It’s the morning after, so after a cup (or three) of coffee and maybe even a few hours of sleep, it’s time for NFL analysts and reporters to react the Giants’ selection of former Syracuse tackle Justin Pugh.
Maybe not a buzzy choice, but it’s hard to question the track record of GM Jerry Reese. Pugh played tackle for the Orange but may start out at guard in New York. The Giants’ O-line has been getting long in the tooth, and Pugh offers a long-term (if not immediate) solution. He’ll have excellent mentors in OL David Diehl and OG Chris Snee, either of whom might be eventually displaced by Pugh. Starting LG Kevin Boothe, who recently got just a one-year deal, should also have his antennae up.
What he brings: There is some debate as to whether Pugh fits best at guard or tackle, because he has short arms at just 32 inches. There are concerns about his ability to protect the edge. But there is no debating his ability to be a starter immediately. He is an aggressive, fundamentally sound run blocker who gets in good position and sustains. And aside from his arm length, there is no reason to doubt him in pass protection. His footwork and balance, in particular, are impressive.
How he fits: While the Giants probably didn’t draft Pugh because of his versatility, they have needs both inside and outside on the offensive line. There is some debate whether he belongs at offensive guard or right tackle, and either position would be welcome. They might be OK at tackle with Will Beatty and get another year out of David Diehl. They also like young James Brewer at right tackle or guard, which gives them the option of moving Diehl inside. They will likely look at Pugh in both positions and find a spot where he can step in and start immediately. This has been a very good Giants offensive line for a long time, but they started to show cracks last season. Pugh will help.
In his predraft analysis, NFLDraftScout.com’s Dane Brugler called Pugh an “Effortless mover with good body control.” Pugh has the potential to make an immediate impact on the Giants offensive line.
Justin Pugh, no matter where he was selected in the 2013 NFL Draft, figured to draw a bit of a ho-hum reaction. He’s not a skill player; he doesn’t project to the all-important left tackle spot; and, without making too many assumptions, he’s a guy that likely not a lot of people were familiar with heading into this week.
But what the Giants landed in Pugh at No. 19 is a player that should be in their lineup as a guard for the next several seasons, with the ability to slide out and handle some duties at tackle when needed.
New York has Kevin Boothe and Chris Snee at its guard spots — both graded out favorable on Pro Football Focus last season. But Snee and center David Baas struggled with injuries, and right tackle David Diehl was far from a stalwart there. In other words, the Giants had to find some help up front to keep Eli Manning from enduring punishment all season long.
The only complaint I have on Pugh is that he might have been on the board for a while after this. Could the Giants have gone elsewhere here, then circled back later?
Grade: B. I figure a “B” grade is fitting for a player who probably will never really blow anyone away, mainly because he’ll be solid enough that fans will not notice him making mistakes.
Finding exactly where Pugh fits in the NFL depends on how teams feel he can develop as a blocker as well as which scheme suits him best. Ideally, a zone-blocking scheme could lead Pugh to stick at tackle, his three-year college. However, thanks to his decisive footwork, ability to generate upward force, and hand placement refinement, he could fit well in both a zone- and man-blocking situation at guard.
Thanks to his lack of great arm length, many will push him to guard on their rankings. His struggles when working back inside against power rushers as well as against wide speed rushers optimizes those concerns. If he sticks at tackle, he’ll need to sink lower after initial contact to prevent the inside leverage loses at times. If he moves to guard, he’ll need to add more bulk, especially in lower body strength, if he hopes to last against nose tackles and blitzing linebackers.
Overall, Pugh’s versatility is more of a bonus than hindrance, as long as teams can adjust his body type/minor weaknesses in a short time. He’s athletic and decisive in the short area, and his remarkable consistency and hand placement shouldn’t be overlooked as evaluated with the short-armed lineman. He wouldn’t be a reach as a first rounder — he has the potential to start as a rookie at three different positions in a zone-blocking scheme.
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