- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
At the start of their meeting at the scouting combine in February, Marc Ross opened the sit down with Pugh with a tricky question.
"Who is the Syracuse alum you are most familiar with?" the Giants' director of college scouting asked.
Pugh could have easily mentioned Jim Brown. Instead, the offensive lineman wisely delivered the right answer.
"He passed the IQ test right away at the combine," Coughlin cracked.
Two months after that meeting, the Giants selected Pugh with the 19th overall pick. It wasn't the sexy pick fans were hoping for.
Pugh isn't the tackle fans hoped to land in Alabama's mountain of a man D.J. Fluker, who was long gone. He isn't Florida's Sharrif Floyd, the defensive tackle with potential top-10 talent who dropped past the Giants. Pugh isn't a stud tight end like Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert or a tantalizingly athletic linebacker like Georgia's Alec Ogletree, two prospects who were available. And Pugh isn't a cornerback or defensive end -- two areas where the Giants can use reinforcements.
Some fans might've blurted out "who?" when they heard Commissioner Roger Goodell announce Pugh's name.
In many ways, Pugh is the anti Manti Te'o -- a player who isn't that well known to the public but one that the Giants consider to be versatile and most important -- safe and clean. And Pugh could be a guy who could start at any of the five offensive line positions in the near future and for a long time if the Giants are right about him.
"Justin is just a clean player," Ross said. "For us that means he was productive on tape, he plays hard, he's smart, he's athletic, he's physical, he's a great kid, he doesn't have any issues and he has a lot of upside."
In other words, he may not be sexy but he fits the New York Giants profile. With two dozen starters/contributors coming off the books after this season, the Giants can't afford to miss with their first-round pick when it comes to finding a prospect who could potentially start in 2014.
According to the Giants, Pugh can play all the positions on the offensive line, including center. And that is the kind of versatility and value Jerry Reese couldn't pass on especially when you consider that tackle/guard David Diehl and left guard Kevin Boothe are set to become free agents after this season.
And with Chris Snee and David Baas both 31 and coming off offseason surgeries, the Giants needed an offensive lineman for depth and to push perhaps for a starting spot. Right tackle is open for competition and Pugh could enter the mix with Diehl and James Brewer.
"Well, that is probably what will happen," Coughlin said of Pugh playing right tackle. "He has been a tackle. I would expect him to stay there. Whether he goes over to the right side or not, and how fast he goes over there -- we will have to decide."
Reese tried nitpicking and finding reasons not to draft Pugh at 19. He kept telling himself that Pugh's 32-inch arms were too small since the general manager likes his tackles to have at least 33-inch arms.
"I looked at tape after tape after tape and I never could see the arms come into play," Reese admitted. "Because I was looking for an excuse to downgrade him but you can never find that. This guy is really productive against the run, against the pass and he was too good of a value. As a matter of fact, he was the highest guy on our board."
Reese loves saying that. In this case, other targets like Fluker, Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro and LSU's Eric Reid -- whom the Niners traded up with the Cowboys to take right before the Giants at 18 -- were gone.
Pugh, the fifth offensive tackle selected on Thursday night, is the first offensive lineman the Giants have drafted in the first round since taking Luke Petitgout in 1999.
Pugh missed the first four games of 2012 after having surgery on his left shoulder. But he still earned All-Big East honors and helped Syracuse produce a 1,000-yard rusher for the third time in his three seasons at the school. Pugh says his shoulder is back to full strength and the Giants say they have no concerns.
Ross said he watched Pugh play all the O-line positions at the Senior Bowl at practice and during the game. And Pugh produced "one of the highest test scores this year."
"I think he is one of those guys that during a game, you can plug him in at any position and he will do good for you," Reese said. "Smart, high test score. Team captain. All those things you like. Our kind of guy."
Perhaps the Giants knew that Pugh was their guy from the moment he answered Ross' first question.
"Everyone started laughing and said, 'Welcome to the New York Giants,'" Pugh said of the response he got from his quick thinking. "I guess I should have seen that as a little bit of a sign they might be targeting me.
"My stepdad said to me, good thing you answered that question the way you did."
17hEric D. Williams