The left tackle, left guard, and center positions are seemingly set for the Giants. Who will start at the other two offensive line spots?
The Giants offensive line developed over the course of last year. Surely it’s a unit that’s far from perfect, but there’s optimism surrounding a number of line counterparts, mainly left tackle Andrew Thomas, left guard Shane Lemieux, and center Nick Gates, each of whom improved throughout the 2020 season and could be long-term pieces within the five-man group.
It’s that right side of the line, however, that’s confusing.
The Giants recently released right guard Kevin Zeitler, restructured the contract of offensive tackle Nate Solder, and brought in former Texans right guard Zach Fulton on a one-year deal.
Matthew Peart will hopefully develop but it’s unclear if he’s ready to be a full-time starter and there’s additionally a chance the Giants draft a tackle in the first round.
Amid everything, nobody knows at this point the fate of either the right guard or right tackle spots. But what’s important, however, is the Giants possess options.
Who mans the RG position?
Will Hernandez may be the favorite to earn the starting job, especially if Dave Gettleman, Joe Judge, and the Giants coaching staff prefer to go young with the entire offensive line (which is what they seemingly want amid the Zeitler release).
Hernandez started every game through the first 2.5 years of his career but lost his starting job to then-rookie Shane Lemieux last season after being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Once Hernandez was taken off the list, the Giants already realized the talent they employed in Lemieux — basically a Wally Pipp type of situation.
Hernandez carries the experience to fill the role but must clean up the mistakes. His Pro Football Focus grades have undergone a steady decline since he entered the league as a second-round pick in 2018. Through his first three seasons, he recorded marks of 67.9, 58.4, and 58.1, respectively.
The Giants signed Zach Fulton to a one-year deal this past week; Fulton previously spent three seasons with the Houston Texans and started every game at right guard in 2020
Fulton has great experience in this league and could be a mentor to the group. The issue, however, is that the Giants may prefer to be on the younger side with the line, as previously mentioned. Thomas and Lemieux are entering their second NFL seasons while Gates has been a full-time starting center for just one year up to this point. Peart is additionally entering his second season after the Giants drafted him in last year’s third round.
This age-based ideology could lead to Fulton becoming a depth piece if he remains on the roster past training camp, but given Hernandez’s past struggles, there’s a chance the coaching staff realizes the former Texan is more reliable than the pending fourth-year player.
The Giants could utilize Fulton as a stopgap option if he’s to win a starting job. Regardless, expect “Fulton vs. Hernandez” to be one of the top position battles prior to the 2021 regular season.
Who mans the RT position?
Nate Solder would be the more experienced option at this spot, but he may be a little too experienced. The veteran is entering his age-33 season and hasn’t played since the 2019 campaign — he opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns. Not to mention, he played arguably his worst football in 2019, having allowed 11 total sacks (tied for third-most among the tackles measured on PFF).
But the Giants still seem interested in his services; they would’ve just cut him this offseason if they weren’t. Instead, they restructured his contract and will provide him with the opportunity to compete for a starting role.
Sure Solder experienced a number of on-field issues during his first two seasons with the Giants, but maybe a switch from left to right tackle would benefit him. There’s no shot he would play on Daniel Jones’ blindside — it wouldn’t be in the team’s best interest to move Thomas away from that spot as he develops.
Is there legitimate confidence in Matthew Peart being an every-game starter? Well, we don’t know right now. The soon-to-be second-year player out of UConn appeared in 11 games last season but there was just one matchup in which he saw at least 50% of the offensive reps.
We knew he’d be a project at tackle when the Giants drafted him. However, it was unclear how long the development would take. He may need just a tad bit more time to learn the position while sitting behind a veteran like Solder.
The Giants electing to remain on the younger side, however, could lead to Peart taking on a starting role (obviously a potential risk right now).
A 2021 first-rounder
There’s still the possibility the Giants draft a tackle at No. 11 overall. Drafting a receiver with that pick is potentially out the window after the acquisition of Kenny Golladay. The same goes for selecting a talented corner — the Giants recently signed Adoree’ Jackson to a three-year deal.
Addressing the offensive line could lead to the Giants drafting Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater or USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker if either is available. Oregon’s Penei Sewell is unlikely to be on the board — he may indeed be a top-10 pick.
An offensive line that fields Thomas, Lemieux, Gates, Hernandez, and a 2021 draftee would make for an incredibly young and fresh group, and if that’s what the organization wishes for, then this route might make sense.