Will New York Giants interior offensive lineman Shane Lemieux see the field during his first season in the pros?
The New York Giants certainly needed an offensive tackle in this year’s NFL Draft, but it’s not a bad thing to garner a significant amount of depth for that position group as a whole. Big Blue kept this notion in mind when making the ultimate decision to select Oregon guard Shane Lemieux in the fifth round.
Lemieux portrays a great deal of talent, toughness, and grit, having twice earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors. This is all the more impressive when you consider some of the programs in that conference — Stanford, Cal, Washington, Utah, as well as Southern California.
The Giants likely have their pair of starting guards in place for the upcoming season in Will Hernandez and Kevin Zeitler, who are arguably the two best linemen this organization employs. But if Lemieux develops like the Giants hope he does, he certainly could be a piece in the lineup down the road.
Although, before we arrive at Lemieux’s long-term fate, let’s discuss what his 2020 rookie campaign may entail.
Just like our last piece in regards to rookie tackle Matt Peart, Lemieux likely has three possible scenarios when it comes to his inaugural season in the pros. The first one sees him riding the bench until becoming a starter sometime in the future (either 2021 or potentially even later).
This, to me, is the most probable scenario and the one that carries the most intelligence. Just like with any rookie lineman drafted in one of the middle or later rounds, Lemieux will absolutely need time to develop, learn the ins-and-outs of playing on the interior of an NFL offensive line, and become accustomed to the speed of the NFL.
He’ll indeed show an impressive level of competitiveness in the training camp and preseason periods. But the Giants, in all likelihood, will start Hernandez and Zeitler at the two guard spots. Lemieux will also compete at center, a position that additionally requires tremendous assistance. That starting spot will most definitely include either Spencer Pulley or Nick Gates though (if free agent Jon Halapio doesn’t return to the organization after tearing his Achilles).
Immediately starting on a pro-level offensive line is a tough task to complete, especially if you’re a fifth-round draft pick. The Giants won’t want to hinder their rookie’s development by plugging him in right away and overwhelming him while his preparation level is still low.
Simply speaking, keeping Lemieux as a depth piece in 2020 would be the smartest move the Giants could make.
In the second scenario, Lemieux sits on the bench until becoming the team’s starting center at some point in the middle of the upcoming season.
In the event Halapio isn’t on the team — which is currently appropriate to assume considering he’s still a free agent — the starting center job will likely go to either Pulley or Gates, as previously mentioned. It’d be a long shot for Lemieux to start at center right away since those two players possess more NFL experience. It’s not like Lemieux took many reps at this spot during his Oregon days either — he started all 52 games in college at left guard.
Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean the initial starter won’t struggle.
Pulley is inconsistent, having recorded a 58.3 Pro Football Focus grade in 2018 and then a 48.7 PFF grade in 2019. Gates, on the other hand, might prove to be more of an exterior lineman despite the organization’s interest in working him out at this position.
So if struggles and difficulties are existent among the pair of aforementioned players, and the Giants gain confidence in Lemieux quicker than they thought they initially would, why not give it a shot?
And the final scenario: Lemieux overly impresses everyone in camp and wins the starting center job ahead of Week 1.
Now, this is very much the most unlikely scenario, but nothing is impossible in the NFL.
Think about it: if Pulley proves to be inconsistent in training camp while Gates proves to be more of a reserve tackle, Lemieux may not need a few regular-season games in order to swiftly climb the depth charts.
Both Pulley and Gates could be potential cuts as well. Pulley has no dead cap hits in both 2020 and 2021 while Gates carries a dead cap hit of just $1,668 this upcoming season, the final year of his current deal.
As mentioned before, it’s not an unheard-of scenario. Nevertheless, the Giants would be reluctant to instantly start a pair of rookies — the other one being first-round tackle Andrew Thomas — on an offensive line that can’t afford to struggle again (allowed 47 and 43 sacks respectively in 2018 and 2019). Therefore, don’t expect this possibility to come to fruition at all.
If each rookie offensive lineman from the draft — Lemieux, Peart, and Thomas — develops effectively and efficiently, an eventual offensive line including the aforementioned trio of names along with the still-young Hernandez could be entertaining to watch. Fans need to be patient though, especially with Lemieux, as his playing time on the interior of the line may have to wait.
Sure if certain circumstances arise, he could see the field. But ultimately, expect the 2020 campaign to be a learning period for the former Duck.