New York Giants fans are used to grimacing at depth charts. Former general manager Jerry Reese’s underwhelming draft record (see: Ereck Flowers, Eli Apple), combined with some trade and free-agency whiffs by current general manager Dave Gettleman (see: Nate Solder, Alec Ogletree) left the Giants as one of the least talented teams in the NFL the last few years.
Gettleman amended this by drafting a number of promising young players, headlined by running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Daniel Jones. He also signed reliable veterans to supplement the roster. Still, a few obvious weaknesses jump out when trying to forecast the Giants’ starting lineup. The center position is chief among them.
The Giants haven’t had a quality starting center since Weston Richburg left via free-agency prior to the 2018 season. That year, they cycled through Jon Halapio, John Greco, and Spencer Pulley at the position without much success. Last year, Halapio was less than stellar starting 15 of 16 games before tearing his Achilles tendon in the season finale.
Giants fans pleaded the team to improve the center spot this offseason, but Gettleman went through free-agency and the draft without addressing it. Whether due to value not meeting need, or Gettleman’s apparent continued belief in Halapio, the Giants are left with a mishmash of uninspiring choices at the position for 2020.
Is there a potential long-term solution on the roster?
Pulley is the Giants only experienced option right now, having started 16 games for the Chargers in 2017. Halapio is currently a free agent, but the Giants could bring him back before training camp if they deem him recovered from his Achilles injury. Neither of them, though, project as multi-year high-end starters. There are hopes that either Nick Gates or 2020 5th-round pick Shane Lemieux can become just that.
Gates signed as a 2018 undrafted free agent out of Nebraska. He filled in admirably for Mike Remmers at right tackle in three games late last year. Gates has never played center, and at 6’5″ stands a bit tall for the position. He could also improve his play strength to help him consistently do battle with defensive tackles on the interior. His performance from last year, however, suggests he might be one of the five best offensive linemen on the team. With 2020 draft picks Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart penciled in as the Giants’ future starting left and right tackles, a position change to center is the best way for Gates to see some playing time. And it might be the best thing for the Giants on the field.
The Giants took Lemieux 150th overall out of Oregon in this year’s draft. He played left guard in college, but given the acuteness of Big Blue’s need at center talk of a position switch started immediately. Then, footage of him practicing snaps sent hopes through the roof.
Lemieux projects as a mauling blocker in the run game, but has limited lateral agility in pass blocking. If Lemieux learns the protection calls to play center, he could fit in the power-based gap scheme new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has traditionally run.
If neither Gates nor Lemieux emerge as viable starting center, look out for Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey in next year’s draft.