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 seven 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.

Jul 122018
 
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Eli Apple, New York Giants (May 21, 2018)

Eli Apple – © 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

2017 YEAR IN REVIEW: Coming off a year in 2016 when THREE New York Giants earned All-Pro honors, everyone expected the secondary to be a team strength in 2017. Instead, there was turmoil on and off the field. The team’s top three cornerbacks were suspended for violating team rules and conduct detrimental to the team. 2016 1st-rounder Eli Apple regressed terribly, was benched, and started only seven games. All-Pro Dominique Rodgers Cromartie saw his pass defenses plummet from 21 and six interceptions in 2016, to just one pass defense and no interceptions in 2017. All-Pro Janoris Jenkins was nagged by an ankle injury that eventually landed him on IR and required surgery. The only bright spot at corner was the surprise play of Ross Cockrell, who the Giants traded for in September. It got so bad that Brandon Dixon ended up starting five games for the Giants.

At safety, All-Pro Landon Collins also regressed, bothered by a nagging ankle injury he suffered in early October and then fracturing his arm in December. While he made the Pro Bowl, he didn’t have the impact season he had the previous year. After spending his rookie season on IR, Darian Thompson started 16 games, but he lacked physicality and didn’t make many plays. Andrew Adams saw his playing time decrease, but still played in all 16 games with four starts. Nevertheless, Thompson and Adams combined for only eight pass defenses and one interception on the season. Once again, Nat Berhe was a non-factor with just 12 tackles in 15 games.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants cut Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in March and Brandon Dixon in May. Ross Cockrell and Nat Berhe left the team in free agency. Corner Darryl Morris remains unsigned and won’t be back.

The Giants signed free agents CB/S Curtis Riley, S Michael Thomas, CB Teddy Williams, CB C.W. Webb, CB William Gay, S Orion Stewart, and CB Chris Lewis-Harris during the spring as well as rookie free agents CB Grant Haley and S Sean Chandler after the draft.

The surprise move was the team selecting CB Sam Beal in the 3rd round of the 2018 Supplemental Draft.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The transaction wire this offseason was dominated by defensive back moves, but the ultimate success or failure of the secondary in 2018 will largely depend on whether or not Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Landon Collins can rebound. We’ll have to see where Jenkins’ head is after it was revealed that his brother allegedly killed a man in his home. Collins needed a second surgery to repair his arm fracture and was limited in the spring. Much media and fan focus will be on Eli Apple, who almost ran himself off of the team but so far has been acting and practicing much better. If Jenkins and Collins can revert to All-Pro form and Apple can become a viable starting NFL corner, then the other issues in the secondary will be much easier to deal with. If not, the Giants could be rough shape here.

The quick demise and subsequent release of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie left a huge hole in the secondary. Until the Supplemental Draft, Dave Gettleman’s approach at corner had been to sign quantity over quality, hoping to strike lightning in a bottle. That changed with the selection of Sam Beal. Nevertheless, the team still needs to identify a nickel corner.

At safety, who starts opposite of Landon Collins? During the last mini-camp, with Collins and Darian Thompson on the sidelines, ex-CB Curtis Riley and Andrew Adams were playing at safety with the first team. Newcomers Michael Thomas, Orion Stewart, and Sean Chandler also now join the competition.

ON THE BUBBLE: Other than Janoris Jenkins, Landon Collins, and Sam Beal, no one is completely safe. Eli Apple is likely to make it unless he has another mental implosion simply because the Giants are weak at the position and Apple still has a tremendous amount of upside. Not only do all of the other players have to worry about current competition on the roster, but look for the Giants to actively scan the waiver wire all summer. Some of the new journeymen vets are good special teams players and that will help their cause, most notably Michael Thomas.

FROM THE COACHES AND GM: Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher on Curtis Riley: “Curtis is a guy that, we all know he’s played corner, so he’s got really great feet and hips and range. And the thing I’m probably most proud of him about is how he’s picked it up playing safety because that’s a change, when you go from playing outside, to go inside. And some of the checks and the communication and one minute you’re in the post, the next minute you’re down, or you’re playing in the half field, or you’re blitzing off the edge and some of the different duties that our safeties have to handle here. He’s done a really nice job with that. So, I’m excited for him, getting to training camp just like all these guys, and he’s competing his butt off with a group of guys that I’ve really seen grow over these last two months.”

Bettcher on William Gay: “A pro’s pro. He is a pro’s pro. Everything that when we talked about having Will join us, anyone that you talk to, loves his work ethic, loves the seriousness and the professional mentality that he brings to the room. He is going to ask great questions, going to be very engaged, has done a great job with some of our younger players. And (taught) some of our guys that are three- and four-year players, about how to have longevity in this league and play at a high level. He knows what a great defense looks like from the inside and we’re excited to have him here working with us.”

Bettcher on Landon Collins: “I look at him as a guy – we had some guys in Arizona, Tyvon Branch and before Tyvon we had Tony Jefferson who played strong safety for us who could play both high, could play down in the box, could cover tight ends, could blitz off the edge. That’s what I see with Landon, a guy who is very versatile in what he can do. You might see a snap where he’s down covering a tight end in the box, you might see a snap where he’s in the half field playing deep or in the middle of the field playing deep or you might see snaps where he’s blitzing off the edge. I think that’s the versatility a guy like him lends and that’s something that as you look and study defenses across the league and you talk to offensive guys of what gives them trouble, it’s players that have that versatility – that one snap they’re down in the box and the next snap they’re playing high. That kind of versatility gives offenses trouble and I’m excited to have a chance to work with him.”

Bettcher on Eli Apple: “Very talented player. I did like him when he was coming out in the draft, really liked his skill set. He’s a guy who can play man, who can press, who can play zone defense in space, who can break on the ball.”

Head Coach Pat Shurmur on the competition at cornerback: “Well, it’s competitive. We were talking about it this morning. I was sitting with James (Bettcher), just going back over the roster. It’s going to be competitive to see whose going to be, in my mind, our third, fourth and fifth corner. We’ve got some candidates who are doing some really good things. And then they’re going to have to have a role. Certainly, when teams are in base and we’ve got Jackrabbit (Janoris Jenkins) and Eli (Apple) out there. But then when teams go to nickel, which is more than half the time, there’s going to have to be a guy step up. And we’ll just have to find the role, and whoever that guy is, we’ve got to do the things that fit what he can do best.”

General Manager Dave Gettleman on Sam Beal: “We’re very, very excited about getting Sam in the draft. He’s long, he’s very athletic for a corner, he has all the physical skills, he can carry the vertical, he has very good play speed, he shows instincts out there, he has ball awareness, he doesn’t panic when the ball is thrown at his guy, and he is a very willing tackler. We just feel it gives us a really talented young kid with the ability to ascend.”

PREDICTIONS: As long as the injury bug doesn’t hit (a big if), the Giants are not in as dire straits here as many think. Janoris Jenkins and Landon Collins are two of the best players at their respective positions in the NFL. Eli Apple seems poised for a rebound year. Acquiring Sam Beal in the Supplemental Draft was a bold move that may fill a glaring need. The two big questions are finding a free safety to complement Collins and a nickel corner. My guess is that William Gay takes on an Everson Walls-type leadership role and adequately handles the nickel spot. Curtis Riley, Darian Thompson, Andrew Adams, and Michael Thomas most likely will be battling it out for the free safety position, unless someone else shakes free on the waiver wire.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: We’re going to hear a common refrain from fans throughout the preseason… “Who are these guys?” My guess is that Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, Sam Beal, William Gay, and Grant Haley make it at cornerback. At safety, Landon Collins, Curtis Riley, Michael Thomas, and the winner of the Darian Thompson/Andrew Adams competition. That being said, I would not be surprised to see one or two waiver-wire pick-ups in the defensive backfield.

Jul 092018
 
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Alec Ogletree, New York Giants (June 12, 2018)

Alec Ogletree – © 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

2017 YEAR IN REVIEW: As previously mentioned in our defensive line preview, one of the reasons why 2017 was such a huge disappointment was that a defense that was supposed to be the strength of the team fell from 10th in yards allowed in 2016 to 31st. Scoring defense fell from 2nd in 2016 to 27th. New York’s run defense was 27th in the NFL, allowing over 120 yards per game on average. Pass defense was 31st, allowing over 250 yards per game on average.

The problems were across the board. The defensive line and secondary were supposed to very good. They weren’t. At best, the linebackers were supposed to be average. They weren’t even that. An entire generation of New York Giants fans has now grown up without witnessing a good linebacking corps on their team. Jessie Armstead and Antonio Pierce were anomalies during the last three decades.

One would be hard-pressed to remember ANY plays made by Jonathan Casillas, Keenan Robinson, B.J. Goodson, Devon Kennard, Calvin Munson, and Kelvin Sheppard in 2017. Injuries were a major issue as Casillas, Robinson, and Goodson missed a ton of games.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: There was a much-needed house-cleaning. Of the 13 linebackers currently on the roster, only four played with the team at that position in 2017 (B.J. Goodson, Calvin Munson, Mark Herzlich, and Ray-Ray Armstrong). And re-signing Herzlich was somewhat surprising.

The Giants showed zero interest in re-signing former starters Jonathan Casillas, Keenan Robinson, and Kelvin Sheppard. It’s quite telling that all three STILL remain unemployed. The Giants also did not attempt to re-sign Akeem Ayers, Curtis Grant, and Deontae Skinner, who remain unsigned as well. Devon Kennard signed with the Detroit Lions.

The Giants traded away 4th and 6th round picks to the Rams for Alec Ogletree. The team’s first major signing in free agency was Kareem Martin from the Cardinals. Lorenzo Carter was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2018 NFL Draft. The team also signed street free agent Thurston Armbrister and rookie free agent Tae Davis.

And by transitioning to the 3-4 defense, the Giants have now shifted their best pass rusher – Olivier Vernon – from defensive end to linebacker. Defensive ends Avery Moss, Romeo Okwara, and Jordan Williams are also now at linebacker.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: After a quarter of a century of playing in the 4-3 defense, the New York Giants are shifting back to the 3-4. There is now an emphasis on acquiring linebackers as well as a new type of linebacker. It is no coincidence that Dave Gettleman traded away two picks for a linebacker. Or that Kareem Martin was the first player signed in free agency. Or that the Giants drafted Lorenzo Carter in the 3rd round (and tried to trade up into the 2nd round to draft him). In addition, the shift to the 3-4 led the Giants to trading away Jason Pierre-Paul and moving Oliver Vernon to outside linebacker. This defense is now predicated on the linebackers being the play makers. This is foreign territory for an entire generation of Giants fans. In 2018, the team’s leading sacker should be a linebacker. Linebackers are now expected to lead the team in tackles for losses and impact plays. Mark my words, it is only now a matter of time before the Giants draft a linebacker in the 1st round, something they haven’t done since 1984.

Perhaps the biggest issue on defense is the successful transition of Oliver Vernon from defensive end to linebacker. For this defense to be effective, Vernon has to become the team’s best pass rusher from the outside linebacker spot. While he will mostly be moving forward, and at times will be shifted to defensive end in some pass-rush packages, he needs to be able handle playing in space or opposing teams will target him. Vernon has some experience in this role from his days with the Miami Dolphins, but this is a big adjustment. Vernon also has to stay healthy, something he hasn’t been able to do since joining the Giants in 2016.

There are some people who feel Alec Ogletree is best suited for outside linebacker, but he has already been designated as the defense’s leader from one of the inside linebacker spots. A mobile athlete, Ogletree will be complemented by the more physical thumper B.J. Goodson right next to him. Ogletree could thrive with 1,000 pounds of defensive linemen in front of him. Goodson needs to stay healthy and improve his pass coverage.

Flying under the radar is Kareem Martin, whose overall stats in Arizona were unimpressive. But James Bettcher loves the former defensive end and thinks he is just scratching the surface of his ability as a linebacker. Regardless, he could be pressed by Lorenzo Carter, who has rare athletic ability.

Long story short… the linebackers are back baby!

ON THE BUBBLE: There is a decent chance that the Giants will now carry as many as eight linebackers. Barring the unforeseen, Olivier Vernon, Alec Ogletree, B.J. Goodson, Kareem Martin, and Lorenzo Carter make the team, leaving probably two or three spots for Romeo Okwara, Avery Moss, Jordan Williams, Mark Herzlich, Calvin Munson, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Thurston Armbrister, and Tae Davis.

FROM THE COACHES AND PLAYERS: Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher on the team’s defense: “I think each and every down we might look different on defense. But again, I’ll tell you what – I can’t tell you today who we’re going to be on defense and really what we’re going to look like until we get through training camp, until we get into meetings, until we actually get on the field, until we don’t just play some basketball on grass in the offseason program. Until we get to training camp and we have helmets and pads on and we’re striking and separating and playing off of blocks and what we’re really going to look like. But yeah, there are certainly some 3-4 principles if that’s a term we want to use. There are certainly some 4-3 principles if that’s a term you want to use. At the end of the day, it’s about playing hard with a relentless mindset, playing fast, playing physical and being a smart football team.”

Kareem Martin on the team’s defense: “We’re gonna have a lot of exotic schemes, a lot of guys coming, mixing up the fronts, just so guys won’t get a bead on where we’re coming from and it’s gonna I think cause for a lot of havoc in the backfield.”

Alec Ogletree on James Bettcher: “He’s definitely a linebackers coach, for sure. That’s what he started as. So, for us, he definitely puts it on us to lead the group, and we put it on ourselves as well to be that leader and be that dominant voice out there and get everybody ready and set to run the plays. We definitely take that responsibility.”

Bettcher on Oliver Vernon: “OV, we know is a dynamic guy. A guy that can rush from different angles, a guy that you can move around and put in different match-ups. And he’s embraced everything that we’ve done to this point. I’ve loved working with him and I think he’s making some great progress, not just in this scheme, but I think as I’ve looked at him as a player, he’s sharpening his tools right now.”

Kareem Martin on Olivier Vernon: “Real smooth football player. He’s just a natural, just really fluid player. He does some things I haven’t seen guys do before, one of the strongest linebackers I’ve played with, and just to see him be able to do some of the things and contort his body has just been amazing.”

Bettcher on Alec Ogletree: “You watch his play and I’m not just talking about his ability to make tackles or run down things on the sideline, I’m talking about his play, his mindset, his physicality at which he plays the game, how hard and passionate he plays the game. Those were some of the first things that jumped off the charts for me when we had a chance to get him here. Certainly excited about him as a leader and a guy that is going to bring a ton of energy to our room.”

Bettcher on Kareem Martin: “One of the most improved players that I’ve ever been around.”

PREDICTIONS: While this is going to be more of a hybrid defense than pure, old-fashioned 3-4, this is still going to be a bit of a culture shock for any fan under 40 years old. Linebackers setting the edge, getting into the backfield, creating turnovers, sacking the quarterback. Linebackers actually making plays! If everyone can stay healthy (ahem Vernon and Goodson), on paper, this looks like a potentially strong group. The two inside linebackers complement each other well. Olivier Vernon is no LT, but he will be expected to take on that type of pass-rush role while Kareem Martin does more of the dirty work (à la Carl Banks). Both will also be employed from the down position quite a bit. The wild card is Lorenzo Carter who I am willing to bet will press for pass rush snaps fairly early, either from a standup or down position.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Olivier Vernon, Alec Ogletree, B.J. Goodson, Kareem Martin, and Lorenzo Carter are the obvious ones to make it. Avery Moss looks the part of a 3-4 pass-rush linebacker, but missed the spring rehabbing an injury. Word has it that Romeo Okwara looked pretty good in the spring workouts. Is there room for both? Finding depth inside could be a challenge. The leading candidates are Calvin Munson, Ray-Ray Armstrong, and possibly even Mark Herzlich. A waiver-wire pick-up here might be in the cards. Special teams ability will be key for anyone looking to make the final 53.

Jul 052018
 
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B.J. Hill, New York Giants (June 12, 2018)

B.J. Hill – © 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

2017 YEAR IN REVIEW: One of the reasons why 2017 was such a huge disappointment was that a defense that was supposed to be the strength of the team fell from 10th in yards allowed in 2016 to 31st. Worse, scoring defense fell from 2nd in 2016 to 27th.

In 2017, New York’s run defense was 27th in the NFL, allowing over 120 yards per game on average. Pass defense was 31st, allowing over 250 yards per game on average. These numbers are so bad that every position and the coaching staff must share responsibility.

Two position groups were supposed to carry the defense: the defensive line and the secondary, covering up for a linebacking corps that has been considered sub par for years. Both groups failed miserably. Up front, not only could the Giants not stop the run, but they couldn’t rush the passer either. Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon were paid huge sums of money to get after the quarterback, yet finished with a total of 15 sacks. These numbers look even worse when one realizes that JPP and Olivier were each held sackless in 10 games. And after these two, the rest of the line had an embarrassing 4.5 sacks in 16 games. Sometimes sacks are overrated if your pass rushers are getting hits on the quarterback. But the Giants were 27th in quarterback hits with 70 – or a little over four per game.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants traded Jason Pierre-Paul to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March. The team also let Jay Bromley walk in free agency. The Giants re-signed Kerry Wynn and Robert Thomas in free agency, as well as signing newcomers Josh Mauro (Cardinals) and A.J. Francis (Redskins). The Giants drafted B.J. Hill (3rd round) and R.J. McIntosh (5th round) in the 2018 NFL Draft. Tyrell Chavis was signed as a rookie free agent.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: After a quarter of a century of playing in the 4-3 defense, the New York Giants are shifting back to the 3-4. While it won’t be the Giants’ old 2-gap system, and the team will shift at times back to the 4-3, the switch is a big deal. We’ve already seen the fallout with the personnel department acquiring more 3-4-type defensive linemen and linebackers. Because the Giants will play a hybrid defense, and because in the 3-4 the outside linebackers tend to be more forward-movers, defining who is a defensive end, nose tackle, defensive tackle, and even linebacker becomes more complicated and partially moot. For example, even back in 1980s, one could argue Lawrence Taylor was a glorified standup defensive end. When you hear the coaches now talking about 5-man fronts, they are not talking about just defensive linemen, but the outside linebackers.

What we do know is this, Damon Harrison will be the starting nose tackle. Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill are likely to be the starting defensive ends, especially with Josh Mauro starting the year with a 4-game suspension. Meanwhile, Olivier Vernon, Romeo Okwara, and Avery Moss are with the linebackers now. When the Giants go the 4-3 in certain pass-rush packages, expect these three to put their hand in the dirt.

On paper, the trio of Tomlinson, Harrison, and Hill up front seems imposing and a problem for opposing teams that want to establish the run. The good news is that Tomlinson and Harrison have previous experience in similar systems so the adjustment should not be that difficult for them. Hill’s college coaches talk about his position flexibility and he has impressed his new coaches and teammates with the Giants. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher brought defensive end Josh Mauro and hyrid linebacker/defensive end Kareem Martin over from his old team with him. Base-defense depth could be an issue if any of the starters get hurt.

The big question is are there any pass rushers in this group? Can Tomlinson and Hill get any heat on the quarterback from the 3-4 defensive end spots? Bettcher has also said they will work to get Harrison more favorable one-on-one match-ups rather than facing constant double teams. In a traditional 3-4 system, the pass rush usually comes from the outside linebackers (Olivier Vernon, Kareem Martin, Lorenzo Carter, etc.), but these guys will also put their hands in the dirt in certain packages. Regardless of style of defense or position, the team must get heat on the passer in order to be a good defense.

ON THE BUBBLE: Damon Harrison, Dalvin Tomlinson, and B.J. Hill are the sure bets. Normally, R.J. McIntosh would be too, but he has been sidelined all spring with a mysterious ailment and still remains unsigned. The Giants knew about Mauro’s 4-game suspension when they signed him so he will likely make the team. If Harrison were to get hurt, Tomlinson and Hill could probably play nose tackle, but finding another 3-4-type reserve is important. Robert Thomas and A.J. Francis will probably be battling each other for one of these spots. Kerry Wynn had a good spring, but I’m not sure where his body type fits on this defense. Josh Banks, who spent last year on IR, was also active in the spring workouts. He faces an uphill climb as do Kristjan Sokoli, Jordan Williams, and Tyrell Chavis.

FROM THE COACHES AND PLAYERS: Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher on his defensive line: “I think B.J.’s (Hill) really coming along. I’m really excited with where he’s at right now…(Hill, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Damon Harrison) have done a great job for us and I think Kerry Wynn has had a really, really good offseason and excited to see him in pads. Josh (Mauro), (A.J.) Francis, the list can go on. Robert (Thomas). I’m going to leave guys out if I keep going. But I’ll say this: I’m excited about where that group is at right now, but more importantly I’m excited about putting some pads on and seeing where we’re really at.”

Bettcher on if B.J. Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson can rush the passer: “I do think so. I do think so. And one of the things when we drafted B.J., that was part of us selecting him because we thought he has a potential to be a three-down player. Whether that’s a middle push guy, whether that’s a guy that can beat some guards and create some disruption for either edge players, or edge pressure guys. Dalvin’s the same kind of player. Has some slipperiness to him, has the ability to get on edges. Excited to get to – again, I keep saying that, but I’m anxious to get to training camp to really see where some of that’s at. But I do expect those guys to be able to help us.”

Bettcher on Damon Harrison: “We went and looked initially, all the one-on-ones that he had in the run game, and there wasn’t anyone that blocked him one-on-one in the run game. And I think what he’ll find and what we’ll find is we’ll be able to get him some one-on-ones. Whether that’s matched up on a center, on a guard, we’ll be able to get him some one-on-ones in the run game.”

Damon Harrison on B.J. Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson: “He can play. He can play and that’s the first thing our defensive line coach told me when I got here. He said, ‘You’re going to love 95.’ He said, ‘He can play.’ So, I got out here and I’ve been watching him. He’s strong and he’s got some wiggle to him and he has some move to him. So, that’s somebody else who I think with some time and a little more experience will be a dominant player in this league, as well as Dalvin Tomlinson, who I think will take the next step this year.”

PREDICTIONS: Perhaps I’m too guilty of drinking the offseason Kool-Aid, but I’m very optimistic about the team’s starting front three if they can stay healthy. Dalvin Tomlinson, Damon Harrison, and B.J. Hill are not only a combined 1,000 pounds of muscle up front, but they are darn good. There aren’t many teams in this league that can field three players of this caliber. James Bettcher’s 3-4 system is not a two-gap system where the responsibility of the linemen is to absorb blocks and allow the linebackers to make a play. Bettcher’s system is a penetrating defense where he will look to create favorable one-on-one match-ups. The Giants (and Bettcher) are very fortunate to have had two players (Harrison and Tomlinson) on the roster with 3-4 position versatility. Drafting B.J. Hill simply completed the picture. THIS is what enabled the team to move forward with the new scheme. For the first time in decades, the Giants have the TYPE of players to play the 3-4.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: It is difficult to predict how many defensive linemen the Giants will carry because of the hybrid nature of the defense and the hybrid nature of many of the players in this defense. Personally, I would prefer the team carry at least five true defensive tackle types (three starters and two reserves) beyond any other situational players. The three starters are Harrison, Tomlinson, Hill. Mauro will start the year on the suspension list so he won’t count against the roster. McIntosh is a question mark at this point because of his health too. Right now, if you put a gun to my head, I would guess Kerry Wynn, Robert Thomas, and McIntosh make the September team. But Thomas could be pressed by Francis. And Josh Banks could sneak onto this roster… he’s physically well suited for a 3-4 end.

Jul 022018
 
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Will Hernandez, New York Giants (May 11, 2018)

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

2017 YEAR IN REVIEW: No other position epitomizes the futility of the New York Giants since their last Super Bowl appearance than the team’s offensive line. It is a myth to say that Jerry Reese and Marc Ross ignored the position. Instead, one could argue that their demise was largely due to the allocation of significant draft and free agent resources with negative returns.

2017 was supposed to be the year that the three premium draft picks (Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, Ereck Flowers), signed and then re-signed John Jerry, and self-proclaimed “best right tackle in football” Bobby Hart turned a team weakness into at the very least a middle-of-the-pack unit. However, once again, the Giants offensive line was one of the worst in the NFL. The line couldn’t protect Eli Manning (31 sacks, the second most in his career despite an offensive system predicated on the short passing game) or open holes for running backs (26th in rushing). Justin Pugh talked a big game (again) and got hurt (again), missing half the season. Weston Richburg only started four games before ending up on IR with a concussion that he insisted wasn’t IR-worthy. Ereck Flowers – punching bag for fans and opposing pass rushers – struggled mightily both at the beginning and end of the season, and was benched. John Jerry played all 16 games (12 at left guard) but remained a soft player. D.J. Fluker started six games at right guard, performing reasonably well as a road grader, but was placed on IR in November with a toe injury. By the end of the year, you had guys like Jon Halapio (six starts at right guard), Brett Jones (12 starts at center), and Chad Wheeler (three starts at right tackle, one at left tackle) manning the front wall.

The Giants have been a soft, finesse offensive football team for years because of their offensive line play.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Bobby Hart was cut before 2017 was over. The Giants made no effort to re-sign Justin Pugh (2013 1st-round pick) and Weston Richburg (2014 2nd-round draft pick). D.J. Fluker signed a 1-year contract with the Seahawks. Adam Bisnowaty (2017 6th-round draft pick) was cut in May. Dave Gettleman re-signed Jon Halapio (exclusive rights), Brett Jones (restricted), John Greco (unrestricted), and Ethan Cooper (practice squad player).

The newcomers are Nate Solder (4 years, $62 million); Patrick Omameh (3 years, $15 million); Will Hernandez (2nd-round draft pick);  lesser-known “street” free agents Chris Scott, Malcolm Bunche, and Jarron Jones; and rookie free agents Nick Gates and Evan Brown.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: So now the never-ending attempt to rebuild the offensive line falls upon new shoulders. Dave Gettleman will try to accomplish what Jerry Reese failed. Enter the third new head coach and third new offensive line coach as well. To the team’s credit (but also embarrassment), they at least had the courage to part ways with most of their previous mistakes. John Jerry remains but he has already fallen out of the starting line-up. Coming out of the spring, the starters entering camp appear to be left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Will Hernandez, center Jon Halapio, right guard Patrick Omameh, and right tackle Ereck Flowers.

Most of the attention will be focused on whipping-boy Ereck Flowers, who started off on the wrong foot by throwing a hissy fit and not showing up to the early “voluntary” workouts due to his ego being bruised by the shift to right tackle. He returned once he hired a professional agent. The good news is that Nate Solder has attempted to take him under his wing. But Flowers – who the team did shop before the draft – still seems to have a learning disability when it comes to grasping three years of pro coaching. My guess is he will be on a short leash. The problem is there is no obvious replacement. Chad Wheeler flashed but was very shaky as a rookie. On paper, the other vulnerable spot is center. Brett Jones may have already fallen behind journeyman Jon Halapio, who has played with such stalwart “pro” franchises as the Boston Brawlers and Brooklyn Bolts. The Giants tried but failed to sign veteran center John Sullivan in free agency. That tells you they are concerned about the position. Don’t be surprised if the team actively scans the waiver wire throughout the year. The hard truth may be the team needs one more offseason to address two potentially glaring holes.

But while we may all be focusing on the individual component parts, the real issue is finding five starters who can form a viable, physical, and cohesive unit. And the priority appears to have changed. The offensive focus may no longer be pass blocking for Eli Manning and his targets but run blocking for Saquon Barkley. In other words, there may be a real emphasis on becoming a physical football team up front again and not just talking about it. If they don’t, then drafting Barkley with the #2 pick made little sense. New offensive line coach Hal Hunter was out of football in 2017. The pressure is on him to fix a unit that Pat Flaherty and Mike Solari couldn’t.

ON THE BUBBLE: Again, the starters coming out of the spring workouts were Nate Solder, Will Hernandez, Jon Halapio, Patrick Omameh, and Ereck Flowers. Others who received some 1st-team reps and/or quite a bit of time with the second unit were Nick Becton, John Greco, Brett Jones, John Jerry, and Chad Wheeler. Right now, though things can quickly change, these players appear to be the top candidates to make the roster. That said, except for Solder, Hernandez, and Omameh, I would be renting rather than buying a home in northern New Jersey.

FROM THE COACHES AND PLAYERS: Head Coach Pat Shurmur on Ereck Flowers: “He’s actually done a really good job. He’s an excellent athlete and he’s handling the move pretty seamlessly…I think he’s made improvements…He’s been great. He’s been communicating well, he looks like he’s having fun playing out there, he’s worked in with the offensive line and he’s done everything we’ve asked and I anticipate that will continue.”

Nate Solder on Ereck Flowers: “I have been very impressed with his character and his humility – work ethic, everything…the way he goes about his business, the way that he has put it behind him, he’s just doing his thing and he’s trying hard and he cares and he’s asking questions. He is doing everything that you would want a guy to do.”

Shurmur on Jon Halapio: “Yeah, he has done a very good job. Pio is very smart, he’s got good instincts – he snaps the ball well…He does all of those things well and he’s very competitive and he knows how to play the game. I think (Brett) Jonesey is doing the same thing. They’re just in there competing. I wouldn’t over-evaluate who is getting the first team reps, but I think if you’re talking about Pio specifically, he has really sort of opened his eyes that he has a chance to play.”

PREDICTIONS: The strength of the line should be the left side. Nate Solder should be the team’s best left tackle in years. Even without the pads on, Will Hernandez has flashed a much-needed enforcer mentality. Patrick Omameh should be a more physical presence as a run blocker at right guard than John Jerry. Center and right tackle remain the primary concerns as well as overall depth. We’ve heard all of the pleasantries about Ereck Flowers before. Now he is shifting to a spot he didn’t even play in college. There is no guarantee he will be a better player on the right side. Much rides on play. Perhaps the new chemistry in the locker room will help. It was no secret that Flowers and Bobby Hart didn’t get along with Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg. Regardless, Flowers is out of excuses.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Thank the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), but teams don’t have many practices in training camp to get ready for the season. Thus, despite what the coaches say, it is pretty telling that Hernandez was playing left guard, Omameh right guard, Flowers right tackle, and Halapio center for the latter half of the offseason program. These four (plus obviously Nate Solder at left tackle) have to be considered the favorites to start right now at those specific positions. The next four appear to be John Greco, John Jerry, Brett Jones, and Chad Wheeler. But Greco and Jerry don’t offer much positional flexibility so one would appear vulnerable. My gut tells me the Giants will be adding one or two more offensive linemen from the waiver wire. A veteran swing tackle would be ideal.

Jun 282018
 
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Evan Engram, New York Giants (November 5, 2017)

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

2017 YEAR IN REVIEW: The tight end position was one of the few bright spots in another wise dreary season for the New York Giants in 2017. Despite a bad case of the dropsies, rookie tight end Evan Engram led the team with 64 catches for a near team-high 722 yards and a team-high six touchdown receptions. Rhett Ellison may have been overpaid and underutilized, but he was solid contributor as a blocker and receiver. He caught a career-high 24 passes, which made him the 7th-highest receptions leader on the team. Jerell Adams was the third tight end and finished the year with eight catches.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The top three tight ends from last year – Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, and Jerell Adams – all return. The Giants also retained late-season addition Ryan O’Malley. The newcomers are January waiver-wire pick-up Kyle Carter from the Vikings, ex-Raider and ex-Panther Scott Simonson, and rookie free agent Garrett Dickerson. Carter and Dickerson are built more like H-Backs than traditional in-line tight ends.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: While most of the eyes of the media and fans will be focused on Odell Beckham and Saquon Barkley, the development of Evan Engram will be one of the most important facets of the team to watch. One gets the sense that Engram just scratched the surface of his potential in 2017. On a terrible team with few weapons, Engram produced at a level that few rookie tight ends achieve. Now with hopefully better offensive coaching, a better offensive system, and a better supporting cast, Engram should be poised to become one of the more dangerous pass-receiving tight ends in the League. A couple of under-reported aspects from the offseason workouts were (1) Eli Manning’s favorite target appeared to be Engram, and (2) Engram didn’t drop passes.

What will also be interesting to see will be how important the tight end position is in Pat Shurmur’s New York Giants offensive scheme. Most Giants fans know that Ben McAdoo was particularly wed to the three-wide receiver, one-back, one-tight end formation (or 11 personnel). Will Rhett Ellison, Jerell Adams, or others get a chance to see the field more in 2018?

Also under-reported is that the Giants have a new tight ends coach. Lunda Wells was the assistant offensive line coach for the Giants under both Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo. He now shifts to a new position.

ON THE BUBBLE: Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison are locks to make the team. Jerell Adams probably has an upper hand, but the team did bring in some players – including an ex-Viking who worked with Pat Shurmur in Minnesota – who could beat him out if he falters. At this point, it is impossible to know how important the tight end/H-Back position will be in terms of numbers of players kept on the roster. The role of fullback will be a factor too in whether or not the Giants keep three or four tight ends.

FROM THE COACHES AND PLAYERS: Tight Ends Coach Lunda Wells on Evan Engram: “He’s a guy that we all understand he has a unique skillset in terms of the pass game, but he’s a very sharp kid and he can do a little bit of it all. I can’t say that I can see him as just a guy that is split out because I think we’d be doing an injustice to him because he is a very sharp kid and a willing blocker and a guy that’s willing to do everything that goes into it. He’s a guy that we can play at the Y-tight end, we can split him out. I think you’re going to see some of that this year in terms of him being able to play in a lot of different spots.”

Head Coach Pat Shurmur on Evan Engram: “The fact that we have a pass catching tight end is something that is very valuable to a team because now a defense has to decide when you have two tight ends and him being one of them, him being Evan, that are they going to stay base or play nickel? And then the chess game begins from there.”

Evan Engram on year two: “The thing I’ve noticed, just being out here, going full-speed, is that the game is a lot more slowed down. The game has slowed down a lot. And that’s allowing me to kind of dig deeper into my bag of route techniques, or getting open and being able to focus more on the run game and getting stronger and just getting more comfortable out there. Last year, I kind of was, head was on a swivel a lot, the game was so fast and I wasn’t used to it. But just having a year under my belt and kind of getting thrown into some tough situations last year definitely helps slow the game down and allowed me to kind of focus on a lot of the little things and enhance my talents to be a better player.”

PREDICTIONS: I think there is a good chance that Evan Engram once again leads the team in catches and touchdown receptions. I think he will also break the 1,000-yard mark in receiving yards.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: The same three from last year – Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, and Jerell Adams. The Giants could carry four tight ends which would help the chances of one of the other four players.