The leash for New York Giants’ 2015 ninth-overall pick, Ereck Flowers, has gotten incredibly short over the past couple of years. For the upcoming 2017 season, there may not be much leash left for the third-year veteran out of Miami.
But a closer look at the starting left tackle’s film suggests the turnaround could be here.
Flowers was a significant first-round investment made by Jerry Reese and the rest of the Giants’ organization a few years back.
A three-year starter at The U, Flowers came to the combine at 6’5” and 325 lbs—an athletic but physical presence with a frame built to dominate opposing defensive lineman.
Pure grit. Pure power.
He has long arms with 34.5” length and a bench press of 37 reps coming out of college. Those tangibles supplemented his overall nastiness and competitive nature on the field.
But pro scouts across the league echoed similar criticism that threatened Flowers’ draft stock: He was a raw, unpolished product.
Lance Zierlein of NFL.com had this to say about Flowers as the tackle was preparing for his future first-round call with New York:
“Pass protection needs plenty of work. Footwork gets sloppy and undisciplined, causing base too narrow. Ducks head into contact and is a leaner in pass pro, creating balance problems.… [Flowers] also features some lower body tightness and struggles to get proper depth quickly to consistently meet edge rushers. Some of Flowers’ pass protection issue may be difficult to overcome.”
Again, he’s an offensive lineman known for his power to bully defenders at the point of contact, but technical inconsistencies in his pass-blocking game resulted in a potential high-ceiling prospect with an unavoidable need for refinement.
This is a franchise guy we are talking about here—well at least the Giants’ back office believed so (and apparently still do). The plan wasn’t to force him in immediately as a first-day starter.
Oh, how plans change.
With a serious injury suffered by former starting tackle Will Beatty in May 2015—a torn pectoral from lifting weights—the Giants were forced to roll with the rookie earlier than they wanted to.
And of course, he struggled greatly.
The following 2016 season? Eh, better; he recorded a score of 48.4 that ranked him 59th out of the 80 tackles graded.
But as a top 10 first-round pick, that kind of production is still underwhelming for a franchise with an aging quarterback desperately needing blindside protection.
The great thing for struggling players with poor stat sheets is that although numbers don’t lie, they don’t always show the intangibles.
Let’s enter the film room, shall we?
September 25, 2016, Week 3 versus Washington with a final score of 27-29 in favor of the Kirk Cousins-led team, the Giants had no shortage of offensive production.
Eli Manning went 25-for-38 with 350 yards passing and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 1:2.
On the ground, New York combined for over 100 yards and two total touchdowns between Shane Vereen (11 attempts, 67 yards, 1 TD) and Orleans Darkwa (10 attempts, 53 yards, 1 TD).
This game was early in the 2016 season, but a quick look at some footage in this contest shows both key positives and negatives that have defined Flowers career up to this point.
The question on most Giants fans’ minds? Are there enough positives to overcome, or more preferably, fix the negatives?
(Note: I plan on providing additional film breakdowns of Flowers when the 2017 NFL regular season begins)
Negative: Poor Pass-Blocking Footwork
Q1, 9:35- Manning to W. Tye pass down the middle for five yards
You will see this a lot with Flowers: Fast defensive ends, or 3-4 linebackers in this scenario, will line up extra wide and create a lot of space before the point of contact, setting the edge to gain plenty of speed and momentum toward the line of scrimmage.
Here, Washington’s Trent Murphy (No. 93) is the weakside linebacker/end playing nine-tech. His goal is to start wide and crash down hard, crossing Flowers’ face and attacking his inside shoulder in case the running back cuts back to the weakside of the formation.
Flowers’ poor footwork causes his drop to get too steep on a 45-degree angle resulting in his weight to shift too far back. When No. 93 sets him up outside, Flowers drops his head down and completely whiffs on the block.
The pocket becomes a mess, Manning has less than three seconds to get rid of the ball and checks it down to tight end Will Tye for a short gain well before the intermediate routes have a chance to break open.
Positive: Second-Level Run Blocking
Q1, 8:11- S. Vereen rushes left for 14-yard gain
On the same drive, Flowers shows just how dominant he can be in his run blocking when he’s able to get downfield and into the second level.
A rush up the middle and perfect seal block from Flowers and the backside pulling guard John Jerry (No. 77) allows Vereen to break it to midfield for a 14-yard gain. Washington’s middle linebacker Mason Foster (No. 54) attacks down toward the B-gap and puts Flowers in perfect position to control the frontside of the line of scrimmage.
But notice in the clip how Flowers sticks with and finishes his block on a much more athletic player in Foster, who is unable to disengage fast enough to catch Vereen on the tail end of the run.
Credit Vereen’s speed to hit the open field hard, but the amount of space created by Flowers allows the running back to juke in the direction of where the tackle is engaged, avoiding the unblocked weakside linebacker (Will Compton, No. 51) while carrying up the field for an additional 14 yards.
Once Flowers gains inside leverage into a defender’s chest, he’ll make sure he finishes the battle with authority almost every time.
Negative: Poor Discipline, Over Aggressive
Q2, 7:57- Holding penalty on Flowers
Oh, the holding penalties…
It will drive a coach and respective fans crazy.
According to NFL Penalty Tracker, Flowers was the most penalized starting tackle in the league for the 2016 season with eight holding calls costing the Giants 72 yards total (before you yell at me, yes, I know 10 x 8 = 80, but remember, when teams are inside the 10-yard line, it’s half the distance to the goal instead of the full 10 yards).
Flowers’ poor discipline is a direct result of his poor pass-blocking technique and play recognition that leads to over aggressiveness.
Credit Washington for bluffing the B-gap blitz here on a 2nd-and-6 from the NYG 29. The defense comes out in a Nickel 3-3-5 look (three linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs) and loads the line of scrimmage with six men pre-snap—but they ultimately wind up rushing only three.
The bluff look actually freezes Flowers who waits for No. 54 to either drop back in coverage or rush the quarterback.
Foster chooses the former.
That split second of hesitation leads to Flowers getting beat off the edge by the defensive end who gets into the left tackle’s chest plate, causing him to have his arms too wide.
When Preston Smith (No. 94) pops to the inside, Flowers has no choice but to grab the defender and rip him to the ground to protect Manning, who had no choice but to pull the ball down and run.
Positive: Quick Shuffle Step, Foward Momentum
Q3, 12:04- O. Darkwa rush to the left for four-yard gain
I did mention that Flowers was athletic right?
Even for the big uglies whose job is to bully other men around as opposed to catching passes down the sideline, the most important aspect of a lineman’s game is, arguably, his footwork.
I’ve already pointed out that in the passing game, Flowers struggles with his drop back off the snap and is caught unbalanced quite often. But when he is allowed to attack the line on run plays as opposed to waiting for the contact, that’s where and when he shines.
Immeasurable quickness combined with agression—that’s Flowers’ element.
It’s why some experts feel Flowers is a better fit for the guard position. There, he can close the space he has to move, and when he does have to pull, his forward momentum into the second level will be the equivalent of sending a wrecking ball with phenomenal accuracy into a glass shop.
Beyond the film room, Flowers has been extremely durable in the past two seasons, starting 15 games in 2015 and all 16 games, including the one postseason game in Green Bay, last season.
He also just turned 23 this past April, and according to a report by Kimberly Jones of NFL Network (h/t Dan Benton of Giants Wire), the young man has been working hard all offseason at the Giants training facilities: “Flowers didn’t even go home this offseason; he was [there] working in the weight room, working on agility and looks physically much better.”
His two key negatives that I highlighted (poor footwork and over-aggressive play) are indeed fixable.
Based on Flowers size and foot quickness, he can improve his pass blocking by utilizing the things he does well when run blocking: He needs to shorten the space between himself and speedy defenders by bringing the contact to them with a shorter and less steep drop set.
Easier said than done, of course.
But entering his third season in better physical condition (and keeping that same nasty football mentality) will lead to an improvement in Flowers’ balance, while not sacrificing his ability to finish blocks once fully engaged with edge defenders.
Experience has heightened Flowers’ instinct. Look for him to keep his base wide and to use those lengthy arms to keep rushers at bay and in his blocking space.
There is no doubt that 2017 is a make-or-break year for the starting left tackle, and with the addition of free-agent, tight end Rhett Ellison in March to help with edge-blocking support, Reese and staff may finally be rewarded for their patience.