Jul 152019
 
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Aldrick Rosas, New York Giants (December 2, 2018)

Aldrick Rosas – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Special Teams

2018 YEAR IN REVIEW: Despite the fact that the New York Giants’ special teams have been a liability for years, special teams ended up being the team’s strongest unit in 2018. New Head Coach Pat Shurmur chose not to bring back long-time special teams coordinator Tom Quinn and hired Thomas McGaughey to be the new coordinator and Anthony Blevins as his assistant. However, since McGaughey was diagnosed with cancer during the 2018 offseason, Quinn was retained as “assistant special teams coordinator.”

Overshadowed by Saquon Barkley’s phenomenal rookie season, place kicker Aldrick Rosas, who struggled in 2017, had the best year of any place kicker in team history, only missing one field goal all season. Newcomer punter Riley Dixon, who was acquired by trade, finished 7th in net punting. The Giants were 7th in the NFL in kickoff returns (24.4 yards per return) and 28th in punt returns (6.2 yards per return). The Giants were also 2nd-best in defending kickoff returns (20.4 yards per return) and 7th-best in defending punt returns (6.6 yards per return). The Giants did not return a punt or kick for a touchdown and they did not allow a punt or kick to be returned against them for a touchdown.

Two Giants made the Pro Bowl as special teams players, Rosas and first-team alternate Michael Thomas, who led the team with 12 special teams tackles. Other leading tacklers included Kerry Wynn (8), Kenny Ladler (8), Nate Stupar (8), and Russell Shepard (6).

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Six Giants returned punts in 2018, including Jawill Davis (12), Quadree Henderson (9), Odell Beckham (8), Kaelin Clay (5), Stacy Coley (2), and Corey Coleman (1). All but Coleman are gone. Five Giants returned more than one kickoff, including Coleman (23), Davis (7), Cody Latimer (5), Henderson (5), and Coley (2). Only Coleman and Latimer return.

Kerry Wynn, who had a very good year covering kicks, signed with the Bengals. The Giants did sign running back Rod Smith from the Cowboys, who was a core special teams player for that team.

The Giants signed punter Ryan Anderson after he impressed at the 2019 rookie mini-camp. Anderson last punted for Rutgers in 2017 when he was named First-Team, All-Big Ten, averaging 44.4 yards per punt.

Journeyman wide receiver/returner Brittan Golden was signed in January.

The team also added two long snappers: Taybor Pepper (who played in four games with the Packers in 2017) and rookie free agent Jake Carlock.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Can the Giants replicate their 2018 special teams success and even build upon it? Or will they regress back to their usual norm?

Aldrick Rosas had an incredible season in 2018. He increased his field goal percentage from 72 percent in 2017 to 97 percent in 2018, missing just one field goal, making the Pro Bowl in the process. Was his performance a flash in the pan, similar to Ali Haji-Sheikh in 1983, or is Rosas set to become one of the NFL’s best kickers for many years to come? It is interesting to note that the Giants do not have another place kicker in camp.

While Riley Dixon finished the year 7th in net punting, some think the Giants could do better. Ryan Anderson does have a strong leg and could challenge Dixon.

The Giants were very good at covering both punts and kickoffs in 2018. Using a wide cast of characters, they did a respectable job returning kickoffs but were poor in returning punts. The real questions here are who will be the primary returners in 2018? Corey Coleman averaged 26 yards per kickoff return in 2018. Cody Latimer and Jabrill Peppers also have experience returning kickoffs. Who will return punts is an even bigger mystery. The only obvious candidate at the moment is the starting strong safety Jabrill Peppers, although starting wide receiver Golden Tate also has punt return experience. However, Pat Shurmur has said that impressive rookie wide receiver Darius Slayton is also a candidate to return both kickoffs and punts.

At some point, Zak DeOssie will have to hang it up as the Giants’ long snapper. Does he hold on another year?

ON THE BUBBLE: The kickers are most likely set although Ryan Anderson could challenge Riley Dixon. Taybor Pepper or Jake Carlock would have to be really impressive to unseat Zak DeOssie as long snapper. Brittan Golden has experience returning kickoffs and punts, but has an uphill climb to make the team. The Giants have a number of core special teams players who may not make it including Nate Stupar, Kenny Ladler, Russell Shepard, Antonio Hamilton, and Rod Smith.

FROM THE COACHES: Head Coach Pat Shurmur on Jake Carlock: “He is a very good long snapper. We are always looking for guys at skill positions. He is a very accomplished linebacker as well. Much like (Eric) Dungey who can compete at different areas, he is going to do the same.”

Special Teams Coordinator Thomas McGaughey on whether he would hesitate to have a starter return kicks or punts: “Nope, not at all. It’s a play-making position. When you think about it over the years and you watch punt returners that have had success that have played on defense – the Deion Sanders, and all those guys. That’s a play-making position. That’s one of those positions where you can change the game just like that. I have no reservation by putting any kind of starter back there, because that’s a play that can change the game. We know 75 percent of game in the NFL comes down to the last possession. Any time you could gain an advantage on your opponent, you want to get that advantage.”

McGaughey on Jabrill Peppers: “High energy, the guy is a for sure ball handler. Can make all the cuts full speed. He just brings juice. I’ve known the kid since he was 16 years old. I recruited him when I was at LSU. Jabrill is a special athlete. He can do anything – run the football, catch the football, whatever. He’s just a great athlete… Yes, he’s going to (return kicks and punts for us)… That’s football – he’s a safety in the NFL. Those guys primarily do everything. When you look at them, most of them are three-core, four-core guys when they play. That’s just the reality of it, especially a young safety with a lot of energy like Jabrill.”

McGaughey on WR Russell Shepard, LB Nate Stupar, and CB Antonio Hamilton: “Those guys were the foundation of what we did last year. Whenever you can get veteran leadership and you can have continuity, that’s the most important thing. When you get guys that have done it before, and they’ve done it at a high level, and you can keep them in the same spots – it’s no different from having an offensive line with continuity, a secondary with continuity, it’s the same thing. A core group of special teams players. They’re no different from anyone else. You got to have that continuity if you want to have consistency.”

McGaughey on Rod Smith: “Big, strong, athletic, smart, playmaker – whenever you can get a guy like that on your roster to provide depth, and having value as a running back. (General Manager Dave) Gettleman always talks about having value on offense and defense, not just on special teams. He punches all the tickets. He’s a hard worker, he’s a pro, and he does everything you ask him to do. He’s 6’3”, 235 pounds, and has a skillset. He’s one of those guys if you’re sitting in a room, you won’t even know he’s there. He’s quiet, he comes in, and he works, and he does his job.”

McGaughey on Ryan Anderson: “Ryan is a lefty. Whenever you can bring a lefty in, and you can get a righty spin and a lefty spin is always good. Ryan has a lot of potential. His maturation from last year to this year has been huge. He came here last year to our local day. To see him again this year was a big difference. You can tell he’s been working on his craft, and he’s been working hard. It’s good to have him in to have a little competition. It’s always good to have two guys in where they can kind of compete against each other. It makes it better.”

McGaughey on Jake Carlock: “He’s a young guy with a lot of potential. He can run, he’s very athletic. So what we’ll see what happens with Jake. We’re excited about the chance of working with him.”

McGaughey on Eric Dungey: “He’s going to have a chance somewhere, right? We’ll put him out there. We’ll find a home for him. He’s athletic, he’s a tough kid. We’ll find a home for him. Those types of kids in college that are athletic quarterbacks, they always kind of find a way. They’ll figure out something. They’re athletic, they’ve always competed at a high-level, so they’ll find a way… Anytime you can get a big athlete that’s tough, that’s smart, that’s played the quarterback position, anytime you can get a style of athlete like that, and he’s coachable and is willing, a lot of good things can happen.”

PREDICTIONS: Saquon Barkley overshadowed the incredible performance of Aldrick Rosas in 2018. But the psychology of kickers tends to be on the fragile side and Rosas has to prove that 2018 wasn’t a fluke. If he becomes a perennial Pro Bowler, Rosas may be one of Jerry Reese’s most positive legacies.

Who returns kickoffs and punts seems up in the air at this point. My guess is that Corey Coleman remains the leading candidate to return kickoffs, but he could be pressed by Darius Slayton. For as much press as Jabrill Peppers receives as an athletic returnman, he only averaged 22 yards per kickoff return thus far in the NFL.

Peppers could end up being the primary punt returner, as he has returned 55 punts in the last two season for the Cleveland Browns, averaging 7.3 yards per return.

I think the Giants are going to face some tough roster decisions on veteran special teams players such as Rod Smith, Russell Shepard, Nate Stupar, Antonio Hamilton, and Kenny Ladler. My gut also tells me that either Eric Dungey or Jake Carlock will make the team as a special teams ace and jack-of-all-trades type player. The Giants face a bit of a dilemma with the ever-consistent Zak DeOssie. He plays a position where age isn’t a huge factor, and not only does he do a fine job of long-snapping, but he’s good at covering kicks. But he also doesn’t play another position. That said, Giants fans know all too well how costly having a bad long snapper can be.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Aldrick Rosas and Riley Dixon the kickers. Zak DeOssie as the long snapper, Corey Coleman as the kickoff returner and Jabrill Peppers as the punt returner. It’s too early to tell how legitimate a shot that Eric Dungey or Jake Carlock have in making the team, but I think one of these two will. If both falter, another one of the veteran core special teams players will make it.

Jul 092019
 
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Deandre Baker and Julian Love, New York Giants (June 5, 2019)

Deandre Baker and Julian Love – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Defensive Backs

2018 YEAR IN REVIEW: In just three seasons, the Giants went from having one of the best secondaries in the NFL in 2016 to one of the worst in 2018. Three Giants were named to the All-Pro team in 2016. In 2018, the Giants had arguably the worst starting free safety (Curtis Riley) and worst starting cornerback (B.W. Webb) in the League. For the second year in a row, overrated strong safety Landon Collins could not replicate his 2016 performance and finished the year on Injured Reserve. The best player in the secondary, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, gave up too many big plays. The Giants decided they had seen enough of top-10 draft pick Eli Apple and traded him in October to the Saints.

The rest of the unit was manned by players such as Grant Haley, Antonio Hamilton, Tony Lippett, Donte Deayon (waived in October), Michael Thomas, Sean Chandler, Kenny Ladler, and Kamrin Moore. Who? Most fans never heard of any of these guys before 2018. In a way, encumbered with one of the worst pass rush units in the NFL, it’s a minor miracle that the secondary was not more abused than it actually was. The Giants finished 23rd in pass defense.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants re-signed cornerbacks Tony Lippett and Antonio Hamilton in free agency as well as Practice Squad cornerback Ronald Zamort. Landon Collins signed a huge, 6-year, $84 million contract with the Washington Redskins. Curtis Riley signed with the Oakland Raiders and B.W. Webb signed with the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Giants obtained safety Jabrill Peppers in a trade from the Cleveland Browns. They signed safety Antoine Bethea after he was cut by the Arizona Cardinals. Street free agent cornerback Henre’ Toliver was also signed.

The Giants selected cornerbacks Deandre Baker (1st round), Julian Love (4th round), and Corey Ballentine (6th round) in the 2019 NFL Draft. Rookie free agents safety Tenny Adewusi, safety Jacob Thieneman, linebacker/safety Jake Carlock, and linebacker/safety Mark McLaurin were all signed after the draft. Thieneman has since been waived due to an injury.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The Giants have almost completely revamped their secondary. Jabrill Peppers and Antoine Bethea replace Landon Collins and Curtis Riley as the starting safeties. 2018 3rd-round Supplemental Draft pick Sam Beal, who missed his rookie season due to an injury, as well as three 2019 draft picks will have the inside track at making the roster at cornerback. Deandre Baker has already been moved into the starting line-up. Aside from Bethea, Jenkins, and reserve safety Michael Thomas, this is a very young group.

On paper, the Giants are better set at cornerback. Jenkins and Baker should be one of the better starting cornerback duos in the NFL. By all accounts, Baker was one of the most impressive newcomers during Spring workouts. Both will be pressed by Julian Love and Sam Beal. Perhaps the best battle will be for the starting nickel corner spot between Grant Haley and Julian Love.

Safety is a bit more unsettled. Jabrill Peppers played much better during his second year in Cleveland and the belief is that Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher sees him as a cornerstone to the team’s rebuilt defense and will employ him in a variety of ways to take advantage of his physical attributes. Bethea turns 35 in July and is obviously nearing the end. But he will provide leadership and inside knowledge on Bettcher’s schemes, making sure everyone is lined up properly. Depth at safety is a concern as there are no clear up-and-coming players behind the starting two.

Keep in mind that both defensive backs coaches are new with Everett Withers and Henry Baker coming from the collegiate ranks.

ON THE BUBBLE: As I discussed in my linebacker preview, the Giants may view some of these players as hybrid linebackers/safeties such as Jake Carlock and Mark McLaurin. So one of these guys could make the roster as a “linebacker.”

The Giants are likely to carry 9, 10, or 11 defensive backs. Some think Janoris Jenkins could be traded. My belief is that Jenkins, Deandre Baker, Julian Love, Sam Beal, Jabrill Peppers, and Antoine Bethea are the sure bets to make the team. Others with a good shot are Grant Haley, Corey Ballentine, and Michael Thomas, but they are not completely safe. Everyone else is on the bubble.

FROM THE COACHES: Head Coach Pat Shurmur on Deandre Baker: “He has been (making plays) on a pretty steady basis. I think he has made a play or two at each practice. Again, just learning how to compete at this level. Unfortunately, you can’t do a whole bunch of bump-and-run and press coverage, so the corners are at a little bit of a disadvantage. However, you need to learn to play off and for him to be able to make plays in those situations is good.”

Shurmur on Jabrill Peppers and Antoine Bethea: “They are doing a good job. You saw Antoine had an interception today. They communicate extremely well. They are very strong guys. Typically, one guy takes the lead on that, but they both can do it. When I watch, they are getting us in the right coverages and pressures. They are in the right spots and trying to play the techniques within the defenses that are called. That is the thing that you can work on this time of year defensively. All the communication. We are really pleased with where they are. It is only going to get better.”

Shurmur on Jabrill Peppers: “He has a very charismatic personality and he loves to play the game. He picked up quickly what we were doing on defense well and he is extremely smart. He is very tough and very competitive. When you see guys like that on the field, you feel their presence immediately. He got to it quickly… He is very vocal. Sometimes you don’t have to be very vocal and you can be a leader. You can look to him and see that he has that about him. He has a great presence. If you are around him on a day-to-day basis, you can see that he will quickly become one of the guys where you say, ‘OK, he’s got it.’ He loves playing football and has a lot of fun doing it and a lot of fun competing. I think that is part of his charm and what makes him special. He is so darn competitive. It shows up naturally.”

Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher on Jabrill Peppers: “Jabrill is a highly talented and ascending player in this league. A guy that has the flexibility to play strong safety and could come down in the box and play some money. He is a really talented blitzer and when you watched his tape in Cleveland, you saw all the different roles he played. You saw snaps where he plays nickel, high in the middle of the field, high and outside, where he plays down low. A guy that has a lot of versatility. A guy that when he learns this system, he is going to have a lot of fun playing in this system… I flew from Arizona to Michigan and spent a bunch of time with him when he was coming out (in the draft). I thought he was a dynamic kid and the people that were around him loved him. I got multiple texts from coaches that worked with him in Cleveland and it was not something I asked for, this was after we traded for him and they said that we were going to love him. He is going to work exceptionally hard and is going to be about what it is supposed to be about. You see him out here, we are doing stuff against the air and he is moving, sliding and running around. He is in a stance and sometimes you want to be like, slow down, this is on air. He is exciting.”

Bettcher on Antoine Bethea: “We have a chance to add Antoine Bethea, a guy who is one of the highest character players I have ever been around, smart, intelligent and an unbelievable leader. As you have an opportunity to wrap your hands around him and embrace him a little bit, you will see what I am talking about with him. I was talking to him the other day and I was joking with him telling him that as time goes on, I get more gray hair. As time goes on, he gets younger. That is just when you see his play, that is what it has been. The years in the league have progressed for him. He has played fast and played young. That what impresses me about him.”

Bettcher on Deandre Baker: “The thing I would say about Baker is that he played in a very, very tough league. We all know how long it was before he gave up a touchdown pass. He competed and covered some of the best players that have come out of that league on offense. His tape speaks for itself. One of the best, if not the best, tackling corner in the draft, period. Excited to have him. He did an outstanding job at camp this past week.”

Bettcher on Janoris Jenkins: “Janoris has been not great but unbelievable with our young guys. He has had great, teachable moments where as a coach you just have to let it go. You are starting to go coach the young guys and he is already on it. I see the ownership in year two that he is starting to take with those guys. It is outstanding and it is going to help us be a better defense and not just those guys be better players themselves.”

Bettcher on Julian Love: “Naturally, he is a nickel. What is the second position, is he a safety or a corner? Time tells with that and more reps tell us that. You have to be smart and pretty intelligent like he is to be able to handle that.”

Defensive Backs Coach Everett Withers on his cornerbacks: “It is exciting when you bring in all these young men. That is the biggest thing. Talented guys that can play. We are adding Sam Beal into the mix too. You take a guy like Janoris Jenkins, a guy that has been in the league for 10 years and look at him more as an assistant coach. He has taken that role so far this offseason and has done a really good job.”

Withers on Janoris Jenkins: “I think when he is in the meetings, he has such a vast amount of experience in this league that he can help guys not only schematically but understanding the game, splits of receivers and those things. He has done a really good job in the meeting rooms and on the field so far… He has been awesome.”

Withers on Jabrill Peppers: “I am excited. He has a lot of ability and does a lot of things. Our role right now is to try and help Jabrill schematically. Help him grow into what we do and add things into his playbook. He is a guy that comes to work everyday with a lot of energy. He has been really fun to watch so far.”

Withers on Deandre Baker: “He is a really talented guy. When you watch his tape, he is a guy with a lot of competitive experience. To have another guy over there next to Janoris, he is talented enough to go over there and be a factor over there opposite Janoris.”

Special Teams Coordinator Thomas McGaughey on Jabrill Peppers: “High energy, the guy is a for sure ball handler. Can make all the cuts full speed. He just brings juice. I’ve known the kid since he was 16 years old. I recruited him when I was at LSU. Jabrill is a special athlete. He can do anything – run the football, catch the football, whatever. He’s just a great athlete.”

PREDICTIONS: The guy who is flying under the radar is Deandre Baker. Keep in mind that despite drafting him late in the first round, he was the first cornerback selected in the draft. In other words, the Giants believe he was the best corner in this draft class. Thus far, he has not disappointed. Baker has the look of an old school, aggressive, physical corner who likes to mix it up both against the run and the pass. Janoris Jenkins has always done better when his team is playing better. I expect him to regain his 2016 All-Pro form as long as he stays healthy. Grant Haley remained the first-team nickel throughout the Spring practices. However, it is difficult to see him holding off Julian Love for long. Love may lack ideal long speed, but he a smart, aggressive player who makes plays on the football. Sam Beal provides quality depth provided he is over his shoulder issues.

The Giants also look to be upgraded at safety. Landon Collins was not as good as advertised. Most Giants fans know he had issues in coverage. He never regained his 2016 form. Curtis Riley was a train wreck at free safety. James Bettcher insists that Antoine Bethea can still play. At the very least, the team is already thrilled with the leadership and guidance he is providing. He’s like having a coach on the field. The real question mark here is what is Jabrill Peppers’ upside? Is he another one of those better-athlete-than-player types or is he about to experience his breakout season in his third year? It’s obvious the Giants are going to use him in a variety of ways, moving him around quite a bit and even have him blitz. The good news, again, is his attitude. The team is thrilled with his character. Depth at safety is a concern. Michael Thomas is a solid reserve/special teams type who also provides a good locker room presence. But it would be great if one of the young safeties came out of nowhere to surprise.

Don’t be surprised to see the Giants play with a lot of five and six defensive back packages throughout the year. Because of that, I would not be shocked to see the team keep as many as 11 defensive backs. Special teams will also be a big factor in deciding who stays and could help a guy like Antonio Hamilton.

This secondary has a chance to be very good for a number of years.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Janoris Jenkins, Deandre Baker, Sam Beal, Julian Love, Grant Haley, Corey Ballentine, Jabrill Peppers, Antoine Bethea, Michael Thomas, Sean Chandler

Jul 052019
 
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Lorenzo Carter, New York Giants (December 9, 2018)

Lorenzo Carter – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Linebackers

2018 YEAR IN REVIEW: It’s both ironic and tragic that the team so closely associated with a great linebacking legacy has become so incompetent at addressing the position. Worse, with the shift to the 3-4 defense, the importance of the position was elevated in the overall scheme of the defense. In the 3-4, the linebackers are the play-makers, the pass rushers, and the active run defenders. Despite spending assets on the position: $17 million for Olivier Vernon, $15 million for Kareem Martin, $5 million for Connor Barwin, two draft picks for Alec Olgretree, a 3rd rounder for Lorenzo Carter, and a 4th rounder for B.J. Goodson, the returns were not good. As a team, the Giants had 30 sacks, tied for 30th in the league. Only the Raiders had fewer. And of those 30 sacks, 17 came from the linebackers. Only two linebackers on the team picked off a pass. Most startlingly, Giants linebackers only forced ONE fumble all year. Overall, the run defense wasn’t good (20th), with players often being out-of-position or being successfully blocked out of position. And pass coverage against tight ends and backs remained a sore spot for yet another year.

In terms of specific players. Vernon was an injured tease (again). Barwin was invisible. Martin was one-dimensional. Ogletree alternated between being beaten like a drum in coverage to making some spectacular interceptions. Carter flashed some potential as a pass rusher. Goodson flashed as a run defender, but wasn’t consistent. Rookie free agent Tae Davis had some rough moments both against the run and the pass. Nate Stupar was a core player on an improving special teams unit.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants traded Olivier Vernon to the Cleveland Browns. Connor Barwin was cut in February and Ukeme Eligwe was cut in May. The Giants did not re-sign Jordan Williams, who spent the year on Injured Reserve. Nate Stupar was re-signed, as was Avery Moss, the team’s 2017 5th rounder who spent the year on the Practice Squad.

In free agency, the Giants added Markus Golden from the Cardinals and “street” free agents Jonathan Anderson and Keion Adams. The Giants drafted Oshane Ximines in the 3rd round, Ryan Connelly in the 5th round, and signed rookie free agent Josiah Tauaefa after the draft. The Giants also signed rookie free agent Nate Harvey after the draft, but he was placed on Injured Reserve in May with a season-ending knee injury.

The Giants have also been playing rookie free agent collegiate safety Mark McLaurin at their “money backer” position during Spring practices. Rookie free agent Jake Carlock is another hybrid linebacker/safety type, who can also long snap.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Perhaps the biggest question mark the entire team faces is the pass rush. The Giants were near dead last in the NFL rushing the passer in 2018 and traded away arguably their best pass rusher. Many wanted the team to select a pass rusher over Daniel Jones with the 6th overall pick in the draft. In the 3-4 defense, you need your outside linebackers to be good pass rushers. The Giants are hoping Markus Golden can rebound from his torn ACL and regain his 2016 form (12.5 sacks). Also, based on the pecking order during Spring practices, it appears the coaches are giving Lorenzo Carter (4 sacks as a reserve in 2018) every opportunity to supplant Kareem Martin as starter. Lurking in the wings is rookie Oshane Ximines. Most believe the Giants are screwed here as they lack the talent to get after the quarterback. It’s up to Golden, Carter, Martin, and Ximines to prove them wrong.

Inside, the problems remain the same. The team has been inconsistent stopping the run and atrocious covering tight ends for years. The Rams most likely traded Alec Ogletree to the Giants because of the same inconsistencies he demonstrated last season, both against the run and the pass. B.J. Goodson has to take the bull by the horns and prove to the coaches he’s an asset on the field. Tae Davis, a former collegiate safety, has been splitting time with Goodson with the first unit. Like Ximines outside, rookie Ryan Connelly is lurking in the wings.

ON THE BUBBLE: There are 13 linebackers on the roster (15 if you count Mark McLaurin and Jake Carlock) and the Giants are likely to keep eight, possibly nine. The obvious players on the bubble are Avery Moss, Keion Adams, Jonathan Anderson, Josiah Tauaefa, McLaurin, and Carlock. The tough decision will be Nate Stupar because of his special teams play.

FROM THE COACHES: Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher on Lorenzo Carter: “He is rushing with a plan. When you see him rush, a year ago he was trying to get off the ball as quick as he could and use his hands when he could. Now, you see a guy that is aware of how he wants to rush, aware of techniques that he wants to rush with. Guys that get in there as pass rushers, I have been in there and have coached them before personally, you see their best growth in the two and three years. You start to figure out what they are as rushers. Whether you are Chandler Jones and a really bloody rusher or a speed counter guy. He is really starting to figure that out. He is building his pass rush toolbox right now. The second thing, he is practicing as hard as anyone on the field right now. He is running around and has been a great example that we have been able to show defensively of just straining and effort, finish.”

Bettcher on Marcus Golden: “Markus unfortunately somewhere around 18 months ago had a pretty significant knee injury. Don’t ever forget that before that he was one of the best pass rushers in this league. People had to plan for him. I know that because I was one of the guys calling the plays for him on defense. I saw what he was able to do when he was healthy and running around. I love how he is moving right now and I love his work. He is a guy that is going to play exceptionally hard. As I sat here a year ago and talked to you about one of the identifying qualities we needed our defense to look like was it took relentless, work relentless and play relentless. I think that is probably the epitome of Markus.”

Bettcher on Alec Ogletree: “This is his second year in the system. You get a guy like AB (Antoine Bethea) who has been in the system before who really can get in the conversations of how we are doing it and what we should expect in certain coverages, that is where Tree is at now. He is in his second year. He is really working on his core fundamentals, but the other side of it, how are we going to attack this coverage? Where is the soft spot in coverage and how can we defend it? I think that is really what happens when guys come into the second year.”

Bettcher on Oshane Ximines: “X-man coming off the tape, I loved the way he played. Saw a guy that could flip and had athleticism to move in space. If you are picking a prototypical outside linebacker, he has some of both of those skills. He has the rush skills and has skills in his hips to open, change in space and change who the rusher is.”

Bettcher on Ryan Connelly: “Connelly is really smart. It is funny because today I was showing a cut-up to the vets and you try not to do that. You try not to show a rookie to the vets too early, but I was showing the cut-up to the vets. This is a guy from the rookie mini-camp and it was a concept and a route and he played it exactly the right way. It was a great example. Smart and tough.”

Linebackers Coach Bill McGovern on Ryan Connelly: “A guy who is smart and intelligent. He plays fast and shows good instincts. We are excited to have him… We are excited that Ryan is a quick study and he has brought things to the practice field so we are excited about that.”

McGovern on Alec Ogletree: “I think you saw him develop as the year went along. As he was getting into the system, he has been in a few different systems. As the season went along, I think he got even better and started making even more and more plays. No matter where he has been, he is a productive player. We have been seeing the ball thrown a little bit more against us and he ended up showing up and making plays in the pass game. He has always been good against the run. He sells out on everything. Again, his leadership and everything else is something that we love having him out there for. We appreciate everything he does on the field.”

McGovern on B.J. Goodson: “Just keep improving. Get better. He has his package and has to work through it. In the run game, there are things that he can use to get better.”

PREDICTIONS: This is the one area of the defense that makes a lot of people nervous. Changes are being made. Olivier Vernon was traded. It appears Kareem Martin will now be more of a role player. The early favorites to start outside and rush the quarterback are Markus Golden and Lorenzo Carter. It is possible to see these two combine for 20 sacks. It’s also possible to see both underwhelm and finish with a total of just 10. With Golden, it’s all about his knee. With Carter, he has to prove he is more than a straight-line athlete. Reading between the lines, the Giants also appear to be pleased with what they’ve seen so far from Oshane Ximines. But until the pads come on, we really won’t know a thing. Going out on a limb here, I’m going to predict that Golden, Lorenzo, Ximines, and Martin are more productive pass rushers than anticipated.

Inside, it appears the Giants are well aware of their issues covering the middle of the field. Hence you see linebacker/safety hybrids like Tae Davis, Mark McLaurin, and Jake Carlock being added to the roster. It’s also telling that Davis saw quite a bit of time with the first unit during Spring practices. I’m not sure what to make of Alec Ogletree yet. Just when I had written him off as a trade bust last year, he started making game-changing interceptions. The coaches seem to think he will be more consistent in his second year in the system, but we shall see. The Rams got rid of him for a reason. I expected more from Goodson last year. I think this is a critical training camp for him. The real wild card here is Ryan Connelly, a very smart player who is a better athlete than advertised.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Markus Golden, Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, Kareem Martin, Alec Ogletree, B.J. Goodson, Tae Davis, and Ryan Connelly.

(The tough call here is Nate Stupar due to his special teams value. It’s also tough to predict if a guy like Mark McLaurin or Jake Carlock do enough to stick on the 53-man roster. Special teams play will be a huge factor in determining the final numbers).

Jul 012019
 
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B.J. Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson, New York Giants (November 25, 2018)

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

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Defensive Line

2018 YEAR IN REVIEW: After a quarter of a century of playing the 4-3 defense, the New York Giants shifted back to a 3-4 defense in 2018 under new Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher. While not the old 2-gap defense of the 1980s, the new defense did place more of the pass-rush onus on the outside linebackers than defensive ends. It was anticipated that the big, strong, tackle-like trio of nose tackle Damon Harrison and ends Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill would dominate the line of scrimmage. While the defensive line was arguably the strongest unit on a disappointing defense, much more was expected. Former All-Pro Harrison was surprisingly traded away in late October after a dreadful 1-6 start. The Giants publicly claimed this was done to move Tomlinson and Hill to more natural positions, but there was also speculation, fueled by senior official comments of bad team chemistry, that the Giants considered Harrison a locker room cancer.

Tomlinson began the year playing the 3-technique position (9 starts) before being moved to the 1-technique spot (7 starts) after Harrison was traded. He finished the season with 59 tackles and no sacks. The rookie Hill played in all 16 regular-season games with 12 starts, finishing the season with 48 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and two pass defenses. Hill was shifted from the five-technique position to the three-technique after the team traded away Harrison. Others to receive significant playing time included Josh Mauro, Kerry Wynn, and Mario Edwards. 5th-rounder R.J. McIntosh missed most of the season with an undisclosed medical condition.

In the end, the numbers were not good. Team defense “improved” from 31st in 2017 to 24th in 2018. The Giants were 20th in run defense in 2018, allowing over 118 yards per game and 4.3 yards per rush, which were very similar to their 2017 numbers. Of course, much of the blame for this disappointing result must also rest with the linebackers and defensive backs, who were often out of position and missed too many tackles. Pathetically, the defensive line was only credited with 10 sacks.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants did not show much interest in re-signing any of their free agent defensive ends and Josh Mauro (Raiders), Kerry Wynn (Bengals), and Mario Edwards (Saints) all left in free agency. The Giants did re-sign nose tackle John Jenkins, who hardly played in 2018.

The Giants signed Olsen Pierre from the Cardinals, Jake Ceresna from the CFL, and street free agent Alex Jenkins. The team drafted Dexter Lawrence in the 1st round and Chris Slayton in the 7th round. Rookie free agent Freedom Akinmoladun was signed after the draft.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The New York Giants have invested significant draft resources to rebuild their defensive line, including 2019 1st-round pick Dexter Lawrence, 2017 2nd-round pick Dalvin Tomlinson, and 2018 3rd-round pick B.J. Hill. These three are expected to form the strength of the team’s defense, stuffing the run, generating some interior pass rush, and enabling quicker defenders to get after the quarterback. It’s not exactly clear who will play where, and even the coaches have suggested it will change from game-to-game. It’s fair to say that more has been expected of Tomlinson and it will be important for him to step it up this year. Hill is coming off of a solid rookie season and it will be interesting to see if he can build upon his 5.5 sack rookie performance. The 340-pound Lawrence could develop into a Haloti Ngata-like difference-maker. The book on him is that he is strictly a run defender, but there are those who insist he is more than that.

Entering camp, the Giants are a bit thin at the position with just 10 players. It was a bit surprising that the Giants let all of their reserve ends walk in free agency. Because of that, there is pressure on R.J. McIntosh to develop quickly in what will essentially be his rookie season. Olsen Pierre could also have a bigger role than many fans anticipate. Other than the starters, the only nose-tackle-type linemen on the roster are rookie Chris Slayton and journeyman John Jenkins, who was virtually ignored in free agency, only re-signing in May.

ON THE BUBBLE: There are only 10 defensive lineman on the roster. The Giants will carry at least six. The obvious players on the bubble are Jake Ceresna, Alex Jenkins, Freedom Akinmoladun, and John Jenkins.

FROM THE COACHES: Head Coach Pat Shurmur on the defensive line this Spring: “There is no contact, so it is really hard to fully evaluate both lines until we start banging around a little bit. We like the way they are moving around. There are some youthful guys that are in there and doing a good job. They are picking up the system really well. We are pleased with what we are seeing.”

Shurmur on R.J. McIntosh: “He is caught up. He is doing well. With defensive linemen, we will see more once we can get in more hitting situations. He is moving around well and has gotten much stronger since he has gotten here. He fits well in the defense and looks like he is getting himself right for training camp.”

Shurmur on Dexter Lawrence: “I think he gets it… The first thing that jumps out about Dexter is he’s a pretty big man. He’s got a feel for things. He’s a guy that can play the run and rush the passer. We’re looking forward to getting him going. When you pick a guy from Clemson, and he’s played on the biggest stage there is in college football. The other thing that struck me is this isn’t going to be too big for him.”

Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher on the defensive line: “They are working extremely hard and doing everything they are asked to do. Very aware of things they need to improve on.”

Bettcher on the players being more interchangeable up front: “I think you have to be the way the league is now. I think there is enough motions, adjustments and offensive guys are good enough now. For the most part, they are not going to let a nose just sit there and play nose the whole game. They are going to make him slide and extend the play on guards and edges of guards. They are going to motion and do enough to have to be interchangeable enough to defend what we see from an offensive standpoint. Number two, I think they all have enough position flex to do that. We want guys to have the flexibility to play up and down the line. A really good NFL defensive line room has a great rotation. The four, five and six hole spots, whoever those guys are, gaining reps, 15 snaps, 12 snaps, 20 snaps depending on the game, those are important snaps just like the other snaps… It will be competing each week to see who gets the most snaps, who will be the starter in different packages. I love that part about it.”

Bettcher on Dexter Lawrence: “One of the biggest humans that I have ever seen, moves as quick as he can move. A 330-pound guy that is going to come in and compete, help us be the type of run defense that we want to be. Also, don’t forget the guy ran about five flat at 345 pounds. That does not happen very often. A lot of people got to see him move at rookie mini-camp. We are excited to have him.”

Defensive Line Coach Gary Emanuel on Dexter Lawrence: “We think Dexter will develop into a three down player… His ability to stop the run excites everybody. For a guy that size to move as well as he does, you have to get excited about that.”

Emanuel on Chris Slayton: “Chris is a great young man and we think Chris has a great upside… He’s an inside guy who brings some versatility. He can play the nose position, he can play the 3-technique and he’s an interior defensive line player. I don’t think we’ll see him much on the edge but he has a great capacity to improve out there in the interior.”

PREDICTIONS: On paper, this should be a really good group. They are young, big, strong, and athletic for their size. They look like what you want a 3-4 defensive line to look like. But the proof is in the pudding and the team needs to improve what has been a subpar run defense. When Lawrence was drafted, I thought he would immediately be the starting nose tackle, but he appears to have spent perhaps even more time starting at end this Spring. That would suggest that the coaches are truly impressed with his movement skills for a big man. If he can push the pocket on a consistent basis, and if B.J. Hill continues to evolve as a pass rusher, this unit could surprise attacking the quarterback. Two wild cards are Dalvin Tomlinson and R.J. McIntosh. Tomlinson should be making more impact plays; he is capable of breaking out. Fans saw very little of McIntosh last year. He’s built more like a pass rusher than the starting three and could become an important role player. Don’t be surprised to see Olsen Pierre get significant playing time as a reserve.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Dexter Lawrence, B.J. Hill, Dalvin Tomlinson, R.J. McIntosh, Olsen Pierre, and Chris Slayton.

Jun 262019
 
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Spencer Pulley and Will Hernandez, New York Giants (November 25, 2018)

Spencer Pulley and Will Hernandez – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Offensive Line

2018 YEAR IN REVIEW: It’s clear that General Manager Dave Gettleman took one look at the team’s offensive line and had the same reaction as fans. Justin Pugh (2013 1st rounder), Weston Richburg (2014 2nd rounder), and D.J. Fluker were allowed to walk in free agency during the 2018 offseason. John Jerry was cut before the season started. The Giants started the 2018 season with newly-signed free agent Nate Solder at left tackle, 2nd-rounder Will Hernandez at left guard, Jon Halapio at center, newly-signed free agent Patrick Omameh at right guard, and Ereck Flowers at right tackle.

This group did not play well and the offense struggled to score points before the bye week. In addition, Halapio broke his ankle in Week 2 and was replaced by John Greco and then waiver-wire pick-up Spencer Pulley. Flowers was benched after the second game and replaced by second-year undrafted free agent Chad Wheeler. Omameh lasted a bit longer, starting the first six games before being cut in November. Greco first took his spot, then newcomer Jamon Brown, who was claimed off of waivers from the Los Angeles Rams.

The 2.0 version of the 2018 offensive line thus included Solder-Hernandez-Pulley-Brown-Wheeler. The best thing that could be said of this group was that it wasn’t as crappy as the previous group. Team scoring improved, but Pulley and Wheeler were clearly weak links. Brown looked the part, but demonstrated the same inconsistency that led to him being cut by the Rams. And it rapidly became apparent that the desperate Giants dramatically overpaid Solder, who did play better as the season progressed. While Hernandez experienced the expected rookie growing pains, he improved and was named to the All-Rookie team.

Overall, for yet another season, the line remained the offense’s Achilles’ heel, with the free agent newcomers not playing as well as expected, and the team being forced to start two mid-season waiver-wire pickups.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Somewhat surprisingly, the Giants re-signed both Jon Halapio and Spencer Pulley. The team did not bring back John Greco, and Jamon Brown signed with the Falcons. The Giants acquired guard Kevin Zeitler via a trade from the Browns and signed tackle Mike Remmers in free agency. Street free agents Chad Slade and Austin Droogsma were signed. Surprisingly, the Giants only drafted one lineman: George Asafo-Adjei in the 7th round. Rookie free agents Paul Adams and James O’Hagan were signed after the draft.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Heading into training camp, the expected starting offensive line is Nate Solder at left tackle, Will Hernandez at left guard, Jon Halapio or Spencer Pulley at center, Kevin Zeitler at right guard, and Mike Remmers at right tackle. On paper, this appears to be the team’s best offensive line in almost a decade. Hernandez and Zeitler are arguably one of the best set of starting guards in the NFL. They are not just big, physical football players, but they play with professionalism and attitude. The Giants haven’t been in such good shape here since the days of Rich Seubert and Chris Snee.

The three other spots are a bit more unsettled. Nate Solder clearly did not live up to his contract. He’s also missed the Spring workouts due to ankle surgery. However, he is another veteran presence who gives the Giants more stability and reliability at the crucial left tackle position than Ereck Flowers and Will Beatty ever did. Moreover, the Solder-Hernandez tandem on the left side should play better in their second year together. Mike Remmers has bounced around the League, now playing with his seventh team. But the self-made journeyman parlayed his improving play into a 5-year, $30 million contract with the Vikings in 2017. He played well at right tackle for that team in 2017 but was more inconsistent at right guard in 2018. A recurring back issue that required offseason surgery was a factor in the Vikings cutting him in March. If Remmers is over his back issues (which caused him to miss Spring workouts), and if he can regain his 2017 form, the Giants will have massively upgraded themselves at right tackle with another professional, veteran presence. But those are two big “ifs”. Like the left tackle position, right tackle has been a disaster for the Giants for years.

Based on offseason comments by team officials, it was assumed that Jon Halapio would be penciled in as the starting center again. However, Spencer Pulley has been pushing him and splitting snaps with the first unit during Spring workouts. The starting center position appears to be very much up for grabs. The good news is that whomever starts, they will be tremendously aided by Hernandez and Zeitler on their flanks.

Overall, the main story line is this group needs to develop cohesion and chemistry quickly. Both starting tackles missed the mini-camp and OTAs this Spring due to injuries. With so few training camp practices, there is not much time for everyone to come together.

ON THE BUBBLE: There are currently 16 offensive linemen on the roster. The Giants will probably keep nine. Barring injury, Nate Solder, Will Hernandez, Kevin Zeitler, and Mike Remmers will start. Both Jon Halapio and Spencer Pulley should make it unless one of the younger centers push one off the roster. That leaves three spots for ten players. Chad Wheeler probably has a leg up on being the reserve swing tackle. But it will be a dogfight for those last few spots.

FROM THE COACHES: Head Coach Pat Shurmur on Mike Remmers: “I worked with Mike for two years. He is a pro, a real pro, and he played winning football for us in Minnesota. I knew a lot about Mike and then he started last year every game and played well. We were in talks with him, took a couple of physicals, just went through the process and signed him.”

Shurmur on Jon Halapio: “He was really playing well for us before he got hurt a year ago. So we had high hopes for him last season. It appears he has come back 100 percent and is back in there just like he was when he left us.”

Shurmur on George Asafo-Adjei: “We like him for all the reasons we liked him on his college tape. He is a powerful guy that has very good length. You can tell he is a very physical style player. That is important at that position.”

Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula on the offensive line: “I think the guys that we’ve added over the course of last season and this season have brought a lot of character, intelligence, competitiveness, integrity to that room. I think it didn’t show as early as we wanted it to last year. I think it showed pretty well at the end of the year. I think we’ve kind of picked up, in fact improved since then. We are going to be leaning on them, they are going to be the starting point of our offense. Everyone knows we have Saquon, we want to run the football, we are going to be balanced. To do that it’s got to start with the offensive line. We want to run the ball, when we want to run it, we want to throw that ball when we want to throw it. To do that it starts up front. We are going to lean heavy on those guys.”

Shula on Chad Wheeler: “I think Wheels has done a really good job this offseason with our exposure with him. Again, I have only been around him for a year, but I think there is a big difference even with him and his approach. I think he, along with a lot of other guys, got better as the year went on. We all know that we were nowhere near good enough early in the year. We did a lot of good things even though it wasn’t good enough at the end of the year, but we were really, really close and trending in the right direction. He was one of those guys that falls in that category.”

Offensive Line Coach Hal Hunter on Kevin Zeitler: “You have to love Zeitler. He is a tough, hard nose guy. I have seen him play. I watched him play when he was in Cincinnati’s offense. He is a good football player. He brings a real toughness. He is all business… He is very demanding of guys around him in a positive way. You demand in yourself what you demand in others. I love that about him. I love everything about him, his personality and what he brings. He is so fun to coach.”

Hunter on Jon Halapio: “He made good progress during (the 2018 training) camp and great progress during the preseason. The way he was playing in the beginning of the Dallas game, that was shocking. He was playing really well. When you sit out all that time, you get so far behind physically and technically. Now he is back in the swing of things and he looks good. He is only scratching the surface. He is smart, tough and strong. He has athleticism and needs to continue to play at the position.”

Hunter on George Asafo-Adjei: “My son works at Kentucky. He works in the football office down there. We found out from the inside out – he talked about what a quality guy he was. He was probably the most respected guy on the offensive side of the ball. He talked about how he competed with Josh Allen on a day-to-day basis. He talked about his character, work ethic and his toughness. All of those things peaked interest. You watch him on tape and see that he has a lot of athleticism and power. He has a lot of toughness and plays in the best football conference in the country. We have some technical work to do. He is a rookie and you have to tell him to do something once and he goes on and does it right the next time. He picked up the offense much quicker than I thought he was going to. When you compare our offense to their offense, we have a lot more volume to it with a lot of the things that we were doing. We need to continue to work with him technically to get him up to speed but you have to like everything about him. When you read him, that is one of the first things that I found out. He had committed to Kentucky early and is a man of his word. When all those other schools came in like Alabama, that is legit. Those people tried to come in and recruit him. He gave Kentucky his word and didn’t go anywhere. He has some developmental potential.”

PREDICTIONS: Some fans have questioned me about why I am so upbeat about the 2019 offensive line since there remain some serious question marks at center and both tackle spots. I feel good because I see a group of professional, reliable veterans. For the last decade, the Giants haven’t just been bad up front, they’ve been dreadful. They were not only physically overmatched, they did not treat their jobs as professionals. And they certainly could not be relied upon.

I love our two guards. And whomever starts at center will benefit from them. Solder and Remmers aren’t pretty, but they get the job done. This group will show up to work, give you a full 60 minutes, and leave their opponents feeling sore the next day. I’ll take that any day.

My only concern is that with Solder and Remmers missing all of the Spring workouts, early-season cohesion and chemistry will be lacking. But both guys have been around the League for a long time and that will help. The Giants also have to pray Remmers’ back holds up.

There are Giants fans in their teens and 20s who have never seen their team field a decent offensive line. I think that is about to change. Don’t be surprised if both guards receive some Pro Bowl recognition.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Kevin Zeitler, Will Hernandez, Nate Solder, Mike Remmers, Jon Halapio, Spencer Pulley, Chad Wheeler, George Asafo-Adjei, Paul Adams

(I realize this is tackle heavy, but it’s easier for a tackle to play guard in a pinch rather than the other way around. The Giants also need to groom a couple of young tackles).

Jun 242019
 
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Evan Engram, New York Giants (September 9, 2018)

Evan Engram – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Tight Ends

2018 YEAR IN REVIEW: After a strong rookie season, Evan Engram did not play as well as expected in 2018. He missed five games with injuries (knee, hamstring) and was a virtual non-factor before the bye week, catching only 17 passes for 145 yards. In addition, his subpar run blocking appeared mismatched for a team increasingly relying on Saquon Barkley. The good news is that despite missing two games, Engram played much better after the bye week, catching 28 passes for 432 yards with a number of big plays (two 50+ yard catches and three 30+ yard catches). Overall, the receiving tight end played in 11 games and caught 45 passes for 577 yards and three touchdowns.

Rhett Ellison actually played more than Engram, but finished the year with a pedestrian 25 catches for 272 yards and a touchdown. He was also an inconsistent blocker. The Giants signed journeyman Scott Simonson in June 2018. He surprisingly played in all 16 games with four starts, catching just nine passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. At times, he looked like the best blocker of the group. Rookie free agent Garrett Dickerson spent most of the year on the Practice Squad, but did play in four games.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The only change was the addition of undrafted rookie free agent C.J. Conrad after the draft.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Last season, Evan Engram played his best football in the second half of the season when Odell Beckham did not play. In four games in December, Engram caught 22 passes for 320 yards and a touchdown. With Beckham now in Cleveland, the Giants need Engram to consistently produce at that level or more. Engram has the tools to become one of the most dangerous pass-receiving tight ends in the game. Not many tight ends have his ability to create physical mismatches and stretch a defense. But Engram has to stay healthy, cut down on his drops, and not disappear for long stretches. (Note that Engram missed much of the Spring workouts with another hamstring issue).

The Giants clearly overpaid Rhett Ellison when they signed him to a 4-year, $18 million contract in 2017. His 2019 cap hit is $5.75 million and cutting him would save $3.25 million. However, at this point in time, Ellison is the one guy the coaching staff and quarterback can count on. Can he hold off challenges from Scott Simonson, Garrett Dickerson, and C.J. Conrad? Conrad went undrafted due to a heart issue, but he was consistently productive throughout Spring practices.

ON THE BUBBLE: Probably everyone aside from Evan Engram, and some think Engram could still be trade bait.

FROM THE COACHES: Tight Ends Coach Lunda Wells on Evan Engram: “Obviously, he needs to stay healthy. You know, being on the field. Second thing is just kind of letting the game come to him, playing a little more calm, more relaxed. I think as he realized what he was being asked to do, he started to play a little more calm and a little more relaxed, especially at the back end of the season, which in turn allowed him to play some of his best ball. And like always, you kind of always want to be climbing during the season and then at the back end of the season playing your best football in December. So, that’s kind of the trend we are trying to do. Build on December and get better throughout the season… He’s moving forward and progressing really well and we are really excited about him this season.”

Wells on C.J. Conrad: “I like Conrad. He’s tough. He’s smart. He can learn. He’s not a blazer, but he’s instinctive in the pass game. It didn’t take a long time to figure out that this guy is very determined about being a really good player and I like that about him. He takes coaching very well. I really like that kid from what we saw over the three-day rookie mini-camp… Easy going, again, loves football. He’s a good guy for (the tight end) room.”

PREDICTIONS: I thought Evan Engram would have a 1,000-yard season in 2018. I was way off, but I’m going to double down on that prediction. I think Pat Shurmur and Mike Shula have a better understanding of Engram’s strengths and weaknesses. And with Odell Beckham out of the picture, we’ll see the coaching staff try to create more mismatches with Engram out in space. Engram is basically a wide receiver in a tight end’s body. Linebackers and most safeties should not be able to cover him. My biggest worry with Engram is his ability to stay healthy. He needs to play a full 16 games and him missing so much time in the Spring is not a good omen.

Ellison is one of those guys who coaches trust. He’s not going anywhere until another player can duplicate that level of trust. Scott Simonson has been in the League since 2014. His resume doesn’t suggest he will be that guy, but Simonson did flash at times as a blocker and receiver last season. Garrett Dickerson is a relative unknown who is built more like a versatile H-Back.

The wild card here is C.J. Conrad. Though not a flashy athlete, Conrad seemed to impress all observers this Spring with his consistently reliable pass catching. Now we have to find out about his blocking.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Scott Simonson, C.J. Conrad

(I think it is becoming increasingly clear that Engram is more TE/WR hybrid than true down tight end. He’s the reason why I see the Giants carrying five wide receivers and four tight ends. Don’t discount the Giants replacing one of these guys with a waiver-wire pick-up).

Jun 192019
 
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Sterling Shepard, New York Giants (October 22, 2018)

Sterling Shepard – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Wide Receivers

2018 YEAR IN REVIEW: Things did not going exactly according to plan at the wide receiver position in 2018. Injuries hit the position hard, thus beginning a revolving door of players coming and going to not only serve as pass receivers but also returners. In the end, the only receiver to play all 16 games was Sterling Shepard. Odell Beckham, Jr. and Sterling Shepard were responsible for 76 percent of the wide receiver receptions (143) with no other wide receiver catching more than 16 passes. Instead, the Giants threw more to the backs (113 catches) and tight ends (79 catches).

The headliner – Beckham – missed four games. While he remained productive when he played, the explosive big plays seemed to be lacking. And despite playing all 16 games, Shepard still could not crack the 1,000-yard mark. Free agent acquisition Cody Latimer only played in six games, catching a total of 11 passes. It is fair to say more was expected from these three.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Somewhat surprisingly, the Giants decided to re-sign all of their free agent wide receivers, including Corey Coleman, Cody Latimer, Bennie Fowler, and Russell Shepard. A year before he was due to become a free agent, the Giants also extended Sterling Shepard with a 4-year, $41 million contract.

The big offseason move was the trade of Odell Beckham, Jr. to the Cleveland Browns. His New York career began with fireworks and died with a whimper. The Giants also cut Quadree Henderson and Jawill Davis in the offseason.

The Giants surprisingly signed free agent Golden Tate away from the Eagles to a 4-year, $37.5 million contract. Street free agent journeyman Brittan Golden was signed in January. The Giants drafted Darius Slayton in the 5th round of the draft and signed rookie free agents Reggie White, Jr. and Alex Wesley after the draft.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Fan and media attention will be on how the departure of Odell Beckham, Jr. will affect the overall offense and whether or not that trade was a huge mistake. Contrary to what the Giants say publicly, it is clear the organization felt Beckham was a detriment to team culture. As dynamic as he was, Beckham was exhausting to deal with. It will be interesting to see how the team performs without him, and how Beckham does in Cleveland.

Unless someone like Darius Slayton and Corey Coleman comes on like gangbusters, the Giants appear to lack a true deep threat who can take the top off a defense. Good offenses can survive without a true deep threat, but it does make things more challenging. It appears the Giants will rely more on the short-to-intermediate passing game and run-after-the-catch yardage. This is where Golden Tate excels. The team desperately needs Sterling Shepard to become a more productive player. They are paying him more on potential than productivity to date (he’s averaged 63 catches, 762 yards, and 4-5 touchdowns per season in his first three years in the league). Tate and Shepard are viewed more as slot receivers by some.

To be frank, the other veterans on the roster have been unimpressive journeymen to date. Cody Latimer is capable of making contested circus catches, but may not be able to separate from defensive backs on a consistent basis. The same concern exists with Bennie Fowler and Russell Shepard. Both have spent time with three other teams. Corey Coleman is a former first rounder and has the speed to get deep, but three other teams have let him go since 2016.

That all said, Coleman, Fowler, and newcomer Darius Slayton did flash during Spring workouts. It remains to be seen if they can build upon this success and push for regular-season playing time.

ON THE BUBBLE: Only Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate are really safe.

FROM THE COACHES: Head Coach Pat Shurmur on Golden Tate: “You can see that he has the ability to break tackles. He is nifty. Obviously, before the ball is thrown and then once he catches it, he has a way of breaking tackles or making them miss. I can see that is going to be a part of his game already… He is a pro… He fit in immediately. He is smart, has picked up what we are doing offensively and finds a way to make plays. He is a real veteran presence. He has made a heck of an impact.”

Shurmur on Darius Slayton: “Darius has done a really good job. I think he is the most improved in my eyes. We expected a lot out of him when he got here. The rookie mini-camp was unremarkable, but since that time… He is very fast. He is practicing punts and kicks. He has done a nice job playing receiver. I really think he has done a nice job during OTA’s and mini-camp.”

Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula on Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard: “I think (Tate) is going to bring productivity because he is really good with the ball in his hands, versatility, and flexibility. You can put him inside, you know, we know with Shep that Shep can play both inside and out. Now, we have two guys that can do that. I think when you have two guys who can do that, you become less predictable and I think it gives you another guy when the ball is in his hands, he’s pretty good… (Tate) provides the experience, the knowledge, the route awareness, sudden changes that you might not have to make that are kind of hard to cover all of the time with some of the younger guys. He is going to bring that to the table. And like I said, he is really good with the ball in his hands, so getting him the ball, he can lower his shoulder at times and make guys miss. Not necessarily defensive linemen, but DBs that are trying to tackle him. I think he is going to be a good weapon for us on all downs. ”

Shula on Darius Slayton: “I think Slayton has been pretty consistent. He’s been a really good pick for us. As long as he stays on track he’s got good speed, he uses his hands you can see. He’s got more confidence in his hands, he’s catching the ball more consistently. I think he’s a good route runner, that was one thing kind of coming out of the draft I was anxious to see how he did with maybe our routes, which were maybe a little bit different that the routes he ran at Auburn. He does a good job at the top end of those routes.”

Shula on how defenses will change with Odell Beckham now gone: “I think kind of based on last year, not as much as you might think. I mean, there might have been certain teams that had an all-out double team, but other than that, there really wasn’t much, and part of that probably was because of Saquon. I mean you got to be careful doubling receivers when you’ve got a back like that.”

Wide Receivers Coach Tyke Tolbert on Darius Slayton: “Slayton, I saw what we saw on tape. I saw a guy who has some pretty good size, who can run. His first practice, you know, he was trying to figure a lot of stuff out in the first half of the first practice, had a couple of drops, for the second half of that practice he made some good catches in traffic and had two good remaining days. So looking for explosive plays from Darius Slayton, he’s an explosive player who’s made a lot of plays, 21 or 22 yards a catch, something like that in college and I’m looking forward to him bringing that to the Giants.”

Tolbert on Corey Coleman: “It is a big opportunity, especially him being in the offseason program with us. He’s getting the whole gambit if you will: from the very first install to the whole, you know, all the way through. Last year when he came in we were his fourth offense he’s been in, in maybe the span of 3 months. Now it’s just our offense the whole time so he can grasp what we’re doing and have a solid contribution. He’s doing well this year. He’s doing much better than he did last year.”

PREDICTIONS: After Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate, it’s difficult to predict what the make-up of this unit will look like. Darius Slayton has obviously caught the attention of the coaches, but it remains to be seen how much of an impact he can make as a rookie. One gets the sense that Eli Manning’s main targets will be Shepard, Tate, running back Saquon Barkley, and tight end Evan Engram (a de facto year-on-year change of Beckham with Tate). The good news is the Giants will have the ability to move Shepard, Tate, Barkley, and Engram all over the place, keeping defenses on their toes.

As previously stated, unless Coleman or Slayton surprise with significant playing time, we are not likely to see many 40+ yard touchdowns on deep routes by this group. But the run-after-catch damage could be significant. And as a group, most of the receivers are good run blockers who could have a significant impact on the ground game. In my mind, the guy on the hot seat is Shepard. He needs to justify his $41 million contract, be more productive, and make more big plays.

The wild cards here are numerous, but it is unwise to count on Cinderella stories. Can the talented Corey Coleman turn his career around? Have Cody Latimer and Bennie Fowler finally found a home? Did the Giants find small school gold in Reggie White, Jr. or Alex Wesley?

Don’t discount the importance of special teams in determining who makes it. A guy like Russell Shepard was a core special teamer last season. Slayton and Coleman can also return.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, Darius Slayton, Corey Coleman, Russell Shepard

Jun 172019
 
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Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (December 30, 2018)

Saquon Barkley – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Running Backs

2018 YEAR IN REVIEW: The great debate during the 2018 offseason was about whether the New York Giants should draft a quarterback with the #2 overall pick or Saquon Barkley. General Manager Dave Gettleman chose the less popular option and selected Barkley. While the final determination of whether this was the right move or not cannot be determined for some time, Barkley became one of the NFL’s very best players in just his rookie season. Despite not carrying the ball more than 18 times per game in the first half of the season and running behind a subpar offensive line, Barkley rushed for 1,307 yards 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 and led the NFL with seven 40+ yard runs and six 50+ yard runs. And he didn’t fumble once. Barkley 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.”

It was expected that ex-Panther Jonathan Stewart would be a significant contributor, but he only played in three games with six carries before ending up on Injured Reserve with a foot injury. Wayne Gallman became the team’s #2 running back, yet he only had 51 carries and 14 receptions on the year. The only other back to touch the football was fullback Elijhaa Penny, who carried the football only seven times and caught only eight passes. Third-year player Paul Perkins missed the entire season with a torn pectoral muscle. In a nutshell, it was virtually a one-man show with Barkley.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants chose not to bring back Jonathan Stewart and he retired from the NFL. The team signed Rod Smith from the Cowboys in free agency and signed undrafted rookie free agent Jonathan Hilliman after the draft.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Just how good can Saquon Barkley become? Will he let early success go to his head and fade? Or will he stay grounded and humble and seek to elevate his entire team? Jeremy Shockey and Odell Beckham were two of the most impressive rookies the Giants have ever had, but their careers with the team ended with a whimper. Aside from staying healthy, the challenge for Barkley is to prove to be a difference-maker for a team that has not won a playoff game in seven seasons. A good omen is that despite a questionable supporting cast, the more Barkley touched the football in 2018, the better the team performed (four of the team’s five wins came during the second-half of the season). Barkley is a legitimate League MVP candidate. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Barkley could rush for over 2,000 yards in one season.

Oddly, the Giants basically only carried two halfbacks on the roster last year. And also oddly, the second back (Wayne Gallman) barely touched the ball. Yet, Barkley only carried the ball 16.3 times per game (catching the ball 5.7 times per game). One would assume Pat Shurmur would like to see more touches for the running back unit as a whole. But does that mean more touches for Barkley? Or does the team play it safe and try to spread out the workload to the #2 and #3 halfbacks? Will there be a #3 halfback this year? Wayne Gallman has the inside track on the #2 job, but he has to control his fumbling (five in limited carries in 2017 and 2018).

ON THE BUBBLE: No one is really safe other than Barkley. If the Giants keep a fullback on the roster, Elijhaa Penny probably makes it unless the Giants see someone better on the waiver wire. The other four backs – Wayne Gallman, Paul Perkins, Rod Smith, and Jonathan Hillman – are fighting for one or two spots. (And again, never rule out the waiver wire).

FROM THE COACHES: Head Coach Pat Shurmur on Paul Perkins: “I think he is doing a good job. He is just getting back into it. There are a lot of running backs, so he is sharing reps, but the things that he has done out there, it looks like he has good body control and he handles the ball well. I have been pleased with his route running and the few carries he has had; it appears he has good vision.”

Shurmur on Rod Smith: “I think he is a pro. He came in and he has learned our offense pretty quickly. There is less and less mistakes in each practice setting. He does a good job with the ball in his hands. He is a big presence and we all know a lot of what he does is on special teams.”

Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula on Saquon Barkley’s snap count: “I think Coach Johnson does a really good of keeping those guys fresh throughout the game. Selfishly as a coordinator and probably all the Giants fans, you want him in there every single play because you don’t ever want him to miss out on an opportunity. I think there is a happy medium to make sure he’s fresh throughout and don’t just kill him. We’ve got to keep that in mind as we put together our game plans.”

Shula on Paul Perkins: “I remember him coming out of college and I really liked him coming out of college. Last year obviously he got hurt, he spent the whole year on IR. Now he’s getting a lot of reps. He’s a guy that can do a lot of things, he can pass protect, he can run the football obviously, he’s pretty good out of the backfield. We want to have him continue getting better at all those things. You guys saw last year we don’t dress a lot of backs so the guys that are dressing have to be able to do all those things. We want them to be able to be productive on first and second down but also on third down and that would involve pass protection and catching the football.”

Running Backs Coach Craig Johnson on Wayne Gallman: “I thought he was playing at a real high level in December… He gave us a lot of explosiveness.”

Johnson on Paul Perkins: “He’s back to the Perkins I saw when he first got here.”

PREDICTIONS: Stating the obvious, this is Saquon Barkley’s team now. He’s a truly special talent. The Giants must keep him healthy and prevent too much wear-and-tear. Thus, I think even his touches in training camp will be limited and I don’t expect to see much of him in the preseason. If he stays healthy, I do expect him to challenge Tiki Barber’s franchise-record, single-season total of 1,860 yards set in 2005. He should also have over 100 receptions. And while a running back can have more of an impact on the win-loss record than a wide receiver, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders had great individual seasons on terrible teams. In other words, Barkley can elevate his team’s play, but he will need help.

I can’t see the Giants carrying more than four backs. One will be Barkley. According to reports, the quarterbacks threw a lot to fullback Elijhaa Penny during Spring workouts. A decent blocker, Penny will likely make the team unless someone more intriguing becomes available on the waiver wire. So how many other halfbacks do the Giants carry (one or two) and who? Paul Perkins finished his rookie season strong and actually started the last playoff game the Giants played in. But he regressed terribly his sophomore season. Perkins will need to rebound in order to make it. Gallman flashes as a runner and receiver, but he must protect the ball better or he could be vulnerable. Gallman and Perkins seem to be directly competing with each other for one spot. Rod Smith’s best chance is if the coaches want to keep a short yardage back to reduce wear-and-tear on Barkley. His special team ability also helps. Jonathan Hilliman is a powerful runner who appears to be directly competing with Smith in terms of the style he brings to the table.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Saquon Barkley, Elijhaa Penny, Wayne Gallman, and Rod Smith

Jun 142019
 
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Eli Manning and Daniel Jones, New York Giants (May 20, 2019)

Eli Manning and Daniel Jones – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Quarterbacks

2018 YEAR IN REVIEW: Except for the one game he was benched in 2017, Eli Manning has started every game for the New York Giants since November 21, 2004. And despite the team’s poor record in 2018, Manning actually had one of his better statistical seasons, finishing with 4,299 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He completed a career-high 66 percent of his passes. And his 92.4 quarterback rating with the fourth highest of 15-year career. That said, the offense, including the passing game, struggled mightily during the first half of the season before picking up steam in November and December. Seven consecutive years of shoddy offensive line play have taken a toll on the 38-year quarterback who appears a bit more gun shy and more of a game manager at this point of his career.

The developments behind Manning were more surprising. Davis Webb, who was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL Draft, was cut before the season started. Journeyman Alex Tanney, who the Giants signed in May 2018 after he was cut by the Tennessee Titans, surprisingly won the team’s back-up quarterback job, a role he played in 15 of 16 games. However, he did not see any regular-season action. Rookie 4th-round pick Kyle Lauletta disappointed in his only regular-season playing time and was also arrested in late October due to a serious traffic infraction.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The huge news was the selection of Daniel Jones with the #6 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. For better or worse, Jones is the heir apparent to Manning. Eric Dungey was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent, but the Giants may view him more of a jack-of-all-trades type rather than traditional quarterback.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The biggest story line for the entire team is obvious: when will Daniel Jones take over the reins? Jones has impressed this Spring. The prevailing opinion is that as long as Eli Manning is performing at an acceptable level and the team remains in contention, Jones will sit. In this likely scenario, not only does Manning have to play well, but so does the team for Manning to keep his job. If the Giants slip out of contention by October or November again, then “wasting” snaps on a 38-year quarterback on a rebuilding ball club would not appear to make much sense.

However, there are a couple of variables that could come into play. Ownership appears to be hyper-sensitive to Eli Manning’s standing with the team after their public relations-botched benching of him in 2017. Thus, there are those who believe that ownership will drag their feet on Eli being benched again. On the flip side, in his final press conference of the Spring, Head Coach Pat Shurmur surprisingly appeared to have left the door open to Jones possibly being the opening-day starter. Given the fact that Jones did not receive first-team snaps throughout the Spring practices, that does not appear likely, but again, that door appears to have been at least slightly (“You never know what is going to happen”) left ajar. In other words, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Jones performs better than Manning in the preseason.

The secondary story line is who will be the #3 quarterback? Normally, this is a very minor concern, but not this year. First, for the second year in a row, would the Giants give up on a relatively high draft pick quarterback after just one year? Davis Webb was let go after his rookie season. Would they do so too with Kyle Lauletta? Shurmur seems to like Alex Tanney and Lauletta has been slowed by offseason knee surgery. More importantly, this year’s #3 quarterback has a very good chance of becoming next year’s #2 quarterback.

ON THE BUBBLE: Alex Tanney and Kyle Lauletta are clearly on the bubble. In the unlikely scenario that Daniel Jones beats out Eli Manning before September, would the Giants consider cutting or trading him?

FROM THE COACHES: Pat Shurmur on Eli Manning: “Eli is getting ready to have a great year… We feel good about where Eli is. He is our starting quarterback.”

Shurmur on Daniel Jones: “I think he has had a really good offseason… I think he has had a really, really productive offseason. He is on track with the goal to be ready to play day one… He is on track.”

Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula on Eli Manning: “I said a month ago, he looks in better shape than he was last year, I still think that. I think he’s really dialed in.”

Shula on Daniel Jones: “He’s got a fast mind, he picks things up pretty well. The things that you ask him to do to maybe make a couple changes, maybe that were different to what he was used to in college, he does pretty quickly. Whether or not its technique in the pocket, everything that we have asked him to do he’s done it pretty quickly. I think the other things is he’s pretty athletic and he’s very serious about his job. We all are but you see that maturity level in him. Which is obviously one of the reasons we got him here.”

Shula on Kyle Lauletta: “Kyle’s been great. We talked before and after the draft. As we all know in football and life whatever we are doing the only thing we can control is yourself. Just keep working on getting better and when you have your opportunity make the best of it. You can see with him, with his comfort level compared to this time last year and where he has come from. He’s got a lot better feel of our offense. He’s throwing the ball pretty well out there. We are just kind of easing him into some to getting some reps.”

PREDICTIONS: The most under-reported story of the Spring is that “the reach” Daniel Jones has impressed both mentally and physically. However, unless Jones clearly out-plays Eli Manning at training camp and in the preseason, it is hard to see him starting on opening day. But after that, all bets are off. This is no knock on Eli Manning, a two-time Super Bowl MVP and potential Hall of Famer, but Daniel Jones is the future of this team. Unless the Giants are poised for some miracle 2019 season, the sooner Jones plays, the better for the long-term interest of the team. If the Giants are out of serious contention by November, Jones should be starting by then. Be concerned if the Giants are 4-6 or worse and Eli is still playing after the bye.

An argument can be made that the Giants gave up on Davis Webb after just one season because he wasn’t the new regime’s guy. But that argument can’t be made about Kyle Lauletta. If the Giants cut him after just one season, that’s a pretty damning indictment of their scouting department. If the Giants cut Alex Tanney, would anyone pick him up? (I am suggesting he would still be available to the team if injuries strike).

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Eli Manning, Daniel Jones, Kyle Lauletta

(The tough call here is Eric Dungey. He is an intriguing quarterback but his lack of Spring work at the position really puts him behind the 8-ball in terms of being a factor at quarterback in 2019. Dungey needs to flash as a jack-of-all-trades type this summer in order to make the squad).

Mar 042019
 
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Aldrick Rosas, New York Giants (December 2, 2018)

Aldrick Rosas – © USA TODAY Sports

For years, the special teams of the New York Giants had been far from special, costing the team a number of games each season, often in painful fashion. New Head Coach Pat Shurmur chose not to bring back long-time special teams coordinator Tom Quinn and hired Thomas McGaughey to be the new coordinator and Anthony Blevins as his assistant. However, since McGaughey was diagnosed with cancer during the offseason, Quinn was retained as “assistant special teams coordinator.” Obviously, this was far from an ideal situation.

Making matters worse is the Giants were rolling the dice again on talented, but extremely inconsistent place kicker Aldrick Rosas, who only converted on 72 percent of his field goal attempts and 87 percent of his extra point attempts in 2017. The Giants cut Brad Wing in March and traded for another punter, Riley Dixon, in April. And it was anybody’s guess who would be returning kickoffs and punts.

Ironically, in the end, special teams ended up being the team’s strongest unit in 2018. Overshadowed by Saquon Barkley, Rosas had the best year of any place kicker in team history, only missing one field goal all season. Dixon finished 7th in net punting. The Giants were 7th in the NFL in kickoff returns (24.4 yards per return) and 28th in punt returns (6.2 yards per return). The Giants were also 2nd-best in defending kickoff returns (20.4 yards per return) and 7th-best in defending punt returns (6.6 yards per return). The Giants did not return a punt or kick for a touchdown and they did not allow a punt or kick to be returned against them for a touchdown.

Two Giants made the Pro Bowl as special teams players, Rosas and first-team alternate Michael Thomas, who led the team with 12 special teams tackles. Other leading tacklers included Kerry Wynn (8), Kenny Ladler (8), Nate Stupar (8), and Russell Shepard (6).

The Giants special teams held up their end of the bargain in 2018. Rosas also deserves far more attention than he received.

THE KICKERS

Perhaps the team’s biggest surprise in 2018 was the performance of place kicker Aldrick Rosas, who missed only one field goal all year and made the Pro Bowl. Rosas made 32-of-33 kicks (a franchise-record 97 percent). He also kicked a team-record 57-yard field goal. Rosas was 31-of-32 on extra point attempts. Fifty-one of his 85 kickoff attempts (60 percent) resulted in touchbacks. Rosas was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Tennessee Titans after the 2016 NFL Draft. He did not make the team. The Giants signed him to a reserve/futures contract in January 2017. He had a poor first season with the Giants, converting on just 72 percent of his field goals and 87 percent of his extra points. He also had four kicks blocked in 2017.

The Giants traded with the Denver Broncos for Riley Dixon in April 2018, giving the Broncos a conditional 7th-round draft pick. He had a solid inaugural year for the Giants, finishing 7th in net punting in the NFL (41.8 yards per punt). Dixon finished 11th in gross punting with 45.4 yards per punt. However, only 20 of his punts were pinned inside the 20-yard line. The 6’4”, 221-pound Dixon was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Broncos. He was named to the All-Rookie team.

THE RETURNERS

Eight Giants returned a total of 45 kickoffs in 2018. Twenty-three of those were returned by Corey Coleman, who the Giants signed to the Practice Squad and then the 53-man roster in October. He ended up playing in eight games with one start, finishing with five catches for 71 yards. Coleman’s primary contribution came on special teams as as kickoff returner (averaging 26 yards per return). The 5’11”, 185-pound Coleman was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. An explosive athlete but an injury-plagued bust in Cleveland, Coleman has also had brief stints with the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots in 2018. Coleman has played in 27 NFL games with 19 starts, accruing 61 catches for 789 yards and five touchdowns.

Six Giants returned a total of 37 punts in 2018, with Jawill Davis returning 12 punts and Quadree Henderson returning nine.

The Giants signed Davis as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2018 NFL Draft. He was signed to the Practice Squad after the final preseason cutdown and then signed to the 53-man roster in September. Davis injured his knee during the last practice of the year and was placed on Injured Reserve before the last game. Davis has average size, but he is a good athlete with excellent speed. He played in seven games for the Giants, catching four passes for 40 yards. He also returned 12 punts (7.4 yards per return) and seven kickoffs (24.4 yards per return).

The Giants placed Henderson on Injured Reserve in late November 2018 with a fractured shoulder. The 5’8”, 192-pound Henderson was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Pittsburgh Steelers after the 2018 NFL Draft. The Steelers waived him before the season started. The Giants signed Henderson to the Practice Squad and then the 53-man roster in October 2018, and then back to the Practice Squad and the 53-man roster again in November. Henderson played in five games for the Giants and returned five kickoffs (22.4 yards per return average) and nine punts (7.6 yards per return average).