How a huge draft bust would kill Giants’ season

6


ARLINGTON, Texas — This was Tom Coughlin after Jerry Reese made Ereck Flowers the ninth pick of the 2015 draft:

“He is a battleship, an aircraft carrier or however you want to describe him at 6-foot-6, 329 pounds. Strongest guy in the draft. Outstanding feet.”

Of course, because Eli Manning too often wound up running for his life from sea to shining sea on those occasions when the battleship or aircraft carrier capsized, GM Dave Gettleman temporarily made new left tackle Nate Solder the highest-paid offensive lineman (four years, $62 million) in the NFL.

And this was Jerry Reese:

“Highest guy on the board. A lot of things to like about him. Obviously he’s a gigantic human being. Really long arms. He was the strongest guy at the combine. … I think his arms were 34 ½ inches. He can play left or right tackle. That’s up to Coach Coughlin where he plays, but we think he can be a longtime tackle for the New York Giants.”

Flowers was only 21 years old. Reese was excited about his upside … and his nasty streak:

“He’s just a big, tough guy. That’s one of the things when you talk to the coaches down there [University of Miami], it’s like this guy doesn’t take any crap from anybody. We like that and you can see that in his play. He likes to finish guys off, and that kind of fits the offensive profile that we like. We like some big, tough guys with a little bit of a nasty streak.”

And as the Giants march into Jerry World on Sunday night, all New York eyes are on Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley … and Ereck Flowers.

Four seasons later, Flowers hasn’t stopped being reviled by Giants fans, who view him not as a battleship, but as the Titanic. As in, Titanic bust.

Flowers was shaken enough by the signing of Solder and the news that he was being moved to right tackle that he skipped the first two phases of the offseason program and was shopped during the NFL draft. The Giants did not pick up his 2019 fifth-year option. When he returned, he enlisted the services of Solder as the mentor he had not previously had. His importance was magnified by Gettleman passing on the offensive tackles in the draft.

“I want to prove to myself I can play at a certain level,” Flowers said in the spring.

Coughlin is gone and Reese is gone and Ben McAdoo is gone, and Giants fans are tired of waiting for Flowers to prove himself as he braced for salivating Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.

Manning has Beckham back healthy, happy and wealthy. He has Barkley as a weapon out of the backfield. He has Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram. He had an elite playcaller in head coach Pat Shurmur. No one is expecting Manning to fail to score 30 points in a game for a third consecutive season.

Flowers was hardly the only culprit on the remodeled offensive line in the 20-15 loss to the Jaguars. But it was his lack of athleticism and/or preparation and instinct that led to pressure on Manning that resulted in the deflected pass that resulted in Myles Jack’s pick-six.

If Shurmur thought Chad Wheeler was a better option, he would have yanked Flowers. He may have no choice if he reaches the conclusion that Flowers defuses the promise of an explosive offense.

Offensive line coach Hal Hunter talked before the opener about swing tackle Wheeler making the same transition as Flowers, from the left side to the right side.

“We’ve played him a lot at right trying to get him a lot of reps so he has more confidence,” Hunter said. “Mentally he’s really in tune to what we’re doing. … He’s making progress, and we do have a lot of confidence in him.”

Apparently not enough. Flowers had periods last season in pass protection where he offered promise that he might be turning a corner. But when you are the ninth pick of the draft, you expect sustained excellence. You should not expect hollow defenses of him and excuses for him.

It was Beckham who said: “We’re always one play away. It can be any second of the game. … It’s a one-play-away offense.”

But only if Manning has time in the pocket. If he doesn’t, chances are Giants fans will be cursing their one-right-tackle-away offense.