Will Hernandez has been a functional player for the New York Giants the past three seasons. Not great. Not awful. Just sort of OK.
That’s not what the Giants were hoping for when they selected Hernandez in Round 2, 34th overall, in the 2018 NFL Draft. They thought they were getting the second-best guard in the draft class behind Quenton Nelson, a player who would anchor the offensive line GM Dave Gettleman was charged with rebuilding.
“One of the great gifts you can get in the draft is when value meets need and we had a solid first-round grade on Willie, so we’re thrilled to get him,” Gettleman said immediately after drafting Hernandez. “He’s exactly what we’re looking for. He’s a power blocker, he’s tough, he finishes strong.”
Offensive line expert and founder/creator of OL Masterminds Duke Manyweather was a Hernandez fan when the Giants drafted him.
“I watched probably every snap he’s taken since his junior year at UTEP all the way through the NFL. He was a guy that I really liked,” Manyweather told Big Blue View.
“If you remember correctly it was Quenton Nelson and then Will Hernandez were the top two guards people felt were the best available in 2017. I like the way that Will played at UTEP. He was physical, he was able to move the point in the run game, was really good on the move pulling, aggressive in pass protection, needed to work on his lateral agility in redirecting and recovering and I think that still holds true when you think about his issues in pass pro in the pro game.”
Let’s dive deeper into the mystery of why Hernandez hasn’t developed the way the Giants hoped, and what might lie ahead for him as we continue profiling the 90 players the Giants will bring to training camp this summer.
Age: 26 when the season starts
Contract: Final year of four-year, $7.45 million rookie contract | 2021 cap hit: $3.057 million
Career to date
Hernandez is coming off the most difficult season of his three-year career. No offseason program, turmoil in the offensive line room with coaching issues, apparently playing through unreported injuries, missing time due to a bout with COVID-19, and ultimately watching Shane Lemieux become the primary player at the left guard position he manned for the Giants for 2½ years. Hernandez ended up playing 524 snaps last season, just 52 percent of the offensive plays.
That was quite a step back from his first two seasons when Hernandez played 100 percent of the offensive snaps, more than 1,000 each year. Hernandez hasn’t always been as good as the Giants hoped. He regressed from a Pro Football Focus grade of 67.9 as a rookie to 58.4 in 2019 and 58.1 last year and giving up a career-worst 22 pressures last season despite his limited playing time while posting a career-low 92.1 pass-blocking efficiency score, but until Lemieux started getting snaps and his bout with COVID-19 Hernandez had always been a player the Giants could count on to be there.
Hernandez is facing a career-defining season. In the final year of his rookie contract, he could play well and earn a substantial long-term contract from the Giants or one of the league’s other 31 teams. Or, he could play poorly and find himself on the journeyman train, looking for one-year “prove-it” opportunities with teams looking for quick fixes at either guard spot.
After having been a left guard since high school, Hernandez will enter this critical season playing right guard. He has been working there for the Giants throughout the spring, and it is apparent the plan is Lemieux at left guard and Hernandez making the switch to the right.
If Hernandez fails, if he ends up on that journeyman train, it is not going to be because of lack of preparation.
This brings us back to Manyweather.
Looking to get himself right, to give himself the best chance to prove he can still be the player the Giants thought they were getting back in 2018, Hernandez turned to Manyweather this offseason.
A former Division II guard at Humboldt State, Manyweather has become one of the most trusted offensive line trainers in the growing cottage industry of offseason position trainers.
Manyweather, of course, works technique with his clients. A great deal of what he does with players who come to his facility in Dallas, though, focuses on movement and fitness.
Manyweather and Hernandez did a deep dive into the 25-year-old’s tape. They spent almost two weeks going nowhere near a weight room as they studied Hernandez’s play, with Manyweather getting the player to see the agility and redirection issues he had first noticed while Hernandez was at UTEP. They assessed his movement, with Manyweather asking questions about what Hernandez felt when he did certain things, made a plan, then got to work on helping Hernandez maneuver more efficiently.
“We wanted to make sure that he was in the best possible situation for keeping his base underneath him and being able to generate force from the ground,” Manyweather said.
Part of that was addressing Hernandez’s weight. Hernandez is listed at 327 pounds. Manyweather, not surprisingly, wouldn’t give specifics on what Hernandez weighed when he arrived at OL Masterminds in the winter or what he weighed when they were done working two months later. It’s a fairly safe bet, though, that he was north of 327 when they started and is south of that number now.
“He dropped a lot of weight,” Manyweather said. “He dropped a significant amount of weight and body fat.
“We wanted to make sure we got Will down and lean to the point where his body was able to handle the capacity of work that we were going to do and that it wasn’t unnecessary loading of the joints.”
Then, Manyweather, Hernandez, and the fitness gurus at OL Masterminds went to work on his movement.
They worked on his feet. His ankles. His knees. His hips.
“He played with some injury last year so we wanted to make sure that we got those rectified and corrected before we started to layer movement,” Manyweather said.
“At that point we were able to continue to progress him, get him stronger, get him leaner, get him stable, explosive, and all those types of things.
“We saw a really big change in him after about Week 3 of being down here in Dallas.”
Hernandez has always had power. He has always had aggression. He has always had tremendous tools. Manyweather isn’t the first offensive line expert, though, to tell me Hernandez has played like a guy who wasn’t sure how to utilize all those tools.
Manyweather compared it to driving unfamiliar roads without a map.
“The biggest thing with Will was that yes he does have a bunch of strength, but it was moving with confidence and understanding. That goes back to the continuity in coaching and understanding big-picture things,” Manyweather said.
“If a person isn’t confident in what they’re doing they’re going to be hesitant.
“Yes, he’s got all these physical tools but he was on a road trip that he had no road map to and he had never been before so he couldn’t go as fast as he could because it would be very simple for him to miss his exit.”
Until this spring, Hernandez’s road map had also never included lining up in a right-handed stance and playing right guard.
“One thing I always tell guys is when you make that switch to the opposite side it’s either not going to feel comfortable or it’s going to take a really long time for you to get used to it,” Manyweather said. “Notice I didn’t say to get comfortable, I said to get used to it.”
Manyweather added that switching sides could “absolutely” help Hernandez.
“We undressed and we addressed all the issues that we had seen in terms of his movement,” Manyweather said. “Since we got him back into a semblance of balance it made that transition to a right-side player a little cleaner than it typically would be.”
Manyweather said that he and new Giants offensive line coach Rob Sale “kinda saw the same things for areas for improvement” for Hernandez.
Manyweather is optimistic that Sale’s presence will help Hernandez, as well as the rest of the Giants’ young offensive linemen.
“He’s [Sale] done a tremendous job and has a tremendous track record of developing,” Manyweather said. “Rob has a tremendous track record of really focusing on the fundamentals of the position from the ground up — stance, footwork, posture, and all those types of things.”
Manyweather believes Hernandez could “absolutely” still reach the potential the Giants saw when they drafted him.
“One, the physical tools he does have and also the way he operates and works. That dude .. we had to monitor him because he does too much sometimes. He’s a tireless worker,” Manyweather said. “One of the things we had to do is teaching him that part of being a pro is the work is the work, the recovery is the recovery and let that work for you because that’s what’s going to pay you dividends on the backside.
“What that showed me and told me a lot about him is 1) he’s not afraid to work and 2) he’s always seeking to find a way to get better.”
The Giants can only hope all of that work pays off. Hernandez playing at or close to the level the Giants thought he could achieve when they were so thrilled to draft him would make a huge difference for them in 2021.