Mar 072017
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (November 27, 2016)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The New York Giants learned two valuable lessons in 2016: (1) if done wisely, you can dramatically improve the team by spending in free agency; and (2) a team weakness can rapidly become a team strength, and unfortunately visa versa.

Last year at this time, the New York Giants entered free agency with approximately $60 million in salary cap space – the most by far in team history. The goal was to rapidly improve a defense that finished dead last in the NFL. The Giants re-signed defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (1-year, $10.5 million). Then they went out and spent big bucks on cornerback Janoris Jenkins (5-years, $62.5 million), defensive tackle Damon Harrison (5-years, $46.25 million), and defensive end Olivier Vernon (5-years, $85 million). They also gave fairly sizable short-term contracts to linebacker Keenan Robinson (1-year, $3.5 million) and cornerback/safety Leon Hall (1-year, $2 million). The results were exceptional. The Giants improved from dead last in defense to 10th in yards allowed and 2nd in scoring allowed. Pierre-Paul, Jenkins, Harrison, Vernon, and Robinson were all major factors in the dramatic turnaround. 2016 certainly rivals 2005 (linebacker Antonio Pierce, right tackle Kareem McKenzie, and wide receiver Plaxico Burress) as the franchise’s most successful free agent period to date.

But as the defense rose, the offense declined, falling from 8th in 2015 to 25th in 2016, with precipitous drops in both the passing and running games. The decline was an unpleasant surprise and the team now unfortunately has question marks at every offensive position.

A week ago, the Giants had about half as much cap space ($30 million) as they had last year. But the decision to place the Franchise Tag on Pierre-Paul has now reduced their available salary-cap space to $13 million. The situation is fluid as a renegotiated long-term deal for Pierre-Paul could improve the picture. On the other hand, if the Giants are able to re-sign defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, they will not have much operating room.

The Giants are in a bit of an uncomfortable position. This is a relatively young roster with one major exception: the starting quarterback. Eli Manning is most likely in the twilight of his career. Because of that, there is an extreme sense of urgency to put this team over the top right now. But urgency can cause decision makers to make rash, short-term decisions that end up proving costly. The Giants may feel they have to be aggressive and take some risks in free agency, but they also have to be careful. The worst-case scenario would be sacrificing medium- and long-term cap health and then finding out that Manning is already done.

QUARTERBACK: Eli Manning is under contract for three more years. But decisions need to be made in terms of his short-term back-up in 2017 as well as his long-term replacement. Ryan Nassib and Josh Johnson are both unrestricted free agents. Keith Wenning is the only other quarterback currently under contract. The Giants will probably re-sign Nassib or Johnson, and possibly draft a quarterback. If neither Nassib or Johnson are re-signed, the Giants will have to sign a veteran back-up in free agency.

RUNNING BACKS: Unless Paul Perkins is the real deal, this position is a mess. Rashad Jennings was cut. Bobby Rainey and Orleans Darkwa are both unrestricted free agents who probably should not be re-signed. George Winn, Jacob Huesman, and Daryl Virgies are most likely camp fodder. That leaves 3rd-down back Shane Vereen, who tore the same triceps muscle twice in 2016 and who has an injury-plagued history. The Giants will have to draft a running back, but they may look to add a veteran in free agency as well.

FULLBACKS: Will Johnson missed all of 2016 with a neck injury. Nikita Whitlock missed the season with a Lisfranc injury and will not be re-signed. The most important question moving forward here is does Ben McAdoo want to employ a fullback in his offense? If so, they may add another veteran in free agency to compete with Johnson.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Odell Beckham, Jr. is one of the best receivers in football. Sterling Shepard had a very solid rookie season and will remain the team’s top option at the slot receiver position. But the Giants need another viable outside threat opposite of Beckham. Victor Cruz was cut. McAdoo dramatically reduced Dwayne Harris’ playing time in 2016, and he is more of a slot receiver-type too. Journeyman Tavarres King made some noise late in the season. Roger Lewis, Jr. will be entering his second year. Darius Powe and Kevin Norwood are two bigger receivers who face an uphill climb. Much depends about how the Giants truly feel about King and Lewis. If there are doubts, this is another position where the Giants may sign a veteran in free agency.

TIGHT ENDS: This position has been a revolving door for years and the lack of a serious receiving threat has really hurt Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offensive scheme. The blocking here has also been sub-par. Second-year tight end Jerell Adams has the tools to be a decent two-way player, but does he have the mental make-up? Will Tye (re-signed) appears to be more of a role player/back-up type. Matt LaCosse (re-signed) has not been able to stay healthy. Larry Donnell will not be back. There is a major “Help Wanted” sign at this position. The Giants will undoubtedly draft a tight end. But they should also be taking a serious look at all veteran tight ends on the open market in free agency.

OFFENSIVE LINE: The Giants are comfortable with their left guard and center. The big questions here are do they want to move Ereck Flowers from left tackle to another position, and if so where? And do the Giants see Bobby Hart as a legitimate starter at either right tackle or right guard? How the Giants brain trust answers these questions will determine their strategy in free agency and the draft. The bad news is that good left tackles either entering their prime or in their prime rarely hit the open market. So the Giants will have to gamble on an inconsistent player or an aging veteran if they want to move Flowers. The Giants are not likely to re-sign Will Beatty. But they may decide to re-sign John Jerry at right guard and Marshall Newhouse as a reserve, swing tackle.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Assuming the Giants and Jason Pierre-Paul eventually agree on a deal, the big question mark is can the Giants re-sign Johnathan Hankins? If the Giants re-sign both, the team is in good shape on the defensive line. The dilemma with JPP is that he is seeking a big, multi-year contract and he’s a guy who has had trouble staying on the field in recent years. One also wonders about his focus once he signs a big contract. That said, JPP is clearly one of the best defensive ends available in free agency. The Damon Harrison-Johnathan Hankins combo inside was a big reason why the Giants defense improved so dramatically. But the Giants have had a history in recent years of letting quality tackles go in their prime (Barry Cofield, Linval Joseph) and replacing them through the draft. If Hankins departs, unless the Giants are high on Jay Bromley or Robert Thomas (re-signed), then the Giants will have to draft his replacement and/or sign another veteran free agent.

LINEBACKERS: There are no headliners at this position on the Giants. The team probably would like to re-sign Keenan Robinson if his contract demands are reasonable. Robinson had a good initial season with the Giants, but has an injury-plagued history. The team may not make much an effort to re-sign Kelvin Sheppard or Mark Herzlich. The surprise is that the Giants have not cut J.T. Thomas ($4 million cap hit) yet. Look for the Giants to sign one or two cheap veteran linebackers, especially if Robinson and Sheppard leave.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: The Giants are in great shape at cornerback with Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (JPP). But depth is a bit of a concern. Coty Sensabaugh and Trevin Wade are unrestricted free agents. That leaves Michael Hunter and Donte Deayon. The Giants will need to re-sign someone or add additional bodies in free agency and/or the draft. The Giants are set at strong safety with All-Pro Landon Collins. But free safety is a question mark. Darian Thompson (Lisfranc) and Mykkele Thompson (knee) are coming off of serious injuries. Nat Berhe can’t stay healthy and Andrew Adams, Rahim Moore, Eric Pinkins, and Ryan Murphy are guys you don’t want starting. Much depends on the health prognosis for Darian Thompson. Aging veteran and unrestricted free agent Leon Hall could be a short-term option as well.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter Brad Wing and long snapper Zak DeOssie (re-signed) are under contract. Dwayne Harris ($3.8 salary cap hit) is the returner unless the Giants release him for space. But the team has a major question mark at place kicker. 35-year old Robbie Gould is an unrestricted free agent. The Giants will need a veteran to compete with Aldrick Rosas.

SUMMARY: Much of the media and fan focus will be on upgrading the offense this offseason. The Giants may need new veteran starters at running back, wide receiver, tight end, and one or two spots on the offensive line. They also need to settle on a back-up quarterback. The defense looks to be in better shape IF the team is able to re-sign Pierre-Paul and Hankins. But in doing so, much of their available salary cap space will evaporate quickly. Other than these two, the main question marks are whether to re-sign or replace Keenan Robinson and what to do at free safety. The team also needs a place kicker.

Free Agent Wish List:

  • Second-string quarterback (Ryan Nassib, Josh Johnson, or another veteran)
  • Running back who can compete for the starting job
  • Fullback who can compete with Will Johnson
  • Wide receiver who can compete for starting outside position
  • Tight end who can compete for starting job
  • Offensive tackle who can compete for starting job
  • Re-sign or replace John Jerry
  • Re-sign or replace Johnathan Hankins
  • Re-sign or replace Keenan Robinson
  • Re-sign or replace Kelvin Sheppard
  • Re-sign or replace Trevin Wade
  • Re-sign or replace Coty Sensabaugh
  • Free safety who can compete with Darian Thompson
  • Re-sign or replace Robbie Gould

The Giants will not be able to address all of these needs in free agency. Some will have to be handled via the draft. But there is much work to be done in order to get this team to the next level.

Feb 172017
 
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Landon Collins, New York Giants (October 23, 2016)

Landon Collins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The biggest reasons for the New York Giants defense’s dramatic improvement in 2016 was the improved play of the (1) defensive line and (2) defensive backs. The Giants defense went from dead last in 2015 to tenth in yardage allowed and second in scoring allowed in 2016. And while the team’s 23rd-ranked pass defense (251.1 yards per game) does not sound impressive, the unit played at a far higher level than that, as indicated by three defensive backs earning All-Pro honors.

The secondary became a team strength because the Giants signed Janoris Jenkins in free agency, drafted Eli Apple in the first round, and watched second-year safety Landon Collins develop into an impact player at his more natural strong safety position. An inconsistent player in St. Louis, Jenkins became one of the best corners in the NFL in 2016, teaming with Apple and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC) to form perhaps the NFL’s best trio of corners. While Apple had his growing pains, he performed well enough to shut down a number of opponents and allow the coaches to move DRC to the slot corner position. Meanwhile, Collins led the Giants in tackles, was second on the team in interceptions, and third on the team in sacks. The weak spot in the secondary was free safety as promising rookie Darian Thompson and Mykkele Thompson were lost early to injuries, Nat Berhe battled concussions, and undrafted rookie Andrew Adams started the bulk of the season. While Adams didn’t embarrass himself, he did not make many plays either. Late in the season, Leon Hall – who was shifted from corner to safety – took over the position.

THE STARTERS

In his first season with the Giants, Janoris Jenkins had his best season to date, being voted to his first Pro Bowl and his first All-Pro (second-team) selection. Jenkins started every game, except for missing one game due to a back injury, and finished the season with 49 tackles, one sack, 18 pass defenses, three interceptions, and one forced fumble. Jenkins was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. The Giants signed him as unrestricted free agent in March 2016. Jenkins is an average-sized corner with excellent speed and quickness. He is a confident, instinctive coverman who has gotten better each year and has developed into an elite shut-down corner. Jenkins plays well in both man and zone coverage. He plays with swagger.

The Giants drafted Eli Apple in the 1st round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He missed two games with hamstring and groin injuries, but surprisingly started 11 of the 14 regular-season games he played in. Apple finished the season with 51 tackles, seven pass defenses, one interception, and one forced fumble. Apple combines good size with excellent overall athletic ability, speed, and quickness. He flashes as a physical run defender and tackler, but needs to become more consistent in that area. Apple had a bit of an up-and-down rookie season in coverage. While he mostly handled his opponent, there were times when he gave up big plays. Apple makes a lot contact with receivers in coverage and he needs to continue to work on his technique. He has a big upside and looks to be developing into a fine player.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC) had another strong year for the Giants, being named second-team All-Pro. He missed one game with a groin injury but started nine of the 15 regular-season games he played in, taking most of his snaps inside at the slot corner position. DRC finished the year with 49 tackles, one sack, 21 pass defenses, six interceptions, and one forced fumble. Rodgers-Cromartie was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. He was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011 and signed with the Broncos as an unrestricted free agent in 2013 and the Giants in 2014. Rodgers-Cromartie combines superb size and overall athletic skills, including speed, size, and leaping ability. Rodgers-Cromartie is one of the better cover corners in the NFL and capable of shutting down even top wide receivers. He has improved his toughness as a hitter and tackler. Rodgers-Cromartie made the Pro Bowl in 2009 and in 2015, the latter as an alternate. While he has not missed many games, DRC seems to battle a lot of nagging injuries.

In his second season, Landon Collins had a break-out year, being voted to his first Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro. Collins started every game and finished the year with 125 tackles, four sacks, 13 pass defenses, and five interceptions. Collins was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Giants. He is a big, tough, physical safety who lacks ideal quickness and recovery speed. Collins is good hitter and tackler and plays the run very well. He dramatically improved his play against the pass in 2016 and has rapidly developed into one of the best safeties in the NFL.

The Giants originally signed Andrew Adams as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft. Adams was signed to the Practice Squad, and then the 53-man roster in September 2016 after injuries hit the safety position hard. Force-fed into the starting line-up, Adams played in 14 regular-season games with 13 starts. He finished the year with 46 tackles, five pass defenses, and one interception. Adams lacks ideal height and speed but he is a well-built, athletic safety with good quickness. While Adams failed to make many plays on the ball in coverage, he was surprisingly reliable in that opposing offenses did not exploit him as much as would have been expected. That said, Adams saw his playing time decrease at the very end of the season in favor of Leon Hall.

THE RESERVES

Trevin Wade played in every game in 2016 with two regular-season starts. He received about 33 percent of defensive snaps and finished the year with 26 tackles and three pass defenses. Wade was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. He has spent time with the Browns (2012-13), Saints (2013-14), and Lions (2014). The Giants signed Wade to a reserve/future contract in January 2015. Wade is a decent-sized corner with only average athletic ability and speed. He can handle the slot corner position. Wade flashes solid cover skills at times but also gives up a fair share of completions.

Coty Sensabaugh was signed by the Giants in October 2016 after he was waived by the Los Angeles Rams. He played in 10 regular-season games with no starts and finished the year with 15 tackles. Sensabaugh was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans. The Rams signed him to a 3-year, $15 million contract in March 2016. Sensabaugh has played in 72 regular-season games with 29 starts. Sensabaugh is an average-sized corner whose strength is playing the slot nickel corner spot.

The Giants signed Leon Hall in August 2016. The Giants started him off at his usual slot corner position before shifting him to safety when injuries hit that position hard. Hall played in 12 regular-season games with two starts, finishing with 31 tackles, two sacks, two pass defenses, one interception, and one forced fumble. Hall was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. In his nine seasons with the Bengals, Hall played in 121 regular-season games with 105 starts. Hall is nearing the end of a productive career, but his corner cover skills have eroded due to father time and injuries (Achilles’ tendon injuries in 2011 and 2013 and back surgery in 2016). Hall’s final playing days may be best suited for safety.

Michael Hunter spent time on both the Practice Squad and 53-man roster in 2016. He played in two regular-season games and finished the season with four tackles. The Giants originally signed Hunter as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft. Hunter has a nice combination of size and speed. He is a physical, press corner who was up-and-down during the 2016 preseason for the Giants.

Nat Berhe had his second injury-plagued season in a row in 2016. Berhe missed nine regular-season games with two concussions. He ended up playing in seven games with two starts, finishing with 21 tackles, one pass defense, and one forced fumble. Berhe was drafted in the 5th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Giants. He played in all 16 games as a rookie, mostly on special teams. But he missed all of 2015 due to a blood clot in his calf. Berhe lacks ideal size and speed, but he is a smart, physical, and aggressive defender who hits hard. The two concussions combined with his physical style of play cloud his NFL future.

Eric Pinkins was signed to the Practice Squad in October and the 53-man roster in November. He ended up playing in five games, mostly on special teams. Pinkins was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks, who moved him to linebacker. Pinkins was waived by the Seahawks in September 2016. Pinkins has a nice combination of size and speed, but his instincts have been questioned.

PRACTICE SQUAD

Ryan Murphy was signed to the Practice Squad in late December 2016. Murphy was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks waived him in their final round of cuts in September 2015. He spent time on the Practice Squad of the Denver Broncos in both 2015 and 2016. Murphy has a nice combination of size and athletic ability.

INJURED RESERVE

Donte Deayon was signed to the Practice Squad in September 2016 and placed on the Practice Squad/Injured Reserve in October 2016 with an unknown injury. The Giants originally signed Deayon as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft. Deayon is a fluid, dimunitive corner with very good quickness and leaping ability. He is tough and confident, but struggled at times for the Giants during the 2016 preseason.

Having won the starting free safety position in the preseason, Darian Thompson missed virtually the entire season after suffering a Lisfranc foot injury in Week 2. Thompson tried to return in November, suffered a setback in practice, and was placed on Injured Reserve. The Giants drafted Thompson in the 3rd round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Thompson has a nice combination of smarts, maturity, size, and overall athletic ability. Thompson has natural cover skills and makes plays on the football in coverage. It remains to be seen how much the lisfranc injury affects his career.

Mykkele Thompson was placed on Injured Reserve in September 2016 after injuring his knee in Week 2. Thompson was drafted in the 5th round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Giants. He missed all of his rookie season after rupturing the Achilles’ tendon in his right foot during the preseason. Somewhat still raw, Thompson is a former quarterback and wide receiver who converted to cornerback and then safety in college. Thompson is a bit of a corner-safety ‘tweener. He is tall and thin with good speed, but he lacks ideal quickness for cornerback and ideal physicality for a safety. Thompson is versatile and smart. He is a good special teams player who blocked three punts in college. With two serious leg injuries in his first two seasons, his NFL future is cloudy.

Feb 152017
 
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Jonathan Casillas and Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants (September 18, 2016)

Jonathan Casillas and Janoris Jenkins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Ever since the New York Giants moved to the 4-3 defense in 1994, the team has largely de-emphasized the acquisition of linebackers in terms of premium resources. The last time the Giants drafted a linebacker in the 1st round was 1984 (Carl Banks). The last three linebackers drafted in the 2nd round were Clint Sintim (2009), Kanavis McGhee (1991), and Pepper Johnson (1986). From time to time, the Giants have spent big money on linebackers in free agency, including Michael Barrow (2000), Antonio Pierce (2005), and Michael Boley (2009). Not surprisingly, the overall play of the position has declined since its golden era of the 1980s, with the last linebackers to make the Pro Bowl being Pierce (2006) and Jessie Armstead (2001). Now annually, the team’s talent level at the position is usually considered sub-par and the defensive weak spot.

In 2016, of the defense’s three levels, the linebacking corps once again took a backseat to the defensive line and secondary. But while the linebackers were not a team strength, they did play at a more respectable level than their recent predecessors. This is a polite way of saying, “Well, at least the linebackers didn’t suck!”

The surprising headliner was Jonathan Casillas, who arguably had the best season of his career. Keenan Robinson stayed healthy and added more speed to the position. And Devon Kennard finally stayed healthy for a full 16 games. Overall, there weren’t many big plays from this group, but they did a respectable job on a defensive unit that improved from dead last in the NFL to 10th in terms of yardage allowed and 2nd in terms of points allowed.

THE STARTERS

Jonathan Casillas had his best season to date as a pro in 2016. Casillas played in every game, with 15 regular-season starts (72 percent of all defensive snaps), and finished the year with 96 tackles, 1.5 sacks, eight pass defenses, and one forced fumble. Casillas was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the New Orleans Saints after the 2009 NFL Draft. He has played for the Saints (2009-11), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2013-14), and Patriots (2014). The Giants signed him as a free agent in March 2015. Casillas lacks ideal size and has issues against the run at times, but he is a good athlete with fine speed and performs well in coverage. Caillas does not make many impact plays and is not much of a blitzer (6.5 career sacks).

Keenan Robinson officially only started 6-of-16 regular-season games, but he was second in playing time on the team among all linebackers (71 percent of all defensive snaps). Robinson finished 2016 with 83 tackles and seven pass defenses. Robinson was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins, where he missed time in 2012 (four games with right pectoral tear), 2013 (entire season with left pectoral tear), 2014 (three games with a knee injury), and 2015 (four games with a shoulder injury). The Giants signed him as a free agent in March 2016. Robinson has decent size and is a good athlete who runs well. Versatile, he can play inside and outside linebacker. Robinson is more of a run-and-hit linebacker than stout run defender at the point-of-attack. Robinson is solid in pass coverage. He only has 1.5 career sacks and has been injury prone. Robinson does not make many impact plays.

Devon Kennard played in every game with nine regular-season starts, playing in 47 percent of all defensive snaps. He finished 2016 with 61 tackles, one sack, one pass defense, and one forced fumble. Kennard was drafted in the 5th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Giants. He missed playing time in 2014 (four games with hamstring and toe injuries) and 2015 (seven games with hamstring and foot injuries). Kennard is a big, strong linebacker who is a bit of a DE/LB ‘tweener. In fact, the Giants will use him at defensive end in pass rush situations. Kennard plays the run well and can get heat on the quarterback, but he is not as strong in coverage. To date, he has not put up big numbers or made many big plays. Kennard has been somewhat injury prone.

While Kelvin Sheppard started 11-of-16 regular-season games at middle linebacker in 2016, he only received 39 percent of defensive snaps. Sheppard finished the year with 50 tackles and two pass defenses. Sheppard was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. He was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in April 2013 and signed with the Dolphins in September 2014 and Giants in April 2016. Sheppard is more of a two-down linebacker who plays the run better than the pass. While he has good size, Sheppard lacks ideal overall athletic ability. Sheppard does not make many big plays.

THE RESERVES

B.J. Goodson was drafted by the Giants in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He played in 15 regular-season games with no starts, playing in one percent of defensive snaps. Goodson finished his rookie season with nine tackles and one forced fumble. Goodson is a big, strong, physical linebacker who plays the run better than the pass. He is a big hitter and good tackler. To become a complete player, Goodson has to improve his pass coverage. Goodson lacks ideal speed and agility.

Mark Herzlich remains primarily a reserve linebacker and special teams player who occasionally is called upon to play on defense (one percent of defensive snaps in 2016). Herzlich played in 14 regular-season games, missing two with a concussion. He finished with seven tackles on defense. Herzlich was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2011 NFL Draft. He has started 17 regular-season games in his six seasons with the Giants, eight of which were in 2014. Herzlich has very good size but is a sub-par athlete for the position. He is a good run defender, but struggles in coverage and is not much of a blitzer. Herzlich is a good special teams player.

Deontae Skinner was added to and released from the Practice Squad multiple times in 2016. He also was signed to the 53-man roster in October and again in December. Skinner played in four games in 2016 and was credited with five tackles. Skinner was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the New England Patriots after the 2014 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Patriots (2014-2015) and Eagles (2015-2016). Skinner is a big, instinctive linebacker with decent agility but who lacks speed.

Ishaq Williams was signed to the Practice Squad in September 2016 and the 53-man roster in December 2016. He did not play in any games. The Giants originally signed Williams after he impressed as a tryout player during the May 2016 mini-camp. Williams had been out of football since 2013 after being implicated in an academic dishonesty scandal at Notre Dame. Williams has a nice combination of size and overall athletic ability.

INJURED RESERVE

The Giants placed J.T. Thomas on Injured Reserve in September 2016 after he suffered ligament damage to his left knee in the regular-season opener. Thomas was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. The Bears waived him in August 2013 and he was claimed off of waivers by the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Giants signed Thomas in March 2015. In 2015 with the Giants, Thomas played in 12 games with 11 starts, missing four games with an ankle injury. Thomas lacks ideal size, but he is a good athlete who runs well. Versatile, Thomas can play all three linebacker positions. However, he does not many impact plays and is better suited as a reserve. Thomas is a good special teams player.

Feb 132017
 
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Damon Harrison, New York Giants (January 1, 2017)

Damon Harrison – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The New York Giants defensive line underwent a major overhaul in 2016, and the changes were perhaps THE major reason why the team’s defense improved from dead last in the NFL to 10th in terms of yardage and 2nd in terms of points allowed. The Giants went from 24th in run defense in 2015 (121.4 yards per game, 4.4 yards per carry) to 3rd in 2016 (88.6 yards per game, 3.6 yards per carry).

The key to sparking the dramatic turnaround were the high-priced, high-profile free agent additions of defensive end Olivier Vernon (5-years, $85 million) and defensive tackle Damon Harrison (5-years, $46 million). These two were a major upgrade over defensive ends Robert Ayers/George Selvie and defensive tackles Markus Kuhn/Cullen Jenkins. Harrison is arguably the best run-stuffing defensive tackle in the game and earned first-team All-Pro honors after making the switch from a 3-4 nose tackle with the New York Jets to a 4-3 defensive tackle. Vernon was slowed by a serious hand/wrist injury but played virtually every snap and earned second-team All-Pro honors.

Jason Pierre-Paul (JPP) rebounded nicely from a 2015 offseason catastrophic fireworks accident that left him permanently maimed. After a slow start on the pass-rushing front, the line was rounding into peak form until a groin tear/sports hernia injury sidelined JPP for the final four regular-season games and post-season contest. Unfortunately, the dropoff was noticeable. As a unit, the line finished with 24.5 sacks in the regular season (up from 16 in 2015).

THE STARTERS

In his first season with the Giants, Olivier Vernon was slowed early by a serious left hand/wrist injury but he ended up starting every game and playing 94 percent of all defensive snaps. Vernon finished with 63 tackles, 8.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. He was also named second-team All-Pro. Vernon was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Dolphins. The Giants signed him as a free agent in March 2016. Vernon lacks classic size, but he is a very strong, athletic end with long arms and a non-stop motor. He is one of the better two-way ends in football and is equally disruptive against the run and the pass. Vernon can get heat on the quarterback from both the end and tackle positions, and gets a lot of hits on the quarterback.

Jason Pierre-Paul started 12 games in 2016, but missed the remainder of the season with groin and sports hernia injuries that required surgery. He finished the year with 53 tackles, seven sacks, eight pass defenses, and three forced fumbles. Pierre-Paul was drafted in the 1st round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Giants. His best season came in 2011 when he accrued 86 tackles and 16.5 sacks. After not missing a game in his first three years with the Giants, Pierre-Paul has not completed a full season in three of the last four years, including 2013 (herniated disc and shoulder injuries) and 2015 (fireworks accident that permanently maimed his right hand). Pierre-Paul has an excellent combination of size, strength, and athleticism. When healthy and focused, Pierre-Paul can be an explosive, disruptive difference-maker against both the run and the pass. His tremendous wingspan helps him to bat passes down at the line of scrimmage (42 career pass defenses and 2 interceptions). As a pass rusher, he can beat blockers with both power and movement skills. Pierre-Paul is a very good run defender, both at the point-of-attack as well as in backside pursuit.

In his first season with the Giants, Damon Harrison had a superb year, starting every game and finishing the regular season with career highs in tackles (86) and sacks (2.5). Harrison was named first-team All-Pro. Harrison was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Jets after the 2012 NFL Draft. The Giants signed him as an unrestricted free agent in March 2016. Harrison is a strong, mammoth player with surprising athleticism for someone so large. He is a rock against the run, able to hold the point-of-attack against the double-team block. He may be the NFL’s best inside run defender. Though Harrison is a better run defender than pass rusher, he will flash at times getting after the quarterback.

Johnathan Hankins started every game and finished the 2016 regular season with 43 tackles, three sacks, and one forced fumble. Hankins was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. Hankins has excellent size, strength, and overall athleticism. He is a stout run defender who occasionally flashes on the pass rush.

THE RESERVES

The Giants signed Romeo Okwara as an undrafted free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft. Not only did he make the team, but he was a surprisingly-strong contributor as a rookie. Okwara played in every game with four regular-season starts (36 percent of defensive snaps), and finished the year with 25 tackles, one sack, and two pass defenses. Okwara looks the part with excellent size and arm length. He’s a hard worker with a fine motor. While Okwara is a good athlete, he lacks dynamic quickness to excel as outside pass rusher. He flashes more when rushing from the defensive tackle position. Okwara is a solid run defender, but he can still improve his consistency in this area.

Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Giants, Owamagbe Odighizuwa’s has not developed as hoped or expected. Hamstring and foot injuries caused him to miss 12 games of his rookie season. He missed two regular-season games in 2016 with a knee injury and the playoff game with a hamstring injury. In his 18 regular-season games, Odighizuwa has been credited with just six tackles and one pass defense. Odighizuwa looks the part. He is a strong, well-built, and athletic defensive end with long arms and huge hands. Odighizuwa has the ability to play defensive tackle in pass rushing situations. He is a hard worker who simply has not been able to put it together yet.

Kerry Wynn saw his playing time decrease in 2016 (11 percent of defensive snaps). He played in 14 regular-season games with no starts and finished the year with 12 tackles and 0.5 sacks. Wynn was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Giants after the 2014 NFL Draft. He has played in 34 regular-season games, with seven starts, for the Giants in his three years with the team. Wynn has a nice combination of size, strength, and overall athletic ability. Wynn is a better run defender than pass rusher as he lacks dynamic quickness on the outside pass rush. He is able to play defensive tackle in pass-rush situations.

The primary reserve at defensive tackle, Jay Bromley played in 15 regular-season games with no starts. He received 22 percent of defensive snaps and finished the season with 14 tackles and one sack. Bromley was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Giants. He has played in 39 regular-season games with just four starts. Bromley combines decent size, strength, and overall athletic ability. He has improved his play against the run since coming to the Giants but he has not developed into the inside pass rusher hoped for when he was drafted.

The Giants claimed Robert Thomas off of waivers from the Carolina Panthers in September 2016. He played in eight regular-season games with no starts (6 percent of defensive snaps) and finished the year with five tackles and one sack. Thomas was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Washington Redskins after the 2014 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Redskins (2014-15), Seahawks (2015), Patriots (2015), Dolphins (2015), and Panthers (2016). Thomas is a big, strong tackle who plays hard.

PRACTICE SQUAD

Stansly Maponga was signed to the Practice Squad in September 2016. Maponga was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. From 2013-2014, he played in 24 regular-season games with no starts, accruing eight tackles, one sack, and two fumble recoveries. The Falcons waived Maponga before the start of the 2015 season. The Giants signed Maponga off of the Practice Squad of the Falcons in December 2015, and he ended up playing in two games for New York. Maponga is an athletic lineman who flashes on occasion as a pass rusher.

Jordan Williams was signed to the Practice Squad in December 2016. Williams was originally signed by the New York Jets as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2015 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Jets (2015) and Miami Dolphins (2015-2016). He has good size.

Feb 092017
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 11, 2016)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

For quarterback Eli Manning and the entire passing offense, 2016 was a major disappointment. The passing game was once again expected to be THE strength of the team. Instead, the New York Giants fell from 7th in the NFL in 2015 (271.4 yards per game) to 17th in 2016 (242.4 yards per game). Manning’s yards, yards per pass play, and touchdowns were down while interceptions increased. All of this was a significant shock given that Manning was coming off of one of his best seasons in 2015 and was entering his third season in Ben McAdoo’s West Coast Offense. The Giants had problems making big plays. And when they didn’t hit the big play, the Giants had problems sustaining drives and scoring points. This wasn’t supposed to happen given return of Victor Cruz and the addition of Sterling Shepard, not to mention the rest of the offense returning mostly intact.

Once again, pundits and fans have begun to question Eli Manning’s future in New York.

THE STARTER

Entering the third season in Ben McAdoo’s West Coast Offense, Eli Manning was expected to build upon his strong 2015 season. Instead, Manning’s production markedly declined in 2016. While Manning nearly tied his career-high completion percentage (63 percent), his touchdown-to-interception ratio fell from 35-to-14 in 2015 to 26-to-16 in 2016. His passing yards (from 4,432 to 4,027), yards per pass play (from 7.2 to 6.7), and QB rating (from 93.6 to 86.0) also dropped. Worse is what happened to the Giants offense as a team. The Giants fell from 8th to 25th in overall offense and from 7th to 17th in passing offense. Manning was the first player selected in the 2004 NFL Draft and immediately traded to the Giants by the Chargers. The 36-year old Manning owns practically every quarterback record in franchise history. He is 8-4 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 eight come-from-behind victories. Manning has excellent size and a strong arm. He is extremely tough and has never missed a game in 13 seasons. He only has a 59.7 percent career completion percentage though that figure has improved with the offensive emphasis shifting from a down-field, vertical attack to the West Coast system. Manning 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 excels in the mental aspects of the game. Manning reads opposing defenses extremely well. The coaching staff trusts him to make complicated pre-snap reads for both the running and passing games. Manning makes rapid decisions and gets rid of the ball quickly, one of the reasons why his sack numbers are low. 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 – which leads to big plays – 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 after the 2012 and 2015 regular seasons as an alternate. Given Manning’s age and down season, inevitable questions about his current and future ability as a championship-level passer have started again.

THE RESERVES

Ryan Nassib was placed on Injured Reserve in December 2016 with a right elbow injury that required surgery. Nassib was drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. Since 2014, Nassib has been the team’s #2 quarterback. During that time, he has only seen very limited playing time with all of his regular-season throws (10 total) coming at the end of two blowout losses. Nassib has average height, but he is a well-built quarterback with a good arm and decent mobility. 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. Nassib has not really developed at the pro level and he struggled during the 2016 preseason, completing only 41 percent of his passes with five turnovers (three interceptions and two fumbles).

The Giants signed Josh Johnson in early September 2016 after he was cut by the Baltimore Ravens. He became the team’s #2 quarterback after Ryan Nassib was placed on Injured Reserve in December. Johnson was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The well-traveled Johnson has spent time with the Buccaneers (2008–2011), 49ers (2012), Sacramento Mountain Lions (2012), Browns (2012), Bengals (2013), 49ers (2014), Bengals (2015), Jets (2015), Colts (2015), Bills (2015), and Ravens (2016). Johnson has played in 29 regular-season games with five starts – the last coming with Buccaneers in 2011. He has completed 96-of-177 passes (54.2 percent) for 1,042 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. In the 2016 preseason for the Ravens, Johnson completed 41-of-57 passes (71.9 percent) for 365 yards, 1 touchdown, and no interceptions. He also rushed for 87 yards and 2 touchdowns on 18 carries. Johnson is a mobile quarterback with good size.

PRACTICE SQUAD

Keith Wenning was signed to the Practice Squad in late December 2016. Wenning was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens. He has spent time with both the Ravens (2014-2015) and Cincinnati Bengals (2015). Wenning has decent size and a good arm with a quick release. He is not terribly mobile. Wenning is smart, hard-working, and tough.

Feb 072017
 
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Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (November 14, 2016)

Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The New York Giants running backs finished the 2015 season 18th in rushing with 100.6 yards per game and averaging 4.0 yards per rush. The Giants rushed for only five touchdowns. The leading rushers on the team that year were Rashad Jennings (863 yards, three touchdowns), Shane Vereen (260 yards, zero touchdowns), Andre Williams (257 yards, one touchdown), and Orleans Darkwa (153 yards one touchdown). In addition, Vereen proved a significant weapon in the passing game with 59 catches for 494 yards and four touchdowns. Jennings also contributed with 29 catches for 296 yards and one touchdown.

Despite the mediocre rushing numbers, there was optimism entering the 2016 season. Half of Jennings’ 2015 yardage (432 yards) came in the last four games of the season. The ground game – led by Jennings – seemed to peaking behind a young and improving offensive line that would remain intact coming into 2016. In addition, replacing the disappointing Andre Williams with 6th rounder Paul Perkins appeared to an upgrade. Vereen was coming off of his best pro season and expected to continue to serve a duo-purpose threat. And the Giants signed veteran hybrid fullback/tight end Will Johnson to mount a significant challenge to fullback Nikita Whitlock.

In reality, the 2016 results were a kick to the nuts. The Giants ground game not only worsened, but it fell to 29th with a paltry 88.2 yards per game and averaging 3.5 yards per rush. The Giants rushed for only six touchdowns. And pass receptions by running backs fell from 92 catches for 828 yards and five touchdowns in 2015 to 83 catches for 622 yards and one touchdown in 2016.

Why the drop? Inconsistent blocking by the offensive line and tight ends was a factor. The improvement by the line – under new offensive like coach Mike Solari – never occurred. There was not a strong blocking tight end on the team. In addition, both fullbacks were lost to injury for the season before it began and the team carried no fullbacks on the roster. As such, the Giants “bread-and-butter” running play was out of the shotgun formation.

But truth be told, it also became painfully clear that while a good guy and a strong locker room presence, Jennings was no more than an aging, backup-at-best halfback who rarely created yardage on his own either by elusiveness or breaking tackles. Starting 12-of-16 regular-season games, Jennings only averaged 3.3 yards per carry. Vereen missed the bulk of the season with a triceps injury that he also re-injured, and his absence in the passing game was very noticeable. Bobby Rainey replaced him but only had 20 receptions. Orleans Darkwa started two games but only received 30 carries and got hurt again. The only real bright spot was Perkins, but he was not a significant factor until December, gaining 271 of his 456 rushing yards in his last four regular-season games.

Yeah, the blocking was a factor, but this was also a very mediocre-at-best group of running backs.

THE STARTER

Rashad Jennings saw his production drop dramatically in 2016 after having his most productive year in the NFL in 2015. Jennings’ rushing yards (from 863 to 593) and yards per carry (from 4.4 to 3.3) fell precipitously with only three rushing touchdowns in each season. Jennings did catch six more passes (from 29 to 35) but his yards per catch dropped nearly in half (from 10.2 to 5.7). Jennings was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He signed with the Oakland Raiders in 2013 and the Giants in 2014. Jennings missed five games with the Giants in 2014 due to knee and ankle problems. He started all 16 games in 2015, but missed three games in 2016 with a thumb injury. Jennings has good size, but he does not run with much vision, quickness, or power. Jennings does not create much yardage on his own either through elusiveness or tackle-breaking ability. He is a solid pass blocker and has good hands as a receiver. Jennings is a hard worker and a good presence in the locker room. He has had issues staying healthy throughout his career.

THE RESERVES

Paul Perkins was drafted by the Giants in the 5th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. As a rookie, Perkins played in 14 regular-season games with one start (regular-season finale). He also started the playoff game. Perkins finished the regular season with 112 carries for 456 yards (4.1 yards per carry) and 15 catches for 162 yards (10.8 yards per catch). Perkins lacks ideal size and speed but he has good vision, quick feet, and cutting ability. Perkins is a tough runner who plays bigger than his size, but he is not a powerful runner. He catches the ball well.

The Giants signed Bobby Rainey as an unrestricted free agent from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in April 2016.  He played in 15 games with no starts and finished the season with 17 carries for 63 yards (3.7 yards per carry) and 20 catches for 153 yards (7.6 yards per catch). Rainey also returned six punts (6.5 yards per return) and eight kickoffs (25.5 yards per return). Rainey was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Baltimore Ravens after the 2012 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Ravens (2012), Cleveland Browns (2013), and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2013-2015). Rainey lacks size, but he is a well-built runner with good quickness. He lacks power and has had issues with ball security with 13 career fumbles. Rainey catches the ball well and has experience as a punt and kickoff returner.

Orleans Darkwa was placed on Injured Reserve in November 2016 with a lower leg injury. Darkwa played in 10 games with two starts for the Giants in 2016. He carries the ball 30 times for 111 yards (3.7 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 12 yards. Darkwa was originally signed by the Miami 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. The Giants signed him off of Miami’s Practice Squad in November 2014. Darkwa has average size and overall athletic ability, but he is a very physical, instinctive between-the-tackles runner. He lacks elusiveness and the ability to create on his own. Darkwa has good hands despite having only 10 career receptions.

The Giants signed George Winn to the 53-man roster in late December 2016. Winn was originally signed by the Houston Texans as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2013 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Texans (2013), New England Patriots (2013), Oakland Raiders (2013), Pittsburgh Steelers (2013), Dallas Cowboys (2013), and Detroit Lions (2014–2016). The Giants signed him to their Practice Squad in November 2016 and cut him in mid-December. Winn has played in 19 regular-season games with no starts, accruing just 74 yards on 23 carries (3.2 yards per carry). Winn is a hard-nosed, between-the-tackles runner. Good special teams player.

PRACTICE SQUAD

Jacob Huesman was signed to the Practice Squad in late December 2016. Huesman is a former quarterback who the Giants are converting to running back. He was not drafted in 2016, and not signed after the draft despite working out for the Steelers and Titans. Huesman had a brief stint with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL. He has good size for a running back and was productive in college running with the football as a quarterback.

INJURED RESERVE

Shane Vereen was placed on Injured Reserve (IR) in September 2016 with a triceps injury that required surgery, activated back off of IR in December, and then placed on IR again that same month after re-injuring his triceps and needing surgery again. Vereen was originally selected in the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. The Giants signed him as a free agent in March 2015. In 2015, serving as the team’s third-down back and playing in all 16 games with no starts, Vereen had his most productive year in the NFL as a pass receiver. He caught a career-high 59 passes for 495 yards and four touchdowns. It was the most receptions by a Giants running back in a single season since Tiki Barber. Vereen also carried the ball 61 times for 260 yards (4.3 yards per carry). However, Vereen played in just five games in 2016 and finished the season with 33 rushes for 158 yards (4.8 yards per carry) and 11 catches for 94 yards. Vereen lacks ideal size and power, but he is an elusive back with good vision and quickness. Vereen is one of the better pass-catching backs in the NFL as he runs good routes and has good hands. He is also solid in pass protection. Vereen has proven to be somewhat injury prone.

The Giants placed Will Johnson on Injured Reserve in early September 2016 with a burner that he suffered in the first preseason game. The Giants signed Johnson as an unrestricted free agent from the Pittsburgh Steelers in April 2016. Johnson was not drafted and signed with the Steelers in 2012. In four seasons with the Steelers, Johnson only missed one regular-season game, and started 20 contests. He has 31 career receptions for 235 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson is versatile with the ability to play H-Back, tight end, and fullback. He is a good lead blocker who can also catch the football. Johnson is a solid special teams player.

The Giants waived/injured Nikita Whitlock in late August 2016 and then placed him on Injured Reserve with a mid-foot sprain (Lisfranc) that required surgery. He was then suspended in September 2016 for 10 games by the NFL for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances. Whitlock was originally signed by the Cincinnati Bengals as a rookie free agent after the 2014 NFL Draft, but was cut and signed by the Dallas Cowboys to their Practice Squad. The NFL suspended Whitlock in November 2014 for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs and the Cowboys terminated his Practice Squad contract. The Giants signed him to the Practice Squad in December 2014. Whitlock surprisingly beat out fullback Henry Hynoski in training camp in 2015 and ended up playing in 14 games with five starts until he was placed on Injured Reserve in December 2015 with a knee injury. He had no touches as a rusher or receiver. Whitlock has good size for a fullback and is a physical player, but he needs to become a more consistent lead blocker. A collegiate defensive tackle, Whitlock also received a limited number of snaps at defensive tackle in pass rush situations for the Giants in 2015. He finished the season with six tackles and a sack. Although Whitlock is extremely small for a defensive tackle, he gave opposing interior linemen fits at times with his quick pass rush moves. Whitlock is a good special teams player.

Feb 022017
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (November 6, 2016)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

While Odell Beckham, Jr. continued his assault on the record books as one of the game’s premiere wide receivers, more was expected from this unit in 2016. It was assumed by many that the departure of the frustratingly-inconsistent Rueben Randle would be addition by subtraction. Sterling Shepard was considered a 2nd-round steal by many. And there were high expectations about the return of Victor Cruz from three injury-sabotaged seasons in a row.

In 2015, quarterback Eli Manning’s top three wide receiver targets were Beckham, Randle, and Dwayne Harris. These three totaled 189 catches for 2,643 yards, and 25 touchdowns. In 2016, Beckham, Shepard, and Cruz totaled 205 catches for 2,636 yards, and 19 touchdowns. The telling stat was there was a 24 percent decline in touchdowns.

Opponent defensive game plans were obvious and consistent: double- and sometimes even triple-team Odell Beckham and dare the Giants to beat them with their running game or passing the ball to other targets. The Giants failed to be able to make other teams pay and the passing offense fell from 7th (271.4 yards per game) to 17th (242.4 yards per game). Much of this decline had to do with the loss of running back Shane Vereen (59 catches for 494 yards and four touchdowns in 2015) and the unproductive tight ends (only 79 catches and three touchdowns as a group).

But while Beckham continued to produce, and Shepard had a respectable rookie season, it was Cruz who was the biggest disappointment. Slowed by three consecutive leg injury issues from 2013-2015, Cruz seemed miscast as an outside receiver instead of the slot position which Shepard now occupies. Cruz struggled to separate from defenders and finished the season with only one touchdown – ironically a game-winner that he scored in the opener. In other words, he was kept out of the end zone for the final 16 regular- and post-season games. Randle had 57 catches for 797 yards and eight touchdowns in 2015 as an outside receiver. Cruz had just 39 catches for 586 yards.

The nadir of Beckham’s 2016 season was obviously the playoff game. Much was expected and Beckham failed miserably to deliver (four catches for 28 yards) against a weak secondary. Exacerbating the situation – right or wrong – was his boat trip to Miami six days before the game on the players’ day off. But keep in mind that the receivers as a group went on that trip – including the veteran Cruz – and the top three all failed to perform at a high level (Cruz had three catches for 30 yards and Shepard four catches for 63 yards). None scored.

Beckham is extremely competitive and the best player on the team. But he clearly is a diva with a media target painted on his back. How much of this is self-promotion, blown out of proportion to sell newspapers, or distracting to the team are questions subject to passionate debate. If the Giants are to reach the next level, he has to continue to mature (he did with respect to his reaction to on-field taunting) and perform in the clutch in the post-season. But the Giants also have to get him more help.

THE STARTERS

Odell Beckham is one of the game’s best players and had another stellar season in his third year, starting all 16 regular-season games and finishing with 101 catches for 1,367 yards and 10 touchdowns. In his first three seasons, Beckham has accrued 288 catches for 4,122 yards and 35 touchdowns in 43 regular-season games. Beckham’s accolades already include Pro Football Writers of America “Rookie of the Year” (2014), second-team All-Pro (2015, 2016), and Pro Bowl (2014, 2015, 2016). All of this despite constant double teams by opposing defenses. 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 tremendous jumping ability give him a very good catch radius. Beckham is an explosive athlete with excellent speed, quickness, and agility. He is able to play multiple positions, including the slot. Beckham runs good routes, is very quick out of his breaks, adjusts exceptionally well to the football, and regularly makes the circus catch. He is very dangerous with the football in his hands after the catch. Competitive, passionate, and hard working, Beckham’s biggest negatives are his maturity and temperament. Beckham has a target painted on his back and has to deal with other teams trying to get under his skin. He did not play well in the playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers and suffered from more drops than usual in 2016, which may partly have been the result of a thumb injury.

Sterling Shepard was selected in the 2nd round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Giants. Shepard started all 16 regular-season games as a rookie, catching 65 passes for 683 yards (10.5 yards per catch) and eight touchdowns, mostly out of the slot. Shepard lacks ideal size, but he is strong and quick with good speed. Shepard runs good routes, is tough going over the middle, adjusts well to the football, and has good hands. He did not make many plays down the field however, with his longest reception being for 32 yards.

The good news is that Victor Cruz finally returned to the playing field in 2016 after missing most of 2014 with a career-threatening patellar tendon knee injury and all of 2015 with a calf injury – both of which required surgeries. The bad news is that Cruz no longer looks like the same player he was in 2011-2012, when he was one of the best in the game. Three lower leg surgeries in three years, including arthroscopic knee surgery in 2013, have taken their toll. In 15 regular-season games in 2016, Cruz caught just 39 passes for 586 yards and one touchdown. 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, Cruz compiled 168 catches for 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns. Cruz always had ordinary size and timed speed. However, his pre-injury quickness and ability to separate from defenders appears to be gone. Cruz has good hands and is capable of making the circus catch, though he sometimes will drop the easy reception. Cruz is better suited for the slot position.

THE RESERVES

In his second year with the Giants, Dwayne Harris suffered through a frustrating, injury-plagued season. While he played in all 16 regular-season games with one start, Harris was hampered by a variety of nagging injuries all season. A year after his career-best 36 catches for 396 yards and four touchdowns, Harris caught only one pass for 13 yards and a touchdown. More importantly, his special teams return numbers plummeted with his punt return average falling from 10.0 yards to 5.9 yards and his kickoff return average falling from 28.7 yards to 24.2 yards. He also did not score a year after becoming the first Giants player in 60 years to return a kickoff and punt for a touchdown in the same season. Harris did remain a force on punt coverage and he was voted to his first Pro Bowl. Harris was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Cowboys. The Giants signed him in free agency in March 2015. Though he lacks height, Harris is a well-built athlete with decent speed and quickness. He is tough and physical and an asset as a blocker in the running game. Harris can play in the slot and has decent hands. Harris has four career returns four touchdowns and has won the “NFC Special Teams Player of the Week” award four times in his career.

The Giants signed Roger Lewis as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft. Lewis made the team and played in 13 regular-season games with one start. He finished with just seven catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns. Lewis has decent size and is a good athlete. He flashed the ability to make plays down the field but he needs to become a more consistent pro-level route runner. Lewis was utilized on special teams as a gunner on punt coverage.

Tavarres King played in seven regular-season games, finishing the year with just two catches for 50 yards. He caught three passes for 73 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown pass in the playoff loss to the Packers. King was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. He has spent time with the Broncos (2013), Panthers (2013-14), Jaguars (2014), and Buccaneers (2014-15) – playing in just two regular-season games. The Giants signed King to the Practice Squad in late September 2015. King is a tall, thin receiver with very good speed. He is not a physical player and is best suited as an outside receiver.

PRACTICE SQUAD

Darius Powe was signed to the Practice Squad in September 2016. The Giants originally signed Powe as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft. Powe is a big receiver with decent overall athleticism.

Kevin Norwood was signed to the Practice Squad in November 2016. Norwood was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. Norwood has spent time with the Seahawks (2014), Carolina Panthers (2014-2015), and San Diego Chargers (2016). The Chargers terminated his Practice Squad contract in November. Norwood has played in 10 regular-season games with two starts. He has nine career receptions for 102 yards. Norwood is a big (6’2”, 210lbs), physical possession receiver who runs good routes. He lacks ideal speed and quickness.

INJURED RESERVE

Ben Edwards was waived/injured and then placed on Injured Reserve in May 2016 after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in one of his knees during the rookie mini-camp. Injuries have plagued Edwards who tore an ACL in college in 2013, an injury that caused him to miss all of 2014; pulled his hamstring in a June 2015 mini-camp, an injury that led him to being waived/injured; and sprained his knee in an April 2016 mini-camp. The Giants originally signed Edwards after the 2015 NFL Draft, waived/injured him in June, re-signed him to the Practice Squad in November, and signed him to the 53-man roster in December. He played in the final two games of 2015 and finished the season with one catch for nine yards. Edwards lacks ideal size and timed speed, but he is a quick receiver who plays faster than he times. Edwards runs very good routes, adjusts well to the football, and has good hands. He has experience playing in the slot and returning punts.

Jan 312017
 
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Jerell Adams, New York Giants (November 14, 2016)

Jerell Adams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The West Coast Offense, particularly the Green Bay Packers version that Ben McAdoo brought to the New York Giants, is heavily dependent on the performance of the tight ends. Entering the 2016 training camp, pundits and fans outside of the organization worried that the Giants had not invested enough serious resources to address the position. Both leading candidates to start (Larry Donnell and Will Tye) were former undrafted rookie free agents. The position was not addressed in the 2016 Draft until the 6th round (Jerell Adams). The other two prospects in the picture were also undrafted free agents (Matt LaCosse and Ryan Malleck).

Based on 2016 results, those pundits and fans were right to be concerned. The poor performance of the tight ends was a major factor in the team’s offensive decline, from 8th in the NFL in 2015 to 25th in 2016. Run blocking by the tight ends was sub-par. And any pass-receiving tight end should have feasted on opposing defenses that double-teamed wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. and had to address slot receiver Sterling Shepard.

Larry Donnell was the starter before the bye, but he only averaged 2.5 catches per game and finished the year with an embarrassing total of 92 yards and one touchdown. Donnell was benched after the bye with Will Tye becoming the new starter. Tye was better, but not by much. In his 10 starts (one before the bye), Tye averaged just 3.2 catches per game and also finished the season with just one touchdown. Factoring in rookie Jerell Adam’s lone score, Giants tight ends scored just THREE touchdowns all year. No wonder this team had issues in the red zone.

One would be hard pressed to name a worse group of tight ends in the NFL.

THE STARTERS

Larry Donnell began the 2016 season as the starting tight end but was benched after the bye week. He started to receive more playing time again late in the season. Donnell ended up playing in 14 games with six starts, and finished the regular season with just 15 catches for 92 yards (6.1 yards per catch) and one touchdown. Donnell originally went undrafted and unsigned in 2011. The Giants signed him as a street free agent in March 2012 and Donnell spent the 2012 season on the team’s Practice Squad. Donnell has regressed since his breakout 2014 season (63 catches for 623 yards and six touchdowns). His numbers were down in 2015 (missing half the season with a neck injury) and down again in 2016. He just has not developed as hoped or expected. Donnell has good size and flashes athletic ability, but there is a klutziness to his game and he is far too inconsistent as a blocker and receiver. He also has issues holding onto the football (five career fumbles).

In his second season, Will Tye was promoted to the starting tight end spot at midseason after the bye week. He played in all 16 regular-season games, with 10 starts, and finished the year with 48 catches for 395 yards (8.2 yards per catch) and just one touchdown. Tye was originally signed as a rookie free agent after the 2015 NFL Draft by the Giants. In 2015, he played in 13 games with seven starts, and finished the season with 42 catches for 464 yards and three touchdowns. Tye was voted to the Pro Football Writers NFL All-Rookie Team. Tye is a good athlete with fine speed. His lack of size does limit him as a blocker, and receiver when it comes to out-muscling defenders for the ball. Despite more playing time in 2016, his productivity over his rookie season did not increase.

THE RESERVES

Jerell Adams was drafted by the Giants in the 6th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Adams played in 13 games with two starts, and finished the regular season with 16 catches for 122 yards (7.6 yards per catch) and one touchdown. Adams combines excellent size with good overall athletic ability. He has the tools to become a quality blocker and receiver if he works hard and develops his potential. Adams adjusts well to the football, has good hands, and flashes some run-after-the-catch ability.

INJURED RESERVE

The Giants waived/injured Matt LaCosse in late August 2016 and then placed him on Injured Reserve with a knee injury that required surgery. LaCosse was originally signed by the Giants as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2015 NFL Draft. The Giants waived/injured him in August with a hamstring injury and re-signed him to the Practice Squad in November and the 53-man roster in December 2015. He played in two games and finished with three catches for 22 yards. LaCosse is a versatile player who played tight end, H-Back, and fullback in college. LaCosse has good speed and catches the football well.

Jan 292017
 
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Bobby Hart, New York Giants (October 23, 2016)

Bobby Hart – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Entering 2016, the New York Giants offensive line was expected to take a major step forward. While the right-side was still composed of journeymen right guard John Jerry and right tackle Marshall Newhouse, the left side and center were composed of two first-round and one second-round draft picks. With all five returning together, greater chemistry and cohesion was expected. And new offensive line coach – the well-respected Mike Solari – was supposed to make an impact.

Simply put, the offensive line continued to disappoint. Left tackle Ereck Flowers did not markedly improve and remained a significant liability in pass protection. Left guard Justin Pugh missed time for the third season in a row. Center Weston Richburg did not play as well as expected. In some ways, it was the right side of the offensive line that exceeded what admittedly were low expectations. John Jerry had a decent year and second-year lineman Bobby Hart was surprisingly steady at right tackle, replacing Newhouse after Week 2 until the end of the season. That all said, it would be misleading to say either really “played well.”

It’s always difficult to assess who is mostly to blame for a poor running game. The play of running backs, tight ends, and fullback (or in the Giants case, the absence of a fullback) all matter. But the Giants ground game fell from 18th in 2015 (100.6 yards per game) to 29th in 2016 (88.2 yards per game). The average yards-per-rush fell from 4.0 to 3.5.

In pass protection, Eli Manning survived another year without missing a snap. And his sack numbers declined from 27 to 21. But that is a misleading stat given the West Coast Offense emphasis on the short-passing game combined with Manning’s rapid decision-making and quick release. It appeared to many that Manning simply did not trust his pass protection and played some games more than a a bit gun-shy.

Injuries were somewhat of a factor. Pugh missed five games at left guard, leaving a bit of a revolving door as his replacements such as Brett Jones and Marshall Newhouse also got hurt. At one point, the team was down to their fourth-string option at right guard – Adam Gettis. Hart also missed the last regular-season game with an injury.

In summary, the offense of the Giants was a major disappointment in 2016, and the offensive line deserves a large share of the blame.

THE STARTERS

Despite starting 31 regular-season games in his first two seasons, Ereck Flowers has struggled with his technique at left tackle, allowing far too much pass pressure. Flowers was drafted in the 1st round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Giants. He is huge, strong, powerful lineman who can muscle and maul defenders in the running game. He has the feet, agility, and overall athleticism to be a sound pass protector, but he needs to dramatically improve his pass protection technique. Simply put, Flowers is too inconsistent.

Justin Pugh missed five games in the second half of the 2016 season with a knee injury. He started the other 11 games at left guard. Pugh was drafted in the 1st round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. He was voted to the Pro Football Writers All-Rookie Team after starting all 16 games as rookie at right tackle. Pugh has had injury issues every year since, including missing two games in 2014 with a quadriceps injury and two games in 2015 with an ocular concussion. He was shifted to left guard in 2015. Pugh lacks ideal size and arm length, 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. Pugh is very versatile, able to play both tackle and guard spots, and probably even center in a pinch. He needs to stay healthy.

Weston Richburg started every game at center in 2016. While he played decently, more was expected of him after a strong 2015 campaign. Richburg has started 46 regular-season games in his first three seasons, being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Richburg is an average-sized center, but he is a good athlete who 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.

John Jerry started every game at right guard for the Giants in 2016. 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 and started 16 games in 2014 and eight in 2015. Jerry looks the part as he has great size and long arms. A career inconsistent performer as both a run and pass blocker, Jerry became a far more reliable and steadier player in 2016.

Due to an injury Marshall Newhouse, Bobby Hart became the new starter at right tackle in Week 3 until Week 17 when he sat out due a forearm injury. In all, Hart started 13 games at right tackle. Hart was drafted in the 7th round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Giants. He played in nine games with one start at right tackle as a rookie. Hart is big, strong, and smart, with just enough overall athleticism to play tackle. While he was mostly steady, Hart did have issues in pass protection at times.

THE RESERVES

Marshall Newhouse started the first two games at right tackle, was sidelined by a calf injury for five weeks, started three games at left guard when injuries hit, and then started the final regular-season and post-season game at right tackle. In all, Newhouse played in 10 regular-season games with six starts. Newhouse was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. He was the starting left tackle for the Packers in 2011 and 2012 before losing his starting job in 2013. Newhouse signed with the Bengals as a free agent in 2014 but struggled and was benched. The Giants signed him in March 2015 and he started 14 games at right tackle that season. Newhouse looks the part. He’s big and athletic. He’s also versatile, with the ability to play both tackle and guard positions. However, Newhouse is not very powerful or physical and he lacks consistency as both a run and pass blocker.

Brett Jones was on the active roster for 14 regular-season games in 2016 and made one start at left guard, but left the game very early with an injury. Jones was originally drafted by the CFL Calgary Stampeders in 2013 and named the CFL’s “Most Outstanding Rookie” after that season. Jones was also named the CFL’s “Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman” in 2014. He signed by the Giants in February 2015 and placed on Injured Reserve in September 2015 after spraining the MCL in his knee on the preseason finale. Jones lacks size but he is well built with good overall athleticism. He is a tough, aggressive lineman and very smart. Versatile, he can play both guard and center.

Adam Gettis spent the bulk of the 2016 season on the Practice Squad, but he did play in three games with one start at left guard, performing admirably. Gettis was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins. He has spent time with the Redskins (2012-2013), Steelers (2014), Giants (2014-2015), Raiders (2015), and Giants again (2015-2016). Gettis has played in 17 regular-season games with one start. Gettis lacks ideal size and power, but he is an athletic lineman with good mobility. Versatile, he can play both guard and center.

The Giants re-signed Will Beatty in late August 2016 after releasing him in February. However, he was only activated for six games, barely playing with no starts. Beatty was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Giants. From 2011-2014, Beatty started 57 regular-season games. But he 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, a broken leg in 2013, and a pectoral tear and rotator cuff injuries that caused him to miss all of 2015. 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. He has not proven to be very consistent or reliable.

PRACTICE SQUAD

Jon Halapio was signed to the Practice Squad in September 2016. Halapio was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. He has bounced around different leagues and teams including the Patriots (2014), Boston Brawlers (2014), Denver Broncos (2014–2015), Arizona Cardinals (2015), Brooklyn Bolts (2015), and Patriots (2016) again. He has not played in an NFL regular-season game. Halapio is stout and strong but lacks ideal height and athleticism for tackle and is probably better suited for guard.

Jul 072016
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (June 15, 2016)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It was an odd offseason for the New York Giants. One of the top three head coaches in franchise history was fired, yet much of the coaching staff remained intact. The reins were handed over to the 38-year old offensive coordinator who has never served as a head coach at any level of football.

Let’s take quick look at each overall unit and the position group of the 2016 New York Giants:

Offense: The centerpieces of the 2015 8th-ranked offense remain Eli Manning and Odell Beckham. It appears the starting offensive line will remain the same. There was little turnover at running back and tight end. Much is expected of rookie receiver Sterling Shepard and hopefully the healthy return of Victor Cruz. Three new position coaches were added: quarterbacks, wide receivers, and offensive line. And Mike Sullivan was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator.

There are three major question marks: (1) how will the offense respond with McAdoo now being the head coach and Sullivan the offensive coordinator?; (2) is Victor Cruz permanently-damaged goods?; and (3) will the offensive line be an Achilles’ heel?

Quarterbacks: It seems like just yesterday when Eli Manning came to the Giants. Now the 35-year old quarterback will be entering his 13th season. He doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Entering the third year in McAdoo’s West Coast Offense, Manning should have one of his finest seasons if he stays healthy. He’s coming off a 35-to-14 TD-to-INT ratio season. Ryan Nassib remains the primary back-up. If the Giants had another viable alternative behind Manning, Nassib would be ideal trade bait since he’s entering the last year of his contract. But third-string Logan Thomas appears to be just a camp arm. Frank Cignetti, Jr. is the new quarterbacks coach.

Odell Beckham and Victor Cruz, New York Giants (June 15, 2016)

Odell Beckham and Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Wide Receivers: Odell Beckham, Jr. is arguably the best wide receiver in football. Aside from injury, the only thing that could prevent him from becoming a legendary player is off-the-field distractions. It will also be interesting to see how he handles himself against his #1 nemesis – Josh Norman – twice per season. Keep in mind the Giants hired Beckham’s old college wide receivers coach, Adam Henry. Much is expected of rookie Sterling Shepard. So far, the early returns are extremely positive. But it will likely be the health status of Victor Cruz that ultimately determines how good this offense can be in 2016. If Cruz can return to anywhere near his 2011-12 form, the Giants will have an elite offense. Dwayne Harris is an ideal 4th receiver and special teams player. There will be tremendous competition for the fifth and possibly sixth wide receiver roster spots. Geremy Davis and Myles White saw quite a few reps with the first unit in the spring. But the other seven receivers on the roster all have talent. Keep an eye on rookie free agent Roger Lewis.

Running Backs: There are a lot of decent backs here, but is there a bell cow? Rashad Jennings has teased with extremely productive flashes like when he rushed for 432 yards in his last four games of the 2015 season. Can he stay healthy and be consistently productive? How much will McAdoo differ from Tom Coughlin in the way he rotates running backs? Regardless, Shane Vereen will remain a key element as a pass-catching back in the West Coast Offense. It’s do-or-die time for Andre Williams, the 2014 4th round draft pick, who simply hasn’t delivered the goods. If he falters, rookie Paul Perkins, productive-but-injury-prone Orleans Darkwa, or even Mike Sullivan favorite Bobby Rainey could jump up the depth chart. At fullback, Nikita Whitlock’s spot is in danger with the addition of experienced, physical fullback/H-Back Will Johnson from the Steelers.

Tight Ends: Larry Donnell came out of nowhere in 2014 but regressed in 2015, at least partially due to a neck injury that caused him to miss half the season. That, combined with Daniel Fells’ career-ending staph infection, opened the door for rookie free agent Will Tye, who looks like he has some real skills as a pass receiver. Pushing these two in spring workouts were second-year player Matt LaCosse and rookies Jerell Adams and Ryan Malleck. Adams and possibly LaCosse have shots to become legitimate two-way tight ends. But don’t discount Donnell and Tye. Regardless, there is a lot of competition at this position. And McAdoo loves using his tight ends.

Offensive Line: The biggest change here was not personnel but coaching. 61-year old Mike Solari is the new offensive line coach. He’s considered one of the best, but has only coached in the West Coast system one year (in 2015 in Green Bay). Unless someone like Bobby Hart surprises, it appears the starting five will remain the same. Most Giants’ fans are deeply concerned about the right side of the offensive line, specifically, guard John Jerry and tackle Marshall Newhouse. Jerry has reportedly worked his tail off this offseason. More good news is that Ereck Flowers, Justin Pugh, and Weston Richburg should continue to develop into a real team strength. Look for the running game to show much more consistency and productivity with these three leading the way. Depth remains an issue as the Giants only added a few no-names in the offseason such as Byron Stingily, Ryan Seymour, and Dillon Farrell.

Defense: The Giants made dramatic changes to their 32nd-ranked defense. The Giants spent almost $194 millon on three defensive free agents, added two much cheaper veteran free agent linebackers, and used three of their first four draft picks on defense. New position coaches were added on the defensive line and at linebacker.

The big question marks are (1) can Steve Spagnuolo regain his mojo as a defensive coordinator?; (2) how good can Jason Pierre-Paul be?; and (2) how quickly can the new pieces of the puzzle come together to form a cohesive unit? It’s been a long, long time since the Giants’ defense really scared anyone.

Defensive Line: The Giants made two major upgrades at this position, replacing defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins with Damon Harrison and Robert Ayers with Olivier Vernon. With the acquisition of Vernon, the Giants likely will move Jason-Pierre-Paul to left defensive end. Much depends on how much JPP’s permanently-damaged hand will affect his play moving forward. Can he come anywhere near his 2011 form again? Vernon was given a mammoth contract and the pressure is on him to perform at the very highest level. The Giants should be well-served by two huge, strong defensive tackles in Harrison and Johnathan Hankins. The Giants are also hoping that Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Jay Bromley provide quality depth. On paper, the defensive line looks like a very strong group. In addition, the Giants made significant changes to coaching when they let go of Robert Nunn and replaced him with rising coaching star Patrick Graham from the Patriots and added a new defensive tackle assistant coaching position with the addition of Jeff Zgonina.

Linebackers: The injury-prone Jon Beason retired. The Giants signed Keenan Robinson and Kelvin Sheppard in free agency and drafted B.J. Goodson in the 4th round. These three will compete with returning linebackers Devon Kennard, Jasper Brinkley, J.T. Thomas, Jonathan Casillas, Mark Herzlich, and Brad Bars. Kennard flashes talent, but can’t seem to stay on the field. The other returning starters seem like “just guys” who could be easily replaced. The good news is there is a lot of veteran experience in the group. Brinkley and Robinson will likely fight for the starting middle linebacker spot with Brinkley being the more physical player and Robinson the better athlete. All three starting spots are open to competition and how this all shakes out will be one of the more interesting story lines of camp. Linebacker still appears to be the weak link of what should be an improved defensive unit. The Giants replaced linebackers coach Jim Herrmann with Bill McGovern.

Darian Thompson, New York Giants (June 6, 2016)

Darian Thompson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Defensive Backs: The Giants replaced Prince Amukamara with Janoris Jenkins, who they are paying like a shut-down corner. The pressure will be on him to play to that level. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a Pro Bowl-quality defender. The Giants also used the 10th pick in the draft on cornerback Eli Apple. So on paper, corner looks like a real strength. The big question here is can any of these three players handle the slot corner position? Otherwise we may see more of Trevin Wade than Apple on the field. Diminutive rookie free agent Donte Deayon made noise in the spring, as did his college teammate Darian Thompson at free safety. If Thompson is the real deal, that will allow the Giants to move Landon Collins to his more natural strong safety position. Those two could form a talented, albeit very inexperienced duo. Nat Berhe, Mykkele Thompson, Bennett Jackson, and Cooper Taylor have talent, but have to stay on the field. Lacking experience, the safety unit is very green.

Special Teams: Tom Quinn continues to miraculously survive assistant coaching purges, having remained with the team since 2006. The Giants probably preferred to keep Larry Izzo as assistant special teams coach, but he accepted a position with the Texans. Dwayne Stukes replaces him. Special teams were very much improved in 2015, but they also cost the Giants dearly in a few games. The core will likely remain the same: Dwayne Harris as punt/kickoff returner, Josh Brown as place kicker, Brad Wing as the punter/holder, and Zak DeOssie as long snapper.

Summary: The offense should be good, and could be exceptional if Victor Cruz returns close to 100 percent, but that’s a huge “if.” The concerns about the right side of the offensive line are probably overblown, but depth could be a real issue if injuries hit. On paper, the Giants are much improved on the defensive line and in the secondary, but the various parts need to come together quickly. It’s been a while since Steve Spagnuolo has put together a good defense. Special teams need to be a net positive throughout a 16-game+ schedule. The Giants are in what has proven to be an exceptionally weak division in recent years. It’s time to get back to the playoffs.