The New York Giants still don’t have the best talents along their offensive line but it’s hard to deny that the unit will be better in 2017.
Add a big-bodied wide receiver? Check.
Add a fullback? Check.
Bring back Jason Pierre-Paul? Check.
The most important upgrade, however, belonged on the offensive line. When it came to pass protection, the fivesome of Ereck Flowers, Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, John Jerry and Bobby Hart — with contributions from Marshall Newhouse and Brett Jones as well — excelled, as Eli Manning was sacked just 22 times, the third least in all of football.
But in terms of the run game, it was a completely different story.
Throughout 2016, the Giants’ failure to establish a run game was a key reason behind the season-long struggles on offense. The position averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and 1,412 rushing yards for the year, which ranked them 30th and 29th, respectively.
Flowers was a complete liability on the blind side. Pugh dealt with injury issues. Richburg and Hart went through growing pains and Jerry was average at best.
With both Eli Manning and a legitimate championship window closing as each day passes, Reese and company new that upgrades were a necessity for the upcoming campaign. The jury is still out on the offensive line being better — but it’s hard to deny that the front five will be an improved one next season.
Thus far, the Giants have re-signed Jerry, inked Khaled Holmes to a future’s contract, and brought former first-round pick D.J. Fluker into the fold. In addition, many believe the organization could snag an offensive lineman with their first-round selection — and if not there, they’re expected to bring at least one more young guard or tackle into the fold with one of their remaining six draft picks.
With the moves that have already taken place and what could happen in the future, the Giants offensive line may still struggle — but they’ll be better.
Why? Depth. Versatility. Competition.
When fans were clamoring for Flowers to play any position but left tackle, there was one problem — no one could replace him. But if the Giants can bring in someone like Garett Bolles or Ryan Ramczyk or Cam Robinson, they’ll at least have someone who can step in and help. At center, right guard, and right tackle, head coach Ben McAdoo has legitimate options to step in should injury or awful play commence.
Versatility will also be a luxury for the Giants. Pugh, Jerry, Hart and Fluker have legitimate experience at guard and tackle. Richburg, Jones, and Holmes have played center and guard. Someone like Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp or Western Michigan’s Taylor Moton have played multiple positions at the collegiate level and could get looks in the second round. It’s hard for everything to go perfect in 17 games — but when you can plug and play lineman at multiple positions, it helps a team from taking too much of a step back.
Depth and versatility are important. But it’s competition that could be the best attribute that the offensive line has.
There is no better way for McAdoo to get the best out of his starting offensive line than to make them all compete for starting spots. Sure, Pugh and Richburg are as close to a guarantee to start at left guard and center as they come. But letting Jerry and Hart know that Jones and Fluker will fight for starting spots should push all four players. If Reese selects Bolles or Ramczyk, they’ll be looking to force Flowers to another position. Having someone on your heels makes you perform at your best — and that’s something that will be apparent at nearly every position.
Even with the current signings and potential rookie additions, the Giants will have a long way to go before replicating what Kareem McKenzie, Chris Snee, Shaun O’Hara, Rich Seubert and David Diehl accomplished back in the day.
With that being said, the offensive line will be better in 2017. And who knows — maybe they’ll be good enough to compete for the Lombardi Trophy.