Feb 072017
 
Share Button
Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (November 14, 2016)

Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The New York Giants running backs finished the 2015 season 18th in rushing with 100.6 yards per game and averaging 4.0 yards per rush. The Giants rushed for only five touchdowns. The leading rushers on the team that year were Rashad Jennings (863 yards, three touchdowns), Shane Vereen (260 yards, zero touchdowns), Andre Williams (257 yards, one touchdown), and Orleans Darkwa (153 yards one touchdown). In addition, Vereen proved a significant weapon in the passing game with 59 catches for 494 yards and four touchdowns. Jennings also contributed with 29 catches for 296 yards and one touchdown.

Despite the mediocre rushing numbers, there was optimism entering the 2016 season. Half of Jennings’ 2015 yardage (432 yards) came in the last four games of the season. The ground game – led by Jennings – seemed to peaking behind a young and improving offensive line that would remain intact coming into 2016. In addition, replacing the disappointing Andre Williams with 5th rounder Paul Perkins appeared to an upgrade. Vereen was coming off of his best pro season and expected to continue to serve a duo-purpose threat. And the Giants signed veteran hybrid fullback/tight end Will Johnson to mount a significant challenge to fullback Nikita Whitlock.

In reality, the 2016 results were a kick to the nuts. The Giants ground game not only worsened, but it fell to 29th with a paltry 88.2 yards per game and averaging 3.5 yards per rush. The Giants rushed for only six touchdowns. And pass receptions by running backs fell from 92 catches for 828 yards and five touchdowns in 2015 to 83 catches for 622 yards and one touchdown in 2016.

Why the drop? Inconsistent blocking by the offensive line and tight ends was a factor. The improvement by the line – under new offensive like coach Mike Solari – never occurred. There was not a strong blocking tight end on the team. In addition, both fullbacks were lost to injury for the season before it began and the team carried no fullbacks on the roster. As such, the Giants “bread-and-butter” running play was out of the shotgun formation.

But truth be told, it also became painfully clear that while a good guy and a strong locker room presence, Jennings was no more than an aging, backup-at-best halfback who rarely created yardage on his own either by elusiveness or breaking tackles. Starting 12-of-16 regular-season games, Jennings only averaged 3.3 yards per carry. Vereen missed the bulk of the season with a triceps injury that he also re-injured, and his absence in the passing game was very noticeable. Bobby Rainey replaced him but only had 20 receptions. Orleans Darkwa started two games but only received 30 carries and got hurt again. The only real bright spot was Perkins, but he was not a significant factor until December, gaining 271 of his 456 rushing yards in his last four regular-season games.

Yeah, the blocking was a factor, but this was also a very mediocre-at-best group of running backs.

THE STARTER

Rashad Jennings saw his production drop dramatically in 2016 after having his most productive year in the NFL in 2015. Jennings’ rushing yards (from 863 to 593) and yards per carry (from 4.4 to 3.3) fell precipitously with only three rushing touchdowns in each season. Jennings did catch six more passes (from 29 to 35) but his yards per catch dropped nearly in half (from 10.2 to 5.7). Jennings was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He signed with the Oakland Raiders in 2013 and the Giants in 2014. Jennings missed five games with the Giants in 2014 due to knee and ankle problems. He started all 16 games in 2015, but missed three games in 2016 with a thumb injury. Jennings has good size, but he does not run with much vision, quickness, or power. Jennings does not create much yardage on his own either through elusiveness or tackle-breaking ability. He is a solid pass blocker and has good hands as a receiver. Jennings is a hard worker and a good presence in the locker room. He has had issues staying healthy throughout his career.

THE RESERVES

Paul Perkins was drafted by the Giants in the 5th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. As a rookie, Perkins played in 14 regular-season games with one start (regular-season finale). He also started the playoff game. Perkins finished the regular season with 112 carries for 456 yards (4.1 yards per carry) and 15 catches for 162 yards (10.8 yards per catch). Perkins lacks ideal size and speed but he has good vision, quick feet, and cutting ability. Perkins is a tough runner who plays bigger than his size, but he is not a powerful runner. He catches the ball well.

The Giants signed Bobby Rainey as an unrestricted free agent from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in April 2016.  He played in 15 games with no starts and finished the season with 17 carries for 63 yards (3.7 yards per carry) and 20 catches for 153 yards (7.6 yards per catch). Rainey also returned six punts (6.5 yards per return) and eight kickoffs (25.5 yards per return). Rainey was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Baltimore Ravens after the 2012 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Ravens (2012), Cleveland Browns (2013), and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2013-2015). Rainey lacks size, but he is a well-built runner with good quickness. He lacks power and has had issues with ball security with 13 career fumbles. Rainey catches the ball well and has experience as a punt and kickoff returner.

Orleans Darkwa was placed on Injured Reserve in November 2016 with a lower leg injury. Darkwa played in 10 games with two starts for the Giants in 2016. He carries the ball 30 times for 111 yards (3.7 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 12 yards. Darkwa was originally signed by the Miami Dolphins as a rookie free agent after the 2014 NFL Draft. He played in four games in September before being waived in October and signed to the team’s Practice Squad. The Giants signed him off of Miami’s Practice Squad in November 2014. Darkwa has average size and overall athletic ability, but he is a very physical, instinctive between-the-tackles runner. He lacks elusiveness and the ability to create on his own. Darkwa has good hands despite having only 10 career receptions.

The Giants signed George Winn to the 53-man roster in late December 2016. Winn was originally signed by the Houston Texans as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2013 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Texans (2013), New England Patriots (2013), Oakland Raiders (2013), Pittsburgh Steelers (2013), Dallas Cowboys (2013), and Detroit Lions (2014–2016). The Giants signed him to their Practice Squad in November 2016 and cut him in mid-December. Winn has played in 19 regular-season games with no starts, accruing just 74 yards on 23 carries (3.2 yards per carry). Winn is a hard-nosed, between-the-tackles runner. Good special teams player.

PRACTICE SQUAD

Jacob Huesman was signed to the Practice Squad in late December 2016. Huesman is a former quarterback who the Giants are converting to running back. He was not drafted in 2016, and not signed after the draft despite working out for the Steelers and Titans. Huesman had a brief stint with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL. He has good size for a running back and was productive in college running with the football as a quarterback.

INJURED RESERVE

Shane Vereen was placed on Injured Reserve (IR) in September 2016 with a triceps injury that required surgery, activated back off of IR in December, and then placed on IR again that same month after re-injuring his triceps and needing surgery again. Vereen was originally selected in the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. The Giants signed him as a free agent in March 2015. In 2015, serving as the team’s third-down back and playing in all 16 games with no starts, Vereen had his most productive year in the NFL as a pass receiver. He caught a career-high 59 passes for 495 yards and four touchdowns. It was the most receptions by a Giants running back in a single season since Tiki Barber. Vereen also carried the ball 61 times for 260 yards (4.3 yards per carry). However, Vereen played in just five games in 2016 and finished the season with 33 rushes for 158 yards (4.8 yards per carry) and 11 catches for 94 yards. Vereen lacks ideal size and power, but he is an elusive back with good vision and quickness. Vereen is one of the better pass-catching backs in the NFL as he runs good routes and has good hands. He is also solid in pass protection. Vereen has proven to be somewhat injury prone.

The Giants placed Will Johnson on Injured Reserve in early September 2016 with a burner that he suffered in the first preseason game. The Giants signed Johnson as an unrestricted free agent from the Pittsburgh Steelers in April 2016. Johnson was not drafted and signed with the Steelers in 2012. In four seasons with the Steelers, Johnson only missed one regular-season game, and started 20 contests. He has 31 career receptions for 235 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson is versatile with the ability to play H-Back, tight end, and fullback. He is a good lead blocker who can also catch the football. Johnson is a solid special teams player.

The Giants waived/injured Nikita Whitlock in late August 2016 and then placed him on Injured Reserve with a mid-foot sprain (Lisfranc) that required surgery. He was then suspended in September 2016 for 10 games by the NFL for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances. Whitlock was originally signed by the Cincinnati Bengals as a rookie free agent after the 2014 NFL Draft, but was cut and signed by the Dallas Cowboys to their Practice Squad. The NFL suspended Whitlock in November 2014 for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs and the Cowboys terminated his Practice Squad contract. The Giants signed him to the Practice Squad in December 2014. Whitlock surprisingly beat out fullback Henry Hynoski in training camp in 2015 and ended up playing in 14 games with five starts until he was placed on Injured Reserve in December 2015 with a knee injury. He had no touches as a rusher or receiver. Whitlock has good size for a fullback and is a physical player, but he needs to become a more consistent lead blocker. A collegiate defensive tackle, Whitlock also received a limited number of snaps at defensive tackle in pass rush situations for the Giants in 2015. He finished the season with six tackles and a sack. Although Whitlock is extremely small for a defensive tackle, he gave opposing interior linemen fits at times with his quick pass rush moves. Whitlock is a good special teams player.

Feb 022017
 
Share Button
Odell Beckham, New York Giants (November 6, 2016)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

While Odell Beckham, Jr. continued his assault on the record books as one of the game’s premiere wide receivers, more was expected from this unit in 2016. It was assumed by many that the departure of the frustratingly-inconsistent Rueben Randle would be addition by subtraction. Sterling Shepard was considered a 2nd-round steal by many. And there were high expectations about the return of Victor Cruz from three injury-sabotaged seasons in a row.

In 2015, quarterback Eli Manning’s top three wide receiver targets were Beckham, Randle, and Dwayne Harris. These three totaled 189 catches for 2,643 yards, and 25 touchdowns. In 2016, Beckham, Shepard, and Cruz totaled 205 catches for 2,636 yards, and 19 touchdowns. The telling stat was there was a 24 percent decline in touchdowns.

Opponent defensive game plans were obvious and consistent: double- and sometimes even triple-team Odell Beckham and dare the Giants to beat them with their running game or passing the ball to other targets. The Giants failed to be able to make other teams pay and the passing offense fell from 7th (271.4 yards per game) to 17th (242.4 yards per game). Much of this decline had to do with the loss of running back Shane Vereen (59 catches for 494 yards and four touchdowns in 2015) and the unproductive tight ends (only 79 catches and three touchdowns as a group).

But while Beckham continued to produce, and Shepard had a respectable rookie season, it was Cruz who was the biggest disappointment. Slowed by three consecutive leg injury issues from 2013-2015, Cruz seemed miscast as an outside receiver instead of the slot position which Shepard now occupies. Cruz struggled to separate from defenders and finished the season with only one touchdown – ironically a game-winner that he scored in the opener. In other words, he was kept out of the end zone for the final 16 regular- and post-season games. Randle had 57 catches for 797 yards and eight touchdowns in 2015 as an outside receiver. Cruz had just 39 catches for 586 yards.

The nadir of Beckham’s 2016 season was obviously the playoff game. Much was expected and Beckham failed miserably to deliver (four catches for 28 yards) against a weak secondary. Exacerbating the situation – right or wrong – was his boat trip to Miami six days before the game on the players’ day off. But keep in mind that the receivers as a group went on that trip – including the veteran Cruz – and the top three all failed to perform at a high level (Cruz had three catches for 30 yards and Shepard four catches for 63 yards). None scored.

Beckham is extremely competitive and the best player on the team. But he clearly is a diva with a media target painted on his back. How much of this is self-promotion, blown out of proportion to sell newspapers, or distracting to the team are questions subject to passionate debate. If the Giants are to reach the next level, he has to continue to mature (he did with respect to his reaction to on-field taunting) and perform in the clutch in the post-season. But the Giants also have to get him more help.

THE STARTERS

Odell Beckham is one of the game’s best players and had another stellar season in his third year, starting all 16 regular-season games and finishing with 101 catches for 1,367 yards and 10 touchdowns. In his first three seasons, Beckham has accrued 288 catches for 4,122 yards and 35 touchdowns in 43 regular-season games. 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. He is able to play multiple positions, including the slot. 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, Beckham’s biggest negatives are his maturity and temperament. Beckham has a target painted on his back and has to deal with other teams trying to get under his skin. He did not play well in the playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers and suffered from more drops than usual in 2016, which may partly have been the result of a thumb injury.

Sterling 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, catching 65 passes for 683 yards (10.5 yards per catch) and eight touchdowns, mostly out of the slot. Shepard lacks ideal size, but he is strong and quick with good speed. Shepard runs good routes, is tough going over the middle, adjusts well to the football, and has good hands. He did not make many plays down the field however, with his longest reception being for 32 yards.

The good news is that Victor Cruz finally returned to the playing field in 2016 after missing most of 2014 with a career-threatening patellar tendon knee injury and all of 2015 with a calf injury – both of which required surgeries. The bad news is that Cruz no longer looks like the same player he was in 2011-2012, when he was one of the best in the game. Three lower leg surgeries in three years, including arthroscopic knee surgery in 2013, have taken their toll. In 15 regular-season games in 2016, Cruz caught just 39 passes for 586 yards and one touchdown. Signed as a rookie free agent after the 2010 NFL Draft, the rags-to-riches Victor Cruz story is well known, culminating with his impact season in 2011, first Pro Bowl in 2012, and big offseason contract in 2013. In 2011-2012, Cruz compiled 168 catches for 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns. Cruz always had ordinary size and timed speed. However, his pre-injury quickness and ability to separate from defenders appears to be gone. Cruz has good hands and is capable of making the circus catch, though he sometimes will drop the easy reception. Cruz is better suited for the slot position.

THE RESERVES

In his second year with the Giants, Dwayne Harris suffered through a frustrating, injury-plagued season. While he played in all 16 regular-season games with one start, Harris was hampered by a variety of nagging injuries all season. A year after his career-best 36 catches for 396 yards and four touchdowns, Harris caught only one pass for 13 yards and a touchdown. More importantly, his special teams return numbers plummeted with his punt return average falling from 10.0 yards to 5.9 yards and his kickoff return average falling from 28.7 yards to 24.2 yards. He also did not score a year after becoming the first Giants player in 60 years to return a kickoff and punt for a touchdown in the same season. Harris did remain a force on punt coverage and he was voted to his first Pro Bowl. Harris was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Cowboys. The Giants signed him in free agency in March 2015. Though he lacks height, Harris is a well-built athlete with decent speed and quickness. He is tough and physical and an asset as a blocker in the running game. Harris can play in the slot and has decent hands. Harris has four career returns four touchdowns and has won the “NFC Special Teams Player of the Week” award four times in his career.

The Giants signed Roger Lewis as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft. Lewis made the team and played in 13 regular-season games with one start. He finished with just seven catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns. Lewis has decent size and is a good athlete. He flashed the ability to make plays down the field but he needs to become a more consistent pro-level route runner. Lewis was utilized on special teams as a gunner on punt coverage.

Tavarres King played in seven regular-season games, finishing the year with just two catches for 50 yards. He caught three passes for 73 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown pass in the playoff loss to the Packers. King was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. He has spent time with the Broncos (2013), Panthers (2013-14), Jaguars (2014), and Buccaneers (2014-15) – playing in just two regular-season games. The Giants signed King to the Practice Squad in late September 2015. King is a tall, thin receiver with very good speed. He is not a physical player and is best suited as an outside receiver.

PRACTICE SQUAD

Darius Powe was signed to the Practice Squad in September 2016. The Giants originally signed Powe as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft. Powe is a big receiver with decent overall athleticism.

Kevin Norwood was signed to the Practice Squad in November 2016. Norwood was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. Norwood has spent time with the Seahawks (2014), Carolina Panthers (2014-2015), and San Diego Chargers (2016). The Chargers terminated his Practice Squad contract in November. Norwood has played in 10 regular-season games with two starts. He has nine career receptions for 102 yards. Norwood is a big (6’2”, 210lbs), physical possession receiver who runs good routes. He lacks ideal speed and quickness.

INJURED RESERVE

Ben Edwards was waived/injured and then placed on Injured Reserve in May 2016 after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in one of his knees during the rookie mini-camp. Injuries have plagued Edwards who tore an ACL in college in 2013, an injury that caused him to miss all of 2014; pulled his hamstring in a June 2015 mini-camp, an injury that led him to being waived/injured; and sprained his knee in an April 2016 mini-camp. The Giants originally signed Edwards after the 2015 NFL Draft, waived/injured him in June, re-signed him to the Practice Squad in November, and signed him to the 53-man roster in December. He played in the final two games of 2015 and finished the season with one catch for nine yards. Edwards lacks ideal size and timed speed, but he is a quick receiver who plays faster than he times. Edwards runs very good routes, adjusts well to the football, and has good hands. He has experience playing in the slot and returning punts.

Jan 312017
 
Share Button
Jerell Adams, New York Giants (November 14, 2016)

Jerell Adams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The West Coast Offense, particularly the Green Bay Packers version that Ben McAdoo brought to the New York Giants, is heavily dependent on the performance of the tight ends. Entering the 2016 training camp, pundits and fans outside of the organization worried that the Giants had not invested enough serious resources to address the position. Both leading candidates to start (Larry Donnell and Will Tye) were former undrafted rookie free agents. The position was not addressed in the 2016 Draft until the 6th round (Jerell Adams). The other two prospects in the picture were also undrafted free agents (Matt LaCosse and Ryan Malleck).

Based on 2016 results, those pundits and fans were right to be concerned. The poor performance of the tight ends was a major factor in the team’s offensive decline, from 8th in the NFL in 2015 to 25th in 2016. Run blocking by the tight ends was sub-par. And any pass-receiving tight end should have feasted on opposing defenses that double-teamed wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. and had to address slot receiver Sterling Shepard.

Larry Donnell was the starter before the bye, but he only averaged 2.5 catches per game and finished the year with an embarrassing total of 92 yards and one touchdown. Donnell was benched after the bye with Will Tye becoming the new starter. Tye was better, but not by much. In his 10 starts (one before the bye), Tye averaged just 3.2 catches per game and also finished the season with just one touchdown. Factoring in rookie Jerell Adam’s lone score, Giants tight ends scored just THREE touchdowns all year. No wonder this team had issues in the red zone.

One would be hard pressed to name a worse group of tight ends in the NFL.

THE STARTERS

Larry Donnell began the 2016 season as the starting tight end but was benched after the bye week. He started to receive more playing time again late in the season. Donnell ended up playing in 14 games with six starts, and finished the regular season with just 15 catches for 92 yards (6.1 yards per catch) and one touchdown. Donnell originally went undrafted and unsigned in 2011. The Giants signed him as a street free agent in March 2012 and Donnell spent the 2012 season on the team’s Practice Squad. Donnell has regressed since his breakout 2014 season (63 catches for 623 yards and six touchdowns). His numbers were down in 2015 (missing half the season with a neck injury) and down again in 2016. He just has not developed as hoped or expected. Donnell has good size and flashes athletic ability, but there is a klutziness to his game and he is far too inconsistent as a blocker and receiver. He also has issues holding onto the football (five career fumbles).

In his second season, Will Tye was promoted to the starting tight end spot at midseason after the bye week. He played in all 16 regular-season games, with 10 starts, and finished the year with 48 catches for 395 yards (8.2 yards per catch) and just one touchdown. Tye was originally signed as a rookie free agent after the 2015 NFL Draft by the Giants. In 2015, he played in 13 games with seven starts, and finished the season with 42 catches for 464 yards and three touchdowns. Tye was voted to the Pro Football Writers NFL All-Rookie Team. Tye is a good athlete with fine speed. His lack of size does limit him as a blocker, and receiver when it comes to out-muscling defenders for the ball. Despite more playing time in 2016, his productivity over his rookie season did not increase.

THE RESERVES

Jerell Adams was drafted by the Giants in the 6th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Adams played in 13 games with two starts, and finished the regular season with 16 catches for 122 yards (7.6 yards per catch) and one touchdown. Adams combines excellent size with good overall athletic ability. He has the tools to become a quality blocker and receiver if he works hard and develops his potential. Adams adjusts well to the football, has good hands, and flashes some run-after-the-catch ability.

INJURED RESERVE

The Giants waived/injured Matt LaCosse in late August 2016 and then placed him on Injured Reserve with a knee injury that required surgery. LaCosse was originally signed by the Giants as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2015 NFL Draft. The Giants waived/injured him in August with a hamstring injury and re-signed him to the Practice Squad in November and the 53-man roster in December 2015. He played in two games and finished with three catches for 22 yards. LaCosse is a versatile player who played tight end, H-Back, and fullback in college. LaCosse has good speed and catches the football well.

Jan 292017
 
Share Button
Bobby Hart, New York Giants (October 23, 2016)

Bobby Hart – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Entering 2016, the New York Giants offensive line was expected to take a major step forward. While the right-side was still composed of journeymen right guard John Jerry and right tackle Marshall Newhouse, the left side and center were composed of two first-round and one second-round draft picks. With all five returning together, greater chemistry and cohesion was expected. And new offensive line coach – the well-respected Mike Solari – was supposed to make an impact.

Simply put, the offensive line continued to disappoint. Left tackle Ereck Flowers did not markedly improve and remained a significant liability in pass protection. Left guard Justin Pugh missed time for the third season in a row. Center Weston Richburg did not play as well as expected. In some ways, it was the right side of the offensive line that exceeded what admittedly were low expectations. John Jerry had a decent year and second-year lineman Bobby Hart was surprisingly steady at right tackle, replacing Newhouse after Week 2 until the end of the season. That all said, it would be misleading to say either really “played well.”

It’s always difficult to assess who is mostly to blame for a poor running game. The play of running backs, tight ends, and fullback (or in the Giants case, the absence of a fullback) all matter. But the Giants ground game fell from 18th in 2015 (100.6 yards per game) to 29th in 2016 (88.2 yards per game). The average yards-per-rush fell from 4.0 to 3.5.

In pass protection, Eli Manning survived another year without missing a snap. And his sack numbers declined from 27 to 21. But that is a misleading stat given the West Coast Offense emphasis on the short-passing game combined with Manning’s rapid decision-making and quick release. It appeared to many that Manning simply did not trust his pass protection and played some games more than a a bit gun-shy.

Injuries were somewhat of a factor. Pugh missed five games at left guard, leaving a bit of a revolving door as his replacements such as Brett Jones and Marshall Newhouse also got hurt. At one point, the team was down to their fourth-string option at right guard – Adam Gettis. Hart also missed the last regular-season game with an injury.

In summary, the offense of the Giants was a major disappointment in 2016, and the offensive line deserves a large share of the blame.

THE STARTERS

Despite starting 31 regular-season games in his first two seasons, Ereck Flowers has struggled with his technique at left tackle, allowing far too much pass pressure. Flowers was drafted in the 1st round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Giants. He is huge, strong, powerful lineman who can muscle and maul defenders in the running game. He has the feet, agility, and overall athleticism to be a sound pass protector, but he needs to dramatically improve his pass protection technique. Simply put, Flowers is too inconsistent.

Justin Pugh missed five games in the second half of the 2016 season with a knee injury. He started the other 11 games at left guard. Pugh was drafted in the 1st round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. He was voted to the Pro Football Writers All-Rookie Team after starting all 16 games as rookie at right tackle. Pugh has had injury issues every year since, including missing two games in 2014 with a quadriceps injury and two games in 2015 with an ocular concussion. He was shifted to left guard in 2015. Pugh lacks ideal size and arm length, but he is a good athlete who plays with fine strength, technique, and leverage. Pugh is smart, aggressive, and tenacious. Though not a mauler, he can get movement on his run blocks and he has the agility to do well in pass protection, though he needs to become more consistent in that area. He can pull and block defenders at the second level. Pugh is very versatile, able to play both tackle and guard spots, and probably even center in a pinch. He needs to stay healthy.

Weston Richburg started every game at center in 2016. While he played decently, more was expected of him after a strong 2015 campaign. Richburg has started 46 regular-season games in his first three seasons, being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Richburg is an average-sized center, but he is a good athlete who plays with good leverage and tenacity. Mobile and agile, Richburg, can block at the second level and pull on outside runs. He is smart, tough, and aggressive.

John Jerry started every game at right guard for the Giants in 2016. Jerry was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Dolphins where he started 45 games in his first four seasons in the NFL. The Giants signed Jerry as an unrestricted free agent in March 2014 and started 16 games in 2014 and eight in 2015. Jerry looks the part as he has great size and long arms. A career inconsistent performer as both a run and pass blocker, Jerry became a far more reliable and steadier player in 2016.

Due to an injury Marshall Newhouse, Bobby Hart became the new starter at right tackle in Week 3 until Week 17 when he sat out due a forearm injury. In all, Hart started 13 games at right tackle. Hart was drafted in the 7th round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Giants. He played in nine games with one start at right tackle as a rookie. Hart is big, strong, and smart, with just enough overall athleticism to play tackle. While he was mostly steady, Hart did have issues in pass protection at times.

THE RESERVES

Marshall Newhouse started the first two games at right tackle, was sidelined by a calf injury for five weeks, started three games at left guard when injuries hit, and then started the final regular-season and post-season game at right tackle. In all, Newhouse played in 10 regular-season games with six starts. Newhouse was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. He was the starting left tackle for the Packers in 2011 and 2012 before losing his starting job in 2013. Newhouse signed with the Bengals as a free agent in 2014 but struggled and was benched. The Giants signed him in March 2015 and he started 14 games at right tackle that season. Newhouse looks the part. He’s big and athletic. He’s also versatile, with the ability to play both tackle and guard positions. However, Newhouse is not very powerful or physical and he lacks consistency as both a run and pass blocker.

Brett Jones was on the active roster for 14 regular-season games in 2016 and made one start at left guard, but left the game very early with an injury. Jones was originally drafted by the CFL Calgary Stampeders in 2013 and named the CFL’s “Most Outstanding Rookie” after that season. Jones was also named the CFL’s “Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman” in 2014. He signed by the Giants in February 2015 and placed on Injured Reserve in September 2015 after spraining the MCL in his knee on the preseason finale. Jones lacks size but he is well built with good overall athleticism. He is a tough, aggressive lineman and very smart. Versatile, he can play both guard and center.

Adam Gettis spent the bulk of the 2016 season on the Practice Squad, but he did play in three games with one start at left guard, performing admirably. Gettis was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins. He has spent time with the Redskins (2012-2013), Steelers (2014), Giants (2014-2015), Raiders (2015), and Giants again (2015-2016). Gettis has played in 17 regular-season games with one start. Gettis lacks ideal size and power, but he is an athletic lineman with good mobility. Versatile, he can play both guard and center.

The Giants re-signed Will Beatty in late August 2016 after releasing him in February. However, he was only activated for six games, barely playing with no starts. Beatty was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Giants. From 2011-2014, Beatty started 57 regular-season games. But he has had issues staying healthy, including a broken foot in 2010, a detached retina in 2011, a back injury that caused him to miss offseason work in 2012, a broken leg in 2013, and a pectoral tear and rotator cuff injuries that caused him to miss all of 2015. Beatty is a big lineman with long arms and a very good athlete. When on top of his game, Beatty can mirror and slide with the best pass rushers, and is athletic enough to pull and engage defenders at the second level in the run game. However, Beatty is more of a finesse player. He does not play with a lot of strength and power and he is not a very physical or aggressive blocker. He has not proven to be very consistent or reliable.

PRACTICE SQUAD

Jon Halapio was signed to the Practice Squad in September 2016. 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. He has not played in an NFL regular-season game. Halapio is stout and strong but lacks ideal height and athleticism for tackle and is probably better suited for guard.

Jul 072016
 
Share Button
Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (June 15, 2016)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It was an odd offseason for the New York Giants. One of the top three head coaches in franchise history was fired, yet much of the coaching staff remained intact. The reins were handed over to the 38-year old offensive coordinator who has never served as a head coach at any level of football.

Let’s take quick look at each overall unit and the position group of the 2016 New York Giants:

Offense: The centerpieces of the 2015 8th-ranked offense remain Eli Manning and Odell Beckham. It appears the starting offensive line will remain the same. There was little turnover at running back and tight end. Much is expected of rookie receiver Sterling Shepard and hopefully the healthy return of Victor Cruz. Three new position coaches were added: quarterbacks, wide receivers, and offensive line. And Mike Sullivan was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator.

There are three major question marks: (1) how will the offense respond with McAdoo now being the head coach and Sullivan the offensive coordinator?; (2) is Victor Cruz permanently-damaged goods?; and (3) will the offensive line be an Achilles’ heel?

Quarterbacks: It seems like just yesterday when Eli Manning came to the Giants. Now the 35-year old quarterback will be entering his 13th season. He doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Entering the third year in McAdoo’s West Coast Offense, Manning should have one of his finest seasons if he stays healthy. He’s coming off a 35-to-14 TD-to-INT ratio season. Ryan Nassib remains the primary back-up. If the Giants had another viable alternative behind Manning, Nassib would be ideal trade bait since he’s entering the last year of his contract. But third-string Logan Thomas appears to be just a camp arm. Frank Cignetti, Jr. is the new quarterbacks coach.

Odell Beckham and Victor Cruz, New York Giants (June 15, 2016)

Odell Beckham and Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Wide Receivers: Odell Beckham, Jr. is arguably the best wide receiver in football. Aside from injury, the only thing that could prevent him from becoming a legendary player is off-the-field distractions. It will also be interesting to see how he handles himself against his #1 nemesis – Josh Norman – twice per season. Keep in mind the Giants hired Beckham’s old college wide receivers coach, Adam Henry. Much is expected of rookie Sterling Shepard. So far, the early returns are extremely positive. But it will likely be the health status of Victor Cruz that ultimately determines how good this offense can be in 2016. If Cruz can return to anywhere near his 2011-12 form, the Giants will have an elite offense. Dwayne Harris is an ideal 4th receiver and special teams player. There will be tremendous competition for the fifth and possibly sixth wide receiver roster spots. Geremy Davis and Myles White saw quite a few reps with the first unit in the spring. But the other seven receivers on the roster all have talent. Keep an eye on rookie free agent Roger Lewis.

Running Backs: There are a lot of decent backs here, but is there a bell cow? Rashad Jennings has teased with extremely productive flashes like when he rushed for 432 yards in his last four games of the 2015 season. Can he stay healthy and be consistently productive? How much will McAdoo differ from Tom Coughlin in the way he rotates running backs? Regardless, Shane Vereen will remain a key element as a pass-catching back in the West Coast Offense. It’s do-or-die time for Andre Williams, the 2014 4th round draft pick, who simply hasn’t delivered the goods. If he falters, rookie Paul Perkins, productive-but-injury-prone Orleans Darkwa, or even Mike Sullivan favorite Bobby Rainey could jump up the depth chart. At fullback, Nikita Whitlock’s spot is in danger with the addition of experienced, physical fullback/H-Back Will Johnson from the Steelers.

Tight Ends: Larry Donnell came out of nowhere in 2014 but regressed in 2015, at least partially due to a neck injury that caused him to miss half the season. That, combined with Daniel Fells’ career-ending staph infection, opened the door for rookie free agent Will Tye, who looks like he has some real skills as a pass receiver. Pushing these two in spring workouts were second-year player Matt LaCosse and rookies Jerell Adams and Ryan Malleck. Adams and possibly LaCosse have shots to become legitimate two-way tight ends. But don’t discount Donnell and Tye. Regardless, there is a lot of competition at this position. And McAdoo loves using his tight ends.

Offensive Line: The biggest change here was not personnel but coaching. 61-year old Mike Solari is the new offensive line coach. He’s considered one of the best, but has only coached in the West Coast system one year (in 2015 in Green Bay). Unless someone like Bobby Hart surprises, it appears the starting five will remain the same. Most Giants’ fans are deeply concerned about the right side of the offensive line, specifically, guard John Jerry and tackle Marshall Newhouse. Jerry has reportedly worked his tail off this offseason. More good news is that Ereck Flowers, Justin Pugh, and Weston Richburg should continue to develop into a real team strength. Look for the running game to show much more consistency and productivity with these three leading the way. Depth remains an issue as the Giants only added a few no-names in the offseason such as Byron Stingily, Ryan Seymour, and Dillon Farrell.

Defense: The Giants made dramatic changes to their 32nd-ranked defense. The Giants spent almost $194 millon on three defensive free agents, added two much cheaper veteran free agent linebackers, and used three of their first four draft picks on defense. New position coaches were added on the defensive line and at linebacker.

The big question marks are (1) can Steve Spagnuolo regain his mojo as a defensive coordinator?; (2) how good can Jason Pierre-Paul be?; and (2) how quickly can the new pieces of the puzzle come together to form a cohesive unit? It’s been a long, long time since the Giants’ defense really scared anyone.

Defensive Line: The Giants made two major upgrades at this position, replacing defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins with Damon Harrison and Robert Ayers with Olivier Vernon. With the acquisition of Vernon, the Giants likely will move Jason-Pierre-Paul to left defensive end. Much depends on how much JPP’s permanently-damaged hand will affect his play moving forward. Can he come anywhere near his 2011 form again? Vernon was given a mammoth contract and the pressure is on him to perform at the very highest level. The Giants should be well-served by two huge, strong defensive tackles in Harrison and Johnathan Hankins. The Giants are also hoping that Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Jay Bromley provide quality depth. On paper, the defensive line looks like a very strong group. In addition, the Giants made significant changes to coaching when they let go of Robert Nunn and replaced him with rising coaching star Patrick Graham from the Patriots and added a new defensive tackle assistant coaching position with the addition of Jeff Zgonina.

Linebackers: The injury-prone Jon Beason retired. The Giants signed Keenan Robinson and Kelvin Sheppard in free agency and drafted B.J. Goodson in the 4th round. These three will compete with returning linebackers Devon Kennard, Jasper Brinkley, J.T. Thomas, Jonathan Casillas, Mark Herzlich, and Brad Bars. Kennard flashes talent, but can’t seem to stay on the field. The other returning starters seem like “just guys” who could be easily replaced. The good news is there is a lot of veteran experience in the group. Brinkley and Robinson will likely fight for the starting middle linebacker spot with Brinkley being the more physical player and Robinson the better athlete. All three starting spots are open to competition and how this all shakes out will be one of the more interesting story lines of camp. Linebacker still appears to be the weak link of what should be an improved defensive unit. The Giants replaced linebackers coach Jim Herrmann with Bill McGovern.

Darian Thompson, New York Giants (June 6, 2016)

Darian Thompson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Defensive Backs: The Giants replaced Prince Amukamara with Janoris Jenkins, who they are paying like a shut-down corner. The pressure will be on him to play to that level. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a Pro Bowl-quality defender. The Giants also used the 10th pick in the draft on cornerback Eli Apple. So on paper, corner looks like a real strength. The big question here is can any of these three players handle the slot corner position? Otherwise we may see more of Trevin Wade than Apple on the field. Diminutive rookie free agent Donte Deayon made noise in the spring, as did his college teammate Darian Thompson at free safety. If Thompson is the real deal, that will allow the Giants to move Landon Collins to his more natural strong safety position. Those two could form a talented, albeit very inexperienced duo. Nat Berhe, Mykkele Thompson, Bennett Jackson, and Cooper Taylor have talent, but have to stay on the field. Lacking experience, the safety unit is very green.

Special Teams: Tom Quinn continues to miraculously survive assistant coaching purges, having remained with the team since 2006. The Giants probably preferred to keep Larry Izzo as assistant special teams coach, but he accepted a position with the Texans. Dwayne Stukes replaces him. Special teams were very much improved in 2015, but they also cost the Giants dearly in a few games. The core will likely remain the same: Dwayne Harris as punt/kickoff returner, Josh Brown as place kicker, Brad Wing as the punter/holder, and Zak DeOssie as long snapper.

Summary: The offense should be good, and could be exceptional if Victor Cruz returns close to 100 percent, but that’s a huge “if.” The concerns about the right side of the offensive line are probably overblown, but depth could be a real issue if injuries hit. On paper, the Giants are much improved on the defensive line and in the secondary, but the various parts need to come together quickly. It’s been a while since Steve Spagnuolo has put together a good defense. Special teams need to be a net positive throughout a 16-game+ schedule. The Giants are in what has proven to be an exceptionally weak division in recent years. It’s time to get back to the playoffs.

Jul 272015
 
Share Button
Victor Cruz, Corey Washington, Odell Beckham; New York Giants (June 8, 2015) New York Giants June 8 2015

Victor Cruz, Corey Washington, Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

For 11 years, there have been many peaks and valleys under the Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning partnership. The high points have been two NFL and two NFC championships, three NFC East division titles, and five playoff appearances. The low points have been six non-playoff seasons and three losing seasons. For the last three years, the Giants have not made the playoffs, including the only two losing seasons under Coughlin and Manning since their inaugural season together in 2004.

Due to many unfortunate career-impacting injuries and poor personnel decisions in the draft and free agency, the overall talent level of the team has declined since 2011. The results have been far too many uncompetitive football games and a worsening win-loss record. The Giants have been dreadful against their two biggest division rivals. The Cowboys were a fingertip away from sweeping the last six games from the Giants while the Eagles are 11-3 against the Giants in their last 14 games. It’s almost impossible to win a division when you cannot beat the teams within your division.

Other than the two most visible institutions on the team (the head coach and quarterback), the Giants have clearly been a team undergoing a major transition during the last three years. Most of the 2011 team is gone. Both the offensive and defensive coordinators have been replaced as well as most of the position coaches. There has been dramatic turnover at almost every position on the roster save quarterback. The Giants have become a young team.

If the reports are true about Eli Manning receiving a new long-term extension soon, then barring injury, the Manning era will continue towards the end of the decade. What we don’t know is if the 2015 Giants will show enough improvement for ownership to retain Tom Coughlin and his coaching staff beyond the upcoming season. The Giants will not be favored to win the NFC East or make the playoffs. The Cowboys are expected to win the division and many believe the Eagles will finish second with the Giants and Redskins battling to stay out of the basement for the fourth year in a row.

So heading into Giants training camp, the team will be underdogs. It’s a role that has suited them well many times during the last 35 years. They have the ability to prove the pundits wrong and win the NFC East, but they will need some things to break their way. And Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning have proven to be a very dangerous duo if they make the playoffs.

  • What is going to happen with Jason Pierre-Paul?: Pierre-Paul is (or was) the only impact player on the defense. But it’s hard to see how he will make a positive impact on the team in 2015. At the very least, he lost a finger, severely fractured his thumb, and needed skin grafts on his severely-burned right arm. Pierre-Paul will not be able to train and lift weights and he will not be able to practice. Because he is still unsigned and is likely to remain so unless he and the Giants come to some sort of compromise deal on his nearly $15 million tender, Pierre-Paul will also miss all of the classwork in training camp he desperately needs to understand Steve Spagnuolo’s system. Tom Coughlin and his players will be asked over and over again about JPP. How big of a distraction this will be remains to be seen. And all of this assumes that Pierre-Paul can even play in 2015 and be anywhere near a competent NFL player, which we really don’t know. The situation is a mess. Best case scenario is he signs a compromise deal soon, attends the classroom work in camp, works on his cardio/leg strength, sometime returns to the playing field in September or October, quickly adjusts to the loss of his digit, and remains a quality two-way end. But there are a lot of “ifs” in that scenario and it’s hard to be optimistic.
  • How quickly will the defensive players adjust to Steve Spagnuolo’s system?: Aside from one memorable playoff run, the Giants defense was mostly a statistical mess under Perry Fewell. In three of the the last four seasons, the defense gave up over 6,000 yards and was one of the worst in the NFL. The Giants pray and hope that Spagnuolo can rekindle the magic he brought to the team in 2007 and 2008. The players seem to love him. However, Spags no longer has Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck. Those are three all-time NYG greats. And it’s important to remember that the 2007 Giants really struggled early on in Spagnuolo’s complicated schemes, giving up 80 points in their first two games. The 2015 New York Giants will not have the luxury an extended learning period. Four of their first seven games are against NFC East teams, including two games against the Cowboys.
  • Where will the pass rush come from?: The pass rush was going to be a question even before Pierre-Paul’s injury. Now it’s unknown when the team’s best pass rusher will return. And even if JPP does make it back, will he be effective? The Giants have to hope and pray that veteran journeymen like Robert Ayers and George Selvie can elevate their game and that youngsters such as Damontre Moore, Kerry Wynn, and Owamagbe Odighizuwa can develop very quickly into legitimate players. There are some outstanding tackles in the NFC East and they will show no mercy.
  • Will the run defense actually improve?: The assumption is that a combination of Steve Spagnuolo, solid defensive tackle play, a revamped linebacking corps that includes a healthy Jon Beason, and bigger and more physical safeties will dramatically improve what was a dreadful run defense. Spagnuolo has some good tools to work with such as DT Johnathan Hankins, Beason, LB Devon Kennard, and S Landon Collins. Newcomers like Kenrick Ellis and George Selvie should help. Kerry Wynn and Owa Odighizuwa have the physical tools to become very good run defenders. DT Cullen Jenkins is healthy. But we’ll have to see how it all comes together. There are questions at end with Damontre Moore and Robert Ayers. We don’t know who the other starting tackle will be next to Hankins. Can Beason actually stay healthy? And linebackers J.T. Thomas and Jonathan Casillas have to prove the Giants made the correct assessments in free agency. We do know this: the Cowboys, Eagles, and Redskins are three teams who love to run the football with the Cowboys and Eagles being top-10 in rushing yards per game.
  • How good will the safeties be?: The Giants have a lot of young talent at safety, but they are green as grass and unproven except for recently-signed journeyman Jeromy Miles. Steve Spagnulo puts a lot of mental pressure on his safeties and the inexperienced lads such as Landon Collins, Cooper Taylor, Nat Berhe, Bennett Jackson, Mykkele Thompson, and Justin Currie must grow up fast. Safeties are the last line of defense. Mistakes there lead to big touchdowns and lost games. The upside? This is a young, hungry, and physical group. They have the ability to be very good. But they won’t have a lot of time to get ready.
  • Can Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie stay healthy?: With JPP blowing his finger off, Amukamara and Rodgers-Cromartie are now the two most irreplaceable guys on the defense. They can be as good a cornerback duo as there is in the NFL, but there is little apparent depth behind them. If either gets hurt for an extended period, it could spell disaster. Amukmara in particular has been an injury-prone player.
  • Can the Giants overcome their issues at offensive tackle?: Provided everyone stays healthy, the Giants look set on the inside of the offensive line with Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, and Geoff Schwartz. The Giants also believe that Ereck Flowers will become an outstanding left tackle some day. But what no one knows is how long it will take Flowers to do so since he needs so much technique work. He could struggle as a rookie. The injury to Will Beatty screwed the Giants in the short-term. Now they will have to rely on Flowers and his growing pains at left tackle and twice-benched Marshall Newhouse, the disappointing-to-date Brandon Mosley, or someone else at right tackle. The Giants may be forced to scramble, moving Pugh or Schwartz to tackle.
  • Can Victor Cruz be Victor Cruz?: We simply don’t know if Cruz will ever be the same player again. If he is, this offense could be special as teams will have tremendous problems trying to defend both Cruz and Odell Beckham (not to mention Rueben Randle). But if Cruz is a shadow of his former self, while Eli and Odell can still make this a very good offense, it won’t be the same as if Cruz was healthy.
  • Is Eli Manning primed to be “elite” again?: In 2011, Eli Manning carried a New York Giants team with no defense and no running game to the playoffs. He was arguably the NFL’s MVP that season. He hasn’t regained that same magic since then. However, Eli was very good in 2014 and seems primed for even a bigger season in 2015. There is a quiet confidence about him. He’s healthy and teammates have noticed a very lively arm in offseason workouts. Eli knows Ben McAdoo’s QB-friendly system now. His favorite target Victor Cruz will be back. In Shane Vereen, he may have the best receiving back he has had since Tiki Barber. He has a top-10 receiving tight end in Larry Donnell. Rueben Randle may be finally coming on. But most importantly, Manning has arguably the most exciting offensive player in the NFL to throw to in Odell Beckham. The way this league is now set up is that an outstanding quarterback can carry a team to an NFL Championship. One more title run and Eli has guaranteed himself a spot in the Hall of Fame.

This team has a lot of issues, mostly on the defensive side of the ball. The best the Giants can probably hope for on defense is to be middle-of-the-pack. Yet after the last four years under Fewell, the Giants would take that. And being just average on defense may just be good enough. The offense, and specifically Eli Manning, can carry this team. The only major question marks on that side of the ball are the status of Cruz and ability of the two starting tackles. I honestly think Manning could be in store for an MVP-type season. He has a lot of weapons to throw to and he is in an offense that gets rid of the ball quickly. The Giants have a nice trio of running backs, an outstanding receiving corps, a very solid interior trio on the offensive line, and a good receiving tight end. Special teams should be much better with the addition of Dwayne Harris and a lot of hungry, young players. If two teams with questionable defenses like the Cowboys and Packers can make a run, so can the Giants.

What the team needs is a little bit of luck on the health front. After two years of leading the NFL in injuries, and freak offseason accidents with JPP and Beatty, the Giants could use a change in fortune.

Jul 232015
 
Share Button
Eli Manning, New York Giants (June 8, 2015)

Quarterback Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Quarterbacks

2014 YEAR IN REVIEW: Largely lost in the disappointing 6-10 season and the Odell Beckham hype was the fact that New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning experienced a renaissance in 2014. Approaching his mid-30’s and coming off arguably his worst season in the NFL in 2013, Manning rebounded with one of his best seasons in 2014. Indeed, had it not been for a dreadful 5-interception game against the San Francisco 49ers in November, Manning would have thrown only eight picks all season – his lowest ever in the NFL. His success was even more impressive when you consider he was coming off April ankle surgery that limited his offseason work, had a new offensive coordinator and position coach, was introduced to a radically-different offensive system, and lost his security blanket Victor Cruz early in campaign. Before the season, many said Manning was washed up and the team should move on. By season’s end, those thoughts had largely disappeared. Of all of the Giants’ personnel problems, the quarterback position is not one of them.

It originally looked like Ryan Nassib was going to have an up-hill fight for the #2 quarterback spot as the Giants had re-signed 2013 #2 quarterback Curtis Painter and had added quarterbacks Josh Freeman and Rusty Smith in free agency. But Freeman and Smith didn’t even make it to training camp, and Nassib clearly out-performed Painter in the preseason, completing 44-of-74 passes for 588 yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions (107.3 quarterback rating). Nassib not only earned the promotion to the #2 spot, but the team was comfortable enough with him to cut Painter and only go with two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants signed street free agent Ricky Stanzi in January.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Entering training camp, Eli Manning seems comfortable, confident, and healthy. He worked hard at improving his arm strength in the offseason and his coaches and teammates have noticed.

“Yeah, (his arm) is lively, very lively,” said Head Coach Tom Coughlin in mid-June. “He has worked hard on that.”

“I would definitely agree with you on that,” said wide receiver Rueben Randle. “He overthrew me twice and I don’t ever recall that happening. That is something we noticed down at Duke working with him. We noticed that his arm got stronger and that is exciting for us.”

But more important than the increased arm strength is that Manning appears ready to take the next step forward in Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo’s quarterback-friendly system. Combine that with talented targets such as Odell Beckham, Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, Larry Donnell, and Shane Vereen and Eli may be primed for a really big year.

“Eli is a lot quicker at this point in time in getting everything going and getting everything moving,” said McAdoo. “Eli has put a lot of time and effort into his footwork and his training there and to his upper body and his strengthening and maintenance in those types of things. I like the look in his eye right now.”

“I think he is gaining confidence in what we have asked him to do fundamentally in the system and in the communication that happens in the meeting rooms and is carried on to the field,” continued McAdoo. “He is on the same page with his receivers, his tight ends and his backs. He is working well with the center and the o-line. I think being in the second year of the system helps.”

ON THE BUBBLE: Barring something unusual, the two quarterbacks will be Eli Manning and Ryan Nassib. Ricky Stanzi is a camp arm.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Mike Sullivan on Eli Manning: “(He) is a lot more comfortable, perhaps, and certainly healthy and we have had a chance to get rolling, but I agree he is definitely throwing the ball well and it is exciting.”

Sullivan on Ryan Nassib: “He is a guy who is a very hard worker. He is a grinder and he is a gym rat and is someone who is very conscientious. He came from a similar type system in college, so he didn’t really have to unlearn, if you will, as much. I am very impressed with his work ethic, his competitiveness and how intelligent he is. He has been really trying to focus on the little things that can get his release a little faster. He is very conscientious about that, “Hey, I can just keep the ball a little bit higher.” He understands the reasoning and timing behind things in terms of not wanting to be too slow with his feet or having an elongated release and just a very bright and competitive player. In the meeting room, he is someone that Eli relies upon. I got the sense early on that those two guys really respect each other and you look at a guy like Ryan and I am excited to see how he is going to perform in these games in the preseason, and he is just a really competitive kid.”

PREDICTIONS: To date, 2011 was clearly Manning’s best pro season. Fans forget that team was 32nd in rushing and 27th in defense. Manning practically single-handily willed that team to a 9-7 regular-season record. It was a league MVP-type performance with six 4th-quarter comeback victories (and two more in the post-season).

Provided Manning stays healthy, Eli will be in serious contention for his first league MVP award. Once again, he will carry his team to the playoffs.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Eli Manning and Ryan Nassib.

Jul 202015
 
Share Button
Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (June 16, 2015)

Running Back Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Running Backs

2014 YEAR IN REVIEW: 2014 was a major transition year for the New York Giants at the running back position. The two backs most-associated with the team’s recent Super Bowl seasons – Brandon Jacobs (2005-11, 2013) and Ahmad Bradshaw (2007-12) – were both completely out of the picture. Heading into training camp, it was anticipated that free agent acquisition Rashad Jennings, 2012 first-round draft pick David Wilson, and 2014 fourth-round draft pick Andre Williams would form the core of the new running attack. However, Wilson’s NFL career prematurely ended when he re-aggravated a neck injury he originally suffered in the 2013 season. He was forced to retire from the NFL in training camp. It was a major blow for the Giants as not only was Wilson particularly well-suited for Ben McAdoo’s West Coast Offense, but he was one of the few home-run hitters on the team and a dynamic kickoff returner.

Without Wilson, the Giants were largely a between-the-tackles and off-tackle team that was unable to consistently threaten the perimeter of the defense. With a group of blockers on the line and at tight end who were not very physical and often struggled to move defenders off of the line of scrimmage, the running backs did not have much room to operate. Exacerbating the situation was the fact that Jennings was limited to nine starts due to knee and ankle injuries. Reserves Peyton Hillis and Michael Cox also ended up on Injured Reserve in November. The Giants were forced to scramble by picking up Orleans Darkwa and Chris Ogbonnaya.

At fullback, Henry Hynoski beat out John Conner in training camp and the preseason. However, the fullback position was de-emphasized in McAdoo’s system in favor of multiple tight end sets. Nikita Whitlock was signed to the Practice Squad in December.

In the end, the Giants were tied for 28th in the NFL with only 3.6 yards per rushing attempt and 23rd in the NFL with 100.2 rushing yards per game. New York was tied for 12th in rushing touchdowns with 13. For a team that was 10th in the NFL in rushing attempts, these figures simply were not good enough.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants cut David Wilson and Peyton Hillis in February, Michael Cox in April, and Chris Ogbonnaya in May. The Giants signed unrestricted free agent Shane Vereen from the New England Patriots in March. After the draft, the team signed rookie free agents Akeem Hunt and Kenneth Harper.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: Provided everyone stays healthy, the Giants appear to have a nice triumvirate in Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, and Andre Williams. The main focus, of course, will be if the team can dramatically improve its ground game productivity. It’s been a common misperception by national media and fans that the Giants have been a running back-based offense. Nothing could be farther from the truth as the Giants have ranked 32nd (Super Bowl team), 14th, 29th, and 23rd in yards per game since 2010. Obviously much of the success or failure of the running game will depend on the blocking of the offensive line and tight ends. But the primary unknown is how good can Jennings, Vereen, and Williams really be? Is this a middle-of-pack, average group of runners or something more than that?

Not enough attention has been focused on comments made late in the season by Andre Williams who made it clear he felt some of the team’s running game issues were the fault of the coaching staff.

“We were dabbling a lot between schemes, whether we were outside zone, whether we were a zone team or a power team, what fit our personnel the best,” Williams said. “As we continue to learn the offense and learn what we’re good at, we’re bound to get better…I just don’t know if we knew when and where we were supposed to do what.”

Hopefully, with a full first season together under their belt, Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo have decided what scheme the team should employ and stick with. The clarity should dramatically facilitate better execution and results.

ON THE BUBBLE: The Giants will keep three or four halfbacks and one fullback. Henry Hynoski is heavily favored to retain his fullback roster spot over Nikita Whitlock. Orleans Darkwa has a good shot to make the team if the team keeps four running backs, but won’t make it if they keep three. The best shot for Akeem Hunt and Kenneth Harper is the Practice Squad.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Craig Johnson on Shane Vereen: “He is a very smart player. I kind of figured that was the way he was and the way he played before seeing him on tape. He really picked up our system well, has done a good job of understanding, and has a really good rapport going on with Eli right now, so I really like where he is at and I think he has done a good job. He ended up the spring like I had liked him to.”

Johnson on Rashad Jennings: “Rashad Jennings, who obviously had a very good year for us a year ago. He again has continued to develop, he is a great leader, very versatile, can play all the downs and does a good job. I really like what I saw from him this spring and he felt good, is fit and is running around, so I think he brings a lot to the table also.”

Johnson on Andre Williams: “Andre Williams played a lot of football for us last year, was our leading rusher, had a really good offseason and has worked diligently. A lot of people asked about, what about catching the ball. When he came to us out of Boston College, he didn’t have a catch his last year of playing in college and he has worked diligently at working on his hands and continues to improve dramatically in that area. He can run very well and can block.”

Johnson on Orleans Darkwa: “Orleans Darkwa, who played for us a lot last year, played a lot of teams and has done a good job. He picks up the offense, very smart, very smart player, has very good speed, is good on the edge runs and has done a good job inside. I put him in there in the two-minute situation today and we didn’t miss a beat in the two-minute, so I thought he did a really good job.”

Johnson on the fullbacks: “(We also) have two good fullbacks: Henry Hynoski, who has played for us for quite a while and continues to thrive in his role and brings a lot to the table for us, and then we have Nikita Whitlock, a player that has played some on offense and defense for various teams. (He) is a very strong player, very low to the ground, has good hands and he has really expressed himself well.”

PREDICTIONS: Vereen is going to have a major impact on the offense as a receiver out of the backfield. Ben McAdoo’s West Coast system is heavily dependent on a running back who can catch the ball. Rashad Jennings can do it too, but he missed half the season last year. Plus, Vereen is simply a better receiving target. The Giants are already thrilled with what they see from him.

“(Vereen) can be a quarterback’s best friend in a way in the passing game,” McAdoo said during the June mini-camp. “Similar to the way tight ends can be. He has great body language coming out of the backfield. He usually does not fool (Eli Manning) and they seem to be on the same page.”

With opposing defense’s concentrating on Odell Beckham, Victor Cruz, and Rueben Randle, Vereen should feast on the soft under-coverage. Indeed, Vereen may be the best running back outlet that Manning has had since Tiki Barber. Many fans forget that Barber caught over 100 passes and almost 1,000 yards from Manning in 2005-2006, including many well-executed screens. Vereen’s receiving skills are so good that we’ll even see the Giants split him out wide. Vereen may also be used as a runner more than many expect. He gives the Giants more outside quickness.

A lot of fans don’t think Andre Williams is very good. I’m not one of them. He was far too productive in college and flashed too much late in the season for me not to still be excited about his potential. I don’t think he was scapegoating but being being honest about the coaches not sticking with one scheme last year. I also think he realizes that he needs to develop better patience as a runner in McAdoo’s offense.

“I’m always about accelerating,” said Williams late last season. “In college and in high school, that’s what I watched a lot of other backs do. They got from 0 to 60 as quick as possible and it caught people off guard. But it’s a little different in this scheme. It’s all about timing and being in the right place for things to open up the way they should. That’s what I’m working on right now.”

“All young players, they have a tendency to really get in a hurry, but I think that he is getting more patient as he continues to go,” said Johnson of Williams late last year. “What he is going through, the process of right now, getting more carries and so on, is timing and rhythm with the offensive line. That’s the bottom line. They block in a certain rhythm and a certain pace, he runs at a certain rhythm and a certain pace. Everybody’s trying to mesh that together to make sure we have an effective running game.”

“I tell him,” Jennings said of Williams, “you don’t necessarily want to be quick to the hole, you want to be quick through the hole.”

I really like Jennings as a runner and receiver, but I think Williams is going to push for major playing time. He’s a punishing, physical runner who once he has a feel for the scheme is going to give a physicality to the offense that it desperately needs similar to what Alfred Morris brings to the Redskins.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Jennings, Vereen, Williams, and Hynoski. The team would like to keep Darkwa too, but roster spots are short.

Jul 162015
 
Share Button
Odell Beckham and Victor Cruz, New York Giants (June 16, 2015)

Wide Receivers Odell Beckham and Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Wide Receivers

2014 YEAR IN REVIEW: Perhaps the two biggest story lines of the 2014 season for the New York Giants were at the wide receiver position. First came the devastating knee injury to Victor Cruz in the game against the Philadelphia Eagles on October 5. Cruz was lost for the final 11 games of the season and it remains to be seen if he will ever return to his pre-injury form.

The other major story line was the rapid emergence of Odell Beckham as an NFL superstar. Cruz and Beckham only played in two games together in 2014 before Cruz was lost for the season. Beckham had one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history, and he did so in only 12 games after missing most of training camp and all of the preseason. Indeed, Beckham became the only reason many Giants fans looked forward to tuning in in what otherwise was a very disappointing 6-10 season.

Aside from these two headliners, while Rueben Randle came on strong late, he did not have the type of season expected or hoped for, and the former 2nd rounder remains frustratingly inconsistent. Jerrel Jernigan, who came on very strong at the end of the 2013 NFL season, reverted back to his old disappointing form and was placed on IR after only two games. Preston Parker not only surprisingly made the team but became the new #3 receiver after Cruz was lost. Corey Washington was a preseason star who was little-used once the real bullets started flying. Marcus Harris impressed in training camp but missed the season with a hip injury. The Giants signed veteran Kevin Olgree in October, but he did not see much action. Julian Talley, Juron Criner, and Chris Harper were practice squad players.

In the end, it was Beckham and not much else at the crucial wide receiver spot. Other teams knew that too and still could not stop Beckham.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants released Kevin Ogletree in May after re-signing him in February and waived Marcus Harris in July. The team chose not to re-sign Jerrel Jernigan in free agency. The Giants signed Dwayne Harris from the Dallas Cowboys and drafted Geremy Davis in the 6th round of the 2015 NFL Draft. They also signed Ben Edwards, who was eligible to play in the NFL in 2014 after graduating from the University of Richmond, but sat out the year recovering from an ACL knee injury.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The two main stories are obviously going to be Beckham and Cruz. Can Beckham make the same impact or better in 2015 or will he regress? How will he handle the attention both on and off the field? How much of an impact will he make on the win-loss record? Beckham was once again nagged by a hamstring issue that caused him to miss most of the spring practices.

The other main story is Cruz. The Giants have repeatedly said that they are optimistic about his return to form, but there are no guarantees that may never be the same player again. If he isn’t the same player, it will be a big hit to the team as Cruz was one of the few impact players on the Giants. Cruz may also not be long for the Giants given his high price tag. But if Cruz does return to form, he and Beckham and Randle could form possibly the best receiving corps in football and help carry the team to the playoffs. So much of the team’s success depends on Beckham and Cruz. It will be interesting to see how much work Cruz gets at training camp and in the preseason. He appears to have made tremendous progress in his rehabilitation.

Randle also will also be under the spotlight. Although he had his best season to date in 2014, he was still inconsistent and was benched twice for disciplinary reasons. But he also exploded in the last two games, catching 12 passes for 290 yards and a touchdown. Plus it’s a contract year for Randle. If he plays like he did in the final two games, that will be a big asset for the Giants.

Corey Washington also made a lot of noise in the spring practices. “He has made some plays and has a better understanding of the offense in his second year and playing faster,” QB Eli Manning said. “I think he has always had the ability to make the great catch and run the go routes and fades but just kind of adding the complete package to his game.”

ON THE BUBBLE: The Giants will probably keep six wide receivers. Barring injury or unforeseen events, Beckham, Cruz, Randle, and special teams extraordinaire Dwayne Harris are the sure bets. That leaves two spots for Parker, Washington, Davis, Edwards, Criner, Talley, and Harper.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Sean Ryan on Odell Beckham: “A lot of different things (make him tick). Certainly going against a great challenge makes him tick. Last year, we would do a thing where every Friday I would give him a listing of the rookie receivers because it was a heck of class of rookie receivers. How many catches and yards and touchdowns they had, and certainly Week 5 he was down at zero and the other guys were up there. I think he thrives on challenges. You go out to Seattle and it is him versus Richard Sherman. I think that is what makes that guy tick. He is a true competitor…I think we were as creative last year as I have ever been and as we have ever been with any player, and certainly a rookie. This guy lined up in the slot, as the number one strong, the number one weak, in the backfield; we would motion him into the backfield, from the backfield. (Opponents) can plan for him, but the first thing is they have to find him.”

Ryan on Rueben Randle: “I thought Rube did a nice job. He is another guy that he is a really intelligent football player. The game makes sense to him, and things happen for him. He processes stuff really quickly and I think the more tape he watches and the more practice snaps he gets, the quicker that stuff happens for him and the quicker reactions he makes and I would say that is really what has shown up to me. The more football he plays, the better he gets. He sees things very quickly.”

Ryan on Corey Washington and Preston Parker: “I thought Corey Washington had an excellent spring. I thought he had an excellent spring in the classroom and in the meetings. His attitude was outstanding. He worked. He got better and we will compile all the catches, but he is right up there. I am not sure if he didn’t lead the pack in catches and productivity for the spring. He certainly stood out to me. I thought Preston made some great strides, in particular playing in the slot. He is seeing things a little bit better. He is seeing defenses, reacting to blitzes better, so I thought Preston did a great job. I think those two guys really stuck out to me.”

PREDICTIONS: Why have the Giants struggled so much since 2011? Because they haven’t had enough top NFL talent. Super Bowl-caliber teams need strong overall rosters but they also need impact players. It’s no accident that there has been a noticeable lack of NYG presence on “Top 100”, All-Star, and Pro Bowl lists. Two guys who can be impact players are Beckham and Cruz. And for the Giants to have any realistic shot at the Super Bowl, these two – along with Eli Manning – must carry the offense similar to what Manning, Cruz, and Hakeem Nicks did in the 2011 regular-season.

Beckham seems “Lawrence Taylor”-like to me. If he can do for the offense what LT did for the defense in the 1980’s, this is going to be a fun. I just hope the limelight doesn’t go to his head because that and injury appear the only things that can derail him.

As for Cruz, in a weird way, the injury may end up positively impacting his career. Since peaking in 2011-12, Cruz wasn’t playing up to the same level before the injury. The contract and limelight may have gotten to his head. Now Cruz will have to fight to prove the doubters wrong. He’s no longer the media darling. Beckham is. If his body doesn’t fail him, Cruz could rebound in a very big way. In the clutch, Eli trusts him. I think Cruz will be ready for opening night.

The Giants are in a catch-22 situation with Randle. If he has a big year, it’s hard to see him wanting to re-sign with the Giants next offseason unless the team decides to part ways with Cruz. On the other hand, if he remains inconsistent, the team may not want to keep him. Regardless, it’s a big year for him financially, and because of that, I expect him to play well.

“This is a big year for me, and I’m looking forward to being the player I know I can be,” said Randle. “I get it now. I know what’s expected of me, and now I’m just going to go out there and prove it every day. That’s my main focus.”

My ultimate prediction is that this trio will combine with Eli Manning to get the team back into the playoffs in 2015. Beckham, Cruz, and Randle have a higher upside than Cruz, Nicks, and Mario Manningham.

One final note. It seems as if the Giants may have an offensive role in mind for Harris too. They may move him around a bit like they do with Beckham to take advantage of his elusiveness with the ball in his hands after the catch.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Beckham, Cruz, Randle, Harris, Davis, and Washington. The tough call here is on Preston Parker. He could push Davis or Washington.

Jul 132015
 
Share Button
Adrien Robinson, New York Giants (June 16, 2015)

Tight End Adrien Robinson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com 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

2014 YEAR IN REVIEW: As the New York Giants entered training camp in July 2014, the tight end position appeared to be a pending disaster. The Giants had parted ways with the disappointing Brandon Myers and jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none Bear Pascoe. The only returning players were Larry Donnell (16 games, 3 catches in his two NFL seasons) and Adrien Robinson (3 games, no catches in his two seasons), both of whom had demonstrated very little to date. The Giants had added Kellen Davis (unrestricted free agent from the Seahawks), Daniel Fells (who was out of football in 2013), and Xavier Grimble (undrafted rookie free agent). Late in training camp, the Giants also signed Jerome Cunningham (who was out of football in 2013).

Few predicted correctly that Donnell would win the starting job followed by Fells as the #2 tight end and Robinson as the #3 tight end. Cunningham was also signed to the Practice Squad.

Overall, while the tight end was not a position of strength for the 2014 New York Giants, it certainly was not the mess many had expected. Donnell had a breakout year as a receiver. He finished tied for 9th in the NFL among tight ends in terms of catches (63), 13th in terms of yards (623), and tied for 7th in terms of touchdowns (6). Blocking is not a strength of his game, but Donnell appears to be an ascending player with enough physical talent to get better. Fells proved to be less dynamic, but was more reliable as a blocker. And he did chip in with four touchdowns. Robinson remained buried on the depth chart, but at least he finally saw some playing time and caught his first NFL touchdown pass.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants signed undrafted rookie free agents Matt LaCosse and Will Tye after the 2015 NFL Draft.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The main focus will be on Larry Donnell and whether or not he can take another major leap forward in his development. He jumped from a career 3-catch target to the NFL’s 9th-leading receiving tight end in one season. But Donnell needs to improve his consistency, blocking, and ball security. The good news is he knows that and has been working hard to improve his overall game. A potential fly in the ointment is that Donnell missed most of the spring work with Achilles tendinitis.

Assuming Donnell gets and stays healthy, the other story line is which tight ends will round out the unit. Fells is the steady but unspectacular leader of the group. Cunningham really flashed as a receiver during spring practices. Robinson also made some noise in the spring and LaCosse and Tye appear to have more talent than your typical rookie free agents.

ON THE BUBBLE: Ideally, the Giants would probably like to carry four tight ends, but three is more likely. Barry injury, the only sure bet is Donnell. Fells, Robinson, Cunningham, LaCosse and Tye are probably fighting for two roster spots.

FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Kevin M. Gilbride on Adrien Robinson: “Adrien has made tremendous progress this spring. He’s the one who has made the most progress as far as his understanding and grasping of how to get his job done. He could always tells you what his assignment was, but he didn’t necessarily know how to go about doing it. Or he had been taught how to do it, and then moved onto something else, taught how to do that, and then lost what he had learned. He’s made a lot of progress and it’s showed up more this spring than it ever has before. And I’m not talking about making catches because he could always make catches or get open on a particular route. We’re talking about how to execute when he is working with a tackle on the front side of a zone scheme and when to come off on the backer and the angle to take and where to place his hands and how he should pressure his hands and things like that. He’s made the most progress in that area. It’s good to see because we need him to come around.”

Gilbride on Jerome Cunningham: “What stands out is his effort. He is going to give great effort, no matter what. Whether he knew what he was doing or not, he was going to be going 100 miles per hour, whether he knew what block he was supposed to make or not. He was going to be doing it as well as he could. That gives them a chance. It gives every person who plays this game a chance to be successful, or at least to be noticed as far as staying on the squad in some capacity, which certainly he did. He has carried it over throughout the season and then now through the spring where he has made some good strides.”

Gilbride on Larry Donnell: “It is technique and confidence (with his blocking). Having him miss this offseason was not good for him in that regard. He is going to have to come into training camp and pick up where these other guys have left off in the improvements we have made in that area. We focused on certain things this offseason in the run game. It really started to show towards the end of the spring, which we were happy about. Happy to see. Still have a ways to go overall, but much improved. We were happy with where it went. We just want him to be a part of it.”

Gilbride on Will Tye: “Talented kid. He has very, very soft hands. He can run straight-line very well and for as tall as he plays – because he doesn’t play with great bent knees all the time – he can get in and out of breaks very smooth. What he needs to improve is his quick-twitch and his true effort at the snap to the end of the whistle…It’s not instinctual for him to play fast…He’s got a ways to go as far as learning the offense…He has made too many mental mistakes, but that doesn’t mean he won’t eventually get it. We’ve thrown a lot at all of them.”

Gilbride on LaCosse: “Different skillset. He’s a linear guy, a long-legged guy who can get down the field. Very, very bright. Talk about Will (Tye) making too many mistakes, Matt didn’t make many mistakes, which is impressive. We had him in a role where we moved him around all the time as far as motioning and shifts.”

PREDICTIONS: I like this group of tight ends more than most. If Donnell’s Achilles tendinitis isn’t a problem, I truly think he has the ability to develop into one of the better receiving tight ends in the NFL. He looked like a budding star in his Week 4, three-touchdown performance against the Washington Redskins. Donnell can do it. He has an excellent combination of size (6’6”, 265 pounds), athletic ability, and hands. I love the way he adjusts to the football for a big man. He’s a match-up problem for linebackers. So is Jerome Cunningham, but for different reasons. Cunningham is smaller (6’3”, 250 pounds), but even faster and more athletic. He can be a match-up problem for safeties. There were whispers about him being pretty darn good as a Practice Squad player last year and his performance in the spring was impressive.

What the group seems to be lacking is someone who excels at blocking. Fells is the most consistent and reliable. But he may be pressed by Robinson, provided Robinson finally “gets it” in his fourth year.

I also have a feeling that the Giants are going to like what they see in LaCosse and Tye.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: Donnell remains the starter, but Cunningham is going to press for serious playing time as more of an H-Back type tight end. Ben McAdoo will find a role for him in his TE-centric offense. The difficult decision here for me is Robinson versus Fells. I think Robinson will do enough in camp to convince the Giants to keep their 3-year investment. But if Robinson continues to falter, Fells retains his job and provides leadership. While the Practice Squad may be the most realistic option for both LaCosse and Tye, if one excels at blocking, he has a shot at the 53-man roster.