The New York Giants signaled loud, clear, and early that they would be drafting an offensive lineman sooner rather than later in the 2020 NFL Draft.
And they selected a lineman about as quickly as they could, drafting Georgia left tackle Andrew Thomas with the fourth overall pick. Throughout the draft process each of the top four offensive tackles had his turn as the perceived “OT1” of the draft class. The view here was that there was an argument to be made as to why each of the top tackles could be the top tackle.
The general view was that Thomas might not have the highest ceiling of the tackles in this year’s draft class, but he has a very high floor and is the “safest” pick.
But “safe” isn’t the same as “boring,” and Thomas has a high ceiling as an offensive tackle in his own right. So we’re going to take a look at some of Thomas’ tape and show what the Giants might have seen to make him their pick. And since Thomas is still a prospect, and no college prospect is a finished product, we’re also going to take a look at some of the issues he’ll need to correct now that he’s a New York Giant.
Following are four plays to be excited about, and a couple to worry about.
Play 1) Georgia at LSU
(First quarter, 15:00, First-and-10)
We’re going to start with a pass protection rep because, frankly, pass protection is the most important thing a lineman can do.
Thomas is matched up against K’Lavon Chaisson, who is playing from a two-point stance as a rush linebacker. Georgia doesn’t have much to fear from the LSU pass rush on this play. Jake Fromm is in good rhythm on his four-step (with a hitch) drop, and can easily deliver the ball to his receiver, who wins early in his route.
But that’s not why I picked this play. Chaisson is a very athletic player and, by this point in the season, had shaken the lingering effects of the torn ACL he suffered in 2018. Chaisson sets up his rush with a quick fake to the outside, only to spin back inside and attack the left B-gap when Thomas gets additional width on his kick-slide to protect against the outside rush.
Thomas, however, reacts very well to the move.
He uses his hands well to keep engaged with Chaisson and keep his spin from clearing the block, while also preventing the late long-arm move from gaining leverage. Meanwhile he mirrors Chaisson well, keeping his hips roughly parallel to the line of scrimmage and moves back into the B-gap along with Chaisson to prevent penetration. Finally, Thomas uncoils his hips and extends his arms at the end of the play to create enough separation that Fromm can get the pass off without Chaisson’s outstretched arm interfering in the passing lane.
This isn’t a perfect rep — letting a long rusher in front of the passer always creates the opportunity for a batted pass — but Thomas does a number of things well. His hand usage, leverage, and mobility are all on point. But most importantly, he doesn’t panic and lunge, which would have gotten him beaten.
Play 2) Georgia vs. Alabama - 2018 College Football Playoffs
(First quarter, 15:00, First-and-10)
Next, we take a trip back in time to see Thomas against Alabama in the first round of the 2018 College Football Playoffs. This was the first play of the game, and Georgia elects to run the ball against Alabama’s stout defensive front.
Thomas is matched up against Isaiah Buggs, who was drafted in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. This isn’t a great play for the Georgia offense and they only pick up about 2 yards. But we aren’t so much concerned with the results of the play as we are what Thomas does.
Thomas fires off the ball well, keeping good leverage with his hips down and delivers a good strike inside Buggs’ framework. From there he uncoils his hips and is able to drive Buggs back off the ball. Buggs is ultimately able to slip the block after getting driven back, but by that point the running back was already stopped. It would have been nice to see Thomas sustain the block through the whistle, but this shows Thomas’ strengths as a run blocker with good power and technique to strike, leverage, and drive.
Play 3) Georgia vs. Notre Dame
(Third quarter, 14:15, Second-and-8)
Back to the passing game, Thomas’ strength shows up again.
Thomas is matched up against Julian Okwara, who is lined up as a rush linebacker out of a two-point stance. Okwara is noticeably late off the snap and is the last player moving on the Notre Dame defensive line. That being said, he still has a good first step and makes up the ground quickly. Okwara makes first contact, using a long-arm move to keep separation while driving Thomas back with his initial explosion. Thomas’ hands are a little low and wide, with his punch falling outside Okwara’s framework, giving the defender the leverage to start.
Thomas, however, is quickly able to re-anchor and absorb the energy of the rush. He keeps a wide base and low hips to maximize his mechanical leverage, and reorients his feet to stay parallel to the line of scrimmage. After absorbing the initial rush, Thomas delivers another quick strike and mirrors inward to keep Okwara from being able to disengage and create pressure through the B-gap.
This is a quick-hitting play, so Thomas doesn’t have to block for long. But even so, he does a nice job of quickly recovering after a bad start to the play.
Play 4) Georgia vs. Notre Dame
(Third quarter, 0:27, First-and-10)
We’re going to stay with the Notre Dame game for our next play, and go back to the running game.
Georgia calls an inside zone run, which puts Thomas on Julian Okwara again. And once again we see the size and power disparity between Thomas and Okwara. This time, however, Thomas wins at first contact. He gets inside leverage with his first strike, which, combined with his low hip level, lets him get under Okwara’s pads. When Thomas uncoils his hips and unlocks his power, he is able to uproot Okwara pretty easily and drives him back about 6 yards by the time he disengages.
This is another run that isn’t successful, but that isn’t Thomas’ fault.
I decided to save this play for last because it also serves as a good transition to the second part of this piece. If you watch the start of the rep, Thomas takes a noticeable step back — or “bucket step” — before driving forward. The purpose of that is to orient his hips with his man before uncoiling and driving. This was likely a coaching cue for Thomas at some point in his football career because we see it pretty consistently when Thomas is asked to block downhill, but it might be a liability at the NFL level.
Thomas’ size and power advantage over Okwara let him quickly take control of the play, driving him off the ball with relative ease. But he won’t always be going against 240-pound outside linebackers. To paraphrase offensive line guru LeCharles Bentley, if you want to win consistently in the NFL “you give up nothing.” If an offensive line gives ground against Aaron Donald, Von Miller, or J.J. Watt, they are never getting that ground back. The bucket step is an established coaching cue and is fine at lower levels, but — as Bentley teaches — there are more efficient and effective ways to run block.
Things to work on
Play 1 - Georgia vs. Notre Dame
(First quarter, 5:33, Third-and-4)
Notre Dame is showing heavy pressure to start the play, with six potential rushers lined up on the line of scrimmage.
Thomas is matched up on Khalid Kareem, who lines up at (what appears to be on the TV angle) a 9-technique. Kareem shows a good get-off and presses his rush upfield, while Thomas doesn’t get enough width or depth on his pass set. Kareem gets a lot of room to work with, while Thomas turns his hips parallel to the line of scrimmage early, giving up the edge.
From there, Kareem is able to beat Thomas’ hands with a swipe move and Thomas is forced to lunge to recover, but Kareem has him beat. Thomas is fortunate that Kareem isn’t a more athletic rusher, or he likely would have been able to turn the corner and get the sack. As it stands, Kareem might have been able to get to the quarterback if Thomas hadn’t hit him from behind as Kareem ran past.
As far as things to improve upon, I think this loss all stems from not being aggressive enough with his initial kick-slide. If Thomas had worked to beat Kareem to the spot instead of trying to “catch” him and let his length and strength carry the day, this play probably would have looked different. Also, I would like to see him clean up the shove in the back after he is beaten. Thomas’ first job is to make sure his quarterback doesn’t get clobbered, but his second job is to not hurt the team, and that shove could well be flagged as a block in the back by NFL refs. And this isn’t an isolated incident, it shows up a few times in his tape when a rusher gets past him.
Play 2) Georgia vs. South Carolina
(Second quarter, 2:30, Second-and-5)
We’re back to the South Carolina game again.
We have another running play, but this time Thomas is on the play side.
He gets a good start to the play, keeping his feet wide and getting some movement against D.J. Wonnum. This play goes sour pretty quickly as Thomas lets his base narrow and hips rise over the course of the rep. He is engaged with Wonnum and winds up bending at the hips as his knees straighten, lunging into Wonnum and playing way out in front of his toes.
With Thomas playing without leverage and his balance fairly well compromised, Wonnum is able to use a late rip move to slip under Thomas’ block. From there, he quickly curls around Thomas and makes the tackle from behind.
Consistent base width is something scouts noted as an issue in Thomas’ game and it certainly crops up here. Thomas had instances of lunging at athletic defenders, but in this case he has Wonnum blocked from the start of the play. He just needs to work on keeping a wide base and not letting his foot track narrow as he drives the block. That created the opportunity for Wonnum, and he capitalized.
Offensive linemen have a fairly steep learning curve from college to the NFL and it’s common for rookies to struggle. Thomas has a solid foundation and the tools to be a good blocker at the NFL level. Now the onus is on Thomas and the Giants’ coaches to build upon what he already has and work on the issues which cropped up on tape. If they’re able to do so, and Thomas is able to consistently play up to his potential, he should be a good lineman for a long time.