How Good is the New York Giants’ Offensive Line?
The unit should be improved in 2017. Or else
Following the Giants’ Wild Card playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, you couldn’t travel to a single blog without someone talking about two things: Odell Beckham Jr. punching a wall, and how badly the Giants need offensive line improvements.
The criticisms were warranted, as the line was an obvious weak spot for the Giants all of 2016. But entering the new season, the unit should be improved.
The Giants opting to pass on a lineman in the first round was a smart move, as was not allocating A+ money for B players in free agency. The team decided to mostly roll with the same pieces from last year. The thinking behind that approach is logical.
After all, the offensive line was worse than 2016 in the two years prior, yet Eli Manning put up career-best numbers.
This is continuation of a series where I analyze every position group on the Giants. If you’ve missed any, check them out before reading about the players in the offensive line room.
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Pugh and Richburg
For as much negativity as the Giants offensive line receives, the two consistent positives are Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg.
Pugh, who is playing on the final year of his rookie contract, has established himself as the most versatile lineman on the roster. He started his career at right tackle, then moved inside to guard. He’s played left tackle when necessary, and I’m willing to bet he’s the team’s emergency center.
His value to the team is unprecedented, mostly because of the depth his presence gives the unit. When Pugh is healthy, he has the ability to play like a Pro-Bowl level guard.
Right next to Pugh is Weston Richburg, who will enter his fourth season as a pro, and his third as the man snapping the ball to Eli Manning. If we’re being honest, Richburg has been snubbed a Pro Bowl spot for the past two years.
According to Pro Football Focus, Richburg was the NFL’s best pass-blocking center in 2016.
Giants fans know what to expect from both Pugh and Richburg. They’re both tough-nosed, no-nonsense guys who are natural leaders. If it weren’t for them, the offensive line would be in total flux. Because of that, them staying healthy is vital to the offense’s success.
The John Jerry Bridge
John Jerry has been a serviceable, functional piece for the Giants during the last few years. He played well enough for the team to re-sign him in the offseason, which means the Giants will be retaining their starting right guard. Jerry improved on his first year with the team, grading out as PFF’s 33rd ranked guard.
Honestly, Jerry as a right guard isn’t the worst thing in the world. He’s not going to earn All-Pro honors, but he’s a solid piece and a player who’s valuable to the team — at least for the time being.
Flowers Finally Blooming?
After being thrust into the starting left tackle job far before he was ready, Ereck Flowers has experienced few high points during his NFL career. He surprisingly took significant steps backward in his second year as a pro, performing as one of the worst tackles in all of football.
There is at least a sliver of hope for Giants fans, though. For the first time in his career, Flowers appears to be using his critics as motivation. According to NFL Media insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network’s Kim Jones, Flowers was a constant at team facilities during the offseason.
Additionally, word is Flowers has slimmed down and appears to be quicker. That’s a good sign, considering cinderblock feet were something that plagued Flowers all of 2016.
Flowers’ teammate Damon Harrison, who goes against Flowers every day in practice, praised the former first-round pick’s development.
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“I’ve had the chance to watch Ereck Flowers this offseason first-hand. The guy is 100 percent committed to doing better than he did last year,” Harrison said, according to Big Blue View. “He changed his body type, the way that he eats, he’s gotten stronger. We just have to see that translate to the field. All of that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be better than he was last year, but just watching the dedication that he’s shown this offseason it’ll be exciting to watch.”
Still, all the Flowers hype can be categorized as a fancy trope at this point. We won’t know what Flowers has really improved upon until he puts the pads on and starts blocking in a competitive setting. Still, you have to admit hearing some positive news about Flowers is a nice change of pace.
Bobby Hart got some playing time as a rookie, and wound up starting 13 games last year. As was the case with Flowers, Hart was a liability at best, and a turnstile at worst.
Unlike Flowers, who doesn’t have immediate, obvious competition at left tackle, Hart’s spot on the right side is far from guaranteed. A vast improvement in terms of depth will make Hart have to fight for playing time.
Something that’s really important to note about Flowers and Hart is that both players are under the age of 24. They have room to grow.
D.J. Fluker’s Role
While the Giants missed out on big-name offensive linemen with hefty price tags, the team managed to acquire the services of D.J. Fluker. Fluker, who was selected by the then-San Diego Chargers in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, started 59 games during his four years with the Chargers.
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Despite his first-round pedigree, Fluker’s role on the team remains up in the air. According to NJ Advance Media’s Dan Duggan, Fluker spent the spring taking reps as the team’s backup right guard.
That likely indicates the team views him as a guy who can be the next man up at guard or tackle if someone goes down on the right side.
Brett Jones, Eh?
The former CFL standout has been on the Giants since 2015. Jones appeared in 14 games last year, and wound up starting the team’s Monday night game against the Bengals.
As a backup center, Jones gives the Giants depth if Richburg were to go down with an injury. Jones also saw some regular-season action as a guard, which helps his status on the team.
Halapio has been around the NFL a lot for someone his age (26). In his career thus far, the offensive lineman has spent time with the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, Patriots again and ultimately the Giants. He also was with the Brooklyn Brawlers and Brooklyn Bolts — both FXFL teams.
Despite his resume, Halapio has appeared in zero games during his NFL career. He’ll compete for the backup guard position.
Bowie actually started eight games in 2013 for the Seahawks, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it. However, he hasn’t logged regular-season playing time since then.
However, having a depth tackle with starting experience is never a bad thing.
The Giants signed Gettis back in 2014, and the lineman was with New York until 2015. He then spent time with Oakland, before returning to the Giants late in 2015. Gettis’ lone career start came last year when he started against the Browns.
Gettis will be competing with the above guards for a backup spot. His familiarity in the system should help him.
New York invested a sixth-round pick in Bisnowaty, who likely would’ve went higher if it weren’t for serious injuries sustained in college.
If Bisnowaty can stay healthy, he has a chance to compete for the starting right tackle spot. Even if he doesn’t win the spot outright, the depth he’ll give the Giants as a backup tackle as a rookie will likely be invaluable.
Wheeler’s dealt with injuries throughout his football career, and those no doubt took a toll on his health. However, Wheeler currently sits as the team’s backup tackle.
He may not be the best player, but he has fluid feet and could be a serviceable swing tackle in year 1.
What a name, huh? The good thing is Dunker is more than just a unique name. He played both left tackle and left guard during his time at Tennessee State. That versatility will work in his favor as the Giants trim down their roster.
Dunker has raw physical tools. He ran the third-fastest 40-yard dash time out of all offensive lineman at the NFL Combine. However, he may be too raw to play right away, despite his athletic gifts.
Talk Giants with Ryan on Twitter: @DisdierSports