As the 2020 NFL Draft approached, there was an impressive stable of top tackles available, with seemingly every scout offering a different opinion on which one was the best.
The Giants, who owned the fourth overall selection in the draft, had the pick of the litter. They chose Andrew Thomas out of Georgia.
Conventional wisdom would indicate that means Thomas was the best tackle in that draft, since he was the first one selected. The Giants obviously thought so.
One year in, though, he wasn’t. In fact, you could make the argument that Thomas’ performance didn’t make him one of top three or four tackles chosen.
Jedrick Wills, taken 10th overall by the Browns out of Alabama, Mekhi Becton, taken 11th overall out of Louisville by the Jets, Tristan Wirfs, 12th overall out of Iowa, and Austin Jackson, 18th overall out of USC, graded out better than Thomas in their respective rookie seasons by numerous analytic websites.
That, however, doesn’t mean Thomas was a bust.
This is not an Ereck Flowers situation. Flowers was picked ninth overall in the 2015 draft, never fulfilled his potential, became the target of some harsh criticism and ridicule among Giants fans and media and became combative about it before the team finally waived him in the middle of the 2018 season.
To the contrary, Thomas not only improved markedly in the second half of 2020, but he has a much more mature and even-keeled personality and approach than that of Flowers.
Asked on Saturday before the Giants community-relations walk-through practice in Newark, N.J., if he has kept tabs on the progress and success of fellow tackles from his draft class, Thomas delivered the perfect answer.
“You have to run your own race,’’ he said. “You can’t really focus on what everybody else is doing. That takes away from your process and figuring out what you have to do to be a better player.’’
That attitude is everything Giants coach Joe Judge wants out of his players.
“One thing about Andrew is he’s always the same person,’’ Judge said Saturday. “He’s very, very steady. Obviously, last year as a rookie, there was definitely a learning curve, and that learning curve includes how to manage the external expectations and noise.
“I’d say, for Andrew, one thing he’s done a really good job of is buying into just focusing in on one day at a time, having a narrow focus and understanding what the goal at hand is for that day. He’s a very conscientious person, a really good teammate and a really hard worker.
“You definitely see some of the growth that he showed last year showing up. Every day he flashes several things, you say, ‘OK, that’s why this guy was such a gifted athlete growing up.’ ’’
Pro Football Focus graded Thomas as sixth among the rookie tackles from the 2020 class. Wirfs, Wills and Becton were rated as the top three, in that order.
Thomas allowed 57 quarterback pressures, according to PFF, which was most among all the rookie tackles and the second-most yielded by any tackle in 2020. Many of those, however, came during the first half of the season.
Thomas went through a change at position coach during the middle of the season, when Marc Colombo was replaced by Dave DeGuglielmo with six games to play.
“Last year I learned a lot being a rookie, playing in the NFL for the first time,’’ Thomas said. “I [gained] a lot of experiences that I think will help my game. As I progressed through the season, I definitely felt like I got better as the season went along and am happy for the things I learned.’’
And now, veteran Nate Solder, who was the starting left tackle before opting out of the 2020 season with COVID-19 concerns, is back with the team this year.
Asked if he felt compelled to ask Judge about his status as the starting left tackle following Solder’s return, Thomas said, “That was never a question.’’
Thomas said he spoke to Solder a few times last season, but never got to meet him until the organized team activity sessions in the spring.
“I was actually excited to have Nate back,’’ Thomas said. “Really good guy. He looks out for the younger guys. I think he’s really an asset to our offensive line.’’
Thomas has an added bonus to this season with the Giants having drafted his former Georgia teammate, edge rusher Azeez Ojulari, in April.
“It’s felt like Georgia again, going at it every day,’’ Thomas said. “I’m excited to have him here and definitely want to work and get better with him.’’