Feb 152015
 
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The BBI Podcast – February 15, 2015

Eric from BBI provides an overview of recent New York Giants news, including the signing of Canadian Football League (CFL) offensive lineman Brett Jones and the contract re-structuring of defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins.  Eric also answers questions from fans on defensive line prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft, Rueben Randle and others who may factor in for the competition at the #3 wide receiver spot, the never-ending Giants injury situation, what Giants might be on the bubble from a salary-cap perspective, the impact of Steve Spagnuolo on the team’s defense, and the prospects for defensive end Robert Ayers.

Feb 132015
 
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Green Bay Packers at New York Giants (November 23, 1930); Benny Friedman with the Football

Green Bay Packers at New York Giants (November 23, 1930); Benny Friedman with the Football

by Larry Schmitt with contributions from Rev. Mike Moran for BigBlueInteractive.com

The 1930 season was the NFL’s eleventh in operation. Although the circuit had made many significant improvements in its structure, organization and operation, it still was subordinated in the general public’s favor. Baseball, college football and boxing received far more attention and recognition from the media and public. Pro football was largely ignored until the World Series had concluded, and Sunday sports pages were filled with college football summaries from Saturday, while pro football previews rarely existed, even in the cities where the home team was hosting a contest that very day.

New York City is the perfect example of this phenomenon. Prior to the onset of the Great Depression in October 1929, three local colleges fielded nationally-significant teams – Columbia, Fordham and NYU – that were loyally followed by fans. When they met one another, games were moved from their respective campuses to the larger Polo Grounds or Yankee Stadium to accommodate the demand for tickets. It was not uncommon in the 1920’s for the Giants to play a home game in front of crowds in the low 10,000’s the day after a college game that featured a capacity crowd in the same building. The NYU-Fordham contests guaranteed full houses at the close of the decade, with crowds of 50,000 and 60,000 packing the Polo Grounds respectively in 1928 and 1929. The 1930 game was moved to Yankee Stadium where 78,500 patrons purchased every ticket. New York had plenty of football fans, they just happened to prefer the college version of the sport.

Big Crowds and Seminal Moments

Accentuating this preference was the fact that New Yorkers’ support for teams beyond the city limits was robust as well. The Army Cadets from West Point, which is approximately 50 miles north of Harlem, used the Polo Grounds as its home-away-from-home when playing marquis games that drew crowds that exceeded the capacity of Michie Stadium.

This devotion to college football expanded beyond the state. New York’s large Catholic and Irish populations formed a segment of fans that soon became known as the “Subway Alumni.” Although most of them never visited South Bend, Indiana, they adopted the team as their own. Notre Dame’s first contest in the city was at the Polo Grounds on November 8, 1921 against Rutgers. The crowd of 15,000 would prove to be the smallest the visitors from Indiana would ever perform before within the metropolitan area, but a phenomenon had taken root. The turnout was probably affected by the fact that the game was held on a Tuesday. Notre Dame had beaten Army 28-0 at West Point the prior Saturday and stayed over at the Bear Mountain Inn to prepare for the Rutgers game. Newspapers covered the game extensively and reveled in Notre Dame’s performance in their 48-0 win.

Notre Dame had visited West Point nearly every season since 1913, and their rivalry had become celebrated as both teams were national powers. The first meeting between the two in New York took place on October 13, 1923 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. A near-capacity crowd exceeding 30,000 watched Notre Dame’s 13-0 victory. A month later, on November 24, Army played rival Navy to a 0-0 tie at the Polo Grounds. The stadium was filled beyond its normal capacity. The throng of 63,000 was accommodated by temporary bleachers along the outfield walls, and was the largest in city history to that point.

The Army-Notre Dame game on October 18, 1924 was held at the Polo Grounds as well, and was a tremendous boon for the visitors from Indiana. Over 60,000 fans were in attendance while a major corner stone of Notre Dame lore was established. This was the day New York Herald Tribune writer Grantland Rice penned his famous opening to his game summary of Notre Dame’s 13-7 victory:

Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army football team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds yesterday afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down on the bewildering panorama spread on the green plain below.

The Army-Notre Dame game outgrew the Polo Grounds. Between 1925 and 1929, the five games between the teams at Yankee Stadium averaged over 80,000 spectators. The November 10, 1928 game featured another legendary moment for Notre Dame. Tied 0-0 with Army at halftime, Notre Dame Head Coach Knute Rockne delivered his impassioned, and now legendary, “Win One for the Gipper” speech in the Yankee Stadium locker room. Notre Dame controlled the second half for a 6-0 win over the previously unbeaten Army team.

Army also played Navy in New York City during this time. The 1925 and 1927 games were held at the Polo Grounds, where the crowd of 75,000 in 1927 was the largest ever at the venue for any sporting event. The 1930 game at Yankee Stadium was attended by 70,000 spectators. The largest crowd for an Army game in New York was the December 12, 1928 contest against Stanford before a standing room only house of 86,000, and the November 8, 1930 contest versus Illinois drew 74,000 fans.

Competition Amid Apathy

Amidst all this appreciation for college football, the Giants were received with relative indifference. In 1921, University of Chicago Head Coach Amos Alonzo Stagg famously tagged pro football as a “menace,” and fans of the college game still derisively termed NFL product as “Post Graduate Football” and stayed away in droves. While that claim proved ludicrous decades later, pro football’s image problem was real and largely self-inflicted.

The NFL game was indistinguishable from the college game, and experienced great difficulty attracting new fans. Many colleges had programs dating back to the 1890’s; their fan bases were deeply rooted and loyal, while the NFL experienced a nomadic and unpredictable period of franchise movement and lack of stability.

The Giants inaugural-season crowd average at the Polo Grounds was a seemingly robust 24,000 for nine dates. But, when discounting the 73,000 who showed up for the Red Grange game on December 6, the average drops significantly to 17,875 for the other eight home games. The following season was grim. Pro football felt the strain of over-saturation in the market as five teams competed on Sundays in the greater New York area: the Giants and Brooklyn Lions of the NFL, and the Newark Bears, Brooklyn Horsemen and New York Yankees of the rival AFL. Before the season closed, Newark ceased operations and the Brooklyn teams merged as a single entity within the NFL. Grange’s Yankees were the AFL’s lone survivor and were absorbed into the NFL in 1927. Both they and the Giants – whose attendance for eight home dates at the Polo Grounds plummeted to a paltry 9,500 per game average – finished in near financial ruin.

The Giants attendance rebounded into the middle 10,000’s for the next two seasons: 18,500 for the championship season of 1927 and 16,000 in 1928. A strong team in 1929 featuring headliner Benny Friedman boosted the season average to 21,250 for eight home dates. Over this span, the Giants largest home gate, aside from the 1925 Grange game, was a turnout of 38,000 to see the Providence Steam Roller on November 8, 1927. That was a triple header on Election Day where the Giants were warmed up by two high school games, who no doubt were the bigger attraction. It is not known how many stayed in their seats to watch the pros at day’s end.

Most Giants home crowds ranged from 15,000 to 25,000, but many dates fell below 10,000. Compounding the problem was the fact that the Giants gave away thousands of tickets for each date, in hopes of attracting new fans to home games. On the road, the gate for Giants games averaged approximately 4,000-5,000 less than home games. The Giants largest away game was 26,000 for a game against the Bears at Wrigley Field on November 3, 1929. Games in smaller cities like Providence, Frankford, Pottsville and Green Bay were usually in the 8,000-9,000 range.

Hard Times, Good Times

The onset of the Great Depression in October 1929 put another strain on the fledgling pro game. Nobody knew it at the time, but the Depression proved to be a blessing in disguise and helped the NFL gain respectability.

As would be expected, initially, the first result from the economic downturn across all sports was reduced attendance. Baseball, boxing, and college and pro football all suffered at the gate. The big three sports would not fully recover to their Roaring 20’s-level of prosperity again until well after World War II. Pro football, however, bucked the trend. By the late 1930’s, attendance began a slow but consistently steady upward climb, as did press coverage.

This effect was twofold. First, many colleges reassessed their football programs. Many universities subordinated football’s relevance, and others disbanded their programs completely. It was no longer possible for some football fans to find a game to attend on a Saturday afternoon, while interest by others faded as their favorite program’s prestige diminished. Second, the job market for college graduates shrank dramatically. For some, pro football was their only opportunity for employment, even if it was only for a portion of the year. Ken Strong, a member of the Staten Island Stapletons at the time of the stock market crash and later of the Giants, said, “The Depression sent a lot of boys into professional football who would have had jobs in good times. It has helped a good many of them pay off debts they ran up in order to get through college.” This resulted in higher-quality rosters in the pro ranks, and better games. Some college fans for the first time gravitated to the NFL to follow the alumni from their college teams.

Wide-scale growth and prosperity for the pro game was still a long way off, but the seed planted by pro football in 1920 was now beginning to take root. Still, even with more attention on pro football, many still thought the pro game inferior to the college game. Many in the general public would quickly proclaim that a good college team would be more than capable of whipping the best pro teams. It would not be long before that theory was put to the test, and that debate rendered obsolete. It served as the catalyst for pro football’s ascension in public opinion.

Champions and Contenders

Notre Dame was the National Champion in 1929 and would repeat with a dominant and undefeated 1930 season. The Packers were the NFL champs in 1929, finishing just ahead of the Giants in a heated race, and had not lost a game since December 1928. The difference between first and second place was a late season contest at the Polo Grounds where Green Bay defeated the Giants 20-6. They would renew their rivalry twice in 1930, and it was not a coincidence. Teams still set their own schedules, and a meeting between two good teams usually meant a strong turnout at the gate (weather permitting) and this was not lost on the owners who spent the offseason tightening their belts. Tim Mara said later of the challenging financial period, “The only luck we had was in 1930. I agreed to go to Green Bay for $4,000, and the Packers agreed to come to New York for $5,000. We cleared $60,000 on the two games. This was a real lifesaver, coming as it did right after the Wall Street crash.”

The two teams featured similar traits – high-scoring offenses that helped further the passing game (something that would tremendously help pro football vault over college football later in the decade) and powerful lines that battered opponents. The Giants led the NFL in scoring in 1929 while the Packers allowed the fewest points. New York tailback and passing pioneer Benny Friedman said years later, “We had no problems with anyone else, but the Packers were special. They were so big, and yet they were so fast, that they almost won their games before they took the field.”

Len Grant, New York Giants (1930)

Len Grant, New York Giants (1930)

New on the Giants roster in 1930 was end Morris “Red” Badgro. All-Pro end Ray Flaherty left the Giants to coach at Gonzaga, but Badgro stepped in and performed just as well as his predecessor. Rookies Len Grant and Butch Gibson brought young blood to an already strong line and back Dale Burnett contributed as a blocker and occasional ball carrier.

The 1930 New York Football Giants were a confident team heading into the early part of their season, which as usual was a string of road games as they waited for the baseball Giants to conclude their season and vacate the Polo Grounds. Friedman, tackle Steve Owen and halfback Jack Hagerty picked up where they left off the year before and dominated the Newark Tornadoes and Providence Steam Roller by an aggregate tally of 59-7. In between, the Giants also played a Thursday night exhibition contest against the Long Island Bulldogs in Brooklyn. New York’s resolve was quickly put to the test the following week on a visit to the reigning champions in Green Bay.

The Packers also brought back much of their 1929 roster into the new season. Tackle Cal Hubbard, guard Mike Michalske and end Johnny “Blood” McNally, who wrought havoc on the Giants in their pivotal game in 1929, were back and as good as ever. A newcomer brought an enticing dimension with him. Tailback Arnie Herber, while playing in limited time behind Verne Lewellen, showed promise with a strong and accurate passing arm.

City Stadium was filled with 13,000 fans to greet the 2-0 and unscored upon Packers. The front walls of both defenses controlled the early action. Midway through the second quarter, Green Bay advanced into New York territory. Lewellen connected on a short pass to end Tom Nash, who evaded a defender before traveling the distance into the end zone on a 15-yard play. The Giants offense was unable to respond and punted the ball back. New York also held, then created a golden opportunity by blocking the Packers punt. From Green Bay’s 24-yard line, three rushes moved the chains for a first down. After being thrown for a loss, Friedman connected with Len Sedbrook for a 20-yard touchdown.

Both defenses regained firm control of the contest through the third quarter. The 7-7 tie was broken in the final period when McNally received a short pass from Red Dunn and raced 55 yards for the touchdown and eventual 14-7 victory. Again, New York had played the Packers tough but came up just short. The Packers seemed to have a knack for spurning the Giants by making a big play late precisely when they needed it.

Revival

The next stop on road trip provided another familiar opponent, against the always formidable Chicago Bears, who had recently undergone a significant change in on-field leadership. George Halas and Edward “Dutch” Sternaman, who co-owned the Bears, had also served as co-coaches for the franchise’s first nine seasons. Both men were opinionated and strong willed, which often led to confrontations. During the offseason, the two founders decided the best path for all involved would be to step back and find someone new to coach the Bears while they both focused on the business aspect of running the team. They settled on Ralph Jones, who was a successful collegiate coach at Purdue and Illinois.

Jones was a cerebral coach, and he tinkered with Halas’ favored offensive system, the original T-Formation. Jones set the quarterback under center where he would receive a direct snap. (Previously he would take a short snap approximately two or three yards behind the center.) Jones also widened the line splits, giving the blockers more freedom for lateral movement within schemes, rather than simply trying to outmuscle the defender directly across from him. The most revolutionary change was the pre-snap motion where one of the halfbacks would move laterally across the formation and be far outside the end when the play started. Over the course of the upcoming decades, this back-in-motion would ultimately evolve into the flanker.

Nearly as unique as the new schemes was the rookie who made the X’s and O’s come to life on the field, Bronislau “Bronko” Nagurski. At six feet, two inches in height and weighing approximately 235 pounds, Nagurski was larger than most linemen of his era. He lined up at tackle on defense, but was a fullback on offense. It certainly is no surprise that Nagurski was a devastating force on line plunges, but he also proved to be adept at ball placement when pulling up before hitting the line and delivering a strike to a receiver. Later in his career, Owen answered a question regarding the best way to defense Nagurski, “With a shotgun, as he’s leaving the dressing room.”

Just over 12,000 fans showed up for the Bears home opener at Wrigley Field. Like the Giants, the Chicago football teams opened their seasons on the road while they awaited their shared stadia to become available after the conclusion of baseball season. The first quarter featured a scoreless 15 minutes where New York wasted long advances with lost fumbles in Chicago territory.

When the Giants finally secured a firm grip on the ball, they took over the game quickly. They erupted for two touchdowns in the first six minutes of the second quarter, sparked by a takeaway. Dale Burnett intercepted a Carl Brumbaugh aerial at Chicago’s 20-yard line and was dragged down from behind at the two-yard line by Nagurski. Ossie Wiberg plunged over the line for the touchdown but Friedman’s placement attempt sailed wide left. Following a short Bears punt, Friedman directed a 47-yard scoring drive over ten plays. Eight advances were rushes, including three by Friedman totaling 19 yards. The star tailback was one-for-two passing, with the completion being good for 10 yards to Len Sedbrook to the three-yard line to set up Burnett’s touchdown plunge. Red Grange’s brother Garland Grange blocked Friedman’s point-after attempt.

Apparently satisfied with the 12-0 lead, Friedman retired to the sidelines for most of the afternoon while Jack Hagerty assumed the helm. Attempting to placate the patrons who called out to see Friedman launch aerials, Head Coach LeRoy Andrews reinserted Friedman in a quasi-curtain call, and he finished the day a modest three-for-five for 33 yards passing. The Giants defense handled Jones’ new version of the T-formation with little trouble, having allowed just six first downs and not letting Chicago reach New York’s 20-yard line.

The Giants home opener came on a short week as they had a Thursday game scheduled against Chicago’s other team. The Cardinals featured a genuine triple threat in Ernie Nevers, a player who could run, catch, punt and drop kick with equal effectiveness while also playing rock-solid defense. The marquis attractions Friedman and Nevers would meet up under the lights in the Polo Grounds’ first-ever night game, a new marketing experiment by the NFL in its continuing quest to engage the public.

A crowd of 15,000, which included former Governor Al Smith, watched the Giants perform in the clutch with big plays in a come-from-behind win. All of New York’s scoring occurred in the final five minutes of both halves.

Chicago baffled New York on a 75-yard advance featuring reverses, a triple pass and delayed line bucks. The drive was initiated near the end of the opening period and carried over into the second. Mack Flenniken went over for the score but the point after was missed. The middle part of the quarter was played evenly before Sedbrook took off on an 85-yard touchdown run for New York to tie the game. Then Friedman shrewdly directed a touchdown drive that was capped off with a Wiberg plunge. Friedman’s point-after gave the Giants a 13-6 advantage at the half.

A scoreless third quarter set up a thrilling final period. The first nine minutes of the quarter were dominated by stout defenses and exchanges of punts. With under six minutes to play, Chicago assumed possession of the ball on the mid-field stripe. On first down, Bunny Belden connected with Chuck Kassel on a deep pass for a 42-yard gain. Flenniken plunged twice for the final seven yards and the touchdown. Howard Maple’s point-after try was wide, but the Cardinals were within one point, 13-12 and had momentum on their side.

The kickoff return gave New York the ball at mid-field and Friedman wrested control of the contest. Line plunges and slants were mixed with a 10-yard completion to Tiny Feather. Friedman went over for the score to give the Giants a 19-12 lead, but missed the point-after. Chicago initiated a desperation drive for a tie, but Nevers lost a fumble on New York’s 40-yard line. Friedman battered through the Cardinals defense, and completed a pass to Glenn Campbell at the two-yard line. Three Freidman goal-to-go plunges were stonewalled by Chicago’s front, but he creased them on fourth down for the final tally and a 25-12 win.

There was no opportunity for rest. In less than 72 hours the Giants would host Frankford for their third game in eight days. As was their custom, however, the Yellow Jackets arrived at the Polo Grounds having played a home game on Saturday – local blue laws forbade public gatherings on Sunday. The scoreless first quarter belied the firepower in New York’s passing offense. Four of the Giants team-record eight touchdowns came from the arm of Friedman, and the Giants topped the 50-point mark for the first time in franchise history. The other scores came via two rushes, an interception return and a fifth touchdown pass by Hap Moran, which had commenced the parade.

Hap Moran (22), New York Giants (October 19, 1930)

Hap Moran (22), New York Giants (October 19, 1930)

The Giants previous high mark for points in a game was a 45-3 win at the Buffalo Bisons in 1929. An unofficial milestone was reached in this 53-0 win as well. Friedman was the first-known player to accumulate 300 yards passing in a game. Newspaper accounts credit him with 18 completions in 23 attempts for 310 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. NFL statistical records were not officially recorded until 1932, however, so this performance is mostly overlooked in historical chronicles.

(The NFL’s first officially recognized 300-yard passer is by Pat Coffee of the Cardinals. On December 5, 1937, Coffee was 17-of-35-for 304 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in a 42-28 loss to the Bears in a game that was called with just under three minutes to play on account of darkness at an icy Wrigley Field. The Giants first official 300-yard passing effort was by Paul Governalli on November 9, 1947, who was 16-of-35 for 341 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in a 41-24 loss to Philadelphia.)

After a full week off, the Giants went back to the three-games-in-eight-days grind. The defense was up to the challenge, and New York defeated Providence on Sunday, Newark on Wednesday night and Staten Island on the following Sunday by aggregate score of 68-14 at the Polo Grounds.

Steve Owen, New York Giants (October 26, 1930)

Steve Owen, New York Giants (October 26, 1930)

The game against the Stapletons was actually a formidable challenge as the Giants escaped with a come-from-behind 9-7 win off the foot of Friedman who was good on a 42-yard placement field goal with under 1:00 on the clock. (You can read more about this game here.)

A two-games-in-four-days road trip saw Friedman rush and pass New York to a 19-6 win at Portsmouth on Wednesday night before a Sunday afternoon rematch with the Cardinals at Comiskey Park. A small crowd of only 4,000 attended because across town at Wrigley Field the Bears tangled with Green Bay in a crucial contest that drew 22,000 spectators. Both Chicago teams lost close games: the Bears 13-12 and the Cardinals 13-7, setting up a stretch run for first place between the 10-1 Giants and 8-0 Packers.

Most surprisingly to the fans at Comiskey Park was that the hero of the day was neither Friedman nor Nevers. Friedman struggled through the first half, completing just one of eight pass attempts, while Nevers caught a 20-yard pass for a 7-0 Chicago halftime lead. That score had been set up by a 65-yard Nevers punt that was downed on the New York one-yard line. The ensuing Giants punt only moved the ball out to the 35-yard line, giving Chicago a short field. Nevers rushed for 10 yards on first down and scored two plays later.

Moran entered the game after halftime but there was no change on the scoreboard until several minutes had elapsed from the fourth quarter clock. When New York had the ball on their own 40-yard line, Moran completed a five-yard pass to Hagerty who sprinted down field, zig-zagged through would be tacklers, and crossed over for a 60-yard touchdown. Moran’s placement try was blocked and the Giants trailed 7-6.

After forcing a Chicago punt, New York took over from their 30-yard line. Moran lofted a deep ball to Glenn Campbell for a 35-yard gain into Cardinal territory. On first down, Moran connected again with Campbell, this time for seven yards to the 28-yard line. On second-and-three, Moran faked a pass and raced around end to the Chicago 15-yard line. Mule Wilson plunged twice to set up a first-and-goal from the two and Moran received the honors of going over for the touchdown himself. His point-after put the Giants in the lead 13-7. New York’s defense preserved for the important victory. Moran unofficially finished the day six-of-eight passing for 147 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception. Despite missing a field goal late to ice the game, he outplayed both Friedman and Nevers and was the lead man in both the Chicago Herald Tribune and New York Times on Monday.

On November 16, the day the Giants lost 12-0 to the Bears in miserable cold rain and wind at the Polo Grounds, the big news was college star back Chris Cagle was to be released from his coaching contract at Mississippi A&M to play for the Giants. Cagle had been a star performer for West Point before losing his amateur eligibility when it was discovered he had been married, which was a violation of college rules at the time. The current Giants squad faced an improved Bears team that featured the powerful Nagurski finding his niche. He plowed through New York’s front wall setting up one fourth-quarter touchdown and going over for the second himself. The Giants passing attack, whether it was Friedman or Moran, struggled on the sloppy track in front of the small crowd of 5,000 fans. Good news arrived for the Giants from out of town however. The Packers were upset by the Cardinals at Comiskey Park 13-6, giving the Giants a chance to vault past Green Bay as the Packers came to New York the next week.

The Rematch

Pro football generated some buzz during the week leading up to the game. The contest was billed as a de facto league championship match. The New York Times even made mention of former Giant Cal Hubbard returning to face his old team with its new star Cagle. The public bought into the hype and the 40,000 fans gave the Giants their largest home attendance mark since Red Grange’s visit in 1925.

Benny Friedman (1) and Chris Cagle (10), New York Giants (1930)

Benny Friedman (1) and Chris Cagle (10), New York Giants (1930)

To the dismay of fans, however, Cagle left the game in the first quarter having suffered a facial laceration after catching a short pass. Badgro put the Giants on the scoreboard first when he caught a perfectly placed spiral from Friedman along the sideline at the two-yard line and was tackled lunging over the final stripe for the touchdown. Friedman’s placement gave New York a 7-0 lead that held into the second half.

In the third quarter, Moran set up New York’s second touchdown with a rush out of the punt formation with the Giants pinned deep at their end of the field. Moran ran around right end then cut up the center of the field. Two blockers kept pace with Moran, who evaded McNally twice as he traversed up-field, until the Green Bay 10-yard line. Lavern Dilfer, who had been deep to receive the presumed punt, made a flying tackle of Moran one yard short of the end zone. This 91-yard carry remained the franchise standard until 2005.

Three consecutive plunges left the ball about a foot away from pay dirt, where Friedman followed behind the left guard for the touchdown. Friedman’s point-after placement was blocked and New York lead 13-0.

Green Bay valiantly fought back. A long pass reception by McNally gave the defending champions the ball on New York’s 11-yard line, but the Giants defense stiffened and thwarted the advance on downs at the two-yard line. The Giants punted the ball back and a Dunn-to-Lewellen aerial quickly gave the Packers a first-and-goal on the four-yard line. Lewellen swept around right end for the touchdown, but Dunn’s placement missed. The third quarter ended with New York ahead 13-6.

Chris Cagle (12), Benny Friedman (1), New York Giants; Green Bay Packers at New York Giants (November 23, 1930)

Chris Cagle (12), Benny Friedman (1), New York Giants; Green Bay Packers at New York Giants (November 23, 1930)

Green Bay made one lengthy, exhausting advance in attempt to tie the game in the final period. They overcame a holding call at mid-field (a 15-yard penalty at the time) and moved the chains five times until the ball reached New York’s five-yard line. Herdis McCrary plunged twice for a yard, and Bo Melinda slammed ahead for a two-yard advance. The thrilled Polo Grounds crowd was caught up in the tension-packed goal-line stand, and on their feet exhorting the defense. Before the ball was snapped, several players on both sides of the line jumped early. The players held their positions once the ball was reset. On the snap, Dunn handed to McCrary who was stoned by the center of the Giants front wall as the Polo Grounds faithful roared their approval.

Neither team threatened to score again. The 13-7 final moved 11-2 New York ahead of 9-2 Green Bay in the league standings. The New York Times game summary unofficially gave the Packers the statistical edge in first downs 15 to eight, as well as passing yards 138 to 67. The Giants led in rushing yards, 172 to 160, most of which came from the lengthy jaunt by Moran. This was only the second loss the Packers had suffered in 24 months.

Backyard Brawling

The Giants had little time to celebrate their huge victory; for the third time their schedule had them playing three games in eight days. Next up was a Thanksgiving Day game at Staten Island against the coveted player who got away.

Prior to the 1929 season, Coach Andrews was instructed by Tim Mara and Dr. Harry March to offer a $4,000 contract to the graduated NYU star and triple-threat back Ken Strong. For reasons still unclear, Andrews offered Strong a contract for $3,000. Strong declined the offer and signed with the Stapletons, and would always relish the opportunity to show up the team that had underbid for his services.

Thompson Stadium was standing-room only with over 12,000 fans in attendance while hundreds more crowded outside the fences trying to view the action on the field. Although the Stapletons entered the game at 4-4-2 and never having beaten the Giants before, they had plenty of motivation. Aside from Strong, Mule Wilson had recently signed to Staten Island after being released by the Giants; Doug Wycoff was a member of the 1927 World Champion Giants; and the Giants first star player, Hinkey Haines, was an assistant coach on the sidelines.

The game was a physical altercation where both teams earned every inch of ground they were able to muster. Wilson was part of the Stapletons starting 11 and the leading ground gainer on the day, but his biggest impact was felt on defense. He repeatedly fought through blocks and dropped Friedman and Cagle in the backfield for losses and frustrated New York’s typically potent offense. The first score of the game came with just under 1:00 to play in the second quarter. Campbell blocked Strong’s punt at the Staten Island 20-yard line and recovered the loose ball in the end zone himself. The hold for the point-after try was mishandled and Friedman’s pass for Moran in the end zone was defended. The Giants led 6-0 at the half.

New York’s defense made a crucial stand in the third quarter after Jim Fitzgerald recovered a fumble on the Giants 20-yard line and a subsequent unnecessary roughness penalty set the ball on the five-yard line. Four consecutive rushes were stopped and the Giants took over on downs. Staten Island held their ground as well, and a Friedman punt from the end zone gave the home team the ball on the plus 45-yard line. Wycoff completed two passes to Bernie Finn to again set the ball five yards from New York’s goal line. This time Wycoff took the ball over for the score on second down and Strong’s placement was good and gave the Stapletons a 7-6 lead in front of their raucous crowd.

The struggle continued well into the fourth quarter. New York lost its captain Friedman to a leg injury, but the Giants were able to mount a last minute desperation drive despite his absence. Cagle completed two passes to Moran, giving the Giants a first and goal on the five-yard line but failed to score after three plunges and a missed a placement field goal attempt by Wiberg. The loss cost the Giants more than the services of Friedman. Their stay atop the standings was all too brief, as Green Bay had routed the Yellow Jackets in Frankford 25-7 and regained first place.

As the compressed schedule prevented Friedman from dressing for the Giants game against Brooklyn at the Polo Grounds on Sunday, Hagerty would get the start in his place. This promised to be another rugged contest for New York as not only did the Dodgers feature the NFL’s stingiest defense (they would finish the season allowing a league low 4.9 points per game), but had the motivation of yet another former New York star, Jack McBride, who led the league in scoring.

Chris Cagle, New York Giants (November 30, 1930)

Chris Cagle, New York Giants (November 30, 1930)

The crowd of 25,000 was not restricted just to fans of the home team hoping the Giants would keep pace with Green Bay, many fans came over the bridges from Brooklyn to support their team as well. New York significantly outplayed the Dodgers in the first half but only had six points to show for it, and again that lone score was the result of Campbell recovering a blocked punt. This time Campbell blocked Jim Mooney’s punt at Brooklyn’s 45-yard line, scooped the loose ball, evaded Mooney and rambled the distance uncontested into the end zone.

In the second half, Brooklyn’s offense began to find seams in the Giants front. Stumpy Thomason ran for several long gains and also cleared the way for McBride between the tackles. McBride ultimately doomed his former team in the fourth quarter on a 37-yard rush that set up his two-yard plunge for the tying score. His point-after placement gave Brooklyn a 7-6 edge that held up as the final score. McBride played the full 60 minutes, scored all the Dodgers points and essentially buried New York in second place as Green Bay annihilated the Stapletons 37-7 two boroughs away at Thompson Stadium. Rumors of a player revolt surfaced the day after the game and Andrews was abruptly dismissed as head coach.

A few weeks earlier, Mayor Jimmy Walker had devised a plan where three football games would be used for unemployment relief fund generation. Local school NYU would host Colgate University on December 6 in one benefit, the Army-Navy game at Yankee Stadium on December 13 was the second, and a new and exciting venture would be the Giants opposing a team of all-stars from Notre Dame, coached by Knute Rockne.

Allegedly, according to some players, Andrews became obsessed with facing Rockne and his All Stars. Practices became unusually brutal and he verbally berated the players, and threatened fines and releases. One story purported Friedman and Owen approaching Mara and seeking relief from the conditions that the team felt had become intolerable. He obliged and installed the two as co-player coaches for the remainder of the season. Friedman said years later: “(Andrews) just got himself all worked up thinking about this great meeting with Rockne. He thought he had to be tougher with us and pretty soon he lost control of himself completely.”

Funny Math

Although the 11-4 Giants still had a mathematical chance to move back ahead of the 10-2 Packers, it was unrealistic as their hopes were tethered to the unlikely probability of a Green Bay collapse. The season played out with New York winning its final two games at Frankford and Brooklyn, and Green Bay losing at the Bears and tied at Portsmouth. The Packers became the NFL’s second champions to repeat, and they did it by four-thousandths of a percentage point.

The method for calculating win percentage at this time is important to consider, and it had to do with the way the league handled ties. Essentially, tie games were disregarded as if the games had never been played. Green Bay’s record of 10-3-1 gave them a win percentage of 0.769 because the tie game at Portsmouth was discluded from the factoring – the 10 wins were divided by 13 total games. It was not until 1972 when the NFL changed the parameters and treated a tie game as a half-win and half loss. When this calculation is applied retroactively to the 1930 Packers record, their win percentage is 0.750 which would drop them to second place behind the 13-4 Giants win percentage of 0.765.

Despite the late season slump that dismantled New York’s championship hopes, the season was considered a qualified success. The Friedman-led squad led the NFL in scoring for the second year in a row and the Giants were a marquis attraction on all their road trips. The attendance at the Polo Grounds was sometimes curtailed by poor weather, but the turnout for the November game against Green Bay was very encouraging and hinted that pro football was beginning to catch on in New York. Friedman was a first-team All Pro, and Badgro and linemen Rudy Comstock and Joe Westoupal were second-team All Pro.

The Giants had one more game to play. The upcoming exhibition contest against the Notre Dame All Stars had no effect on league standings or post-season awards, but it meant everything in regards to gaining the respect and recognition of the general public. The entire NFL was vested in a strong performance from the Giants, even if the majority of the home fan base was not.

The Pros Versus the Joes

Like the Packers, Notre Dame repeated as champions in 1930. The original plan for the charity game was for the Giants to play the current Notre Dame team, but Coach Rockne was concerned about the impact of cross-country travel via rail on his team, as their season concluded at USC on December 7. His contingency plan was brilliant and more alluring to the public – an all-star team comprised of Notre Dame Alumni.

Rockne assembled the legendary Four Horsemen (Elmer Layden, Don Miller, Jim Crowley, Harry Stuhldreher); five of the Seven Mules (Adam Walsh, Joe Bach, Rip Miller, Noble Kizer, Ed Hunsinger); Jack Chevigny from the 1928 team; seven members from the 1929 national champions (Jack Cannon, John Law, Tim Moynihan, Ted Twomey, Joe Vezie, John Gebert, Jack Elder); Bucky O’Connor, Frank Carideo from the current 1930 team;, and two former Notre Dame players with NFL experience, Hunk Anderson and Glenn Carberry.

New York Giants - Notre Dame All-Stars (December 14, 1930)

New York Giants – Notre Dame All-Stars (December 14, 1930)

Although the Four Horsemen were by far the main attraction, the undercard billing was compelling. The press debated who the better tailback was, Carideo, who Rockne touted as “the best passer alive” or Friedman. Unlike many college coaches, Rockne was not opposed to football being a profession. He himself had played several years in the APFA/NFL predecessor Ohio League, which included a championship with the 1915 Massilon Tigers and legendary contests against Jim Thorpe’s Canton Bulldogs. But that did not mean Rockne did not believe college football was the superior brand, and he was not shy about public boasting either.

However, Rockne appeared to waver after committing to the game with the Giants. Just days after the acceptance, rumors circled that he was reconsidering and was privately concerned that he may have put himself into a potentially regretful position. Public outcry over this wavering demanded Rockne’s assurance that he and his all-star team make an appearance. The New York Times ran a story every day leading up to the game describing the unprecedented ticket demand for a Giants-All Stars match-up, which was to be paired with the Army-Navy game to be played at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. Charles Stoneham, owner of the baseball Giants, donated the use of the stadium so all the proceeds would be used for the unemployment fund.

While Rockne may have been concerned about suffering personal embarrassment, the risk undertaken by the Giants was far more significant. They would be representing the institution of professional football as a whole. A loss to the college players could realistically damage the NFL’s public perception permanently. Mara and March received telegrams from owners and executives around the league offering their best wishes for success.

Rockne may have only had limited time to get his group ready, but he made the most of it and drilled his group hard. Gathering in South Bend on the Tuesday prior to the game in New York, Crowley said later that the two practices left him “stiffer and more sore than in all the years I played regularly lumped together.” Rockne explained, “At first I thought these fellows might not be able to put up a good game after several years’ layoff. But when I got to South Bend on Wednesday I found them a little older but was pleasantly surprised to see the way they handled the ball. This is not going to be merely a spectacle but a real game.”

The New York press covered the lead-up to the game daily, and the public’s anticipation grew to a near fever pitch. Both games that weekend were sold out in advance. The anticipation was just as fervent in South Bend. Over 1,500 alumni from Northern Illinois and the greater Chicago area had a police-escorted parade and reception with the All-Star team, as well as with the returning 1930 National Champions who had defeated USC 27-0.

The welcome mat would reach all the way East too. A reception and gala dinner with Mayor Walker was planned for the All Stars upon their arrival in the Big Apple. Rockne telegrammed Walker to confirm plans, as well as notify the fans in New York that he and his boys were confident: “We don’t expect to have our season’s winning record broken by your team of Giants.”

Rockne and his team arrived on Saturday morning and were paraded by a police escort from Grand Central Terminal to City Hall where the New York City Police Band and hundreds of devotees from the Notre Dame fan clubs of New York and New Jersey greeted their heroes enthusiastically. All of the local radio stations broadcast the reception, and Rockne, Mara and Walker were interviewed live on national radio.

Rockne held a closed practice inside the Polo Grounds, and insisted that all the Giants office personnel be prohibited from having any view of the field while the Notre Dame team went through their final drills. Rockne told the press afterward, “We have several surprises for the Giants and we don’t want to spoil any of them.” Rockne and Mayor Walker walked across the Harlem River to Yankee Stadium and watched Army defeat Navy 6-0. Mayor Walker was also scheduled to have dinner with Rockne and the All Stars the evening after the game versus the Giants on Sunday at the Vanderbilt Hotel with the local Notre Dame fan clubs.

The New York Times game day preview backed Rockne’s proclamations, “As to the game itself it promises to be one of the best, with the edge by no means favoring Friedman’s highly competent performers.” That afternoon the Polo Grounds was a house with divided loyalty. The grandstands behind the Giants side of the field were decorated with red and blue bunting while the Notre Dame side was augmented with navy blue and yellow. Pre-game ceremonies included marching bands from NYU and the Police Brigade and Rifle Guard playing “Victory March” (Notre Dame’s Fight Song) and “The Sidewalks of New York” over and over as the Polo Grounds seats filled. More than half of those in attendance were there to cheer on Rockne’s team.

As the two teams stepped onto the field for warmups, Rockne surveyed the competition. Acknowledging the Giants outweighed the All Stars by an average of 60 pounds per man; he approached Friedman and bargained, “We’ve got a lot of boys who think they’re football players. They may have a lot to learn today. How about some concessions?” The two bartered and agreed upon free substitution and shortened 12:30 quarters. Rockne returned to his team and attempted to buoy their confidence, “The Giants are heavy but slow. Go out there, score two or three quick touchdowns, and then defend. Don’t get hurt.”

The Giants size, strength and toughness was obvious to all. The one area that was grossly overlooked was their motivation and resolve. The Giants were sick and tired of hearing about the All Stars and how professional football was second rate. They had something to prove and they did it from snap-to-whistle on every play right from the opening kickoff.

On the first play from scrimmage, 170 pound Law lined up across from the 240 pound Owen. Law turned to referee Tom Thorp and asked, “Can you tell me sir, how much time is left?” Notre Dame was knocked backward on the first three plays, the last of which was finished in the end zone for a safety. The Giants had a 2-0 lead before the game was two minutes old and Rockne’s team finished the quarter with -12 yards from scrimmage. The beating only got worse from there.

Red Badgro (17), New York Giants (December 14, 1930)

Red Badgro (17), New York Giants makes tackle for a safety against Notre Dame All-Stars (December 14, 1930) – Courtesy of Rev. Mike Moran

The New York Times game summary was a complete reversal from its preview the day before: “From start to finish the Giants had the South Benders utterly at their mercy.” Friedman put the game on ice for New York with two touchdowns in the second period. The first touchdown was a short plunge by Friedman. The second an impressive 20-yard rush that was set up by a brilliant play fake. Friedman read the defense at the line, dropped pack and pump-faked, which opened the center of the defense. He ran through the hole in the line, stepped around or through four tacklers and trucked Carideo on his way into the end zone. Referee Tom Thorpe said, “That was one of the finest calls and executions I’ve ever seen.” Friedman’s placement made the score 15-0.

During the action there were some memorable exchanges between the elevens. During the second quarter, Kizer told Walsh, “I’m going to pull out on this play and take the inside back on pass defense. So cover me here.” Walsh exclaimed, “What? And leave me here all alone? Not on your life!” On the snap, both players vacated their positions and sprinted for the bench. Crowley said, “They weren’t scared, they were smart, that’s all.”

Stuhldreher had an encounter with Butch Gibson. “He really smothered me, but he was a gentleman. He helped scrape the dirt off me and checked for broken bones. ‘I want to ask you something,’ he said. ‘I went to a small school called Grove City. You went to a big one, Notre Dame. Now do you know which one played better football?’ I couldn’t do anything but agree with him. I was afraid not to for fear that I’d get him even angrier. As it was, he got me many more times in the game.”

Benny Friedman with ball, New York Giants against Notre Dame All Stars (December 14, 1930)

Benny Friedman with ball, New York Giants against Notre Dame All Stars (December 14, 1930) – Courtesy of Rev. Mike Moran

The All Stars managed one first down, which came on a 12-yard run by Enright, and their furthest advance was to their own 49-yard line. At halftime Rockne sought relief for his battered team. He approached March and said, “I came here to help with a charity and at a lot of trouble. You’re making us look bad. Slow up, will you? I don’t want to go home and be laughed at. Lay off next half.”  The Giants subbed out most of their starters for the second half, except for Turtle Campbell. How much drop off there was is debatable.

Consider that the second half replacement for Friedman at tailback was Moran, who was a catalyst for New York late in the season. Cagle, billed as the Giants next great star and the Army player who ignited Rockne’s 1928 “Win One for the Gipper” speech, subbed for Tiny Feather at half back. Burnett, the Giants third highest scorer, subbed for Sedbrook. The Giants had a deep bench and had many players were eager to step in and take their shots at the All Stars.

New York’s second team continued to play both brilliantly and brutally. A 30-yard pass from Moran to Campbell, followed by Moran’s placement, closed the scoring while defensively Notre Dame was kept off of the board. The final score was a resounding 22-0. Statistically it was worse. The Giants had eight first downs to Notre Dame’s one and outgained the All Stars 138 yards to 34. Notre Dame failed to complete a pass in nine attempts, with two intercepted. They also lost a fumble. After the game, Rockne told his team, “That was the greatest football machine I ever saw. I’m glad none of you got hurt.”

The game summaries were almost apologetic toward Rockne and his team. Readers were reminded that the game was played for charity ($115,153 was raised and put directly into the city’s fund for the unemployed) and that the All Stars had been assembled on short notice and had minimal practice time to get ready. The Giants were a practiced and battle-hardened unit, ready for full contact while many of the Notre Dame team had spent the season scattered around the country in coaching positions.

Stuhldreher said, “It wasn’t much of a football game. Rock had the idea that we could beat the pros, and I guess he sort of got carried away in the pregame publicity. But we did drum up a real good crowd for the game, and that was great…except that he got the Giants sore at us. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that opening kickoff. Layden caught the ball and was belted by all 11 Giants. They really whammed him. He staggered to his feet, took a dazed look at me in the huddle, shook his head, and asked, ‘Is this game over yet?’

A Victory for All

The reverberations from Giants victory were profound; nobody ever accused “post graduate” football as being inferior again. Although some fans continued to begrudge the pros, this contest can be marked as the starting point where the general public began to turn to the NFL as the favored version of the game. Press coverage for professional football began to be displayed on an equal plane with college football over the course of the decade. Football stadia began to see larger crowds on Sundays rather than Saturdays. The transition was slow, but it was steady, and by the end of World War II, the NFL had expanded coast-to-coast and was cultivating a national market via the new medium of television. College football experienced little growth and its attraction remained largely regional.

The Giants-All Stars game was the last Rockne coached. He was killed in a plane crash in Kansas on March 31, 1931. He remains a coaching legend, having pioneered and popularized the early passing game. His 0.881 winning percentage remains the highest of college coaches who have stood on the sideline for at least 100 games.

March turned over his interest in the Giants as Tim Mara handed the duties to his sons Jack (President) and Wellington (Secretary). Friedman was originally offered the head-coaching position of the Giants, but that offer was pulled when Friedman demanded an ownership interest in the team. After an injury plagued 1931 season, which included double-duty as head coach for Yale University, Friedman moved on to Brooklyn as player-coach of the Dodgers.

Tim Mara then offered the job to Owen, who was initially reluctant (he suggested Guy Chamberlain to Mara first) but ultimately accepted the role. Still with a lingering dissatisfaction of the late season swoon and ugly departure of Andrews, Mara wanted more than anything a strong, reliable man in charge who was able to withstand hard times. He said, “What I needed was a man’s man. What I wanted was a man who could manage other men, a man other men would respect. What I got was even more than I bargained for.”

Owen was the Giants steward for 23 seasons. He spanned the stretch when the NFL stabilized itself through the depression, tread water through World War II, transitioned from the Single Wing to the T-Formation, survived competition from the rival AAFC, overtook college football and closed the gap with major league baseball. Under his guidance, the Giants emerged as the NFL’s flagship franchise. They appeared in a league-high eight championships in that time. Owen and his Giants won two of those championships in memorable fashion on their home field in front of appreciative crowds. In both NFL Championship Games, in 1934 versus the Bears and 1938 versus the Packers, the league standard for championship-game attendance was set.

The legacy of the win over the Notre Dame All Stars cannot be overstated. The Giants’ home attendance for league games in 1930 was 16,000. It jumped to just over 24,000 the next season in 1931, despite the fact that team’s fortunes declined. The 1931 Giants finished 7-6-1 and were never a factor in the league race for first place. Changes took place after a losing season in 1932. The Giants built a new team. And the NFL created its own rules manual which intentionally differentiated it from the college game. The NFL realigned into two divisions and installed a post-season championship game that generated new fan interest. Prosperity that seemed unimaginable at the start of the decade was about to become unavoidable.

Feb 092015
 
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Johnathan Hankins, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Johnathan Hankins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Ever since the New York Giants transitioned to the 4-3 defense from the 3-4 in 1994, the defensive line has been the heart of a New York Giants defense that had made eight playoff appearances in 21 seasons, and has helped the team reach three NFL Championship games, winning two. Yet with the free agent losses of defensive end Justin Tuck and defensive tackle Linval Joseph before the season, and a free agent spending spree at cornerback, the Giants entered training camp with the expectation by some that the defensive backfield might surpass the defensive line as the strength of the team. In the end, injuries sabotaged the secondary and the defensive line did indeed regress.

The Giants finished 29th in defense in terms of yards allowed and 22nd in points allowed. The Giants were 30th against the run in terms of total yards allowed and 32nd in terms of yards-per-rush allowed (4.9). New York was 18th against the pass. The good news was they finished 4th in the NFL in terms of sacks with 47. But after Perry Fewell’s defense gave up over 6,000 yards for the third time in four seasons (the only times in history of the franchise that has occurred), he was fired in January.

The best players up front were clearly defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. But Pierre-Paul started the season off slowly and didn’t really impact games the way he should until the Giants were already out of playoff contention. Hankins had a breakout year in his sophomore season. But it wasn’t enough.

Mathias Kiwanuka started 11 games at left defensive end, but did not play well and finished the season on Injured Reserve. Free agent acquisition Robert Ayers flashed as a pass rusher at both defensive tackle and end, but was inconsistent against the run and also finished the season on IR. The coaching staff did not appear to trust Damontre Moore, who did not start a game. By year’s end, he was surprisingly passed on the depth chart by undrafted rookie Kerry Wynn.

At tackle, Cullen Jenkins was bothered by a nagging calf issue and was barely noticeable. Mike Patterson and Markus Kuhn were easily blocked and rarely made any plays. Jay Bromley saw more action down the stretch, but his rookie season was a wash.

Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (December 14, 2014)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

DEFENSIVE ENDS

In his fifth NFL season, Jason Pierre-Paul had his second-best season, starting all 16 games and finishing with 77 tackles, 12.5 sacks, six pass defenses, and three forced fumbles. Pierre-Paul played the run well most of the year and finished up strong as a pass rusher after a slow start, with nine of his sacks coming in the last five games of the season. Pierre-Paul was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2010 NFL Draft. His best season came in 2011 when he accrued 86 tackles and 16.5 sacks. 2012 and 2013 were down seasons for him with a total of only 8.5 sacks. Pierre-Paul had surgery in June 2013 to repair a herniated disc in his lower back and suffered a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the last five games of that season. Pierre-Paul has an excellent combination of size, strength, and athleticism. When healthy and focused, Pierre-Paul can be an explosive, disruptive difference-maker. His tremendous wingspan helps him to bat passes down at the line of scrimmage (28 career pass defenses and 2 interceptions). As a pass rusher, he can beat blockers with both power and movement skills. He could improve his initial quickness off the snap. Pierre-Paul is a very good run defender both at the point-of-attack as well as in backside pursuit. He can be vulnerable to misdirection such as on read-option plays. To become a truly great player, Pierre-Paul needs to be consistently great on a game-to-game basis and not disappear in some contests.

Mathias Kiwanuka started the first 11 games of the season, but he was placed on Injured Reserve in December 2014 with a knee injury that troubled him much of the year. Kiwanuka had a disappointing season, finishing with only 28 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles. Kiwanuka has shifted between defensive end and linebacker ever since he was drafted in the 1st round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He primarily played linebacker for the Giants in 2007 and 2010-12, and defensive end in 2006, 2008-09, and 2013-14. Kiwanuka combines good size and overall athleticism, but he never really developed as expected and now may be slowing down. Kiwanuka has never been a consistent pass rusher and his play against the run deteriorated in 2014.

Robert Ayers, New York Giants (November 16, 2014)

Robert Ayers – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Robert Ayers proved to be one of the team’s best pass rushers as key rotational player who could play both end and defensive tackle in pass rush situations. Before he was placed on Injured Reserve in December 2014 with a torn pectoral muscle, in 12 games with one start, Ayers accrued 22 tackles, five sacks, one pass defense, and one forced fumble. Ayers was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2009 NFL by the Broncos. In five seasons with the Broncos, Ayers played in 72 regular-season games with 27 starts. He signed with the Giants as a free agent in April 2014. Ayers has good size for a defensive end and his quickness and overall athleticism presents problems for guards and centers when he lines up at tackle in pass rush situations. He is an average run defender at best and would earn more playing time if he could improve in this area.

More was hoped for and expected from Damontre Moore in 2014. Moore played in all 16 games but he had no starts and finished the year with 32 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and two pass defenses. Moore was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. Moore lacks ideal size and timed speed, but he flashes as a pass rusher. His biggest issues are his sub-par play against the run and mental mistakes, the latter two causing him to be by-passed on the depth chart.

Kerry Wynn, New York Giants (December 21, 2014)

Kerry Wynn – © USA TODAY Sports Images

An undrafted rookie free agent signed after the 2014 NFL Draft, Kerry Wynn was a pleasant surprise. Not only did he make the 53-man roster but he received significant playing time in the final month of the season and finished the year with 17 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one pass defense, and one interception. Wynn has a nice combination of size, strength, and overall athletic ability. He appears to be a smart, heady player who performed well against the run. He did not really stick out as a pass rusher and will need to improve in this area.

Paul Hazel was signed to the Practice Squad and then 53-man roster in December 2014. Hazel was originally signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars as a rookie free agent after the 2013 NFL Draft. He was claimed by the Browns after the Jaguars waived him and he played in 13 games in 2013 for Cleveland. The Texans then claimed Hazel off of waivers from the Browns in March 2014, but he did not make the team. Hazel is a tall, thin pass rusher who has spent time at linebacker.

Jordan Stanton was signed to the Practice Squad in August 2014, cut, and then added to the Practice Squad again in December 2014. Stanton was originally signed by the Giants as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2014 NFL Draft. Stanton has decent size and flashes some ability, but he did not really standout in the 2014 preseason.

Johnathan Hankins, New York Giants (December 14, 2014)

Johnathan Hankins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

Johnathan Hankins became a full-time starter in 2014, a year after he was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL Draft and playing in 11 games as a reserve. Hankins started all 16 games and finished the year with 51 tackles, seven sacks, three pass defenses, and one forced fumble. Hankins has a nice combination of size, strength, and overall athletic ability. He is a stout run defender. Hankins surprised with his ability to rush the passer both in terms of his power and agility. Hankins has the ability to become one of the NFL’s better defensive tackles.

In 2014, Cullen Jenkins was troubled by a calf injury, missed four games, and had a sub-par season, finishing with only 16 tackles and one sack in 12 games with 11 starts. Jenkins was originally signed by Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent after the 2003 NFL Draft. He did not make the team but spent time in NFL Europe and then re-signed with the Packers in 2004. Jenkins played with the Packers (2004-10) until he signed with the Eagles (2011-12). He was signed by the Giants in March 2013 after he was released by the Philadelphia Eagles. Jenkins lacks ideal size and is on the downside of his career. In his prime, he was a solid two-way defensive tackle who could play the run and rush the passer. Versatile, he has experience as a defensive tackle and defensive end in the 4-3, and as a defensive end in the 3-4.

Mike Patterson played all 16 games in 2014, starting eight, but he only finished the season with 27 tackles and no sacks or other big plays. Patterson was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2005 NFL Draft by Philadelphia, where in eight seasons he played in 115 regular-season games with 99 starts. Patterson underwent brain surgery in January 2012 to repair an arteriovenous malformation. He played in just five games in 2012 before being placed on the reserve/non-football illness list with pneumonia. Patterson was signed by the Giants in April 2013 after being cut by the Philadelphia Eagles. Patterson lacks ideal size. He is a non-factor on the pass rush and his run defense deteriorated in 2014.

Markus Kuhn, New York Giants (December 7, 2014)

Markus Kuhn – © USA TODAY Sports Images

In his third season with the Giants, Markus Kuhn saw his most playing time, playing in 14 games with one start. He finished the season with 19 tackles and one sack. Kuhn was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Giants. He suffered a torn ACL knee injury that season and began the following season on the Reserve/Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) List before being activated to the 53-man roster in November. Kuhn was born in Germany and was only a one-year starter in college. Kuhn has good size and he is a hard worker, but he does not really stand out as either a run defender or pass rusher.

The Giants drafted Jay Bromley in the 3rd round of the 2014 NFL Draft. While active for eight games, he did not see a lot of snaps and only finished the season with five tackles and no sacks. Bromley combines decent size and strength with good athletic ability. Bromley is more of a 3-technique disruptor than 1-technique run stuffer. He needs to improve his play against the run.

Dominique Hamilton spent most of the season on the Practice Squad but was signed to the 53-man roster twice in December 2014. Hamilton originally signed with the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2012 NFL Draft. The Raiders cut him and he was on NFL practice squads in 2012 (Redskins) and 2013 (Redskins and Chiefs). The Chiefs waived him in August 2014 and the Giants signed him to the Practice Squad in September. Hamilton looks the part with excellent size and long arms. He’s not overly quick or agile. Hamilton is a better run defender than pass rusher.

Feb 052015
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Largely lost in the disappointing 6-10 season and the Odell Beckham hype was the fact that New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning experienced a renaissance in 2014. Approaching his mid-30’s and coming off arguably his worst season in the NFL in 2013, Manning rebounded with one of his best seasons in 2014. Indeed, had it not been for a dreadful 5-interception game against the San Francisco 49ers in November, Manning would have thrown only eight picks all season – his lowest ever in the NFL. His success was even more impressive when you consider he was coming off April ankle surgery, had a new offensive coordinator and position coach, was introduced to a radically-different offensive system, and lost his security blanket Victor Cruz early in campaign. Before the season, many said Manning was washed up and the team should move on. By season’s end, those thoughts had largely disappeared. Of all of the Giants’ personnel problems, the quarterback position is not one of them.

It originally looked like Ryan Nassib was going to have an up-hill fight for the #2 quarterback spot as the Giants had re-signed 2013 #2 quarterback Curtis Painter and had added quarterbacks Josh Freeman and Rusty Smith in free agency. But Freeman and Smith didn’t even make it to training camp, and Nassib clearly out-performed Painter in the preseason, completing 44-of-74 passes for 588 yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions (107.3 quarterback rating). Nassib not only earned the promotion to the #2 spot, but the team was comfortable enough with him to cut Painter and only go with two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (November 3, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Eli Manning rebounded from arguably his worst season in 2013 with one of his best seasons in 2014 under a new offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, and West Coast Offense-based system. The latter required him to reprogram his footwork and become accustomed to new route depths run by his receivers. Despite a year-long learning curve, Manning finished the season with 4,410 yards (second-highest total in his career and in franchise history), 30 touchdowns (one shy of his career-high in 2011), and 14 interceptions (13 fewer than he threw in 2013). Manning’s completion percentage (63.1) was a career-high. His passer rating of 92.1 was the second-highest of highest of his career (93.1 in 2009). And all of this despite the fact that Manning played behind a sub par offensive line that allowed 28 sacks and only generated 3.6 yards per carry (tied for 28th in the NFL). Manning was the first player selected in the 2004 NFL Draft and immediately traded to the Giants by the Chargers. The 34-year old Manning owns practically every quarterback record in franchise history. He is 8-3 as a playoff quarterback and a two-time Super Bowl MVP. His best season was 2011 when he carried the Giants to the playoffs, highlighted by seven come-from-behind victories on a team with a poor regular-season defense (27th in the NFL) and running game (32nd in the NFL).

Manning has excellent size and a strong arm. He is extremely tough and has never missed a game in 11 seasons. He only has a 59 percent career completion percentage though that figure should improve with the offensive emphasis shifting from a down-field, vertical attack to the West Coast system. Manning excels in the mental aspects of the game. He has the perfect temperament for playing in the New York metropolitan area as the intense media spotlight does not seem to faze him. He is very smart and hard-working. Manning reads opposing defenses extremely well. The coaching staff trusts him to make complicated pre-snap reads for both the running and passing games. On the negative side, Manning is still guilty of making the ill-advised, head-scratching throw when the smarter decision would be to throw the football away or take the sack. His gun-slinger mentality also causes him to make some risky throws in tight windows. A true pocket passer, Manning is not a threat to harm a defense with his feet. Manning was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2008 and 2011, and played in the game in 2012 as a second alternate. When Manning is on his game, he is one of the most clutch performers in the NFL.

Ryan Nassib, New York Giants (August 3, 2014)

Ryan Nassib – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Ryan Nassib was drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. He made the team as the #3 quarterback that year but was never active on game day and did not play. In 2014, Nassib played well in the preseason and became the #2 and only other quarterback behind Eli Manning. He saw limited time at the close of four games, completing 4-of-5 passing attempts for 60 yards in a blowout loss to the Eagles. Nassib has average height and mobility, but he is a mentally and physically tough, well-built quarterback with a good arm. He is very smart and played in two pro style offenses in college. At the college level Nassib was a team leader and clutch player who had a history of winning games late.

Feb 032015
 
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Andre Williams, New York Giants (October 19, 2014)

Andre Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

2014 was a major transition year for the New York Giants at the  running back position. The two backs most-associated with the team’s recent Super Bowl seasons – Brandon Jacobs (2005-11, 2013) and Ahmad Bradshaw (2007-12) – were both completely out of the picture. Heading into training camp, it was anticipated that free agent acquisition Rashad Jennings, 2012 first-round draft pick David Wilson, and 2014 fourth-round draft pick Andre Williams would form the core of the new running attack. However, Wilson’s NFL career prematurely ended when he re-aggravated a neck injury he originally suffered in the 2013 season. He was forced to retire from the NFL in training camp. It was a major blow for the Giants as not only was Wilson particularly well-suited for Ben McAdoo’s West Coast Offense, but he was one of the few home-run hitters on the team and a dynamic kickoff returner.

Without Wilson, the Giants were largely a between-the-tackles and off-tackle team that was unable to consistently threaten the perimeter of the defense. With a re-vamped offensive line that was not very physical and often struggled to move defenders off of the line of scrimmage, the running backs did not have much room to operate. Exacerbating the situation was the fact that Jennings was limited to nine starts due to knee and ankle injuries. Reserves Peyton Hillis and Michael Cox also ended up on Injured Reserve in November.

At fullback, Henry Hynoski beat out John Conner in training camp and the preseason. However, the fullback position was de-emphasized in McAdoo’s system in favor of multiple tight end sets.

In the end, the Giants were tied for 28th in the NFL with only 3.6 yards per rushing attempt and 23rd in the NFL with 100.2 rushing yards per game. The team was tied for 12th in rushing touchdowns with 13. For a team that was 10th in the NFL in rushing attempts, these figures simply were not good enough.

Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

THE HALFBACKS

The Giants signed Rashad Jennings as an unrestricted free agent from the Oakland Raiders in March 2014. Anointed the starting running back, Jennings was limited to 11 games with nine starts due to knee and ankle injuries. He finished the season with 639 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 167 carries (3.8 yards per carry) and 226 receiving yards on 30 receptions (7.5 yards per catch). Jennings was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He signed with the Raiders in 2013. Jennings is a big, physical, no-nonsense, north-south runner who does his best work between-the-tackles or off tackle. He is solid pass blocker and has good hands as a receiver. Jennings only has lost two fumbles in his career. He is a hard worker and a good presence in the locker room.

The Giants drafted Andre Williams in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Williams began the season as the #2 back behind Rashad Jennings, playing in all 16 games with seven starts. He finished the season with 721 yards and seven touchdowns on 217 carries (3.3 yards per carry). He also caught 18 passes for 130 yards (7.2 yards per catch). Williams is a big, powerful, north-south runner with decent speed. He is not terribly quick or elusive, and does not present much of a threat as an outside runner. Williams seemed less instinctive running the ball at the pro level his rookie season than he did in college. Smart. Williams improved as a pass protector as the season progressed. He’s not a natural pass receiver, but he works at it.

Daniel Fells and Adrien Robinson, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Peyton Hillis – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Peyton Hillis was placed on Injured Reserve in November 2014 with a concussion, his second in two seasons. Hillis played in nine games in 2014 as the #3 back and finished the season with 26 carries for 115 yards and 10 receptions for 87 yards. Hillis was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. He has since played with the Browns (2010-11), Chiefs (2012), and Buccaneers (2013). Tampa Bay waived him in September 2013 and the Giants signed him the following month. With the Giants in 2013, Hillis carried the ball 73 times for 247 yards and caught 13 passes for 96 yards. Hillis’ best season was in 2010 when he rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Browns and caught 61 passes for 477 yards and two touchdowns. Hillis is a big back and a decent athlete for his size. He’s a tough, physical runner between the tackles and has very good hands in the passing game. He is not quick, elusive, or fast and thus does not present an outside running threat. Ball security (15 career fumbles) and durability have been issues.

Michael Cox was placed on Injured Reserve in November 2014 with a fractured lower leg. He was on the Practice Squad of the team until October. Cox played in four games and finished the season with four carries, two catches, and 11 kickoff returns. Cox was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. In 2013, he played in 14 games as a rookie with one start. But he only carried the football 22 times for 43 yards (2.0 yards per carry) and caught the ball three times for 12 yards. Most of his work came on special teams where he returned 20 kickoffs for a 21.8 yards-per-return average. Cox is a big, strong back with decent speed and elusiveness. He catches the ball well, but needs to work on his pass protection.

Orleans Darkwa, New York Giants (December 21, 2014)

Orleans Darkwa – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The Giants signed Orleans Darkwa off of the Practice Squad of the Miami Dolphins in November 2014. He played in seven games with the Giants, mostly on special teams, but he did carry the ball five times for 21 yards and one touchdown as well as catching two passes for 17 yards. Darkwa was originally signed by the Dolphins as a rookie free agent after the 2014 NFL Draft. He played in four games in September before being waived in October and signed to the team’s Practice Squad. Darkwa has average size and overall athletic ability, but he is a steady, hard-working football player with good intangibles.

Chris Ogbonnaya was signed to the 53-man roster in December 2014. Ogbonnaya was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. Since then he has played for the Rams (2009), Texans (2011), Browns (2011-13), and Panthers (2014). Ogbonnaya has played in 51 games with 12 starts and has carried the ball 158 times for 710 yards and two touchdowns. He also has 96 catches for 714 yards and two touchdowns. Ogbonnaya is a big back with good speed. He has good hands catching the ball.

Henry Hynoski, New York Giants (December 7, 2014)

Henry Hynoski – © USA TODAY Sports Images

THE FULLBACKS

Henry Hynoski played in all 16 games in 2014, with four starts. Although he saw his playing time reduced in the new West Coast system, Hynoski actually had a career-high seven carries for 13 yards as the Giants used him more as a short-yardage runner. However, 2014 was the first season he did not catch a pass. That all said, the strength of Hynoski’s game is still his run blocking. Hynoski originally signed with the Giants as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2011 NFL Draft. Hynoski missed virtually all of 2013 with knee and shoulder injuries. A bit of a throwback, Hynoski is a big, physical player. He is not overly athletic as he lacks speed and agility.

The Giants signed Nikita Whitlock to the Practice Squad in December 2014. Whitlock, who played defensive tackle in college, was originally signed by the Cincinnati Bengals as a rookie free agent after the 2014 NFL Draft. He was cut by the Bengals in their final round of cuts and then signed by the Dallas Cowboys to their Practice Squad. The NFL suspended Whitlock in November for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and the Cowboys terminated his Practice Squad contract. Whitlock was converted to fullback by the Bengals and he flashed in the preseason as a lead blocker with good size.

Jan 312015
 
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Andre Williams, New York Giants (October 19, 2014)

Andre Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

by Brendan Cassidy and Eric J. for BigBlueInteractive.com

While the wide receiver and quarterback positions were bright spots for the Giants in 2014, the same couldn’t be said for the running back position, and to some extent, tight ends. Going into the 2015 NFL Draft, these are both prime positions to be considered in rounds two through four (there most likely isn’t a player at either position deserving of the 9th overall selection.) Some players who we like that Big Blue could potentially take include: TE Max Williams out of Minnesota, TE Clive Walford and RB Duke Johnson from the University of Miami, and Todd Gurley out of Georgia. All of these players would have an opportunity to make an immediate impact and dethrone the current starters.

The biggest crutch for the running game seemed to be the offensive line. While both Jennings and Williams are talented, it proved difficult to find holes to run through. If the offensive line is improved via the draft and/or free agency, we can expect their production to go up next season. As mentioned earlier, don’t be surprised if a rookie back gets added to the mix for the upcoming season. The tight end position flashed during the season, but failed to have the consistency needed throughout the season. Regardless, here is a very early look at how the positions will stack up in 2015.

Running Backs:

Running back for the most part was a two-man show, with newly signed free agent running back Rashad Jennings and rookie Andre Williams. Jennings was coming off a career year with the Raiders where he ran for 733 yards, good for a respectable 4.5 YPC. The Giants liked what they saw and signed him to a 4-year, $10 million dollar contract. Andre Williams was a 4th-round pick of the Giants out of Boston College, fresh off a Heisman Trophy-nominated season. Williams lead college running backs with 2,177 rushing yards during the 2013 college season; however his lack of quickness, shortcomings in the receiving game, and trouble blocking caused him to slip in the draft.

Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (November 23, 2014)

Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Trying to determine which Giant’s RB to draft for your fantasy lineup at this point is very difficult. When both are healthy, it seems that Jennings would get more touches. If you are in a PPR league, Jennings has more value as Williams is known for his lack of prowess in the passing game. However, Williams has seen quite a bit of action at the goal line and the Giants may begin to shift some of the goal line work over to him. This may be contingent on whether or not he shows he is capable of picking up the blocking assignments. If you throw in the uncertainty of how the offensive line will shape up, the running game is very muddled for 2015.

It was clear the Giants struggled to run the ball as they finished 23rd in the league, with an average of 100.2 yards per game while finishing 10th in rushing attempts. Connect the dots and you have a very low yard-per-attempt average. Only the Chargers and the Cardinals had a lower average. Here is the bright spot: the Giants finished 12th in rushing TD’s, and that means fantasy points. Furthermore, another positive for the Giants RBs is that Coughlin likes to run the ball, and insists on having balance on offense. So, how do we rank the Giants RB’s for fantasy in the upcoming season? First, we must recognize that this is a split backfield, so they need to be ranked behind the twelve or so three-down backs in the NFL. If the Giants improve their offensive line, there is no reason why they cannot finish around 14th in team rushing with Rashad Jennings edging out Andre Williams in fantasy production.

Rashad Jennings Projections:

  • 900 Yards, 8 Touchdowns
  • 40 Receptions, 300 Yards
  • Fantasy Football RB Rank: 15th Overall

Analysis: Jennings appeared to be more effective than Williams when healthy. It looks to be his job to lose. He ran with power and vision and was trusted to protect Eli. Therefore, he should edge out Williams this year in terms of production. When healthy, Jennings proved to be a stellar fantasy running back. In the nine games he played (not counting the Tennessee and Washington games where he totaled three carries and was a decoy), he averaged 15.5 points per game in PPR format. That was good for 9th best in the NFL ahead of some of the elite running backs. As noted earlier, the biggest issue for him will be his health. If healthy, he is a solid RB2 with upside. He should be owned in all formats.

Andre Williams Projections:

  • 750 Yards, 8 Touchdowns
  • 15 Receptions, 100 Yards
  • Fantasy Football RB Rank: 21st Overall

Analysis: For a rookie, Andre did well in filling in as the starter for Jennings. He will continue to mature and learn the position and his blocking assignments. The Giants will begin to trust him more as his second season progresses. He is a solid runner who will be a reliable player for the next few years. He needs to use this season to develop his pass catching abilities and field vision. He can be looked at as a low end RB2 or flex option in 12 team leagues. If Jennings fails to stay healthy, look for William’s value to get a major boost. He should be owned in most if not all formats, but look to grab him in the later rounds.

Larry Donnell, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Larry Donnell – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Tight Ends:

Going into the 2014 season, the majority of fans were worried about the tight end position. Many on BBI expected the Giants to address the position through the draft with a premium pick. There was a strong backing for Eric Ebron out of North Carolina who went 10th overall to the Lions, two picks earlier than Odell Beckham. Going into the season the Giants entered with a bunch of “unknowns” at the position: Larry Donnell, Daniel Fells, and “The JPP of tight ends” Adrien Robinson. While Fells excelled at run blocking, Donnell did the majority of the damage in the receiving game.

Donnell burst onto the scene week 4 against the Washington Redskins, catching 7 passes for 54 yards and 3 touchdowns, all career highs. While many had high hopes for him following this performance, he would struggle for the majority of the season going forward. He finished the season with 63 catches for 623 yards and 6 touchdowns. This was good for the 12th most points among tight ends in PPR leagues with 157.3 points. While this was solid fantasy production for Donnell, from a football standpoint he was plagued by poorly timed drops and fumbles. It appeared that Eli and the coaching staff began to lose confidence in him as the season went on. The last six weeks of the season Donnell was held out of the end zone, while averaging a measly 31 yards per game. From a fantasy football perspective, Donnell was the more valuable tight end; however, one could argue Fells was the more effective tight end for the Giants in 2014.

Larry Donnell Projections:

  • 61 Catches, 560 Yards, 4 Touchdowns
  • Fantasy Football TE Rank: 15th Overall

Analysis: We believe the coaching staff will give Fells more of an active role in the offense, leading to a slight drop in Donnell’s production for 2015. If you take away his three-touchdown game against the Redskins, he only had three touchdowns the rest of the season. His production could drop even more if the Giants do decide to invest a premium pick at the position in April. He will most likely be looked at as a high-end back up or bye-week filler in twelve-team leagues.

Daniel Fells, New York Giants (October 19, 2014)

Daniel Fells – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Daniel Fells Projections:

  • 26 Catches, 282 Yards, 3 Touchdowns
  • Fantasy Football TE Rank: 45th Overall

Analysis: From a fantasy football perspective, it is hard to expect much from Fells. As mentioned earlier, his bread and butter is blocking, that’s what earns him a spot on the roster. We do, however, expect his numbers to go up slightly from this past season (16 catches, 188 yards, 4 TDs), as he earns more playing time at the expense of Donnell. Nonetheless, aside from a Donnell injury, he has little to no fantasy value.

These positions will be looking to rebound in the second year of Ben McAdoo’s offense. If the offensive line is improved, the running game will surely benefit. If Donnell can increase his football IQ, he has a shot at being a TE1 going into the season. We can only hope they will continue to grow as players and increase their value for the Giants and fantasy owners alike.

Brendan Cassidy has over 15 years of experience in fantasy football in both league and daily fantasy formats and is an avid New York Giants fan.

Eric J. was born into a Giants family and is a lifelong season ticket holder.  He has dominated his fantasy leagues for the past 14 years.

Jan 282015
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (November 23, 2014)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

by Brendan Cassidy for BigBlueInteractive.com

The 2014 season was a trying one for the New York Giants.  After one of the busiest offseasons in franchise history, with high turnover at key positions, many were expecting big things from the Boys in Blue.  However, that was not to be, in large thanks to a restructured offensive line and a subpar defense that struggled to get a stop whenever it needed one.  The Giants finished a disappointing 6-10.

Despite all the letdowns from the 2014 season, there were some bright spots in this season of disappointment, the brightest being the emergence of rookie sensation Odell Beckham Jr.  In just 12 games during his rookie season, Beckham did the unthinkable: racking up 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 TDs, which were good for top 5 Fantasy Football WR numbers on the season.  Another positive for this Giants squad was the progress Eli made in the West Coast System, under first year Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo.  Coming off a horrendous 2013 season (3,818 yards, 18 TDS, 27 INT), Eli was able to bounce back and have arguably the most productive year of his career throwing for 4,410 yards with 30 touchdowns to go with only 14 interceptions.  The progress he made throughout the year is definitely encouraging.   I am hopeful he will continue to improve especially if the offensive line problems are addressed this upcoming offseason.  Possibly the biggest spark would be Victor Cruz returning to his old form.  While this is a big “if”, Giants fans have to be drooling at the potential this offense could have in 2015.

While the 2015 season is still more than seven months away, and the Giants personnel is sure to change through the draft and free agency, here are my very early fantasy football projections for the Giants key offensive players at quarterback and wide receiver:

Eli Manning, New York Giants (December 21, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Quarterback:

Quarterback for the Giants is a one-man show, as it has been for more than a decade.  With Eli Manning entering his 12th season and second in McAdoo’s West Coast Offense, it is fair to think he will make even more progress in 2015.  Coming off a horrid 2013 season where many were even questioning Eli’s future with the Giants, Eli was able to prove all the doubters wrong.  McAdoo’s quick-paced gun-slinging offense did wonders for Eli in his first year.  Probably the most telling statistic was the fact that his interception per throw rate went from a career high 4.9% in 2013 to a very respectful 2.3% in 2014.  He finished as the 10th overall fantasy QB in 4 point passing TD leagues ahead of players such as Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, and Matthew Stafford while finishing only 3 points behind Tom Brady.

With the wonder Odell Beckham coming back for his second year, the return of Cruz (to what extent is to be seen), Rueben Randle (who really came on in the last few games last season), and an offensive threat at tight end like Larry Donnell, Eli should have plenty of weapons to come back with.  That being said, here are my projections for Eli for the 2015 season:

Eli Manning Projections:

  • Yards: 4,550, Completion Percentage: 63%, Touchdowns: 32, Interceptions 13
  • Fantasy Football QB Rank: 8th Overall

Analysis: While I think it’s fair to say Eli will never be an Elite Fantasy Football Quarterback on the level of Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, or Andrew Luck, I think he has the potential to be a serviceable mid- to low-end QB1 this season.  Assuming Cruz comes back somewhere close to what he was before his injury, he has arguably the best weapons of his career.  Look for Eli to have one of, if not the best year of his career next year.

Wide Receiver:

Wide receiver is one of, if not the strongest position on the Giants roster.  Beckham, as you all know, had one of the best rookie seasons of all time for a WR, and with Cruz coming back and Randle looking like a solid number 3, the wide receiver corps has the potential to be special.  Beckham looks to be an elite Fantasy WR next year with the potential to be the top overall WR.  If you average out his stats over 16 games this past season, it comes out to 121 catches, 1,740 yards, and 16 touchdowns.  That is 24.67 points per game in a PPR league and 17 points per game in non-PPR, edging out Antonio Brown for tops in the entire NFL, who had 24.31 in PPR and 16.12 in Non-PPR respectively.  The sky is the limit for Beckham.  Let’s just hope he can stay healthy and continue to produce at this level.

Victor Cruz, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

As for Victor Cruz, he is probably the toughest player to evaluate for next season.  So much hinges on his health and if he can return to his former self, and how the emergence of Odell Beckham as the clear-cut number 1 will affect his performance.  He has played with Hakeem Nicks while he was in his prime, so I don’t think the latter will be an issue.  More than anything, what concerns me the most is the grueling rehabilitation he is currently going through.  Returning to the player he was will be a tough task.  Before his injury, he was a borderline top 10 Fantasy WR, but now it is hard to gauge.  If he returns as a fantasy WR3, (somewhere in the range of 1,000 yards 6-8 TDS), I think Giants fans have to be thrilled.  Assuming Beckham has the year we all expect from him next year, this would be great production from the Giants top 2 WRs next season.  But we won’t really know until he steps onto the field come August.

Rueben Randle seems to be seen as a scapegoat and disappointment by many on BBI, which in some aspects is fair.  As a second round pick and looked at as polished player coming out of college and a “safe” pick, many here had high hopes for him.  He has had trouble running correct routes in the past (which led to a good amount of Eli’s interceptions in 2013) and had many poorly-timed drops when it mattered most.  However, at the end of 2014, when many had given up on him, he showed glimpses of the player he could become.  He finished the season with a very respectable 71 catches for 938 yards and 3 TDs.  Granted, part of this was aided by 132 yard and 158 yard performances the last 2 weeks of the season.  While I don’t necessarily think his catches and yards will go up in 2015, due to the return of Cruz, I do expect him to be much more polished with better route running and fewer mistakes.  Look for him to still be in the WR3/Flex conversation from a fantasy perspective.

Odell Beckham, New York Giants (December 28, 2014)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Odell Beckham Projections:

  • 118 Catches, 1660 yards, 15 Touchdowns, 120 Rushing Yards
  • Fantasy Football WR Rank: 2nd Overall

Analysis: All signs point towards a monster season for Beckham.  With these projections, he would finish with 386 points in a PPR League.  This would leave him second only to Antonio Brown’s 388 based on this year’s results.  While this is slightly less production per game than this past year, I believe with the return of Cruz this would be a phenomenal output from Beckham.  The other factor being defenses will have a full year to study tape, and focus their game plans on containing him.  He is a bona-fide first round draft pick this upcoming year especially in PPR leagues.  If you miss on one of the elite RBs, you should seriously consider nabbing him in the mid-to late-first round.

Victor Cruz Projections:

  • 64 Catches, 870 Yards, 6 Touchdowns
  • Fantasy Football WR Rank:  28th Overall

Analysis:  Coming off Cruz’s injury, I think expectations have to be tempered.  With Cruz looking to be a number 2 at best in this upcoming season, these numbers would be very respectable and great production for a second WR.  Cruz will be in the Fantasy WR3 conversation, with a bit of upside.  Definitely a value pick in later rounds of drafts if he returns anywhere near to the player he was pre-injury.  Cruz is worth consideration after the 7th round in a 10-team draft.

Rueben Randle, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Rueben Randle Projections:

  • 53 Catches, 720 Yards, 4 Touchdowns
  • Fantasy Football WR Rank: 52nd Overall

Analysis: Like I mentioned earlier, I think Randle will have his best season as a pro in 2015.  While this doesn’t necessarily mean more fantasy production with the return of Cruz as the clear number 2, I think he will prove to be a reliable number 3 and he will continue to improve as an overall player in a crucial make or break contract year.  He is probably worth a late-round flyer in deeper leagues (while knowing there is limited upside), unless Cruz gets re-injured or is completely ineffective coming back from his injury.

If a few things go the Giants way next season, look for them to have a ton of Fantasy value from the quarterback and wide receiver position.  Next week I will take a look at the Giants’ running back and tight end fantasy value going into the 2015 season.

Brendan Cassidy has over 15 year of experience in fantasy football in both league and daily fantasy formats and is an avid New York Giants fan.

Jan 272015
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (May 8, 2014)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Perhaps the two biggest story lines of the 2014 season for the New York Giants were at the wide receiver position. First came the devastating knee injury to Victor Cruz in the game against the Philadelphia Eagles on October 5. Cruz was lost for the final 11 games of the season and it remains to be seen if he will ever return to his pre-injury form.

“It is a significant injury that he has,” said General Manager Jerry Reese after the season. “You never know how he is going to come back from that. We are hoping that he is definitely going to come back and be the Victor Cruz that we know. You never know with the significant injury he had. We are hopeful that he will come back and be the Victor Cruz that we like, but you never know.”

The other major story line was the rapid emergence of Odell Beckham as an NFL superstar. The irony is that Cruz and Beckham only played one game together in 2014, and that was the game Cruz got injured. Beckham had one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history, and he did so in only 12 games, and playing with significant hamstring tears. Indeed, Beckham became the only reason many Giants fans looked forward to tuning in in what otherwise was a very disappointing 6-10 season. Right or wrong, his performance may also have saved Tom Coughlin’s job as one wonders what the Giants’ record would have been without him.

Aside from these two headliners, while Rueben Randle came on strong late, he did not have the type of season expected or hoped for, and the former 2nd rounder remains frustratingly inconsistent. Jerrel Jernigan, who came on very strong at the end of the 2013 NFL season, reverted back to his old disappointing form and was placed on IR after only two games. Preston Parker not only surprisingly made the team but became the new #3 receiver after Cruz was lost. Corey Washington was a preseason star who was little-used once the real bullets started flying.

In the end, it was Beckham and not much else at the crucial wide receiver spot. Other teams knew that too and still could not stop Beckham.

THE HEADLINERS

Despite missing virtually all of training camp, the entire preseason, and the first four games of the regular season with hamstring tears, Odell Beckham, Jr. had one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history in 2014. Beckham finished the season with 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns, all franchise rookie records. He also set a franchise record and NFL rookie record averaging 108.8 yards per game. Beckham set NFL records for most catches and yards in the first 12 games to start a career and tied an NFL record for with at least 90 receiving yards in nine consecutive games. He was voted first-alternate to the Pro Bowl and played in the game. He was also voted Pro Football Writers of America “Rookie of the Year.” Beckham was drafted in the 1st round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Giants. While Beckham lacks classic size, his long arms, big hands, and jumping ability give him a very good catch radius. Beckham is a tremendous athlete with excellent speed, quickness, and agility. Explosive. For such a young player, he can already play multiple positions and runs good routes. Beckham is very quick out of his breaks, adjusts exceptionally well to the football, and regularly makes the circus catch. He is dangerous with the football in his hand after the catch. Competitive, smart, and hard working. Beckham also was a very dangerous return man in college. He averaged 8.1 yards per punt return with the Giants in 2014.

Victor Cruz, New York Giants (October 12, 2014)

Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Victor Cruz was placed on Injured Reserve after tearing the patella tendon in his right knee in October 2014 and it remains to be seen if Cruz can completely regain his pre-injury physical ability. Cruz finished the 2014 season with 23 catches for 337 yards and one touchdown in six starts. Signed as a rookie free agent after the 2010 NFL Draft, the rags-to-riches Victor Cruz story is well known, culminating with his impact season in 2011, first Pro Bowl in 2012, and big offseason contract in 2013. In 2011-2012, he compiled 168 catches for 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns. However, in 2013 Cruz had his least productive season since becoming a starter in 2011. He also missed the last two games of the 2013 season with concussion and knee injuries – the left knee requiring arthroscopic surgery. Cruz has ordinary size and timed speed. However, he has very good quickness and plays faster than he times. Cruz reads coverages well, runs good routes, and has a good understanding of how to get open against both zone and man coverage. Cruz has good hands and is capable of making the circus catch, though he sometimes will drop the easy reception. He is elusive after the catch and usually isn’t caught from behind. Cruz is a hard worker. He can play outside, but has really developed into one of the NFL’s better slot receivers.

THE OTHERS

Rueben Randle, New York Giants (December 14, 2014)

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Rueben Randle, a 2nd round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, remains an inconsistent performer. But he had his best season in 2014, catching 71 passes for 938 yards and three touchdowns. He played in all 16 games with 13 starts with his two best games coming at the end of the season. Randle was benched for the first quarter of two games for disciplinary reasons. Randle has a nice combination of size and athletic ability, and he has flashed play-making skills as a vertical receiver. While Randle is not a burner, he is fluid and smooth with good foot quickness and acceleration for a big receiver. He needs to improve his ability to read defenses and improve his route-running. Randle adjusts well to the football in the air and has good hands. Most of all, he needs to become a more consistently reliable performer so his quarterback can trust him. Randle can also return punts, averaging 7.8 yards per return in 2012-13.

Preston Parker, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Preston Parker – © USA TODAY Sports Images

An afterthought by many when the Giants signed him to a reserve/future contract in January 2014, Preston Parker became the team’s primary slot receiver after Victor Cruz was lost for the season. Parker played in all 16 games with seven starts. He finished 2014 with 36 catches for 418 yards and two touchdowns. Parker was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2010 NFL Draft. The Buccaneers waived him in September 2012. He was with the Saints in training camp in 2013 but he did not play that season. While Parker lacks ideal size and speed, he is a decent athlete with good quickness and hands. Parker needs to be a more consistent performer. He returned both punts (6.6 yard average) and kickoffs (24.2 yard average) for the Giants in 2014.

The Giants signed Kevin Ogletree in October 2014. He played in seven games, but only caught five passes for 50 yards. Ogletree was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Dallas Cowboys after the 2009 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Cowboys (2009-12), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2013), and Detroit Lions (2013-14). The Lions waived Olgetree in September. In six NFL season, Olgetree has played in 69 games with four starts. He has 83 career receptions for 1,049 yards and six touchdowns – two of which he scored against the Giants in the 2012 opener as a Cowboy. Ogletree has decent size, athletic ability, and hands.

Corey Washington, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Corey Washington – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The Giants claimed Corey Washington off of waivers from the Arizona Cardinals in May 2014. He was a preseason standout for the Giants, catching 10 passes for 155 yards and four touchdowns. While he played in 14 games in 2014, he seldom saw the field and finished the year with five catches for 52 yards and a touchdown. Washington originally signed with the Cardinals as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2014 NFL Draft. Washington played at Division-II Newberry College. Washington combines excellent size, overall athleticism, and speed. However, given his small-school background, he is very raw and needs a lot of development.

Jerrel Jernigan was placed on Injured Reserve in September 2014 with a mid-foot sprain. He played in two games and finished the season with only one catch for six yards. Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Giants, Jernigan had a coming out party late in the 2013 season. In his first two years with the Giants, Jernigan played in 17 games and had a grand total of three catches for 22 yards. Through Week 14 of 2013, Jernigan had “amassed” 10 catches for 92 yards. Then in Weeks 15-17, Jernigan exploded with 19 catches for 237 yards and two touchdowns in addition to carrying the ball twice for 57 yards and a touchdown. However, Jernigan did not really flash during the 2014 training camp or preseason. Jernigan lacks size, but he is a quick, fluid athlete with good speed. He is better suited to the slot position than outside. Jernigan also returns kickoffs, averaging 23.4 yards per return in his first three seasons on 21 returns.

Marcus Harris was placed on Injured Reserve in August 2014 with a hip injury that required surgery on his labrum. Harris was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Detroit Lions after the 2011 NFL Draft. He spent time on Detroit’s Practice Squad in 2011, but the Lions waived him in July 2012. The Titans signed him in August 2012 but waived him a few weeks later. Before the NFL season started in 2013, Harris played in the Arena League caught 94 passes for 1,223 yards and 19 touchdowns. The Giants signed Harris as a street free agent in August 2013 and he spent most of the season on the team’s Practice Squad. Harris has a decent size-speed combination. He flashed with the Giants during training camp and the preseason in 2014, even earning time with the first-team offense, before being played on Injured Reserve.

Julian Talley was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Giants after the 2012 NFL Draft. He did not make the team, but the Giants brought him back for another go in 2013 and 2014. Talley spent most of the 2013 and 2014 seasons on the team’s Practice Squad, although he did play in two games each season. He does not yet have an NFL catch. Talley is a tall, thin receiver with good overall athletic ability. He lacks ideal speed, but is smooth and fluid with decent hands.

Juron Criner was signed to the Practice Squad in September 2014. Criner was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders waived him on August 26. In 13 games with the Raiders, Criner has caught 19 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown. He is a big receiver with good overall athleticism, but he needs to develop better technique and consistency.

Chris Harper was signed to the Practice Squad in October 2014. Harper was originally drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Harper did not make the team but spent time with the 49ers (2013) and Packers (2013-14). Harper played in four games with the Packers in 2013 and was cut by the team in August. Harper has a nice combination of size and athletic ability. He is a tough, physical receiver with good speed and hands.

Jan 212015
 
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Larry Donnell, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Larry Donnell led Giants tight ends with 63 catches – © USA TODAY Sports Images

As the New York Giants entered training camp in July 2014, the tight end position appeared to be a pending disaster. The Giants had parted ways with the disappointing Brandon Myers and jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none Bear Pascoe. The only returning players were Larry Donnell (16 games, 3 catches in his two NFL seasons) and Adrien Robinson (3 games, no catches in his two seasons), both of whom had demonstrated very little to date. The Giants had only added Kellen Davis (unrestricted free agent from the Seahawks), Daniel Fells (who was out of football in 2013), and Xavier Grimble (undrafted rookie free agent). Late in training camp, the Giants also signed Jerome Cunningham (who was out of football in 2013).

The only tight ends drafted by the Giants in recent years were the disappointing Travis Beckham (2009 3rd round pick) and Robinson (2012 4th round pick). In free agency, the Giants let Kevin Boss walk in 2012 most likely due to a combination of salary cap and concussion concerns. His replacement Martellus Bennett was a good addition, but he departed in free agency the following offseason in 2013. Bennett’s replacement, Brandon Myers, was clearly a free agent mistake.

Exacerbating the legitimate concern about the lack of headline talent was the adoption by the Giants of new offensive system that would feature the tight end position. In a West Coast Offense, the tight end is a critically important component as a pass receiver. Mini-camp, OTA, and training camp reports confirmed that new Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo’s system would not only rely heavily on the tight end, but often employ two- and three-tight end formations. The fullback position was marginalized. And rather than use more three- and four-wide receiver sets, the multiple tight end packages were more prominent. It began took as if McAdoo would not adapt his system to the strengths and weaknesses of the given roster.

So pessimistic were many fans about the prospects for Donnell, Fells, and Robinson that they had penciled in Davis and Grimble as the two most likely to make the team. However, by late August, Davis and Grimble had been cut. Cunningham was cut too but then signed to the Practice Squad. Larry Donnell had won the starting tight end position, followed by #2 tight end Daniel Fells, and #3 tight end Adrien Robinson.

Overall, while the tight end was not a position of strength on the 2014 New York Giants, it certainly was not the mess many had expected. Donnell had a breakout year as a receiver. He finished tied for 9th in the NFL among tight ends in terms of catches (63), 13th in terms of yards (623), and tied for 7th in terms of touchdowns (6). Blocking was not a strength of his game, but Donnell appears to be an ascending player with enough physical talent to get better. Fells proved to be less dynamic, but was more reliable as a blocker. And he did chip in with four touchdowns. Robinson remained buried in last place on the depth chart, but at least he finally saw some playing time and caught his first NFL touchdown.

THE PLAYERS

Larry Donnell went from a little-known player to the team’s primary tight end in 2014, playing in all 16 games with 12 starts. Donnell finished the season with 63 catches for 623 yards and six touchdowns. Donnell originally went undrafted and unsigned in 2011. The Giants signed him as a street free agent in March 2012 and Donnell spent 2012 on the team’s Practice Squad. Donnell made the 53-man roster in 2013 and was active for all 16 games, starting one contest. He finished the season with only three catches for 31 yards. Donnell combines very good size and overall athleticism. A very raw player when he came to the Giants, Donnell is still a work in progress. In the passing game, Donnell is a big target, adjusts well for the football, and is capable of making the circus catch. He needs to do a better job of holding onto the football (four fumbles in 2014) and gaining yards after the catch. While Donnell gives a good effort, he still has a lot of work to do to improve as a blocker.

Daniel Fells was the #2 tight end for the Giants in 2014. He played in all 16 games with nine starts and finished the season with 16 catches for 188 yards and four touchdowns. Fells was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Atlanta Falcons after the 2006 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Falcons, Raiders, Buccaneers, Rams, Broncos, and Patriots. The Giants signed Fells to a reserve/future contract in January 2014. Fells has good size and average athletic ability. He is a decent blocker. He does not really threaten defenses as a receiver, but he is reliable.

Adrien Robinson has not developed as hoped since being drafted in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Giants. In 2014, he was the team’s #3 tight end and played in all 16 games with one start. Robinson only caught five passes for 50 yards on one touchdown. In the previous two seasons, Robinson only played in three games and had no catches. He missed virtually all of the 2013 season with a foot injury he suffered in the preseason. Robinson has a good combination of size and athletic ability, but to date he has been unable to put it all together at the pro level as a blocker and receiver.

Jerome Cunningham was signed to the 53-man roster from the team’s Practice Squad in December 2014. Cunningham played college football at Southern Connecticut State University from 2009-2012, but he was not with an NFL team in training camp until August 2014 when the Giants signed him. He did try out with the Indianapolis Colts in May 2013 and Arizona Cardinals in May 2014, but was not signed by either team. Cunningham lacks ideal size for the position; he’s built more like an H-Back. But he is a good athlete who catches the ball well.

Jan 192015
 
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John Jerry and J.D. Walton, New York Giants (October 19, 2014)

Two Shaky Offensive Line Components – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The overall play of the New York Giants offensive line improved in 2014 from its dreadful performance in 2013 but the unit was still sub par. The Giants were tied for 28th in the NFL with only 3.6 yards per rushing attempt. Pass protection was better as the Giants gave up 30 sacks on the season, which was 9th-best in the NFL. But that figure is a bit misleading given the offense’s new emphasis on getting rid of the ball quickly (West Coast Offense) and quarterback Eli Manning’s long-established tendency to get rid of the ball quickly not take the sack, which he probably actually should do more often when under duress.

The improvement that did take place not only had to do with the individual components playing better, but the Giants had greater cohesion up front due to far fewer injuries. In 2013, the Giants used seven different starting offensive line combinations, the second-highest total in the NFL that season. In 2014, the same players started all 16 games at left tackle (Will Beatty), center (J.D. Walton), and right guard (John Jerry). Weston Richburg started 15 games at left guard and Justin Pugh started 14 games at right tackle. In 2013, not only were the Giants continually shifting players around due to an inordinate number of injuries to starters, but they were sometimes relying on third-stringers as backups were also getting injured.

That all said, it is widely-recognized that the offensive line was once again a sore spot in 2014. The Giants counted on high-priced free agent acquisition Geoff Schwartz to be a major building block, but Schwartz only played in two games due to injuries. Chris Snee, who the Giants never really counted on, retired before training camp. Overall, the line is more finesse than power, which usually is not good for any offense, but especially so for one predicated on balance and the ability to run the football.

Another issue is the poor overall depth situation. For years now, the Giants have not had quality up-and-coming reserves waiting in the wings in case the starters faltered or got hurt. Questionable free agent decisions and shoddy drafting have been the primary culprits. Most of the offensive linemen drafted in recent years have not developed, including Mitch Petrus, James Brewer, Brandon Mosley, and Eric Herman.

THE STARTERS

Will Beatty, New York Giants (October 19, 2014)

Will Beatty – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Will Beatty started all 16 games at left tackle. He rebounded from a terribly inconsistent 2013 and a fractured tibia that he suffered in the regular-season finale at the end of that year to have a mostly positive performance in 2014. Since Beatty was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Giants, Beatty has had issues staying healthy, including a broken foot in 2010, a detached retina in 2011, a back injury that caused him to miss offseason work in 2012, and the broken leg in 2013. Beatty is a big lineman with long arms and a very good athlete. When on top of his game, Beatty can mirror and slide with the best pass rushers, and is athletic enough to pull and engage defenders at the second level in the run game. However, Beatty is more of a finesse player. He does not play with a lot of strength and power and he is not a very physical or aggressive blocker. Beatty still has consistency issues.

The Giants drafted Weston Richburg, a 4-year starter at center in college, in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Most of his practice reps with the Giants came at guard in training camp and when Geoff Schwartz suffered a preseason toe injury, Richburg became the starter at left guard. He started 15 games at the position, being benched for one game in November. Richburg had an inconsistent year as a rookie as both a run and pass blocker. Richburg is a good athlete with decent size, but he needs to get bigger and stronger. He is not a mauling type of lineman, but he plays with good leverage and tenacity. Mobile and agile, Richburg, can block at the second level and pull on outside runs. He is smart, tough, and aggressive. His best position is most likely center though he is obviously versatile enough to play guard.

J.D. Walton started all 16 games at center for the Giants in 2014, but his play was sub par. Walton was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. He started 32 regular-season games in 2010 and 20011 and the first four games of 2012 until he missed the rest of the season with a severe left ankle injury that required surgery. Walton had a setback on the ankle during the following offseason and underwent a second surgery in June 2013. He missed all of training camp and the preseason and was placed on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) List. The Broncos waived him in December 2013 and Walton was then claimed off of waivers by the Redskins. The Giants signed him in March 2014. Walton has average size and athletic ability for a center. He does not generate much movement in his run blocks and can be physically overpowered by bigger, stronger linemen. Walton is a better pass protector but he is vulnerable to powerful or quicker linemen in that area as well. The strength of Walton’s game is his intelligence, scrappiness, and effort. The Giants were comfortable with him making all of the offensive line calls.

John Jerry started all 16 games at right guard for the Giants in 2014. He was a wildly inconsistent player who alternated far too much between solid and poor play. Jerry was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Dolphins where he started 45 games in his first four seasons in the NFL. The Giants signed Jerry as an unrestricted free agent in March 2014. Jerry looks the part with very good size and long arms, and he flashes both as a run and pass blocker. But he simply is not consistently reliable, technique-oriented, and physical enough blocking for both the run and the pass. Simply put, Jerry needs to work harder at keeping his opponent from making the play. He also seemed to struggle at times mentally with recognizing stunts and blitzes in pass protection.

Justin Pugh, New York Giants (October 19, 2014)

Justin Pugh – © USA TODAY Sports Images

In his second season with the Giants after being drafted in the 1st round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Justin Pugh regressed a bit and had an inconsistent season at right tackle. Sporting a brace on his left elbow, Pugh struggled in the first half of the season and then missed two games with a quadriceps injury in November. He played much better in the final four games in December. In 2013, Pugh started all 16 games at right tackle and was voted to the Pro Football Writers All-Rookie Team for his performance. Pugh doesn’t look the part as he lacks ideal size and has short arms for a tackle. But he is a good athlete who plays with fine strength, technique, and leverage. Pugh is smart, aggressive, and tenacious. Though not a mauler, he can get movement on his run blocks and he has the agility to do well in pass protection, though he needs to become more consistent in that area. He can pull and block defenders at the second level. Versatile, the Giants think he can play both tackle spots, guard, and possibly even center.

THE INJURED STARTER

In his first season with the Giants, Geoff Schwartz suffered through an injury-plagued season that saw him play in two games at right tackle because of serious toe and ankle injuries that both required surgery. He missed both the first 10 and last four games of the season, ending up on Injured Reserve in December. Schwartz was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. He has spent time with the Panthers (2008-10), Vikings (2012), and Chiefs (2013). He signed with the Giants as a free agent in March 2014. Schwartz has excellent size and can maul people as a run blocker. He is very solid in pass protection. Schwartz is versatile – he is able to play guard or right tackle.

THE RESERVES

James Brewer simply has not developed as a player since being drafted in the 4th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Giants. A year after playing in all 16 games with eight starts, Brewer only played in two games in November before being placed on injured reserve in December with a concussion. Brewer has a nice combination of size and athleticism. He can play both tackle and guard spots. However, he has not proven to be a very tough or physical lineman.

Adam Snyder was signed by the Giants in September 2014. He played in four games with one start at left guard in Week 12 before leaving that game with the knee issue that caused him to be placed on Injured Reserve in December. Snyder was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. During his career, he’s played eight seasons with the 49ers (2005-11, 2013) and one with the Arizona Cardinals (2012). Snyder is extremely versatile, having starting experience at all five offensive line positions. He has started 88 regular-season games in 10 NFL seasons. However, despite having very good size, Snyder was considered the weak link of the starting units in San Francisco and Arizona in recent years.

Brandon Mosley has not developed since he was drafted in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He missed his entire rookie season with an ankle injury. Mosley was active for 22 games the last two seasons, including nine in 2014. His only start came late in the 2013 season. Mosley has good size and athletic ability. He is also versatile, having experience at both guard and tackle. But on a weak offensive line, he has not been able to gain any serious playing time.

Dallas Reynolds was active as a reserve linemen in 15 games in 2014, but he did not start. Reynolds was originally signed by the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2009 NFL Draft. He spent time on the Eagles’ Practice Squad from 2009-11. In 2012, Reynolds played in 16 regular-season games with 14 starts. The Eagles waived him August 2013 and he was signed by the Giants in October of that year. A limited athlete with good size, Reynolds is smart and tries hard. He has experience at both center and guard, but he has struggled when called upon to play.

Eric Herman added to the 53-man roster in December 2014 from the Practice Squad, where he spent the bulk of the season. He was also suspended for the first two games of the 2014 season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Herman was drafted in the 7th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. He spent most of his rookie season on the Practice Squad until being also added to the roster in December 2013. Herman is a big, strong mauler who struggled with quickness and speed at the collegiate level. Herman needs to develop as a pass blocker in order to make it in the NFL.

Adam Gettis was signed to the 53-man roster from the Practice Squad of the Pittsburgh Steelers in December 2014. Gettis was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins. The Redskins waived Gettis in August 2014 and he was signed the Steelers’ Practice Squad in October. Gettis lacks ideal size, but he is athletic.

INJURED RESERVE

Rogers Gaines was waived/injured and then placed on Injured Reserve with a shoulder injury in August 2014. Gaines was originally signed by the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2013 NFL Draft. The Ravens waived him in August 2013. The Bears signed him to their Practice Squad in September 2013. The Giants claimed Rogers Gaines off of waivers from the Chicago Bears in May 2014. Gaines has excellent size and long arms. He is a good athlete for his size. He improved throughout the 2014 preseason at right tackle for the Giants.

Troy Kropog was placed on Injured Reserve in August 2014 with a foot injury that he suffered in training camp. Kropog was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans. The Titans waived him in September 2012 and he then spent time with the Jaguars (2012), Vikings (2012-13) and Redskins (2013). The Giants signed Kropog to a reserve/future contract in January 2014. Kropog has a decent combination of size and athleticism, and he is a hard worker. Versatile, he can play both tackle and guard. But it hasn’t come together for Kropog at the NFL level and he has never started a regular-season game.

PRACTICE SQUAD

Michael Bamiro was signed to the Practice Squad in November 2014. Bamiro was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Philadelphia Eagles after the 2013 NFL Draft. He spent the 2013 season on the Eagles’ Practice Squad before being waived in August 2014. Bamiro is a very raw player with an intriguing combiation of size (6’8”, 340 pounds) and overall athleticism.