In today’s NFL, the offensive line is being given more love by both the fans and by teams using more of their salary cap space across the entire line than ever before. The left tackle position has for years been seen as the premier position along the line, right tackle is having a complete talent revolution with the likes of Lane Johnson, Mitchell Schwartz, Bryan Bulaga and Taylor Moton among others being some of the best tackles overall in the league, guards like Zach Martin and Marshall Yanda are given consistent love for their play.
The least celebrated still seems to be the center position but like how Brett Kollman recently pointed out in his film review of Jason Kelce, the center position can be the lynchpin of an entire offense (here’s the video if you want an in depth look at how a center of that caliber can affect a team’s offense: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzSRoON86ls&feature=share).
In today’s NFL, the center position is tasked not just with snapping the ball to the qb and stopping bull rushes up the middle, but they act as the qb of the offensive line. They need to be able to read a front seven of a defense and determine where the pressure is going to be sent to. That is the biggest reason that centers usually have the highest average wonderlic score among all position groups in the NFL. They also need to be able to pull block and not get lost in space. To me, the center may just be the most important position along the entire line with how much the rest of the line’s performance depends on their calls.
Now let’s get to Halapio. He was a 6th round pick in 2014 by the Patriots out of Florida. He played 45 games at guard in college and once drafted he bounced around the NFL from practice squad to practice squad. In between NFL stints he spent time on a couple of teams in the now defunct Fall Experimental Football League.
Three years ago, Halapio started learning how to snap the ball to help give him another skill that might let him stick on an NFL roster. He saw his first NFL action in 2017 for the Giants as an injury replacement for DJ Fluker at right guard. He played 403 snaps in 2017 and was resigned by the team for the 2018 season.
The 2018 season was Halapio’s first season where he was on a team’s roster to start a season and he was the team’s starting center. He played in 2 games (a total of 116 snaps) before breaking his ankle and missing the rest of the season. So now Jon Halapio has 116 snaps in his career at the center position.
The first two game that Halapio played, he graded out well as a blocker by Pro Football Focus (his grade of 69.4 would have been good enough for 14th highest among centers in the NFL if he played enough snaps to qualify). The thing with PFF grades however, is that they do not and can not put ability to make calls at the line into their grades because that would be grading entirely off of speculation.
Now looking into the 2 games Halapio was healthy for at center. The Giants’ offense was not successful against either the Jaguars or Cowboys. In terms of rushing, Saquon Barkley had 1 good run over the 2 games due to constant pressure in the backfield and his one good run was due to him breaking multiple tackles. The passing game wasn’t much better except when going to Odell Beckham Jr against the Jaguars and the Giants’ offense was shut out against the Cowboys while Halapio was in the game.
Now, I’m not going to put the entire blame for the offense’s lack of production on Halapio, but also from watching the tape I didn’t see a lot of correcting protection packages from what was shown by the defense.
Another thing to consider is how much the offense improved once Spencer Pulley became the starting center. Once Pulley came in, the offense went from averaging 19.5 points per game, to averaging 25.2 points per game once he took the job over. As a blocker, Pulley was not nearly as good as Halapio with his PFF grade being 55.9 (which was tied for 26th among centers who qualified). Pulley though, was able to draw from his experience at the center position in college and in the NFL for the Chargers to help change the protection packages and improve the rest of the oline.
So in closing I would be incredibly weary of Jon Halapio staying as the team’s starting center with how much better the offense played with a lesser blocking talent at the position because of Pulley’s experience at the position helping him help everyone else.
Halapio to me will need to improve massively at calling the game for me to be comfortable with him at center and unfortunately it is a skill that can only really be worked on in game so there is no way for me to be more comfortable with him at center until the games start.