ESNY’s early prediction for the Giants’ Week 1 offensive starters. Who will win the offensive line position battles?
Finishing second-to-last in both total yards and points last year essentially forced the Giants to make a number of moves on the offensive side of the ball this offseason. General manager Dave Gettleman and co. acquired multiple skill players via the draft and free agency and additionally added offensive line depth by the way of the latter market.
The talent has been enhanced, Daniel Jones has been provided assistance, and the offensive unit should undergo an immense improvement.
But which players should play important roles in this attempted improvement to commence a crucial 2021 season?
QB — Daniel Jones
Pretty self-explanatory — the Giants believe the 2019 first-round draft pick is their quarterback of the future.
Daniel Jones will need to step up though and prove he’s the long-term answer, and with an improved slate of weapons, his excuse total is diminishing.
RB — Saquon Barkley
The only reason Saquon Barkley wouldn’t start to begin the year is if he underwent a hiccup in his ACL tear recovery. But since he’s on track to be on the field Week 1, we’ll say he’s absolutely going to receive the bulk of the load.
WR1 — Kenny Golladay
You’re telling me the Giants made that significant of an investment (four years, $72 million) in a No. 1-caliber receiver like Kenny Golladay to not put him atop the depth chart?
Barring injury, he should be Daniel Jones’ top target.
WR2 — Kadarius Toney
The Giants traded back from No. 11 to 20 overall in the 2021 draft’s opening round, and with their new selection (which was still a prestigious pick), acquired Florida receiver Kadarius Toney.
Given the investment the organization has made in him, expect the young wideout to potentially be the No. 2 receiver within this offensive unit (he’ll at least be in the starting lineup).
WR3 — Sterling Shepard
This role could go back and forth between Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard, and it’s clear either may be a significant component of the passing game.
Slayton is more of a deep-ball threat while Shepard can be considered more of a slot guy, and while the Giants may already employ a slot receiver in the starting lineup (Toney), it wouldn’t be unusual to see Jason Garrett field another — this could lead to Shepard getting the nod.
Shepard and Golden Tate — both slot-caliber wideouts — were two of the team’s top three receivers on the depth chart last season.
TE — Evan Engram
The Giants signed Kyle Rudolph this offseason but the longtime Minnesota Viking is more of a No. 2 tight end at this point in his career. Plus the organization is seemingly high on Evan Engram, which is likely at least part of the reason why it hasn’t traded him.
Despite the drops, missed blocks, and overall on-field mistakes, this coaching staff still longs for Engram to be a crucial aspect of the offense.
LT — Andrew Thomas
This is also self-explanatory.
The Giants drafted Andrew Thomas at No. 4 overall last year so he could be the long-term answer at such an important position.
Thomas started 15 games at left tackle in 2020; expect the Giants to field him there once again this season.
LG — Shane Lemieux
Shane Lemieux took over the starting left guard job in Week 8 last year when Will Hernandez was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. The 2020 fifth-round draft pick then essentially Wally Pipped the 2018 second-rounder — Lemieux impressed in Hernandez’s absence and started at left guard for the final nine games of the year.
They say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The Giants should absolutely keep Lemieux here.
C — Nick Gates
In his first full year at the position in 2020, center Nick Gates turned out to be one of the team’s top offensive linemen, allowing zero sacks through 1,015 offensive snaps (per Pro Football Focus).
That should be enough to convince you (and the Giants for that matter) that he’ll be retaining this starting job in 2021.
RG — Will Hernandez
Commence the aforementioned offensive line position battles.
At right guard, we have Will Hernandez going up against free-agent pickup Zach Fulton.
The Giants are seemingly believing in player development and continuity when it comes to the offensive line, which is likely why they decided not to draft an offensive lineman with any of their six picks this offseason.
This idea of continuity would lead to Hernandez taking the job to start the year — he carries more experience than Fulton when it comes to working with the other offensive linemen.
RT — Matthew Peart
Nate Solder is back with the Giants after opting out of the 2020 season and will be competing against second-year man Matthew Peart to be the team’s starting right tackle.
Of the two of them, Solder is obviously more experienced and could be a mentor for this unit.
But when you take into account the aforementioned continuity element, you realize Peart is likely to assume the notable on-field responsibility.
Peart possesses more recent experience working alongside Hernandez, Gates, Lemieux, and Thomas, and the Giants might wish to push forward with a younger, fresher line.