EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – U.S. Bank Stadium is a little more than a mile from the University of Minnesota, so John Michael Schmitz made the short trip last Jan. 15 and sat in the stands as the Giants defeated the Vikings in an NFC Wild Card Game.
When the Giants next play a game, Schmitz could be their starting center.
The Giants filled an apparent need Friday night when they selected Schmitz in the second round of the NFL Draft, No. 57 overall. Schmitz is 6-4 and 320 pounds, with both upper and lower body strength to clear out defenders in the run game and take on bull rushers on obvious passing downs.
"Schmitz is a great guy … smart, tough, dependable, played a lot of ball," general manager Joe Schoen said. "Had a great Senior Bowl. He's a good player and a great kid."
"I always thought it was definitely a possibility to go with the Giants, and I'm so happy to be a part of this team," Schmitz said on a conference call. "I'm ready just to work, that's what I told the coaches when we first talked. So, I'm so excited."
What does he believe his strengths are?
"I would just say, my mentality as a whole, my toughness, my grit, how I finish plays is what sets me apart from other people," he said. "So that's what I'm going to go with."
View the top photos of offensive lineman John Michael Schmitz's career at Minnesota.
Schmitz was modest and polite on his call, during which he said the NFL center he most admires is Tampa Bay's Ryan Jensen – who is anything but polite in uniform.
"He's one of the nastiest people on the field and just the way he plays, his mentality, you know that he's going to bring it every play," Schmitz said. "He's a tremendous leader, also."
Would Schmitz describe himself as nasty?
"Yes, that's the biggest thing I would say," he said. "The nasty, tough, grit factor, definitely."
The mean streak is a big reason the Giants were so eager to acquire him.
"You see it on film," coach Brian Daboll said. "We did a FaceTime with him, the whole group (in the draft room), and he basically wanted to put his helmet and shoulder pads on that instant, standing with his parents. He loves the game of football and just another good offensive lineman to work with."
"Yeah, you see it on film," Schoen said. "Not when you're sitting across from him, but when you turn on the film, you see it."
Schmitz stands along among the Giants' first three selections in the 2023 draft as the only one in which they Giants stood pat before selecting. They traded up in the first round to take Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks and in the third to select Tennessee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt.
Schmitz will contend for the starting center job as a rookie because the Giants have no obvious returning frontrunner for the job. Jon Feliciano, who started 17 games last season, and Nick Gates, who started the other two, both departed as free agents, the former to San Francisco and the latter to Washington. The other contenders include veterans Ben Bredeson, Jack Anderson, Shane Lemieux and recently signed J.C. Hassenauer.
"(We'll) throw them all out there," coach Daboll said. "We haven't had practice yet. We have selected some new players and some free agents, and we'll start phase two (of the offseason program) on Monday, which is a little bit different from phase one. But (you) can't get out in front of each other until we get to phase three and that's really a teaching type of camp, if you will."
Schmitz was an all-conference player for – ironically – the Vikings of Homewood-Floosmoor High School in Illinois. He then spent six years in Minneapolis, one as a redshirt and five on the field. Schmitz wasn't about to confess if he became a fan of the NFL Vikings during his time there. Asked who he rooted for in the playoff game, Schmitz said, "You know, I was at the game just watching football, that's all I've got to say."
He played in 57 games with 35 starts and started all 31 games in which he played in his final three seasons (he opted out of the Golden Gophers' Pinstripe Bowl matchup with Syracuse). Schmitz was an honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2020, second-team all-conference as a junior and first team All-Big Ten and All-American in 2022.
All of which guarantees nothing when he reports to training camp in July. Though Schmitz has much experience playing in one of the NFL's best conferences, the NFL will present a series of new challenges.
"Regardless of if it's this offense or any other offense, you're come in from college and you're playing against grown men up front," Daboll said. "I'd say there's a learning curve mentally but there's also a physical curve, too, and we won't find that out until August. But this guy's tough. He's smart. He's got a good frame. Former wrestler. Good leader. So, we'll throw him in the mix, let him compete it out with the other guys and see how it ends up."
Step into the new draft room as the Giants make their picks for the 2023 class.