Fixing the interior of the offensive line was something of a priority for the New York Giants headed into the offseason, but not much changed aside from centers Nick Gates and Jon Feliciano finding new homes during free agency.
Fortunately, Gates and Feliciano won’t be missed because a key rookie from the Giants’ 2023 NFL draft class has already “won the job,” according to Dan Duggan of The Athletic.
John Michael Schmitz came off the board in the second round, as the 57th player taken, and he’s already proving worthy of the selection. The first-team All-American at Minnesota was faultless during an active pro debut against the Detroit Lions in preseason on Friday, August 11.
Rookie Justified Faith of Coaches
Schmitz has used extended action against the Lions, which also included joint practices between the two NFC franchises, to justify the faith of Giants’ coaches. Specifically, Schmitz played the entire first half in Detroit, after taking “every first-team center rep in the two joint practices after rotating with (Ben) Bredeson during the first two weeks of camp. It’s always difficult to evaluate offensive line play without the benefit of film, but the coaches reviewed the practice tape and continued to roll with Schmitz,” per Duggan.
Distinguishing himself from Ben Bredeson means Schmitz has given the Giants options. Notably, keeping Bredeson at guard, where he might form a formidable duo with the rookie pivot.
Aside from practice, Duggan also noted the O-line suffered “some rough moments” against the Lions in game action, but he observed “Schmitz didn’t appear to be at fault for the breakdowns.” Something similar was observed by ESPN’s Jordan Raanan, who reported Schmitz “fared better” than the Giants’ top pick this year, cornerback Deonte Banks.
While Banks has endured his share of struggles, particularly during training camp, the Giants are getting what they hoped for when they drafted Schmitz. In short, somebody capable enough to anchor the heart of a pro offensive line.
Schmitz exhibited all of those qualities with a flawless performance in pass protection against the Lions, per numbers from PFF College:
Those are the types of numbers the Giants want to see from the signal-caller for quarterback Daniel Jones’ protection. The Giants invested heavily in Jones this offseason, to the tune of four years for $160 million, so it’s pivotal the new face of the franchise is kept upright.
Schmitz has a key role to play in making that happen, as well as proving the Giants were right not to recruit veteran help at center after two viable starters left town.
Giants Used Draft to Address Obvious Need
Drafting for need is often frowned upon, especially if it comes at the expense of selecting the “best player available.” Yet, the Giants were smart to use premium draft capital to fill the hole at the heart of their offensive line.
General manager Joe Schoen hardly had a choice after Gates signed with division rivals the Washington Commanders. Schoen’s options were further reduced once Feliciano joined NFC contender the San Francisco 49ers.
Feliciano started 15 games a year ago, while Gates offered a powerful 6-foot-5 and 307-pound frame. Schmitz needs to display just as much durability and power as his predecessors if he’s going to be the fulcrum along the interior.
On the inside is where Schmitz will most often be expected to knock open holes for star running back Saquon Barkley. The latter is still the engine that fuels the Giants’ offense, even after Jones got the big bucks and new cast of receivers, including Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller.
Preserving and adding to their talent at the skill positions were priorities for the Giants this offseason. Yet their moves in this area will count for naught if the trenches aren’t secured. Fortunately, that’s where Schmitz is already making his mark.