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Did the Giants fix their offensive line “once and for all?”

They certainly gave it the old college try

New York Giants v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

After the New York Giants made offensive tackle Andrew Thomas the fourth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, general manager Dave Gettleman said that was part of an effort to fix the team’s offensive line “once and for all.”

Did they accomplish that mission?

They certainly tried. After adding their left tackle of the future, and perhaps the present, in Thomas they also used two of their next four draft picks (Nos. 99 and 150) of offensive linemen. They grabbed UConn’s Matt Peart at No. 99, a developing (coach Joe Judge’s word) player who could eventually bookend Thomas at right tackle. They added Shane Lemieux, a mauling guard at pick 150 who could eventually take over for veteran right guard Kevin Zeitler or become an option at center, a position he has not played but where he will cross-train.

ESPN Stats & Info pointed out that this was a historic draft for the Giants.

“We feel real good about it. We got two tackles and a guard that we feel real strong about,” Gettleman said during a Saturday evening videoconference. “Adding them to what we already have now, adding them to Will (Hernandez), Kevin (Zeitler) and Spencer Pulley and the rest of the group. We’re very pleased with this.

“As I said earlier, every team that I have been with that has been playoff worthy and gone deep has had a strong offensive line. The O-line really does set the tone. We’re fired up about these guys because of their skill level. Obviously, their skill and ability and their playing demeanor.”

What do the experts think?

As much as we value the opinions and analysis of BBV’s Chris Pflum, Nick Falato, Matt Williamson and Mark Schofield, sometimes it is beneficial to spread our wings a little and hear from some other analysts. Let’s do that now.

Lance Zierlein of summarized his thoughts this way:

“Thomas was a great pick. Can come in and play left if they need, but I’m obviously expecting him to play right for now. Peart has left tackle traits and athletic ability, I just think he has to prove he’s tough enough for the league and has to learn to finish his blocks. I think Lemieux has functional starter ability at guard with good size and power. To me, you don’t get excited about Lemieux, but then you look up seven years later and he’s still starting for you. That’s good value in the fifth.”

Emory Hunt of Football Gameplan, who also does videos for the Big Blue View YouTube channel, had this to say:

“Overall I thought they did a great job in strengthening the offensive line, getting a front line starter and quality depth who all have starting upside potential.”

Hunt, of course, advocated for the selection of Thomas in one of those videos:

The Football Gameplan Draft Guide, incidentally, is still a worthy investment.

Drew Boylhart, veteran analyst from The Huddle Report, opined:

“I thought Dave set a goal in this draft and reached that goal with three excellent OLs. Thomas should be a solid OT for years to come and Peart has the athletic talent to be a starter and just as good as Thomas. Lemieux is one of the few OG’s that is an exception to my rule of picking OT’s and moving them inside and not selecting OG’s unless they play center. He should be an excellent leader and you needed that from a young OL player. I thought Dave had an excellent handle and direction on what he wanted to accomplish.”

Trevor Sikkema of The Draft Network said:

“Going into the draft there was speculation of the New York Giants potentially using the No. 4 overall pick on linebacker Isaiah Simmons. But the more we heard from Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, the more it seems like offensive line was the biggest priority for them come draft weekend.

“It was, and they addressed their crucial needs on the line in a big way. Andrew Thomas was my top rated offensive tackle. He’s smooth and steady no matter the situation, and held up against some of the best competition in the country in the SEC as a left tackle. The Giants did the right thing by investing such a high first round pick in a proven player.

“Grabbing Peart in the third round was also a big plus for them. Peart brings plus length and plus movement skills to the interior offensive line. He’ll need some work with hand placement, but he moves very well and can fit into multiple spots at guard or center. Finally, the addition of Shane Lemieux brings a new physical presence to the middle as a good depth player into the offensive trenches. He’s a true power/gap blocker who can own defensive linemen in a phone booth (close quarters).”

Where does each player fit?

Andrew Thomas

He will be a starting tackle in 2020, there is no doubt about that. Whether the Giants decide to put him at left tackle immediately, swapping Nate Solder to the other side, is the only real question. By the 2021 season, it will be stunning — and disappointing — if the Giants haven’t entrusted Daniel Jones’ blind side to Thomas.

“Andrew certainly has a hell of a pedigree, a three-year starter in the Southeast Conference. He’s played against some real quality defensive ends during his college career. He has played big time ball in front of a lot of people,” Gettleman said. “He’s big, he’s long, he’s strong, he can bend. He can anchor in pass (protection). He’s very athletic in the open field.”

Judge pointed out that Thomas’s run-blocking was part of his appeal.

“We’re doing what’s best for the Giants and we feel this move is best for the New York Giants right now.” Judge said Thursday night. “I think this is going to be a tremendous move right now to help Daniel (Jones) play more confident back there, not that he needs that, but he can sit back and be protected and we’ve got to go ahead and be more stiff. I talk all of the time, you have to run the ball, you have to stop the run, you have to cover kicks, so we’ve got to add to our run blocking as well to give ourselves a chance to get going on the ground.”

Matt Peart

The selection of Peart is a reminder that the draft isn’t just about the upcoming season. It is, in fact, more about the long-term success of your franchise. Thus, good drafting is not short-sighted or done with a short-term philosophy. Good drafting is done projecting the arc of a player’s career, and seeing if that fits with where you are going, or want to go.

For months leading up to the draft I advocated for the Giants, if the possibility arose, to use a mid-round pick on a developmental tackle who could step into the lineup in 2021 when the Giants inevitably move on from Solder.

Enter Peart.

The upcoming season will likely be a red-shirt one for Peart, unless injuries and poor play from Solder and others dictate otherwise. By 2021, we could well see young bookends anchoring the Giants’ offensive line with Thomas on the left and Peart on the right.

Gettleman said Peart, from UConn, has a “sizable ceiling.”

“He definitely has a lot of upside. I don’t want to say he is developmental, he is developing, and they all are,” Judge said. “He’s got tremendous work ethic, he’s got a great attitude. I think we are going to see a lot better football in the future than we’ve seen from him already.”

Shane Lemieux

While Giants fans were banging the table for a center, the Giants instead chose this Oregon guard. Geoff Schwartz, who played for both Oregon and the Giants, endorsed the move.

Lemieux figures to be a backup guard and developmental (oops, sorry Coach Judge — “developing”) player initially. Maybe someday he will transition and become the starting center. Maybe he will eventually take over at right guard for Kevin Zeitler, a 30-year-old entering his ninth season who carries a $12.5 million 2020 cap hit and a $14.5 million 2021 cap hit.

“This is a tough kid who plays mad,” Gettleman said. “He’s big, he’s powerful, he’s a pretty good athlete.”

“He plays with nasty,” Judge said. “You turn the Auburn game on and right from the first snap he’s tossing bodies around. You can’t help but watch him. In a lot of cross over tape he jumps out at you as well. He’s a guy that’s going to have interior swing value. We’re going to cross train him guard and center. It’s going to be something he has been working on out at Oregon and we’re going to keep on building with that as well.”

Here, incidentally, is what Judge is talking about. Below, watch what Lemieux, Oregon’s left guard, does to an Auburn defensive lineman on the game’s first play.

What about center?

Surprisingly, at least to those of us not making the picks, the Giants did not use any of their 10 selections on a player who has experience at center. Lemieux has been practicing the mechanics of the center position since his collegiate season ended, but he has never done it live in practice or in a game. Besides, he’s a fifth-round pick. That means he isn’t an immediate answer there.

So, what are the Giants going to do? They are going to let the players they have, including Lemieux and possibly Jon Halapio, compete.

“Right now, what we’ve got as Joe says, it’s all about competition. We are going to turn around and cross train Shane Lemieux and we’ve got Nick Gates who we are going to work with. You have Spencer Pulley, a returning center and we’ll see what happens with Pio (Jon Halapio) with his Achilles. We’ll see what kind of recovery he makes. We feel like we have three to four guys, two of whom have played the position with varsity competition. Nick worked at center last year during practice and of course Shane’s never done it in a game and we’re going to cross-train him and see where it goes. We’ve got two centers in the building that have played varsity snaps and have played winning football.”

So, center remains a question mark. Pulley and Halapio are the guys who have played “with varsity competiton,” but Gettleman is probably being generous when he says they have played “winning football.” The reality that neither is an ideal starting-caliber NFL center is why the GM has so often been asked about the center position.

Nick Gates might be the answer. Before the draft, Gettleman said “we think Nick Gates has a bright future as an offensive lineman.” Since then, he has continued to point to Gates as a player who could help the Giants.

Counting on Gates to emerge as a quality starting center, though, might be Fool’s Gold.

Gates has practiced some at the position, but never played it. He started and played well in two games last season. Remember, though, it was only two games. It’s a small sample size that left you wanting more, but it is nowhere near enough to draw a conclusion about Gates’ long-term viability from.

Final thoughts

Have the Giants fixed their offensive line “once and for all?”

No. They never will, to be honest. Gettleman has often said, and has shown throughout his career as a GM, that you have to continually reinforce both lines.

Solder needs to have a bounce back season, and even if he does he will probably be gone in a year. Fleming, an excellent signing as a veteran swing tackle, is on a one-year deal. Zeitler is past the mid-point of his career. Center remains in flux.

Right now it looks like this:

Starting tackles: Solder and Thomas
Starting guards: Zeitler, Will Hernandez
Starting center: Pulley/Gates/Halapio (if healthy and re-signed)
Probable reserves: Cam Fleming, Peart, Lemieux, loser of the center competition

Will it work? We have no idea, and no way of knowing, until we see the Giants in game action. I feel a whole lot better, though, about the present, and the future, of that group than I have in several years.