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Giants’ offensive line has a large gap between its floor and ceiling

One Giants lineman may hold the key between competence and disaster

NFL: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
Evan Neal
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last decade-plus of New York Giants football, little has remained constant. The retirement of Eli Manning after the 2019 season ensured that. The team’s futility seemed to be a running theme after the 2011 Super Bowl victory, but the 2022 outfit changed that with a playoff berth and Wild Card victory.

However, one issue that has seemingly plagued the team year in and year out is poor offensive line play. Whether it was the aging of the team’s line anchors, draft picks that did not work out, poor free agent signings, good players leaving in free agency, or injuries, every year has brought with it another set of line woes. Unfortunately, that was a trend the 2022 outfit was unable to reverse.

In 2022, the Giants’ top five offensive linemen in terms of snap counts averaged a 62.3 Pro Football Focus grade, which ranked 23rd in football among starting lines. That included a 62.2 run-blocking grade (16th) and a 62.1 pass-blocking grade (27th). The only one of those 2022 linemen who will not return as a likely starter is center Jon Feliciano. This means that individual players will need to take steps forward for the offensive line to increase in competence.

The free agency and draft periods have come and gone, and the Giants still have significant questions along their line. While the unit has some high-end talent and the capacity to be strong, that will take some improvements and breakouts from key players. There are enough red flags to give this group a very low floor, but the ceiling is certainly promising if only they can reach it.

Here is the Giants’ projected starting five:

  • LT Andrew Thomas
  • LG Ben Bredeson
  • C John Michael Schmitz
  • RG Mark Glowinski
  • RT Evan Neal

It is hard to know for sure who the Giants’ left guard will be. Bredeson is presumably considered the incumbent after he started eight games in 2022 and played 74% of the offensive snaps in the 11 games he was active. However, Joshua Ezeudu was a third-round pick a year ago and also saw 43% of the offensive snaps in his 10 games played, which included two starts. Bredeson is the more experienced player, but Ezeudu may have more upside athletically (8.36 Relative Athletic Score). We’ll go with the assumption that Bredeson will be the starter, at least initially.

Let’s try to project the range of outcomes for the Giants’ offensive line and then select the most likely one. Since there are no truly objective measures of overall offensive line play, I will use PFF grades to approximate each player’s performance. That makes the conclusions inherently subject to bias, and PFF grades sometimes do not seem to match the film. Still, they are the best we have in offensive line evaluation and will give us at least a rough estimate.

Best-case scenario

  • Thomas continues his All-Pro level play in 2023 and cements his place as a top-three tackle in the NFL.
  • Bredeson establishes himself as a league-average starter.
  • Schmitz hits the ground running and becomes a top-10 center in his rookie season.
  • With more steadiness on either side of him, Glowinski improves slightly and comes closer to his 2020-21 level of play, which was somewhat above average.
  • Neal makes a big Year 2 jump, showcasing the talent the Giants saw when they selected him at No. 7 overall. He plays as a slightly below-average tackle and makes significant technique improvements.

From a PFF grade standpoint, here’s what such a scenario could look like.

There’s no need to reach for a best-case scenario for Thomas; 2022 was already a top year, and he’s entering only his age-24 season. Thomas ranked third among 72 qualified tackles with an 89.1 PFF grade in 2022. It’s not too optimistic to think that Thomas will reprise his spot as an All-Pro; the only question is if he can surmount Trent Williams for the first-team spot as the latter ages. Let’s give Thomas a round 90.0 PFF grade in 2023 with (hopefully) some more stability next to him.

Since Bredeson is the presumed starter heading into training camp, we’ll operate under the assumption that he is the improved player in 2023. In 2022, he ranked 55th out of 72 qualified guards with a 56.7 PFF grade. The 36th-ranked guard, incidentally his teammate Glowinski, had a 63.3 PFF grade. Let’s say that Bredeson figures it out in his second year as the Giants’ starter and gets his grade up to 62.7, which would have ranked 38th and was the average grade among qualifiers in 2022.

The gold standard for rookie center play has been set in recent years by the Chiefs’ Creed Humphrey (2021 second-round pick) and the Ravens’ Tyler Linderbaum (2022 first-round pick). The Giants selected Schmitz in the hope that he can have an instant impact, although expecting a Pro Bowl-level performance out of the jump is a bit overboard. Humphrey was the No. 1-ranked PFF center in 2021, and Linderbaum was No. 6 in 2022. Let’s keep our projection optimistic but measured and say that Schmitz is the 10th-ranked center in 2023. That would be the equivalent of Garrett Bradbury’s 70.2 grade in 2022.

As stated before, Glowinski was dead-average for guards in 2022. However, his PFF grade was not quite as good as the two years prior, when he posted grades of 67.3 and 70.1, respectively. It’s not a huge stretch to think that Glowinski could play somewhat better with less chaos on either side of him. Over the last three years, he has ranked 25th, 22nd, and 36th among guards. The average of those three is about 28, so let’s make him the 28th-ranked guard in 2023. That would give him a PFF grade of 65.9.

Neal is where the rub comes in. His 44.1 PFF grade ranked 71st out of 72 qualified tackles. That kind of performance may mean that there’s nowhere to go but up, but how far up is realistic? Even a 10-point improvement in his grade would still place him at around 65th. Still, it’s reasonable to think that an offseason of work with Willie Anderson and a second consecutive year at the same position will do Neal a lot of good. Looking back at the 2022 draft class, the tackle picked before Neal, Ikem Ekwonu, ranked seventh among 10 rookie tackles. Let’s say Neal makes a 30% leap in the 2022 draft class rankings to No. 7; that would place him at 46th out of 72 tackles, still below average but a far better 65.3 PFF grade.

In the best-case scenario, the five starters combine for an average PFF grade of 70.8. However, let’s adjust for some injuries, as the Giants did not truly have even their 23rd-ranked starting five together for much of 2022. Their injury luck seems to be perpetually worse than the mean.

Still, in the best-case scenario, the Giants get good injury luck, and the starters play about 90% of possible games. The team’s projected backups, including Ezeudu, Shane Lemieux, Tyre Phillips, and J.C. Hassenauer, mostly fared poorly in 2022, averaging a 47.4 PFF grade (albeit in disparate sample sizes, some of which were small). Let’s assume that the backup play is at least somewhat more competent (since Lemieux’s horrible 29.4 grade came in a tiny sample size) and bump the backups’ grades slightly to 52.0. If we weigh the averages for 90% starters and 10% backups in this best-case scenario, we get a 68.4 total offensive line grade.

A 68.4 cumulative offensive line grade, when weighted by snap counts, would have been the ninth-best line in football in 2022.

  1. Eagles - 74.7
  2. Falcons - 74.2
  3. Chiefs - 73.9
  4. Vikings - 70.8
  5. Ravens - 70.6
  6. Browns - 70.1
  7. 49ers - 69.4
  8. Lions - 69.0
  9. 2023 Giants best-case projection - 68.4

The ceiling of this offensive line is rock-solid. However, to reach that ceiling, they’ll need far better health, a significantly improved performance from three of their 2022 starters, and their rookie to become a stalwart in Year 1. That’s a lot to ask. None of these projections are unreasonable, but they’re undoubtedly optimistic.

Let’s go to the opposite extreme for the pessimistic Giants fan. What happens if Murphy’s law makes itself known once more?

Worst-case scenario

  • Thomas takes a step back to his 2021 form, which was strong but not quite elite.
  • Bredeson fails to improve in Year 2 as a starter, and Ezeudu can’t overtake him.
  • Schmitz looks a little overwhelmed as a rookie and plays at a below-average level.
  • Glowinski remains an average starter but does not return to his 2021-22 form.
  • Neal improves slightly but not meaningfully enough to rely on him as a starter.

Thomas’ 2021 season was a huge step forward from his play as a rookie. However, it wasn’t at an All-Pro level. There’s no reason to expect Thomas to fall back, but sometimes one breakout season is followed by a regression to the mean. If Thomas’ mean is a 78.9 PFF grade, the Giants will take it. It’s hard to imagine Thomas falling off beyond there after what he’s put on tape for two consecutive seasons.

Bredeson is heading into his age-25 season and his fourth year in the NFL. 2022 represented a large jump in his snap count from 294 to 542. While it’s reasonable to expect more improvement, in this scenario Bredeson stalls and puts up the same 56.7 grade.

The other starting rookie center in 2022, the Jaguars’ Luke Fortner, was the second-worst in the league, posting a 49.6 PFF grade. We won’t go quite that far, but let’s assume that the worst-case scenario for Schmitz is to play as a bottom-quarter center. That would place him at a 61.4 grade.

If Glowinski played as an average starter amidst all the chaos on the Giants’ line in 2022, there’s no reason to expect that he would fall below that. He remains at a 63.3 grade.

Neal’s floor was so low in 2022 that even a modest improvement could leave serious questions about his viability as the Giants’ 2024 starter. Let’s assume that he improves to the grade of the second-worst starting rookie tackle from 2022, Nicholas Petit-Friere of the Titans. That would place him at a 52.3 grade.

These five grades would leave the Giants at a 62.2 average offensive line grade before adjusting for injuries. Despite the seemingly endless spate of injuries along the Giants’ line in 2022, they actually got a decent number of games out of their starting five. A worst-case scenario would be closer to the 2022 Jets offensive line, which got only 72% of possible games from its original starting five. If we go with an estimated 70% of games played by starters and use the 47.4 average PFF grade for the Giants’ projected backups, that would mean an injury-adjusted 57.8 offensive line grade.

Such a season would be catastrophic. In 2022, a 57.8 PFF grade would have been the worst offensive line in football. There is little chance the Giants can be successful with this kind of outcome. That’s how reliant the Giants are on Thomas; save for him, this could have been the 2022 outcome, as well. Instead, Thomas boosted the entire team’s weighted offensive line grade to 62.4 and a 23rd ranking by playing every game at an elite level.

While this scenario is unlikely to happen in its entirety, there’s enough possibility here to be concerned. Let’s move on to the most realistic scenario, taking into account both previous scenarios with their respective pros and cons.

Most likely scenario

  • Thomas plays as a top-five tackle in the NFL.
  • Bredeson makes some improvements and is a slightly below-average starter, or Ezeudu beats him out in camp and makes that same jump to below-average but decent.
  • Schmitz is an average starter.
  • Glowinski is an average starter.
  • Neal becomes a below-average but playable starter.

Let’s go with the average of our two scenarios for each player and meet in the middle. This is realistic in its averages; each player on his own could fluctuate somewhat.

  • LT Andrew Thomas: Best case (90.0) + worst case (78.9) = 84.5 — would rank fifth out of 72 tackles in 2022
  • LG Ben Bredeson: Best case (62.7) + worst case (56.7) = 59.7 would rank 47th out of 72 guards in 2022
  • C John Michael Schmitz: Best case (70.2) + worst case (61.4) = 65.8 — would rank 15th of 32 centers in 2022
  • RG Mark Glowinski: Best case (65.9) + worst case (63.3) = 64.6 — would rank 32nd out of 72 guards in 2022
  • RT Evan Neal: Best case (65.3) + worst case (52.3) = 58.8 — would rank 60th out of 72 tackles in 2022

This averages out to 66.7. A realistic injury adjustment would be somewhere between the 70% and 90% thresholds established in each scenario. The 70% threshold is so low, entailing an average of five missed games from each starter. A more realistic number would be around 80% to 85%, so let’s stick in the middle at 82.5%. That would mean the starters played 70 of 85 possible games, which still leaves room for 15 combined missed games or three per starter. We’ll go with a middle-ground 50.0 PFF grade for the backups. This would give the Giants a final offensive line grade of 63.8.

A 63.8 grade, although only 1.4 points higher than the Giants’ 2022 total, would have ranked 18th out of 32 offensive lines, which is a five-place improvement. This makes the Giants’ offensive line roughly average. More importantly, it is less chaotic with a little bit more stability from Neal and solid-if-unspectacular play from Schmitz in the middle.

Overall, I think the Giants would be okay with this outcome. It’s not a world-beating offensive line, but it’s stable enough to keep Daniel Jones from getting slammed on each play. It also opens enough holes for the running game to be more consistent rather than boom-or-bust.

This median outcome is also pretty realistic. Although Neal’s improvement is significant in this scenario, he is still quite a bit below average. Bredeson and Glowinski are marginally better than they were in 2022, while Thomas is somewhat worse. Schmitz’s projection may seem slightly rosy given that he is a rookie, but he was projected as one of the safest picks in the draft; solid is truly the word to describe him. Expecting average play from him is not unrealistic. In fact, it’s reasonable to hold out hope that he could blossom into a top-10 center as a rookie, given that it’s been done several times in recent seasons by players of Schmitz’s pedigree.

There is still a significant probability that Thomas remains at an All-Pro level in 2023, which automatically boosts the floor of this offensive line. Furthermore, it is not totally out of the realm of possibility that Neal dramatically improves in Year 2. This is not just relying on Thomas’ Year 2 jump; it is an assessment of his talent and work ethic together with the fact that he will finally be playing the same position for a second consecutive season.

Glowinski has had three consecutive seasons of average play or better. Other than Thomas, he is likely the Giants’ surest bet of competence. Bredeson is a wild card on the other side; the median projection assumes a small bump but hardly anything noteworthy.

The injury bug could certainly hit the Giants’ offensive line worse than it did in 2022. The median scenario leaves room for that, though, including poor backup play.

Another factor to consider is how better skill position players could make the line look better. Jones does still have a tendency to tuck it and run if his first (and sometimes second) read is taken away, but if that read is open more often, the ball will likely come out more quickly. Darren Waller, Parris Campbell, and Jalin Hyatt can all help with that.

Getting the ball out quickly always benefits the offensive line. Jones will never be one of the most efficient quarterbacks in average time to throw due to his scrambling ability (as running quarterbacks always hold the ball longer while they’re behind the line of scrimmage), but this is still an area in which he can significantly improve.

Overall, the Giants’ offensive line should be better than last season’s. How much will depend on many factors, though the ceiling of the line is surprisingly high. Things could get ugly if the wheels totally fall off, especially regarding injuries and Neal’s play. Although such projections are hardly scientific, they represent a measured way of assessing where the Giants’ line will fall in 2023.