The New York Giants possessed the fourth overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. After an extended interval of dismal offensive tackle play, Big Blue had the opportunity to select their desired option out of four attractive prospects: Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, Louisville’s Mekhi Becton, Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, and Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs.
New York went with the heavy-handed Thomas - further solidifying a pipeline of prospects from the Bulldogs’ program. The start to Thomas’ season was less than desirable, as he allowed 28 pressures and 5 sacks through the first five games.
His set points were erratic, he struggled to protect the inside, and he didn’t do a good job handling opponents’ counter moves. Thomas’ inability to play adequately as the bookend tackle on the left side forced second-year quarterback Daniel Jones into some very precarious situations.
After the Thursday Night Football Week 7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Thomas utilized the extended time off to prepare and hone his craft before the Week 8 Monday Night Football game against the eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After that Week 8 affair, other than the Arizona Cardinals’ game where the entire offensive line was out-schemed, Thomas showed signs of the ability to become a long-term left tackle for the Giants.
Thomas figured out how to handle the inside counter moves, he played with much more confidence, the framing of his blocks was better, and his timing, striking, and posture all improved. Other than that Arizona game, in the final 8 games, Thomas only allowed 3 sacks and 11 pressures. Let’s check out some of Thomas’ film and see the development as the season progressed.
Thomas was good when down blocking on anything inside of a 4i-technique. It’s one of the “easier” blocks for a tackle when in a power/gap scheme that likes to run through the 5 (this isn ‘t hockey!) or 6 holes. Thomas’ objective on these blocks is to wash the targeted defender down the line of scrimmage, paving an alley for the backside pulling guard to kick-out the End Man On the Line Of Scrimmage (EMOLOS), the lead blocker, and the running back.
Here’s that exact play against a 3-technique where Shane Lemieux (66) chips the defender and Thomas (78) splits him with one hand on the small of his back and the other on the defender’s midline, as the defender attempts to get horizontal to penetrate. Thomas uses good lower body strength and drive to push the defender down into the A-Gap, creating a wide open B-Gap that was vacated by Lemieux who did a good job locating the second level defender. The end result is a big hole for the running back. Thomas had many plays just like this on these counter runs the Giants frequently ran.
The counter-trey play isn’t the only type of power/gap run the Giants employed, and Thomas takes this slanting 6-technique for a ride inside. The defender’s momentum helps Thomas, but the young tackle still does a good job keeping his elbows tight, waiting patiently to attack, and then splitting the defender and not allowing him to spin back into the open gap to make a play on either the lead blocker or the running back.
Even on plays where there aren’t any pullers (DUO, Inside Zone), Thomas clears the way and makes large holes off his backside. He does a good job with his feet and positioning here to drive and angle the defender to a position of no return.
Against one of the more dominant defensive linemen in the league, Cameron Heyward (97), Thomas is able to use his momentum to drive him laterally, albeit it’s towards the play on the stretch-zone, yet Thomas displays enough strength to create a big cut-back lane off his backside while Heyward falls to the ground.
Once again, we see the dominating nature and strength that Thomas can bring to these types of assignments. His second readjustment upon the initial contact really imposes his power and will on the defender while he drives him down to the ground. These types of run blocks were consistent for Thomas throughout the entire regular season.
His base run blocking wasn’t as great; when he had to quickly engage a wider defender, he would, at times, lean too much into the block, allowing defenders easier access to hit Thomas with counter moves and penetrate the line of scrimmage. It was better as his game improved down the stretch of the season, but it could still be a more balanced and efficient attack.
Pass blocking - the bad
Thomas struggled mightily in pass protection early in the season. As the season progressed, he became more aware, better technically, and handled those counter moves in a manner where he wasn’t a turnstile. Let’s look at some of his early-season struggles.
The inside move
Going up against Khalil Mack (52) would make anyone want to overset, but there is a fine line and Thomas struggled to find it in Week 2 against the Bears. Thomas should be aware of the 3-technique over Will Hernandez (71), which means there isn’t going to be inside help, but the stress Mack puts on Thomas up the arc forces Thomas to overcompensate for his speed. This allows these types of inside moves that were devastating to the young tackle early in the season.
Look closely at Thomas’ extension and hips when he goes for the double punch on this Eagles’ pass rusher; it’s a wide rusher and Thomas meets him up the arc in a timely manner. His hips are low and in a ready stance, but his footwork continues to move up the arc unnecessarily as he goes to punch. The extra step essentially acts as a revolving door, allowing the pass rusher a clear path to bounce off the contact and shoot into the pocket. This issue is compounded by a forward lean that disallows a spring in Thomas’ step that would assist in an easier recovery. Instead, Thomas has to completely flip his hips inside to handle the inside trajectory of the pass rusher. A double punch like this can be dangerous; if landed cleanly, it can stun pass rushers, especially a tackle with the heavy hands like Thomas. If it only slightly lands, like we see above, it makes the tackle vulnerable.
Hernandez has that 3-technique over the top of him, leaving Thomas on an island against a wide rusher. Thomas again leans too much with his punch and brings his hips up a bit too high with a narrow base upon trying to initiate contact. He also again has to completely flip his hips inside to cover any inside move because he is undisciplined with his inside foot - his timing is improper, his punch location is off, and his balance is out of whack. He needs to exercise a bit more patience with his technique.
Thomas played relatively well in the Week 1 loss against the Steelers, but there were early signs of inside counter move struggles. We can see the lunge and the slow reaction to the inside move upon him picking up that inside foot and planting it as Bud Dupree (49) conducts his spin move. Thomas tries to chop Dupree’s outside hand, but goes too high with his inside hand to really negate any inner movement from the pass rusher. The alley is created by Thomas footwork with his set, and the recovery is slow due to Thomas having to flip his hips into the B-Gap.
This one is a bit different than the others, and it does show good processing skills. Thomas and Saquon Barkley were out-schemed a few different times by the Steelers on blitzes that were similar to this one, but Thomas is aware of the protection package and doesn’t bite on the looping late blitzer. It’s hard to believe by the end result, but this is an eight-man protection package. Thomas steps to the blitzer and lets him go because the smaller defender should be the assignment of the running back. Thomas reacts well, initially, to the slanting linemen, but his technique is poor. He allows Arik Armstead (91) to disregard his inside hand, and he also raises his center of gravity way too much in an attempt to use strength to halt the defender. He never gains control of Armstead’s side with his outside arm and this allows Armstead to get underneath Thomas and shove him inside, effectively surrendering the outside half of the young tackle. There’s little confidence with his positioning, feet, and his hands aren’t in any position to help absorb the contact and power that Armstead imposes upon him.
Around the edge
A big reason why Thomas was frequently giving up the inside was because he was overcompensating for his outside shoulder. When a tackle fears speed, he attempts to adjust for said speed, leaving opportunities for the EDGE rushers to use inside counter moves, which we saw above. This is really bad technique from Thomas against Robert Quinn (94). Thomas’ pad level is too high and he allows Quinn to easily get inside of his frame, establish a half-man relationship, get hip to hip, and then use a flurry of pass rush moves to strip the ball from Daniel Jones. Quinn hits Thomas with a quick chop, club, and rip move, while bending through the futile contact of Thomas. He has to be better with his feet, but he also has to use those hands to help stave off these defenders.
This play was rough, as well. Demarcus Lawrence (90) is wide of Thomas and the tackle attempts to 45 degree set the talented EDGE rusher. At the engagement, Thomas goes for a double punch and basically misses, allowing Lawrence to get hip to hip and turn the corner. Thomas is lunging, his feet are way too close together, and the timing is poor. He virtually misses contact and Lawrence just runs around him and into the pocket where Jones is setting up after a play-action attempt. It’s an easy strip sack touchdown for the Cowboys.
These early struggles cast Thomas’ rookie year in a manner of failure. There were a lot of big plays, game-changing types of plays, that were the direct result of Thomas’ mistakes. The end of the season, however, was much better for Thomas. Confidence may not be quantifiable, but I do believe it makes a difference. More confidence equals better technique, awareness, and overall play.
Pass blocking - the good
The inside move
This would have been an inside move if the Ravens’ defender had more of a chance, but Thomas does a much better job handling his technique here. Watch how he strikes the defender; there’s mirroring to his feet, the cadence is much smoother, he has the outside hand high by the shoulder pad and the inside hand wrapping around the inside hand of the defender. His chest is high, base is firm, and he shifts his weight in the direction of the rusher’s path. This doesn’t allow the defender to go through an open alley; the footwork and feel for the block is so much better, and it also passes the eye test much more than the earlier reps we saw.
This Dallas defender tries to work towards Thomas’ inside after the tackle stonewalls his outside rushing attempt. The first strike misses, causing hand fighting, but Thomas comes back with a heavy two-handed punch; he then anchors himself down and uncoils power through his hips to give another punch and limit the space of the rusher. The EDGE rusher has no room to move inside and he’s stopped in his tracks.
This is not necessarily an inside move from this rusher, but it’s a strong inside hand with a lean towards the inside - a move that may have worked earlier in the season against Thomas. Once the contact is made, Thomas gains depth into the pocket with that inside foot and not in a way that opens the gate. He gets his inside hand underneath the armpit and grabs cloth, while hand fighting with his outside hand. The lunging doesn’t happen until the contact is just about made and there is true absorption of the contact from Thomas. He uses his body, and the ground, as mechanisms to take on the power of the defender while limiting his space to operate. His feet are also so much better and move with great tempo.
Around the edge
I love the readjusting that Thomas does here; he makes contact, surrenders some ground, but then takes that outside arm and establishes it back inside and underneath the defender’s outside arm. Then he pulls the defender close to him and sits back on his hips to anchor. When the defender attempts to get hip-to-hip, Thomas just turns outside while keeping his hands and elbows tight, and the Seahawk rusher can’t create any separation.
Thomas is up against one of the faster speed rushers in the league here in Yannick Ngakoue (91), yet he doesn’t overset. He is patient, knowing that he’s in a 1-on-1. Thomas picks his outside foot up and then slows the tempo down to stay square on Ngakoue. Thomas easily beats him up the arc and then Ngakoue is held by the play fake; Ngakoue then attempts to get around the edge, but Thomas easily flips his hips and rides him away from the pocket. I love how Thomas easily kept pace with the pass rusher in the early parts of this play, there wasn’t the same type of panic we saw earlier in the season.
Another play against Ngakoue where Thomas doesn’t panic and just keeps up with the pass rusher’s moves. He sets, hands are a bit wide, but his outside arm gets knocked downward. Thomas, however, quickly comes back and gets both hands on Ngakoue, cutting off his angle as he mirrors the pass rusher up the arc. Ngakoue can’t corner and he’s eliminated from the play.
Against the Eagles, Thomas did a good job on this play anchoring down and attacking the wide EDGE rusher who attempted to win with speed right away. Thomas splits the defender in half - one hand on his chest, the other on the small of his back - and then he just controls and steers him away from the pocket. The initial punch wasn’t the cleanest, but he readjusts his hands while he is moving and dictates the full control of the 1-on-1 matchup.
It was great to see this in Week 17. Aldon Smith (58) gave Thomas and the Giants a lot of problems in Week 5, as he had 9 pressures in that game. Patience, patience, patience! Thomas doesn’t jolt up the arc in a pure frantic state; he slowly watches Smith and paces with his tempo. Smith makes the first move, anticipating Thomas’ outside arm, and misses with the chop. This prompts Thomas to give a hard and firm punch to the exposed inside shoulder of Smith. He then steps back, maintains inside contact with a long arm, and then brings his outside arm underneath the outside arm of Smith. Great feet, great strike timing, and an excellent way to handle himself as an NFL left tackle.
Other than Week 1, where Thomas and Barkley weren’t on the same page in pass protection several times, Thomas showed some solid processing skills when defenses would attempt to manipulate the young player. Sure, he made other mistakes through the year, but he also made some really impressive pick ups. It was also evident that Lemiuex and Thomas were on the same page a lot with their stunt/twist game.
The 4i and slightly off 5-technique alignment may signify a set up T/E stunt, but, if you watch Thomas closely, he still anticipates it so well. Thomas focuses center mass on L.J. Collier (91) and before the rusher even plants his outside foot to go inside, Thomas is there tight to Lemieux to feel the transition to Poona Ford (97). It’s handled excellently from both Thomas and Lemieux here.
Evan Engram (88) does a really good job chipping Myles Garrett (95) on this rep. Thomas, who is keeping his eyes focused on Garrett, quickly transitions to the 4-technique knowing that Garrett is just going to be looping inside. It’s not an overly difficult transition, but it shows awareness and the ability to quickly think on one’s feet.
Thomas is a bit too aggressive on this play, but I love how he is able to realize that mid-play. He goes to punch with his outside arm, but quickly realizes he is going to over extend himself - his initial timing was off, but the ability to realize that is a veteran move. Instead of continuing with that punch and lunging - like we saw so much earlier - he sits back on his hips and prepares for contact. He takes on the bull-rush with ease and allows Daniel Jones to find Sterling Shepard (87) down the field.
Seattle employs some creepers on this play and they’re to Thomas’ side. Jamal Adams (33) comes flying off the edge as linebackers bail into coverage, but Thomas is responsible for the 5-technique. The protection package didn’t account for the backside pressure, so Thomas is out-schemed 2 to 1. Right before Colt McCoy (12) is hit, Thomas is able to do just enough to hold off Adams. It’s a tough spot for Thomas to be in, but he does a solid job not allowing McCoy to get absolutely annihilated.
The late-season Andrew Thomas was significantly better than the early-season one. Was this a product of the truncated offseason? Perhaps, but it could also just be due to a young tackle finding his groove at the NFL level. The best of the four tackles still remains to be seen; after their rookie seasons, Thomas certainly wasn’t the most consistent or the most effective - that’s not a hot take - but the signs of development and confidence that appeared in the latter half of the year are certainly encouraging for Giants’ nation.