Andrew Thomas was the first of six offensive tackles taken in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, but the No. 4 overall pick didn't keep tabs of the others in their first season.
Not even when the Giants got a close-up look in their games against the Browns, who took Jedrick Wills at No. 10, and the Buccaneers, who selected Tristan Wirfs 13th overall. Meanwhile, No. 11 pick Mekhi Becton played next door with the Jets.
"For me, I look at it as running my own race," Thomas said after his first season. "I want all those guys to be successful obviously, but for me, I want to be the player I can be, the best player I can be for the Giants, for my teammates. And that's what I'm working to be."
Life for a rookie is tough enough in the NFL; the burden for a rookie left tackle is even greater. That's true even in an ideal setting.
Now, add in the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the coronavirus, which led to the opt out of incumbent left tackle Nate Solder, and the mid-season coaching change at his position from Marc Colombo to Dave DeGuglielmo. Thomas wasn't the only one going through it. Along with Shane Lemieux and Matt Peart, they became the first Giants' team to start three rookie offensive linemen in the same season since 2003.
"I love this group," Thomas said. "We went through a lot this year with COVID, different position coaches, not playing the way we wanted to as a unit, and we stuck together. We continued to fight, continued to push. I'm excited to play with this group. It's definitely going to be a little bit different coming into next year and not being a rookie – understanding what's going on, what it's like, so I'm excited for it."
They were part of general manager Dave Gettleman's plan to rebuild the trenches over the past few years.
"We've got some really nice, young pieces," Gettleman said during his season-ending press conference. "Nick Gates stepped in there. He'd never played offensive center before. We drafted Will [Hernandez] and Shane Lemieux. You have [Kevin] Zeitler and Andrew Thomas who acquitted himself very well when he had that rough patch and then he got himself rolling again. I think this offensive line can compete. You can cherry pick here, cherry pick there, in terms of which game you want to pick and how the offense did. The offensive line showed very good progress. They're big, they're young, they're strong and they're tough and smart. This O-line has a chance to be pretty damn good."
Individually, Thomas admitted his rookie year didn't start the way he wanted. But he said he just put his head down, shut out the noise, and focused on what Joe Judge preached to the team: gradual improvement every day.
His quarterback, who knows a thing or two about the pressure of playing for the Giants, noticed his perseverance.
"I've been extremely impressed with how he's handled it," Daniel Jones said. "That's a tough position to step in and play in the NFL. You're going up against a lot of the best athletes on the field in those pass rushers. You look at who he's faced through the course of the year, and he's faced a lot of good players. For any rookie, it is a little up and down. I think for any young player, you're always learning and you're always improving. I felt like that's been his approach throughout this whole season. He's learned every week, he's continued to attack the practice, attack meetings. His learning process has been one he's really attacked. He's done a good job with that, and his approach every day has been the same. I've been impressed with him. I think he's going to be a great player."
After facing players such as T.J. Watt, Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald, and Chase Young to start his career, Thomas learned quickly the difference between college and the pros.
"Those rushers study you," he said. "They know your sets, they know your hand placements, all those things. And if you make one small mistake, it can tumble into a snowball effect and be a bad game for you. That's been the biggest thing I've learned so far.
"The biggest [improvement] for me is making it muscle memory, the things I've learned over the year, to make them natural so I don't have to think about them. It just naturally happens. That's going to be the biggest thing – focusing on simple things, just my stance, simple things like hand placement, things like that just to make sure that next year when I come around, those things are ingrained in me."
View some of the best photos of the Giants' rookies throughout the 2020 season as the team enters the offseason.