ESPN released its list of second-year breakout candidates heading into the 2021 NFL season, and Andrew Thomas of the New York Giants cracks the list at 11. The fourth overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft had a tumultuous season that was almost night and day. ESPN reiterates that point in the blurb written about Thomas:
“It was a tale of two seasons for Thomas, whose head was spinning after the first few weeks of his rookie campaign. Only one tackle recorded a worse pass-blocking grade through Week 7 than Thomas, who sat at an abysmal 45.3 mark. He allowed pressure at a 14% clip in those seven games - - 3.5 percentage points worse than anyone else at the position.
“Criticism abounded, but Thomas stuck with it and put together a solid second half of the season. His 63.5 pass-block grade from Week 8 on was a huge upgrade and showed that he could succeed at the NFL level. He cut his pressure rate by more than half, dropping all the way to 6.1% There’s reason to believe he can continue down that path and make another solid jump in 2021.”
The reasons that ESPN alludes to are sound in logic; for starters, as pointed out, Thomas developed and fixed his insufficiencies down the stretch of his rookie season. His struggles late in the year in the Arizona game weren’t due to just Thomas’ inability to block, but they were also a product of Vance Joseph’s scheme taking advantage of the Giants protection package.
Thomas was able to master his set points, protect his inside, have answers for counter moves, and sured his anchor up towards the end of the season. Another key reason that may suggest Thomas will be more consistent in the coming season is the stability of the offensive line from a coaching standpoint.
The Marc Colombo experiment failed, and Dave DeGuglielmo was fine as a replacement, but adding Rob Sale to the staff should help all these young offensive lineman. Sale has developed young two star recruits at Louisiana into NFL players in Robert Hunt and Kevin Dotson.
Sale is known for his ability to teach - something the Giants coaching staff has put a high priority on. Having an offensive line coach that these young players can grow with, in an off-season that isn’t as affected by COVID-19, will also help the overall stability of the offensive line. That continuity matters, so hopefully it pays off on the football field. The offensive line in general is incredibly young and inexperienced with the elder statesmen being a 25-year old Will Hernandez if Matt Peart wins the right tackle job.
Nevertheless, Thomas is locked and loaded to be the anchor on the left side of the line. He’s a dominating down blocking run blocker who has shown a solid ability to locate at the second level. His pass blocking starter horrendously, but developed well down the stretch of the season. He’s a good breakout candidate for the 2021 season, and ESPN’s logic is sound.
I also feel Xavier McKinney, the Giants’ second round safety out of Alabama, could have realistically cracked this list. He only played in 211 defensive snaps, 74 in week 17 against the Cowboys, but he showed impressive signs of a precocious player who is on the cusp of proving himself. I would not be shocked if many people out of the New York market are raving about McKinney by the end of the season.
Other players who cracked ESPN’s list include Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow, Broncos’ wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, Vikings’ offensive lineman Ezra Cleveland, Seahawks OL Damien Lewis, Steelers’ OL Kevin Dotson, Seahawks’ linebacker Jordyn Brooks, Patriots EDGE Josh Uche, Raiders’ wide receiver Henry Ruggs III, Saints tight end Adam Trautman, Bills defensive linemen A.J. Epenesa, Ravens DL Justin Madubuike, Lions’ CB Jeffrey Okudah, and Football Team safety Kamren Curl.