INDIANAPOLIS – Both New York teams made it clear this week that rebuilding their offensive lines is a priority. They each need at least two new starters, otherwise their offenses might not be able to run.
To get that help, though, they’ll either have to look to an underwhelming free-agent market or dig deep into the NFL draft. Because even though both teams have Top 10 picks in the draft this April, the kind of help they’re looking for likely won’t be there.
“A Top 10 offensive lineman? I don’t know about that,” said one AFC scout. “If you’re looking for the next Quenton Nelson (drafted sixth overall by the Colts last year) he’s not there. There are good players in this draft, but not that high.”
Not everyone agrees with that assessment, and there are two offensive linemen that at least have a chance of sneaking into the Top 10. Alabama’s Jonah Williams and Florida’s Jawaan Taylor are both quality and highly-regarded prospects. But there were few NFL sources this week who thought either would be the best choice for the Jets at 3 or the Giants at 6.
Some of that is because of questions about the top prospects. The 6-5, 312-pound Taylor isn’t fully participating in the NFL scouting combine because of a hamstring injury. The 6-4, 302-pound Williams supposedly has short arms – something he laughed off during his interview with the press on Thursday. There’s also a debate over whether they’re better suited to play guard or tackle.
And some is because of what Giants GM Dave Gettleman said on Wednesday: That it’s become increasingly difficult to evaluate offensive linemen coming out of college because there are so many pass-happy, spread offenses that don’t require offensive linemen to play out of a traditional, three-point stance.
“So few of these guys have really punched somebody in the mouth,” Gettleman said. “It makes it hard.”
Still, both Gettleman and Jets GM Mike Maccagnan have no choice. Neither of their offensive lines were good last season. Both seem to have three pieces in place to build around, but they desperately need two new starters and ideally would add some depth.
The Jets are in the market for a center and a left guard, after letting Spencer Long go, and with little interest in re-signing James Carpenter. Maccagnan said “we like the returning starters we have”, which includes left tackle Kelvin Beachum, right guard Brian Winters, and right tackle Brandon Shell (assuming he fully recovers from knee surgery in December). But he indicated that some of the $100 million in salary cap space he has will be used to fill the other two holes.
“Right now I would say that’s a position we’re going to look at very strongly in free agency,” the GM said on Wednesday. “That’s no surprise for anyone out there. I think there are some good players in the draft. It’s an area to look at going forward. It’s definitely an area we want to improve upon.”
The Giants feel the same way, though they don’t have nearly the amount of cap room to spend in free agency. They know their line was a disaster at the start of last season, but as coach Pat Shurmur said “When we finally started blocking better (in the second half of the season) you could see the production of the quarterback and the runner was better and we played a lot better.”
Things came together well enough that they feel confident rolling with Nate Solder at left tackle, Will Hernandez at left guard, and Jon Halapio (who missed most of the season with knee and ankle injuries) at center. They are also likely to try to re-sign free agent Jamon Brown to play right guard. And they will surely direct some of their cap room towards trying to sign a right tackle (keep an eye on Panthers tackle Daryl Williams, who missed most of last season with a knee injury).
“We’re going to constantly look to improve that unit,” Shurmur said. “I believe you have a chance to win it all when you can say the strength of your team is the offensive line.”
No doubt adding Williams or Taylor in the Top 10 would help them do that, but both teams will likely find better value at other positions if they hold onto those picks. At some point, they’ll surely take part in what late Giants GM George Young used to call “The Dance of the Elephants” – the annual run of linemen being selected.
But their turn on the dance floor will likely come on Day 2 instead.