INDIANAPOLIS – The best way to develop a quarterback is give him an offensive line. It's not about adding weapons – of which there are many gathered at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine.
"The bottom line is, last time I checked, it's really difficult to complete a pass when you're on your back. I've done that study," general manager Dave Gettleman said. "The bottom line is, it's really the front. … You have to give him a front that allows him to learn how to play the game."
Between his five drafts with the Panthers and two so far with the Giants, Gettleman has never selected an offensive lineman in the first round as general manager. The only tackle he has chosen for Big Blue is George Asafo-Adjei, a seventh-rounder last year. Gettleman said it is a position they "absolutely" have to look at for sophomore Daniel Jones.
Here is what we learned about the offensive linemen – don't forget the guards and centers – from their media day:
1) Jedrick Wills, the Giants' most frequent pick in mock drafts, wants to be known for his football IQ.
If you've followed along in our Mock Draft Tracker, you will know the Alabama product is frequently projected to the Giants by draft experts. He was the Crimson Tide's starting right tackle who finished with 29 career starts, including 28 straight to end his career. He allowed only one sack all last season and only 3.5 quarterback hurries while missing only seven assignments in 771 snaps for a success rate of 99.0 percent, according to Alabama's official media guide.
He helped anchor the Tide's offensive line that ranked third nationally, allowing just .92 sacks per game. The offensive front opened holes and provided time for Alabama's offense that ranked second nationally in scoring, third in passing and sixth in total offense in 2019.
Wills said today that playing for Nick Saban, above all else, gets you prepared to play at the next level. Coaching for him does the same thing, too. Giants first-year coach Joe Judge won two national championships as part of Saban's staff. The Alabama ties to the Giants don't end there. Judge also hired Burton Burns (running backs), who spent the last two years as assistant athletic director for football at the University of Alabama, where he served as the associate head coach and running backs coach from 2007-17. Inside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer coached at three SEC schools, including Alabama. Defensive assistant Jody Wright was an offensive analyst at Alabama in 2011-12 and overlapped with Judge in his first season there.
"I feel like I have a really high football IQ," Wills said. "It's something that I take pride in, try to keep the mistakes to a minimum. I'm an athletic player and a mauler. I like to dominate people."
Wills also uses his wit off the field. His quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, can attest to that as the butt of plenty of his jokes.
"Jedrick is a fun, funny guy," the 2018 Heisman Trophy runner-up said. "At the same time, he's a hard worker. He's very passionate about his position. He's sort of the alpha male for our guys on the line. If something needs to happen, you can count on Jed to make it happen for you."
2) Mekhi Becton is the hoggiest, molliest of them all.
At 364 pounds, the Louisville tackle weighed in as the heaviest offensive lineman at the 2020 Scouting Combine. While the 6-foot-7 prospect came in 12 pounds heavier than his ideal playing weight, he is still light on his feet. That's where his basketball background helped him out.
"Becton is a massive left tackle prospect with a similar size/skill set to former first-rounder Bryant McKinnie," wrote NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who ranked Becton as the No. 5 overall prospect in the class. "In pass protection, he has surprisingly nimble feet and uses his length to steer defenders. Even when he fails to land his punch, he can absorb rushers with his girth. He needs to improve his awareness versus games up front. He is a dominating run defender and collects knockdowns by the bunches. He latches on and uses his upper strength to torque and toss. He isn't as effective when working in space. Overall, Becton has areas to improve -- mainly balance and awareness -- but he is a rare athlete at this size and his upside is through the roof."
On Wednesday, Becton declared he is the best tackle in the draft.
"It's real important [to be the first one taken]," he said. "Because I put the work in. I didn't put the work in for nothing."
3) Andrew Thomas is a mix of Tyrone Smith and Trent Williams.
The Georgia product said his game is a blend of the two NFC East rivals: "Trent Williams because of his athleticism and Tyrone Smith because of how consistent his set is no matter who he's playing." Those aren't bad comparisons, considering the Dallas and Washington mainstays have 14 Pro Bowl nods between them.
Thomas was a key player on Georgia teams that won 11 or more games three straight seasons, won three straight SEC Eastern Division titles, and played in three straight New Year's Six Bowl games. One of the top high school recruits in Georgia, Thomas started all 15 games at right tackle as a true freshman and earned Freshman All-America honors from ESPN, USA Today and the Football Writers Association of America. He switched to left tackle the next season.
What sets him apart?
"Just how coachable I am," he said. "I understand the game, a lot of times I understand what's going on before the play happens regardless of what system I'm in, I can adapt to what they're teaching me."
When he's not playing football, he likes playing music.
"I'm very musically inclined," he said. "Growing up in the church, I played the drums and things like that. My freshman year in high school I was still in the band, enjoying everything, and my head coach, Chris Slade, told me I had a chance to write my own ticket playing football. And I loved the game but music was still very important to me and he told me that I have to put my focus on football and that's what I did.
"I still love music, but I put my focus on football and I'm here now. I was still in it, but I wasn't into it as much as I was. I played the drums in the band, but when I went to college I couldn't do that anymore so I transitioned to playing piano. At my high school I'd be at the pep rally and I'd be playing in the band with my jersey on and then I'd go over to the football team and do the football things."
4) Tristan Wirfs isn't mean.
You don't become one of the top offensive linemen in the country without knocking some people over. Yet, coaches consistently want to see the Iowa product be meaner.
"Some teams have said they want to see me finish more," he said. "Some teams want to see me get meaner, and I've been hearing that for I don't know how long. I tend to open up in my pass sets a little bit, so some of the teams told me that. I'm working on that.
How do you be meaner?
"You tell me," he said. "I don't know. I've never really been a mean person. That's a testament to my mom and how she raised me. I think they want to see me get more pancakes and I think I did that a fair amount this season. Last year against Nebraska, I had 14 knockdowns. I can try to get a little meaner, we'll see."
5) Don't forget the guards and centers.
While the gap has shrunk, tackles tend to get picked first and paid the most. But guards and centers are just as vital to success, especially in the NFC East.
"One of the things you have to do is you have to match up in your division," Gettleman said. "All three teams in our division, the Eagles, the Cowboys and the Redskins, all have inside power on their defensive line. You have to match power with power. If the inside leakage occurs to quickly, now [the quarterback is] running around for his life."
The following are the top five interior offensive linemen, according to NFL.com.
- Lloyd Cushenberry, LSU
- Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin
- Netani Muti, Fresno State
- Matt Hennessy, Temple
- Robert Hunt, Louisiana-Lafayette
Cushenberry developed into one of the best centers in LSU history, earning second team All-America honors in 2019. He was a two-year starter at center for LSU and played in 39 games during his career, starting the final 28 (Tigers were 25-3 during that span). He was the starting center for every game of Heisman Trophy quarterback Joe Burrow's LSU career. He was also the first offensive lineman to be awarded the No. 18 jersey, which is given to the player that best represents what it means to be an LSU football player – on and off the field.
"Maybe I was born to be a center," Cushenberry said today. "I didn't play it in high school, so I had to teach myself how to snap and get comfortable being a vocal guy. I'm not really that vocal off the field, but on the field I'm completely different. I make a lot of the calls, I'm the main communicator, and I've gotten used to that. Now I love it. I take pride in that."
Check out the best photos from behind the scenes at the NFL Combine.