The Giants, the offensive line and the NFL Draft strategy

INDIANAPOLIS — Ikem Ekwonu was happy and excited to interview with the Giants at the Combine. The feeling was undoubtedly mutual.

Ushering the hulking offensive tackle from North Carolina State into a meeting room in an Indianapolis hotel to watch clips of him manhandling opponents, enjoy his bubbly personality and imagine him blocking for them for the next decade or so may be one of the highlights of the week for the Giants.

It’s also likely as close as they’ll get to realizing that enticing possibility.

Same with Evan Neal, the tackle from Alabama.

Those two players are considered by most to be the top two offensive linemen in this draft class by a fairly wide margin and they’ll probably be holding up jerseys for cameras, hugging the commissioner and crying with their families by the time the Giants get around to making their selection with the fifth overall pick. With no dazzling quarterbacks to dilute the top of the draft, Ekwonu and Neal, who would easily fill the biggest need for the Giants, are probably out of reach, even for a team that picks as high as they do.

Offensive line remains first among the many problems to which new general manager Joe Schoen is trying to find solutions these days, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s where the Giants will be going with their first-round picks. Schoen, in fact, comes from a Bills organization that fixed its offensive line without using any first-round capital and that may be the blueprint for the Giants now.

Even though Giants fans may go bonkers with disgust and have a fitful night of rage tweeting if the first round of the draft ends without the selection of someone who can block, there should be enough options in the ensuing days to be able to at least set the course on this O-line overhaul in the right direction.

“I think you can find offensive linemen throughout the draft,” Schoen said this week. “When I was there [in Buffalo] we drafted Wyatt Teller in the fifth round. Ryan Bates was an undrafted free agent, we traded for him. Ike Boettger [was undrafted]. I don’t think you can look at an offensive line and say you have to draft one in the first round.”

Even one that is in such a comically bad shape as the Giants have now with Schoen and coach Brian Daboll chuckling and cracking jokes about how thin they are at the so-very-important position with only five healthy players on the current roster.

Schoen is not an outlier in his reticence to throw first-round picks at the line.

“It was just a few years ago when the Cowboys had the best offensive line in the league and it was all these first-round picks and [the philosophy was] You’ve got to dedicate all these resources and worst-value picks to your offensive line,” NFL Draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said last week. “Now, hey, your offensive line is as good as your player, so you don’t need five Tony Bosellis, you just can’t have any tomato cans out there. And you can build that in the middle rounds. You can find really good offensive linemen in the second and third round.”

There have been 24 different starting offensive linemen for the past five Super Bowl champions. (Stefen Wisniewski started for both the Eagles and Kansas City in their victories). Of them, only three came into the league as first-round picks. Seven, including Wisniewski, were second-rounders, and another two were third-rounders. The other half of them – 12 of 24 – were either selected on the third day of the draft in rounds four through seven or not drafted at all.

“You can build an offensive line without using all your first-round picks to do it, and that’s why I think the Giants are in an interesting spot if those top two guys are gone,” Jeremiah said. “I don’t know that they necessarily need to force that.”

Neither, it seems, do they.

There were 24 different offensive linemen to start for Super Bowl-winning teams in the last five years (Stefen Wisniewski played with both Philadelphia and Kansas City champs). Here’s how they came into the league:

Round 1: 3

Round 2: 7

Round 3: 2

Round 4: 2

Round 5: 3

Round 6: 3

Round 7: 2

UDFA: 2

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