The Giants couldn’t put Andrew Thomas through the usual wringers of the pre-draft process, but they made sure they learned as much as they could from those who coached him and against him in the SEC.
“You had to rely on your contacts, and this is someone that a lot of people I am close with had worked directly with,” coach Joe Judge said. “There was a lot of good knowledge that we could sign off on and know what we were bringing in to add to our team.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart, a long-time defensive coordinator at Alabama, was at the school during Judge’s entire tenure there as a young special teams coach.
“Listen, the one thing is I have very good contacts at all of these places with all the top guys,” said Judge, who did not name Smart directly but made enough references to make it clear that he got a strong report from him.
“I have a good enough relationship where they’re not trying to sell me a product. They know if the guy is good enough, he’s going to get paid to play somewhere and they are very directly honest with me. I don’t get just the good on guys. They give me, ‘Hey, these are the things he’s gonna have to work on, these are the things you have to know about how he responds personality-wise.’ That’s all very important.”
Judge also has plenty of other contacts in the SEC. He has a close relationship with Alabama’s Nick Saban and three current assistant coaches who were in the conference at the same time as Thomas: running backs coach Burton Burns (who was at Alabama), inside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer (who was a defensive coordinator at Tennessee) and outside linebackers coach Bret Bielema (who was head coach at Arkansas from 2013-17).
Because of the coronavirus, teams have been unable to travel to pro days or bring players to their facilities for interviews and workouts since the middle of March. General manager Dave Gettleman said the Giants did have a good face-to-face meeting with Thomas at the NFL Scouting Combine in February and had “numerous conversations” with him through various technologies in recent weeks.
But without an ability to actually have that in-depth, in-person meeting, the Giants had to rely on others’ assessments of Thomas.
Judge said he heard good things about all of the top offensive line prospects, including Jedrick Wills Jr. of Alabama, Tristan Wirfs of Iowa and Mekhi Becton of Louisville, who wound up being selected by the Jets with the 11th overall pick.
“You look at those offensive linemen, which definitely came into consideration with this pick, all of them have got great traits, they were coached very well, they are going to be tremendous pros,” Judge said. “I have nothing but great things to say about all of them. But we’re doing what’s best for the Giants and we feel this move is best for the New York Giants right now.”
It was, you might say, the Smart move.
“The tape gives you the initial impression of what you’re looking for and then what you do is take all of the information when you talk to the coaches to fill in any gaps you may not know about personality, work ethic, how they respond to hard coaching, and then also to really confirm what you’ve seen on the tape as well,” Judge said. “He was coached very hard at the University of Georgia, and that’s a trait we look for.”