What are the New York Giants going to do about the interior of their offensive line?
In various forms, that question keeps pouring in to the Big Blue View inbox. Readers Bill Cafarella, Walter Recher, Troy Wade, Jim O’Donnell and Jeff Graham have all sent that question this week. I know they aren’t the only Giants fans or Big Blue View readers wondering.
So, let’s talk about the approach to the offensive line.
Losses, but no gains
Monday’s surprising news that 2022 starting center Jon Feliciano is bolting the Giants for the San Francisco 49ers means that the Giants have now lost both potential starting centers — Feliciano and Nick Gates — in free agency.
They have not added any offensive line help.
The Giants were 24th in both run- and pass-blocking per Football Outsiders DVOA last season. Pro Football Focus ranked the Giants’ 14th in run-blocking and 24th in pass-blocking.
You would think the Giants, with a massive investment in quarterback Daniel Jones, a star running back in Saquon Barkley and a need to get more explosive plays from an offensive that might have been called ‘plodding’ at times last season, would be aggressively seeking upgrades to the interior of the offensive line.
Thus far, that has not been the case.
The Giants have been aggressive in filling a few needs. They spent big money on off-ball linebacker Bobby Okereke. They added defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches and had defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson in for a visit on Monday. They swung a trade for a star tight end in Darren Waller, added wide receiver Parris Campbell and retained wide receiver Darius Slayton to upgrade their receiving group.
On the offensive line? Crickets. Silence. Nothing. They are down by 2 on the scoreboard.
I believe that what a team does, or does not do, in free agency tells us a couple of things. It tells us what they think of the players they have, and the ones they are watching walk out the door. It is also like a big red flare in the sky telling us what a team’s intentions might be heading into the draft.
Such is the case with the Giants and their offensive line.
First, the Giants are probably telling us they really weren’t enamored with their 2022 center play. They were never going to compete against an offer like the one Gates got from the Washington Commanders, a three-year, $16.5 million deal. The prevailing thought was that eventually Feliciano would likely sign another low-cost, one-year stop-gap contract. Remember, though, while Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll did bring Feliciano from Buffalo with them a year ago, they were part of a decision-making group that benched Feliciano in 2021 and made only a one-year commitment to him in New York.
So, they might not have loved ‘Mongo’ as much as they led us to believe. Whether they did or not — Feliciano could have simply tired of waiting for the Giants to get their other affairs in order — Feliciano is now in San Francisco.
Something else I think Schoen and Daboll are telling us is that they like the collection of guards they have.
Mark Glowinski draws the ire of Giants fans, but he is an average, adequate starting right guard. In 2022, he gave the Giants basically what they expected, what they paid for when they gave him a three-year, $18.3 million free agent contract with $11.4 million guaranteed.
On the left side, the Giants already possess a number of young — albeit mostly unproven —options.
Ben Bredeson played well when healthy last season. Joshua Ezeudu was a 2022 third-round pick who was beginning to show promise before a neck injury landed him on IR. I believe the organization still sees him as a future starter at one of the two guard spots. Schoen has praised how well 2022 fifth-round pick Marcus McKethan was playing before suffering a season-ending torn ACL in training camp. Shane Lemieux, limited by injuries to brief cameos in two games the past two seasons, is still a favorite of Daboll and offensive line coach Bobby Johnson, and thus cannot be completely discounted.
What the Giants don’t have at this point is an experienced center. Bredeson played 30 snaps there in 2022 and would likely be the center if the Giants had to play this week. Lemieux has dabbled at center since the Giants drafted him in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. There were plans to take a full look at him there during the 2022 preseason, but those were scrubbed when he was injured.
So, what’s the 2023 plan?
I think the Giants are screaming from the top of the team’s facility at 1925 Giants Drive in East Rutherford that they will prioritize selecting a center in the 2023 NFL Draft.
That should hardly be a surprise to anyone who follows Big Blue View, or who pays attention to the Giants. We have been discussing the idea of using the upcoming draft to find a long-term answer at center for months now, and did so again on a recent edition of the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast with Patricia Traina as my guest.
Weston Richburg was the Giants’ starting center from 2015 until he was injured four games into the 2017 season. Since then, the Giants have not been able to stabilize the position.
Spencer Pulley started in 2018, Jon Halapio in 2019, Gates in 2020, Billy Price was the primary center in 2021 and Feliciano had the job a year ago.
It is time, actually it is past time, for the Giants to get off that merry-go-round and find a long-term answer.
Having lost Feliciano, I believe the Giants will turn to free agency for a low-cost veteran. My educated guess is they will look to find their potential long-term center at some point in the draft’s first four rounds.
Guard? I would be surprised to see any major investment in the position prior to the draft. It won’t be any surprise, though, if they supplement the position by bringing in more competition with one or more of their 10 draft choices.
Who’s left in free agency?
Connor McGovern is No. 82 on The Athletic’s list of the top 150 free agents. Zack Rosenblatt writes that McGovern “might not be a Pro Bowl-caliber center, but he’s a solid player who will draw interest.”
Ben Jones, who will be 34 in July, is No. 106. He is an 11-year veteran who was let go by the Tennessee Titans this offseason. Jones made the Pro Bowl in 2022. He is, obviously, still a good player. Would he be willing to take a one-year deal to continue his career?
Here is a full list of available centers.
What about the draft?
Here are the top five centers on the NFL Mock Draft Database Consensus Big Board.
Steve Avila (TCU, No. 50) — Avila is 6-foot-4, 334 pounds and has the ability to play guard and center. I believe he might be a better guard prospect. During an appearance on the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast, Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said this about Avila:
“I think he could play either. I’m of the mindset I think Steve would be a better guard,” Nagy said. “He’s a big man. One thing he would do — he would bring really unique size to that [center] position.”
In his prospect profile of Avila, our Chris Pflum writes:
“Avila projects as a starting guard or center at the NFL level. Avila has the versatility to play either position well at the NFL level and could slot in wherever his team needs. He has plenty of power and leverage to man the guard position, while also having enough initial quickness and agility to be considered for center at the NFL level.”
Avila is a likely Day 2 selection.
John Michael Schmitz (Minnesota, No. 51) — If a center is going to be selected in Round 1, it is most likely going to be Schmitz. Nagy told Big Blue View that Schmitz’ work at the Senior Bowl had his draft stock rising.
“John Michael Schmitz (Minnesota) right now is getting a lot of first-round love,” Nagy said. “There wasn’t a lot of that coming into the week. We had him as a Day 2 player. He had an awesome week.”
Mock drafts have not necessarily reflected that, with Schmitz average draft position in the NFL Mock Draft Database sitting at No. 50. That might begin to rise with teams like the Giants likely identifying center as a primary need.
33rd Team says:
Schmitz is a steady player that lacks any top level traits athletically. He is a bit tight in the lower body, he is ordinary to move laterally. He does play with a good base and balance although his pad level can get high at times. He shows good strength and toughness, can control people with his hands to establish the line of scrimmage.
Schmitz has good enough feet to reach and turn out in the hole when battling defenders. He is very aware and a smart player that can pick up stunts and games with ease. Overall, John Michael Schmitz has end-of-the-day production, but it is not always pretty getting to the finish line. He will eventually [be a] starter in the NFL at center.
Joe Tippmann (Wisconsin, No. 68) — My personal favorite among the top centers in this draft class. Back in 2019, former NFL scout Matt Williamson did a ‘how to scout’ series for Big Blue View. The three characteristics he identified as key for offensive linemen are agility, toughness, smarts. Flexibility/ability to bend was No. 4. The 6-foot-6, 313-pound Tippmann has those things. Here are are two scouting reports:
Tippmann projects as a day-one starting center for multiple NFL offenses and schemes. Tippmann is a scheme-versatile blocker that impresses on both running and passing plays. His power and athleticism allow him to win single or double-team reps. Tippmann is the quarterback of the offensive line and his knowledge of blocking schemes will assist his acclimation to the league. He has the physical ability to develop into a long-term starting center in the league.
Two-year starter with the weight room strength and athleticism for work in a variety of run schemes. Tippmann is taller than your average center, but he can bend enough to neutralize at the point of attack. He’s a fluid move blocker who can make wide pulls, climbing cut-offs and adjustments to moving targets in space. He’s recognized for his football intelligence in the pivot and is an effective communicator. He needs to play with better posture and tighter hands to stay mirrored in protection and to improve his body control through engagement. Tippmann’s size, strength, smarts and athleticism should help him become a starter in the NFL.
I believe there is a chance Tippmann comes off the board much higher in the draft than that No. 68 prospect ranking.
Luke Wypler (Ohio State, No. 74) — Wypler is a solid player who faced a high level of collegiate competition playing at Ohio State.
33rd Team says:
Wypler is technically sound and productive. He does a nice job with his footwork to keep his balance and stay with defenders. He is a position blocker that understands leverage and hand usage which he uses to win with his technique. He is better in a short area but his overall range is a bit limited.
Wypler’s eyes were dirty at times and allowed some free runners, he would just see defenders when it was too late to block them. In the passing game, he has the feet to recover and redirect. He has enough strength to root in against bull rushers. Overall, the more teams watch his film the more they will appreciate his play. Wypler does not have any elite traits but will get picked and start early in his career at center for an NFL team.
Olusegun Oluwatimi (Michigan, No. 111) — Oluwatimi is considered a mid-round prospect. Scouts at the 33rd Team think he is more than that, ranking him as the No. 1 center in the draft class. They say:
Oluwatimi is a productive player that has very good instincts. He has the power and strength to compete with big, strong players over his nose. He can shock with his hands and sustain blocks by anchoring well. He has good feet, balance and body control. He can get stood up by defenders but has the tools to consistently control people on the line of scrimmage.
Oluwatimi has a bit of ankle tightness which is undoubtedly not terminal. He can move laterally and can recover in the passing game when beaten. He does a nice job out in space to hunt people down and deliver a blow. Oluwatimi has toughness, size, strength, and instincts and is a good enough athlete. He should start at center early in his rookie season.
Other names to know:
Jarrett Patterson, Notre Dame; Ricky Stromberg, Arkansas; Juice Scruggs, Penn State