Selected with the No. 34 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, offensive guard Will Hernandez quickly solidified himself as a mainstay on the New York Giants offensive line. At the same time, his big bully attitude helped earn him a special place in the hearts of Big Blue faithful.
Inserted as the team’s starter at left guard from day one, the UTEP product went on to notch 39 consecutive starts — at the time, making him the Giants’ longest-tenured starter. While his play never reached a top-tier level, for a while Hernandez looked to be the least of New York’s worries along a highly spotty offensive line. However, that all changed this past season.
A positive COVID-19 test in late October halted the 25-year-old’s 2,523 consecutive snap streak, making way for 2020 fifth-round pick Shane Lemieux to overtake Hernandez in the team’s starting lineup. The latter rapidly fell out of favor in the offensive line rotation, playing just 95 snaps over the final seven games of last season. With Lemieux seemingly entrenched as the team’s starter at left guard, and the addition of a 90-game career starter in Zach Fulton this offseason, CBS Sports’ Patrik Walker believes Hernandez should fear the chopping block once September comes rolling around.
“One of the most highly-touted linemen of his draft class, Hernandez has been a combination of flash and disappointment over the course of his rookie contract in New York,” wrote Walker. “He’s gone from being full-time starter to missing time due to COVID-19 and returning as a rotational player. In his absence, it was Shane Lemieux who plugged in and played admirably, something that caught the attention of both head coach Joe Judge and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett — two individuals who weren’t around when Dave Gettleman drafted Hernandez and, as such, don’t have any ‘draft loyalty’ to him. Entering the final year of his deal, there’s enough value to potentially trade Hernandez and use the cap savings elsewhere, especially if undrafted rookie Jake Burton raises some eyebrows.”
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Hernandez in for Position Switch
While Walker highlighted Burton as potential competition, chances are the UDFA is the least of Hernandez’s worries entering training camp. For starters, it looks as if Lemieux has solidified his placement as the Giants’ starting left guard. In return, if Hernandez hopes to be reinserted into the team’s starting lineup, he’ll likely need to make the transition to right guard — a position he hasn’t logged a snap at since high school.
On the surface, such a move may seem minuscule. However, far more well-established, prolific players throughout the years have struggled to adapt to playing on the opposite side of the center. Need proof? Here’s four-time Pro Bowler Josh Sitton talking about his grapple with making the switch from playing left guard to right guard, via NFL insider Armando Salguero.
The interior of the Giants offensive line is by no means bursting with premier talent. With that said, what the unit does have is a bevy of veteran players to go along with intriguing up-and-comers such as Kyle Murphy and Buton. We’ve already touched on the addition of Fulton, yet the team also added former Jets guard/center Jonotthan Harrison to the mix this offseason as well. Throw in eight-year veteran Kenny Wiggins, and the trio has accumulated 170 career starts over their combined NFL tenures.
Though the current coaching staff has no previous connection to Hernandez — who is a holdover from the Pat Shurmur regime — the man who drafted him, Dave Gettleman, still reigns over the team. His linkage to the GM and his youth should give Hernandez a slight leg up on his competition. Now it’s up for the UTEP product to deliver or possibly be shipped out of town.
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