Quenton Nelson will be the first offensive lineman off the board when the NFL Draft commences on Thursday evening. The guard from Notre Dame is a complete package of physical strength, spotless technique, impressive athleticism and surly personality.
He’s as polished as the shiny gold helmet he wore in college, and many believe he is the best player in this year’s draft. He’s so enticing that the Giants seem to be considering taking him with the No. 2 overall pick.
“Is it ever too early to take a great player?” Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said last week. “You know my philosophy: Big men allow you to compete and you have to build your lines. I’m going to build this team from the inside out . . . Everyone else wants to talk about skill guys and I want to talk about hog mollies.”
After Nelson, however, there isn’t any clear-cut hierarchy to the ranking of the position of interior lineman. Part of that is due to the overall depletion in prospects.
It’s a frustration many in the NFL are dealing with. Every team needs five good offensive linemen to function, and every year it seems as if there are fewer than five decent prospects who come into the league. The shortage of skilled talent at the position is reaching crisis levels in the NFL.
So what’s a team to do when it needs to overhaul its line?
Well, the first step is signing proven players in free agency. The Giants already have done some of that, adding Nate Solder and Patrick Momameh as the new left side of their line. The right side, though, remains in flux. Other than Ereck Flowers competing at right tackle — and that’s the key word the Giants use all the time regarding his position: competing — the Giants have plenty of areas that still require upgrading.
When Gettleman was hired as general manager of the Giants, he said his first priority was to fix the offensive line. That job is only half done.
In the first two days of the draft this week, expect the Giants to select at least one offensive lineman who has a chance to be a Week 1 starter. If it’s not Nelson, there are other interior line options who are not as eye-popping but whose skills manage to shine through the fog of mediocrity (or worse).
UTEP’s Will Hernandez has been climbing up boards and actually could be a first-round pick. Ohio State’s Billy Price, who suffered a pectoral injury at the Combine, is expected to be cleared from surgery in June, and a team might take a flyer on him.
“It’s really tough to say who is going to be the second [interior] offensive lineman drafted after Nelson,” former NFL executive Gil Brandt, now an analyst for Sirius XM’s NFL Radio, said last week. “I don’t think we have a great group of offensive linemen, but I think we have a good group of offensive linemen.”
These days, when it comes to young offensive linemen entering the league after years of playing college football from two-point stances while in spread schemes, good may be the best anyone can ask for.