a right tackle. The idea was that a highly drafted rookie would provide a long-term answer for the line, hopefully solidifying it for the near future.
That didn’t happen, either.
Instead, the Giants waited until their ninth pick in the draft, 232nd overall, to finally add an offensive tackle. And while they looked to a Kentucky Wildcats team that produced several draftees on the defensive side of the ball, George Asafo-Adjei was largely unknown by the world at large. It some respects, it’s understandable: Kentucky was powered by its defense, and all the offensive attention was paid to running back Benny Snell Jr.
But now that “Big George” (as he is known) is a Giant, what kind of player are they getting? Is he a late-round flier, or is he, perhaps, a steal?
Let’s look at some film.
Kentucky’s offense pretty much ran through Snell. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Asafo-Adjei has plenty of experience as a run blocker. Kentucky ran a fairly varied rushing attack, using both man and zone blocking schemes to try and get Snell loose.
Man-Gap Run Plays
Man-gap plays run by Kentucky allowed Asafo-Adjei to take advantage of his natural strength when he played with good leverage. He was generally at his best on those plays and flashed the ability to dig defenders out of gaps and help create movement at the line of scrimmage.
(Note: Asafo-Adjei is right tackle, number 64)
Early in the Wildcats’ game against Georgia, they find themselves down a score in a third-and-short situation after a good play on second down. There is little subtlety to this play, and Kentucky runs it right behind Asafo-Adjei.
The left guard and center double-team the nose tackle while the right guard and Asafo-Adjei double-team the defensive end. With Georgia running a light box — only six defenders in the tackle box and seven close to the line of scrimmage — Kentucky is able to push the defensive line back and wall off the linebacker from being able to get involved in the play. Likewise, a fake screen from one of the receivers on the offensive right freezes outside linebacker (84) and prevents him from crashing in on the play and potentially stopping Snell behind the line of scrimmage.
For Asafo-Adjei in particular, he keeps his pads low, getting under the defensive end’s pads and winning the leverage battle. He also does a good job of firing his hands to take control and prevent the defender from shedding his block. He and the right guard are in sync on the play, blocking hip-to-hip and shoulder-to-shoulder as they drive him backwards and give Snell the room to pick up the first down and more.
But while this is an impressive show of power from Asafo-Adjei, there are nits to pick, one of which needs to be addressed at the next level.
First off, he is not particularly swift off of the line of scrimmage and is one of the last players moving. That doesn’t hurt him as the defender is slow off the snap as well, but he will have to work on timing the snap.
Of bigger issue is the significant “bucket step” he takes at the snap. Rather than firing out of his stance, Asafo-Adjei takes a step backwards before going forward into the defender. In addition to not timing the snap well, this slows him down further and makes him vulnerable early in the rep. It doesn’t impact him on this play, but at the NFL level it is a habit that could come back to bite him. It also isn’t an isolated occurrence and shows up a few times in man blocking schemes.
Asafo-Adjei is a good athlete for a bigger lineman. When he gets out into space he moves well and is surprisingly fluid. So it isn’t much of a surprise that he starts off well on zone plays.
Compared to how he gets out of his stance in man blocking schemes, there is very little wasted movement in Asafo-Adjei’s zone step. He is quick to get moving and his step is precise, but unfortunately what follows isn’t great.
Instead of playing with balance, he lets his knees straighten, bending at the waist and letting his weight drift forward, out over his toes — effectively lunging at the defender. Making matters worse, his poor balance compromises his hands, forcing them low and wide to compensate. The defender, meanwhile, has good pad level and fires his hands into Asafo-Adjei’s chest plate, jolting him backwards. He is on the back-side of the play, and manages to keep the defender from getting a free run into the pursuit, so being forced into the backfield isn’t a loss for the play — it winds up going for a big gain down the sideline on the offensive left.
However, it is still a loss for Asafo-Adjei, and somewhat indicative of his play on zone runs. While he is able to fire his hands and play with good pad level when blocking downhill, his balance, hand usage, and accuracy are off when he is blocking laterally.
He has the athletic tools to execute the plays, and it might just be a matter of coaching.
As mentioned above, the Kentucky offense was largely powered by its ground game, and run through Snell. In fact, they ran the ball nearly twice as often as they threw it, with 41 rushing attempts per game compared to 23 pass attempts per game in 2018. So Asafo-Adjei is not nearly as experienced a pass protector as he is a run blocker, particularly when compared to linemen from more pass-happy offenses. (For instance, Washington State passed an average of 51 times per game to just 21 rushing attempts).
In the NFL, a “balanced” offense is usually about 60 percent passing and 40 percent rushing. Last year, the Giants passed an average of 36 times per game, and ran the ball about 22 times per game — roughly a 60/40 split.
If he is going to make the Giants’ 53-man roster and be active for game days, pass protection will be much more important for him than run blocking.
Some of the same issues that crop up in zone blocking plays show up again in pass protection, so I wanted to look at a pair of plays from different games.
In the first play, it looks as though Asafo-Adjei will be blocking Montez Sweat. But instead Sweat loops inside on a stunt while a safety comes on a blitz. Big George does a good job of getting into his kick-slide at the start of the play, keeping his pads down, weight balanced, and hands at the ready to deliver a punch. However, he reacts poorly to the defensive back’s speed, quickly turning his hips away from the line of scrimmage and flailing his hands wide. He isn’t able to deliver a good punch and winds up more “catching” the safety than anything else. Because of the disparity in size and power between the two, he is able to control the smaller player and keep him from getting into the pocket. And usually, that is how his pass protection reps work out — while he might not be technically clean, he is able to put himself between the rusher and the quarterback and slow them down enough.
Other times it doesn’t work out so well.
In the second play, Asafo-Adjei is matched against 6-foot-3, 280-pound defensive lineman Malik Herring.
Once again, Asafo-Adjei is able to get into his kick-slide well and keeps himself in front of the defender. But when his hands come up wide and late, Herring is able to get inside leverage, shed the block and pursue the quarterback. Fortunately for Kentucky, there is an escape avenue on the left side and the athletic Terry Wilson is able to out-run Herring and turn potential disaster into a big gain.
So what should we make of “Big” George Asafo-Adjei? Where should we place our expectations? He has a versatile frame at 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, with the strength to play inside as well as the length and movement skills to stay at offensive tackle. However, it might be asking too much for him to be an answer for the team at right tackle. That isn’t to say that he doesn’t have the potential, but that he will need development and projects are no sure thing.
Big George does have a decent shot to make the roster, and not just because of the state of the Giants’ offensive line depth. He needs to work on his technique in both man and zone blocking schemes, as well as get more comfortable in pass protection. That will (hopefully) come in time with hard work and good coaching.
Perhaps the most realistic best-case scenario is that Asafo-Adjei emerges as a utility backup, able to fill in at both guard and offensive tackle, such Kevin Boothe. The ability to provide depth at multiple positions while saving a spot on the active roster is very valuable for a team and would be a home-run for a late seventh round pick.