Film breakdown: A deeper look at Giants 1st round pick Justin Pugh

After the Giants selected Justin Pugh in the 1st round, I gave my initial thoughts on him, and noted that I had a bitter taste in my mouth about him throughout the months leading up to the draft because of what I saw of him in the Senior Bowl game:

There was a series in the Senior Bowl game where Pugh absolutely had his lunch eaten on (I believe) 3 consecutive plays. Just an ugly series through and through. It’s something that I haven’t been able to get past any time his name came up during the pre-draft process.

Since then, I went back and took a look at some more tape of Pugh. I re-watched that series in the Senior Bowl (it was worse than I remembered), as well as his performances vs Rutgers and Pitt in 2012, and vs Pitt in 2011.

First, let’s look at the Senior Bowl, which was brutal. Pugh was playing LT, locked up 1-on-1 with Georgia DE Cornelius Washington, who was drafted by the Bears in the 6th round. QB Zac Dysert is still in his dropback, and Washington has already gotten inside leverage on an overextended Pugh:

Pugh 6

Washington beats Pugh soundly:

Pugh 7

And kills Dysert:

Pugh 8

That was a sack fumble. To his credit, Pugh stayed with the play and recovered the fumble.

On the next play, Pugh was beaten by Washington to the inside again, although not as badly:

Pugh 9

But it’s an All-Star game, and in All-Star games, they don’t call penalties, so Pugh basically tackles Washington. This should have been a clear holding call:

Pugh 10

On 3rd down, after having used speed moves on the first two plays, Washington changes it up and hits Pugh with a bull rush. You can see here that Pugh engages with Washington at about the 38 yard line:

Pugh 11

Pugh is driven back 4 yards into Dysert’s lap, making contact with Dysert as he is trying to throw:

Pugh 12

The pass is off target and picked off by Zavier Gooden of Missouri. Just a brutal series through and through.

As I noted in the immediate thoughts on Pugh, it is difficult to evaluate players in All-Star games.

All-Star games are tricky. There are any number of reasons why a player may not look good. They could playing a different technique on the orders of their temporary coaches, or any number of other reasons that might lead to a false negative performance. I’ve discussed Pugh with my buddy Tommy Lawlor of Scouts Notebook, and he likes to note Andrew Whitworth, who had a horrid Shrine Game, but has turned out to be one of the best left tackles in the NFL for the Bengals.

In the three Syracuse games I watched (again, Rutgers 2012, Pitt 2012, Pitt 2011), I came away a lot more comfortable with Pugh. I would credit him with giving up 0 sacks in those three games, although one is debatable. Against Pitt in 2012, Pugh was initially engaged with the DE, who then looped inside. It looked like Pugh was expecting the guard to pick up his man with Pugh taking the DT that the guard was blocking, but the guard stuck with his man and the DE came free inside for a sack. It was too difficult to know what the blocking assignments were on that play, but I’ll give Pugh the benefit of the doubt on that one, as he wasn’t physically beaten on the play.

However, that doesn’t mean that Pugh wasn’t beaten on occasion. He was. Twice against Rutgers the rusher beat him to the inside, similarly to the way he was beaten to the inside in the Senior Bowl by Cornelius Washington. That seems to be his biggest deficiency in pass protection. This is where Pugh’s short arms come in to play. A player with longer arms is more likely to recover on those quick inside moves. Pugh has 32 inch arms, which are extremely short for an OT:

Pugh 13

Still, Tom Coughlin has already stated that Pugh will “probably” be the starter Week 1 at RT, and I think that’s a good fit for him. Putting him next to veteran Pro Bowl guard Chris Snee should do wonders for Pugh’s adaptation into the NFL, and Snee may be able to help bail out Pugh if he struggles with inside moves early in his pro career. If Pugh fails as an OT, at worst he should be a good guard.

Where I thought Pugh excelled was his run blocking. I was highly impressed with his game vs Pitt in 2012. Syracuse had a 1 point lead late in the game, and were trying to run clock and ice the game. Pitt pretty much knew that Syracuse was going to run behind Pugh.

Here’s a 1st down play, where Syracuse’s blocking has broken down, with the exception of Pugh. Pugh is driving his man 4 yards off the line of scrimmage:

Pugh 1

Here’s a 3rd and 1 play on that same drive. It was difficult to screen shot, but Pugh got low, drove his man a few yards off the ball, and opened up a huge void on the left side of the line. Easy 1st down for the Cuse RB:

Pugh 2

Here’s Pugh driving his man way off the line of scrimmage on the ensuing first down play. Note the black line (the line of scrimmage):

Pugh 3

And finally, a wildly impressive play. On 3rd and 3, desperate to get a stop, the Pitt LB (#44 below) tries to time out the snap perfectly (which he does) and get penetration into the Cuse backfield:

Pugh 4

But Pugh is quick enough to get out of his stance and get a body on him. The LB then simply disappears into the pile (again, difficult to see here):

Pugh 5

First down Syracuse. Ballgame.

Note that Syracuse didn’t even think about running to the right side. It was all behind Pugh. Pitt knew that’s where it was going and they couldn’t stop it.

The 2008 Giants used to get a lead on you, and then just bludgeon you to death with the run game. In those days, Chris Snee and Kareem McKenzie were at the top of their games. The Giants have always been a right-handed running team, until last year:

Giants run game

The Giants haven’t had good RT play since McKenzie’s decline began. Last season, improving the run game seemed to be a point of emphasis for the Giants, as they drafted RB David Wilson in the 1st round, a TE in the 4th, two offensive linemen, and signed a good run blocking TE in Martellus Bennett in free agency. The selection of Pugh could be viewed as an extension of their efforts last offseason. Pugh can come in on Day 1 and significantly upgrade the running game on that right side.

After having a chance to take a deeper look at him, I like Pugh a lot more as a player. To be determined if the Giants will regret passing on Florida DT Sharrif Floyd.

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22 Comments

  1. [...] know if they had Florida DT Sharrif Floyd rated higher than Pugh or not. A few days ago, I did a breakdown of Pugh, and have come around on the pick. However, with hindsight being 20/20, and having the benefit of [...]

  2. [...] know if they had Florida DT Sharrif Floyd rated higher than Pugh or not. A few days ago, I did a breakdown of Pugh, and have come around on the pick. However, with hindsight being 20/20, and having the benefit of [...]

  3. joe says:

    Logan Mankins of the Pats is a similar story to Pugh in my mind. Everyone hated the pick, ended up playing LG and being one of the top run blocking guards in the league. Mankins is not nearly as quick as Pugh (10 & 20 yd splits in 40) nor explosive (Pugh had 8″ more on Broad Jump) but has longer arms and overall similar size/build (6″4 305-310). Both guys were considered high character guys coming out of school with above average intelligence (above average intelligence in the NFL is rare).

    Watch Cuse play Louisville this year, he dominated. Youtube Ryan Nassib Louisville.

  4. Brett says:

    Seems like a poor man’s Dave Diehl, disappointed with Reese. Yeah he can fill in at Tackle but he’s a more an average starter at Guard. Don’t see this guy making any pro bowls. If we were gonna reach I’d rather go for Kyle Long. Yeah he might be lesser talented Long brother, but at least Eli could relate and mentor the guy. Plus he’s has more pro bowl potential than Pugh who has a lower ceiling.

    1. Mick says:

      If he is an average NFL guard, that makes him a successful draft pick in a “weak” draft. I can’t understand why you would be pooping on this pick so much, though – when has Reese whiffed in the first round?

      1. Brett says:

        Interesting take…but I don’t think Jimmy would agree with this logic based on his last few articles. For example, the Cowboys basically did the same thing in the first round but played it even safer and picked a starting center (a position with the one of the lowest bust rates) in a “weak draft” at the top and got an extra pick to boot. Reese took Pugh but got no such compensation. Ok fine, Reese drafts for value and doesn’t move much. Looking at grades by NFL and SI.com, Pugh is rated lower than Frederick and but barely over Long, probably because he doesn’t have much experience playing football.

        I’m just looking at who else was available. I don’t know much about Shariff Floyd but he could have been a guy. If not that’s fine, maybe the mock draft community overrated him. How about Tyler Eifert? Myers seems ok, but Eifert provides an instant upgrade and maybe now they could recreate some 2 TE sets that are all the rage. It would be great insurance if Cruz or Nick’s leaves.

      2. horatius says:

        It’s tough to whiff in the first round. It takes a special talent like Jerry Jones or Al Davis, or HOFer Vincent Cerrato.

  5. giantsgalaxy says:

    Nice analysis. However I think you misinterpreted Coughlin’s quote. He’s not going to start at RT week one, but he’ll be in camp working as a RT. Coughlin is very scared of rookies blocking so I doubt Pugh starts. And they love Diehl for some reason.

    1. Could be. I re-read it, and on the double check he was fairly non-committal. I think he’ll win the job because I think he’s better than Diehl (as in right now), But I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if it were Diehl. Because you’re right… they have some sort of odd fascination with him.

      1. mjoedgaard says:

        Please let Diehl start when we play em, he is worse than Bell at tackle.

  6. tst29 says:

    I like Justin Pugh, but I don’t see him being a future probowler. I think he’ll be a good OG and be a stable presence on the Giant’s OL for the next 4-6 years. Kyle Long came immediately afterwards and I wasn’t impressed with his game tape. So I don’t consider Pugh as a reach. This draft wasn’t that good and NYG had to choose between a sold OG, CB, or pass rusher.

  7. poolboy87 says:

    I watched the Pitt game, and was definitely impressed with his ability in the run game, at least in terms of blocking straight forward. When he tried to block in space, it seemed a little sketchier, he whiffed a few times, but not an alarming amount of times.

    He definitely seemed really solid at pushing rushers behind his QB when they tried to go around him on the outside, and it seemed like he usually mirrored well on the inside, outside of a couple of iffy situations. It seemed like he was a little susceptible to the bull rush, to me, though.

    My totally worthless, non-scout $0.02

  8. ct17 says:

    I hate the short arms, and the light weight. The one thing I did notice watching some tape is that on outside rushes, he moves his feet well and gets his whole body in front of the rusher, a better move than reaching for him and negating the arm length concern. We’ll have to see if that holds up to NFL speeds. He’s definitely going to have to get bigger, though.

    BBV was laughing at the Pugh possibility right before the pick. The antithesis of the expected Reese pick.

    1. Yeah, agree on the outside rush. In the games I watched, nobody came close to beating him around the edge.

      1. mjoedgaard says:

        Problem is if he gets beat inside often. NFL rushers are much better at setting up the inside rush than college players, in college most rushers only know how to speed rusher around the end.

        1. ct17 says:

          Another example of declining American educational standards.

  9. dannymac056 says:

    Great stuff Jimmy. I still think this guy might end up at Guard. Which is fine, still improves the team, that’s all your looking for.

    I’m not really worried about them regretting Floyd- don’t think he’ll be any better overall than Pugh, and the Giants needed another big body, not a gap shooter, so they got one on value in the 2nd.

    I’m more concerned they will regret passing D. Trufant, A Ogletree, and J Cyprien- guys I think could end up being overall better football players than Pugh. We’ll see though, they generally prove me wrong.

  10. NYG_Slater says:

    possibly, but pugh coming into this year was projected as a clear 1st round player. He dropped in mocks, not on ability or tape, but rather due to all the other offensive line talent in this draft.

    Considering the picks of Hankins, Moore, and Nassib that followed. I’m more inclined to believe they considered Pugh close to BPA, since the picks that followed clearly were. Also, if they did pass on Pugh, there was no chance he gets to the 2nd round.

  11. Dez Bryant's Probation Officer says:

    Reeeeeeeee
    Eeeeeeeeeech

  12. joe says:

    He got beat by the inside spin move by kaseem green on Rutgers. Luke Joeckel was always praised for his feet & bend, Pugh has better feet and even better bend.

    Also listen to his interviews, makes eli manning look cocky.

  13. Think you mean 38 yard line on that third play.

    1. D’oh. Yes, I did.

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