FILM ROOM | Can Nick Gates Be a Fit at Tackle or Center?
The Giants found fortune in a 2018 undrafted free agent out of Nebraska by the name of Nick Gates.
Gates was a versatile lineman for the Cornhuskers offense; he played both tackle positions and earned honorable All Big-10 team nominations in 2016 and 2017.
Although effective in college, Gates watched as 21 offensive tackles were selected in the draft. His slide is mostly attributed to his lack of length (32” arms) and his sub-par athletic ability.
The Giants called Gates during the undrafted free agent period and landed the talented tackle, who offers a lot of upside, but Gates spent his rookie season on injured reserve.
Last year, he was thrust into the starting lineup at right tackle after incumbent Mike Remmers suffered a minor back injury before Week 10 against the Jets.
It was Gates' first start since his time in college, where he made 35 career starts before turning pro in his redshirt junior season.
During the 2019 season, Gates played 290 offensive snaps: 203 at right tackle, 77 at right guard, and 16 as an extra offensive tackle in Jumbo sets.
According to Pro Football Focus, he surrendered one sack and committed one penalty during that time, and that is with teams blitzing and scheming pressure with twists/stunts towards his side.
Jets Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams attacked his side with wide rushers to try and take advantage of the young tackle. Gates was solid in these scenarios, albeit I see issues with his anchor on an island.
These days, however, Gates is not only being considered for more of a full-time role at offensive tackle, but Giants general manager Dave Gettleman also revealed that the team's brass discussed trying Gates at center.
Can Gates be a long-term option at center? If not, can Gates viably start at right tackle? Let’s dive into some film and see what we can find.
The thing I love most about Gates is his positioning. Gates has wonderful footwork on slides at tackle for an undrafted player; he routinely puts himself in an advantageous initial position to execute his blocks.
The first clip is against the Dolphins, and Gates is at guard. His hands come up a bit wide, but Gates makes contact and shifts his feet with his weight and seals the defender away from the pocket.
Gates makes a very effective outside arm strike in the second clip, and then he uses torque through his core to get the defender off balance; once the defender tries to shift outside, Gates uses a nice snatch and trap to drop the defender to the ground.
It was a very nice counter move to the defender who was already losing the rep.
A place where Gates sometimes struggles is against wide rushers while playing tackle. In the third clip, he's against No. 93 Tarell Basham and Gates vertical sets to meet Basham up the arc.
Gates is low, maintains his center of gravity, and does overextend. Gates wins the pad level battle and pushes Basham off his counter move to get him away from the pocket.
The final clip against the Dolphins, at guard, Gates gets pushed back a bit by #95 John Jenkins, but Gates is able to get his hands inside and utilize good core/grip strength not to allow Jenkins to win the rep fully.
Another part of Gates’ game that I have a lot of respect for is the mental aspect of playing offensive line. Football IQ and awareness are two very underrated aspects of playing on the line, and Gates has both.
He’s always looking for work, which alludes to his competitive toughness, and he’s always looking around to see the movement of the defensive front. It’s pretty evident that Gates watches the film and is ready for what the defense is going to bring.
Watch some of the transitions above; Gates opens and closes his hips, brings his feet effortlessly along with him, and uncoils through his hips to explode low to high on targets.
The clip with Gates at right tackle seems like a mistake on Gates. But when we analyze it a bit more, it is Saquon Barkley who gaffed the chip block on the outside, which led to the effective pressure.
Gates was under the assumption that Barkley had that outside edge for a second or two, but Barkley did not see the stunt coming.
Gates' framing of blocks and his mental processing, along with his solid footwork, are the positives of his game, but there are some concerns.
Gates struggles against wide-angled rushers from the tackling position. I attribute this fact, in large part, to Gates' marginal anchor against power rushers and the bull-rush.
In the first clip above, we see Gates locate Basham well and get to his set point, but the initial contact is made by Basham, which puts Gates on skates and forces Gates' upper-body forward, which hinders his ability to gage his hips and lower body.
In these situations, where Gates is too focused on preparing for the bull-rush, Gates too often allows the defender to get hip to hip and earn the edge.
We see No. 55 Brandon Graham does a similar thing to Gates in the second clip, while incorporating an effective rip move to turn the corner on Gates easily.
Against the Dolphins at guard, Gates’ base becomes very wide as he attempts to halt the bull-rush of the defender. It’s concerning because Gates is in very good positioning to handle the block; his pad level is low, but the strength of the defender is just too much to not create interior pressure. Strength at the point of attack and anchor woes are my biggest concerns with Gates.
We can see the struggles from the wide rushing angle at tackle against No. 96 Henry Anderson. Gates struggles to hunker down and handle the strength. His feet aren’t narrow, and Gates lacks the anchoring ability at this time to handle the strength of some defenders.
Graham puts him on skates too in the second clip; the lack of length and ideal strength is evident. Gates seems to struggle in the third clip against the Eagles, but if we look closer, we see he recognizes the stunt coming, which is the reason why his inside shoulder was a turnstile.
Again, that type of awareness and trust/communication in Kevin Zeitler is excellent to see. But the last clip in the video, against Fletcher Cox, is hard to watch. Cox uses his inside arm to toss the inside shoulder of Gates outside, giving a path to the pocket.
Another issue I have with Gates’ overall game is related to strength. Gates seems to struggle to get push against bigger interior defensive lineman in the run game; we can see Gates earn the chest of No. 94 Christian Wilkens above, but Gates can’t seem to generate the push from his lower body and core to win these reps.
Credit Wilkens for being the beast that he seems to be, but Gates' lack of power here is not ideal. I love how Gates repositions himself in the second clip; he gets low and swivels outside of Wilkens to provide an alley for Barkley, but Gates can’t create the room necessary for success.
Against Jenkins, Gates attempts to drive through the chest and wash him down the line of scrimmage, but Jenkins easily gets to Gates’ outside shoulder and presses the gap to force the tackle.
It may seem like I’m down on Gates, but I’m not. However, I do believe things need to be put into perspective. Gates must add functional strength and power to maximize his potential, which I feel is pretty high.
He’s smart, utilizes very good positioning, has very good reactionary quickness, and solid footwork, but he has to become more powerful at the point of attack to be a long-term option.
Can he get stronger? Of course! He’s 24 years of age, and I feel he could be an excellent versatile option for the Giants in the future, but that strength has to be added.
His best spot is a swing lineman for now on the team; he can step in and play guard or tackle, we’ve seen both be done at a solid level.
The transition to center is tricky; Gettleman mentioned Gates taking snaps there in practice last season, but this is a new offense. With COVID-19 likely canceling all off-season practices, including OTAs and potentially training camp, I think expecting Gates to make a seamless transition to center might be a bit optimistic.
The draft will tell us a lot about the Giants' long-term goals for Gates. For now, I am very pleased he is on the Giants roster, and his intelligence and versatility should earn him roster spots for the foreseeable future.