INDIANAPOLIS — The last time the Giants drafted an offensive lineman in the first round, it did not work out well.
Ereck Flowers was an enticing player with all of the physical measurements that seemed required to become a dominant player in the NFL, the kind of bookend you put out there and enjoy a decade of never having to worry about the position. But the 10th overall pick in 2015 turned out to be a bust. He didn’t even finish his rookie contract with the Giants, waived early in the 2018 season when the new regime decided it no longer wanted to pay for the sins of the previous one.
It’s the kind of hard lesson that could scare a team away from drafting an offensive tackle with a very high pick.
Unless, of course, it found somebody who was nothing like the scuttled experiment, other than playing the same position.
Alabama offensive tackle Jonah Williams would seem to be the anti-Flowers and could wind up becoming the Giants’ first-round choice. He already has met with them this week and came away with a strong impression of the franchise. “A lot of history, and they have a ton of really great parts on offense,” he said. “You look at the receiver, running back, quarterback, some of the O-linemen. Just really a quality organization and I’d be happy to play for them.”
If the Giants are unimpressed with the quarterbacks and a run on defensive linemen has them looking at the second-tier pass rushers, Williams could be their choice. While the Giants’ offensive line functioned better in the second half last season, there still is plenty of work to do.
“We’re going to constantly look to improve that unit,” Pat Shurmur said. “I believe you have a chance to win it all when you can say the strength of your team is the offensive line.”
To get to that point, the Giants need to address the right side, particularly right tackle. Williams could be the solution there, learning the NFL ropes for a while before eventually replacing Nate Solder at left tackle. That’s the way he did it as a three-year starter at Alabama.
So how does Williams differ from Flowers? Where the latter was a big, physical specimen whose technique could not be refined to the point of competency by a long list of coaches, Williams probably is the most polished lineman in the draft.
“Jonah is special, man,” Alabama running back Josh Jacobs said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game where he has messed up multiple times. He does everything he’s supposed to do. Just a solid overall player.”
Alabama running back Damien Harris called Williams “a security blanket” and “a different breed of player.”
And where Flowers never quite meshed with his teammates, Williams, they said, is an ultimate teammate. “I can speak volumes about his character,” Harris said. “A world-class guy.”
He also seems to have something Flowers lacked at times, which is a fiery nastiness. It’s what drew the Giants to guard Will Hernandez last year with their second-round pick, and it could be what intrigues them about Williams this year.
He described his philosophy on every play as: “Make your reads, read the defensive coverages, safety movement, defensive alignment, weight placement, and then as soon as the ball is snapped, cut it loose and try to take someone’s head off.”
There are some questions about his size, particularly his arm length. While he came to the combine at 6-4 and 302 pounds, his 33 5⁄8-inch arm length is a little shorter than most NFL evaluators like to see in a tackle. It’s not exactly T-Rex territory, but it could mean a position change to guard.
That doesn’t sound like something Williams wants to do. In fact, he came to Indianapolis with a list of successful tackles from the past 10 years — Joe Thomas, Joe Staley, Jake Matthews, Jason Peters, he said, “just a couple of guys off the top of my head” — who had shorter arm measurements than his at their combines.
“It’s a small portion of what it takes to be a tackle at the next level,” he said of arm length. “I’m proud of the way I play and my approach to the game. That’s what makes me a great player. If my fingers were an eighth of an inch longer, that might be good enough, but I think the way that I play is what defines me as a football player.”
And what could wind up defining the Giants’ offensive line for a generation.