‘Hidden Gem’ a Surprise Projected Starter for Giants

Giants sign Nick Gates to contract extension

Getty Giants offensive lineman Nick Gates

The New York Giants‘ starting 11 on offense is essentially set in stone. So, when Pro Football Focus recently took a shot at predicting Big Blue’s starting lineup, it’s not like they were presented with a tough task.

However, the one, and arguably only, position up for grabs along the Giants’ starting offensive unit is clearly the center position. Last year’s starter Jon Halapio is currently rehabbing from a torn Achilles and remains a free agent a moment.

Spencer Pulley is likely the man to enter camp as the starter, while 5th-round pick Shane Lemieux is arguably the favorite to leave camp with the gig. Yet, PFF envisions a scenario where the least heralded of players bidding for the spot ends up on top.

Projected Starting O-Line: LT: Andrew Thomas, LG: Will Hernandez, C: Nick Gates, RG: Kevin Zeitler, RT: Nate Solder

Battle to watch: Nick Gates vs. Spencer Pulley vs. Shane Lemieux at center

Gates spent time at both right guard and right tackle during the 2019 season, ending the year with a very respectable 77.0 overall grade. That has generated some buzz around his name as a potential starter — a young player whom the Giants want to involve — despite no real experience at the center position. Considering his main competition is Pulley (who has yet to grade above 57.0 in four NFL seasons) and Lemieux (a fifth-round rookie who didn’t play center in college), it’s not unrealistic to think Gates wins the job outright.

Gates has never played a single snap at center during his NFL career. With that said, he has shown the ability to excel in working on the interior. Gates posted a solid overall PFF grade of 77.0 in 2019. That grade jumped up to an 82.1 when operating as a guard according to North Jersey.

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Expectations are High for Gates in NY

PFF is far from the only outlet/person expecting big things from the little-known Gates this season. General Manager Dave Gettleman spoke glowingly of the soon-to-be 3rd-year lineman prior to the draft, stating that the team has “faith in Gates” moving forward.

In a recent Giants.com Mailbag column, where John Schmeelk highlighted “hidden gems on the Giants roster,” the reporter was asked about Gates’ interchangeable abilities to play both the guard and tackle position. The fan also wondered if we could expect a “more active role” for him in 2020.

Schmeelk’s response noted that Gates’ flexibility goes well beyond just those two positions, and that not only is there a chance that we see more of Gates this coming season, but that he could very well “start for the team,” when all is said and done.

John Schmeelk: I think you actually left a position out: center. It appears as though Gates will have a chance to play all three positions this year. An offensive lineman who can back up all five spots on the offensive line is invaluable and provides roster flexibility, especially on gameday. Despite the fact that Gates experience on the field is at guard and tackle, his best chance to start may be at center.

The Giants have three candidates on the roster to start at center this year: veteran Spencer Pulley, rookie Shane Lemieux and Gates. Dave Gettleman has indicated there is a chance Jon Halapio returns to the roster depending on how his injured Achilles is healing in June. The organization believes Gates has the ability to play center and if he does well enough, it could be his way to start for the team in 2020.