Will Giants' 2021 Season Be Sacked By OL Issues?

Photo: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

“I believe in the hog mollies.”—Dave Gettleman

From his introductory press conference back in 2017, the then newly hired general manager in Gettleman made his primary focus clear; build from the inside out.

“We’ve had some great groups here, had great groups everywhere I’ve been, and we’re going to get back to that. They do allow you to compete.”

Fast forward now two days removed from the 2021 NFL Draft, and his notion, and willingness to improve a lackluster Giants front five has come under fire. In the last four drafts—since Gettleman took over the reins—the Giants have taken just five offensive linemen compared to the 32 overall selections Gettleman has made over that time span. Roughly 15% of all players taken have been to address the offensive line, a considerably low number considering Gettleman has drafted two quarterbacks (Daniel Jones and Kyle Lauletta) in that same timespan. The Giants were abysmal up front in 2020, recording the lowest pass protection grade of all offensive lines according to Pro Football Focus. 

As Gettleman sat at No. 11 overall Thursday evening, he saw the board fall comfortably into his lap as Round 1 commenced. The run on quarterbacks was complete, Kyle Pitts, Ja’Marr Chase, and Penei Sewell followed—as expected—and for the first time in a long while, the Giants were in a dynamic spot to add a premier talent. Then Gettleman, well, “Gettlemaned.”

At No. 11 overall, instead of opting to add a premier mauler in Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater, or USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker to jolt his front five, Gettleman traded back to No. 20 overall with Chicago as they jumped nine slots to select Justin Fields as their signal-caller of the future. It’s a double-edged sword here as many have criticized the unwillingness of stubborn Gettleman to trade back in years prior, but when relating the necessary value attached to the potential prospect the Giants could have taken, rather than what actually occurred, you begin to scratch your head. 

According to multiple reports, the Giants were set on taking former Alabama wideout, and 2020 Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith at No. 11. However, the Eagles jumped New York in an inter-division move with Dallas to grab the lanky speedster to boost their receiver room. Sure, you can devise that divisional trades are “frowned upon” in the draft process with the underlying narrative of “improving” other organizations, but it happened, and as the Giants saw themselves on the clock, Gettleman’s plan B became unapparent. 

Following Fields, Slater, and Vera-Tucker, the arguable two top linemen prospects, went accordingly at No. 13 to the Los Angeles Chargers (Slater), and No. 14 to the New York Jets (Vera-Tucker), leaving Gettleman, again, stranded. Kadarius Toney was the selection at No. 20, confirming any doubt that Smith was indeed the selection at No. 11 if he was available. But Toney isn’t Smith, and Andrew Thomas isn’t Slater, and Zach Fulton isn’t Vera-Tucker. You get my point.

In a year looked upon as a make it or break it campaign for Daniel Jones, not one selection was made to address the group tasked with keeping their former first-round quarterback upright. Sure, Toney will help and Kenny Golladay will help if Jones is able to stay off his back. Saquon Barkley’s presence will surely be welcomed, if he can stay healthy, but how effective will he be behind a unit drastically below league standard? 

Let’s take a deeper dive into why Gettleman’s lack of awareness could flip the Giants’ upcoming campaign on its head despite one of the top young defenses in all of football.

Thomas, the fourth overall selection last year out of Georgia, was exposed in his rookie season, allowing the second-most pressures in the NFL despite showing improvement toward the latter half of the season. Left guard Shane Lemieux, a fifth-round pick in 2020, was the worst-graded offensive lineman of any rookie, according to PFF. Let’s continue. Zach Fulton, who is expected to compete with 2018 second-rounder Will Hernandez for the nod at right guard, allowed a league-high 11 sacks with the Texans last year. Accordingly, Hernandez hasn’t even played right guard and lost his starting job at left guard last year to Lemieux. It gets worse. Matt Peart, a third-round pick last year, and Nate Solder, a COVID opt-out who allowed 11 sacks in 2019, are expected to compete at right tackle. Peart only played 150 snaps as a rookie, and the well quickly runs dry with tackle depth as 2020 UDFA Kyle Murphy represents head coach Joe Judge’s only swing tackle option. 

For all that is the Giants, and say what you want about a weak NFC East, Gettleman, again, somehow, someway, failed to improve the weakest link in an otherwise formidable chain. With all eyes under center and assets aplenty on the boundary, don’t be shocked if the group tasked with protecting Jones ultimately mainsprings his departure in the Big Apple.

Written By:

Ryan Fowler

Feature Writer

Feature Writer for The Draft Network. Former Staff Writer for the Washington Football Team. Multiple years of coverage within the NFL and NBA.

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