With the 2021 Giants Draft in the books, no picks were used to improve the offensive line. Fans and media believe the Giants line needs some upgrades. GM Dave Gettleman stated the Giants apparently believe more in their offensive line than the media does.
That may be true…but then the Giants signed some interesting undrafted free agents (UDFA) hours after the draft.
The Giants only signed three UDFA players this year to fill out their preseason roster to the 90-man limit. Two of the three were offensive linemen: Brett Heggie from the University of Florida and Jake Barton from Baylor.
Brett Heggie, 6′ 5″ and 321 lbs, is a player with the Joe Judge word “versatile” written all over him. Heggie was a starting guard in 2019 (played both right and left guard) but moved into the center position in 2020 after a preseason knee injury to the Gators’ Ethan White.
Here’s SI.com Fan Nation’s scouting report on Heggie:
“Having gained experience at all three interior offensive line spots, Heggie racked up 31 starts in the SEC during his Florida career. The former three-star recruit is an average athlete with good feet in pass protection to gain depth. Wide play and hands allow him to box in rushers but also gives up his chest to power rushes. He plays balanced, rarely getting uprooted and able to recover when he has to. On the move, Heggie stays attached to defenders as his upper body does not get ahead of his feet. A quick processor, he is alert with quick feet and picks up blitzes or passes of stunts well. Due to his inconsistent anchor and wide hands, he is susceptible to getting bull-rushed into the quarterback’s lap. Heggie lacks length and gets outreached by longer defenders, losing control of blocks. He does not have the power or pop in his hands to create movement up front consistently. Heggie projects as a solid backup at all three interior positions who can come in and allow the offense to function. He does not possess the length, athleticism, or power required to develop into a quality starter.”
On the other hand, NFL Network’s Charles Davis sang Heggie’s praises leading up to the draft, believing that Heggie could become a starter at the NFL level. Heggie started 31 games in college and held his own during the SEC competition. His versatility to play multiple positions along the line will endear him to Judge and the other offensive coaches. Think another Nick Gates type of player.
Jake Burton, 6′ 6″ and 312 lbs, was a one-year starting right guard for Baylor after transferring from UCLA, where he played right tackle. Again, here’s another lineman that plays multiple positions joining the Giants.
ProFootballNetwork.com’s scouting report on Burton:
- Positives: UCLA transfer who started eight games last season. A large, wide-bodied lineman who is best in a very small area. He keeps his head on a swivel, always looks for someone to hit, and stays square. He keeps his feet moving, works for his hands throughout the action, and attacks assignments. Flashes athleticism.
- Negatives: Lacks footwork in space. He gets tall and isn’t a leverage blocker. Lacks balance moving in space.
- Analysis: Burton was durable and productive throughout his college career and possessed next-level size. He lacks great upside but has the measurables and intellect to back up at either right tackle or guard.
Heggie and Burton join a group of offensive linemen that include:
- Andrew Thomas, LT
- Shane Lemieux, G
- Will Hernandez, G
- Nick Gates, C
- Matt Peart, RT
- Nate Solder, T
- Zach Fulton, G
- Kenny Wiggins, G
- Jonotthan Harrison, OL
- Jackson Barton, OL
- Kyle Murphy, OL
- Chad Slade, G
I hesitate to call this group a finished product. The Giants believe in developing players within their system and building a talent pipeline. Other than the two UDFA signees plus Fulton and Harrison, every other lineman has ties to the Giants. Solder returns after opting out of the 2020 season. He will compete with Thomas and Peart for starting tackles. Fulton enters his eighth season as the most experienced guard on the Giants. He was drafted by the Chiefs in 2014 and inserted into the starting lineup as a rookie guard, where he started for the first four seasons. In his fifth season with the Chiefs, he moved to and started at center. In the last three seasons, he played right guard for the Texans. Fulton will compete with Hernandez and Lemieux for starting guard.
Based on Judge’s 2020 decisions to rotate offensive linemen, I would expect all three to be getting snaps during the upcoming season. Harrison is entering his seventh season, spending time with the Colts, Jets, and Bills before signing with the Giants in February. He has experience at center and guard. Wiggins, Slade, Barton, and Murphy were with the Giants’ practice squad in 2020 and worked with the current coaching staff. It’ll be interesting to see if any of these players make the 53-man roster.
It takes time for an offensive line to come together and play as a unit. Look at every Giants Super Bowl team, and you will see years ahead of the Super Bowl runs where the linemen started and played seasons together before things clicked. You will also see UDFA players that became starters (Bart Oates). You will see guards that became centers (Shaun O’Hara, to name one).
The team had no real preseason last year to gain experience. It wasn’t until the fourth game of the season that the run game came together. But, they also gave up way too many sacks (50 sacks).
They may add another player or two to scan the waiver wire and look to the remaining free agents.
The Giants invested heavily in skill position players and defense this offseason.
Yet, all eyes will be on the offensive line when training camp rolls around.
Featured Image: Nick Gates/New York Giants