Offensive line analyst Brandon Thorn was exceedingly blunt this week when he assessed the 2021 North Carolina offensive line.
“Their offensive line wasn’t good. It wasn’t good at all,” Thorn told Big Blue View.
Despite that, the Giants saw fit to select two Tar Heel guards in the 2022 NFL Draft, taking Joshua Ezeudu in Round 3, 67th overall, and Marcus McKethan in Round 5, 173rd overall.
Emory Hunt of Football Gameplan saw both play at the NFLPA game, and was excited by the picks.
“I love those guards, my No. 4 and 5 guards out of North Carolina. I was shocked when people were saying 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,” Hunt told Big Blue View.
“Love those two picks.”
“It’s not often that you get two players at the same position drafted by the same team, so I think it’s cool for them,” North Carolina offensive coordinator Phil Longo told Big Blue View via phone.
“I’m happy for them.”
With Longo’s help, let’s learn more about the Giants’ two new interior offensive linemen.
The 6-foot-4¼, 308-pound Ezeudu was, in Longo’s words, the “everything guy” for the North Carolina offensive line.
“Josh Ezeudu is an incredibly versatile OLineman,” Longo said. “He really gave us the opportunity to try and play the best five guys on the OLine as much as much as we could.
“EZ made that a lot easier for us. He could play left tackle, right tackle, left guard, right guard. He basically played anything and everything we needed him to play outside of center. He was our everything guy.”
In his career at North Carolina, Ezeudu played 481 snaps at left tackle, 1,247 at left guard, 171 at right tackle and one at right guard. He would sometimes swap positions during drives.
“He’s a big man, and it’s [the ability to switch positions within games] impressive,” said Giants GM Joe Schoen. “Again, he could play multiple spots not only on a week-to-week basis but within a game, within drives. So it’s very impressive, and he’s an outstanding kid.”
By now, Giants fans likely know that Ezeudu has dealt throughout his life with a stutter. Ezeudu told Giants media on draft weekend that he aims to be a role model for people who stutter and have other disabilities.
“I just really want to show them that if you have a stutter or even if you have anything that might not be normal, you can still do whatever you want. If you would have asked me 10 years ago if I would be here now, I would have told you no. And now, 10 years from then, I’m here talking to all of you guys,” Ezeudu said.
“So I’m just trying to be a role model for all the kids who stutter. I know it can be hard, it can be very tough. But all you have to do is put your mind to anything you want to and then actually go and put in the work and then everything else will follow.”
Longo said that asking if Ezeudu’s stutter can affect him on the field, which Big Blue View did, was a “valid question,” but not one the Giants will have to worry about.
“I have never noticed any issue with EZ on the field from a communication standpoint,” Longo said.
“I do know this. The day I met EZ he struggled a bit in nervous situations. When he left here, when I just saw him a few weeks ago he has done such a great job. They got him assistance and he worked on those types of things while he was here and I’m sure throughout his childhood.
“At this point he handles himself very well. I personally never, ever noticed any issue. It was never even a topic of conversation for us with regards to him being able to communicate while he was playing.”
Longo, in fact, said that Ezeudu is an “outgoing personality” who can be the “life of the party.”
“Ask him to belt out a song that he knows real well you’d never know that he stutters,” Longo said. “I don’t know if he’s a good singer, I just know when he’s comfortable doing things and he’s been in that situation before or he’s sung the song before or he’s talked to this group of people before there’s a greater comfort level and he does just fine.”
Schoen wouldn’t commit to a position for Ezeudu, but what makes sense would be to have him start out at left guard, a position on the Giants’ offensive line that currently appears to be up for grabs.
“What he’ll wind up being is an athletic guard,” said Longo. “If he’s playing inside he’s going to be physical, utilize his hands, but he’s going to be athletic, he’ll be able to get to the second level, he can do some things in the screen game and he can move his feet. It’s not like these 3-techs and shades can’t pass rush in the NFL, either.”
Could he compete to start as a rookie?
“I know this,” said Longo. “You’re going to get EZ’s best effort, and EZ’s best effort is a pretty dang good offensive lineman and it would not surprise me if he had an opportunity to contribute to the team at some point.”
McKethan, 6-foot-6, 340-pounds, played 2,500 of 2,513 snaps at right guard for Carolina. McKethan was one of only five drafted offensive linemen Thorn did not profile. Pro Football Focus graded the selection as “poor,” and wrote this:
“At 6-foot-6, 340 pounds, McKethan is a massive offensive line prospect with an 85 7/8-inch wingspan and 35 1/2-inch arms. But he is quite the opposite of explosive and has some of the worst agility testing of any offensive lineman in the draft class. He has over 2,500 career snaps played and earned a career-high 76.1 PFF grade playing right guard at UNC this past season.”
The Giants, though, obviously saw enough that they felt McKethan was worth bringing in as a developmental player.
“This is one big human being,” Longo said. “I don’t know where they have him measured at height and weight, but he is going to be one of the bigger guys playing his position.
“He’s hard to move. When he wants to be physical and he uses his hands and it’s his intention to be dominant and move you you’re going to get moved. He has that kind of strength and power.”
Longo acknowledged that lateral movement, footwork and quickness were things the North Carolina staff has focused on with McKethan for the past three seasons.
“You’d see flashes of greatness here and there and you’d see him make some great plays, but there wasn’t the same consistency as there was this year three years ago.
“There was steady progress by Marcus. He wants to learn, he’s coachable, he’s very intelligent. He’s the big physical presence that you look for when you think about an offensive guard.”
What does the future hold for the two Tar Heels, who will now wear a darker shade of blue uniform?
“I believe both of them have some upside,” Longo said. “I don’t think either one of them has topped it off or hit their full potential.
“It’ll be fun to watch the two of them develop.”