Selecting offensive tackle Andrew Thomas No. 4 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft was the biggest offensive move GM Dave Gettleman made in his offseason effort to “fix this offensive line once and for all.”
Was picking Thomas, and making him the first tackle taken in a talented group at that position the right move? Can Thomas help do that?
Long-time NFL offensive line coach Paul Alexander, who most notably had a 23-year run in that position with the Cincinnati Bengals, worked with Thomas prior to the draft. He believes the answer to those questions is yes.
“I thought he was the best of the group. I thought going into the draft early he was the first of the four tackles,” Alexander told me recently in an interview for the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast.
“At the end of the day he got picked first for this reason: One, He obviously has great physical ability. But, he had the highest grade of any offensive tackle getting ready for the draft according to pro Football Focus. Highest grade meaning he blocked his guy the most number of times, percentage wise. Highest statistical blocking grade in the best football conference in America, and he’s got the physical ability. So, why wouldn’t you take him first?
“I think the Giants did the right thing.”
Let’s take a closer look.
Position: Offensive tackle
How he got here
Despite a minority faction of fans and media who loudly banged the drum for the Giants to draft linebacker Isaiah Simmons, the majority expectation was that the Giants would select an offensive tackle with their first pick. Question was, which one?
Alabama’s Jedrick Wills (No. 10, Cleveland Browns) had a lot of admirers. Louisville’s 364-pound Mekhi Becton (No. 11, New York Jets) seemed like a Gettleman-esque hog mollie. Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs (No. 13, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) tested off the charts and was thought to be a safe pick.
Then there was Thomas. He began what is commonly considered the draft process as the No. 1 tackle in the eyes of most evaluators. After all the smoke cleared, and Wills, Wirfs, and Becton all had their moments, Thomas ended up that way. At least in the eyes of the Giants.
Former Giant and current NFL analyst Shaun O’Hara told me last month he “loved” the Giants’ selection of Thomas.
“I didn’t like it. I loved it,” O’Hara said of the move Tuesday in an exclusive phone interview with Big Blue View. “Andrew Thomas was No. 1 on my list of left tackles.”
O’Hara said Thomas was “arguably the best left tackle in college football the last two years.”
“I had zero question marks about Andrew Thomas, really. The more I learned about him the more I appreciated how good he was,” O’Hara said. “Two things that jumped out at me on film. I thought he had a really good anchor. You did not see him get pushed back into the pocket when he got a bullrush he could sit it down. … I thought his run-blocking was phenomenal.”
“I literally had no question marks about him.”
Thomas was a three-year starter at Georgia, 26 games at left tackle and 15 games at right tackle. He started as a true freshman when the Bulldogs lost to Alabama in the College Football National Championship Game.
Thomas was a First-Team All-American, First-Team All-Southeastern Conference and won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, awarded to the conference’s best blocker.
Thomas will start. The question we don’t have the answer to is whether that will be at left tackle or right tackle.
Both O’Hara and Alexander told me they would play Thomas at right tackle as a rookie, He has significant recent experience there, while Nate Solder is a long-time left tackle whose only right tackle experience came in 2011, nearly a decade ago.
”I think Andrew Thomas can morph into a left tackle but if you’re telling me to put the five best guys out on the field I’m putting Nate Solder at left tackle and I’m putting Andrew Thomas at right tackle,” O’Hara said.
CBS Sports’ draft analyst Chris Trapasso expects Thomas to make an immediate impact on the Giants’ offensive line:
Despite turning 21 a few months before the draft, Thomas made 41 starts across three seasons at Georgia. The vast SEC experience he got from his true freshman season on will pay major dividends during his rookie year with the Giants. In his debut campaign with the Bulldogs, Thomas logged 15 starts at right tackle, and he could play there to start his NFL career if Nate Solder holds onto his gig on the left side.
Thomas checks the two nonspecific boxes -- he has good traits and he produced in college. Being 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds with lengthy 36 1/8-inch arms is prototype material, and we know from the combine he's a high-level athlete for the offensive tackle position.
And his film was clean at Georgia, particularly in 2019, when he sharpened his footwork, which led to more balance -- and fewer one-on-one losses -- in pass protection. Yes, the Bulldogs were extraordinarily run-heavy during Thomas' tenure at left tackle. Last season, as an offense, Georgia dropped back to pass 429 times and ran on 505 occasions. In 2018, the team ran the ball 548 times to just 376 drop backs. On the surface, that philosophy didn't prepare Thomas well for the pass-happy NFL.
However, he was boringly good in pass pro in his final season in Athens. Per Pro Football Focus' draft guide, he allowed just nine pressures (with one sack) on 410 pass-block snaps. Despite New York's selection of Thomas at No. 4 overall getting pegged as a big reach by many, he's NFL-ready. Along with paving lanes for Saquon Barkley, he'll be effective when Daniel Jones drops back to pass too. Really, it's a just a matter of time before he takes over for Solder at left tackle.
The phrases “boringly good” and “NFL-ready” should make Giants’ fans smile.
Per Alexander, so, too, should a long-range future with Thomas on the left side and third-round pick Matt Peart on the right.
“You give him [Peart] a year to get his feet wet, and learn, because he needs some developmental time, but I like Matt Peart,” Alexander told me. “The second year you move Thomas over, you move Solder out, you put Peart in there at right tackle and you’ve got a good situation.”
It’s been a while since anyone could look at the Giants’ offensive tackles and think that.