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Big Blue View mailbag: NFL Draft, offensive line questions

The mail’s here!

We have reached draft month, New York Giants fans! So, let’s open up the first Big Blue View Mailbag of April and see what questions you have.

Mike Elston asks: One of the latest media trends over the last couple years is to mock DG for having never traded down in the draft. I have been a Giant fan since my father told me I was a Giant fan when I was handed to him for the first time. I can only remember a couple of significant moves by the Giants on draft day, but I don’t think any of them were moving down. Have the Giants as an organization ever traded down? The draft didn’t have the same media coverage in the George Young days. Did he ever trade down? Accorsi? I don’t think Reese did.

Ed says: Mike, the only Round 1 move down — one I had forgotten about and was pointed out by a couple of commenters — was Ernie Accorsi moving down from 25 to 32 to select Mathias Kiwanuka. He also got a third-round pick (96th overall, Gerris Wilkinson) and fourth-round pick (129th overall, Guy Whimper). The Steelers used the 25th pick on Santonio Holmes.

Jerry Reese did trade up a few times, but never in Round 1. Reese’s biggest move was going up in Round 2 of the 2015 draft to get get Landon Collins. In 2009, he moved up six spots in Round 3 to select wide receiver Ramses Barden. In 2014, he moved up in Round 4 to select quarterback Ryan Nassib. In 2017, Reese moved up in Round 6 to select offensive lineman Adam Bisnowaty.

[NOTE: Good job by our community here to point out a Round 1 deal I missed and make me dig a little deeper.]

Bob Donnelly asks: With the way the 2021 roster is shaping up where should the bar be set for our expectations? A) a winning record B) a wild card berth C) NFC East champs D) at least one post season win.

Ed says: I think that without saying it directly, John Mara made the bar very clear in his comments the other day. Mara is “tired of losing” and made it abundantly clear that he didn’t agree to spend gobs of the organization’s money for that to continue. Mara made clear that he thinks this team is better on paper than last year’s. He wants to see the Giants in the playoffs. So, there is your bar. Less than that would be a disappointment.

Barry Denkensohn asks: It seems a lot of fans, many on this site, are writing Will Hernandez off because of last year’s play, and subsequent move out of the rotation at left guard. I don’t think that this analysis is fair, and pushing Hernandez off the offensive line is premature.

Hernandez got COVID-19 during the season and many fans are underestimating the effect the virus has on people, especially athletes. As an example, NY Rangers star forward Mika Zibanejad got the virus at the start of the hockey season, and got off to a terrible start. Fans and sports writers were wondering what was wrong with him. After a few months, Zibanejad recovered and got healthy. Since then, he is back to his old self and scoring goals like crazy.

Hernandez has been working hard during the off season with an offensive line guru and it appears that he has regained his health, and has a renewed goal to improve. I think that some people are writing Hernandez off without taking into account the effect COVID-19 had on him.

Your thoughts, Ed?

Ed says: Barry, I wholeheartedly agree that Hernandez should not be written off. I also, though, believe that he shouldn’t be counted on without a safety net. That is why the Giants signed veteran guard Zach Fulton, and why I fully expect one of their selections in the first two days of the draft to be a player they believe can — at the least — compete immediately for one of their starting guard spots.

We never really got an explanation from the Giants as to why Hernandez never regained his starting spot and subsequently seemed to fall far behind Shane Lemieux in the rotation at right guard. I wouldn’t doubt that there might have been lingering physical effects from COVID-19. Maybe we will get a chance to ask Hernandez about that this summer. It also might have simply been that the Giants preferred what Lemieux brought to the table and how he meshed with left tackle Andrew Thomas. The rookie left tackle did appear to play better the second half of the season when Lemieux was the primary player next to him.

Some of the frustration with Hernandez goes all the way back to 2018. The Giants drafted Saquon Barkley No. 2 and then Hernandez at No. 34. They could have taken All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson there. Hernandez could have made fans forget that if he had lived up to the expectations most analysts had for him, but he hasn’t done that. He has been decent, but nothing more. Definitely not the road-grading tough guy the Giants thought they had drafted.

Maybe he is a starter for the Giants this season, but he is going to have to win a job. If he can, great. If he can’t, then he can’t.

John M. Scott asks: How big of a role do you think an 11th overall pick (non-QB) should be expected to have in his rookie season? Is there more value in drafting someone like Slater who would likely play 100% of offensive snaps at RG/RT, as opposed to another position like WR or LB that might get only 50-70% of offensive/defensive snaps his first year?

Ed says: John, the 11th overall pick, a top half of the first round pick, should be an impact player. He should be a guy who immediately improves your football team. You want a player taken at No. 11 to be an immediate starter, a guy who — based on position — plays a majority of, if not all, of the snaps.

It’s why, if you’re the Giants, cornerback has to be off the board at No. 11. Unless there is an injury, how would you get that guy on the field?

Dave Kamens asks: With all the free agent signing this off-season it looks like we added a few first round draft picks albeit some cast-offs from other teams. Can you tell me how many past first round picks are on the roster?

Ed says: Dave, by my count there are 11 former first-round draft picks on the Giants’ roster.

Drafted by the Giants — Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, Andrew Thomas, Dexter Lawrence

Drafted by other organizations — John Ross, Nate Solder, Leonard Williams, Danny Shelton, Jabrill Peppers, Adoree’ Jackson.

Doug Mollin asks: From Dan Duggan at The Athletic: ”It’s impossible to overstate how much the Giants have riding on the belief that their young offensive line will take major strides this season.”

Thomas and Gates are pretty safe bets to play solid this year, although they need to maintain and build on the progress they made as the season went on.

The range of possible outcomes for the other 5 guys (Solder, Hernandez, Lemiuex, Peart, Fulton) is enormous.

Out [of] the main position groups (Dline, LBers, Secondary, Receivers, TEs, RBs, QB) would you say OL is our weakest?

And are the Giants taking too big of a risk with this group, even accounting for the likelihood of at least one new addition from the draft?

Ed says: Doug, yes the Giants are rolling the dice somewhat here. What, though, would you have them do?

It would have been preferable had they been able to keep Kevin Zeitler for another year. They made a choice, though, and there are several players on the roster now that they would not have been able to acquire had they kept Zeitler.

I find it funny. A year ago many people were thrilled to see the Giants go all in and draft three offensive linemen. A year later, people are quaking in their boots at the idea that they will actually rely on players they drafted ... to play the exact roles they are about to play.

The Giants drafted Andrew Thomas to be their left tackle. He’s their left tackle.

They drafted Matt Peart to be their eventual answer at right tackle. He wasn’t perfect last year, but he showed that he deserves a full-time opportunity to succeed or fail.

They drafted Shane Lemieux with the idea that he could/would eventually be a starting guard. He’s a starting guard.

The Giants believe in the investments they have already made. Nate Solder, Zach Fulton and Jonotthan Harrison are there to provide a safety net.

Here is Dave Gettleman talking recently about Peart.

“When he played, he played fine. He played pretty damn well. At some point in time, you’ve got to let the young kids play,” Gettleman said. “Listen, every player was a rookie at some point or a young player at some point. At some point in time, you have to have confidence in who’s on your club and you have to put him in there and let him play.”

Yes, Thomas, Lemieux and Peart all struggled at times a season ago. Players don’t stay rookies forever. They learn, they grow, they get better. Gettleman, Joe Judge, John Mara and everyone else connected with the Giants is counting on the belief that they selected the right players a year ago. I will be surprised if they don’t add one more piece during the early portion (Rounds 1-3) of the upcoming draft.

The organization has done everything possible to build a support system for its young line. Rob Sale is a first-time NFL offensive line coach, but is highly-regarded and comes with the reputation of knowing how to develop young talent. Freddie Kitchens is in a support position for Sale. So, too, is former Giants offensive line coach Pat Flaherty.

It’s scary, I know. Remember, though, there was a time when Shaun O’Hara, Chris Snee, David Diehl, Rich Seubert and Kareem McKenzie were unproven players who formed an unproven line. That worked out pretty well.

Yes, Duggan is correct that the Giants have a lot riding on their belief in the young offensive linemen. Just like they have a lot riding on their belief in Daniel Jones. And their belief that they spent free agent mega-dollars on the right people.

We will just have to find out if they are right.