Jul 272021
 
Share Button
Shane Lemieux and Nick Gates, New York Giants (November 2, 2020)

Shane Lemieux and Nick Gates – © USA TODAY Sports

Ten years ago, the New York Giants and their fans were standing on top the world. The team was about to embark on its second miracle Super Bowl run in four years, culminating in the franchise’s eighth NFL Championship. But the fortunes of the Giants rapidly went south after that pinnacle of success. Seven of the next nine seasons resulted in a losing record, with double-digit losses in six of those years. The franchise that never fired a general manager fired one. During the past six years, the Giants have had four different head coaches.

Yet despite another losing record in 2020, there is a feeling that the team may finally be pointing in the right direction again. For at least the short-term, Head Coach Joe Judge and Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham have won over the fans. And the team is coming off of a very productive offseason, radically changing the make-up of much of the roster.

Can the Giants finish with a winning record in 2021? Much depends on the answers to these questions:

  1. Is Daniel Jones the answer at quarterback? This horse has been beaten to death by the media and fans all offseason, but the question remains a valid one. Jones’ supporters will point to his 24-touchdown rookie season in 12 starts and the clear lack of strong supporting cast all around him in 2019 and 2020. (Same issue Eli Manning had). Jones’ detractors will point to turnovers and him not elevating the game of those around him, especially given his lofty draft status. At least publicly, the front office, coaches, and players all support Jones. As of right now, there is no fallback option on the roster. The Giants will sink or swim with Jones at the helm. Jones also has to prove he can stay healthy, something he has been unable to do a the pro level thus far.
  2. Can Saquon Barkley ever regain his rookie form? Barkley suffered a major knee injury (ACL, meniscus, MCL) last September. Although not unexpected, it is not a great sign that he begins training camp on the PUP. Are the Giants simply being cautious and bringing him along slowly, or are there real concerns about the knee? The 2018 rookie version of Barkley was an MVP candidate, a player who can take over a game and elevate the play of those around him. The 2019 and 2020 version of Barkley has been MIA. Medicine has changed but it remains to be seen if Barkley will follow the opposing career paths of Adrian Peterson or Tucker Frederickson. Make no mistake, a healthy and productive Barkley changes everything for this team.
  3. Can the team field a somewhat competent offensive line? This is arguably the most important question. We saw first hand last year on a game-to-game basis what a difference there was when the offensive line played poorly versus when it played well. When the latter occurred, the Giants moved the ball, controlled the clock, reduced the number of hits on the quarterback, and won the turnover battle. While the Giants made major changes to the offensive line coaching staff, they did not on the roster. Back-ups Zach Fulton and Jonotthan Harrison were the only additions of note. The Giants appear ready to sink or swim with Andrew Thomas at left tackle, Shane Lemieux at left guard, Nick Gates at center, Will Hernandez at right guard (a new position for him), and Matt Peart at right tackle (who begins camp on the PUP with a back injury). Depth appears better with Fulton, Harrison, and Nate Solder.
  4. Can Evan Engram get his head out of his ass? Yes, Evan Engram was voted to his first Pro Bowl in 2020. But that seems like somewhat of a bad joke given Engram’s team-leading 11 dropped passes, some of which came in crucial situations and/or led to interceptions and his one receiving touchdown. Indeed, according to ProFootballReference, Engram dropped 10 percent of all passes thrown in his direction. For a tight end who can’t block well, that is an appalling stat. Engram’s issues appear to be mental. It remains to be seen if the front office and coaching staff will regret not trading him. Engram can be a difference maker, but those moments are far too infrequent. He disappears for long stretches. Worse, he often hurts his team in the clutch.
  5. Are there too many cooks in the kitchen? Related to points #1, #2, and #3, the Giants were dreadful on offense in 2020. They finished 31st in yardage and points. The recognition of this fact caused the team to make major offeason moves at wide receiver as well as significant additions at running back and tight end. But Joe Judge also made major changes to the coaching staff. While Jason Garrett remains the offensive coordinator, Freddie Kitchens was promoted to senior offensive assistant. The expectation is that both will now coordinate the offensive side of the ball. In addition, the Giants not only hired a new offensive line coach (Rob Sale), but they brought onboard Tom Coughlin’s former offensive line coach (Pat Flaherty) to serve as a consultant. Judge has even indicated that Kitchens will also have a role in coaching the offensive line. Ben Wilkerson also remains the assistant offensive line coach. The Giants have one of the largest assistant coaching staffs in the NFL. That would seem to be a good thing, but it remains to be seen how this all works out and how lines of responsibility are clearly delineated. If anyone can sort this out, Judge seems to be the type of coach who can do so.
  6. Can the offensive coaches figure out a way to use all of the new weapons? Related to #5, the prevailing opinion among fans is that Jason Garrett is not a particularly imaginative offensive mind. This seems to be supported by the promotion of Freddie Kitchens. Two new offensive quality control coaches were also promoted/hired in the offseason. On paper, in one offseason, the Giants have gone from dreadful at wide receiver to perhaps one of the NFL’s strongest units. The Giants now have to figure out ways to spread the ball around to Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, and perhaps John Ross. In addition, the Giants added Kyle Rudolph at tight end to go along with Evan Engram. And Saquon Barkley is expected to be back. That’s a damn good collection of skill players. In addition, Toney’s unique skill set begs for him to be used in unusual ways. Are Garrett and Kitchens up to the task?
  7. Can the Giants find an outside pass rush? Somehow the Giants’ defense finished 13th in sacks in 2020 with 40. This despite only one player (Leonard Williams) accruing more than four sacks on the season. Patrick Graham, his fellow defensive coaches, and the players did a marvelous job of manufacturing a pass rush, but any Giants fan can tell you that the biggest weakness on the defense was the lack of a consistent outside heat on the passer. Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines started 2020 at outside linebacker, but were lost early. Graham was then forced to use a committee approach that barely got the job done. While Carter and Ximines are back, both are still largely unproven. Thus, the team added Azeez Ojulari and Elerson Smith in the draft as well as Ifeadi Odenigbo in free agency. Will one or two of these players approach the double-digit sack mark in 2021?
  8. Will the team miss Dalvin Tomlinson? The team’s biggest free agent loss was clearly nose tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. Despite all of the money the Giants threw around in free agency, it appears they did not make a major effort to re-sign Tomlinson who was rock steady in the middle of the defense. The Giants will now have to rely on last year’s back-up Austin Johnson, as well as free agent addition Danny Shelton, a big guy who has never quite lived up to expectations in his three previous stops. In a pinch, the Giants could move Dexter Lawrence inside, but that would then create a possible issue at defensive end. The Giants stayed remarkably healthy on the defensive line last year. They’ll need that again in 2021.
  9. Can Leonard Williams duplicate or build upon his 2020 success? The previously underwhelming Leonard Williams had a career season in 2020. He was a major factor against the run and the pass. Williams played in all 16 games (74 percent of defensive snaps) and finished the year with 57 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, 30 quarterback hits, one pass defense, and one fumble recovery. Now that he has earned a big, fat new contract, will he return to his previous form or will he build upon his 2020 success?
  10. Can the Giants settle on some decent designated returners? The Giants have had an issue for years finding steady, reliable punt and kick returners. They’ve largely employed a committee approach, often being forced to employ offensive and defensive starters. Jabrill Peppers was lost for five games in 2019 after getting hurt returning a kick. Obviously, it would be better not to do that.
Mar 292021
 
Share Button
Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions (November 28, 2019)

Kenny Golladay – © USA TODAY Sports

Teams were officially able to begin negotiating with free agents from other teams on March 15. So although it seems as if free agency has been going on for quite some time, we’re only still at the 2-week mark since it began. More signings will continue through the spring and summer, especially as players are cut. That said, the initial free agency rush is over and we can start to make some snap opinions on what the New York Giants have and have not accomplished.

The “need” level I reference was addressed in my March 12th Free Agency Preview for the team.

QUARTERBACKS (Previous Need Level – Medium): For at least one more season, Daniel Jones is the unquestioned starter. The expectation was that the team would re-sign Colt McCoy. However, the Giants surprisingly went in another direction by signing the well-traveled Mike Glennon as Jones’ back-up. Glennon is much bigger (half a foot taller) than McCoy with a much stronger arm. Both complete around 61 percent of their passes and both have started roughly the same number of NFL games. There were media whispers too that McCoy wanted more money than the Giants were willing to pay. On the surface, this appears to be a wash, although the coaches said McCoy was a very good influence on Jones in the meeting rooms. (Mike Glennon YouTube Highlights)

RUNNING BACKS (Previous Need Level – High to Desperate): Some chided my prediction that all three running backs behind Saquon Barkley may not return in 2021, but that appears in fact to be the case. As of this moment, Wayne Gallman, Alfred Morris, and Dion Lewis remain unsigned. So much of the team’s upcoming success will depend on how well Barkley returns from a major knee injury and whether he can stay healthy for a full season. It’s quite telling that the very first player the Giants signed in free agency was the relatively-unknown Devontae Booker to a 2-year, $5.5 million contract. Fan reaction was immediately negative. But it appears the coaching staff simply wanted a veteran back who was a more reliable blocker and receiver than Gallman. Depth behind Barkley still remains shaky as the only other halfbacks on the roster are NFL cast-offs Taquan Mizzell and Jordan Chunn. The Giants also added another fullback/special teams player in Cullen Gillaspia to compete with Eli Penny. (Devontae Booker YouTube Highlights)

WIDE RECEIVERS (Previous Need Level – Desperate): The Giants have significantly upgraded this position with the addition of one player to the tune of a 4-year, $72 million contract. Kenny Golladay is not only a true #1 receiver, but he fills a desperate need that this team had for a physical receiver with size. His presence also allows Darius Slayton to become the #2 and Sterling Shepard the slot receiver, roles that both are far better suited for. From Golladay’s style of play to the team’s extended wooing period to satisfy personality issues, this signing is highly reminiscent of the Giants’ signing of Plaxico Burress in 2005. And Golladay is quite capable of having a Plaxico-type impact on this team. In addition, before the Giants signed Golladay, they signed the 9th overall player taken in the 2017 NFL Draft, John Ross. While Ross did not live up to expectations in Cincinnati, he brings true deep speed to a team that desperately needs it. It would not be shocking to see Ross get cut, but it also would not be shocking for him to press for a starting job opposite of Golladay. In addition to wanting to prove doubters wrong, Ross will rejoin his old college receiving teammate, Dante Pettis, on what had been an explosive University of Washington receiving corps. Overall, the make-up of this unit is far different now than it was just two weeks ago. (John Ross YouTube Highlights)

TIGHT ENDS (Previous Need Level – Desperate): Right or wrong, the front office and coaching staff appear willing to continue to hope Evan Engram develops into the player hoped for when he was drafted in the 1st round of the 2017 NFL Draft. But the team decided to team him with a mentor. Kyle Rudolph has been one of the NFL’s best tight ends for the past 10 years. While not an explosive player, he can catch and block. Just as importantly, he is reliable, something Engram is not. The downside is that Rudolph turns 32 in November and is coming off a foot injury (The Athletic is reporting it is a Lisfranc injury) that required surgery AFTER the Giants signed him. Much depends on how well he recovers. On paper, if he is healthy, this looks like a major addition both in terms of helping out Daniel Jones and the offensive line. (Kyle Rudolph YouTube Highlights)

OFFENSIVE LINE (Previous Need Level – Medium): This is one area where it is debatable if the team has improved in free agency. The Giants were able to force Nate Solder to take a big pay cut to remain with the team. He will now compete against Matt Peart for the starting tackle spot opposite of Andrew Thomas. The Giants somewhat surprisingly simply cut Kevin Zeitler without approaching him about a pay cut. To fill that void, they signed right guard Zach Fulton, who had an inconsistent stay with the Houston Texans. Fulton will compete with Will Hernandez and Shane Lemieux for a starting spot. Fulton does not feel like an upgrade over Zeitler. Where the team probably did get better is at back-up center with the signing of Jonotthan Harrison back in January. He is a better player than Spencer Pulley. Look for the team to continue to address the offensive line in the upcoming draft.

DEFENSIVE LINE (Previous Need Level – Low to High Depending on Tomlinson): Undoubtedly, the biggest loss the team suffered in free agency was losing nose tackle Davlin Tomlinson to the Minnesota Vikings for what appeared to be a reasonable 2-year, $22 million contract. The Giants re-signed back-up nose tackle Austin Johnson to a 1-year, $3 million deal in anticipation of the loss. Johnson will now have to start at nose tackle or the team will be forced to move Dexter Lawrence from end, or sign a veteran or draft a player. Moving Lawrence seems like an obvious option, but that would have a domino effect in that B.J. Hill would probably then become the new starter at end opposite of Leonard Williams. Thus, what had been a somewhat shaky depth situation becomes even more dubious. The team was extremely fortunate in 2020 that no one got hurt up front. The only back-ups on the roster right now are R.J. McIntosh, David Moa, and Breeland Speaks, the latter signed by the Giants in January. Speaking of Williams, the Giants were able to re-sign him to a 3-year, $63 million deal. There will be tremendous pressure on him to live up to that contract.

(Late Note: The Giants signed 6’2”, 335-pound nose tackle Danny Shelton today. Drafted in the 1st round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, Shelton was cut by the Detroit Lions and will help fill the void created by the departure of Tomlinson).

LINEBACKERS (Previous Need Level – High): On paper, the Giants lost one free agent (Kyler Fackrell) and signed three (Ifeadi Odenigbo, Reggie Ragland, Ryan Anderson). All three newcomers were relatively inexpensive, 1-year deals. Ragland will likely compete with Tae Crowder for the inside linebacker spot next to Blake Martinez. He has started 38 regular-season games in the NFL and is a former 2nd-round pick so he has a good shot to win that job. Anderson is another former 2nd-round pick who was stuck behind a plethora of outstanding outside linebackers in Washington. He is known more as an overachiever who saw most of his playing time on special teams, but he could surprise as his competition will be Lorenzo Carter (coming off of a torn Achilles), Oshane Ximines (coming off of shoulder surgery), and last year’s rookies (Carter Coughlin, Cam Brown, Niko Lalos). What about Odenigbo? Good question. He was the first defensive player the Giants signed in free agency. He played exclusively on the defensive line in Minnesota, primarily at end, but also shifting inside in pass-rush packages. However, his lack of size (6’3”, 258 pounds) strongly suggests he will be used like “linebacker” Jabaal Sheard was used by the Giants last year, that is, an edge rusher in 4-man pass rush packages. The Giants could also push him inside like the Vikings did in obvious passing situations in 4-man fronts. It is doubtful that he should be considered a true outside linebacker because he simply does not have experience dropping into coverage. Because of that, one could actually argue he should be included in the defensive line review. Also, the Giants did re-sign inside linebacker Devonta Downs, who started at inside linebacker for the Giants in 2020 until Tae Crowder beat him out. He will have to fight just to make the team however.

CORNERBACKS (Previous Need Level – Desperate): Like the wide receiving position, the make-up of this position completely changed with the addition of one free agent, adding Adoree’ Jackson to a 3-year, $39 million contract after he was cut by the Tennessee Titans. Opinions on his play vary, but Jackson is clearly a major upgrade over everyone else on the team’s roster with the exception of Pro Bowler James Bradberry. The former 1st rounder is a physical and aggressive press corner who plays with a lot of confidence. Depth is still a concern, but on paper, the Giants now look like they have one of the better secondaries in the NFL as long as Darnay Holmes continues to develop at slot corner.

SAFETIES (Previous Need Level – Low): While Adrian Colbert and Nate Ebner remain unsigned, the Giants still look to be in decent shape at this position with Jabrill Peppers, Xavier McKinney, Logan Ryan, and Julian Love – the latter two who can also play corner. Depth will be added later in free agency or the draft.

KICKERS/LONG SNAPPER (Previous Need Level – Low to Average Depending on Kreiter): When the Giants re-signed long snapper Casey Kreiter, this position was largely settled other than camp bodies. The only real question is are the Giants looking to upgrade at punter at some point.

SUMMARY: In my March 12th article, I argued this roster was a train wreck. Two weeks later, with the addition of 11 free agents and counting, it feels vastly different. It’s not just the quantity, but the quality. Keeping Leonard Williams was a big deal. Kenny Golladay and Adoree’ Jackson were two of the best, if not the very best, players available at desperate need positions.  If healthy, Kyle Rudolph could be a major addition as a security blanket for both Daniel Jones and the offensive line. Golladay and Jackson will start. Rudolph will be a quasi-starter. John Ross (1st rounder), Reggie Ragland (2nd rounder), Ryan Anderson (2nd rounder), and Zach Fulton might start. Devontae Booker is now the primary back-up behind Saquon Barkely, Ifeadi Odenigbo will add to the pass rush.

The risk? The money. While most of the deals were relatively cheap, the team did dole out $174 million on three players – Leonard Williams, Kenny Golladay, and Adoree’ Jackson. If they are wrong about any of these three, the team will be paying for it for years. We’ve seen that before and it’s one of the major reasons why the Giants have been mired in the basement of the NFL for a decade. One could also argue that the team should have allocated its resources a bit differently in order to keep Dalvin Tomlinson, extending his contract even last year.

Mar 122021
 
Share Button
Dalvin Tomlinson, New York Giants (November 8, 2020)

Dalvin Tomlinson – © USA TODAY Sports

As is always the case, there are fans of the New York Giants who are optimistic about the team’s future while there are others who are pessimistic. That’s just human nature. Regarding the 2021 edition of the franchise, the optimism is largely based on confidence in Head Coach Joe Judge and his staff. The negativity is mainly due to a lack of faith in ownership and the front office. But a cursory review of the existing roster doesn’t help either.

The Cliff Note’s version of this article is that the roster is still a mess.

The most damning thing about the franchise is that the Giants seem to have been in “rebuilding” mode for a decade. And they don’t seem to be REALLY further along in that rebuilding effort than they were 10 years ago. Much of that has to do with the fact that John Mara, Steve Tisch, and two general managers would not accept that the team needed a complete rebuild. At least not publicly. If they felt that way privately, then their level of incompetence is frightening. To be blunt, the team has been spinning its wheels for years. We all know it.

The core problem is easy to diagnose. The team has drafted poorly. They have attempted to compensate for that by overpaying for often mediocre talent in free agency. That has not only tied up immediate cap space but created additional burdens in future years with millions of dollars in dead money. A common refrain heard from fans defending team management is, “What choice did the GM have? He had to overpay because not doing so would have been worse!” This is a loser’s argument. And that’s what the team has become, a losing franchise.

So the 6-10 New York Giants approach free agency with little cap room once again and over $10 million dead money wasted. If the team is ever going to stop this vicious cycle, it needs to draft better and stop trying to compensate in free agency with ridiculous contracts. It’s not just the foolish high-profile signings such as when the team made Nate Solder the highest-paid offensive lineman in football but the under-the-radar contract such as giving a 3rd-string tight end (Levin Toilolo) a 2-year, $6.2 million deal. Stupid. Indefensible. The “what choice did they have” argument looks pretty foolish in hindsight.

Now to be fair, the team’s two high-profile signings in 2020 appear to have been smart decisions. CB James Bradberry and LB Blake Martinez were major positive additions to the team Bradberry went to the Pro Bowl and Martinez is arguably the team’s best inside linebacker since Antonio Pierce. But it came at a cost in the form of $74 million spread out over three years. And both will have to continue to justify those contracts. After 2016, fans were applauding the $194 million given to CB Janoris Jenkins, NT Damon Harrison, and LB Olivier Vernon. That tune changed quickly after only one season. And those contracts sabotaged the team for years.

Hopefully my point is obvious. Be careful. Spending tens of millions of dollars in free agency rarely ends up well. It feels good initially, but the team often finds itself right back where it started, with its wheels spinning in the mud.

QUARTERBACKS: Daniel Jones remains the starter. But 2020 back-up Colt McCoy is currently an unrestricted free agent. So there is a greater need here than many realize. Daniel Jones gets hurt and misses games. The team will likely re-sign McCoy or sign another veteran. (Need Level – Medium)

RUNNING BACKS: Aside from depth, after the 2018 season, the New York Giants seemed set at this position for the foreseeable future after Saquon Barkley’s superlative rookie season. But after two injury-plagued seasons, including injuries to his ACL, MCL, and meniscus last year, his future with the team is very much in doubt with his contract expiring after the year. Worse, the next three running backs on the depth chart (Wayne Gallman, Alfred Morris, and Dion Lewis) are all unrestricted free agents and there is a decent chance that none will be re-signed. That leaves Taquan Mizzell, Jordan Chunn, and fullback Eli Penny. Oh boy. (Need Level – High to Desperate) 

WIDE RECEIVERS: This position is bordering on disaster. Golden Tate flopped in 2020 and was cut this offseason. That leaves Sterling Shepard, a perpetual tease who is possibly one concussion away from retirement, and sophomore slump victim Darius Slayton, who only caught 12 passes after the bye week. Dante Pettis and C.J. Board are waiver-wire pick-ups. The other four receivers were undrafted and two of those have already been cut by other teams. Dave Brown had better receivers to work with in the 1990s and that’s saying something. (Need Level – Desperate)

TIGHT ENDS: If Evan Engram was the player the front office and coaching staff says he is, the team would be in decent shape at this position. But he’s not. I pray I am ultimately proven wrong about Engram, but it’s been four years since he was drafted. He is a tease who disappears for long stretches and comes up small in the clutch. Engram is a “receiving” tight end who isn’t particularly good at that aspect of the game. He had ONE touchdown in 2020. And yet the coaching staff keeps saying they can build an offense around him? Put down the crack pipe! Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo are average-at-best back-ups. Neither scored in 2020. The Giants only had one touchdown from their tight ends last year. Wow. (Need Level – Desperate)

OFFENSIVE LINE: How you view this position depends on your level of confidence in the young guns. Understandably, Giants fans have little faith in the ability of the team to “fix” the offensive line because they have been unable to do so in 10 years of drafting and free agency. In addition, the Giants enter 2021 with a new offensive line coach who has never coached at the pro level, and multiple cooks in the kitchen who will advise him (Freddie Kitchens, Ben Wilkerson, Pat Flaherty). The good news is that Andrew Thomas, Nick Gates, Shane Lemieux, and Matt Peart did show flashes of real ability. The ups and downs were to be expected by green players with no real training camp and no preseason. The team cut Kevin Zeitler so Lemieux and the player he replaced, Will Hernandez, will likely start at guard unless the team signs a veteran or drafts an impressive rookie. It also appears the Giants will bring back Nate Solder on a reduced contract to compete with Peart at right tackle. Depth is not terrible with the likes of Jonotthan Harrison, Cam Fleming (if re-signed), and the loser of the Peart/Solder competition. The real pressing question here is guard and much depends on Lemieux and Hernandez. (Need Level – Medium)

DEFENSIVE LINE: The Giants will be in really good shape at his position IF they can re-sign their three free agents: Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Austin Johnson. Combined with Dexter Lawrence, B.J. Hill, and R.J. McIntosh, this is young, big, strong group. Williams was franchised and will be back unless both sides can’t agree to a long-term deal and his tender is rescinded (a possibility). Tomlinson is key. Many fans and pundits say the Giants should not invest too much money in 3-4 defensive linemen. They could be right. And overpaying for your own talent is just as bad as overpaying for someone else’s. That said, the Giants have a long recent history of drafting defensive tackles in the 2nd round only to see them walk in free agency and then having to replace them again in the draft. What did I say about spinning wheels? If Tomlinson and Johnson don’t re-sign, the team will have to move Dexter Lawrence to nose tackle and/or sign or draft replacements again. A team with so many holes at so many positions can ill-afford creating more holes at the few positions where they have some strength. Tomlinson is a good player and a good influence in the locker room. He would be my free agent priority. (Need Level – Low to High Depending on Tomlinson)

LINEBACKERS: Really this position needs to be divided into inside linebackers and edge rushers (outside linebackers).

Blake Martinez was a major addition to the team as a player and leader. He played virtually every defensive snap and finished the season with a team-high 151 tackles, nine tackles for losses, three sacks, six quarterback hits, five pass defenses, one interception, two forced fumbles. Finding his counterpart inside is the challenge. David Mayo was cut. The last player taken in the 2020 NFL Draft, Tae Crowder, stole the starting job away from Devante Downs. On paper, Crowder appears to be a good, athletic complement to Martinez. But insurance and depth are needed. Keep in mind that T.J. Brunson is still in the picture as well. (Need Level – Medium)

The problem for the Giants is that they were deprived of a key evaluation year for Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines. Both earned starting jobs but both were lost for the bulk of the season. Worse, Carter is coming off a serious ruptured Achilles’ tendon injury. Kyler Fackrell was a nice complementary piece who could play inside or outside, but he’s an unrestricted free agent. What the Giants really lack on defense are outside edge rushers who scare the other team. They were reduced to a committee approach in 2020, employing role players such as Jabaal Sheard (unrestricted free agent) and rookies Carter Coughlin, Cam Brown, and Niko Lalos. Some have questioned just how important an outside rusher is in the Giants’ scheme, but no team would ever turn down an outside pass-rushing threat. (Need Level – High)

CORNERBACKS: James Bradberry was everything the Giants had hoped, but it is a minor miracle the defense performed as well as it did with the revolving door at cornerback opposite of him. Corey Ballentine, Isaac Yiadom, Ryan Lewis, and Julian Love all took their turns. All have significant warts (and Ballentine is gone). Darnay Holmes will likely remain the nickel corner. There are whispers that the Giants are not really counting on COVID-19 opt-out Sam Beal. If Bradberry were to go down, this would arguably be the worst group of corners in the NFL. The Giants don’t just desperately need another starter, they desperately need quality depth. (Need Level – Desperate)

SAFETIES: This position has been a chronic weakness for the team but seems more settled now due to the additions of Jabrill Peppers, Xavier McKinney, and Logan Ryan. Peppers and Ryan have their issues, but they make plays and the coaching staff seems to know how to use them. McKinney missed most of the season due to injury but flashed in limited playing time. Ideally, this position would also be addressed but there are simply too many other needs elsewhere. (Need Level – Low)

KICKERS/LONG SNAPPER: 33-year old Graham Gano had one of the greatest seasons in franchise history as a kicker. However, Riley Dixon saw his gross and net punting average decline. Veteran long snapper Casey Kreiter is an unrestricted free agent. (Need Level – Low to Average Depending on Kreiter)

SUMMARY: It’s weird. In many ways, I feel more optimistic about this team than I’ve done in years, largely because of Joe Judge and his staff. But this roster is a train wreck. I have never published a “needs” article with so many “desperate” categories. You would be hard pressed to find a worse group of wide receivers and tight ends in the NFL. At running back, the only thing the Giants have is Barkley, who is coming off a potential career-altering injury. The defense is not in great shape either with obvious significant needs at cornerback and outside linebacker.

That all said, if the Giants spend a lot of money to fix these problems in March and April, I guarantee you that I will be typing a similar article in 2023, and probably with a new coaching staff.

Feb 052021
 
Share Button
Riley Dixon and Graham Gano, New York Giants (October 11, 2020)

Riley Dixon and Graham Gano – © USA TODAY Sports

It is exceptionally rare for a special teams coach to become an NFL head coach. So when John Mara hired Joe Judge as the next head coach of the New York Giants, it shocked many in the media and fanbase. However, Judge quickly won over many with his fiery inaugural press conference and the composition of his coaching staff. That initial luster began to dim after an 0-5 start, culminating with a Dallas Cowboys come-from-behind victory.

Judge and the Giants began turning it around in mid-October. Their first victory came against Washington, and was followed by two very close, heart-breaking losses to the Eagles and Buccaneers in games where the Giants also held 4th-quarter leads. Then came the high-point of the season, a 4-game winning streak against Washington, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Seattle. The Giants were 5-7 and remarkably still very much alive for the division title. Judge began receiving praise from all quarters.

The emotional high of soundly defeating the Seahawks was immediately dampened by a 3-game losing streak against clearly better teams. At 5-10, the Giants needed to beat the Cowboys and pray that the Eagles would upset Washington. The Giants accomplished the former, but the Eagles laid down like dogs against Washington and the 6-10 Giants missed the playoffs.

Through all of this, the irony is that the New York Giants special teams did not improve under Judge. To be fair, the special teams unit under Thomas McGaughey had actually been the strength of the team in recent years. Judge smartly decided to retain McGaughey. The team was also left scrambling when 2018 Pro Bowl/All-Pro place kicker Aldrick Rosas was cut in July after a hit-and-run arrest. The Giants decided to sign 32-year old Graham Gano who had missed 2019 with a knee injury. Unexpectedly, Gano ended up having one of the greatest seasons in franchise history as a kicker.

Overall, the Giants special teams played decently during the first half of the season, and there was a feeling that Judge, McGaughey, and the special teams unit were improving and building to a stronger second half. The reverse occurred. Against the Bengals, the Giants allowed a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, a 29-yard punt return that almost cost them the game, and a fake punt conversion for a 1st down. Seattle blocked a Riley Dixon punt for a safety and Gano missed his first extra point of the season. Against Arizona, Dion Lewis fumbled away a kickoff return that set up a touchdown. Judge decided to run an odd fake field goal attempt against the Browns that failed miserably when the score was still 0-0. The Ravens hurt the Giants with both punt and kickoff returns.

Statistically, the Giants finished:

  • Field Goal Percentage: 3rd (up from 30th in 2019)
  • Kickoff Returns: 16th (down from 10th in 2019)
  • Punt Returns: 6th (down from 3rd in 2019)
  • Kickoff Coverage: 16th (down from 1st in 2019)
  • Punting: 26th (down from 23rd in 2019)
  • Punt Coverage: 21st (down from 6th in 2019)

As you can see, other than field goal percentage, the Giants were down in every other special teams category. The team was significantly worse in kickoff and punt coverage. The Giants never really replaced Cody Core, their extraordinary punt/kick coverage specialist who tore his Achilles’ tendon in training camp.

The star of the entire unit was clearly Gano. He only missed one field goal all season and was 5-of-6 from 50+ yards.

KICKERS

The Giants signed Graham Gano in August 2020. Gano had a superlative season for the Giants in 2020, converting on 31-of-32 field goal attempts (96.9 percent – second highest in team history) and 21-of-23 extra point attempts (91.3 percent). He was 5-of-6 from 50+ yards out (single-season franchise record), with a long of 55 yards. Gano converted on 30 consecutive field goals, which also was a franchise record. Thirty of his 73 kickoffs (41 percent) resulted in touchbacks. Gano spent most of his NFL career with the Washington Redskins (2009-2011) and Carolina Panthers (2012-2019). However, he missed the last four games of the 2018 season and all of the 2019 season with a knee injury. The Panthers released him in late July 2020. Gano made the Pro Bowl in 2017.

Punter Riley Dixon saw his gross (44.8 yards per punt) and net (38.8 net yards per punt) fall in 2020, with 28 of his punts being downed inside the 20-yard line and one blocked. The 6’5”, 226-pound Dixon was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. He was named to the All-Rookie team. The Giants traded with the Broncos for Dixon in April 2018, giving the Broncos a conditional 7th-round draft pick.

Ryan Santoso spent 2020 on the Giants’ Practice Squad after the team signed him in early September. Santoso was originally signed by the Detroit Lions as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2018 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Lions (2018-2019), Montreal Alouettes (2019, 2020), and Tennessee Titans (2019). Santoso has only played in three NFL games, solely as a kickoff specialist.

LONG SNAPPERS

The Giants signed long snapper Casey Kreiter as an unrestricted free agent from the Denver Broncos in April 2020. The 6’1”, 250-pound Kreiter was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Dallas Cowboys after the 2014 NFL Draft. After spending two camps with the Cowboys, Kreiter made the Denver Broncos in 2016. He made the Pro Bowl for his performance in 2018.

The Giants signed long snapper Carson Tinker in early September 2020. He spent the year on the team’s Practice Squad. The 6’0”, 237-pound Tinker was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Jacksonville Jaguars after the 2013 NFL Draft. He played in 69 regular-season games for the Jaguars from 2013-2018. The Jaguars cut him in March 2019 and he did not play that year.

RETURNERS

The Giants did not return a punt or kickoff for a touchdown. The leading punt returner was Jabrill Peppers, who only returned 15 punts all season, but who averaged a very respectable 12.5 yards per return and came close to breaking a couple. His long return was 20 yards. On the flip side, some of his decision-making on when and when not to field a punt was questionable.

Dion Lewis did not impress on his 24 kickoff returns, fumbling three (two of which he lost). He averaged 22.4 yards per return with a long return of 48 yards. Corey Ballentine also returned nine kickoffs before he was cut.

LEADING SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYERS SNAP COUNT PERCENTAGE

  • S Nate Ebner: 74.27%
  • LB Cam Brown: 70.87%
  • FB Eli Penny: 59.47%
  • LB Devante Downs: 57.77%
  • LB David Mayo: 46.36%
  • S/CB Julian Love: 42.96%
  • CB Corey Ballentine: 34.47%
  • TE Levine Toilolo: 34.22%
  • DL Dexter Lawrence: 33.74%
  • LB Carter Coughlin: 33.50%

Nate Ebner had a quiet year despite playing 3/4ths off all special team snaps. The Giants signed him as an unrestricted free agent from the New England Patriots in March 2020 to a 1-year, $2 million contract strictly to be a special teams stud. The leading special teams tacklers were David Mayo (8), Eli Penny (7), Cam Brown (6), and Devante Downs (6).

Feb 032021
 
Share Button
James Bradberry, New York Giants (October 18, 2020)

James Bradberry – © USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants pass defense improved from 28th in 2019 to 17th in 2020. This 11 spot jump is quite the accomplishment given the year-long swirling personnel changes at linebacker and defensive back. The Giants were tied for 4th for the fewest passing touchdowns allowed with 22 and tied for 12th in yards per passing attempt with 6.2. New York was also 2nd in red zone scoring defense. Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham and his defensive assistants deserve a lot of credit for getting both units to play at a respectable level despite significant personnel issues.

Tied in with the pass defense is the pass rush. Remarkably, despite no viable outside edge rushers, the Giants somehow finished tied for 12th in sacks with 40. Much of that had to be schemed, including blitzes from defensive backs. On the down side, the Giants only picked off 11 passes on the year, with only one player (CB James Bradberry) intercepting more than one pass.

Only three of the team’s five primary defensive back positions were set throughout the year. Free agent acquisition James Bradberry was arguably the team’s best player, locking down one corner spot. He did miss one game due to COVID-19. Rookie Darnay Holmes won the nickel slot position, but missed four games due to injury. Strong safety Jabrill Peppers missed one game due to injury, but was also a fixture in the defensive backfield, often being utilized as a hybrid linebacker.

The other two spots were revolving doors. At corner opposite of Bradberry, Corey Ballentine (Weeks 1-2), Isaac Yiadom (Weeks 3-4), Ryan Lewis (5-7), Yiadom again (Weeks 8-16), and Julian Love (Week 17) all started. At free safety, Love started the first two weeks, followed by Logan Ryan for the bulk of the season, until rookie Xavier McKinney started in the final weeks.

Graham and Defensive Backs Coach Jerome Henderson were hampered by a number of early personnel hits. 2019 1st-round cornerback Deandre Baker was cut after his legal troubles in Florida surfaced. That was a major blow to the team as Baker was being penciled in to start opposite of Bradberry. 2018 3rd-round pick Sam Beal then surprisingly decided to sit out the season due to COVID-19. Rookie 2nd-round pick Xavier McKinney broke his foot before the season started and wasn’t available until almost December.

The primary play-makers were Bradberry, Peppers, and Ryan. Despite many teams not throwing in his direction, Bradberry led the team with interceptions (3) and pass defenses (18). He also forced two fumbles and recovered one. Peppers was third on the team in tackles (91) and second in pass defenses (11). He picked off one pass, forced one fumble, recovered one fumble, and led defensive backs with 2.5 sacks. Ryan was second on the team in tackles (94) and third in pass defenses (9). He picked off one pass, forced three fumbles, and recovered two. He also had one sack.

Bradberry was the stud of the group. Peppers improved as the year progressed with the coaching staff seemingly having a better feel for his strengths and weaknesses. He remained an inconsistent player however. Ryan quickly became a team leader and his tremendous versatility was desperately needed at safety and corner. That said, he missed plays against the run and pass at times.

It was an up and down year for the rookie Holmes. He did help to settle the secondary and his absence was noticed during the four games he missed due to injury. But his five penalties in coverage always seemed to come at the most inopportune times and he didn’t make many plays on the football (contrary to his collegiate reputation). The other corner spot was a a bit of a mess. Ballentine simply couldn’t handle the job and was eventually cut. Yiadom and Lewis were up-and-down, with Lewis missing most of the season due to injury. Love was a bit of an enigma. His playing time varied wildly on a game-to-game basis. He started the season at safety and finished at corner.

THE CORE GROUP

The Giants signed James Bradberry as an unrestricted free agent from the Carolina Panthers in March 2020. He had a major impact on the defense, arguably being the unit’s best player, and was voted to his first Pro Bowl. Bradberry started 15 games, missing one game due to COVID-19, and finished the year with 54 tackles, 18 pass defenses, three interceptions, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. He played in 94 percent of all defensive snaps. The 6’1”, 212-pound Bradberry was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Panthers. Bradberry is a big corner (6’1”, 212 pounds) with good speed and agility. He plays a physical game both against the run and pressing opposing corners off of the line. Outstanding in coverage, Bradberry can erase even top receivers.

The play of Jabrill Peppers improved markedly as the 2020 season progressed as he seemed to become more comfortable with the team’s new defensive schemes and the coaches learned better how to use him. At times, he was a real difference maker on the field. However, there was still some annoying inconsistency in his play, particularly in coverage. Peppers played in 15 games with 14 starts (84 percent of all defensive snaps), missing one game with an ankle injury. He finished the season with 91 tackles, 19 tackles for losses, 2.5 sacks, nine quarterback hits, 11 pass defenses, one interception, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. Peppers also served as the team’s primary punt returner, returning 15 punts for 187 yards (12.5 yards per punt). Peppers was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. He was traded to the Giants as part of the Odell Beckham deal in March 2019. He started 11 games for the Giants in 2019 before being placed on Injured Reserve with a transverse process fracture in his back. Peppers combines good size (5’11”, 215 pounds) and overall athleticism. Still a better athlete than football player, Peppers flashes signs of being an impact safety, but he must become a more consistent player, especially against the pass. He does his best work when moving forward and attacking the line of scrimmage.

The Giants signed Logan Ryan in late August 2020. He ended up being a very important, jack-of-all-trades defensive back who was used at both safety and corner. Ryan also quickly became a team leader and solid presence in the locker room. In all, Ryan played in all 16 games with 15 starts (96 percent of all defensive snaps). He finished the season with 94 tackles, one sack, nine pass defenses, one interception, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. The 5’11”, 195-pound Ryan was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. He has spent time with the Patriots (2013-2016) and Titans (2017-2019), playing 109 regular-season games with 85 starts. Ryan has spent most of his career at corner, but now prefers to play safety. While Ryan has history of being an instinctive, play-maker, he also still misses too many tackles and can be exposed in coverage at times.

The Giants drafted Darnay Holmes in the 4th round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Serving as the team’s primary slot corner, he played in 12 games, with five starts, missing four games due to injuries (neck and knee). Holmes finished the season with 30 tackles, 0.5 sacks, five pass defenses, one interception, and one fumble recovery. He played in 41 percent of all defensive snaps. Holmes lacks ideal height, but he is well-built with good speed and quickness. He is overly aggressive at times, as indicated by his five penalties in coverage. While Holmes had a solid rookie season in coverage, he needs to make more plays on the ball. Holmes can also return punts and kickoffs, but did not do so in 2020.

THE UNFORTUNATE INJURY

The Giants placed Xavier McKinney on Injured Reserve in early September 2020 with a fractured left foot that required surgery. The team activated him off of IR in late November 2020. McKinney ended up playing in six games with four starts (19 percent of all defensive snaps). He finished the season with 25 tackles, one tackle for a loss, one interception, and one pass defense. The Giants drafted McKinney in the 2nd round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The 6’0”, 201-pound McKinney is versatile performer, who is capable of playing multiple positions. He is a good athlete with fine instincts for the position, but he needs to become a more consistent tackler. Most of his rookie season was a wash due to his broken foot.

IN-AND-OUT OF THE STARTING LINE-UP

The Giants traded a 7th-round pick to the Denver Broncos for Isaac Yiadom in early September 2020. Yiadom eventually won the starting corner spot opposite of James Bradberry, playing in all 16 games with 10 starts (58 percent of all defensive snaps). He finished the year with 46 tackles, 0.5 sacks, five pass defenses, and one forced fumble. The 6’1”, 190-pound Yiadom was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Broncos. In two years with Denver, Yiadom played in 29-regular season games with nine starts. Yiadom has good size and plays a physical game. However, after some decent performances, his play really deteriorated down the stretch, and he was benched for Julian Love in the regular-season finale. Yiadom also did not make many plays on the football.

Julian Love spent most of 2020 playing safety but was shifted to cornerback late in the year, starting two of the final three games at the position (one in the slot). He also saw his playing time dramatically fluctuate on a per-game basis. In all, Love played in all 16 games with six starts (66 percent of all defensive snaps). He finished the year with 64 tackles, three pass defenses, and one interception. A collegiate corner, the Giants drafted Love in the 4th round of the 2019 NFL Draft and moved him to safety. He played in 15 games with five starts as a rookie. A bit of a cornerback/safety tweener, Love lacks ideal physicality for safety and ideal speed/quickness for cornerback. But he is a versatile performer who played well at the corner spot late in 2020. Love needs to improve his tackling and make more plays on the football.

The Giants placed Ryan Lewis on Injured Reserve in early November 2020 with a hamstring injury. Before that, he had played in five games for the Giants, starting three (25 percent of defensive snaps). Lewis finished the year with 13 tackles and one pass defense. Lewis was originally signed by the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2017 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Cardinals (2017), New England Patriots (2017-2018), Buffalo Bills (2018), Indianapolis Colts (2019), Philadelphia Eagles (2019), Miami Dolphins (2019), and Washington Football Team (2020). The Giants signed Lewis to the Practice Squad in early September 2020 and to the 53-man roster two weeks later. Lewis has played in 25 NFL regular-season games with nine starts. Lewis had a mixed performance in his three consecutive starts in October, playing well at times and struggling in one game.

The Giants placed Adrian Colbert on Injured Reserve with a shoulder injury in early November 2020 and reactivated him to the 53-man roster in mid-December. He ended up playing in six games with two starts (10 percent of all defensive snaps) and finished the year with 13 tackles. The 6’2”, 205-pound Colbert was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Colbert has spent time with the 49ers (2017-2019), Seattle Seahawks (2019), Miami Dolphins (2019), and Kansas City Chiefs (2020). The Giants claimed Colbert off of waivers from the Chiefs in early September 2020. He has played in 33 regular-season games with 19 starts, accruing 74 tackles and eight pass defenses. Colbert has also played cornerback and is a good gunner on special teams. He had mixed reviews in his two starts in 2020.

The Giants drafted Corey Ballentine in the 6th round of the 2019 NFL Draft. As a rookie, Ballentine played in 13 games with two starts, receiving 27 percent of all defensive snaps. He finished with 26 tackles and two pass defenses, often struggling in coverage. Ballentine won the starting corner spot opposite of James Bradberry to start the 2020 season, but was benched after just two games. He played in seven more games, returning 10 kickoffs, before the Giants waived him in November. He spent the rest of the season with the New York Jets.

SPECIAL TEAMS AND PRACTICE SQUAD

The Giants signed Nate Ebner as an unrestricted free agent from the New England Patriots in March 2020. Almost exclusively a special teams player, Ebner only saw limited snaps on defense in five games, finishing with eight tackles and one pass defense. The 6’0”, 215-pound Ebner was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Patriots. In eight seasons in New England, Ebner has played in 111 regular-season games with no starts.

The Giants signed Madre Harper off of the Practice Squad of the Las Vegas Raiders in late September 2020. He was placed on Injured Reserve in mid-December with a knee injury after playing in nine games with no starts. The Giants activated him to the 53-man roster in early January 2021, but he did not play in the season finale. Harper ended up playing in just three percent of all defensive snaps and was credited with five tackles and one fumble recovery. The 6’1”, 196-pound Harper was signed by the Raiders as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2020 NFL Draft.

Montre Hartage alternated between the Giants’ Practice Squad and the 53-man roster a number of times in 2020. He only played in two games (two percent of all defensive snaps) and was not credited with a single tackle or pass defense. Hartage originally signed with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2019 NFL Draft. The Giants claimed Hartage off of waivers from the Dolphins in April 2020. Hartage has played in six NFL games.

The Giants signed Jarren Williams in early August 2020 after he was waived by the Arizona Cardinals. He spent most of the year on the Practice Squad, but did play in two games exclusively on special teams. The 5’10”, 187-pound Williams was signed by the Cardinals as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2020 NFL Draft.

The Giants signed Quincy Wilson to the Practice Squad in November 2020. The 6’2”, 193-pound Wilson was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. He has spent time with Colts (2017-2019) and New York Jets (2020). Wilson has played in 32 regular-season games with 11 starts, accruing 59 tackles, 8 pass defenses, and 2 interceptions.

The Giants placed Brandon Williams on Injured Reserve in late September 2020 with a groin injury and reactivated him to the 53-man roster in early November. The team cut him a month later. In all, Williams played in six games, exclusively on special teams. Williams was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. The Giants signed him in late August 2020.

The Giants originally signed Sean Chandler as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2018 NFL Draft. He spent all of 2018 and parts of 2019 on the team’s 53-man roster. He began 2020 on the team’s Practice Squad, but was activated for three games, playing almost exclusively on special teams. The Carolina Panthers signed him off of the Giants’ Practice Squad in October.

The Giants selected Chris Williamson in the 7th round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He spent most of the season on the team’s Practice Squad until he was cut in December.

COVID-19 OPT-OUT

Sam Beal opted out of the 2020 NFL season due to the COVID-19 issue. Beal has had a rough start to his pro career. The Giants selected Beal in the 3rd round of the Supplemental Draft in July 2018. He missed all of his rookie season when he was placed on Injured Reserve in July 2018 with a shoulder injury that required surgery. The Giants placed Beal on Injured Reserve again in September 2019 with hamstring and groin injuries, but added him to the 53-man roster in early November. Beal missed the last game with another shoulder issue. In all, Beal played in six games with three starts, receiving 26 percent of defensive snaps, and accruing 26 tackles and one pass defense. Beal combines good size (6’1”, 177 pounds) and overall athleticism. Stating the obvious, Beal needs to stay healthy. But he flashes the ability to be a solid coverman when he does play.

Feb 012021
 
Share Button
Blake Martinez, New York Giants (September 27, 2020)

Blake Martinez – © USA TODAY Sports

As we covered in our defensive line review, the New York Giants defense significantly improved from 25th in 2019 to 12th in 2020 in terms of yards allowed. It was a remarkable achievement given the year-long personnel changes in the back seven on defense. There were no adjustments on the defensive line. The same three starters and two back-ups played in every game. The same could not be said for the linebackers and defensive backs.

In today’s 3-4 defenses, the outside linebackers are more of a hybrid linebacker/defensive end, increasingly commonly referred to as “edge” players. The two Giants who won the starting edge jobs (Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines) were both lost for the season in early October with 3/4ths of the season left to play. Their primary back-up (Markus Golden) was traded to the Cardinals a few weeks later with half the season left to play. The next man up (OLB/ILB hybrid Kyler Fackrell) missed four games due to a calf injury. The Giants were forced to rely on three rookies (7th rounder Carter Coughlin, 6th rounder Cam Brown, and undrafted free agent Niko Lalos) and two retreads (Jabaal Sheard and Trent Harris).

There was chaos too at one of the inside linebacker spots. Devonta Downs started the season but was unimpressive and lost his job to rookie Tae Crowder, the very last player taken in the draft. But after starting two games, Crowder landed on Injured Reserve with a groin injury for five games. Downs was reinserted into the starting line-up, but now David Mayo, who missed the first five games of the season with a knee injury, also saw increased playing time and two starts. Crowder returned in late November and reclaimed the starting job.

Whew. Just typing that was confusing. The only constants were free agent godsend Blake Martinez and the coaching staff.

Martinez was the glue that held the defense together. He directed the defense, played virtually every defensive snap (97 percent), and was a tackling machine (team-high 151 tackles). Long story short, Martinez is the best inside linebacker the Giants have had since Antonio Pierce was cut a decade ago.

Inside Linebackers Coach Kevin Sherrer and Outside Linebackers Coach Bret Bielema did a marvelous job of mixing and matching on a week-to-week basis. Look no further than the edge position where the Giants were left scrambling. At one point, the available players to use were Sheard, Coughlin, Brown, and Lalos. Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham, who coached linebackers with the Patriots and Packers, also employed defensive backs at linebacker in various packages. But there was a bit of chaos even in the coaching ranks when Bielema left the Giants with three games left to play to become head coach at the University of Illinois. Sherrer then handled both positions.

Aside from Martinez, what really stands out is that all four of the team’s late-round draft picks at linebacker made the team in addition to a rookie free agent. All five of these rookies played. The Giants were hammered by injuries at the outside linebacker position – down to their 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th options – and yet the coaching staff held the unit together. The biggest negative was the lack of pass rush, particularly from the edge spots. Of the team’s 40 sacks, 13.5 came from the linebackers (and four of them were from inside backers Martinez and Crowder). Fackrell led the linebacking corps with just four sacks.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

The Giants signed Blake Martinez as an unrestricted free agent from the Green Bay Packers in March 2020. He had a major impact on the defense, starting all 16 games and playing in 97 percent of all defensive snaps. Martinez finished the season with a team-high 151 tackles and also accrued nine tackles for losses, three sacks, six quarterback hits, five pass defenses, one interception, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. The 6’2”, 237-pound Martinez was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Packers. In four seasons with Green Bay, Martinez has played in 61 regular-season games with 57 starts, accruing 512 tackles and 10 sacks. Martinez lacks ideal size and range for the position, but he is a heady player who can make the defensive calls and gets in on lot of tackles. He is better against the run than the pass.

The Giants selected Tae Crowder in the 7th round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He surprisingly moved into the starting line-up in Week 5 and 6 before suffering a groin injury that landed him on Injured Reserve for five games. Crowder returned in late November, starting four of his final six games. In all, Crowder played in 11 games with six starts (37 percent of all defensive snaps), and was credited with 57 tackles, three tackles for losses, one sack, three quarterback hits, one pass defense, and one fumble recovery that he returned for a game-winning touchdown. The 6’3”, 235-pound Crowder was moved from running back to linebacker in college and thus is still learning the position. Only a 1-year starter in college. While Crowder lacks ideal size, he is a good athlete and seems to have good instincts for the position. He must improve his tackling consistency.

Devante Downs began the season as a starter, but saw his playing time give way to Tae Crowder. Downs played in all 16 games with eight starts (21 percent of all defensive snaps). He finished the season with 33 tackles, one pass defense, and one fumble recovery. The 6’2”, 252-pound Downs was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings waived him in late September 2019 and he was then signed by the Giants to their Practice Squad and 53-man roster in October 2019. Downs played in seven games for the Giants in 2019 on special teams. Downs has good size, but he did not impress against the run or pass in 2020 despite his eight starts.

The Giants placed David Mayo on Injured Reserve in early September 2020 with a torn meniscus in his left knee that required surgery. He was activated from Injured Reserve in mid-October. Mayo ended up playing in 11 games with two starts (18 percent of all defensive snaps). He was credited with 29 tackles, two tackles for losses, and one forced fumble. The Giants signed Mayo in September 2019 after he was cut by the San Francisco 49ers. He surprisingly ended up playing in all 16 games with 13 starts, playing in 57 percent of all defensive snaps, and finishing with 82 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 pass defenses. The 6’2”, 240-pound Mayo was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. After four seasons in Carolina, Mayo signed with the San Francisco 49ers in March 2019. Before coming to the Giants, Mayo only had started four NFL games in four seasons. Mayo lacks ideal tools which limits his ability defend the run and cover receivers, but he plays hard.

The Giants selected T.J. Brunson in the 7th round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Brunson spent most of the season on the inactive list, but he did play in five games, almost exclusively on special teams. He was credited with three tackles. The 6’1”, 230-pound Brunson is an undersized inside linebacker with decent but not ideal athleticism. He is very physical and aggressive.

EDGE

The Giants placed Lorenzo Carter on Injured Reserve with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon that he suffered in Week 5 in October 2020. He underwent surgery and missed the rest of the season after starting all five games and finishing with 14 tackles and one sack. The Giants drafted Carter in the 3rd round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Carter played in 15 games as a rookie with two starts, finishing the season with 43 tackles, 4 sacks, and 4 pass defenses. In 2019, Carter started 12 of the 15 games he played in, finishing the year with 45 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 5 pass defenses, and 1 forced fumble. Carter is a tall, athletic, disruptive forward mover. Carter looks the part, combining good size (6’5”, 255 pounds) and overall athletic ability. He flashes the ability to disrupt, but must do a better job of disengaging from blockers and making more plays. Versatile, he can play with his hand in the dirt.

Oshane Ximines was placed on Injured Reserve in early October 2020 with a shoulder injury that he suffered in Week 4. He returned to practice in late November, but his season ended when it was determined he would need rotator cuff surgery. Ximines started three of the four games he played in and finished the season with just four tackles. The Giants drafted Ximines in the 3rd round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He played at end in college. Ximines had a mixed performance in his rookie season in 2019. He received significant playing time, playing in all 16 games with two starts, playing in 45 percent of all defensive snaps, and accruing 25 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and one pass defense. Ximines has a nice combination of size (6’4”, 254 pounds) and overall athletic-ability. Ximines flashed at times as a pass rusher, but he must become a more physical run defender and more consistent, dynamic performer when rushing the passer. He also needs work in coverage.

2020 was an odd year for Markus Golden. Coming off of a superlative debut season for the Giants as a 1-year free agent rental in 2019 (career-high 72 tackles and team-high 10 sacks), Golden did not receive much interest in 2020 free agency. He re-signed with the Giants very late in the offseason in early August, but did not regain his starting position when the season started. The Giants then traded him to the Cardinals in late October. Golden ended up having a much bigger impact with the Cardinals than the Giants in 2020. With the Giants, he played in seven games with one start (16 percent of all defensive snaps) and finished with just 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Golden was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Cardinals. After rejoining the Cardinals, Golden started the final eight games, including a 1-sack, 1-fumble recovery performance against the Giants in Week 14. 

The Giants placed Kyler Fackrell on Injured Reserve in early December 2020 with a calf injury and activated him to the 53-man roster in early January 2021. In all, Fackrell played in 12 games with nine starts. He played in 56 percent of all defensive snaps and finished the season with 34 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, four sacks, 10 quarterback hits, two pass defenses, one interception that he returned for a touchdown, and one forced fumble. The 6’5”, 245-pound Fackrell was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. In four seasons with Green Bay, Fackrell played in 61 regular-season games with nine starts, compiling 111 tackles, 16.5 sacks, one pass defense, and one forced fumble. Fackrell’s best season was in 2018 when he started seven games and accrued 42 tackles and 10.5 sacks. The Giants signed Fackrell an unrestricted free agent from the Packers in March 2020. Although not a dynamic athlete, Fackrell is a big, versatile linebacker who can play outside or inside linebacker. He flashes as a pass rusher.

The Giants signed Jabaal Sheard off of the Practice Squad of the Jacksonville Jaguars in October 2020. He ended up playing in nine games for the Giants with three starts (24 percent of all defensive snaps), and finished with 19 tackles, two tackles for losses, 1.5 sacks, two quarterback hits, and one forced fumble. The 6’3”, 268-pound Sheard was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. He has spent time with the Browns (2011-2014), New England Patriots (2015-2016), Indianapolis Colts (2017-2019), and Jaguars (2020). Sheard has played in 144 regular-season games with 106 starts. While not a dynamic performer, Sheard is a steady, veteran presence who is solid against the run and will occasionally make some noise as a pass rusher.

The Giants selected Carter Coughlin in the 7th round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He played in 14 games as a rookie with two starts (18 percent of all defensive snaps). Coughlin finished the season with 17 tackles, two tackles for losses, one sack, and two quarterback hits. The 6’3”, 236-pound Coughlin is not a top athlete, but he is a tough, competitive, and reliable linebacker who plays hard.

The Giants selected Cam Brown in the 6th round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He played in 15 games as a rookie with no starts (8 percent of all defensive snaps). Brown finished the year with 12 tackles, three quarterback hits, and one forced fumble. The 6’5”, 233-pound Brown is a tall and lanky outside backer with long arms and decent speed. His size and solid athletic ability assist him coverage but he needs to improve his run defense at the point-of-attack and overall tackling consistency.

The Giants signed Niko Lalos as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2020 NFL Draft. Lalos spent most of the season on the Practice Squad but was elevated to the 53-man roster in December. He played in six games with no starts as a rookie (7 percent of all defensive snaps). Lalos finished the season with six tackles, one interception, one pass defense, and one fumble recovery. The 6’5”, 270-pound Lalos played defensive end in college but was moved to the outside linebacker position by the Giants. He has good size for the position, but is not a dynamic athlete. Over-achiever who plays hard.

The Giants signed Trent Harris to the Practice Squad and then the 53-man roster in October 2020; he was re-signed to the Practice Squad in December after playing in four games with two starts (6 percent of all defensive snaps). He finished they year with five tackles and 0.5 sacks. The 6’2”, 255-pound Harris was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the New England Patriots after the 2018 NFL Draft. He spent his rookie season on the Practice Squad of the Patriots. The Miami Dolphins claimed Harris off of waivers in September 2019. He played in 11 games with three starts with the Dolphins, accruing 20 tackles and 1.5 sacks. The Dolphins cut him in early September 2020.

Jan 292021
 
Share Button
Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence, New York Giants (November 8, 2020)

Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence – © USA TODAY Sports

Except for two outliers seasons (2013 and 1016), the New York Giants have struggled on defense for the past decade. The challenge for the team through four head coaches (Tom Coughlin, Ben McAdoo, Pat Shurmur, Joe Judge) and four defensive coordinators (Perry Fewell, Steve Spagnuolo, James Bettcher, Patrick Graham) has simply to move New York out of the bottom tier of the NFL on defense:

  • 2011: 27th
  • 2012: 31st
  • 2013: 8th
  • 2014: 29th
  • 2015: 32nd
  • 2016: 10th
  • 2017: 31st
  • 2018: 24th
  • 2019: 25th

With the fourth new regime coming in six years and serious personnel issues in the defensive back seven, it seemed unlikely the Giants would be able to improve their defensive team ranking in 2020. There was also viable media and fan concern about new Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham. In his first season as defensive coordinator in Miami in 2019, the Dolphins had finished 31st on defense. Miami Head Coach Brian Flores had also let Graham out of his contract to join Judge in New York, which seemed like a curious move.

To the credit of the entire coaching staff, the New York Giants finished the year 12th in yards allowed an 9th in points allowed. This was a major accomplishment for a team with no dangerous edge rushers or starting-caliber cornerback opposite of James Bradberry. While the two major free agent additions (Bradberry and linebacker Blake Martinez) were the two best players on the defense, the best overall unit was the defensive line.

The line benefitted from the coaching of Sean Spencer, the highly-regarded defensive line coach who Joe Judge lured away from Penn State. But it’s also important to note that Graham himself was a defensive line coach with the Patriots (2012-2013) and Giants (2016-2017).

Graham had his defense run out of multiple fronts, but the bread-and-butter was still a 3-4 system that remarkably employed only five defensive lineman all season. The sixth man (R.J. McIntosh) spent the whole year inactive. As a whole, the Giants were big, strong, powerful group that was tough to move off of the line of scrimmage. They were generally better against the run (10th in the NFL) than rushing the passer (21 of the team’s 40 sacks).

Ironically, the headliner ended up being the team’s most controversial defensive acquisition in years. Leonard Williams had a career year, accruing over one-fourth of the team’s sacks (11.5) and regularly being a disruptive presences as indicated by his team-high quarterback hits (30) and tackles for loss (14). He was also tied for fifth in combined tackles with 57.

The other two year-long starters were second-year defensive end Dexter Lawrence and third-year nose tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. While Williams received 74 percent of all defensive snaps, Lawrence and Tomlinson each saw 60 percent of all defensive snaps. These two finished with almost 100 combined tackles, 7.5 sacks, 20 quarterback hits, and 14 tackles for losses. Williams, Lawrence, and Tomlinson represented almost 1,000 pounds of beef up front, making life easier for the linebackers.

It’s also important to note the yeoman’s work of the only two reserves who saw action all year: B.J. Hill (34 percent of all defensive snaps) and Austin Johnson (21 percent of all defensive snaps). Both have started in this league, yet they accepted their back-up roles without complaint.

Looking past 2020, the offseason challenge for the Giants will be the retention of free agents Williams and Tomlinson.

THE STARTERS

In his sixth NFL season, Leonard Williams had his best season as a pro in 2020. Williams played in all 16 games with 12 starts (74 percent of defensive snaps) and finished the year with 57 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, 30 quarterback hits, one pass defense, and one fumble recovery. The 6’5”, 302-pound Williams was the sixth player taken overall in the 2015 NFL Draft by the New York Jets. The Giants acquired Williams by trade from the in late October 2019. Williams is a stout, strong, physical run defender. While he lacks classic quick-twitch outside pass-rush skills, Williams can pressure the passer due to his combination of power and overall athleticism. He has the ability to line up inside or outside to create match-up problems.

In his second season with the Giants in 2020, Dexter Lawrence played in all 16 games with 15 starts (60 percent of defensive snaps) and finished the year with 53 tackles, six tackles for a loss, four sacks, 10 quarterback hits, and two pass defenses. The Giants drafted Lawrence in the 1st round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He was named to the Pro Football Writers of America’s All-Rookie Team. Built like a prototypical run-stuffing nose tackle with excellent size and strength, the Giants play him more at defensive end. His size and power often force other teams to double-team him. While Lawrence can generate a power rush, he lacks dynamic pass rush moves to consistently reach the quarterback.

For the second year in a row, Dalvin Tomlinson served as the team’s primary nose tackle. He started all 16 games, playing 60 percent of all defensive snaps, and was credited with 49 tackles, eight tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, 10 quarterback hits, and four pass defenses. The Giants drafted Tomlinson in the 2nd round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Tomlinson has started all 64 games since he was drafted and has played both 3- and 1-technique roles with the Giants. Tomlinson is a big, strong, physical defender who flashes the ability to disrupt plays in the backfield.

THE RESERVES

In his third NFL season, B.J. Hill continued to see his playing time decline. He played in all 16 games with no starts, playing 34 percent of all defensive snaps (down from 59 percent in 2018 and 44 percent in 2019). Hill was credited with 32 tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack, three quarterback hits, and one pass defense. The Giants drafted Hill in the 3rd round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Hill has a nice combination of size and athleticism. He is a better run defender than pass rusher.

The Giants signed Austin Johnson as an unrestricted free agent from the Tennessee Titans in March 2020. He played in all 16 games, with no starts (21 percent of all defensive snaps), and was credited with 18 tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack, one quarterback hit, one pass defense, and one forced fumble. The 6’4”, 314-pound Johnson was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Titans. In four seasons in Tennessee, Johnson played in 58 regular-season games with 13 starts, compiling 83 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and five pass defenses. Johnson is a big, strong run defender who never lived up to expectations in Tennessee.

In his third year with the Giants in 2020, R.J. McIntosh spent the entire season on the inactive list. The Giants selected McIntosh in the 5th round of the 2018 NFL Draft. After missing most of his rookie season with unpublicized medical condition, McIntosh played in 12 games as a reserve in 2019, playing 10 percent of all defensive snaps, and finishing the year with 13 tackles and two sacks. McIntosh combines good size and overall athleticism.

PRACTICE SQUAD

The Giants signed David Moa to the Practice Squad in early October 2020. The 6’3”, 296-pound Moa was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Minnesota Vikings after the 2020 NFL Draft. The Vikings waived him in early September and he then spent a week on the Practice Squad on the Atlanta Falcons.

Jan 272021
 
Share Button
Daniel Jones, New York Giants (October 11, 2020)

Daniel Jones – © USA TODAY Sports

Quarterbacks and head coaches will always be lightning rods for the media and fans. That’s just the way it is. Winning championships will silence most critics. But only for a limited time, and they will then soon return. We saw this with Phil Simms and Eli Manning. Simms’ regular-season record was a 95-64; Manning’s regular-season record was 117-117. Other modern era NYG quarterbacks of note, Dave Brown was 23-30 and Kerry Collins was 35-33 when they played for the Giants.

Through two seasons, Daniel Jones is 8-18.

So fan ire directed at Jones is as predictable as the sun rising in the east, especially with Joe Judge just finishing his introductory honeymoon season. Is the criticism justified? Passionate opinions vary. And everyone has an opinion. I will simply point to something Sy’56 wrote in his second-to-last game review of the 2020 campaign:

It is OK if you believe Jones is not the answer. It is OK if you think Jones is the answer. Nobody can objectively determine that right now. One thing we all can and should agree on: you don’t know. I don’t know. He doesn’t know. She doesn’t know. The kid has played TWENTY-FIVE games behind a bottom-5 offensive line, the worst set of receivers in football, a tight end who is among league leaders in drops, and a star running back who has missed 14 of 25 games in which Jones started. He needs to be better and I have been vocal about that. You can even argue NYG should start over at QB in the upcoming draft. But to say Jones and NYG should be better because he was the #6 pick (means almost nothing, do some research), or that Jones is a definitive bust, you just sound foolish. This kid has shown more in 25 games than SO MANY quality quarterbacks. That is a fact.

Piggybacking on what Sy’56 wrote, I’m not going to try to convince you that Jones is a good or bad NFL quarterback. Opinions are far too set in concrete. I will simply remind you that many, if not most, New York Giants fans were convinced Phil Simms was a dog as late as the 1986 season (the Giants passing game really struggled much of that year) and the same of Eli Manning in 2007 (just remember the mood after the November game against the Vikings). At the time, Simms was in his 8th NFL season and Manning in his 4th NFL season and fans were still calling both bums.

Big picture. Other than the ridiculous number of fumbles, Jones had an incredible rookie season. His sophomore season in the NFL was a major disappointment. Despite starting two more games, Jones’ touchdown productivity fell from 24 to 11. Interceptions have not been a big problem for him, but the fumbling is still an issue even though it dropped from 18 to 11 (one of those was on Wayne Gallman).

Jones struggled early. The offensive line and running backs did not play well and Jones ended up being the leading rusher for the team in four of the first seven games. Once the offensive line started to improve and the running game picked up, Jones stopped turning the ball over, he played better, and the team began to win games. Unfortunately, just as Jones seemed to be hitting his stride, he suffered a hamstring injury, missed a game, came back too soon, injured his ankle, and missed another game. Jones’ rough start and finish overshadowed the brief positive stretch in November. In some ways, the season feels like an “incomplete” grade for Jones.

My biggest take-away from 2020 regarding Daniel Jones is what Joe Judge (unprompted) said about him on December 28th after a rough loss against the Baltimore Ravens:

We have to make sure we avoid the hits on the quarterback. But there are times you’re protecting with just five and they’re bringing six or seven, and Daniel did a very good job yesterday of really controlling it and operating it and getting the ball out. You look at yesterday, there are a lot of situations where Daniel knew there were going to be free runners. You just know it by scheme. That’s part of how you design getting the ball out. We had some hot reads, some sight adjustments, and just some plays schemed for a quick gain. I really like the way Daniel handled it yesterday. You kind of talk about what level of improvement have we seen throughout the year, I think there are a lot of things that show up on the tape yesterday with #8. You watch him from the start of the year to through yesterday and how he handled a lot of the situations with the pressure, the ball security and the decision-making. He did a lot of things that demonstrate a lot of growth. There are a lot of things you guys ask me all the time. What are you really looking at with this team as you go forward?

Well, I’ll start with a key piece right there with Daniel. You always want to know about is Daniel our guy? Are we going forward with Daniel? The answer is absolutely. What gives us that confidence is even in games like yesterday where it didn’t come out perfectly, you can turn the tape on and you can say, ‘hey listen, in games one through whatever, that wasn’t the guy we were looking at.’ You watch the tape yesterday and you see that guy in there operating, executing, understanding the pressure and not just standing in there with courage like he’s done all along and taken a hit but understanding how to take the hit and deliver an accurate pass and move the sticks down the field. These are things that as he grows in this league and develops in his craft, he’s going to be able to do. As we get going and we build more into this scheme, he’ll be able to handle it different ways as well and take some hits off himself. You see a lot of growth in these guys. I thought Daniel yesterday played well. There are some plays I’m sure he’d like to have back, some plays we’d like to do differently. That’s natural in any game. We’re going to coach it to eliminate those plays on the front end. But at the same time, there was a lot of growth that I saw with Daniel that’s really showed up in terms of how he had to play the game yesterday and what he’s able to do.

THE STARTER

In his second NFL season, Daniel Jones did not have the type of year hoped for or expected. Missing two games due to leg injuries (hamstring and ankle), Jones started 14 games and completing 62.5 percent of his passes for just 2,943 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. On the positive side, he rushed the ball 65 times for 423 yards (6.5 yards per attempt) and one touchdown. Jones’ productivity fell from his somewhat stellar rookie season, when he started 12 games, completing 61.9 percent of his passes for 3,027 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. While Jones markedly decreased his fumbling in 2020, it still remained an issue. In two seasons, Jones has fumbled the ball 29 times, losing 17. The Giants drafted Jones in the 1st round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Jones has classic quarterback size and is a good athlete who can hurt teams with his feet. He has good but not great arm strength. Encumbered with poor surrounding talent, Jones was not quick and decisive with his reads at times in 2020, holding the ball too long, and was inconsistent with his accuracy. However, Jones still continued to flash as both a passer and runner. In a nutshell, Jones is still too hot and cold. He is competitive, smart, tough, and hard-working. The coaching staff thinks very highly of him.

THE BACK-UP

Colt McCoy easily won the back-up quarterback spot for the Giants in 2020 and ended up playing in four games with two starts, completing 60.6 percent of his passes for 375 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. The 6’1”, 212-pound McCoy was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. He has spent time with the Browns (2010-2012), San Francisco 49ers (2013), and Washington Redskins (2014-2019). The Giants signed McCoy as an unrestricted free agent from the Redskins in March 2020. In 11 NFL seasons, McCoy has only started 30 games, 21 of which came with the Browns in 2010-2011. McCoy lacks ideal size and arm strength, which limit his ability to threaten NFL defenses. He’s a typical back-up type quarterback who usually will not hurt his team, but also is incapable of elevating its play. McCoy is smart and a positive influence in the locker room.

ON THE PRACTICE SQUAD

The Giants signed Joe Webb to the Practice Squad and then the 53-man roster in December 2020. The team waived him and then re-signed him in January 2021. The 6’4”, 231-pound Webb was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings. He has spent time with the Vikings (2010-2013), Carolina Panthers (2014-2016), Buffalo Bills (2017), Houston Texans (2018-2019), and Detroit Lions (2020). Webb has played in 104 regular-season games with four starts, completing 90-of-159 passes (56.6 percent) for 888 yards, three touchdowns, and six interceptions. He also has caught 10 passes in his career and returned 18 kickoffs.

The Giants signed Clayton Thorson to the Practice Squad in late September 2020. The 6’4”, 222-pound Thorson was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles cut him in August 2019 and he was then signed to the Practice Squad of the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys cut him in early September 2020.

The Giants signed Alex Tanney to the Practice Squad in early December 2020. The 6’3”, 208-pound Tanney was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Kansas City Chiefs after the 2012 NFL Draft. The well-traveled journeyman has spent time with the Chiefs (2012), Dallas Cowboys (2013), Cleveland Browns (2013), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2014), Tennessee Titans (2014), Buffalo Bills (2015), Indianapolis Colts (2015), and Titans again (2015–2018). The Giants signed Tanney in May 2018 after after he was cut by the Titans. He surprisingly won the back-up quarterback job to Eli Manning in 2018, but was moved to third-string in 2019, being active for only one game.  The Giants cut him in early September 2020. Tanney has only played in two regular-season games, coming off the bench for the Titans in 2015 and the Giants in 2019.

The Giants claimed Cooper Rush off of waivers from the Dallas Cowboys in May 2020. He spent three weeks on the Giants’ Practice Squad in September before the Giants cut him. Rush spent the rest of the 2020 season back with the Cowboys. The 6’3”, 225-pound Rush originally signed with the Cowboys as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2017 NFL Draft.

Jan 252021
 
Share Button
Wayne Gallman, New York Giants (November 29, 2020)

Wayne Gallman – © USA TODAY Sports

The potential trajectory of New York Giants’ 2020 season changed on September 20th. On that day, the team lost its best player, and arguably one of the top 10 players in the NFL, for the season. Many fans still don’t fully understand what a massive loss that was for the team. Saquon Barkley changes the way other teams defend an entire offense. He was the only player on the Giants who was a threat to score every time he touched the football as a runner or receiver.

Unfortunately, there is a growing group of fans who argue that Barkley was not worthy of the #2 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft based on talent alone. This is revisionist thinking. Very few were saying that after his historic rookie season where he gained over 2,000 yards on an offensive team otherwise devoid of talent, especially on the offensive line. Before we proceed further, please watch his rookie highlights. Now one can argue that a rebuilding club should not take a running back with the #2 pick, that the Giants should have traded down for more picks, or selected a position with a longer shelf life, but there is no disputing Barkley’s talent. Once he was removed from the 2020 New York Giants line-up, the entire complexion of the team’s offense changed for the worse.

The franchise seemed somewhat unprepared for the potential loss of Barkley. They did not seem enamored with the other options on the roster and immediately signed Devonta Freeman off of the street. In Week 3, Freeman, Wayne Gallman, and Dion Lewis embarrassingly carried the ball 10 times for 17 yards. The coaching staff instantly favored Freeman over Gallman. Freeman carried the ball 11 times for 33 yards in Week 4, 17 times for 60 yards in Week 5, and 18 times for 61 yards in Week 6. Then Freeman hurt his ankle early in Week 7 and was also effectively lost for the season. The Giants signed Alfred Morris off of the scrapheap and were forced to turn to Gallman, who started each of the final nine games.

Gallman’s story is a curious one. Drafted in the 4th round of the 2017 NFL Draft by Jerry Reese and Ben McAdoo, Gallman fell out of favor with Pat Shurmur and then early on with Joe Judge. But when Judge finally turned to Gallman, the 4th-year pro responded by rushing 147 times for 682 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and six touchdowns. This despite only carrying the ball more than 12 times in a game just four times and more than 18 times just once. Indeed, it seemed as if Gallman was being underutilized for much of the second half of the season.

After Gallman’s 147 carries, quarterback Daniel Jones was the second leading rusher on the team, both in terms of carries (65) and yardage (423). The over-the-hill Alfred Morris become Gallman’s primary backup, averaging six carries per game in the final nine games. He finished with 55 carries for 238 yards and one touchdown, surprisingly averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Dion Lewis served as the 3rd-down back, carrying the ball just 29 times for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Fullback Eli Penny only played in seven percent of all offensive snaps, touching the ball just eight times.

Overall, the Giants finished 19th in rushing, averaging 110.5 yards per game. The ground game was abysmal to start the season and improved markedly as the year progressed until December. No Giant had more than 28 yards rushing in the first two games and no Giant had more than 49 yards rushing in the first four games. Jones was the team’s leading rusher in four of the first seven games of the season. When the Giants ran for over 100 yards in a game, their record was 6-3. When the Giants ran for less than 100 yards, their record was 0-7, including the 0-3 stretch in December. Long story short, when the offensive line played well, the Giants were able to run the football and won football games. When the offensive line faltered, the Giants lost. Team running backs only scored nine rushing touchdowns.

One thing to keep in mind as we move forward: since Gallman, Morris, and Lewis are all now free agents, it is quite possible that none of New York’s top three running back ground gainers in 2020 will be on the roster in a few months.

THE DEVASTATING LOSS

The Giants placed Saquon Barkley on Injured Reserve in late September 2020 after he tore the ACL, partially tore the meniscus, and sprained the MCL in his right knee in Week 2. He finished the season with 19 carries for 34 yards (1.8 yards per carry) and six catches for 60 yards. The Giants drafted Barkley with the #2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He became only the third rookie in NFL history to accrue 2,000 yards from scrimmage and breaking a number of franchise records. He also was voted to the Pro Bowl and named “Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year”, “FedEx Ground NFL Player of the Year”, “Pro Football Writers of America Offensive Rookie of the Year”, and “Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year.” Barkley started all 16 games, rushing 261 times for 1,307 yards (5.0 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns. He also caught 91 passes for 721 yards and four touchdowns. Overall, Barkley led the NFL with 2,028 yards from scrimmage. Barkley also led the NFL with seven 40+ yard runs and six 50+ yard runs. The latter figure is the highest single-season total by a Giants player since the 1970 merger. All of this despite playing behind a subpar offensive line.

After that stellar rookie season, Barkley endured a forgettable sophomore season as a pro. The high ankle sprain that he suffered in Week 3 nagged him much of the remainder of the season. Playing soft and tentative at times, Barkley did not show signs of his old self until December. Nevertheless, Barkley still rushed 217 times for 1,003 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and six touchdowns. He also caught 52 passes for 438 yards and two touchdowns. Barkley is a complete three-down back who can make an impact running and catching the football. If healthy, he has an outstanding combination of size, quickness, and speed. A home-run threat every time he touches the football, Barkley has great vision, instincts, and balance. He makes defenders miss and can accelerate to full speed in a heartbeat. Barkley is big enough to run through and athletic enough to leap over tackle attempts. Barkley is a very good pass receiver who can hurt a defense down the field in the passing game. He has only fumbled the ball once in his career. His biggest negative is that he will sometimes try to do too much and dance around instead of taking what the defense gives him. Excellent intangibles. Team leader with a good work ethic. It remains to be seen if he can regain his old form after his serious 2020 knee injuries. And after two injury-plagued seasons in a row, Barkley needs to prove he can stay healthy.

THE STAND-INS

The Giants placed Devonta Freeman on Injured Reserve in November 2020 with ankle and hamstring injuries. He was also placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 List in December. The 5’8”, 206-pound Freeman was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. In six years with the Falcons, Freeman played in 77 regular-season games with 59 starts, rushing 951 times for 3,972 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and 32 touchdowns. He also caught 257 passes for 2,015 yards and 11 touchdowns. Freeman missed most of the 2018 season with knee and groin injuries. His productivity fell to 656 yards on 184 carries (3.6 yards per carry) and two touchdowns in 2019. The Falcons cut Freeman in March 2020 and the Giants signed him in late September 2020. Freeman played in five games with the Giants, starting four, and finished 2020 with 54 carries for 172 yards (3.2 yards per carry) and one touchdown. He also caught seven passes for 58 yards.

In his fourth NFL season, Wayne Gallman had his best campaign despite starting the season as an afterthought. It was only after injuries to Saquon Barkley and the newly-signed Devonta Freeman that the coaching staff turned to Gallman. He ended up playing in 15 games with 10 starts, carrying the ball 147 times for 682 yards (4.6 yards per rush) and six touchdowns. Gallman also caught 21 passes for 114 yards. Gallman was drafted in the 4th round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Giants. As a rookie, Gallman played in 13 games with one start and carried the football 111 times for 476 yards (4.3 yards per carry). But Gallman saw his playing time drop significant during Pat Shurmur’s reign, carrying the ball only 80 times for 286 yards in 2018-2019. Gallman is a well-rounded cutback runner with decent vision, elusiveness, strength for his size, and speed. He has good hands as a receiver, but he will fumble (seven career fumbles).

The Giants signed Alfred Morris to the Practice Squad in late September 2020 and the 53-man roster in November 2020. Morris ended up playing in nine games for the Giants with no starts, carrying the ball 55 times for 238 yards (4.3 yards per rush). The 5’10”, 222-pound Morris was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins. He has spent time with the Redskins (2012-2015), Dallas Cowboys (2016-2017, 2019), San Francisco 49ers (2018), and Arizona Cardinals (2019). Morris has played in 114 regular-season games with 70 starts. Morris was second-team All-Pro in 2012 and was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2013 and 2014. Nearing the end of his career, Morris has good size and power, but what movement skills he once had have clearly faded. He is not used much in the passing game.

Dion Lewis played in all 16 games for the Giants in 2020 with no starts. He finished the year with 29 carries for 115 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. He also caught 19 passes for for 127 yards and one touchdown. Lewis served as the team’s primary kickoff returner, averaging 22.4 yards per return and fumbling twice. The 5’8”, 195-pound Lewis was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Lewis has spent time with the Eagles (2011-2012), Cleveland Browns (2013), Indianapolis Colts (2014), New England Patriots (2015-2017), and Tennessee Titans (2018-2019). The Giants signed Lewis in March 2020 after he was cut by the Titans. Strictly a smaller, 3rd-down-type back, Lewis has good quickness but lacks the overall dynamism for the role he plays. He also had an issue with fumbling in 2020.

THE LONELY FULLBACK

Eli Penny was placed on Injured Reserve in early January 2021 due to an undisclosed illness. The sole fullback on the team for the past three seasons, Penny played in 14 games in 2020, rushing the ball six times for 15 yards (2.5 yards per carry) and catching two passes for 20 yards. The 6’2”, 234-pound Penny was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Cardinals after the 2016 NFL Draft. The Giants signed Penny off of the Practice Squad of the Arizona Cardinals in September 2018. He has played in 44 regular-season games for the Giants with four starts. Though Penny lacks classic fullback size, he is a well-rounded player who can block, run, and catch the football.

PRACTICE SQUAD

The Giants signed Taquan Mizzell to the Practice Squad in November 2020. The 5’10”, 185-pound Mizzell originally signed with the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2017 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Ravens (2017), Chicago Bears (2017-2018), and New Orleans Saints (2019-2020). Mizzell has played in 12 regular-season games, serving as a running back, wide receiver, and kick returner.

Sandro Platzgummer was allocated to the Giants in April 2020 as part of the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program, which also allowed him to remain on the team’s Practice Squad in 2020 without counting towards the Practice Squad limit. Platzgummer played for the Swarco Raiders Tirol of the Austrian Football League.

The Giants signed Rod Smith to the Practice Squad in early September 2020 and cut him three weeks later. The 6’3”, 236-pound Smith was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Seattle Seahawks after the 2015 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Seahawks (2015), Dallas Cowboys (2015-2018), Giants (2019), Tennessee Titans (2019), and Oakland Raiders (2019).

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.