It's rare for a team to emerge from the NFL Draft with two players from the same school. It's even more rare for both of those players to come from the same position group.
But this was the case for the Giants, who selected both of North Carolina's starting guards last weekend. Joshua Ezeudu was the 67th overall selection, while Marcus McKethan became the 172nd pick.
Tar Heels head coach Mack Brown recently joined the Giants Huddle podcast to discuss the two offensive linemen, explaining why he believes they will thrive with Big Blue.
"These guys, they know what they're doing, they're tough, they understand the game, they're very driven," said Brown. "I think in the case of both of these young guys, their football is ahead of them. I really think they're on the cutting edge of what's next. I think the Giants were really smart in drafting both of them."
Ezeudu had an interesting experience playing at North Carolina. Over the last three seasons, the 6-foot-4 lineman saw snaps at three different positions along the line. Since 2019, Ezeudu got at least 160 snaps at left tackle, left guard and right tackle, with the most coming at left guard.
He started 11 of 12 games this past season, earning a 77.8 overall Pro Football Focus grade and an 83.0 run block grade. Ezeudu was also impressive in pass protection, allowing just two sacks, two QB hits and 12 hurries on 426 pass block snaps. He was named All-ACC Honorable Mention for his performance.
"Josh is really smart, and he can play anywhere. He's very athletic," said the UNC head coach. "We thought he was one of the best offensive linemen in the country. In fact, we wanted him to come back because we thought he could be a first or second rounder the next year. I think he's just going to grow and grow and all of it is ahead of him. He had a sore knee at one point. He also fought through an ankle, so he's tough. He played through all of those issues."
But Ezeudu's versatility went beyond simply seeing snaps at different positions throughout the season. On numerous occasions, Ezeudu would line up at one position on the O-line for one play, and then a different position on the line on the very next play. Brown admitted it takes a special kind of player to be able to handle that type of shuffling.
"Well, he was our best offensive lineman, and definitely the most versatile," Brown said. "We were able to try to, if we had an issue with some defensive player, we would just try to match him up and let him move over there. That's how versatile he is. He can play anywhere…
"He's a special guy. Not many people can do that. You wouldn't even think about it with most. But with him, we didn't think about not doing it because it was so easy for him."
Ezeudu has had to overcome a lot to get to where he is today. The offensive lineman arrived at North Carolina in 2018 with a significant stutter. But over the last few years, he has put in a ton of work to conquer his speech disorder in order to be able to speak in front of the media - as he did at his introductory press conference with the Giants media last weekend.
The young lineman, who was voted a team captain, wants to serve as a role model for kids with stutters to show them that anything is possible. As valuable as his skills are on the field, the Tar Heels coach made it clear that Ezeudu's leadership in the locker room will be missed just as much.
"Josh would be the first to talk to you about it, but he had a stuttering issue when we got here, and he really had trouble speaking in front of people," said Brown. "I heard him on draft day talking about being so excited to be a Giant, and he didn't stutter at all. We got him some help a couple of years ago, and I was so proud of that. That was probably my most proud moment on draft day of watching Josh, who is so smart, be able to articulate like he would want to…
"I thought when he overcame the stuttering, it allowed him to be a better leader. It pretty much coincided with each other. We're going to miss him as a great offensive lineman, but as much as a true leader."
View photos from the college careers of the Giants' entire 11-player draft class
Although Ezeudu enjoyed more success in the run game, McKethan displayed more dominance in pass protection.
McKethan started all 25 games at right guard over the last two seasons, earning All-ACC Honorable Mention honors each year. On 514 pass block snaps in 2021, he surrendered a mere two sacks, one QB hit and seven hurries, which helped him earn an impressive 86.3 pass block grade from PFF.
In addition to his strong stats, McKethan also stands in at 6-foot-6, 340-pounds, and as the saying goes, 'you can't teach size.'
"We have Darrell Moody on our staff, who was a 19-year pro scout," Brown said. "When we were talking about who's going to get drafted last spring, he said 'Marcus is going to be drafted. They're going to draft size.' He's got length, he's got bulk. You just don't see men that big very often, and especially that can move that quickly."
During his time at North Carolina, McKethan saw limited action at right tackle during the 2020 campaign. With his size and power, along with his high football IQ, Brown believes McKethan could play guard or tackle at the next level.
"Marcus is really smart, and like Josh, he's a great young person," Brown said of the Giants' fifth-round pick. "The city of New York is going to be better because these young people are there. They're givers, they give back in so many ways. But they're smart and they want to do well and they're driven. Marcus lost his brother in a car accident right before the draft, and he just handled it. That's the kind of person he is.
"But he's another guy that could play guard or, he wouldn't be a center, but he could play the guard or tackle positions because of his length. As limited as NFL teams are with the number of guys they have, I think that was another key for them drafting Marcus was that they felt like he could play multiple places."
North Carolina ranked 18th in the nation with 212.5 rushing yards per game last season, and they finished 11th with 235.8 yards on the ground per game in 2020.
During that same span, Brown has seen three of his running backs get drafted. Javonte Williams (35th overall to the Broncos) and Michael Carter (107th to the Jets) were taken in the first half of the 2021 NFL Draft, while Ty Chandler (169th to the Vikings) was selected this past weekend.
The UNC coach doesn't think it is a coincidence that all three backs enjoyed such successful collegiate careers running behind the two Giants' draft picks.
"It's mostly them," Brown said in reference to Ezeudu and McKethan's impact on the run game. "You go back and look at it, and obviously all three backs are playing in the NFL with Ty going to Minnesota. But you have to have some holes, and those guys did it. I think we rushed for 675 yards against Miami two years ago, and those are really great players at Miami. That just doesn't happen. We led the league in rushing for most of the last three years…
"I see it in both of these young guys. Both Josh, we call him EZ, but both Josh and Marcus are driven. They love football, they're passionate… The NFL is tough. It's hard to make it, it's hard to sustain it, and it's hard to sustain it for a lot of years. But I think both of these young guys are in a position to do that."