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).

Feb 282019
 
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Landon Collins, New York Giants (October 7, 2018)

Landon Collins – © USA TODAY Sports

Only a few years ago, in 2016, the secondary of the New York Giants was not only considered the strength of the defense, but probably one of the better secondaries in Giants’ team history. Three Giants defensive backs were legitimately named to the All-Pro team that year: Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Landon Collins, the latter making a strong run for “Defensive Player of the Year” honors. The Giants finished 10th in total defense that season and 2nd in scoring defense.

But the secondary has quickly deteriorated since that high point. Despite continuing to earn League honors, Collins has obviously regressed and not made the same impact, also finishing the past two years on IR. Jenkins missed half the season in 2017 and did not play as well in 2018. Rodgers-Cromartie stopped making plays and was cut in March 2018. Making matters worse was that the surrounding talent in the secondary and arguably across the entire defensive unit has gotten worse. As a result, the Giants finished 24th in total defense and 23rd in scoring defense in 2018.

Once you got the past the headliners in Jenkins and Collins, the rest of the defensive back crew was a nondescript group of no-names and castoffs. The Giants admitted to another draft disaster, trading Eli Apple, the 10th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, to the New Orleans Saints for 4th- and 7th-round picks in late October. The rest of the unit was manned by players such as B.W. Webb, Grant Haley, Antonio Hamilton, Tony Lippett, Curtis Riley, Donte Deayon (waived in October), Michael Jordan (waived in October), Michael Thomas, Sean Chandler, Kenny Ladler, and Kamrin Moore. Who? Most fans never heard of any of these guys before 2018 and most of them will probably not be on the team in 2019. In a way, it’s a minor miracle that the secondary was not more abused than it actually was.

In a nutshell, strong safety Collins was disappointing and had issues in coverage. Riley was terrible at free safety. Reserve safety Thomas was a good special teams player, but not starting material. Jenkins was decent but still gave up two many big plays. Webb surprisingly held his own for much of the season, but really faded down the stretch. Undrafted rookie free agent Grant showed some promise as a nickel corner but didn’t make many plays on the football.

CORNERBACKS

While Janoris Jenkins did not have one of better seasons, giving up a number of big plays in 2018, he still remains one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. Jenkins started all 16 games and finished with 70 tackles, 15 pass defenses, 2 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble. Jenkins was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. The Giants signed him as unrestricted free agent in March 2016. In his first season with the Giants, Jenkins had his best season to date, being voted to his first Pro Bowl and his first All-Pro (second-team) selection. He missed seven games in 2017 with an ankle injury that had bothered him much of the season and required surgery. Jenkins is an average-sized corner with excellent speed and quickness and the ability to shut down any wide receiver when on top of his game. He is not a physical run defender and sometimes shies away from contact.

The Giants signed journeyman B.W. Webb in March 2018 after he was cut by the Cleveland Browns. Webb not only made the team, but he had his best pro season, surprisingly starting 13 of the 16 games he played in, and finishing with 59 tackles, 1 sack, 6 pass defenses, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble. Webb did a decent job for most of the season before fading late, giving up a number of big plays. The 5’11”, 190-pound Webb was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. Webb has spent time with the Dallas Cowboys (2013), Pittsburgh Steelers (2014), Tennessee Titans (2015), New Orleans Saints (2016), Chicago Bears (2017), and Browns (2017). Webb has played 65 regular-season games with 23 starts.

Grant Haley was originally signed by the Giants as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2018 NFL Draft. He was signed to the Practice Squad in September 2018 and the 53-man roster in October 2018. Grant ended up being the team’s nickel corner, playing in 10 games with nine starts, and finishing the season with 33 tackles and 2 pass defenses. Haley is a short, but well-built corner with plays with good speed and aggression. He needs to make more plays on the football.

The Giants placed Antonio Hamilton on Injured Reserve in December 2018 with a quad injury. The 6’0, 190-pound Hamilton was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Oakland Raiders after the 2016 NFL Draft. He played in 12 regular-season games with no starts for the Raiders. The Giants claimed Hamilton off of waivers from the Raiders in September 2018. He played in 13 games for the Giants with no starts, accruing six tackles on special teams.

The Giants signed Tony Lippett in to the 53-man roster in October 2018. He ended up playing in three games, with no starts, and was exposed in coverage. A former wide receiver, the 6’3”, 192-pound Lippett was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins. In three years with the Dolphins, from 2015 to 2017, Lippett played in 25 regular-season games with 13 starts. He missed all of the 2017 season with with a torn Achilles’ tendon. The Dolphins cut Lippett before the 2018 season started.

SAFETIES

Despite being voted to the Pro Bowl three times from 2016-2018, Landon Collins has not been able to replicate his breakout performance in 2016. He finished both 2017 and 2018 on Injured Reserve, first with a fractured forearm and then with a partially-torn rotator cuff. Both injuries required surgery. On top of the injury issues, Collins has struggled more in coverage against better athletes. In 2018, Collins started all 12 games he played in, finishing with 96 tackles, 4 pass defenses, and 1 forced fumble. Collins was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Giants. During his All-Pro 2016 season, Collins started every game and finished the year with 125 tackles, four sacks, 13 pass defenses, and five interceptions. Collins is a big, tough, physical safety who lacks ideal quickness and recovery speed and thus is better suited for strong safety. He did not make many plays on the football in 2018. Collins is good hitter and tackler and plays the run very well.

The Giants signed Curtis Riley as an unrestricted free agent from the Tennessee Titans in March 2018. Riley surprisingly started all 16 games at free safety, finishing with 75 tackles, 5 pass defenses, and 4 interceptions (including one returned for a touchdown). However, he was often a liability against both the run and the pass. The 6’0”, 190-pound Riley was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Titans as a cornerback after the 2015 NFL Draft. Riley spent his rookie season on Injured Reserve with an ankle injury. He played in four games in 2016 and seven games in 2017 with no starts. While Riley is a former cornerback with good athleticism for the safety position, he lacks the instincts, aggressiveness, and physicality required to play safety in the NFL.

The Giants signed Michael Thomas as an unrestricted free agent from the Miami Dolphins in March 2018. Thomas not only played in all 16 games, but surprisingly made six starts at safety. He finished the season with 59 tackles, 1 sack, 6 pass defenses, 2 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble. Thomas also played in his first Pro Bowl as a special teams alternate. The 5’11”, 195-pound Thomas was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the San Francisco 49ers after the 2012 NFL Draft. After spending most of two seasons on the 49ers’ Practice Squad, Thomas was signed to the 53-man roster of the Dolphins in December 2013. In five seasons in Miami, Thomas played in 56 games with 25 starts. A team leader and good locker room presence, Thomas has served as special teams captain with both the Dolphins and Giants. While he is an aggressive, physical player, Thomas lacks the overall athleticism to be a viable NFL starter at safety. He only has 12 career pass defenses.

The Giants signed Sean Chandler as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2018 NFL Draft. Chandler made the team and played in all 16 games with no starts. He finished the year with 18 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 pass defense. Chandler lacks ideal size and speed, but he is an aggressive, physical defensive back and special teams player.

The Giants signed Kenny Ladler to the Practice Squad in November 2018 and the 53-man roster in December 2018. He ended up playing in three games with no starts, accruing three tackles. The 6’1”, 200-pound Ladler was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Buffalo Bills after the 2014 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Bills (2014-2015), Edmonton Eskimos (2016-2017), and Washington Redskins (2018). Ladler has played in 10 regular-season NFL games with no starts. Five of those games came with the Redskins in 2018 before the Redskins waived him in November.

The Giants claimed Kamrin Moore off of waivers from the New Orleans Saints in September 2018. He played in two games with no starts for the Giants. The 5’11’, 200-pound Moore was drafted in the 6th round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints.

NOT ON THE ACTIVE ROSTER

The Giants placed Sam Beal on Injured Reserve in July 2018 with a shoulder injury that required surgery. The Giants selected Beal in the 3rd round of the Supplemental Draft in July 2018. Beal combines good body length (6’1”, 185 pounds) and overall athleticism (4.5 in the 40-yard dash). He’s a smooth, natural cover corner who can flip his hips and has quick feet. Beal does need to improve his run defense.

The Giants signed Ronald Zamort to the Practice Squad in October 2018. The 5’10”, 174-pound Zamort originally signed with the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft.

Feb 262019
 
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Olivier Vernon, Alec Olgetree, and Kareem Martin; New York Giants (December 2, 2018)

Olivier Vernon, Alec Olgetree, and Kareem Martin – © USA TODAY Sports

There are two positions on the team that management simply has not been able to “fix” for years: offensive line and linebackers. And it is not for want of effort. While the Giants have not spent a great deal of draft assets on linebackers (3rd-round pick on Lorenzo Carter, 4th-round pick on B.J. Goodson), the team certainly has spent free agent and even indirect draft (i.e. trade) assets. Three of the four Giants’ starting linebackers in 2018 were:

  • Olivier Vernon ($17 million 2018 cap hit)
  • Alec Ogletree ($4.75 million 2018 cap hit, plus 4th- and 6th-round draft picks in trade)
  • Kareem Martin (3-year, $15 million contract)

The Giants also gave Connor Barwin a 2-year, $5 million deal as a reserve.

To be blunt, the return on the investment was quite poor. The 3-4 defense relies on the linebackers to be the the play-makers and the pass rushers. They didn’t do that. 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 startling, Giants linebackers only forced ONE fumble all year.

Ask a Giants’ fan about their linebacker memories for the 2018 season and they’ll probably mention Ogletree picking off five passes and returning two of those for touchdowns. Or Goodson picking off two passes in a game. They may say that the injury-prone Vernon flashed as a pass rusher as he got healthier. And that Carter showed some good things as a rookie. But mostly it was just blah. Barwin was invisible. Martin was one-dimensional. The positives from Vernon were overshadowed by a frustrating lack of impact and bonehead mistakes such a penalties or losing contain responsibility.

Overall, the run defense wasn’t good, 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 (despite the five picks, there was a stretch of games where Ogletree was regularly abused in coverage).

THE EDGE RUSHERS

Olivier Vernon’s first three seasons with the Giants have been sabotaged due to nagging injuries, including a high ankle sprain in 2018 that caused him to miss the first five games of the season. Vernon started the remaining 11 games, accruing 30 tackles, 7 sacks, 1 pass defense, and 1 forced fumble. Despite the missed time and subpar tackle production, Vernon played in the Pro Bowl as a first alternate. Vernon was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Dolphins. The Giants signed him as a free agent in March 2016. Although Vernon played in all 16 regular-season games in 2016, a serious left hand/wrist injury affected his play. In 2017, he missed four games with an ankle injury that also continued to be a factor in other games. An undersized but athletic defensive end, the Giants shifted him to linebacker in 2018 to fit their new 3-4 scheme. Vernon teases with his big-play ability but he simply hasn’t been able to stay healthy and be consistently productive and reliable.

The Giants signed Kareem Martin as an unrestricted free agent from the Arizona Cardinals in March 2018. Though not a standout, Martin has his most productive season as a pro, playing in a 16 games with seven starts, and finishing with 48 tackles (twice as much as his previous high), 1.5 sacks, and 2 pass defenses. The 6’6”, 272-pound Martin was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Cardinals as a defensive end. The Cardinals moved him to linebacker after his rookie season. Martin is a ‘tweener who does his best work moving forward rather than moving backwards in space. He is a sold run defender, but he only has six career sacks in five seasons.

The Giants drafted Lorenzo Carter in the 3rd round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Carter played in 15 games as a rookie with two starts, finishing the season with 43 tackles, 4 sacks, and 4 pass defenses. He is a tall, athletic, disruptive forward mover. Carter causes problems with his quickness and closing burst but can get hung up on blocks at times. Carter flashes as a pass rusher, and he can rush the passer from the defensive end spot in certain packages.

The Giants signed Connor Barwin as an unrestricted free agent from the Los Angeles Rams in July 2018. Despite playing in 15 games with three starts, Barwin finished the year with just 12 tackles, 1 sack, and 4 pass defenses. Barwin was originally selected in the 2nd-round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans. Before joining the Giants, he spent time with the Texans (2009-2012), Philadelphia Eagles (2013-2016), and Rams (2017).

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

The Giants traded with the Rams for Alec Ogletree in March 2018, giving the Rams 4th- and 6th-round draft picks. In his first season with the Giants, Ogletree started all 13 regular-season games he played in, missing three games due to hamstring and concussion issues. He finished the year with 93 tackles, 1 sack, 8 pass defenses, and 5 interceptions (2 of which were returned for touchdowns). Ogletree was drafted in the 1st round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Rams. He made the All-Rookie team in 2013 and was named second-team All-Pro in 2016. The 6’2”, 235-pound Ogletree lacks classic size. He’s more of a run-and-hit linebacker than take-on-and-shed guy. Team leader who was voted team captain on both the Rams and Giants. In his six NFL seasons, Olgetree has averaged almost 100 tackles per year. Despite his five interceptions in 2018, he can be exposed in man coverage by athletic pass catchers.

In his third year with the Giants, B.J. Goodson had his most productive season, playing in 15 games with 13 starts, and finishing with 61 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 4 pass defenses, and 2 interceptions. Goodson was drafted by the Giants in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. As a rookie, he played in 15 regular-season games with no starts. In 2017, Goodson started all seven games he played in, but missed most of the season with shin and ankle issues. Goodson is a big, strong, physical linebacker who lacks ideal speed and quickness. He plays the run better than the pass.

The Giants signed Tae Davis as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2018 NFL Draft. Davis not only made the team, but he played in 14 games with four starts, accruing 33 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 pass defense. The 6’0”, 222-pound Davis lacks size, but he is a good athlete with fine speed. While aggressive, Davis is not a physical player against the run and he missed too many tackles in 2018. He also needs to improve in coverage.

The Giants claimed Nate Stupar off of waivers from the New Orleans Saints in September 2018. He played in all 16 games, finishing the year with just 14 tackles. In his one start, Stupar missed three tackles. The 6’2”, 240-pound Stupar was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. Stupar has spent time with the Raiders (2012), Philadelphia Eagles (2012), San Francisco 49ers (2012–2013), Jacksonville Jaguars (2013), Atlanta Falcons (2014–2015), and Saints (2016–2017). He has played in 79 regular-season games with ten starts, six of which came in 2016 when he accrued 58 tackles. Stupar missed 11 games in 2017 with a torn ACL. He is a good special teams player.

Ukeme Eligwe was signed to the Practice Squad in September 2018 after he was waived by the Kansas City Chiefs. The Giants signed him to the 53-man roster in October 2018. Eligwe ended up playing in 10 games with no starts, accruing just seven tackles and one pass defense. The 6’2”, 239-pound Eligwe was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Chiefs.

STILL HANGING AROUND

Avery Moss was signed to the Practice Squad in September 2018. Moss was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Giants. As a rookie, he played in 11 games with two starts. He finished with 14 tackles, two pass defenses, and one forced fumble. Moss has good size with long arms and is a good athlete. Moss flashes as a disruptive run defender and pass rusher, but he needs to become more consistent and get stronger at the point-of-attack.

Jordan Williams was waived/injured in September 2018 with hip and shoulder injuries, and then placed on Injured Reserve. Williams was originally signed by the New York Jets as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2015 NFL Draft. He spent time with the Jets (2015) and Miami Dolphins (2015-2016) before being signed by the Giants to the Practice Squad in December 2016. He spent most of 2017 on the Giants’ Practice Squad, even though he played in one regular-season game.

Feb 222019
 
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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

After 24 years of playing in the 4-3 defense, the New York Giants shifted back to a 3-4 defense that emphasized the pass rush coming from the outside linebackers rather than the 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, more was expected. 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.

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.

In January, Dave Gettleman chalked up 2018 as a valuable learning experience for the young linemen.

When we traded Snacks, part of the issue when Snacks was here was he played the one (technique), we had Dalvin playing the three (technique), and B.J. playing the five technique. Well, Dalvin’s a one technique and B.J.’s a three, so I’m very pleased with the change… B.J. came a long way. Pass rush is critical, as I’ve stated it a million times as we all know. B.J. had, I think, five and a half sacks, so he made some progress inside. Dalvin did what he does at the one, so for us, it worked out and those young guys are getting snaps. That’s the only way they’re going to get better. There’s a theory out there that young guys, once they get to 5,000 snaps, that’s when they’re really ready to rock and roll and that includes practice and game snaps and all that. I don’t know if I subscribe to it, but I’m just throwing it out there.

Overall, the run defense was not as good as expected. And while there were flashes here and there, particularly from Hill, there were no consistent pass rushers in this group.

THE NEW BUILDING BLOCKS

Dalvin Tomlinson began the year playing the 3-technique position (9 starts) in the team’s 3-4 scheme before being moved to the 1-technique spot (7 starts) after nose tackle Damon Harrison was traded. He finished the season with 59 tackles and no sacks. The Giants drafted Tomlinson in the 2nd round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Tomlinson started every game as a rookie and finished the season with 50 tackles and one sack. Tomlinson is an average-sized tackle who is very strong and tough. He is a good run defender who flashes the ability to disrupt plays in the backfield, but to-date, he has not proven to be much of a pass rusher (only one sack in two seasons).

The Giants drafted B.J. Hill in the 3rd round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He played in all 16 regular-season games with 12 starts, finishing the season with 48 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and two pass defenses. Though listed as a 3-4 defensive end, the 6’3”, 303-pound Hill was shifted from the five-technique position to the three-technique after the team traded away nose tackle Damon Harrison. Hill has good quickness for his size, plays with leverage, and flashes the ability to disrupt. He needs to become a more consistent run defender.

SOLID ROTATIONAL PLAYERS

The Giants signed Josh Mauro as an unrestricted free agent from the Arizona Cardinals in March 2018 after he was cut by the Cardinals. He was suspended for the first four games of the 2018 NFL season by the NFL for the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Mauro played in the 12 remaining games, with four starts, finishing with 28 tackles and one sack. The 6’6”, 290-pound, English-born Mauro was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Pittsburgh Steelers after the 2014 NFL Draft. He did not make the team, but was signed by the Cardinals after he was cut. In four seasons with the Cardinals, Mauro played in 47 regular-season games with 26 starts. Mauro is a hard-working run player who does not get much heat on the quarterback (only three career sacks).

In his fifth season with the Giants, Kerry Wynn started five of the 14 games that he played in, finishing with 39 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 pass defenses, and 2 forced fumbles. Wynn was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Giants after the 2014 NFL Draft. He has played in 63 regular-season games, with 15 starts. Wynn has a nice combination of size, strength, and overall athletic ability. Wynn is a better run defender than pass rusher as he lacks dynamic quickness on the outside pass rush (just 4.5 career sacks). He is able to play defensive tackle in pass-rush situations. Wynn flashed more in 2018 than he has in previous regular seasons.

The Giants claimed Mario Edwards off of waivers from the Oakland Raiders in September 2018. He served as a primary back-up, playing in 15 games with no starts, and finishing the year with 14 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. The 6’3”, 280-pound Edwards was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Raiders. He missed most of 2016 with a hip injury. In three years with the Raiders, Edwards played in 30 regular-season games with 24 starts. While a disappointment in Oakland, Edwards is a good athlete who flashes against both the run and the pass.

The Giants selected R.J. McIntosh in the 5th round of the 2018 NFL Draft. However, an unpublicized medical condition prevented him from practicing with the team all summer and the Giants placed him on the Reserve/Non-Football Illness List in September 2018. He was activated to the 53-man roster in early November and ended up playing in six games with no starts, accruing just five tackles. McIntosh combines good size and overall athleticism.

YET TO MAKE A MARK

The Giants signed John Jenkins in September 2018 after he was cut by the Chicago Bears. He was active for seven games, but was not credited with any tackles. The 6’3”, 327-pound Jenkins was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints. He has spent time with the Saints (2013-2016), Seattle Seahawks (2016), and Bears (2017-2018). From 2013 to 2015, Jenkins played in 42 regular-season games with 21 starts. However, in 2016 and 2017, Jenkins played in just 17 regular-season games with two starts. He was inactive for eight games in 2017. With only 1.5 career sacks, Jenkins is strictly a run-defending nose tackle-type.

The Giants signed Myles Humphrey to the Practice Squad in October 2018. Listed as a defensive end, the 6’3”, 238-pound Humphrey originally signed with the Baltimore Ravens after the 2018 NFL Draft. He spent most of September on the Ravens’ Practice Squad.

Kristjan Sokoli was placed on Injured Reserve in August 2018 after tearing an ACL in one of his knees in the preseason opener. The Giants Sokoli signed to the Practice Squad in late December 2017. Sokoli was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. The 6’5”, 300-pound Sokoli has spent time with the Seahawks (2015), Indianapolis Colts (2016), and New Orleans Saints (2017). The Albanian-born player has played both on the offensive and defensive lines.

Feb 202019
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (November 12, 2018)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports

For media pundits and fans, opinions and battle lines regarding Eli Manning have long been formed. In many ways, it’s strange to see a class act, two-time Super Bowl MVP, and holder of just about every significant passing record in team history be such a divisive topic. Perhaps that says more about us than Eli.

Quarterbacks for every team are always fan lightning rods. But the contempt for Eli seems over the top, including with “overrated” player polls which seem more than a tad disingenuous since Eli has never been regarded all that highly by most players, media types, and fans of other teams.

Manning’s best season was his League MVP-worthy performance of 2011. By the conclusion of that season, at the age of 31, in his first eight years, Manning had won two Super Bowls, was responsible for 25 game-winning drives, and sported 8-3 playoff and 69-50 regular-season records. After that, in his next seven seasons, while there were 17 more game-winning drives, Manning only played in one more playoff game and saw his regular-season record plummet to 47-64. Manning’s team have only won two more games than they have lost (116-114) and have been to the playoffs six times, losing the first playoff game on four of those occasions.

With those facts in mind, the genesis of Eli debate becomes clear. If you take away the Super Bowl seasons of 2007 and 2011, outside his longevity, Manning’s career looks like the epitome of mediocrity. But – and it’s a BIG but (cue the Pee Wee Herman joke here) – you can’t take away the 2007 and 2011 seasons. Manning played his best football during those two historic, against-all-odds, 4-0 each playoff runs. He is responsible for one quarter of the team’s NFL Championships. This alone makes his career a success.

My personal view is that the New York Giants as a franchise ruined the second half of Manning’s career. Manning was probably never going to duplicate his career season of 2011, but he should not be a 47-64 quarterback either. For most of the last seven years, the Giants have “surrounded” Eli with terrible offensive lines, no running game, shoddy defense, and abysmal special teams. The beatings Manning has taken have taken their toll. He’s not the guy he was in 2011. The same thing happened to Ron Jaworski, Neil Lomax, and others. Once you permanently lose faith in your offensive line, you become a different player.

2018 was an odd year for Eli. At times, he looked done. At other times, he was the master of efficiency. Six times he had a QB rating over 100. He completed a career-high 66 percent of his passes. He only threw 11 interceptions. But even with Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham, the offense was abysmal for much of the season. Manning threw only 21 touchdowns and the team finished the year 5-11. If a play broke down, Manning could not improvise. He was sacked a career-high 47 times (an average of three times per game).

One of Phil Simms’ best years was his final one in 1993, when the Giants surprisingly finished 11-5. Simms didn’t throw a lot of touchdowns (only 15), but he was incredibly efficient quarterback on a solid football team. My sense is that Eli Manning could still be a winning and sometimes masterful QB if his surrounding team were stronger, but that simply has not been the case. Too many times, the offensive line or defense have collapsed. Too many times the ground game couldn’t gain that one yard. Now he is 38 years old. It’s a shame.

THE 15-YEAR CONSTANT

In the twilight stage of his career, the 38-year old Eli Manning completed his 15th season in 2018. The entire offense, including Manning, played much better in the second half of the year when the offensive line played better. Overall, Manning finished with 4,299 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He completed a career-high 66 percent of his passes. However, the passing attack was inconsistent. There were stretches and games where Manning and the passing game were efficient and sharp, and others where they struggled to move the chains and put points up on the board. Manning was the first player selected in the 2004 NFL Draft and immediately traded to the Giants by the Chargers. Manning owns practically every quarterback record in franchise history. He is 8-4 as a playoff quarterback and a two-time Super Bowl MVP. His best season was 2011 when he carried the Giants to the playoffs, highlighted by eight come-from-behind victories. Since then, he has struggled with consistency as the franchise has been unable to provide him with an adequate offensive line. Manning has the perfect temperament for playing in the New York metropolitan area as the intense media spotlight does not seem to faze him. He is very smart and hard-working. Manning has excellent size and decent arm strength. Relatively immobile, Manning rarely extends a play when his protection breaks down and is not a threat to harm a defense with his feet. Although he’s a tough competitor who has never missed a game due to injury in 14 seasons, Manning has become a bit more gun-shy in recent years due to shoddy pass protection. Manning excels in the mental aspects of the game and reads opposing defenses extremely well. Manning is still guilty of making the ill-advised, head-scratching throw when the smarter decision would be to throw the football away or take the sack. His gun-slinger mentality – which leads to big plays – also causes him to make some risky throws in tight windows. Manning was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2008 and 2011, and played in the game after the 2012 and 2015 regular seasons as an alternate.

THE SURPRISE BACK-UP

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. The 6’4”, 220-pound Tanney was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Kansas City Chiefs after the 2012 NFL Draft. The well-traveled journeyman has spent time with the Chiefs (2012), Dallas Cowboys (2013), Cleveland Browns (2013), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2014), Titans (2014), Buffalo Bills (2015), Indianapolis Colts (2015), and Titans again (2015–2018). Tanney has only played in one regular-season game, coming off the bench for the Titans in 2015. He played in three preseason games for the Giants in 2018, completing 18-of-33 passes (54.5 percent) for 177 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions.

DRIVING MR. LAULETTA

The Giants selected Kyle Lauletta in the 4th round of the 2018 NFL Draft. The team’s third quarterback for the bulk of the season, Lauletta did play late in the game of a blowout win. However, he did not distinguish himself, going 0-of-5 with one interception. Lauletta also was arrested midway through the season due to a serious traffic infraction. The scouting report on Lauletta coming out of college was that he is a smart, accurate short- to intermediate-passer whose lack of arm strength limits his overall game.

Feb 182019
 
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Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (August 9, 2018)

Saquon Barkley – © USA TODAY Sports

One year ago, we were in the midst of the endless offseason debate on whether or not the Giants should draft one of the top quarterback prospects or Saquon Barkley. Many – including myself – argued that Barkley was probably a luxury who the Giants could not afford given their extremely rare opportunity to select a potential franchise quarterback at the #2 spot. “It’s a quarterback’s league. You can get a very good running back in later rounds, but not a quarterback. This is a once-in-a-generation chance to nab a stud QB without trading up.” And so on.

From the start, Dave Gettleman did not hide his love affair for Barkley. There was no smoke. Some will say Gettleman made the safe pick in selecting Barkley, but I would argue that since most pundits and fans felt the Giants should have selected Sam Darnold, Gettleman was actually sticking his neck out as most would have understood taking the QB.

The Barkley vs. Darnold debate won’t be settled for some time. But the early returns are that Gettleman made the right call. With the full understanding that I will be accused of immense hyperbole, Saquon Barkley is the best young running back I’ve watched in my lifetime. At 51, I’m too “young” to have seen Gayle Sayers, Jim Brown, and O.J. Simpson. I saw Walter Payton in the latter stages of his career, not his prime. But I did witness the entire careers of Barry Sanders, Bo Jackson, Eric Dickerson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk, Thurman Thomas, Adrian Peterson, and others. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I wouldn’t take any of them over Barkley, who combines better size/power base with Sanders-like moves, Jackson-like speed, Faulk’s hands, and without Dickerson’s fumbling.

Barkley has it all. He’s a big back who runs like scatback. He can run with power, make you miss, and run away from you. He doesn’t fumble. He catches the football like a wide receiver. He’s a threat to score every time he touches the football. His head is screwed on right. And in the “look at me” era, he just hands the football to the official after he breaks off a 50-yard touchdown. I can’t even imagine how dreadful and unwatchable the 2018 New York Giants would have been without him on the football team. The 22-year old Barkley is already the face of the franchise. Pray he stays healthy and has a long career because this guy truly is a generational talent. The last time the Giants selected a player with the #2 pick was Lawrence Taylor. Barkley has a chance to be viewed in that light.

On a bad team, behind a bad offensive line and blocking tight ends, Barkley accrued over 2,000 combined yards and 15 touchdowns. This also despite averaging 16.3 carries and 5.7 receptions per game. Let me emphasize that again, Barkley only touched the ball 22 times per game. In only three games did he have more than 20 rushing attempts. Yet he had over 2,000 combined yards! Amazing. Indeed, one could make a strong argument that Barkley was underutilized, particularly during the first half of the season.

Given those numbers, one would normally expect that the Giants’ reserve running backs would have seen a lot of action. First of all, surprisingly, the Giants only had one back-up halfback on the roster in Wayne Gallman. Secondly, Gallman was only on the field 15 percent of the time (as compared to Barkley’s 83 percent of all offensive snaps). Gallman only had 51 carries and 14 receptions all year. That’s an average of only four touches per game.

The only other back of note is fullback Elijhaa Penny, who primarily served as a blocker on 12 percent of all offensive snaps. He touched the ball only 15 times all year.

In summary, Barkley was THE reason fans watched the New York Giants in 2018. And he clearly is one of the very best players in the entire league.

THE MAN

Despite pressure to draft a quarterback, the Giants felt strongly that Saquon Barkley was the best player in the 2018 NFL Draft, selecting him with the #2 overall pick. Barkley did not disappoint, becoming only the third rookie in NFL history to accrue 2,000 yards from scrimmage and breaking a number of franchise records. He also was voted to the Pro Bowl and named “Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year”, “FedEx Ground NFL Player of the Year”, “Pro Football Writers of America Offensive Rookie of the Year”, and “Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year.” Barkley started all 16 games, rushing 261 times for 1,307 yards (5.0 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns. He also caught 91 passes for 721 yards and four touchdowns. Overall, Barkley led the NFL with 2,028 yards from scrimmage. Barkley also led the NFL with seven 40+ yard runs and six 50+ yard runs. The latter figure is the highest single-season total by a Giants player since the 1970 merger. All of this despite playing behind a subpar offensive line. Barkley is a complete three-down back who can make an impact running and catching the football. He has an outstanding combination of size, quickness, and speed. A home-run threat every time he touches the football, Barkley has great vision, instincts, and balance. He makes defenders miss and can accelerate to full speed in a heartbeat. Barkley is big enough to run through and athletic enough to leap over tackle attempts. Barkley is a very good pass receiver who can hurt a defense down the field in the passing game. Outstanding kick returner. He did not fumble the ball in 2018. His biggest negative is that he will sometimes try to do too much and dance around instead of taking what the defense gives him. Excellent intangibles. Team leader with a good work ethic.

THE BACK-UP

Despite being the only other true halfback on the roster for the bulk of the season, Wayne Gallman only carried the football 51 times for 176 yards (3.5 yards per carry) and one touchdown. Gallman was drafted in the 4th round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Giants. As a rookie, Gallman played in 13 games with one start and carried the football 111 times for 476 yards (4.3 yards per carry). Gallman also caught 34 passes for 193 yards in 2017 and 14 passes for 89 yards in 2018. Gallman is a well-rounded cutback runner with good vision, elusiveness, strength, and speed. He has good hands as a receiver, but he needs to improve his ball security (a combined five fumbles in 2017 and 2018).

THE FULLBACK

The Giants signed Elijhaa Penny off of the Practice Squad of the Arizona Cardinals in September 2018. He ended up playing in 14 games for the Giants, with three starts, carrying the ball seven times for 25 yards and catching eight passes for 50 yards. The 6’2”, 234-pound Penny was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Cardinals after the 2016 NFL Draft. Penny spent his rookie season on the Cardinals’ Practice Squad. He was active all 16 regular-season games in 2017 with no starts and finished the season with 31 carries for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Though Penny lacks classic fullback size, he is a well-rounded player who can block, run, and catch the football.

THE MISTAKE

The Giants placed Jonathan Stewart on Injured Reserve in September 2018 with a foot injury. The 5’10”, 240-pound Stewart was drafted in the 1st round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Panthers. In 10 seasons with the Panthers, Stewart rushed for 7,318 yards and 51 touchdowns. He also caught 162 passes for 1,295 yards and seven touchdowns. In 2017, Stewart started 10 games but saw his rushing totals fall to 680 yards, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. The Giants signed Stewart in March 2018 after he was cut by the Panthers. He rushed for just 17 yards on six carries for the Giants. Injury prone, Stewart has not played a full season since 2011.

PRACTICALLY FORGOTTEN

The Giants signed Robert Martin to the Practice Squad in September 2018. The Giants originally signed the 5’11, 210-pound Martin as an undrafted rookie free agent after he impressed at the May 2018 rookie mini-camp as a tryout player. Martin also flashed for the team during the preseason, carrying the ball 15 times for 97 yards (6.5 yards per carry) and one touchdown.

Paul Perkins was waived with a non-football injury in May 2018 and placed on Injured Reserve with a torn pectoral muscle that he suffered before the offseason program began. After a respectable rookie season, Perkins had a very disappointing sophomore season in 2017. Perkins saw both his playing time and productivity markedly decline. In 2016, Perkins played in 14 regular-season games with one start. He also started the playoff game. Perkins finished the 2016 regular season with 112 carries for 456 yards (4.1 yards per carry) and 15 catches for 162 yards (10.8 yards per catch). In 2017, Perkins started the first four games, but then suffered a rib injury and lost his starting job to Orleans Darkwa. He played in 11 games and finished the year with 41 carries for 90 yards (2.2 yards per carry). He also caught eight passes for 46 yards. Perkins was drafted by the Giants in the 5th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Perkins has good vision, quick feet, and cutting ability. He is a tough runner, but his lack of size, strength, and power limits his game. He catches the ball well.

Feb 152019
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (November 12, 2018)

Odell Beckham, Jr. – © USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 New York Giants were a top heavy team, with some elite talent at a number of positions but with the overall quality of the rest of the roster rapidly falling off. And the wide receiver position was just one example of this issue. Coming out of training camp, the team’s top wideouts were Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Cody Latimer, Kaelin Clay, and Russell Shepard. Injuries hit this position hard, including Beckham (4 games), Latimer (placed on IR and later returning, missing 10 games), and Clay (only playing in two games before being placed on IR and later waived). Thus began a revolving door at the position for much of the season at the 3rd, 4th, and 5th receiver spots. Those who later saw playing time at wide receiver and/or special teams included Bennie Fowler, Corey Coleman, Jawill Davis, Quadree Henderson (also ended up on IR), and Stacy Coley (waived after one game).

There was no better indicator of the sharp divide between Beckham (77 catches) and Sterling Shepard (66 catches) and the rest of the wide-receiving corps than the reception totals. No other wide receiver on the roster had more than 16 catches. And combined, the other receivers had a total of just 46 receptions. Part of this was a function of Eli Manning having other options, including running back Saquon Barkley (91 catches) and tight ends Evan Engram (45 catches) and Rhett Ellison (25 catches). But it was obvious that opposing defenses did not concern themselves too much with the other wideouts.

Of course, the primary headliner was Beckham, who was coming off a very serious fractured ankle that required surgery and which caused him to miss 12 games in 2017. While some contend that Beckham did not appear to be quite the same player, statistically-speaking, his numbers were on par with his 2016 season if adjusted for the four games he missed in 2018 due to a somewhat mysterious quad injury. What was missing were the eye-opening, huge, explosive plays. The good news is that despite the media’s goal of turning him into a click-bait lightning rod, Beckham did seem to mature and did not sulk as more team and fan attention shifted to Barkley.

Sterling Shepard is a very solid, complimentary piece as a slot receiver, but it has become pretty clear that he is not a consistent vertical threat. He has averaged 63 catches, 762 yards, and 4.7 touchdowns per year in his first three NFL seasons.

Overall, it is fair to say that more was expected from Beckham, Shepard, and Latimer than a total of 154 catches and just 11 touchdown receptions.

THE HEADLINERS

Despite missing the last four games of the season with a quad injury, Odell Beckham, Jr. accrued 77 receptions for 1,052 yards (13.7 yards per catch) and six touchdowns. It was Beckham’s fourth 1,000-yard season in his first five years in the NFL (Beckham missed 12 games in 2017 with a fractured ankle that required surgery). Beckham’s accolades already include Pro Football Writers of America “Rookie of the Year” (2014), second-team All-Pro (2015, 2016), and Pro Bowl (2014, 2015, 2016). All of this despite constant double teams by opposing defenses. Beckham was drafted in the 1st round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Giants. While Beckham lacks classic size, his long arms, big hands, and tremendous jumping ability give him a very good catch radius. Beckham is an explosive athlete with excellent speed, quickness, and agility. Beckham runs good routes, is very quick out of his breaks, adjusts exceptionally well to the football, and regularly makes the circus catch. He is very dangerous with the football in his hands after the catch. Competitive, passionate, and hard working.

In his third season with the Giants, Sterling Shepard started all 16 games, finishing with 66 catches for 872 yards and four touchdowns. Shepard was selected in the 2nd round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Giants. Shepard started all 16 regular-season games as a rookie, but missed five games in 2017 with various ailments. Shepard lacks ideal size and speed, but he is a fluid athlete with good quickness. Shepard runs good routes, is tough going over the middle, and adjusts well to the football. He is guilty of the occasional drop. Shepard is not a consistent deep threat, but more of a move-the-chains underneath target. He needs to make more big plays.

THE MISFIT TOYS

The Giants signed Cody Latimer as an unrestricted free agent from the Denver Broncos in March 2018 and placed him on Injured Reserve with a hamstring injury in October 2018. The Giants activated him from IR in December. Latimer ended up playing in six games with two starts, catching just 11 passes for 190 yards and one touchdown. However, he really flashed in the regular-season finale with two spectacular, one-handed catches. The 6’2”, 215-pound Latimer was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Broncos. In four seasons with the Broncos, Latimer played in 45 regular-season games with three starts. He’s a big receiver who will fight for the football. Latimer is a good gunner on special teams and has experience returning kickoffs.

After signing late with the Giants in October 2018, Bennie Fowler surprisingly played in 10 games with five starts, finishing the year with 16 catches for 199 yards and one touchdown. The 6’1”, 212-pound Fowler originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Denver Broncos after the 2014 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Broncos (2014-2017), Chicago Bears (2018), and New England Patriots (2018). Fowler has played in 55 regular-season games with 10 starts. He has 72 career catches for 897 yards and six touchdowns.

The Giants signed Russell Shepard in May 2018 after he was cut by the Carolina Panthers. He ended up playing in 12 games, with no starts, catching 12 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns. The 6’1”, 195-pound Shepard was originally signed by the Philadelphia Eagles as undrafted rookie free agent after the 2013 NFL Draft. Shepard has spent time with the Eagles (2013), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2013-2016), and Panthers (2017). He has 57 career catches for 822 yards and six touchdowns. Shepard is a good gunner on special teams.

The Giants signed Corey Coleman to the Practice Squad and then the 53-man roster in October 2018. He ended up playing in eight games with one start, finishing with five catches for 71 yards. Coleman’s primary contribution came on special teams as as kickoff returner (averaging 26 yards on 23 returns). 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.

The Giants signed Jawill 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 Quadree 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).

The Giants signed Alonzo Russell after he impressed as a tryout player during the May 2018 rookie mini-camp and then signed him to the Practice Squad in September. He was added to the 53-man roster before the last game of the season. The 6’3”, 206-pound Russell was originally signed by the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft. He spent his rookie season on the Bengals’ Practice Squad. The Bengals waived him in September 2017 and he was signed to the Practice Squad of the Arizona Cardinals in November 2017. Russell has not caught a pass in a regular-season game.

Feb 132019
 
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Evan Engram, New York Giants (September 9, 2018)

Evan Engram – © USA TODAY Sports

When the New York Giants drafted Saquon Barkley in the 1st round of the 2018 NFL Draft, many pundits and fans believed the Giants now had the best RB-WR-TE trio in football in Barkley, Odell Beckham, and Evan Engram. After all, despite a bad case of the dropsies, Engram was coming off an impressive rookie season in which he had led the team in receptions and touchdowns despite often being the center of the opposing defense’s attention. It was thought that the return of Beckham from a serious injury that had caused him to miss most of the 2017 season, and the addition of the explosive Barkley, would leave Engram in many extremely favorable one-on-one match-ups.

However, Engram significantly regressed in the first half of the 2018 season. Whether it was due to a knee injury that caused him to also miss three games before the bye week, or the learning curve between the new coaching staff and the second-year tight end, Engram was a virtual non-factor in the passing game until November. Through the midway point, Engram had only caught 17 passes for 145 yards. Worse, Engram’s size and power limitations as a blocker were ill-suited to a team looking to focus more on the ground game and Saquon Barkley. It began to look like team and player were mismatched.

Things changed after the bye despite the fact that Engram missed two more games, this time with a hamstring injury. It was not so much the improvement in receptions from 17 to 45, but the number of big plays Engram began to make. There were two 50+ yard run-and-catch gains and a number of 30+ yard receptions. This was the type of explosive impact that had been expected all year.

Rhett Ellison actually saw more on-field action than Engram in 2018. Ellison played in 54 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, while Engram saw the field 46 percent of the time. Ellison’s numbers were very similar to his initial season with the Giants, catching 25 passes for 272 yards and just one touchdown. Unfortunately, his blocking was inconsistent and not up to the level one would expect from a supporting-cast-type tight end.

The surprise player was Scott Simonson, a no-name tight end signed from the Carolina Panthers in June. Simonson played in 28 percent of all offensive snaps. And while he only had nine catches, at times, Simonson appeared to be the team’s best blocking tight end.

Overall, it is fair to say that more was expected from this unit because more was expected from Engram and Ellison. Engram began to redeem himself in the second half after his horrific pre-bye play. Ellison still has not lived up to his 4-year, $18 million contract.

THE PLAYERS

It was a tale of two seasons for Evan Engram in 2018. Before the bye week, Engram missed three games with a knee injury and caught just 17 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. After the bye, Engram missed two games with a hamstring injury, but his productivity increased to 28 catches for 432 yards and one touchdown, with a number of game-changing plays. The Giants drafted Engram in the 1st round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Other than too many dropped passes, Engram had a very solid rookie season for the Giants in 2017, playing in 15 games with 11 starts, and finishing with a team-high 64 catches for 722 yards and a team-high six touchdown receptions. Engram is not built like a traditional tight end, more like an H-Back/wide receiver ‘tweener. The strength of Engram’s game is catching the football. He creates mismatches because of his combination of size and athletic ability. Engram is quick and fast. He runs good routes and is a natural pass receiver with a good catch radius. While Engram works hard at his blocking, he lacks the frame to ever be a significant factor as an in-line blocking tight end.

Rhett Ellison’s 2018 season was remarkably similar to his 2017 campaign, catching 25 passes for 272 yards and one touchdown. Ellison was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Vikings. He suffered a serious patellar tendon injury in December 2015. The Giants signed Ellison as an unrestricted free agent in March 2017. The 6’5”, 255-pound Ellison is versatile, having the ability to play tight end, H-Back, and fullback. While Ellison lacks ideal speed and quickness, he is a very sure-handed receiver who runs good routes. He is an adequate-at-best blocker.

Scott Simonson had his best season in 2018 after being signed by the Giants in June 2018. Simonson played in all 16 games with four starts, finishing with nine catches for 86 yards and one touchdown. The 6’5”, 255-pound Simonson was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Oakland Raiders after the 2014 NFL Draft. The Raiders waived him in June 2015 and he was then signed by the Carolina Panthers. He spent all of 2017 on Injured Reserve with a back injury. Simonson has played in 34 regular-season games with five starts. He had one catch in his NFL career before 2018. While he does not excel at either, Simonson can block and catch.

The Giants signed undrafted rookie free agent Garrett Dickerson in June 2018. He spent a couple of stints on the team’s Practice Squad and 53-man roster during the year. Overall, Dickerson played in four games with no starts and did not have a catch. The 6’2”, 244-pound Dickerson is a versatile player who can play a variety of positions including tight end, fullback, and H-Back. Though he lacks ideal size, he is a good athlete with fine hands.

Feb 112019
 
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Will Hernandez, New York Giants (October 7, 2018)

Will Hernandez – © USA TODAY Sports

One of the primary reasons why General Manager Jerry Reese and Vice President of Player Evaluation Marc Ross were fired was their inability to satisfactorily address an offensive line that had begun to deteriorate during the Super Bowl season of 2011. For years, Reese and Ross invested premium draft picks and free agent resources at the position, but to no avail. Enter new General Manager Dave Gettleman, who initially won over the hearts and minds of many Giants fans tired of inept offensive line play by focusing much of public comments on the “hog mollies” up front.

So what did Gettleman do? He almost completely gutted the previous group. Justin Pugh (2013 1st rounder), Weston Richburg (2014 2nd rounder), and D.J. Fluker were allowed to walk in free agency. John Jerry was cut before the season started. Somewhat oddly, the only unrestricted free agent the team chose to re-sign was John Greco. Newcomers included Nate Solder (4 years, $62 million), Patrick Omameh (3 years, $15 million), and 2018 2nd-round draft pick Will Hernandez. Notably, Ereck Flowers (9th player taken in the 2015 NFL Draft), who the previous administration had refused to shift to right tackle, was finally moved to the spot that many argued would be his best position. The only real surprise coming out of the OTAs and training camp was that Jon Halapio beat out Brett Jones at center, with the latter eventually being traded to the Minnesota Vikings in late August. The new offensive line coach was Hal Hunter, a man with an uninspiring resume and who was also out of football in 2017.

The Giants started the season with Nate Solder at left tackle, Will Hernandez at left guard, Jon Halapio at center, Patrick Omameh at right guard, and Ereck Flowers at right tackle. This group did not play well and the offense struggled mightily to score points. Indeed, there appeared to be no measurable improvement over the previous pathetic groups. The Giants began the season 1-7, scoring an average of 15 points in six of those losses despite the presence of Odell Beckham and Saquon Barkley.

Injury and an ineffectiveness soon led to shakeups up front. Halapio broke his ankle and leg in the second game of the season and was first replaced by John Greco and then Spencer Pulley, who was claimed off of waivers from the Los Angeles Chargers. The new regime also decided it had seen enough of Flowers and Omameh. 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 settle down more as the season progressed. (Unfortunately, it was the Giants’ failed attempt to land guard Andrew Norwell in free agency that led to the Giants acquiring both Solder and Omameh). 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.

THE EVENTUAL STARTERS

The Giants signed Nate Solder as an unrestricted free agent from the New England Patriots in March 2018. Solder started all 16 games at left tackle but had an inconsistent season, struggling at times as both a run and pass blocker, particularly during the first-half of the year. The 6’8”, 325-pound Solder was drafted in the 1st round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Patriots. In eight seasons, Solder has started 111 of the 114 regular-season games he has played in. He is a long, lean tackle with good overall athleticism. Solder was voted a team captain in his first year with the Giants.

In his second season with the Giants, Chad Wheeler was promoted to the starter at right tackle when the team decided to bench Ereck Flowers after the second game. Wheeler ended up starting 14 games at right tackle, but was a weak link on a unit that played better during the second half of the season. Wheeler was signed by the Giants as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2017 NFL Draft. Not only did he make the team, but he ended up playing in 11 games with four starts, three at right tackle and one at left tackle. Wheeler is a hardworking, versatile player and a decent athlete, but he appears to lack ideal footwork, strength, and bulk to be a starter. He may be better suited as a back-up swing tackle.

The Giants selected Will Hernandez in the 2nd round of the 2018 NFL Draft. While he had some growing pains, Hernandez, ended up starting all 16 games at left guard and was named named to Pro Football Writers of America’s All-Rookie Team. Hernandez lacks ideal height, but he is a big, tough, strong, powerful guard who does his best work in-line and not on the move. Hernandez is a mauler who plays with leverage and gets movement as a run blocker. He plays with an attitude and looks to finish his blocks and punish opponents. Hernandez lacks ideal foot quickness which hampers his game in space and, at times, as a pass protector, but he generally gets the job done.

The Giants claimed Jamon Brown off of waivers from the Los Angeles Rams at the end of October 2018. He was quickly inserted into the starting lineup, and played in the final eight games as the starting right guard. The 6’4”, 340-pound Brown was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Rams. Brown has played in 50 regular-season games with 38 starts. He was suspended the first two games of the 2018 season for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. Brown’s size and strength is an asset in the running game, but he was too inconsistent in pass protection. He also needs to cut down on his penalties.

The Giants claimed Spencer Pulley off of waivers from the Los Angeles Chargers in September 2018. Pulley was inserted into the starting line-up in late October. He struggled in his nine starts at center and missed one game due to an injury. Pulley was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Chargers after the 2016 NFL Draft. Spencer started all 16 regular-season games for the Chargers in 2017 at center. He also is able to play guard.

OTHER PLAYERS OF NOTE

Jon Halapio won the starting center job in 2018, but was lost early when he was placed on Injured Reserve in September 2018 after breaking his ankle and lower leg in the second game of the season. The injuries required surgery. Halapio was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. He has bounced around different leagues and teams including the Patriots (2014), Boston Brawlers (2014), Denver Broncos (2014–2015), Arizona Cardinals (2015), Brooklyn Bolts (2015), and Patriots (2016) again. The Giants signed Halapio to their Practice Squad in 2016 and 2017. The Giants then added him to the 53-man roster in October 2017 and he played in 10 games, starting the last six at right guard. Halapio is stout and strong, but he lacks ideal overall athleticism. Versatile, he can play both center and guard.

The Giants signed John Greco in November 2017. In 2018, Greco played in 15 games with seven starts (five at center, two at right guard). An older, fading player, Greco struggled at both positions and was eventually replaced in the starting line-up by players acquired during the season. Greco was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. He has spent time with the Rams (2008-2010), Cleveland Browns (2011-2016), and New Orleans Saints (2017). He’s a versatile player with experience at both guard positions and center.

Jul 162018
 
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Aldrick Rosas, New York Giants (August 31, 2017)

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

2017 YEAR IN REVIEW: Hired by the team in 2006, Tom Quinn somehow managed to become one of the longest tenured assistant coaches on the New York Giants. From 2006-2017, there was a revolving door of offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators, and position coaches. But Quinn survived each offseason until January 2018 despite the fact that New York’s special teams were annually a sub-par unit. His last year may have been his worst. In 2017, the Giants were:

  • 31st in field goal percentage (72 percent).
  • 32nd in extra point percentage (87 percent).
  • 32nd in net punting (38.6 yards per punt).
  • 28th in kickoff returns (19.6 yards per return).
  • 31st in punt returns (5.5 yards per return).
  • 14th in kickoff coverage (20.5 yards per return).
  • 27th in punt coverage (10.4 yards per return).

In short, the Giants were a train wreck on special teams.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Punter Brad Wing’s statistics plummeted in 2017 and the Giants cut him in March. Punt/kickoff returner Dwayne Harris spent most of the season on IR and was also cut in March.

Place kicker Marshall Koehn was signed in January 2018. The Giants acquired punter Riley Dixon by trade from the Denver Broncos shortly before the draft. The Giants also signed punter Taylor Symmank in June.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Enter Thomas McGaughey as the team’s new special teams coach. Ironically, McGaughey served under Tom Quinn from 2007 to 2010. Even more ironically, the Panthers decided to let McGaughey walk when his contract expired as they wanted to promote former Giants’ linebacker Chase Blackburn to the position.

Riley Dixon replaces Brad Wing as punter. Both players were acquired by trade. Hopefully, Dixon works out better than Wing did. The 6’4”, 221-pound Dixon was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Broncos. In 16 regular-season games as a rookie, Dixon punted 89 times and averaged 45.7 yards per punt (41.3 yard net). He was named to the all-rookie team. In 2017, Dixon punted 73 times and averaged 45.6 yards per punt (40.2 yard net) with two blocked punts.

The 6’2”, 195-pound Taylor Symmank was not drafted in 2016. The Minnesota Vikings signed him in January 2017 and waived him in early September of that year. Symmank punted nine times during the 2017 preseason, averaging 42.9 yards per punt.

More media and fan focus is likely to be on Aldrick Rosas. The Giants gambled on the green kicker in 2017 and got burned. Rosas was 17-of-25 (72 percent) on field goals and 20-of-23 (87 percent on extra points). Most alarming was his inconsistency on field goal attempts from 30 to 49 yards out, where he was 7-of-14 (50 percent). Somewhat surprisingly, the Giants still have not signed a veteran to compete against him. Marshall Koehn was originally signed by the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Dolphins (2016), Minnesota Vikings (2017), and Cincinnati Bengals (2017), but he’s played in only one regular-season game with no field goal attempts. So the new coaching staff also appears enamored with Rosas’ potential. Will their patience pay off?

With Dwayne Harris gone, it is not clear who will return kickoffs and punts for the team in 2018. The diminutive Kalif Raymond ended up the leading kickoff and punt returner last season, but there is no guarantee that he will even make the 2018 squad. Even if he does, ball security is an issue with him as Raymond has seven fumbles in his 12 NFL regular-season games.

The good news is that it appears the Giants made a conscious effort to sign good special teams players in the offseason, including wide receiver Russell Shepard, safety Michael Thomas, wide receiver Cody Latimer, and cornerback Teddy Williams.

ON THE BUBBLE: Everyone. Kickers don’t need to know schemes or playbooks. They are easily replaceable if a decent one hits the waiver wire. The 2019 7th rounder the Giants gave the Broncos for Riley Dixon is a conditional pick. So he’s not safe. The Giants kick and punt returners also may not be on the roster yet.

FROM THE COACHES: Special Teams Coordinator Thomas McGaughey on Michael Thomas: “Absolutely (one of the best special teams players in the NFL). Mike is the ultimate competitor, he does an outstanding job in the coverage game, he’s a smart player…Mike is a high impact player and we look forward to him making big plays.”

McGaughey on Aldrick Rosas: “I see a kid that was a rookie last year and like most rookies in this league, they’re inconsistent. It’s rare where you see a rookie that just comes in and just rips it up just walking through the door. He’s young and like Dave Gettleman always says, we’re not going to give up on talent. He’s a talented guy and there’s some things that he can do that a lot of people can’t do and I think there’s some talent there and we’re going to work with that talent.”

Head Coach Pat Shurmur on whether or not he would risk Saquon Barkley on returns: “He’ll perform return duties – typically, not normally your first returner.”

PREDICTIONS: Special teams studs Cody Latimer and Mike Thomas should really help the coverage units. More linebackers on the roster such as Lorenzo Carter should also help. Riley Dixon most likely will be the punter. If Aldrick Rosas is shaky in the preseason, look for the Giants to make a move either by trade or picking up a discarded veteran. Who returns kickoffs? Who returns punts? With so many unknowns, Thomas McGaughey is not in an enviable position.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: At this point, it would appear Riley Dixon will be the punter. The Giants obviously are pulling for Aldrick Rosas to nail down the place-kicking job. Are the returners even on the roster? If the answer is yes, Kalif Raymond probably makes the team.