It’s a common sentiment that you can’t properly judge a draft class until three years have passed. As Mark Schofield often says, development isn’t linear and players can develop at different rates.
Giving a class three years before doing a retrospective on them gives the young players time to mature and we can have a pretty good idea of who they are as players.
Pro Football Focus decided they didn’t feel like waiting that long and released a re-do of the 2020 NFL Draft. That draft saw the Giants select Andrew Thomas out of Georgia with the fourth overall pick. Thomas had a poor rookie season in which he was easily the worst of the “Big Four” offensive tackles taken. However, he’s developed over the second half of that rookie season and into his sophomore season and is now a good, reliable starting left tackle — that PFF is replacing.
Let’s see PFF’s rationale for the re-draft.
4. NEW YORK GIANTS: T TRISTAN WIRFS
Original pick: T ANDREW THOMAS
There was nowhere else for the Giants to go than tackle at this spot. Prior to the draft, New York had Nate Solder and Cam Fleming as the top two tackles on their roster with Solder later opting out of the 2020 season. There’s plenty of reason to be excited about Thomas’ improvements at left tackle from his rookie season to 2021, but Wirfs has established himself as top tackle in this top-heavy class.
No tackle has allowed a lower pressure rate than Wirfs — who already has a strong case for being the best right tackle in the NFL — since he was drafted.
I have my criticisms of Pro Football Focus, but I can’t argue with this pick. After Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert went with the first two picks (and Justin Jefferson with the third), the pick for the Giants is pretty clearly between Wirfs, Chase Young, and Andrew Thomas.
With all due respect to Thomas, Wirfs has been the better player. That puts the decision between Wirfs and Young, and the modern NFL pretty much demands you go offense if given the choice.
The comparison between Wirfs and Thomas is complicated a bit by the presence of Tom Brady in Tampa. Having the most experienced and decisive quarterback in the NFL behind you makes any offensive lineman’s job easier. They always know where Brady will be, that he can navigate the pocket accurately, that he’s already dissected the defense, knows where pressure is going to come from, made the proper adjustments, and will get the ball out on time. But that in and of itself doesn’t make a blocker more technically proficient or consistent.
There’s also the “left tackle vs. right tackle” consideration, however both positions are equally important in the modern NFL. Not only are modern offenses ambidextrous, running or throwing to both the left and right, modern defenses are ambidextrous as well. The best defenses are able to send dangerous pass rushers from both sides, and blitz packages can scheme pressure from anywhere on the field. Both left and right tackles need to be able to pass protect well, because defenses will be happy to focus on the weaker of the two.
In fact, an older study from PFF themselves even found that more pressure resulted from pass rushers on the offensive right than the offensive left (the “blindside”). For a team like the Giants in 2020 — that is, with no good tackles — the most correct choice is to take the best tackle regardless of the side.
With the benefit of hindsight, that’s currently Tristan Wirfs. That isn’t to say Thomas is a poor tackle by any means. He isn’t, and the Giants certainly hope that he’ll keep improving. It’s certainly possible that Thomas draws even or surpasses Wirfs in their third season as professionals. In fact, in the re-draft Thomas was selected just six picks later, replacing Jedrick Wills for the Cleveland Browns.
One more hypothetical note ...
This is, of course, done in a vacuum.
However, PFF did a re-draft of the 2019 NFL Draft as well. In that draft they have the Giants selecting WR Terry McLaurin and Dexter Lawrence II at sixth and 17th overall, respectively. That would leave the Giants without a quarterback when Eli Manning retired following the 2019 season. If we include PFF’s 2019 re-draft as a prologue for the 2020 re-draft, the Giants would likely be moving up from 4th overall to 2nd or 1st overall to select either Joe Burrow or Justin Herbert. We know Dave Gettleman was infatuated with Herbert during the 2019 season, and the combination of Herbert and McLaurin would be enough to give most defenses heartburn. The Giants would still have problems along the offensive line, but in this scenario they would absolutely have to address the quarterback position.