EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It’s the kind of marriage made in first-round draft heaven. The Giants need a tackle to protect Daniel Jones, open holes for Saquon Barkley and become a foundational piece in the reconstruction of their offensive line. And when it was their turn to make the fourth selection in Thursday night’s NFL Draft, they secured a player who can do all that and more. He is Andrew Thomas, a 6-4, 320-pounder from the University of Georgia, where he started all 41 games in which he played in three seasons – 15 at right tackle as a true freshman in 2017 and 13 at left tackle in both 2018 and 2019. He missed only one game in three seasons. Thomas entered the NFL Draft after his junior year. “We spent a lot of time on this and we want to fix this offensive line once and for all,” general manager Dave Gettleman said. “Andrew certainly has a hell of a pedigree, a three-year starter in the Southeastern Conference. “He’s played against some real quality defensive ends during his college career. He’s played big-time ball in front of a lot of people.” “His skill set favors his opportunity to come in and contribute,” first-year coach Joe Judge said. “He’s long, he’s a good athlete, he has good short area redirect. One thing that sticks about him is when you watch the top pass rushers with the exception of maybe a couple in this draft, they have to go against him. You watch his college tape and he is going against all the guys that you are going to see get drafted in the next couple of days. He does a heck of job on them, you see him compete, you see him play big in big games and that’s important. He was coached very hard at the University of Georgia and that’s a trait we look for. Guys who can play hard and play on big stages and compete.”
Thomas – the first offensive lineman selected in the draft’s opening round by the Giants since Ereck Flowers in 2015 - is the Giants’ third top six draft choice in as many years, following Barkley (No. 2 in 2018) and Jones (No. 6 last year).
“I’ll do my best to protect the quarterback, open up lanes,” Thomas said. “It’s a blessing to be able to play with guys as talented as they are. … I’ll be looking up to those guys to teach me the ropes, working hard to help the program.”
Though he arrives as a marquee draft choice, Thomas must earn a spot in the lineup.
“I am going to say the same thing to him that I said to Saquon and that I said to Daniel, ‘You have to come in and compete, nothing is getting handed to you,’” Gettleman said. “He’s big, he’s long, he’s strong, he can bend. He can anchor run in pass (protection). He’s very athletic in the open field, we are just really excited to have him, and continue to build this team properly.”
That meant adding one of Gettleman’s beloved hog mollies instead of a fleet receiver to catch Jones’ passes.
“I have always gotten a chuckle out of people who say you draft a quarterback and you have to get him weapons,” Gettleman said. “No, you don’t draft a quarterback and then get weapons, once you draft a quarterback you get guys in front of him that will keep him upright. So this was an important piece for us in Daniel’s development and for Saquon as well. Don’t forget the running part of it and he is a hell of a run blocker.”
Barkley rushed for 2,310 yards in his first two seasons and is the first player in Giants history to exceed 1,000 yards on the ground in each of his first two seasons.
Asked if he preferred keeping a quarterback upright or run blocking, Thomas said “I would probably say grinding it out on the ground. I definitely want to protect the quarterback but the run game, I love it.”
The Giants have an opening at right tackle, where Mike Remmers, the starter in 2019, signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. Thomas will also get a look on the left side, where 10-year veteran Nate Solder started every game the last two seasons.
“The good thing about all of our tackles is they play on both sides,” Judge said. “If you look across the board, everyone on our depth chart right now has played on the right and the left. Everyone is going to come in on day one and compete and as they shake out, whether that demonstrates being a starter at whatever position, that’s where they’ll fall. We went into this with several players we thought had the ability to go on both sides, right or left. We made a decision that we’re going to let training camp figure that out.”
Gettleman said he was impressed with Thomas’ versatility.
“That’s a piece of it, absolutely,” Gettleman said. “Absolutely. “He started on the right side as a puppy and (played) two years at left.”
Thomas agreed that his versatility will benefit him with the Giants.
“I think it definitely helps having experience playing both sides,” he said. “It’s something that will be an asset for me.”
Thomas was selected first-team All-SEC in 2018 and 2019. He was a Freshman All-America in 2017, a second-team All-America in 2018, and a first-team All-America in 2019. Thomas was a key player on Georgia teams that won 11 or more games three straight seasons, won three consecutive SEC Eastern Division titles, and played in New Year’s Eve Bowl games three years in a row (2018 Rose, 2019 Allstate Sugar, 2020 Allstate Sugar).
“We are anxious to get to work with him, get our hands on him and get going,” Judge said. “He has the right demeanor, the right makeup. I’ve talked on the front end about a lot guys, the whole process of this. Not being able to be on campuses, not having the luxury of pro days or 30 visits coming to our facility. You had to rely on your contacts, and this is someone that a lot of people I am close with had worked directly with. There was a lot of good knowledge that could sign off on and know what we were bringing in to add to our team. This is definitely a guy we are excited about getting in and getting a chance to work with and giving him a chance to compete with the rest of our guys. “
In Thomas, the Giants selected a player from Georgia in the first round for the second straight year; in 2019, cornerback DeAndre Baker was the last of their three first-round choices and 30th overall. Third-year linebacker Lorenzo Carter is another former Bulldog who will reunite with Thomas on the Giants.
“I remember being a freshman with Zo being a senior here (at Georgia),” Thomas said. “It’s going to be exciting to be back with him. With D-Bake I talk to him every now and then. I’m excited to get in the locker room and be with those guys again.”
It’s exciting for the Giants, too. *