The New York Giants season of promise in 2016 may blossom into the real deal if Ereck Flowers can repay the faith shown in him.
Ereck Flowers Could Make or Break Giants season
When the New York Giants moved to take Miami’s Ereck Flowers with the ninth overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft he was supposed to be the man to protect Eli Manning as the quarterback entered his twilight years. Since then, the 329 lbs behemoth, who the Giants knew wouldn’t be the finished product right away, has been a letdown.
Despite starting all but one game since coming into the league two years ago, Flowers hasn’t become the franchise left tackle the Giants hoped he would be coming out of college. According to Pro Football Focus, in Flowers and Bobby Hart the Giants fielded the worst pair of offensive tackles in the NFL in 2016. Flowers himself finished with a PFF ranking of 57 out of the 78 linemen graded, the second worst on the Giants offensive line.
Coming off a rocky rookie season, he needed to step up in 2016. It didn’t happen. 2017 really will be the last chance for Flowers.
Older Manning Needs Protection
With the skill positions on the Giants offense stacked, the pressure is on Manning to deliver in New York. The addition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Evan Engram in the draft have given the 36-year-old a plethora of attacking weapons.
Manning struggled down the stretch last season and, although the two-time Super Bowl MVP took much of the criticism from the hungry New York press, it was devastatingly bad offensive line play that should be the main cause for concern for Giants fans.
PFF ranked the Giants’ line as the 20th best in the league last season but this ranking flattered an highly unbalanced group. Whilst the interior line, led by guard Justin Pugh, performed well the tackles, whose chief task is to protect the franchise quarterback, were dismal.
Flowers allowed 54 quarterback pressures in his final 13 games and led the league with eight holding penalties last season. Under this pressure Manning, not as agile as earlier in his career, was unable to find his dynamic playmakers Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepherd.
With no high profile free agents brought in to compete with Flowers at left tackle, the Giants front office has shown a huge amount of faith in Flowers. When they drafted him so high in 2015 they were aware he wasn’t the finished product. He was raw and technically-flawed but his physical traits led draft analysts to believe Flowers had incredible potential.
But now, two years into his NFL career the Giants will be expecting a return on their investment.
A Leaner, Meaner Flowers?
The good news for Giants fans – and one should be careful when reading any reports coming out of a team’s OTAs – is that Flowers’ coaches are making all the right noises. At the end of minicamp on Friday, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said Flowers, now 23, was looking leaner in team practice.
“It’s very early and we didn’t get a chance to practice against the defense yet, but you do see some increased quickness,” added Sullivan.
Flowers is relatively experienced for a 23-year-old tackle in the NFL. He started 15 games as a rookie and played every single offensive snap last time out. The only other player to do that was Manning.
He has the size, strength and now experience to be a success on Manning’s blindside but he must iron out the technical fundamentals that have held him back so far. The coaches and personnel staff who see Flowers every day clearly believe he is capable of making the leap. He will have to if the Giants are going to make the play-off run their elite defense and receiving corps deserve.
Manning’s talent is still there; he is only one year removed from throwing a career-high 35 touchdowns in 2015. The offensive weapons are in place. The defense could be the best in the league. The Giants just need to keep their veteran quarterback upright and in the pocket. They are banking on Flowers to finally step up and do just that.