Jerry Reese, the rest of the Giants’ decision-makers and many others around the NFL reached a consensus about the 2013 NFL Draft prior to the beginning of the first round.
“Everyone predicted this was going to be an offensive line big boy draft,” Reese said.
The Giants secured one of the best of those big boys when they chose Justin Pugh, who played left tackle at Syracuse, with their first-round selection, the 19th overall pick.
“(We think he is a) terrific football player,” said Reese, the Giants’ general manager. “We think he’s really versatile. The Giants, we like guys that can do multiple things. We think this guy can play left tackle, right tackle, either guard, and actually (offensive line coach) Pat Flaherty thought he could even play center. He thought he had that kind of skill set. It’s hard to pass up those kinds of guys, (a) really good football player.”
Pugh was the seventh offensive lineman taken in the first 19 picks. But Reese said he was the highest-rated player remaining on the Giants’ draft board.
“We are real happy to get him,” coach Tom Coughlin said. “I have been asked, ‘Do you think it is time for you to take a hard look at your offensive line in terms of young talent?’ Well, there always is. Some years it is just not available to you. So we do feel like the addition of some young talented players in our offensive line is going to help us going forward in the future. We think we have a young man who has demonstrated the ability to learn. He is a very technically sound player. He has performed at the left tackle position. We think he can play right tackle. We have even talked about the versatility that he presents because he has big hands and perhaps he is even a guy that could be considered as a center if we thought we needed that. So versatility, smart, technically sound – a guy that we think can grasp the system right away and be in a position to help us out as a young player in a position that is not easy.”
The Giants selected an offensive player on the first round of the draft for the second year in a row; in 2012, they selected Virginia Tech running back David Wilson. Pugh is the first offensive lineman taken by the Giants with their initial selection since Luke Petitgout in 1999. He is the team’s first opening-round selection from Syracuse since cornerback Will Allen in 2001.
“He's just a clean player,” said Marc Ross, the Giants’ director of college scouting. “For us, that means he’s productive on tape, he plays hard, he’s smart, he’s athletic, he’s physical, he’s a great kid, doesn’t have any issues, and he’s got a lot of upside. When you’ve got a checklist of positives you look for in a player, he had most of those attributes.
“I think he has the skillset to play anywhere along the line, and whatever our coaches feel is the biggest need to put him at next year, I think he can do that – from left tackle to center to right tackle to guard, he really has… because he’s so smart, so technique-sound and so athletic, it’s definitely a positive to be able to do that.”
Pugh, 6-4 and 301 pounds, was a three-year All-Big East selection and last year became Syracuse’s first offensive lineman to earn All-America honors (third-team by The NFL Draft Report) since center John Flannery in 1990 – despite missing the team’s first four games while recovering from off-season left shoulder surgery.
Although he grew up a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, Pugh was thrilled to become a Giant.
“It was surreal,” he said. “This has been a dream of mine since I was a kid playing tackle football in my backyard. I got the phone call and there was about four minutes left on the clock. I saw that 201 number and knew who it was. I turned the TV down, I got a big smile on my face and it was crazy. Coach Coughlin was like ‘Welcome to the Giants.’ It was amazing.”
Coughlin said Pugh will have an opportunity to compete for a starting job as a rookie. Both David Diehl (fifth round, 2003) and Chris Snee (second round, 2004), were offensive line starters in their rookie seasons. In his 10 seasons with the team, Diehl has played every line position but center. Snee has spent his entire career at right guard.
“The biggest thing the coaches have told me and I’ve tried to present to teams is I can play all five offensive line positions,” Pugh said. “Coming in, I’m just going to compete wherever they want me to. I think I can play all five positions on the offensive line. I really just want to come in and show what I’ve got. I know coach has said that he likes my versatility and my football smarts, so I’m definitely ready to get in there in minicamp next week and start competing.”
Coughlin indicated Pugh will eventually play right tackle.
“That is probably what will happen,” Coughlin said. “But we will look at the rest of the draft and see what happens to come our way. And at the end of that we will assess our depth and see where we think we should start him out. He has been a tackle. I would expect him to stay there. Whether he goes over to the right side or not, and how fast he goes over there – we will have to decide.”
If Pugh has a shortcoming, it is apparently his short arms. Reese said they measure 32 inches and he’d prefer tackles have at least 33-inch arms. Yes, he did admit it’s not much of a difference.
“People ask about his arm length and that wasn’t an issue for us,” Reese said. “We looked at him and when you see guys with 32-inch arms playing the offensive line, especially the tackle the position. I looked at tape after tape after tape and I never could see the arms come into play. I was looking for an excuse to downgrade him but you can never find that.
“I think about Rosie Brown, who was a great player here and Hall of Famer and was a scout for a long time. One thing Rosie said to me one time was that you can never find a perfect player and so he’s not perfect but he’s a really good football player and we‘re glad to get him.”
Coughlin apparently made his decision about Pugh soon after meeting the fellow Syracuse alum at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. Asked what impressed him about Pugh, Coughlin said, “His first answer; the first question he was asked.”
And what was that?
“’Who is the Syracuse alum that you are most familiar with?’” Coughlin said. “He didn’t say Jim Brown, he said ‘Coughlin.’ He passed the IQ test right away at the combine.”
“The first thing that came out of my mouth was ‘Coach Coughlin,’” Pugh said. “Everybody started laughing and they said, ‘Welcome to the New York Giants.’ I guess I should have seen that as a little bit of a sign that they might be targeting me. So I guess it turned out real well. As soon as I got the phone call, my stepdad said, ‘It was a good thing you answered that question the way you did, because obviously it got them very interested in you.’”
Beginning next month, Pugh will have an opportunity to similarly impress Coughlin and the Giants on the football field.