It was rocky at the beginning, but Nick Gates made a successful transition from guard and tackle to center — a position he had never played — for the New York Giants last season.
Gates is now the leader of an offensive line that will face tremendous scrutiny in a critical season for the Giants after the organization made no major moves to upgrade the talent at the position.
Let’s take a closer look at Gates as we continue profiling each of the 90 players the Giants will bring to training camp this summer.
Contract: Year 1 of two-year, $6.825 million deal | Guaranteed at sign: $3.175M | 2021 cap hit: $3.325M
Career to date
The Giants signed gates as an undrafted free agent out of Nebraska in 2018, and he spent his rookie season on Injured Reserve. In 2019, he earned a spot on the 53-man roster as a reserve guard/tackle, starting three games and playing 290 snaps.
Seemingly set at guard a season ago, the Giants had a choice with Gates. Put him in competition for the right tackle job, or put him in competition with Spencer Pulley for the center job.
They chose the center job, and while coach Joe Judge would not say it the split or practice reps — Gates getting nearly all the first-team reps — made it obvious from the beginning that he would be the starting center.
Gates improved from the beginning of the season to the end. After surrendering six hurries in his first three games, he allowed only 10 over the final 13 games and only two in the final six games. Gates did not allow a sack all season.
According to Pro Football Focus, Gates’ four highest-graded games all came over the season’s final eight weeks.
Once called the “alpha male that you want’ at center by former offensive line coach Marc Colombo, Gates showcased the skillset and the disposition to lead the line. He was the offensive lineman most often made available to media, and the one most likely to find himself in a scrum defending teammates.
Can Gates pick up where he left off? Can he lead this line to a performance level that gives Daniel Jones and the Giants’ upgraded cachet of play-makers an opportunity to be successful?
Will Hernandez has played in more than double the number of NFL games that Gates has, but while Hernandez transitions to right guard and tries to hang on to a starting job it is the 25-year-old Gates who is the line’s foundation.
Pro Football Focus ranked Gates as the No. 20 overall center in the league entering 2021. PFF wrote:
There was plenty of reason to be optimistic about Gates heading into the 2020 season following an impressive showing in several spot starts at right tackle and right guard in 2019. He did earn a starting job the following offseason, but it came at center. It’s a position that Gates hadn’t played in either college or the NFL. His PFF grade dropped from 77.0 to 59.7 as a result, but he was still far from the worst starter on New York’s offensive line. The Giants will hope for a step forward in Year 2 at the position.
That step forward appeared to begin during the second half of the 2020 season. The Giants, obviously, need it to continue in 2021.