The New York Giants believed there was no value in selecting an offensive lineman early in the 2017 NFL Draft. Recent history shows they may be wrong.
Ereck Flowers, who has struggled mightily throughout the first two seasons of his NFL career, would be the starting left tackle for the New York Giants if the season began on Sunday, May 7. One reason for this is the Giants elected to not address the position or the offensive line, in general, until the sixth round (200th overall pick) of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Club general manager Jerry Reese and head coach Ben McAdoo both spoke with WFAN radio personality Mike Francesa about their rationale regarding individuals who will hopefully protect quarterback Eli Manning during the twilight of his tremendous career.
In short, those running the Giants didn’t rate any 2017 prospect at offensive tackle high enough throughout the opening five rounds of the draft. Reese also made it clear the Giants have concerns about inserting a young rookie tackle into the team’s offensive line, which makes one wonder if he and his office regret using a top-10 pick on Flowers back in 2015.
Several offensive tackles were selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. The Baltimore Ravens used the sixth overall pick to select Ronnie Stanley out of Notre Dame. Per ESPN.com staff, Stanley surrendered only three sacks during his rookie campaign. ESPN’s Jamison Hensley added Stanley was “the NFL’s best left tackle over the last four weeks of the season, according to Pro Football Focus.”
Two selections later, the Tennessee Titans grabbed Jack Conklin out of Michigan State to help protect young Marcus Mariota. Conklin was a revelation during his first season in the NFL, ultimately earning first-team All-Pro honors. Unlike Flowers and Stanley, though, Conklin featured on the right side of the Tennessee line.
No team, the Giants included, deserves to be bashed for removing Laremy Tunsil from draft boards in the 11th hour. The infamous “gas mask” video that starred Tunsil dropped on his official Twitter account minutes before the start of the draft, and that one social media post undeniably affected his status among executives around the league. Per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins intend on moving Tunsil to left tackle later this year.
Last but not least, for the purposes of this piece, is Taylor Decker, the Ohio State left tackle taken by the Detroit Lions halfway through the first round of last year’s draft. As Tori Petry, Tim Twentyman and Mike O’Hara of the club’s official website explained, Decker played every offensive snap for the Lions his rookie season, and he was named to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie team.
Some may point out every draft class is different, and that there was a popular perception this year’s was particularly weak regarding offensive linemen and tackles. That’s fair, but remember Decker was a pleasant surprise for the Lions in 2016. Ryan Mathews of Pride of Detroit pointed out in February there were numerous questions regarding Decker’s abilities immediately after the Lions selected him.
Tackle, like cornerback, is one of the tougher positions in the league to succeed at right away, but you wouldn’t know it from this rookie class. Taylor Decker has played pretty well from the outset for the Lions. He has allowed nine total sacks or hits over his 15 games so far, and run-blocked well.
None of this is to suggest all tackles selected in the early rounds of drafts immediately become lineup mainstays. Flowers, obviously, comes to mind. It appears the Los Angeles Rams are ready to give up on Greg Robinson, the second-overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. D.J. Humphries, a first-round pick back in 2015, was essentially redshirted by the Arizona Cardinals his rookie year.
Every case is different and should be examined individually. A highly rated prospect can flop while attempting to find a home on a bad team, while a player given a low grade before a draft may flourish learning as a member of a roster capable of contending for a Super Bowl. Every draft pick is an investment that comes with a certain amount of risk.
It has been proven on multiple occasions over the past few years alone that a young starting tackle carries a first-round value for any team. The Giants instead elected to put a first-round grade on tight end Evan Engram last week. That decision could come back to haunt Reese, McAdoo and Big Blue if the team’s offensive line fails what should be a prolific passing attack.