Jan 222021
 
Share Button
Darius Slayton, New York Giants (September 14, 2020)

Darius Slayton – © USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the single most disappointing unit on the New York Giants in 2020 was the wide receivers. Leading up to the season, there was much fan debate about just how good this group would be in 2020. The optimists pointed to Darius Slayton’s impressive 8-touchdown rookie season in which he averaged over 15 yards per catch. As long as he could stay healthy, Sterling Shepard had proven to be a reliable slot receiver who could move the chains. And despite missing four games due to a PED suspension and another due to a concussion, Golden Tate had gained 676 yards and six touchdowns in just 11 games in 2019. On the other hand, the naysayers claimed this group was way overrated. Most agreed that quality depth was non-existent.

The naysayers were right and the optimists were wrong. Slayton had a season to forget. He dropped six passes and saw his touchdown total fall to three (two of which came in the opener). Worse, Slayton all but disappeared from the offense for long stretches, catching only 12 passes for 167 yards and no touchdowns after the bye week. Shepard missed a quarter of the season with yet another injury, a turf toe that likely nagged him much of the year. While he led the team in receptions, Shepard only scored three touchdowns and averaged less than 10 yards per catch. Tate was most disappointing of all. He missed a quarter of the season (three to injuries and one for disciplinary reasons), and finished with just 388 yards receiving. No other wide receiver caught more than 11 passes. And as a unit, this group only scored an embarrassing nine touchdowns. NINE!

So what happened? It’s likely that the absence of Saquon Barkley from the line-up had a dramatic impact on the rest of the offense. Opposing defenses no longer had to worry about Barkley as a runner and receiver, someone who often received double-team and/or special attention. Teams could now spend more resources on defending Slayton, Shepard, or tight end Evan Engram. Golden Tate’s play fell off dramatically and he is clearly nearing the end of his career. Shepard (again) missed significant time due injury and Slayton was also dealing with a foot issue. Whatever the reasons, the top three receivers rarely created much separation from defensive backs. Every throw always seemed to be contested. And with no depth, the coaching staff had few replacement options. In the end, this group simply proved to be a bottom tier group, perhaps even the worst in the NFL.

THE STARTERS

In his fifth NFL season, Sterling Shepard caught a career-high and team-leading 66 passes, but 2020 represented yet another somewhat disappointing campaign. Shepard has now missed significant time due to injury in three seasons, spending four games on Injured Reserve in 2020 with a turf toe injury that he suffered in Week 2. He finished the year with just 656 yards (a career-low 9.9 yards per catch) and three touchdowns. Shepard was selected in the 2nd round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Giants. Shepard started all 16 games in 2016 and 2018, but missed five games in 2017 and six games in 2019, the latter with two serious concussions. He has never come close to cracking the 1,000-yard mark in a single season or duplicating his 8-touchdown season of his rookie campaign (he now has 20 career touchdowns). Shepard lacks ideal size and speed, but he is a fluid athlete with good quickness. Shepard runs good routes, is tough going over the middle, and adjusts well to the football. Shepard is not a consistent deep threat, but more of a move-the-chains underneath target who is ideally suited for the slot position. He needs to make more big plays. Good blocker.

After an impressive rookie season, Darius Slayton did not play as well in 2020. He played in all 16 games, starting 15, and finished the year with 50 catches for 751 yards and three touchdowns. While his reception and yardage numbers were similar to his rookie season, he played in two fewer games in 2019 while scoring eight touchdowns. Slayton also was second on the team in dropped passes with six in 2020. A nagging foot injury could have been an issue for him. The Giants drafted Slayton in the 5th round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He combines good size with very good overall athleticism and speed. Slayton can stretch the field and get deep. He runs good routes, adjusts well to the football, and is dangerous after the catch. To reach the next level, he must become a more physical receiver, including beating press coverage, and more consistent catching the football.

The play of Golden Tate really fell off a cliff in 2020. He missed three games to various leg injuries and was benched another game for disciplinary reasons. Yet despite playing in one more game than he did in 2019, Tate’s reception figures fell from 49 to 35, his yardage figures fell from 676 to 388, and his touchdown figures fell from six to two. The 5’10”, 197-pound Tate was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. He has spent time with the Seahawks (2010-2013), Detroit Lions (2014-2018), and Philadelphia Eagles (2018). He made the Pro Bowl in 2014.  The Giants signed Tate as an unrestricted free agent from the Eagles in March 2019. In his first season with the Giants, Tate missed five games (four due to suspension and one due to a concussion). Tate is ideally suited for the slot position, but he appears to be slowing down. He is capable of making the tough catch in traffic and can be dangerous after the catch. Tate has a history of wearing out his welcome with teams in the NFL.

THE RESERVES

The Giants claimed C.J. Board off of waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars in August 2020. He surprisingly played in 14 games, including four starts, but only finished with 11 catches for 101 yards and no touchdowns. The 6’1”, 181-pound Board was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Baltimore Ravens after the 2017 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Ravens (2017), Tennessee Titans (2017), Cleveland Browns (2017-2018), and Jaguars (2018-2019). Before coming to the Giants, his only regular-season experience came in 2019 when his played in four games for the Jaguars and finished the year with just two catches for 31 yards.

The Giants signed Austin Mack as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2020 NFL Draft. He played in 11 games as a rookie with one start, finishing the year with just seven catches for 91 yards and no touchdowns. Mack is a muscular wideout with good size, but he lacks ideal speed and quickness. Strictly a possession-type receiver, Mack is capable of making the tough grab in traffic.

The Giants claimed Dante Pettis off of waivers from the San Francisco 49ers in early November 2020. He played in the final two games of the season for the Giants, catching four passes for 76 yards and one touchdown. The 6’1”, 195-pound Pettis was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the 49ers. He has played in 30 regular-season games, with 12 starts. Pettis has experience returning kickoffs and punts. He’s a good athlete who has struggled with some of the mental aspects of the game.

The Giants claimed Damion Ratley off of waivers from the Cleveland Browns in early September 2020 and cut him in October. He ended up playing in five games, catching four passes for 63 yards. The 6’2”, 200-pound Ratley was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Browns. In 2018-2019, Ratley played in 26 regular-season games with six starts, accruing 25 catches for 344 yards and one touchdown.

PRACTICE SQUAD

The 6’0”, 190-pound Alex Bachman was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Los Angeles Rams after the 2019 NFL Draft. The Rams cut him before the season started and the Giants signed him to their Practice Squad in November 2019. Bachman began the 2020 season on the Giants’ Practice Squad, was cut, and then re-sign to the Practice Squad again. Bachman is an average-sized receiver with good quickness.

The Giants signed Derrick Dillon to a future/reserve contract in January 2021. The 5’11”, 185-pound Dillon was signed by the Giants as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2020 NFL Draft. He spent much of the season on the team’s Practice Squad, but was cut in early December. Dillon is a smaller, speedy wide receiver with limited collegiate production.

The Giants signed Binjimen Victor as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2020 NFL Draft. He spent the entire season on the team’s Practice Squad but was signed by the Baltimore Ravens in January 2021.

The Giants signed Corey Coleman to the Practice Squad in late October 2020 and cut him a month late in late November. The 5’11”, 185-pound Coleman was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. The Giants signed Coleman to the Practice Squad and then the 53-man roster in October 2018. He ended up playing in eight games with one start, finishing with five catches for 71 yards. Coleman missed all of 2019 with a torn ACL knee injury. The Giants cut him in early September 2020. The NFL just announced Coleman will be suspended for six games in 2021 for a PED violation.

The Giants signed Johnny Holton in early September 2020. He spent a month on the Practice Squad before being cut in October. The 6’3”, 190-pound Holton was originally signed by the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft.

INJURED RESERVE

Cody Core was placed on Injured Reserve in August 2020 after tearing his Achilles during a training camp practice. While Core only had three catches for 28 yards in 2019, he was arguably the team’s best special teams player, excelling on punt coverage. He was credited with eight tackles and was a big factor in downing punts inside the 20-yard line. The 6’3”, 205-pound Core was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. In three seasons with the Bengals, he played in 35 regular-season games with seven starts, accumulating 30 catches for 360 yards and one touchdown. The Giants claimed  Core off of waivers from the Bengals in September 2019.

David Sills was placed on Injured Reserve before the season started in early September with a broken right foot. The 6’3”, 211-pound Sills was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Buffalo Bills after the 2019 NFL Draft. The Giants signed Sills to the Practice Squad in September 2019 after he was cut by the Bills. The Giants then signed him to the 53-man roster in mid-December 2019. He did not play in a game however.

COVID-19 OPT-OUT

Da’Mari Scott opted out of the 2020 NFL season due to the COVID-19 issue. The Giants claimed Scott off of waivers from the Buffalo Bills in July 2019. They waived him in August but Scott spent time on both the team’s Practice Squad and 53-man roster during the season. In all, Scott played in five games with two starts. He finished the year with just two catches for 22 yards. He also returned four kickoffs (27.5 yards per return) and six punts (5.3 yards per return). The 6’0”, 205-pound Scott was originally signed by the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2018 NFL Draft. The Browns waived him in December 2018 and he was then signed by the Bills.

Jan 202021
 
Share Button
Evan Engram, New York Giants (September 29, 2019)

Evan Engram – © USA TODAY Sports

As an offensive mind, former Dallas Cowboys head coach and current New York Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett had his advocates and detractors. But one of the areas that most agreed upon was that Garrett knew how to employ tight ends to maximum benefit in a pro offense. For years, Jason Witten and a host of other Cowboys’ tight ends have tormented the Giants and other teams. In addition, Freddie Kitchens may have been a failure as a head coach in Cleveland, but the new tight ends coach of the Giants had a strong reputation for coaching tight ends in Dallas (2006) and Arizona (2007-2012). The hope and expectation was that Garrett and Kitchens would finally be able to get 2017 1st-round draft pick Evan Engram to play up to his tremendous potential.

It didn’t happen.

In his fourth NFL season, Engram once again proved he is who he is: a very athletic tight end/receiver hybrid who flashes big-play ability but disappears for long stretches and can’t be counted on in the clutch. He’s the very definition of a “coach killer,” the guy you keep longer than you should because he is a perennial tease but who ends up losing you football games. There is no greater example of that than the Week 7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Leading 21-16 late in the 4th quarter, the Giants were well on their way to their second victory in a row as Wayne Gallman had run for 27 yards in an effort to run out the clock. On 3rd-and-7, Daniel Jones hit Engram in the hands down the field with just over 2 minutes left in the game. He dropped it. If Engram catches that pass, the Giants walk off the field victorious. If Engram catches that pass, the Giants probably win the NFC East. You can also legitimately blame the defense for not holding the lead, but it never should have come to that.

If all of this sounds a bit harsh, it is. But the Giants have turned down multiple trade offers for Engram because of his supposed upside. The truth is that once the Giants drafted Saquon Barkley with the #2 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, which committed the Giants to a more run-centric offense, Engram seemed miscast on this team. Because of his body type, he’ll never been more than a subpar blocker. But you accept that if he is a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses, a receiver who consistently catches 5-8 passes per game and approaches 8-10 touchdown receptions per season. Engram is not that guy. He had ONE touchdown in 2020. His Pro Bowl invite seems like a bad joke.

Obviously there were other tight ends on the roster. Kaden Smith (45 percent of all offensive snaps) and Levine Toilolo (27 percent of all offensive snaps) saw extensive playing time as Garrett often employed 2- and 3-tight end packages. But both served more as complementary blockers, as in total Smith and Toilolo had only 23 catches and no touchdowns. Eric Tomlinson spent some time on the 53-man roster and practice squad, but was waived for good in November. He only played in one game.

Let that sink in for one moment. As a group, New York Giants tight ends caught ONE touchdown pass in 2020. Pathetic doesn’t seem like strong enough of a word.

ON THE 53-MAN ROSTER

In his fourth NFL season, Evan Engram had yet another disappointing year in 2020 despite being voted to the Pro Bowl. He was second on the team with 63 catches for 654 yards (10.4 yards per catch) and just one touchdown. Engram also had a team-high eight dropped passes. He played 83 percent of all offensive snaps. The Giants drafted Engram in the 1st round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Engram had a solid rookie year, but missed five games in 2018 (knee and hamstring) and eight games in 2019 (knee and foot) with injuries. Engram is not built like a traditional tight end, but more like an H-Back/wide receiver ‘tweener. He is very athletic with excellent speed and quickness for the position, and flashes big play-making ability. However, he is not a reliable player. Engram tends to disappear for long stretches of games and the season. He drops too many passes cannot be counted on in the clutch. Due to his size, he is not a good blocker.

Kaden Smith served as the team’s top reserve tight end for the second year in a row. While his playing time increased, playing in 15 games with 12 starts, Smith’s pass-catching productivity fell from 31 catches, 268 yards, and three touchdowns in 2019 to 18 catches, 112 yards, and no touchdowns in 2020. He missed one game in late November due to COVID-19. He played 45 percent of all offensive snaps. Smith was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. The Giants claimed Smith off of waivers from the San Francisco 49ers in September 2019. While not a dynamic athlete, Smith has good size (6’5”, 249 pounds), runs good routes, and catches the ball well. He is decent blocker.

The team’s third tight end in 2020, Levine Toilolo played in all 16 games with two starts (27 percent of all offensive snaps). He finished with just five catches for 46 yards. The 6’8”, 268-pound Toilolo was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. He has spent time with the Falcons (2013-2017), Detroit Lions (2018), and San Francisco 49ers (2019). The Giants signed Toilolo as an unrestricted free agent from the 49ers in March 2020. In eight NFL seasons, Toilolo has played in 124 regular-season games with 69 starts. Toilolo is a huge tight end who is a better blocker than receiver.

Eric Tomlinson spent most of September and October on the 53-man roster, but was waived in November. He only played in one game with a couple of offensive snaps. The Ravens picked him up and he actually played in six games with two starts for Baltimore. The Giants signed Tomlinson as an unrestricted free agent from the Las Vegas Raiders in March 2020. This was Tomlinson’s second stint with the Giants as the team also signed him in September 2019 after he was cut by the New York Jets. Tomlinson was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Philadelphia Eagles after the 2015 NFL Draft.

ON THE PRACTICE SQUAD

The Giants signed Rysen John to the Practice Squad in late October 2020. The Giants originally signed John as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2020 NFL Draft. The Giants waived/injured John in early September 2020 with a hamstring injury. The 6’7”, 220-pound John was a receiver in college.

The Giants re-signed Nakia Griffin-Stewart to a future/reserve contract in January 2021. The Giants signed Griffin-Stewart to the Practice Squad in November 2020 and cut him in December. The 6’5”, 260-pound Griffin-Stewart was originally signed as rookie free agent by the Minnesota Vikings after the 2020 NFL Draft. He also spent time on the Practice Squad of the Green Bay Packers that year before signing with the Giants.

The Giants re-signed Nate Wieting to a future/reserve contract in January 2021. The Giants originally signed Wieting to the Practice Squad in November 2020 and cut him in December. The 6’4”, 250-pound Wieting went undrafted in the 2020 NFL Draft. He spent some time with the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins before signing with the Giants.

Jan 182021
 
Share Button
Shane Lemieux and Nick Gates, New York Giants (November 2, 2020)

Shane Lemieux and Nick Gates – © USA TODAY Sports

New Head Coach Joe Judge was hired by the New York Giants in early January 2020. After an atypically long vetting process, the team announced its complete staff a month later in early February. The extremely well-organized new head coach was all set to initiate his program to turn the franchise around. Then disaster struck. COVID-19 forced the league to shut down in the spring and much of the summer. The challenges for a new head coach trying to rebuild most of the roster seemed almost insurmountable.

Probably the position most affected by these developments was the offensive line. The Giants entered 2020 knowing they would have to have new starters at center and at least one of the tackle spots. That quickly became three starters when left tackle Nate Solder decided to sit out 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns. Right tackle Mike Remmers had already signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. The only free agent addition was journeyman swing tackle Cam Fleming. It was obvious that most of the help would have to come from the draft, where the Giants selected Andrew Thomas in the 1st round, Matt Peart in the 3rd round, and Shane Lemieux in the 5th round. Despite those additions, there was still a glaring hole at center, with no obvious candidate to start other than the disappointing Spencer Pulley and talk of possible conversion projects.

With the desperate need to sort all of this out, Joe Judge was being told he could have no mini-camps, no Organized Team Activity (OTA) practices, a dramatically scaled back training camp, and no preseason. Teams were told they could only hold 14 padded practices before the season. 14 practices to get rookie Andrew Thomas ready at left tackle. 14 practices to find and name a starting center. 14 practices to figure out who to start at right tackle. 14 practices to build cohesion and chemistry for a group largely unfamiliar with each other.

The early returns were predictable. The line struggled. Converted guard/tackle Nick Gates was moved to center, a position that he had never played, and he had a rough start. Andrew Thomas did not look like the 4th player taken in the draft and fans began to question the pick, arguing the team drafted the wrong lineman. There was no time for Matt Peart to seriously challenge Cam Fleming for the right tackle job, and Fleming continued to demonstrate he really wasn’t an ideal starter. All of this was made worse by the fact that the two guys who the team needed to rely on, guards Kevin Zeitler and Will Hernandez, were once again not playing as well as expected.

Saquon Barkley was lost in Week 2 and the Giants had no ground game early in the season outside of Daniel Jones running for his life. No Giant had more than 30 yards rushing in the first two games and no Giant had more than 50 yards rushing in the first four games. Jones was the team’s leading rusher in four of the first seven games of the season. Jones was also getting sacked early and often, something that never really totally abated as he was sacked 45 times and NYG quarterbacks sacked 50 times on the season (or over three per game).

Despite all of this negativity and an 0-5 start, something began to change in October. A hodgepodge group of backs and Jones began to hurt teams on the ground as the offensive line began playing better. In eight of their next nine games, the Giants ran for over 100 yards or more. In seven of these games, they ran for over 130 yards or more. The high point was a 190-yard rushing effort against the Seattle Seahawks on December 6th. The line appeared to be developing into a physical, smash-mouth unit almost overnight.

Why? First, Nick Gates made a miraculous transformation from an undrafted tackle to a big, feisty, physical presence at center. In just a few games, he clearly became the team’s best offensive lineman. Second, Andrew Thomas settled down and started playing much, much better. Third, the Giants replaced Will Hernandez with Shane Lemieux at left guard, and while that created some pass protection issues, Lemieux’s presence seemed to be an upgrade in the run-blocking department. Finally, Kevin Zeitler started to play better. Matt Peart did receive increased playing time, receiving significant snaps in half of the games, but right tackle remained a bit of a sore spot with Cam Fleming.

In mid-November, Joe Judge surprisingly fired Offensive Line Coach Marc Colombo, bringing onboard outsider Dave DeGuglielmo, who ironically had served under Tom Coughlin from 2004 to 2008. DeGuglielmo would later miss the last week of the season due to COVID-19.

The line struggled in three-game stretch in December before finishing strong in the season finale against Dallas. In those three games, New York never rushed for more than 80 yards and Giants’ quarterbacks were sacked 13 times. Nevertheless, the overall impression was despite all of COVID-19-related handicaps, the Giants actually finally made progress in rebuilding the offensive line in 2020. There appears to be a young, talented foundation to work with.

THE STARTERS

Despite having no prior experience at playing the position, and after a rough start, Nick Gates not only solidified the center position for the Giants but rapidly became the team’s best lineman. Gates started all 16 games at center. He was flagged with five penalties (two holding, one false start, one unnecessary roughness, and one illegal block). The Giants signed Gates as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2018 NFL Draft. He missed all of 2018 with a foot injury that caused him to be placed on Injured Reserve before the season started. In 2019, Gates was active for all 16 games with three starts (two starts at right tackle and one start at right guard). Gates is a versatile player, able to play tackle, guard, and center. He has good size and brings toughness and attitude to the offensive line. Gates is a solid pass and run blocker.

The Giants drafted Andrew Thomas in the 1st round of the 2020 NFL Draft. As a rookie, Thomas started 15 games at left tackle despite playing on a left ankle injury that required offseason surgery in January 2021. Thomas was benched for the start of one game for being late to a team meeting. In terms of his overall play, Thomas struggled early, but markedly improved as both a pass and run blocker as the year progressed. He was flagged with five penalties (three false start and two holding penalties) on the season. Thomas has a big frame (6’5”, 315lbs) and long arms. He is a strong, physical run blocker who can get movement at the point-of-attack. He is athletic enough to get to the second level and works to finish his blocks. Thomas is a good athlete and he flashes excellent pass protection skills, but he needs to improve his overall technique and consistency in that department.

The Giants signed Cam Fleming as an unrestricted free agent from the Dallas Cowboys in March 2020. He ended up starting all 16 games at right tackle, by far the most in his career in a single season. But Fleming was arguably the weak link up front, regularly missing blocks. Fleming was also credited with four false starts and two holding penalties. The 6’5”, 320-pound Fleming was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. After four years in New England, he played two seasons with the Cowboys. In seven NFL seasons, Fleming has played in 91 regular-season games with 42 starts. Fleming is versatile lineman who can play both tackle spots. He has good size. However, Fleming seems better suited to a reserve, swing-tackle type role than starter.

While the overall play of Kevin Zeitler improved in his second season with the Giants, he still did not meet expectations in 2020. Zeitler started all 16 games at right guard. He was flagged four times on the year (one holding, three false starts). Zeitler was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. He signed a 5-year, $60 million contract with the Browns in March 2017, which at the time made him the highest-paid guard in the NFL. The Giants acquired Zeitler by trade from the Cleveland Browns in March 2019 in exchange for linebacker Olivier Vernon. In eight seasons, Zeitler has started 134 of the 135 regular-season games he has played in. Zeitler has good size (6’4”, 315lbs). Once regarded as one of the best guards in the game as both a run and pass blocker, Zeitler’s play in recent years has been more inconsistent. Nevertheless, he is still a solid, steady, veteran presence up front.

The Giants drafted Shane Lemieux in the 5th round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He surprisingly ended up playing in 12 games with nine starts starts at left guard, stealing Will Hernandez’s position. He was only flagged once (false start) all year. The 6’4”, 310-pound Lemieux started an incredible 52 games in college, never missing a game. He is a tough, feisty, blue-collar lineman with some athletic limitations. Lemieux needs to get stronger, but he is a physical presence in the ground game with a feel for blocking angles. He struggled at times as a pass protector.

After starting every game in his first two years in the league in 2018 and 2019, Will Hernandez lost his starting left guard job to Shane Lemieux after the seventh game of the season. Hernandez missed two games in early November due to COVID-19. He was flagged only once (one holding penalty) all year. The Giants selected Hernandez in the 2nd round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He was named named to Pro Football Writers of America’s All-Rookie Team. Hernandez has good size, strength, and toughness for the guard position, but he appears to lack ideal lateral agility. This hampers his play as a run blocker on the move and as a pass blocker when isolated against quick defenders. He can move defenders with his strength and power.

THE RESERVES

The Giants selected Matt Peart in the 3rd round of the 2020 NFL Draft. As a rookie, Peart played in 11 games with one start at left tackle. He did play in 15 percent of all offensive snaps, receiving some quality playing time. He missed one game in late November due to COVID-19. The 6’7”, 318-pound Peart was a 4-year starter in college with experience at both tackle spots. Peart combines excellent size, long arms, and good overall athletic ability. He has the frame to get bigger and stronger. As expected, Peart was inconsistent as a rookie and needs more technique refinement.

Spencer Pulley spent all of 2020 as the team’s primary reserve center, but he did not play. Pulley was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the San Diego Chargers after the 2016 NFL Draft. Spencer started all 16 regular-season games for the Chargers in 2017 at center. The Giants claimed Pulley off of waivers from the Chargers in September 2018. That season, Pulley was inserted into the starting line-up in late October. He struggled in his nine starts at center and missed one game due to an injury. In 2019, Pulley played in four games with one start in which he again struggled. He also is able to play guard.

The Giants claimed Jackson Barton off of waivers from the Kansas City Chiefs in early September 2020. Despite remaining on the 53-man roster all season, Barton never played in 2020. The 6’7”, 302-pound Barton was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. The Chiefs signed him off of the Colts’ Practice Squad in 2019. He has yet to play in a regular-season NFL game.

The Giants signed Kyle Murphy as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2020 NFL Draft. He was signed to the Practice Squad in early September and then signed to the 53-man roster in mid November. Murphy did not play in a regular-season game in 2020. Murphy was a 3-year starter in college with experience all along the offensive line.

The 6’5”, 315-pound Chad Slade was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Houston Texans after the 2015 NFL Draft. Slade spent his rookie season on Injured Reserve, and the 2016 and 2018 seasons on the Practice Squad of the Texans. In 2017, Slade played in five games with three starts (two at right guard and one at tight end) for the Texans. The Giants signed Slade to a reserve/futures contract in January 2019. While he surprisingly made the team, he wasn’t active for any game. Slade spent all of 2020 on New York’s Practice Squad.

The 6’6”, 315-pound Kenny Wiggins was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Baltimore Ravens after the 2011 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Ravens (2011), San Francisco 49ers (2012-2013), San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers (2013-2017), and Lions (2018-2020). The Lions cut Wiggins in late October 2020. The Giants signed Wiggins to the 53-man roster in November, cut him 10 days later, and then signed him to the Practice Squad for the remainder of the season. Overall, Wiggins has played in 79 regular-season games with 38 starts.

COVID-19 OPT-OUT

Nate Solder opted out of the 2020 NFL season due to the COVID-19 issue. In March 2018, the Giants made Solder the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL when they signed him away from the New England Patriots as unrestricted free agent. However, despite 32 straight starts at left tackle for New York, Solder has not played well at all with the Giants. He really struggled during the first half of 2018 before settling down a bit during the second half of the season. In 2019, his inconsistent play throughout the year both as a pass protector and run blocker was a significant factor in the team’s struggles. The 6’8”, 325-pound Solder was drafted in the 1st round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Patriots. In nine seasons, Solder has started 127 of the 130 regular-season games he has played in. He is a long, lean tackle with good overall athleticism. However, off-the-field issues with a sick child could understandably be affecting his focus and play.

Jun 222020
 
Share Button
Nate Ebner, New England Patriots (February 3, 2019)

Nate Ebner – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp hopefully beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Keep in mind that some of the players discussed may be cut as the 2020 NFL draft class signs their rookie contracts.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Special Teams

2019 YEAR IN REVIEW: For the second year in a row, the New York Giants special teams unit was arguably the strongest part of the team. The Giants were tied for 3rd in the NFL in punt returns (9.8 yards per return) and 10th in kickoff returns (23.5 yards per return). The Giants were 6th in the NFL in covering punts (5.67 yards per opponent return) and 1st in covering kickoffs (18.05 yards per opponent return). Cody Core (8 tackles) and Michael Thomas (7 tackles) were particularly active in covering punts and kicks. For the second year in a row, the Giants did not return a punt or kick for a touchdown and they did not allow a punt or kick to be returned against them for a touchdown. The Giants did block a punt for a touchdown.

The return game was by handled by committee. Golden Tate, T.J. Jones, Da’Mari Scott, and Jabrill Peppers returned punts while Cody Latimer, Corey Ballentine, Darius Slayton, and Da’Mari Scott returned kicks. Jones was cut during the season.

Punter Riley Dixon had a solid season, averaging 46.1 yards per punt (13th in the NFL) and 42.3 net yards per punt (9th in the NFL), with 29 of his punts being downed inside the 20-yard line. However, two of his punts were blocked.

After a stellar sophomore pro season in 2018, place kicker Aldrick Rosas regressed in 2019. Rosas was 12-of-17 (70.6 percent) on field goal attempts and missed four of his 39 extra point attempts (89.7 percent). Seventy percent of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. In 2018, Rosas made the Pro Bowl after making 32-of-33 field goal attempts, including a team-record 57 yarder.

The Giants placed long-time long snapper Zak DeOssie on Injured Reserve in late November 2019 with knee and wrist issues. He was replaced by Colin Holba for the last five games.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: It appears Zak DeOssie’s tenure with the Giants is over as he remains an unsigned unrestricted free agent. Colin Holba was cut in late April. The Giants signed long-snapper Casey Kreiter as an unrestricted free agent from the Denver Broncos in April.

Special teamers Cody Latimer (Washington Redskins), Michael Thomas (Houston Texans), and Antonio Hamilton (Kansas City Chiefs) signed elsewhere while the Giants added special teams ace Nate Ebner (New England Patriots). The Giants also drafted and signed a bunch of rookie linebackers and defensive backs who could significantly contribute on special teams.

Aldrick Rosas (1-year, $3.259 million), Cody Core (2-years, $4 million), and Corey Coleman (1-year, $1.1 million) were re-signed in the offseason.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: After John Harbaugh in Baltimore, Joe Judge became the second special teams coordinator in NFL history to make the jump directly to head coach. And almost all of Judge’s coaching experience is limited to special teams. Obviously, his heart and soul will likely remain with that part of the team and it will be interesting to see what kind of impact he has on the unit. Judge rewarded Thomas McGaughey for his solid work as special teams coordinator under Pat Shurmur by retaining him in the same position. Tom Quinn, who has been with the Giants since 2006, was also kept on as assistant special teams coach. McGaughey’s other assistant, Anthony Blevins, was moved to assistant defensive backs coach.

A major wrench was thrown into things when Aldrick Rosas, currently the only place kicker on the roster, was arrested in June for allegedly being involved in a hit-and-run accident and driving with a suspended license. Police also report Rosas was allegedly under the influence of alcohol at the time. Exacerbating the situation is the fact that Rosas was arrested in 2016 for also driving under the influence. At best, Rosas is likely facing suspension from the NFL. At worst, he could receive jail time and/or the team may simply decide to let him go. The Giants had just re-signed him to a 1-year, $3.259 million contract as a restricted free agent.

Once again, the Giants do not have a clear-cut favorite to return punts and kickoffs. Potential candidates include WR Golden Tate, WR Darius Slayton, WR Corey Coleman, WR Da’Mari Scott, WR Alex Bachman, RB Dion Lewis, RB Javon Leake, CB Darnay Holmes, CB Corey Ballentine, and S Jabrill Peppers. The Giants could also try WR Derrick Dillon as a returner.

In the punt and kick coverage department, the Giants gave Nate Ebner a 1-year, $2 million contract simply to play special teams. Cody Core’s stellar special teams play in 2019 was reminiscent of past Giants special teams studs Reyna Thompson, Larry Flowers, and David Tyree. It will be interesting to see if he can replicate and even improve on his gunner skills.

ON THE BUBBLE: Aldrick Rosas. What a dumbass!

PREDICTIONS: Don’t discount the impact special teams can have on the win-loss record. Thomas McGaughey has done a fine job with this unit the past two years, but Joe Judge was so impressive as a young special teams coordinator that he is now the head coach of one of the NFL’s flagship franchises. A stellar special teams unit can turn a 6-10 team into a 10-6 team with timely blocked punts/kicks, big returns, winning the field position war, and the kicking game.

Even though on the surface CB Deandre Baker’s legal charges are far more serious, I think Aldrick Rosas’ roster spot with the Giants is in more jeopardy. Even in the best-case scenario, I have a hard time seeing Rosas avoiding a 4-game suspension. The NFL’s policy on “substances of abuse” includes alcohol-related incidents. If that is the case, he won’t begin the season on the 53-man roster. Do the Giants use a roster spot on him in training camp? Rosas may just have kissed $3 million goodbye.

Trying to predict who will be the primary kick and punt returners in June from among the existing list of candidates is probably an exercise in futility. But I’m going to guess Corey Coleman is the kickoff returner and Golden Tate and Darnay Holmes will split the punt return duties.

Keep an eye on Cody Core. He deserved more attention than he received last year for his special teams play. Also, the Giants added seven rookie linebackers and six rookie defensive backs. Not all of them will make the team, but many of them could form the core of the specials units.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Barring some unforeseen event, Riley Dixon will be the punter and Casey Kreiter the long-snapper. I already predicted in my wide receiver overview that Corey Coleman will make the team; if so, he has a good shot to be the kickoff returner. Golden Tate and Darnay Holmes are the obvious candidates to return punts. It’s pretty obvious that Nate Ebner was signed by Judge to lead this entire unit.

I don’t think the team’s opening-day place kicker is on the roster. I think Rosas will be suspended and may not even be a New York Giant. It depends on whether the team wants to wait out the likely suspension.

Jun 152020
 
Share Button
Jabrill Peppers, New York Giants (September 29, 2019)

Jabrill Peppers – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp hopefully beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Keep in mind that some of the players discussed may be cut as the 2020 NFL draft class signs their rookie contracts.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Defensive Backs

2019 YEAR IN REVIEW: Heading into 2019, fans were generally upbeat about a secondary that was clearly in transition. The Giants had heavily invested in the position by drafting corners Deandre Baker (1st round), Julian Love (4th round), and Corey Ballentine (6th round) in the 2019 NFL Draft. At safety, the team had effectively swapped out Landon Collins (signed by Washington Redskins) and Curtis Riley (signed by Oakland Raiders) for Jabrill Peppers (part of Odell Beckham trade) and Antoine Bethea (signed after he was cut by the Arizona Cardinals). It was expected that Janoris Jenkins would rebound from a somewhat disappointing 2018 season and that Sam Beal (who missed his rookie season due to a shoulder injury) and Grant Haley (who started nine games as an undrafted rookie) would develop and improve. Michael Thomas provided depth and special teams value.

But it was a case of the more things changed, the more they stayed the same. Once again, the Giants were one of the NFL’s worst in pass defense, finishing 28th. In the “you can’t make this shit up” category, the team’s best defensive back, Jenkins, was cut in December after calling a fan a “retard” on Twitter. Baker started 15-of-16 games as a rookie, but was very inconsistent with his work ethic being questioned. Nickel corner Haley regressed and was eventually benched. The injury-prone Beal was placed on IR in September with hamstring and groin injuries, added to the 53-man roster in early November, and missed the last game with another shoulder issue. Ballentine had to deal with being shot right after he was drafted and then being thrust into a nickel corner spot that he was clearly ill-suited to play.

At safety, despite being told by team officials that Bethea still had it, he clearly did not and was a significant liability at free safety both against the pass and the run. Peppers did not make much of impact and was lost for the season in November as his overall play was improving. Michael Thomas played in all 16 games with two starts but clearly wasn’t the answer. Julian Love was moved from cornerback to safety early. He ended up starting five games late in the season, flashing at times but also experiencing growing pains as a rookie.

Overall, the unit was a collective disappointment and a major reason the overall defense finished 25th in yards and 30th in points allowed.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: As mentioned, Janoris Jenkins was waived in December. S Michael Thomas was signed by the Texans and CB Antonio Hamilton was signed by the Chiefs. Safety Antoine Bethea remains an unsigned unrestricted free agent.

Grant Haley was re-signed as an exclusive rights free agent in January. The first player the Giants signed in free agency in March was CB James Bradberry (3-year, $43.5 million contract). S/special teams player Nate Ebner (UFA from Patriots) and CB Dravon Askew-Henry (cut by Steelers last year) were also signed.

The Giants drafted S Xavier McKinney (2nd round), CB Darnay Holmes (4th round), and CB/S Chris Williamson (7th round) in the 2020 NFL Draft. After the draft, rookie free agent additions included CB Christian Angulo, CB Malcolm Elmore, and S Jaquarius Landrews. S Montre Hartage was claimed off of waivers from the Dolphins after the draft as well.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: There is a lot going on here and thus each fan probably has their own top story line. Clearly, one is the offseason drama surrounding 2019 1st-round draft pick Deandre Baker, who may or may not make it to training camp depending on the outcome of his offseason legal troubles (four counts of armed robbery and four counts of armed aggravated assault with a firearm from a bizarre incident in Florida). My personal belief is that the Giants were counting on Baker to form a solid starting CB duo alongside high-priced James Bradberry. Will Baker even be a Giant in 2020? If he is, will he be suspended by the team or the NFL? Did he get scared straight and will he commit himself to the game? If Baker is not part of the equation, the pressure increases to find his replacement among Sam Beal, Corey Ballentine, Darnay Holmes, and possibly Julian Love. Are they up to the task? Can Beal stay healthy? Is Love athletic enough to handle corner at the NFL level? Will Ballentine shine more at outside corner rather than inside at nickel?

Speaking of the nickel spot, one would think the Giants would want Holmes to nail down the position if the rookie can handle it. But there are others possibly in the equation, including Love and maybe Williamson.

At safety, it would appear that Jabrill Peppers and Xavier McKinney will have the inside shot at starting, but the coaches may want to configure packages to get Love on the field as either a third safety or additional corner. Depth is still needed here with Sean Chandler (holdover from 2018/2019), Rashaan Gaulden (added late in 2019), Montre Hartage, Chris Williamson, and Jaquarius Landrews all competing to make the roster.

Big picture is this: for the past three seasons, the Giants have invested a tremendous amount of resources into the defensive backfield, including a trading for a former 1st-round pick (Peppers); spending $43 million on a corner in free agency (Bradberry); and drafting players in the 1st (Baker), 2nd (McKinney), 3rd (Beal),  4th (Love, Holmes), 6th (Ballentine), and 7th (Williamson) rounds. It’s time for the investment to deliver returns and for the Giants to get out of the NFL basement in pass defense.

ON THE BUBBLE: There are currently 18 defensive backs on the roster. Probably only nine or ten will make the final roster. The only sure bets are probably Bradberry, Holmes, Peppers, Love, and McKinney. Baker obviously isn’t safe. Beal has to prove he can be a reliable player.

PREDICTIONS: So much here depends on the new coaching staff, not just Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham but Defensive Backs Coach Jerome Henderson, the latter coming from Atlanta where his unit struggled at times. It’s also interesting to note that Pat Shurmur holdover Anthony Blevins was moved from assistant special teams coach to assistant defensive backs coach. These three men have to develop all of the talent that been acquired in recent years.

In addition, so much depends on the legal and emotional status of Deandre Baker. He was (and still may be) and important piece of the puzzle. The expectation is that versatile Xavier McKinney, who many felt was the best safety in the draft, will be able to handle the starting free safety spot as a rookie.

My prediction is that if Baker is available and truly focused (two big ifs), this unit could be poised for a big turnaround. There were games last year where Baker did shut down his opponent. He can do it. But how important is the game to him? Usually you can’t count on a person to change their ways, but if anything was going to scare Baker straight, facing a long prison sentence might do the trick. Bradberry should be able to more than adequately handle the other corner spot, replacing Jenkins with less drama. The nickel corner should improve with Holmes, Love, or maybe Williamson an improvement over Haley and Ballentine.

At safety, the closer Peppers plays to the line of scrimmage, the more impact he makes. The drafting of McKinney should enable the coaching staff to play Peppers in a role best suited to his skills. I would not be shocked to see packages that get Peppers, McKinney, and Love all on the field together.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: James Bradberry, Deandre Baker, Sam Beal, Darnay Holmes, Corey Ballentine, Jabrill Peppers, Xavier McKinney, Julian Love, Nate Ebner, Chris Williamson

I’m making some bold assumptions here: Baker being a Giant, Beal staying healthy, and Ballentine and Williamson showing enough to stick. Ebner is strictly a core special teams player who Joe Judge obviously targeted in free agency to lead his unit.

Jun 082020
 
Share Button
Blake Martinez, Green Bay Packers (December 29, 2019)

Blake Martinez – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp hopefully beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Keep in mind that some of the players discussed may be cut as the 2020 NFL draft class signs their rookie contracts.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Linebackers

2019 YEAR IN REVIEW: If we go back in time one year, many believed that while the defensive line and secondary would improve, it was the linebacking unit that still seemed very much unsettled. After all, the 3-4 defense relies on the linebackers to be the play-makers. The Giants had traded away their best pass rusher, Olivier Vernon. Markus Golden was signed in free agency, but he had yet to return to his pre-injury form from 2016 (12.5 sacks). There was a desperate hope and need for second-year player Lorenzo Carter to beat out disappointing free agent Kareem Martin, relegating the latter to reserve duty. The Giants had also drafted Oshane Ximines in the 3rd round.

Inside linebacker was also a bit confused. The Giants were hoping that Alec Ogletree would become more consistent. It wasn’t clear if B.J. Goodson or Tae Davis would start alongside him. Much wasn’t expected immediately of 5th rounder Ryan Connelly.

So what happened? Golden actually ended up being a good signing, starting all 16 games and accruing a career-high 72 tackles, and team-high 10 sacks. On the other hand, Carter disappointed. Despite starting 12 games, he finished the year with just 45 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Martin was placed on Injured Reserve in September 2019 with a knee injury that he suffered in the regular-season opener. He was activated back to the active roster in December and finished the year with only three tackles in five games, with no starts. Ximines had a mixed performance as a rookie, receiving significant playing time (45 percent of all defensive snaps). While he flashed at times as a pass rusher (4.5 sacks), he struggled against the run. The Giants also added some in-season pick-ups who saw limited playing time such Devante Downs, Chris Peace, and Tuzar Skipper.

Inside, it was worse. Goodson was traded to the Packers before the season started. Davis was cut during the season in October. Ogletree missed three games and his overall play noticeably declined. At times, he simply appeared to be going through the motions. The brief bright spot was rookie Connelly, but he tore his ACL in Week 4. The Giants signed David Mayo in September after he was cut by the 49ers and surprisingly ended up starting 13 games. He played just OK. Special teams player Nate Stupar was waived, re-signed, and waived again. Undrafted rookie free agent Josiah Tauaefa made the team but saw most of his action on special teams. Deone Bucannon was signed in October after he was cut by the Buccaneers, starting one game, but playing mostly in a reserve role.

Overall, except for Golden and a brief couple of games from Connelly, the linebacking corps once again was a disappointment in all phases: run defense, rushing the passer, and coverage. The Giants finished 20th in run defense. The team generated 36 sacks with 23.5 coming from the linebackers (10 of those from Golden alone). Coverage on opposing tight ends and running backs remained abysmal.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The revolving door at this position continues. The team’s best linebacker in 2019, Markus Golden, remains in limbo as an unsigned unrestricted free agent. Joe Judge says the team would like him back. Expensive David Gettleman mistakes Alec Ogletree and Kareem Martin were let go in February. Deone Bucannon signed with the Falcons in May. The Steelers re-signed Skipper from the Giants’ Practice Squad in November.

Devante Downs and David Mayo were re-signed. The Giants signed free agents inside linebacker Blake Martinez ($31 million) and outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell ($4.6 million). An influx of rookies arrived in April, including Cam Brown (6th round), Carter Coughlin (7th round), T.J. Brunson (7th round), Tae Crowder (7th round), Dominique Ross (UDFA), Dana Levine (UDFA), and Oluwole Betiku (UDFA).

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: There are a lot of bodies (17), but how many are good players? The team’s most productive pass rusher, Golden, remains unsigned. As of now, the Giants are relying on Kyler Fackrell, Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, and a late draft pick/rookie free agent to supply the outside pass rush. While the first three players have flashed at times, that’s asking a lot. The belief by many is that new Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham will have to scheme the pass rush.

Inside, much depends on the performance of Blake Martinez and how well Ryan Connelly comes back from a serious knee injury. Opinions on Martinez vary wildly. And Connelly has to prove he hasn’t lost speed/agility. Mayo provides depth and insurance.

Did the Giants find gold with any of the late four draft picks or three undrafted rookie free agents?

ON THE BUBBLE: When you have 17 players at one position, a lot of people are on the bubble. Barring injury, one would think that Fackrell, Carter, and Ximines are safe outside and Martinez and Connelly will make it inside. Mayo has an experience advantage, but he faces competition from at least two rookies (Brunson and Crowder). Will the Giants re-sign Golden? All five rookie outside linebackers have intriguing characteristics, but they all can’t make it. Special teams play probably will be a significant factor.

PREDICTIONS: Stating the obvious, the Giants don’t have an edge rusher who scares the heck out of the opposition and demands potential double-team attention. Even if the team re-signs Golden, he’s more of a complimentary piece than headliner. Fackrell could surprise as he did have a double-digit sack season in 2018 under Patrick Graham. So much depends on whether or not new outside linebacker coach Bret Bielema can develop Carter and Ximines. (Incidentally, a nice addition for Carter was that he former college coach is now coaching the inside linebackers). The pass rush could be aided if the inside linebackers and safeties can improve their coverage against tight ends. The longer a QB has to hold the football, the more time the pass rushers will have to get to the QB. Barring an unlikely breakout season by someone, the Giants are not likely to be a strong pass rushing team in 2020.

On the other hand, contrary to many, I’m a bit more bullish on the inside guys as long as Ryan Connelly can fully recover from his ACL injury. Martinez and Connelly are two smart, heady, better-athletes-than-advertised players who could form a very respectable duo inside.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Kyler Fackrell, Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, Cam Brown, Carter Coughlin, Blake Martinez, Ryan Connelly, David Mayo, T.J. Brunson

I’m throwing darts at a dartboard when it comes to predicting rookies at this point. For example, who knows if Brunson or Crowder will show more? The heart of any special teams unit are the reserve linebackers and defensive backs so a lot of these guys could make it. I would not be shocked to see one or even two of the undrafted rookie free agents really push for a roster spot. Don’t sleep on guys like Ross, Levine, and Betiku.

Jun 012020
 
Share Button
B.J. Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson, New York Giants (November 25, 2018)

B.J. Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp hopefully beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Keep in mind that some of the players discussed may be cut as the 2020 NFL draft class signs their rookie contracts.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Defensive Line

2019 YEAR IN REVIEW: As expected, the defensive line was the strongest unit on the New York defense in 2019. However, that was small consolation on a defense that finished 25th in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed. Once again, the Giants fielded one the League’s worst defenses. This has been a decade-long trend and probably the biggest reason why the team has become a doormat in recent years.

Quality run and pass defense relies on all three levels of the defense playing well together. So it is always unwise to judge each separate unit in a vacuum. Linebackers and defensive backs need to be in the right position and make the tackle in run defense. A good pass rush also depends on linebackers and defensive backs being able to cover backs, tight ends, and receivers. Long story short, the Giants defensive line did not receive much help from the back seven. This was exacerbated by a 3-4 scheme that puts the onus on the linebackers to be play-makers. The players also never seemed to fully embrace Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher’s system.

The Giants entered 2019 with what on paper looked to be a strong starting unit of RDE Dexter Lawrence (2019 1st-round pick), NT Dalvin Tomlinson (2017 2nd-round pick), and LDE B.J. Hill (2018 3rd-round picks). However, depth was very thin with only DE R.J. McIntosh (2018 5th-round pick) and Olsen Pierre (2019 free agent) in reserve. Oddly, two days after the Giants fell to 2-6, General Manager Dave Gettleman traded away two draft picks for soon-to-be-unrestricted free agent Leonard Williams, who had failed to live up to expectations with the Jets. A half-season rental was the type of move a team in the middle of a playoff fight would only be expected to make, not a team clearly needing every draft pick it could keep or acquire. Williams would soon take many of B.J. Hill’s snaps and Pierre Olsen was let go.

Overall, the Giants finished a disappointing 20th in run defense (allowing 113 yards per game) and 28th in pass defense (allowing 264 yards per game). The Giants generated only 36 sacks with only 11.5 coming from the defensive line. That said, Dexter Lawrence (38 tackles, 2.5 sacks) had a promising first season, being named to the All-Rookie Team. Dalvin Tomliinson (49 tackles, 3.5 sacks) became a more disruptive player as the season progressed. Leonard Williams (26 tackles, 0.5 sacks) started five of his eight games with the Giants. As advertised, he was a good run defender who only teased as a pass rusher. More was expected from B.J. Hill (36 tackles, 1 sack), who saw his playing time, tackles, and sacks fall from his promising 2018 rookie season. R.J. McIntosh only played in 10 percent of defensive snaps and finished with only 13 tackles, but did have two sacks in limited opportunities. 2019 7th-round Chris Slayton spent most of the year on the Practice Squad.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: This unit saw the least change during the offseason. Other than Olsen Pierre, who was waived last November, everyone returns. Gettleman doubled down on Leonard Williams, slapping a 1-year, $16 million Franchise Tag on him. The only newcomers are Austin Johnson (unrestricted free agent from Tennessee Titans) and Niko Lalos (undrafted rookie free agent).

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The new coaching staff is being very coy about the new defense, vaguely repeating that it will be “multiple.” When asked if the Giants will be a 3-4 or 4-3 defense, new Defensive Patrick Graham responds, “yes.” But even a cursory look at the depth chart strongly suggests that the Giants will remain a  predominately 3-4 base as the team currently has nine defensive linemen and 17 linebackers. Nevertheless, expect Graham to constantly change fronts based on opponent, game plan, and down-and-distance.

Personally, I will be curious to see if Dexter Lawrence stays at end or plays more at nose tackle. He has the ability to develop into a truly imposing force in the League. Can Dalvin Tomlinson build upon his strong second half of the 2019 season? Can B.J. Hill return to his more disruptive play as a rookie in 2018? Most importantly, is Leonard Williams worth the the two draft picks and $16 million?

As part of an integrated defense, this unit will ultimately be judged on whether the team can dramatically improve its run defense and pass rush.

ON THE BUBBLE: For a team entering training camp with a 90-man roster, this team remains awfully thin on the line with only nine players. Assuming Niko Lalos spends him time with the defensive line (they gave him a DL jersey number), he clearly is on the bubble. Austin Johnson and Chris Slayton could also be fighting for one roster spot. Barring injury, everyone else should make the team.

PREDICTIONS: Patrick Graham is a relatively unknown commodity. The 41-year old coach has only served as defensive coordinator for one season at any level, that being his 30th-ranked defense with the talent-deficient Dolphins in 2019. Miami also oddly let him out of his contract to join the Giants. One gets the sense that the defensive line will thrive or fail depending on Graham’s overall effectiveness as a coordinator and whether or not the back seven can improve its play. There is talent on the defensive line, but the coaches, linebackers, and defensive backs need to step it up. Keep in mind that Graham served as defensive line coach with the Patriots (2012-2013) and Giants (2016-2017).

It will also be interesting to see how the players respond to new Defensive Line Coach Sean Spencer, aka “Coach Chaos.” Spencer has never coached at the NFL level but his relentless coaching style is vastly different from his predecessor with the Giants who was very low key (at least publicly). In addition, Outside Linebacker Coach/Senior Assistant Bret Bielema was the defensive line coach with the Patriots in 2019.

Do not expect any of the Giants’ current defensive linemen to become double-digit sack masters. None of them have that type of dynamic skill set. These are big, powerful linemen who can hold the point-of-attack, disrupt, and potentially control the line of scrimmage. But the best you can probably expect from each is 5-6 sacks in a season.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill, R.J. McIntosh, Austin Johnson

Johnson was an under-the-radar singing who really could help the depth situation. Can Chris Slayton show enough to stick?

May 262020
 
Share Button
Andrew Thomas, Georgia Bulldogs (November 2, 2019)

Andrew Thomas – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp hopefully beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Keep in mind that some of the players discussed may be cut as the 2020 NFL draft class signs their rookie contracts.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Offensive Line

2019 YEAR IN REVIEW: The more things change, the more things stay the same. That could be the mantra for the New York Giants franchise and their almost decade-long effort to rebuild the offensive line. 2019 was no exception. Expectations were at least slightly raised by the offseason additions of seasoned veterans Kevin Zeitler at right guard and Mike Remmers at right tackle. It was expected that left tackle Nate Solder would rebound from a disappointing debut season with the team in 2018. Center Jon Halapio returned after missing 14 games with a broken ankle and we were told by management and coaches what an underrated player he was. Left guard Will Hernandez was coming off a decent rookie season and was expected to develop into a more consistent player.

Long story short is that the offensive line not only did not improve, at times it looked worse than the ad hoc group that finished the 2018 season. Nate Solder regressed even further. Hernandez stagnated. Halapio sucked and tore his Achilles’ tendon with only minutes left in the season. Zeitler dealt with a number of injuries that most likely affected his overall play. Mike Remmers played as expected as an only adequate, temporary placeholder. As a unit, their play did not exceed or equal the sum of its parts. It played at a lesser and very much disappointing level that did not meet expectations. To be blunt, it wasn’t pretty. Saquon Barkley and his fellow running backs were often facing penetration in the backfield and quarterbacks Eli Manning and Daniel Jones were regularly under siege.

The depth situation was also not good. Seventh-rounder offensive tackle George Asafo-Adjei suffered a serious concussion early in camp and was lost for the season. For the second year in a row, back-up center Spencer Pulley did not look good when he played. Reserves Eric Smith and Chad Slade were non-factors. Only 2018 undrafted rookie free agent Nick Gates showed some promise in three starts, one at right guard and two at right tackle.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Dave Gettleman re-signed exclusive rights free agents Eric Smith and Chad Slade in late December before Joe Judge was hired. The team did not tender restricted free agent Jon Halapio and he remains unsigned. Team officials contend they could still re-sign Halapio, but it is somewhat telling that they already gave his jersey number away to another offensive lineman.

Mike Remmers signed with the Chiefs. George Asafo-Adjei was waived/failed physical in March.

Journeyman offensive tackle/tight end Nate Wozniak was signed to a reserve/futures contract in late December. Unrestricted free agent offensive tackle Cam Fleming (Dallas Cowboys) was signed in March. The Giants drafted three offensive linemen in the 2020 NFL Draft, including tackle Andrew Thomas (1st round), tackle Matt Peart (3rd round), and guard Shane Lemieux (5th round). The team also signed rookie free agent guards Kyle Murphy and Tyler Haycraft after the draft.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: It’s the same as it has been for almost 10 years. Can the Giants field a respectable offensive line? The Achilles’ heel of the offensive team for the last decade has been the play of the offensive line. Every Giants fan knows that. Under two general managers and three head coaches, the team has spent high draft picks and spent a ton of free agent money to fix the problem with no improvement. The old maxim still holds true, football is indeed won and lost in the trenches. And the NFC East is filled with good front sevens. It’s no wonder why the Giants have become the punching bag for the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles.

While the Giants did not make a big splash this year in free agency (Cam Fleming), it certainly did in the draft by taking three offensive linemen in their first five selections, including the 4th player overall. On paper, things look much improved. The Giants appear to have four potentially adequate or more starters at tackle (Solder, Thomas, Fleming, Peart) and guard (Hernandez, Zeitler, Gates, Lemieux). The obvious sore spot is center. There is no reason to believe Spencer Pulley will develop into an adequate starter. Team officials have already publicly admitted that players such as Gates, Lemieux, and Kyle Murphy will cross-train at at both guard and center.

The hope here is twofold. First, the belief that Head Coach Joe Judge, Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett, and Offensive Line Coach Marc Colombo are superior coaches to their predecessors. And not only will they implement more coherent and viable blocking schemes that fit the existing personnel, but they will develop each individual player better. Second, that the Giants have not only improved the level of talent, but also the level of depth.

In the short term, media and fan focus will be on the center position and the development of the rookie tackles. It doesn’t help that the COVID situation has prevented the team from holding on-field spring practices.

ON THE BUBBLE: A lot of fans want to cut Nate Solder now. While an argument can be made to do so, the COVID situation makes it more unlikely that a team would want to rely on untested rookies who missed spring practices. Just as importantly, the team already paid his $3 million roster bonus in March and would be penalized with a sizable cap hit in dead money (almost $10 million if cut after June 1st).

Barring a complete collapse by Solder and/or rapid development of Thomas and Peart, the Giants are likely to keep four tackles: Solder, Thomas, Peart, and Fleming. It would also seem like the Giants will keep at least five interior linemen with Hernandez, Zeitler, Lemieux, and Gates having the inside track. Pulley’s fate may depend on who is on the waiver wire and the cross-training status of Lemieux, Gates, and Murphy.

PREDICTIONS: Things may not be pretty in the short term (this season), but I think FINALLY the Giants made some moves that will settle this position down for the long term (beyond 2020). I’m thrilled with what the Giants did in the draft at this position. With all due respect to Brad Benson, Jumbo Elliott, and David Diehl, the Giants have have not had a left tackle with the skill-set of Andrew Thomas in my lifetime. Thomas has an ideal combination of size/length, athleticism, temperament, and work ethic for the position (Ereck Flowers lacked the latter two qualities). Matt Peart has many of the same characteristics but it is assumed he will take a little longer to refine because he played at UConn. Both started as freshmen. Both have have started at right and left tackle. It is not far-fetched to dream that the Giants may have selected two 10-year starters at tackle in one draft.

Furthermore, Shane Lemieux was one of the best guards in the draft. Like Thomas, he started as a freshman in a major program. Lemieux has the size, temperament, and work ethic you want at the position. I honestly think all three will eventually start for the Giants. I also would not sleep on rookie free agent Kyle Murphy, who has played at both tackle spots, guard, and center. Based on the limited tape I’ve seen of him, this former team captain plays the game you want your offensive linemen to play (VIDEO).

What’s hard to predict is what the starting line will look like in 2020. Nate Solder and Andrew Thomas are going to start at tackle, but we don’t know who will start on each side. If Solder continues to struggle, I would not completely discount seeing Peart or Fleming in there sooner than expected. Hernandez and Zeitler should start at guard, but neither should get too comfortable with Lemieux and Nick Gates looming in the wings. Joe Judge has repeatedly said the best guys will play, regardless of their draft position or paycheck size. Zeitler is one of the better guards in the NFL and should rebound. It will be interesting to see how Hernandez responds to the new coaching staff.

The huge question mark of course is center. Nobody really wants Pulley starting. The hope is that Gates, Lemieux, or Murphy impress enough in camp to quickly take the starting job. But there is not much time.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Nate Solder, Andrew Thomas, Matt Peart, Cam Fleming, Will Hernandez, Kevin Zeitler, Shane Lemieux, Nick Gates, Kyle Murphy

What? No center? No way! You’re right… I’m going way out on a limb here and predicting that Lemieux, Gates, and/or Murphy show enough potential at center for not only to have one, but BOTH centers on the team to be converted guards. Teams can also carry 10 offensive linemen and I wouldn’t discount that as a real possibility with Pulley (or a waiver wire pick-up) serving as insurance. Again, I don’t think things will be pretty in the short term. But sometimes you have to take your lumps early for it to pay dividends down the road.

The Giants rolled the dice in 1984 with a converted guard starting at center, Kevin Belcher. It worked out wonderfully for the team in the short-term. (Kevin’s career ended the following offseason with a car crash).

At the very least, the depth situation looks very much improved. There will be guys who can come off of the bench and play in this league.

May 222020
 
Share Button
Kaden Smith, New York Giants (December 1, 2019)

Kaden Smith – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp hopefully beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Keep in mind that some of the players discussed may be cut as the 2020 NFL draft class signs their rookie contracts.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Tight Ends

2019 YEAR IN REVIEW: Entering 2019, the Giants and their fans were hoping that 3rd-year player and former 1st-round draft pick Evan Engram would finally make it through a full season and break out with a 1,000+ receiving year. Alas that was not to be as Engram suffered both foot and knee injuries that caused him to miss half the season. In all, Engram played in just eight games in 2019 with six starts, catching 44 passes for 467 yards and three touchdowns. This was after Engram missed five games in 2018 with knee and hamstring injuries.

Making matters worse for New York was that Engram’s primary back-up, Rhett Ellison, suffered a serious concussion in Week 10 and missed the last six games of the season. Ellison accrued his lowest numbers in a Giants’ uniform, just 18 catches for 167 yards and one touchdown.

Scott Simonson badly injured his ankle in the preseason finale, was cut from Injured Reserve in September, and re-signed to the 53-man roster in November. But Simonson was placed on IR again in December with a concussion. He played in five games in 2019 with one start, catching just two passes for 11 yards. Garrett Dickerson split time between the Practice Squad and the 53-man roster, but did not have a catch.

The only real positive at this position in 2019 was the emergence of rookie Kaden Smith. The Giants claimed Smith off of waivers from the San Francisco 49ers in September. (He was a 6th round pick for the 49ers). Smith surprisingly became a significant contributor after the bye week when injuries started to hit the tight end position hard. Smith played in nine games with six starts, and finished the season with 31 catches for 268 yards (8.6 yards per catch) and three touchdowns. He also did a nice job in the blocking department.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Scott Simonson was cut in February. Rhett Ellison retired from football in March. Evan Engram, Kaden Smith, and Garrett Dickerson return.

The Giants added four new bodies, including veteran free agents Levine Toilolo (49ers) and Eric Tomlinson (Raiders) as well as rookie free agents Kyle Markway and Rysen John.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The Giants picked up the 5th-year option on Engram in late April, meaning he will be under contract through the 2021 season. However, stating the obvious, this is a critical season for the injury-plagued Engram. He has to prove he can be reliably productive, and you can’t do that if you aren’t playing. And when Engram has played, he has frustratingly alternated between signs of becoming an impact player as a receiving tight end and disappearing for long stretches. As any Giants fan painfully knows, Jason Garrett’s offense relies heavily on tight end play. And Joe Judge preaches about putting players in the best positions to succeed, which would suggest that Engram may see less in-line blocking and be used more heavily in the receiving game. If Engram can’t do it in year four, it may be best for the team to part ways with him.

Kaden Smith’s development will be interesting to watch. He’s not a great athlete, but he did the job when called upon last year despite his limited experience (VIDEO). His upside is the big question mark.

It’s pretty telling that Gettleman and Judge signed two big, run-blocking tight ends in free agency. Now on his fourth NFL team, Levine Toilolo is massive (6’8”, 268 pounds) and figures to be the most physical blocking tight end in this offense. Eric Tomlinson is on his sixth NFL team, and second stint with the Giants. He’s another big man (6’6”, 263 pounds). Neither player will really threaten NFL defenses in the passing game, but their very presence may indicate a renewed emphasis on being physical up front with the running game.

ON THE BUBBLE: One would think that Evan Engram and Levine Toilolo have the inside shots with Engram representing the receiving threat and Toilolo the blocker. If Kaden Smith can continue to develop, he has an excellent shot to make the roster as well. The best hope for each of the others may be for the team to carry four tight ends, but that’s not a given.

PREDICTIONS: I predicted 1,000-yard seasons for Evan Engram in 2018 and 2019. What’s the old saying? Fool me twice? The guy drives me nuts. Week 1: 11 catches and 116 yards and a touchdown against Dallas. Week 3: 6 catches and 113 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown, against Tampa Bay. Then he’ll have one catch for six yards against the Cardinals in Week 7 and miss half of the rest of the year with multiple injuries.

I think Judge and Garrett will understand Engram’s strengths and weaknesses and we will see less in-line blocking from him. That should reduce the wear-and-tear as well as increase his receiving chances. I’m not going to predict anything with him in terms of his final numbers this year. Another boast would sound meaningless at this point. He’s got to prove to everyone he can stay on the football field.

I suspect Levine Toilolo will become a very important cog in the offense this year, not as a receiver, but as the primary in-line blocking tight end. That should help both rookie Andrew Thomas and veteran Nate Solder at tackle. And Saquon Barkley should receive the immediate dividends. I want to get really excited about Kaden Smith, but he still has a lot to prove. Fans may have overrated his play last year simply because he looked like the most reliable two-way guy on the roster, which isn’t saying much.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Evan Engram, Levine Toilolo, Kaden Smith, Kyle Markway

One of the reasons I am going with four is that I don’t think Engram is a true in-line tight end and more of a TE/WR hybrid. So the Giants still need three guys who can block in-line. Toilolo and Smith are the obvious guesstimates in May. Rysen John is another hybrid type who is very, very green. His best shot is probably the Practice Squad. Garrett Dickerson has hung around since 2018 and has some athletic ability, but he’s got to be really on the bubble. I think Eric Tomlinson and Kyle Markway are fighting for that final roster spot. Markway reminds me of Rhett Ellison, a jack-of-all trades type (tight end, H-Back, fullback) who doesn’t mind getting his nose dirty. I suspect the coaches will like him a lot.

May 192020
 
Share Button
Darius Slayton, New York Giants (December 9, 2019)

Darius Slayton – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp hopefully beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Keep in mind that some of the players discussed may be cut as the 2020 NFL draft class signs their rookie contracts.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Wide Receivers

2019 YEAR IN REVIEW: Perhaps the biggest offseason NFL story in 2019 was the trade of Odell Beckham, Jr. to the Cleveland Browns in March. While the Giants received what now appears to be more-than-adequate compensation (1st- and 3rd-round draft picks and safety Jabrill Peppers), the trade left the Giants without a clearcut #1 wide receiver who could consistently threaten opposing defenses down the field. In addition, the Giants were now very thin and top heavy at the position, with only newly-acquired Golden Tate and yet-to-breakout Sterling Shepard as headliners.

Things got even dicier early when Tate (49 catches, 676 yards, 6 TDs) was suspended for the first four games of the season for the use of performance-enhancing substances. Shepard (57 catches, 576 yards, 3 TDs) then missed six games (Week 2, Weeks 6-10) with concussions. Evan Engram (44 catches, 467 yards, 3 TDs), a hybrid tight end/wide receiver, also missed eight games (Week 6, Weeks 10-17) with knee and foot issues. Former Browns 1st rounder Corey Coleman was lost in July with a torn ACL.

Long story short was that the Giants were forced to rely on guys like perennial tease Cody Latimer (24 catches, 300 yards, 2 TDs) and no-name journeymen such as Bennie Fowler (23 catches, 193 yards), T.J. Jones (3 catches), Cody Core (3 catches), Russell Shepard (3 catches), and Da’Mari Scott (2 catches). David Sills spent the bulk of the season on the Practice Squad until mid-December but he did not have a catch.

Thank goodness for 5th-round steal Darius Slayton, who had a surprisingly productive rookie season, playing in 14 games with nine starts, and finishing with 48 catches for a team-leading 740 yards (team-leading 15.4 yards per catch) and a team-leading eight touchdowns.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants cut Fowler and Jones during the 2019 season and chose not to re-sign Latimer and Russell Shepard in free agency. The team did re-sign Coleman and Core in free agency, as well as re-sign practice squader Alex Bachman.

Surprisingly, the Giants did not sign any free agents from other teams and did not draft a receiver in what was widely-regarded as a very deep wide receiver draft. The only newcomers are undrafted rookie free agents Binjimen Victor, Austin Mack, and Derrick Dillon.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The main question is do the Giants have enough receiving targets who can stay healthy and scare opposing defenses? On paper, the Giants are pretty much in the same boat as they were at this time last year, having to rely on Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, and Evan Engram to stay on the field and be consistently productive. The one significant change is the emergence of Darius Slayton. Was 2019 a flash in the pan for the rookie Slayton or the start of something even better? Will he experience the dreaded “sophomore slump”? Tate proved he can still play, but the Giants are his fourth NFL team and it will be interesting to see how he interacts with Joe Judge. The big concern is Shepard’s career-threatening concussion history. How much more will he be able to play?

Cody Core is a stud special teamer but only has 33 catches in four NFL seasons. It’s a bit surprising that Da’Mari Scott is even back. Sills and Bachman have already been cut by other teams. There was some hope last year that Corey Coleman could emerge, but now he’s coming off a torn ACL. Undrafted free agents Victor, Mack, and Dillon probably couldn’t have picked a better team to sign with. At least one has a reasonable shot of making the team. Unless someone really surprises, there is very little depth at this position.

ON THE BUBBLE: Slayton, Shepard, and Tate are the sure bets with Core having a great shot because of his special teams value. That leaves probably two or three spots for the rest, who are all on the bubble. Dave Gettleman and Joe Judge will be actively scanning the waiver wire.

PREDICTIONS: There are a lot of conflicting thoughts in my head when I consider the team’s situation at wide receiver. I grew up during a time when Phil Simms largely had a bunch of no-name scrubs and still got the job done. I also witnessed how the personal excellence of Odell Beckham had no impact on the overall W-L record. On the other hand, it’s hard to see Eli Manning winning two Super Bowls without the presence of Amani Toomer, Plaxico Burress, Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Mario Manningham.

Personally, I don’t think the Giants have enough talent at the position. If everyone stays healthy, this could be a more-than-adequate unit, but the slot receiver Shepard is one big hit away from being done and he’s never come close to cracking the 1,000-yard mark. The hybrid Engram also can’t seem to stay on the field. I also could see the show-boating Tate rubbing Judge the wrong way. There will be a lot of pressure on Darius Slayton to perform and even improve upon his rookie season. It is a long shot to believe anyone else will be meaningfully productive.

I suspect wide receiver will be a top priority in free agency and the draft next offseason.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Darius Slayton, Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, Cody Core, Corey Coleman, Binjimen Victor

After my first four, the next two are my best guesses. Coleman has talent but is now on his fourth team and coming off an ACL. Still, he has the one thing you can’t teach: speed. Austin Mack is one of those receivers who is tough to cut, but I just don’t see an ability to separate in his game. Victor reminds me of a poor man’s Plaxico Burress. The 5th and 6th receivers may not be on the roster yet. Stay tuned.