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Giants 2021 roster profile: Can OT Andrew Thomas change the narrative?

Rookie season was disappointing for fourth overall pick

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New York Giants v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

ESPN projects the New York Giants to have the worst pass-protecting offensive line in the NFL during the 2021 season. Pro Football Focus ranks the unit as the league’s worst entering the season, and calls it a “massive question mark.”

NFL analysts and Giants fans pointed out again and again by digging their heels in and betting on improvement from a young offensive line.

“I think this offensive line can compete. You can cherry pick here, cherry pick there, in terms of which game you want to pick and how the offense did. The offensive line showed very good progress,” GM Dave Gettleman said at the end of last season. “They’re big, they’re young, they’re strong and they’re tough and smart. This O-Line has a chance to be pretty damn good.”

With co-owner John Mara “tired of the losing,” Gettleman’s job perhaps on the line, big-time free agent draft resources poured into the receiver positions, and a judgment to make about the long-term viability of Daniel Jones as quarterback betting the house on the young line is a big-time roll of the dice.

Offensive lines must play as a unit. Improving that group as a whole will be a collective effort between players and the revamped group of men who will be coaching them.

Still, there is probably one player who could do more than just about anyone to change the narrative surrounding the Giants’ offensive line.

Andrew Thomas.

Let’s dive into a discussion of last year’s No. 4 overall pick as we continue player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp this summer.

The basics

Height: 6-foot-5
Weight: 315
Age: 22
Position: Left tackle
Experience: 1
Contract: Year 2 of four-year, $32.345 million contract (fully guaranteed) | 2021 cap hit: $7.351 million

Career to date

Giants fans know the story and probably don’t want to go through it for the umpteenth time. To be complete, though, we have to.

The Giants the No. 4 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and there were four offensive tackles considered possibilities. When the Giants signed only swing tackle Cam Fleming in free agency, it became obvious they would select one of those four tackles with that fourth overall pick.

Evaluators made cases for Thomas, Mekhi Becton, Tristan Wirfs and Jedrick Wills as the best offensive tackle in the draft class. They all had validity.

The Giants chose Thomas, considered by most the safest bet to be a good long-term left tackle. At least in Year 1, the Giants chose wrong.

Thomas was easily the worst of the four during his rookie season. Statistically, he was among the worst offensive tackles in the NFL.

Pro Football Focus charted Thomas with 10 sacks allowed, most of any tackle. His 57 pressures allowed were second-most to Jawann Taylor of the Miami Dolphins, who had 103 more pass-blocking snaps. Thomas’s 94.2 pass-blocking efficiency score was last among 55 qualifying tackles. His 54.7 PFF grade as a pass blocker was 52nd of those 55 qualifiers. worst among tackles. Thomas’s run-blocking grade of 62.4 was 34th among 52 qualifiers.

Per Sports Info Solutions, Thomas’s 6.5 percent blown block rate in pass protection was worst among offensive tackles.

Why was Thomas so poor during much of 2020 after being so dominant at Georgia, where he faced much of the best collegiate competition in the country? This is a player who posted a 92.4 Pro Football Focus grade in 2019, best of any Power-5 offensive tackle in the draft class.

In his 2020 draft guide, Dane Brugler of The Athletic wrote that “Thomas’ balance issues are the main concern with his pro transition, getting himself out over his skis.” We saw that at times.

We also saw, during the early part of the season, Thomas often committing the cardinal sin for a tackle of being beaten to his inside. Why is that a cardinal sin? Because it gives a pass rusher a direct line to the quarterback.

There were a number of factors working against Thomas in 2020. The lack of an offseason, combined with a new coaching staff and an inexperienced line was always a recipe for disaster. I also wonder if Thomas spent the time leading up to the season prepping to play right tackle, then when Nate Solder opted out right before camp had to go switch to the left side.

There was also the offensive line coaching situation. There was persistent speculation that despite the lack of practice time, then-OL coach Marc Colombo tried to change some of Thomas’s techniques. Colombo, of course, got fired midseason and replaced by Dave DeGuglielmo. Neither the turmoil nor the apparent changes did Thomas any favors.

Finally, there was an ankle issue that necessitated offseason surgery.

No one within the Giants, including Thomas, ever actually confirmed that the Giants made changes with Thomas. The rookie left tackle, though, often spoke like he was being asked to do some unfamiliar things. Here is something Thomas said at the end of the season:

“At left tackle you have to have very good technique, and the biggest thing for me is making it muscle memory,” Thomas said. “The things I’ve learned over the year, to make ‘em natural so I don’t have to think about ‘em, they just naturally happen.”

Duke Manyweather of OL Masterminds told me this offseason that it was a mistake if the Giants did indeed try to make Thomas implement new techniques before he had played a snap.

“At the end of the day you’ve gotta dance with the girl you took to the prom, you’ve gotta dance with the girl that you brought. If you don’t you end up going home alone and empty,” Manyweather said.

“When you draft a guy that high, fourth overall pick, I don’t know if this is true but if you start to mess with technique and stuff you’re saying ‘hey we kinda like what we saw but we didn’t like everything we saw so we’re going to erase all that.’ To me the best thing you can do and again I don’t know what he was told to do, what he was taught to do, I don’t know what he was taught not to do but to me with a guy that has the talent of Andrew you let them go out there to an extent and play and kinda figure it out. Don’t give them too much to think about.”

2021 outlook

No one I have talked to believes we saw the real Thomas last season. Especially the first half of last season, when he allowed 39 of those 57 pressures. There was a seven-pressure, two-sack blip against Arizona, but Thomas had three games in the final eight during which he did not allow a single pressure.

There was work like this against Chase Young of the Washington Football Team:

Gettleman said that Thomas “acquitted himself very well when he had that rough patch and then he got himself rolling again.”

Manyweather agreed that Thomas got better as the season went along.

“There was turmoil there,” Manyweather said. “Andrew found his way late in the year. It’s difficult for rookies to come in and be that impactful, and when you’re the first tackle taken in a heavy tackle class and the other ones perform really well you’re going to be scrutinized.”

Back in January, Pro Football Focus noted that Thomas was one of six offensive tackles likely to have a breakout 2021 season:

Things did take a turn for the better for Thomas in the middle of the year. While he was still imperfect, we weren’t seeing him extend on his punch in pass protection as often as he was before. He was more patient with it. That played a significant part in his pass-blocking grade jumping from 45.3 through Week 7 to 63.5 from Week 8 on.

And for those concerned about the lofty pressure total Thomas gave up in Year 1, not every quality pass-protecting tackle in the NFL came out and had a hot start to their NFL career.

Just as PFF’s Ben Linsey wrote, the Giants would have taken Wirfs 10 times out of 10 knowing what they know now. At the end of the day, though, all is not lost with the former Georgia Bulldog. He is still more than capable of climbing out of the hole he dug himself after his notable improvement in the middle of the 2020 campaign.

When I asked former NFL scout Marc Lillibridge during a ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast whether Thomas could be a 10-year NFL left tackle, Lillibridge said “I do.”

“I think Andrew Thomas Thomas had a phenomenal upside (coming out of college), and I still think he does,” Lillibridge said.

Thomas doesn’t have to and should not be expected to play at an All-Pro level in 2021, though the Giants certainly wouldn’t complain if he did. He needs to be solid. He needs to build off the second half of last season.

If he can do that, Thomas can be a big part of changing the narrative around the Giants’ offensive line.