When Joe Schoen became general manager of the New York Giants in January, the team’s offensive line was in shambles.
The Giants’ had the 30th-ranked offensive line in the NFL in 2021, per Pro Football Focus. Four of the five starters from that group were headed to free agency. Schoen looked at the roster and saw only five potentially healthy offensive linemen under contract.
Beyond that, of course, Giants fans know that the line has been a wreck for most of the last decade. Jerry Reese tried to fix it. Dave Gettleman tried to fix it. Bad free agents signings and draft choices by both former GMs left the Giants spinning their wheels in their annual offensive line rebuild efforts, left quarterbacks running for their lives, running backs with nowhere to go and the offense with no real chance of consistent success.
Schoen has poured as much of his resources as he felt he possibly could into trying to fortify the leaking line.
Schoen signed six free agents while giving only one — guard Mark Glowinski — ma significant contract. Glowinski got three years, $18.3 million ($11.4 million guaranteed). He re-signed swing tackle Korey Cunningham. Then, he went to work in the 2022 NFL Draft. Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal was chosen No. 7 overall, and North Carolina guards Joshua Ezeudu (No. 67) and Marcus McKethan (No. 173) were added.
“I think I told you guys at the Combine, we had maybe five healthy bodies, offensive lineman, on the roster, and that’s my point. There were several holes, and we didn’t have a lot of depth throughout the roster,” Schoen said after concluding his first draft as a GM on Saturday.
“So start there, start up front, let’s see the best version of Daniel Jones we can, and it starts by hopefully keeping him on his feet. And that’s going to help Saquon and that’s going to help the receivers because he’ll have more time to get him the ball. I think we upgraded the offensive line, which hopefully we did. We’ll see how the competition in training camp goes. But, yeah, I’m happy where we are with the depth overall.”
Duke Manyweather of OL Masterminds likes what Schoen has done.
“I think the Giants are in a good position,” Manyweather said. “I’m excited about what they did in this draft.”
The potential starting unit looks like this:
LT — Andrew Thomas; LG — ???; C — Jon Feliciano [1-on-1 interview with Feliciano]; RG — Glowinski; RT — Neal.
What it looked like a year ago:
LT — Thomas; LG — Matt Skura; C — Billy Price; RG — Will Hernandez; RT — Nate Solder/Matt Peart
Here is the entire offensive line group on the current roster:
Andrew Thomas, Shane Lemieux, Ben Bredeson, Max Garcia, Joshua Ezeudu, Jon Feliciano, Mark Glowinski, Jamil Douglas, Marcus McKethan, Evan Neal, Matt Gono, Korey Cunningham, Nick Gates, Matt Peart, Wes Martin, Devery Hamilton, Roy Mbeataka
The young tackles
Manyweather works with both Thomas, the 2020 No. 4 overall pick entering his third season, and Neal. He has, in fact, worked with Neal since he was a high school kid at IMG Academy. Does Manyweather think Giants fans should be excited about their young SEC-bred tackle bookends?
“Hell, yeah,” he said.
“I think you’ve got this tackle tandem for the next 5-10 years if you want it. I think both these guys are going to project into breaking the bank at some point, so you’re going to have to make a business decision.”
“You’ve got a young tackle tandem that is pretty darn good that I think in a couple years we’re going to be talking about is the best tackle tandem in football. So, the Giants have to feel good about that.”
Thomas’s transition to the NFL was a rocky one as he struggled through a chaotic rookie year.
“It wasn’t fair for Andrew Thomas to come into the Giants situation that he was in in terms of the conflict between offensive line coaches and head coach and offensive coordinators,” Manyweather said. “It was really just a perfect storm that a rookie franchise tackle did not need to be involved in.”
Manyweather, of course, referred to the uncomfortable relationship between head coach Joe Judge and offensive line coach Marc Colombo that led to Colombo being fired and replaced by the rookie-phobic Dave Deguglielmo midway through the season.
“Andrew Thomas’s best football is still ahead of him,” Manyweather said.
Brandon Thorn, who writes the Trench Warfare newsletter and analyzes offensive line play for Bleacher Report had this to say about Thomas:
“I think he’s going to be a good player. Maybe if you go back and re-draft that class the order will be different for sure. He’s more of like a good starter as opposed to maybe becoming an elite one, but nonetheless a good starter at tackle is worth a first-round pick and I think that’s what he’s going to become.”
As for Neal, Manyweather called the Giants’ rookie right tackle a “Grade A human being.”
“They’re [the Giants] getting a franchise level tackle that’s going to be no-nonsense, he’s going to be first in the building, he’s very structured, goes about his business with a lunch pail,” Manyweather said, adding that Neal is “an intense individual in terms of everything he does.”
“I thought Evan was the best tackle in the draft. Evan was probably the most balanced in terms of pass protection and run blocking efficiency. You knew exactly what you were going to get with him,” Manyweather said.
“He also had the most position flex. He started at right tackle with dominant tape, he started at left guard with dominant tape, he started at left tackle with dominant tape. When you look at that that gives him the leg up on anybody else in the class.”
Thorn agreed that Neal was the best choice for the Giants:
“He was my No. 1 overall offensive lineman in the draft,” Thorn said. “He was the best choice for pretty much everybody I thought.”
“The Bills model”
That is what Thorn called how Schoen had constructed this group.
“It’s a viable way to build an offensive line. They have high-end talent at tackle and in the interior they’re going to go into training camp with a battle Royale for those three spots. That’s what it’s going to be. You’ve got six, seven guys that are competing for three jobs. I always like that approach,” Thorn said.
“Even if none of the guys are very good a few of the guys are going to be solid and that to me is a totally understandable approach that has a proven track record of working, most recently with the Buffalo Bills.”
Bobby Johnson is the Giants’ offensive line coach. He was with the Bills the last few seasons, and the Raiders before that. Thorn said these interior guys are the type of players Johnson likes.
“The interior group are physical, scrappy kind of guys. That’s just who these guys are. [Jon] Feliciano is the epitome of that. He’s a guy that gets by by trying to beat people up. He’s wild. He’s going to get beat. You don’t want him isolated against really good high-end rushers, but in terms of helping other guys out with a physical presence and setting a tone and being a pretty good run-blocker that’s what he is. Glowinski’s kind of similar,” Thorn said.
“These are guys who are average to below average starters at best, but they could be a part of a decent line if they’re playing together, well-coached, things like that. You can win with this line, but these are short-term answers at the position without a doubt.”
Despite Thorn’s contention three spots along the line might be open, the only starting spot that appears to be up for grabs at the present time is left guard. Feliciano (center) and Glowinski (left guard) are expected to start. Candidates at left guard include Lemieux, Bredeson, Max Garcia and Ezeudu. It should be an interesting competition.
“It’s going to be fun to watch how it shakes out, how the depth shakes out,” Emory Hunt of Football Gameplan said on a recent ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast. “I’m still a big fan of Shane Lemieux. Ben Bredeson’s a solid player. I mean, they’ve got good depth up front.”
Hunt is a fan of both Ezeudu and McKethan, chosen 173rd overall. They were the fourth- and fifth-ranked guards in Hunt’s 2022 draft guide.
“I love those guards, my No. 4 and 5 guards out of North Carolina,” Hunt said. “I was shocked when people were saying [NC quarterback] Sam Howell didn’t have good protection. I was like, I hope y’all not talking about these two guards ‘cause they are legit and the Giants got both of ‘em.
“Love those two picks.”
Thorn has Ezeudu rated as a fourth-round prospect and thought the Giants drafted him a but early, but said he was “a guy I really liked.”
Could Ezeudu win the starting job as a rookie?
“I think he’s capable of doing it [winning the starting LG job],” Manyweather said. “Played with some really good power on tape at North Carolina. Really physical run blocker that can do some things in pass protection as well. He’s got the size and the frame.”
Thorn said 2022 might be “a little early” for Ezeudu to be an NFL starter, but that based on the Giants’ depth chart “I absolutely think he has a chance to win that job. I would say it’s a good chance, honestly.”
We have tried to be optimistic about the offensive line before, only to end up disillusioned when poor performances revealed equally poor choices.
I agree with Manyweather about Thomas’s future. If Manyweather and the Giants are right about Neal they should have quality bookend tackles for a few years — at least until it’s time to figure out how to pay them. Best tackle duo in the league, as Manyweather said could happen? The Giants? Isn’t that an amazing thing to think about?
We will see if it comes true. There are, obviously, no guarantees.
Thorn tempered short-term expectations, while indicating the Giants have taken the right path.
“I think they’re on the right trajectory. I like the tackle pieces, that’s set for hopefully a really long time. The interior’s a work in progress, I would say,” Thorn said.
“I still think this is probably going to be maybe a middle of the pack at best offensive line, maybe a little bit below average, bu that’s probably better than what you have had the last couple of years. So, slight improvement, but the trajectory, and the plan and the coaching I think is encouraging.
So, yes, there should be optimism that the latest version of the Giants’ rebuilt offensive line will be an improvement over the last several versions.
We have, though, been optimistic before. So, let’s see what happens when this group gets on the field.