Nate Solder and Will Hernandez solidified the left side of the Giants’ offensive line in 2018. Everything to their right was unsettled – until this week.
As part of a blockbuster trade (pending physical exams) with the Browns that involved four players and two draft picks, 100-game starter Kevin Zeitler comes to the Giants as an established right guard. The Giants also brought back two centers who started games for them last season, re-signing exclusive rights free agent Jon Halapio and signing Spencer Pulley to a new contract.
So what does Zeitler (pronounced ZITE-ler) do for the line?
Originally the 27th overall draft selection by Cincinnati in 2012, the former Badger and Wisconsin native helped the Bengals to two division titles and four postseason appearances during his five seasons. He joined the Browns in 2017 as one of the top free agents on the market that year, starting all 16 games for the fourth and fifth times in his seven-year career.
For the analytics crowd, Pro Football Focus gave Zeitler a 91.7 pass-blocking grade, the best among all NFL guards in 2018. He allowed one pressure per 58.0 snaps, also the best among guards with a minimum of 450 pass-blocking snaps. Philadelphia’s Brandon Brooks (50.0), Cleveland’s Joel Bitonio (45.6), Baltimore’s Marshal Yanda (42.0) and Jacksonville’s Andrew Norwell (32.6) were the closest, according to PFF. Zeitler allowed 11 total pressures last season.
Chad Wheeler started all but the first two games of the 2018 season at right tackle. Undrafted out of USC in 2017, Wheeler took over for former first-round pick Ereck Flowers, who was released one month into the season.
GIANTS’ 2018 GAME-BY-GAME STARTERS
Speaking late last month at the NFL Scouting Combine, coach Pat Shurmur reiterated the need to bolster the offensive line.
“In the years when the Giants were really good, you could point to the offensive line being really good,” Shurmur, a former standout center at Michigan State, said in Indianapolis. “Oh, by the way, you have a quarterback named Eli Manning. So I don’t know why that’s any different.”
He added: “I believe you have a chance to win it all when you can say the strength of your team is the offensive line. And so there’s a couple ways we can do that. We can continue to develop the players we have. Will Hernandez, that was a great year of development for him. Spencer Pulley came in and played center. Jon Halapio was playing really well. Nate Solder was fighting his tail off, and as Will got better, that left side really looked good. And then you include the center. Then Jamon Brown added some stability to the right side, which really helped Wheeler.”
The trades, pending physical exams, leave the Giants with 12 drafts picks. Four of those are in the top 95, including the sixth and 17th overall selection. NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks has Florida’s Jawaan Taylor as the No. 1 offensive tackle prospect in this year’s draft, followed by Andre Dillard (Washington State), Jonah Williams (Alabama), Cody Ford (Oklahoma) and Kaleb McGary (Washington). His top interior linemen, in order, are Garrett Bradbury (N.C. State), Elgton Jenkins (Mississippi State), Erik McCoy (Texas A&M), Chris Lindstrom (Boston College) and Michael Jordan (Ohio State).