Nick Gates wasn’t even drafted when he came out of Nebraska two years ago. He’s started three games in his NFL career, mostly in emergency step-in roles late last season. He easily is the least recognizable and most overlooked of the offensive linemen the Giants have on their roster.
And he very well may be the fulcrum on which the team’s draft plans pivot next week.
The Giants clearly have needs at offensive line, and on a conference call Monday, general manager Dave Gettleman all but promised he will address those needs early and possibly often in the draft.
When asked about not signing any big-ticket tackles in free agency, he said: “With the depth of the tackle class in the draft, we just felt like this was the best way for us to go.”
When asked about the center position, with Spencer Pulley penciled in atop the depth chart and Jon Halapio working to return from a torn Achilles, Gettleman said: “We’re working that group over pretty good in the draft.”
But if the Giants don’t have an opportunity to address both positions in the early rounds of the draft, which begins April 23, Gates could wind up starting.
“I know this sounds crazy,” Gettleman said, “but . . . we’ve got faith in Nick Gates. Last year he made a lot of progress and we’re excited about him.”
Where might Gates fit? Anywhere, really. He’s been listed as a guard, has played both tackle spots and even worked at center in practices last season. The Giants like his versatility and his upside . . . both of which will be on their minds when they are on the clock.
As they weigh their options in the draft — particularly after the first round — and are deciding between an offensive line prospect and another position, it will be Gates against whom they likely will be measuring the blocker to see if he would be an upgrade.
Gates, in other words, could allow them to address other needs — if they want to. He is the fallback at both tackle and center, and not necessarily a bad one at that.
“Nick is smart,” Gettleman said. “The thing you love about Nick is just how tough he is . . . History tells you that the toughness of your team is really, really indicated by the toughness of your offensive line. We’re always looking for that kind of piece.”
In fact, they already have one.