2 players the Giants should consider bringing back on cheap extensions

New York Giants, Lorenzo Carter

This off-season, the New York Giants face an interesting situation trying to piece together a competent team without much salary space to spend. Currently -$12 million over the salary cap, the Giants will have to make a few complex moves to open up space for their draft selections and a bit of mobility in free agency.

However, the Giants have a few starting pieces hitting the open market, including Lorenzo Carter, Will Hernandez, Jabrill Peppers, and Evan Engram. It is unlikely that Engram is retained given his inefficiency and lackluster blocking. Former Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll utilized a mid-round pick on Dawson Knox as their primary TE, who featured as both a pass catcher and prominent blocker.

I expect the Giants to utilize one of their mid-round selections on a tight end this off-season, allowing their new position coach Andy Bischoff to mold his own player, similar to what he did with the Baltimore Ravens and Mark Andrews.

Retaining Peppers could be justified given his versatility and likely flourishing in Wink Martindale’s defensive scheme. Coming off an ACL tear may not entice the front office, but they could likely keep him on a cheap deal given the injury. I wouldn’t bet on it, though.

The two players the Giants could legitimately consider are Lorenzo Carter, starting outside linebacker, and Will Hernandez, who struggled considerably last season at right guard, playing alongside Nate Solder and one of the worst offenses in football.

Let’s start with Carter, who finished this season with 50 combined tackles, six tackles for a loss, eight quarterback hits, and 5.0 sacks.

Carter started the 2021 season slow, working his way back from an Achilles tear that took over a year to recover fully. However, he finished the last four games of the season with impressive numbers, totaling 16 tackles, five sacks, and 10 hurries.

Given how exceptional he looked, the Giants could consider bringing him back on a cheap contract, maybe something in the range of two years, $6 million. They wouldn’t have to spend much, and given his familiarity with the team, it could make sense for a reunion to take place.

On the other side of the ball, Hernandez stands out as a potential fit with Big Blue. At just 26 years old, Hernandez is coming off his worst season as a professional, giving up 7.0 sacks, seven QB hits, and 22 hurries in his fourth season. Interestingly, Hernandez saw a regression in almost every season as a professional, but that resulted from poor coaching and consistent turnover rather than his capabilities.

Hernandez was solid as a rookie and sophomore in the league, especially as a pass blocker. He then missed some time due to injury in 2020 and shifted to right guard entirely last season, struggling alongside Solder and Matt Peart.

Since the Giants don’t have much capital to spend, Hernandez could likely be retained on a two-year, $6 million deal as well. New general manager Joe Schoen will have his hands full finding quality players at a cost-efficient price point, and a few familiar faces could fit the bill. There are plenty of free-agent options on the market, so they could easily move on and cut their losses.

New York Giants: Is Will Hernandez primed for a breakout season?

New York Giants, Will Hernandez

The New York Giants have had plenty of trouble along the offensive line over the past few years. Young, promising draft picks seldom seem to pan out on the offensive line. For example, 2018 second-round pick Will Hernandez has yet to establish himself as a high-quality starter.

In 2020, Will Hernandez was benched in the second half of the season after starting the first eight games for the Giants at left guard. Shane Lemieux took Hernandez’s place as the starter. Entering the 2021 season, both Lemieux and Hernandez are projected to start on the Giants’ offensive line. This year, Will Hernandez has made the switch to right guard and looks primed for a breakout season.

Why Will Hernandez will break out in 2021

After spending the first three years of his career at left guard, Will Hernandez has now made the switch to the right side of the line. In preparation for his new role, Big Will dropped 20 pounds. He is in the best shape of his career and looks like he is moving with far more fluidity than he has in the past.

Hernandez enjoyed a solid 2018 rookie season. Since then, however, Will has regressed on a year-to-year basis. Despite this, 2021 looks to be the year that the trend of regression ends. Will Hernandez enjoyed a phenomenal 2021 preseason playing right guard for the New York Giants.

In the Giants’ preseason finale versus the New England Patriots, Will Hernandez put together a phenomenal performance that could be looked at as the exclamation point at the end of a great summer. Hernandez posted a 92.2 overall PFF grade on 39 snaps at right guard.

Across his 57 total snaps this preseason, Will Hernandez recorded an elite 87.0 overall PFF grade. He looks like a far better player than he did a year ago. In a crucial fourth season for Will Hernandez, it is important he breaks out and establishes himself as a high-quality starter in this league. It appears Will Hernandez is ready to do just that for the New York Giants in 2021.

New York Giants: Will Hernandez lost 20 pounds this offseason, ready to bounce back this year

New York Giants, Will Hernandez

The New York Giants have officially kicked off training camp for the 2021 NFL season. There are many intriguing storylines for the Giants entering this year. The team’s biggest question mark: the offensive line. We could see a camp battle for a starting offensive guard position this year. Entering his fourth season, guard Will Hernandez is looking to answer that question mark with an exclamation point and win this camp battle.

The Giants had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last season. In 2020, according to ESPN, the Giants’ pass-block win rate ranked dead-last in the NFL at 46%. Their run-block win rate ranked 18th at 70%, which is about average or slightly below. Left guard Will Hernandez really struggled in his third career season, starting the first eight games of the year at left guard before contracting COVID-19 and ultimately losing his starting job to rookie Shane Lemieux.

Will Hernandez was really struggling as the starting guard in the first half of the season. He posted a 50.9 pass-blocking grade in 2020 per Pro Football Focus. Hernandez allowed 25 total pressures and 1 sack on only 312 opportunities (allowing pressure on 8.01% of those opportunities).

Will Hernandez’s 2021 weight loss and training

As training camp kicks off for the Giants, Will Hernandez showed up looking noticeably different. When asked about his training this offseason, Hernandez proudly told the media that he had lost 20 pounds this offseason (yes, TWENTY POUNDS). Hernandez explained that this offseason’s training regimen featured “a lot more intensity, a lot more conditioning” as he prepares to bounce back from a disappointing 2020 season.

Hernandez explained that he did “a lot of things differently this year, ate different, worked out different.” But he is still just “training for football,” now preparing to compete on the other side of the offensive line.

Will Hernandez started the first three seasons of his career at left guard. This year, Shane Lemieux is expected to start at left guard, so Hernandez has been training to compete at right guard this season. Will Hernandez spent much of the 2021 offseason training with offensive line trainer Duke Manyweather. According to Manyweather on Twitter, Hernandez played much of the 2020 season injured while also dealing with COVID-related side effects. There are many reasons to believe that Will Hernandez will bounce back in a major way this season.

Will Hernandez, now a healthier, slimmer, and more physically fit player, is ready to make the switch to the right side of the line. He told reporters today that switching sides is not as difficult as some think, it is just a matter of comfort (Patricia Traina).

The New York Giants are expecting big things from Will Hernandez this season. He faced a lot of adversity in 2020, but seems primed for a bounce back 2021 season. Will Hernandez has trained tirelessly this offseason and looks ready to win the New York Giants’ starting right guard position.

New York Giants send multiple players to OL Masterminds summit

New York Giants, Andrew Thomas

The offensive line has been one of the biggest problem areas for the New York Giants in recent seasons. This year, the Giants will try again to get it right. That process will likely include an offseason position battle at the right tackle position, and it will also require a step forward from Andrew Thomas in his second season.

Another part of the process is offseason training, and the offensive line also seems to be on top of that. The Giants had several players in attendance at the OL Masterminds summit, on top of their usual training.

It’s the fourth edition of the summit, which has become an annual event and features some of the bigger names at the position sharing expertise. In recent years, events like this have become more common in the NFL. After the OL Masterminds summit proved the concept, a similar ‘Tight End University’ began this offseason and had multiple Giants attending.

The players from the Giants specifically that were in attendance were Will Hernandez, Nick Gates, and Andrew Thomas. Hernandez in particular likely has a lot to gain from the extra training, as the popular narrative about him falling out of favor with the arrival of the new coaching staff seems to be true.

Thomas, on the other hand, has a more secure position but has higher expectations as the much higher draft pick and the player the Giants are trusting at left tackle.

If there’s one thing this says, though, it’s that the team’s roster this season isn’t just waiting around to improve through training camp. We’ve seen multiple position groups take proactive steps like training on their own, and in a high pressure season like this one, that could make a big impact in the results that are to come.

New York Giants: 5 reasons to expect a big Andrew Thomas/Will Hernandez improvement

New York Giants, Andrew Thomas

The New York Giants head into the 2021 season with a big question in the trenches. They failed to address the offensive line in free agency and declined to do so in the 2021 NFL draft, but there is reason for optimism after a few unfortunate factors played a significant part in the demise of the unit last season.

Ultimately, the Giants ranked 31st in pass blocking efficiency but were a tad more proficient in run blocking, raking in the middle of the pack as Wayne Gallman helped sustain one of the worst offenses in the NFL. Averaging just over 18 points per game, only the lowly New York Jets were below them, but the Giants re-tooled their offense and put them in a place where significant improvements are an expectation.

However, none of their weapons matter if Daniel Jones doesn’t have time in the pocket. The left side of the OL is integral to his protection scheme since it’s his blindside. Andrew Thomas struggled to get his footing in his rookie season, giving up double-digit sacks and left guard Will Hernandez didn’t fare much better. Nonetheless, I believe they’re in for a far better campaign this upcoming year, thanks to a variety of reasons.

Five reasons to expect a big improvement from Andrew Thomas and Will Hernandez:

1.) Both played injured in 2020

After Thomas’s rookie season concluded, it was discovered that he had an ankle injury that required surgery. He played the entire year with his injury that he picked up in training camp, which clearly affected his footwork and overall efficiency. He has since cleaned up the injury and should be 100% for the start of the 2021 season, which will help him improve tremendously.

Hernandez also reportedly had an injury, according to his personal trainer, Duke Manyweather. Both players endured far more than just injuries, as they were also behind mentally in the experience category and understanding of Jason Garrett’s schematics.

2.) Lack of in-person training

Due to COVID-19, both Thomas and Hernandez lacked significant time on the training field with the team. When you aren’t able to establish the base concepts and apply them to practice, it makes transitioning them to a live game that much more difficult. The reality is, they didn’t even have the luxury of practicing and creating muscle memory with their new scheme, which initiated a poor start to the regular season.

3.) Hernandez caught COVID

I would be remiss not to mention the fact Will Hernandez was diagnosed with COVID-19 last year, which significantly hampered his stamina and strength. That was a primary reason Shane Lemieux started a majority of the second half, and the Giants had no choice but to ride with him as Hernandez fought his way back.

4.) No pre-season

As stated above, the lack of preseason forced the Giants to transition from training camp directly to the season against live-action. Pre-season is integral to applying new schematics, especially with a new coaching staff trying to corral the team. Why the defense blew past expectations, the offense struggled to get things going, especially with the lack of playmakers and a blocking scheme that was not refined.

5.) No chemistry

Another factor that played a part was a lack of chemistry in the trenches. With new faces at left tackle, center, and right tackle, the Giants barely had any time for their players to experience each other’s tendencies and timing. The chemistry between an LT and LG is extremely important, and aside from the other factors affecting their efficiency, the lack of experience together clearly showed up on tape.

New York Giants: Will Hernandez played hurt in 2020, in line for improved 2021 season

New York Giants, Will Hernandez

The New York Giants‘ offensive line struggled tremendously in 2020. The Giants’ pass-block win rate in 2020, according to ESPN, ranked dead-last in the NFL at 46%. Their run-block win-rate ranked 18th at 70%, which is about average or slightly below. So while the Giants did upgrade Daniel Jones’s weapons in free agency, fans feel like they still desperately need to fix the offensive line in front of him.

But there is reason to believe that the Giants’ offensive line will improve in 2021 despite any new acquisitions. In particular, Will Hernandez should enjoy a solid bounce-back season. The Giants’ 2018 second-round pick struggled immensely in 2020 but is in line for an improved 2021 season.

Why Will Hernandez will bounce back in 2021

Will Hernandez was solid as a rookie in 2018. Giants fans felt like Hernandez was their long-term starter after he flashed a lot of potential as a rookie. But after a slight regression in year two, then a further regression in year three, Giants fans are now low on Hernandez and do not feel confident in him as their starting offensive guard.

Hernandez was benched in 2020 for rookie Shane Lemieux. Big Will started the first seven games of the season before contracting the COVID-19 virus. After spending two weeks on the COVID/reserve list, Hernandez returned to the team, but not to the starting lineup. As it turns out, there was more to the story that the Giants kept under wraps.

Will Hernandez played the 2020 season hurt according to Duke Manyweather, one of the top offensive line developers in the country who has worked with Hernandez. Will was dealt a really bad hand in 2020, dealing with COVID complications, a shortened offseason with a new offensive coordinator, a firing midseason change at offensive line coach, and an injury on top of all of that.

Somewhere in Will Hernandez is a good football player. We have not seen that good football player show up as consistently as we would like, but Hernandez is capable of being a starting offensive guard. 2021 is his “make-or-break” year. Fully healthy in 2021, looking slimmer and in better shape in his most recent social media posts, Will Hernandez could bounce back this season and return as a starter on the New York Giants offensive line.

New York Giants could roll into 2021 with an unaltered offensive line

New York Giants, Matt Peart

The New York Giants are preparing for the 2021 NFL Draft, which takes place in just two weeks. The Giants did a tremendous job this offseason addressing their needs in free agency. New York signed wide receiver Kenny Golladay and tight end Kyle Rudolph to give Daniel Jones the weapons he needed. They also took a risk and signed cornerback Adoree’ Jackson to a big deal to solidify their secondary.

There is one area on offense, though, that went mostly untouched through free agency. Many consider the Giants’ offensive line to be the biggest weakness on the team’s roster. But, looking ahead to the draft and regular season, it appears that the Giants might not feel the same way. It seems like the Giants are confident in their young offensive linemen and expect them to thrive in expanded roles this season.

What will the 2021 offensive line look like?

The tackles

General manager Dave Gettleman and the Giants are confident in what they have at right tackle. New York went offensive line in the first, third, and fifth rounds of the NFL Draft last year. In round three, the Giants selected offensive tackle, Matt Peart, out of UConn. The rookie tackle looked like a solid contributor in his rookie season when he saw the field, albeit in a limited number of snaps. But Gettleman gave his public show of support to Matt Peart, saying he is confident that Peart can start at right tackle this season.

Additionally, the Giants are getting Nate Solder back on a reworked deal after he opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns. Solder could be a key addition to the lineup, whether he ends up playing right tackle or kicking out to swing tackle. Regardless, the Giants are comfortable with what they have on the right side of the line and are unlikely to reach on a tackle at any point in the draft.

Andrew Thomas was the fourth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft for the Giants. He had his ups and downs in his rookie season, but Thomas flashed enough and looks like he will turn into a quality long-term starter to protect Daniel Jones’s blindside.

The interior

On the interior of the offensive line, the Giants have some major question marks. New York cut their best lineman, right guard Kevin Zeitler, as a cap casualty. Now they are left with some questionable starters.

Shane Lemieux started the final 8 games at right guard for the Giants last season. He showed some potential as a decent run blocker but struggled severely in pass protection. There is a lot to like about Lemieux’s game and demeanor, and the Giants seem to be very high on Lemieux, but New York needs him to take a huge step forward to feel comfortable with him as a starting guard in 2021.

Assuming Lemieux continues as the starter at left guard, who will be the new man at right guard? The Giants potentially have that guy on their roster already. Through the first eight games of the 2020 season, Will Hernandez started at left guard, as he had the past two years as well. But Hernandez struggled a lot in the first half of the season and ultimately lost his starting position.

Could the Giants plug Hernandez back in the starting lineup this season? It is very possible that they go that route. Hernandez is a former second-round pick that showed a lot of promise as a rookie. But the Giants could potentially address the interior of their offensive line in the second round of the NFL Draft.

One position on the interior where continuity is expected is at center. Nick Gates impressed the fan base and the coaching staff in 2020. Last season was Gates’s first year playing center. Gates showed a lot of growth as the season went on and looks to be a quality starter going forward.

Why fans think the line is in need of an upgrade

The Giants seem pretty confident in this young group of guys that it has on the offensive line. But fans are skeptical. The Giants’ pass-block win rate in 2020, according to ESPN, ranked dead-last in the NFL at 46%. Their run-block win-rate ranked 18th at 70%, which is about average or slightly below. So while the Giants did upgrade Daniel Jones’s weapons in free agency, fans feel like they still desperately need to fix the offensive line in front of him. It will be intriguing to see whether or not the Giants address the offensive line in the 2021 NFL Draft at the end of this month.

New York Giants need to see offensive line improve after bye week

New York Giants, Matt Peart

The New York Giants made a shocking move today, firing offensive line coach Marc Colombo after only ten weeks with the team. According to reports, head coach Joe Judge made the decision to fire Colombo after a verbal altercation that saw Colombo insubordinate the team’s head coach. Now, Dave DeGuglielmo will serve as the team’s offensive line coach.

The Giants’ offensive line has struggled immensely in 2020. But, over the past few weeks, there has been some improvement. According to reports, this is correlated to the fact that Joe Judge has spent more time coaching the offensive line himself.

New York’s offensive line is a point of weakness. Judge and DeGuglielmo now have a whole bye week to work together and try to fix the offensive line’s issues. As the Giants make a late-season playoff push, it is crucial that the offensive line improves after the bye week to keep the Giants in the hunt.

New York Giants Offensive Line Stats

Despite investing a hefty amount of assets into the offensive line this offseason, the Giants’ front unit has not looked improved this year. Granted, there have been slight week-to-week improvements from individual linemen, but overall it has been a struggle for this positional group.

According to Pro Football Focus, through ten games, the Giants are last in pass-block grade (47.2) and 29th in run-block grade (56.9). PFF also states that quarterback Daniel Jones has been pressured on 42.9% of dropbacks this season (second among qualifying quarterbacks). Over the last four games, Jones has been pressured on 41.1% of his dropbacks (tied-fourth most).

New York’s second-year quarterback has been under constant duress this season. When kept clean, Jones has been surgical. In Sunday’s victory over Philadelphia, Jones was 18-18 from a clean pocket for 188 yards and a PFF passing grade of 93.1.

But keeping Jones’s pocket clean has been a struggle for the Giants. Rookie first-round draft pick Andrew Thomas leads all offensive tackles in the NFL in pressures allowed. He has struggled to find his footing in the NFL and has even been outplayed by third-round rookie Matt Peart in his smaller sample size.

The New York Giants found their formula for winning against Washington and Philadelphia the past two weeks. Essentially, the offensive line has to give Daniel Jones time to make plays. When Jones has a clean pocket he can make plays and keep the ball out of harm’s way. This is why fixing the offensive line should be the top priority for the Giants to close out the final seven weeks of the 2020 NFL season, as they push to make their first playoff appearance since 2016.

New York Giants: Shane Lemieux set to make NFL debut vs. fierce Tampa Bay defense

New York Giants, Shane Lemeiux

The New York Giants had their first positive COVID-19 case of the season this week. Starting left guard Will Hernandez tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the Giants’ Week 8 matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

According to reports, rookie guard Shane Lemieux is expected to start in place of Hernandez this week. This will be Lemieux’s first start of his career. The Giants drafted Shane Lemieux out of Oregon in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Week 8 will be Shane’s first opportunity to prove himself as a long-term starter on New York’s young offensive line.

Lemieux’s Opportunity

The New York Giants have kept veteran guard Kevin Zeitler involved in their trade talks ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline. Moving on from Kevin Zeitler would leave the Giants with a major hole at right guard. This hole, potentially, could be filled by Shane Lemieux, depending on his performance on Monday night. If Lemieux is able to perform at an impressive level against Tampa Bay’s fierce defensive front, he could elevate into a starting role and sway the Giants to trade Kevin Zeitler.

Lemieux’s Competition

Shane Lemieux and the Giants’ offensive line have a tall task ahead of them in Week 8. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have quietly built one of the NFL’s best defenses. Their defensive front, in particular, has been special in 2020.

Long-time veteran Ndamukong Suh is continuing to excel in his second year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Suh will be a handful lining up in front of the Giants’ rookie offensive lineman.

Tampa Bay is allowing the third-fewest yards per game (291.3 yards). The Buccaneers’ defense is allowing only 66.3 rushing yards per game so far this season, the best in the NFL. Wayne Gallman will have a tough time running the ball on Tampa Bay’s defense.

Shane Lemieux and the Giants’ offensive line will not only be challenged in the running game but in the passing game, too. The Buccaneers have totaled 25 sacks through 7 weeks, the second-highest total in the NFL behind only the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers.

This will be a “welcome to the NFL moment” for Shane Lemieux. In the first professional start of his career, the rookie out of Oregon will face one of the best defenses in the NFL that features a star-studded front-seven. If Lemieux can manage to hold his own against Tampa Bay, it will bode well for his future as a starter on the Giants’ offensive line.

How will New York Giants supplement loss of Will Hernandez in week 8?

New York Giants, Will Hernandez

As if facing off against Tampa Bay wasn’t a big enough challenge, the New York Giants will travel into week 8 without starting left guard Will Hernandez. The third-year pro tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday evening, confirming that he will miss the Monday night contest against the Buccaneers.

The Giants, who are vast underdogs, have several ways they can supplement the absence of Hernandez, who has been problematic at LG this season through seven weeks. In pass protection, he’s struggling immensely, despite having moderate success in the category in 2019.

Hernandez currently has a 51.7 overall pass-blocking grade, but his run blocking has been a bit better in Jason Garrett’s newly installed scheme. He has always been known as a mauler in the trenches, dominating in the run game, but that simply hasn’t been the case this season, as he’s experienced a decrease in efficiency the past three seasons.

On Wednesday, offensive line coach Marc Colombo suggested that Shane LeMieux will begin seeing reps at guard, which most thought was a correlation to a potential Kevin Zeitler trade at the November 3 deadline.

The New York Giants have to re-think their strategy:

With Hernandez hitting the COVID-19 list, the Giants might not have a choice but to retain Zeitler and shift LeMieux into a starting role at LG for the time being. Of course, Hernandez well fill the voided spot once he tests negative for the virus, but this is a fantastic opportunity for the Oregon product to showcase his abilities.

Shane is best known for his gritty attitude and desire for aggression in the trenches. Colombo stated that his footwork simply wasn’t ready for a starting level job in the NFL, as his over-aggression caused imbalances and allowed defenders to exploit weaknesses. Being more patient in his pass blocking sets is essential, but he should be a force in the run game, which hasn’t been a significant factor in the Giants’ scheme the past few weeks.

Ultimately, the Giants need more support in pass blocking, as their tackles currently rank at the bottom of the NFL in pass block win-rate. Dave Gettleman’s unit currently allows the highest team pressure rate at 43.4%, which is 8% more than any team. With 2.5 years to solve this problem and inject fresh talent, it seems as if the line has taken steps back. It is almost unfathomable to believe that a line that consisted of Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart actually graded similar to the unit we have now with Andrew Thomas and Cam Fleming starting at both tackle positions.

Aside from the obvious deficiencies with the offensive line, the Giants could elect to move Fleming inside to the guard position and start Matt Peart at right tackle. This would allow them to ease LeMieux into his role, giving him gradual reps instead of injecting him into a starting role right off the bat.

That might be a more strategical and safe move than simply replacing him with Hernandez straight up for week eight against a dominant Tampa defense.