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Ereck Flowers’ replacement won’t be found in weak O-line draft class

Left tackle Ereck Flowers of the New York

Left tackle Ereck Flowers of the New York Giants walks off the field after losing to the Green Bay Packers, 38-13, in an NFC wild-card game at Lambeau Field on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Jonathan Daniel

When the Giants drafted Ereck Flowers in the first round two years ago, they projected him as their left tackle of the future. They figured that by around now he might be getting used to the speed of the NFL game, getting comfortable with being a pro, and be ready to make the jump to the most important position on the offensive line.

Flowers’ trajectory didn’t work out like that. Thanks to a series of injuries (Will Beatty’s pectoral tear two springs ago) and position changes (Justin Pugh from tackle to guard), Flowers wound up being a starting left tackle as a rookie. It was a job he was not ready for, and the first two seasons have been a bit rocky for him. No one with the Giants will dispute that.

What they will remind you of, though, is that only now was Flowers supposed to be playing that spot. Had he not come out of school early, he might even have been one of the top prospects in this year’s draft class.

So think of him that way, if it helps, when he is lined up at left tackle for the 2017 season, as it seems he inevitably will be. The Giants may do some maneuvering and experimenting at the position, and may even spend some time this summer tinkering with Flowers and trying other options at the position (something they haven’t done in earnest in two years). Just don’t expect the Giants to be selecting his replacement Thursday night, because that player does not exist.

Not this year. Not in this draft.

It’s a very bad year to be looking for a blocker who can make an immediate impact.

Gil Brandt, the former Cowboys personnel guru, is an analyst for Sirius NFL Radio and NFL.com. “While there’s depth,’’ Brandt said, “I’m not sure I’ve seen a poorer collection of offensive linemen in one draft.”

And his drafts go back to 1955.

Even ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, who rarely has a critical thing to say about anyone, called this a “lean year’’ for offensive linemen.

At this point, it doesn’t make sense for the Giants to start over at the position. They had to withstand those growing pains with Flowers as a rookie at left tackle two years ago, so why would they want to do that again so soon? The lineman projected to go first among the group, Alabama’s Cam Robinson, feels more like Flowers 2.0 than a vast improvement over him.

There are players whom the Giants may select who can help them over the course of their careers — Ryan Ramczyk of Wisconsin and Garett Bolles of Utah (both of whom are older than Flowers). They are linked to the Giants in many mock drafts by those who see a need and match it up to a list of players by position. Yet there probably is not a player the Giants can draft who will give them a better chance of being successful than Flowers does.

“In the spring we will experiment with different lineups and situations with our offensive line, so it is a long way to go,” general manager Jerry Reese said when asked last week about Flowers’ position. “That is to be determined later by Ben (McAdoo) and the coaching staff, but we will tinker with a lot of things in the spring.”

In other words, Flowers’ name is in pencil right now, not ink. But a rookie draft pick playing a role in that process seems unlikely.

That doesn’t mean the Giants should ignore the position. After taking a lineman in the first or second round in three straight years (Pugh in 2013, Weston Richburg in 2014, Flowers in 2015), the Giants did not select one in their entire 2016 draft class. It was the first time since 2008 they went without a blocker in any round. A second-day pick such as Zach Banner of USC could compete at right tackle. They also added former first-round pick D.J. Fluker, a castoff from the Chargers, this offseason.

Fluker will help give the Giants depth on the line. But he also should serve as a reminder of just how hard it is to find a left tackle who can step in from day one and settle the position. Fluker couldn’t do it as the 11th overall pick of San Diego in 2013.

Taking a left tackle in the first round used to be a safe pick, but that was when it was stocked with Tony Bosellis and Jonathan Ogdens and Chris Samuels and D’Brickashaw Fergusons and Joe Thomases. But in recent years that list has included more disappointment in the likes of Jake Long, Eric Fisher, Greg Robinson and Luke Joeckel.

And now the Giants are supposed to find a new anchor for their line in what most think is the worst class of linemen they can ever recall?

Flowers may not be deserving of another chance to prove his worth at the position. But thanks to his timing — which may be working out for him for the first time in his career — he’ll likely get it.

A look at the top prospects on the offensive line in this year’s draft class:

Cam Robinson

6-6, 322

Alabama

A three-year starter and an All-American as a junior . . . Won the Outland Trophy as nation’s top lineman . . . Has visited the Giants for a private workout . . . His draft profile on NFL.com compares him to Ereck Flowers.

Ryan Ramczyk

6-6, 310

Wisconsin

Played just one full year at Wisconsin but started every game at left tackle . . . Earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and was an All-American . . . Hip injury that required surgery after the 2016 season is something to be wary of.

Garett Bolles

6-5, 297

Utah

First-team Pac-12 player . . . Not as big-bodied as some others in the class but may be the most athletic and plays with fire . . . Lacks some technique refinement with just one year of major- college football.

Forrest Lamp

6-4, 309

Western Kentucky

A four-year starter at left tackle likely will transition to guard . . . Very good footwork and hand placement but needs to get stronger to play inside . . . Some have compared him to Cowboys All-Pro guard Zack Martin.

Zach Banner

6-8, 353

USC

A massive specimen with a solid NFL pedigree (his biological father is former Pro Bowler Lincoln Kennedy) . . . Was the heaviest player at the Combine . . . Has had weight issues and been close to 400 pounds in college . . . Lacks the athleticism to chase speedy edge rushers.

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