Arguably the weakest position on the New York Giants‘ roster in 2020 is the center position. The Giants made it a priority to upgrade the offensive line this offseason. However, the team did not address the center position.
The Giants spent three draft picks on the offensive line in 2020: Andrew Thomas at left tackle, Matt Peart at right tackle, and Shane Lemieux at guard or potentially center. New York also signed offensive tackle Cameron Fleming in free agency.
While rookie Shane Lemieux could count as a center acquisition, he is a guard, and the Giants did not make any other acquisitions at the center position this offseason. The Giants will be rolling into training camp on July 28th with a mostly unchanged group of centers. Spencer Pulley is still on the roster, but Jon Halapio is not. The Giants have not yet re-signed Halapio after his last two tumultuous seasons on the team, though that could change if he is healthy.
Competing for the center position this summer are three players. Shane Lemieux, the rookie out of Oregon, could join the competition despite being a guard in college. Spencer Pulley is penciled in as the starting center right now because he is the only player on the roster to have started games at center in the NFL. Then there is also Nick Gates, the underrated offensive lineman who started three games at two different positions for the Giants in 2019.
Who Will Be The Starting Center?
Nick Gates, Spencer Pulley, and Shane Lemieux will be the three main players competing for the starting center position in 2020. Of those three players, Spencer Pulley is the only one with any experience as a center in the NFL. Nick Gates has played offensive guard and offensive tackle in the NFL, but never center. Shane Lemieux has yet to play a single snap in the NFL and was a guard in college.
Pulley might have the most experience, but he has the least potential. Spencer Pulley has been in the NFL since 2016. Throughout his career, Pulley has been a decent replacement-level starter or backup. He has been the Giants’ backup center for the past two years and even got the opportunity to start 9 games as the team’s center in 2018, filling in for the injured Jon Halapio.
In 2018, Pulley was decent, allowing 12 pressures, and two sacks in 573 snaps according to Pro Football Focus. However, in his one start with the Giants in 2019, Pulley played a poor game and was a liability as a run-blocker. This start was in Week 10 against the Jets where Saquon Barkley ran the ball 13 times for a total of 1 rushing yard.
Spencer Pulley provides professional experience and durability to the Giants’ center position. But, in my opinion, he is the option with the highest floor and the lowest ceiling. The Giants should consider Pulley a backup center and hope that one of these young guys wins the starting job.
The youngest player in the group is Shane Lemieux. The Giants drafted Lemieux out of Oregon in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. During his collegiate career, Lemieux was a solid player on Oregon’s great offensive line.
Despite never playing center in his career, Shane Lemieux will be considered for the position with the Giants. Upon being drafted by the Giants, Lemieux instantly started training to be a center. In the video below, you can see him practicing his snaps:
Shane Lemieux is one strong hog molly. He stands in at 6 feet 4 inches and weighs 310 pounds. He was also efficient in college, posting an 83.9 overall grade according to Pro Football Focus, surrendering only 11 pressures. Shane is a young, darkhorse candidate to win the center position if he has an impressive training camp and preseason.
In my opinion, Nick Gates should be the Giants’ starting center in 2020. Gates has spent his time in Las Vegas this offseason training to be a center with Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
“You know, just for what it’s worth, we’ve talked about Nick [playing center]. He did do some of that last year in practice, so it’s not completely new. Nick is smart. The thing you love about Nick is just how tough he is, because it’s a fist fight in there. There’s no doubt about that. History tells you that the toughness of your team is really, really indicated by the toughness of your offensive line. So, we’re always looking for that kind of piece. Nick would be in consideration at center, absolutely.” – Dave Gettleman on Nick Gates
Nick Gates did practice at center in 2019. He also started games at both right tackle and right guard in place of an injured Kevin Zeitler and an injured Mike Remmers. In Gates’s start at right guard in December he did not allow a single pressure and played an excellent game. Gates finished the 2019 season with a 77.0 overall grade and only 1 sack allowed in 290 snaps (Pro Football Focus).
If Nick Gates can replicate his success playing tackle and guard in 2019 at the center position, he should own the job in 2020. Gates was a pleasant surprise on the Giants’ poor offensive line last season. He has played a small sample size of snaps, but those snaps have all been efficient and reliable. Nick Gates could be the guy to turn the Giants’ biggest weakness into a strength.