Can Joe Schoen Fix the Giants' Offensive Line?

Well maybe, but it's complicated. Of course this is Joe Schoen's first stint as a GM - he was the Assistant to GM Brandon Beane in Buffalo for the past few years, so he hasn't actually run a draft himself before. However, Schoen and Beane worked closely during this time, including going on scouting trips all around the country together. And in one video inside the Bills' war room during the 2019 draft, Schoen was the person working the phones to discuss trade-ups/downs with other teams. So he has at least been intimately involved in the scouting and draft process, and it seems fair to assign some level of responsibility to him for how the Buffalo offensive line has evolved and performed during the 4 years he has been there.

Below is some information about the Bills' offensive line during the Beane/Schoen era (2018-2021). I've included 2017, the year before they arrived, as a reference point for what they began with:

PFF OL rank
2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
BUF 7 26 21 10 17
NYG 26 21 17 31 30

2021 PFF grade
Starters BUF Cordy Glenn Dion Dawkins Dion Dawkins Dion Dawkins Dion Dawkins 77.5

Richie Incognito Vlad Ducasse Quinton Spain Quinton Spain Jon Feliciano 56.7

Eric Wood Russell Bodine Mitch Morse Mitch Morse Mitch Morse 63.4

John Miller John Miller Jon Feliciano Brian Winters Cody Ford 46.4

Jordan Mills Jordan Mills Cody Ford Cody Ford Daryl Williams 67.5

OLs drafted 1 1 1 0 3
(round, player)
2 Dion Dawkins 5 Wyatt Teller 2 Cody Ford
3 Spencer Brown

5 Tommy Doyle

7 Jack Anderson

At first glance the information above indicates some improvement over the years, but some areas of concern as well. Some of them can be explained by particular circumstances, others are just mistakes. Let's discuss them.

PFF does an annual ranking of OLs after the regular season ends. The chart above shows that overall the Bills' OL has been better than the Giants' over the past 5 years, but not in 2018 and 2019. Beane and Schoen inherited the 7th best OL in the league, and they turned it into the 26th ranked OL in their first season. Yikes! What happened?

Two things. The chart also shows the starting OLs for each year at the beginning of the season. The 2017 OL was anchored by Richie Incognito, one the best OLs in the league. But Incognito has gotten into trouble several times in his career, and in 2017 he was accused of making racial slurs by Yannick Ngakoue during the AFC Wild Card game. Incognito had a variety of personal and medical problems and was dissatisfied with a contract restructure, according to his Wikipedia entry, and retired was eventually released by Buffalo. That left one big hole on the OL.

The other thing was that starting LT Cordy Glenn, a solid but unspectacular player, was traded before the 2018 draft to Cincinnati as part of as deal that allowed Buffalo to move up from #20 to #12. This was followed by a trade up to #7 with Tampa Bay that allowed them to draft Josh Allen. I think that move has worked out OK for Buffalo. But these two things left them with two holes on the starting OL.

Fortunately the previous regime had drafted OT Dion Dawkins in the 2nd round in 2017, and he stepped in at LT that year and has played there, and played well, ever since. Buffalo signed several free agents to fill out their line. They only drafted one OL that year - Wyatt Teller in round 5. Teller was thought to be a round 3-4 value but was inconsistent his senior year and dropped. Teller started by mid-season, taking over at LG for veteran free agent signing Vlad Ducasse. He performed adequately but not spectacularly. Thus the plummeting OL ranking for 2018.

Beane and Schoen recognized something needed to be done before the 2019 season. They did 3 things to fix the OL. First, they signed 4 free agents, 3 of whom have started for at least 2 years since (Quinton Spain, Mitch Morse, Jon Feliciano). With those reinforcements, Teller in their eyes became expendable, so they traded him and a 7th round pick to Cleveland for 5th and 6th round picks. Then they traded up in round 2 of the 2019 draft to select OT Cody Ford. The reconfigured OL showed some improvement in 2019, rising from 26th to 21st in PFF rankings, and then up to 10th in 2020. It slid back some in 2021 to 17th, but was still middle of the pack.

The moves made in 2019, in retrospect, were pretty poor. Teller of course has become one of the very best OLs in the NFL with Cleveland. The story of how Buffalo let him get away is of some interest: Cody Ford started his rookie season but only for half of 2020 and was benched halfway through 2021. Overall, except for Dion Dawkins (drafted by the previous GM), the rest of the OL had mediocre-to-poor PFF grades this season, and Buffalo's OL as a whole this year was middle of the pack according to PFF.

In fact they had trouble early in the season holding up against a 4-man rush with 2-high safety looks, allowing many more pressures than the previous season and causing Josh Allen's performance to decline, as analyzed by Mark Schofield:

But they improved over the course of the season, Josh Allen bounced back to something like his 2020 form, and by playoff time, the Bills' offense was virtually unstoppable (except by their own defense allowing Mahomes to drive them 50 yards in 13 seconds). Adjustments by the coaching staff? I don't know. What I do know is that even a great young QB doesn't look so great when he's pressured. Daniel Jones is not Josh Allen by any means, but as Schoen said to Ralph Vacchiano yesterday, Jones can't put his best foot forward when he's not on his feet.

So can we read the tea leaves of Beane's and Schoen's approach to development of the Buffalo OL and learn anything about how Schoen will improve the Giants' OL? Not directly since Beane was the one making the final calls, and we don't know if Schoen will see things differently now that he's the one on the hot seat. But let's imagine that Schoen and Beane had a Vulcan mind meld and that past performance will indeed be indicative of the future. If so, maybe we'll see the following:

1. Buffalo did not draft many OLs during the past 4 years: 1 each in 2018 and 2019, 0 in 2020, and finally 3 in 2021. That's as many as the Giants have drafted the past 4 years, during which most of us have crucified the front office for ignoring the OL. And Buffalo did not once during these years use a 1st round pick on an OL. So for all us mock draft warriors using #5 and #7 on OL plus one or two more in rounds 2 and 3...well, maybe Schoen will do that, but if he does, it will depart from anything he and Beane did in Buffalo. Instead, they went front-line defense with all their round 1 picks other than Josh Allen. So maybe we'll see at least one of those round 1 picks go to EDGE, DT, or ILB.

2. Schoen did much of his OL rebuild by signing free agents. We are in cap hell for 2022, so you might assume that means that Schoen will have to depart from his previous team's approach and lean more heavily on the draft. Maybe. But maybe it means that Schoen is preparing to be the Grim Reaper, cutting many players with significant cap hits so that he can pursue mid-tier freee agent OLs (of which there are many this year) as key parts of the rebuild.

3. Beane and Schoen (and now Brian Daboll, welcome to New York! Woo-hoo!) have had a mostly middling OL during their years here, rather than one of the top OLs Giants fans drool over. Yet they have put together an offense that has now become mostly unstoppable, derailed only by their defense's failure to keep Patrick Mahomes from gaining 50 yards in 10 seconds. The lesson they may take from that is that as long as the OL is OK, that's good enough as long as you have coaches who can adjust to what defenses are doing. And again, they never used a round 1 pick on OL in Buffalo. So maybe they will do just enough to make the OL adequate and direct resources to D, as mentioned above, or maybe skill players on offense (in Buffalo they drafted 5 WRs and 2 TEs in 4 years). Of the 10 top-rated 2021 OLs by PFF, 3 missed the playoffs, 4 other made the playoffs but have been eliminated, and only 3 remain (#3 SF, #5 KC, #7 LAR).

4. Beane and Schoen did a lot of trading ** up **, which is supposed to be less advantageous than trading down, during their time together in Buffalo. Sometimes it didn't work (Cody Ford). Once, it worked amazingly (Josh Allen). They also gave up on a 5th round pick (Teller) after only one year after finding a free agent replacement; that pick became one of the best OLs in the league today. Will they follow the same philosophy now that both Schoen and Daboll are in New York?

It's going to be very interesting.

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