NY Giants Positional Strength
As minicamp begins, the Giants’ roster is fitting into shape. With additions in free agency and the draft, the front office has drastically improved certain positions, while did not do much to change others. On a scale of 1 (very weak) to 7 (very strong), I will assess the strength of each position on Big Blue:
This positional strength almost completely depends upon Eli Manning. Coming off of the worst season of his 10-year career, the 33-year-old quarterback is still the Giants’ franchise quarterback. The front office has complete confidence that Manning will rebound from his 2013 campaign that included a league-worst 27 interceptions and his lowest completion percentage since 2007, thanks to additions in the running game, offensive line, receiving corps. Also, a change in offensive system with new OC Ben McAdoo simplifies the offense and allows for higher percentage throws, which former OC Kevin Gilbride’s system lacked.
However, this is cautious optimism. Manning, although never missing a game in his career, had ankle surgery over the offseason for an ankle injury he suffered in the final game of last season. He is participating fully in camp and says he has recovered fully from surgery, but it is worth keeping an eye on in the future. Also, it is the first time in his entire career with a different offensive coordinator. He has no experience in learning a new offense in the offseason. Finally, Manning has had declining numbers for consecutive years and is the 6th oldest starter in the league.
As for the backup position, there really isn’t much depth. Neither Curtis Painter nor Ryan Nassib gives the Giants any help if Manning goes down. It is likely that the Giants only keep two quarterbacks on the active roster for the regular season, so whichever makes it, the Giants hope they never see the field.
Even though there is a great deal of uncertainty with the backup position, the starter coming off the worst season of his career, and a new offensive system being implemented, the Giants did upgrade other positions on offense and still have a 2x Superbowl MVP winning quarterback.
Grade: 5 (Above Average)
First and foremost, the Giants came into the offseason with a drastic need to upgrade the runningback position that was 29th in the league in yards per carry and yards per game in 2013. So, the front office quickly acted in free agency and signed free-agent Rashad Jennings. Jennings is an all-purpose back who has never found a permanent home. At 6 foot 1 and 231 lbs., he has ideal size and strength of a workhorse back. He has bounced around with Jacksonville and Oakland predominantly as change of pace back. However, he is capable of being a physical yet explosive every-down back. When he has played, he has thrived with a solid career average of 4.6 yards per carry. He is also a good pass-catcher and very rarely fumbles. New OC McAdoo frequents halfback screens, so Jennings is primed to be a major part of the screen game as well as the workhorse back.
Even with Jennings, there are several question marks behind him, starting with the health of David Wilson. Wilson is coming off major neck surgery, which has some doctors even questioning if he can ever play again. He has been limited in OTAs but many within the organization believe that he will be ready for the start of the season. If true, Wilson is slated to be the primary backup to Jennings and is a perfect change of pace to Jennings due to his lightning speed and explosiveness. He blew his opportunity to permanently secure the starting job in the beginning of last season when he had fumbling issues and then suffered season-ending injury, but in a lesser role, Wilson can be a huge factor in the running and passing game.
After Jennings and Wilson, the Giants have Peyton Hillis, Michael Cox, and this year’s 4th round draft pick Andre Williams behind them. These three are likely fighting for one roster spot. Any of these backs that ends up making the roster is not likely to have a huge impact on the running game.
The addition of Jennings will be a huge boost to the running game, but much of the success will likely depend on the effectiveness of David Wilson. If he can stay healthy and hold onto the ball, he and Jennings have the potential be a top tier backfield duo this season. But, there are very big assumptions. This position has the prospects of being a major strength, but can very well flop like last season.
Grade: 5 (Above Average)
The training camp battle between Henry Hynoski and John Conner will be one of the most intriguing battles in Giants camp this year. Because the Giants will almost definitely only keep one fullback, so the one who wins the battle will likely be the one who fits OC Ben McAdoo’s system better.
Hynoski injured his shoulder in the beginning of the season, prompting the signing of Conner, who did a great job last season in run and pass blocking. Before his injury, Hynoski was emerging as a top fullback in the league and is fully recovered from his shoulder surgery. The Giants expect him to fully return to his pre-injury form.
No matter which fullback wins the battle, the Giants are in great shape in the fullback position.
Grade: 6 (Strong)
After an unproductive year from Hakeem Nicks, the Giants let him walk in free agency. Victor Cruz has continued to establish himself as a top tier receiver. He was the only major bright spot for the receiving corps last season. Reuben Randle led the team in touchdowns last season, and continues to develop into an all around productive receiver. He did have miscommunications at times with Eli Manning, but that was due in most part to former OC Gilbride’s read-and-react option routes. With the new system, these errors will be corrected.
Also, the Giants spent their 1st round pick this year on LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham has immense speed and route running skills. He is a perfect fit in OC Ben McAdoo’s system of quick release routes due to his ability to get yards after the catch. He is slated to make an instant impact on the offense and allows Victor Cruz to move back to the slot, where he has had the most success. Cruz has a mismatch against most slot corners, and Beckham’s presence prevents opponents from double-teaming him.
Behind these three, Jerrel Jernigan can make an impact as well. Jernigan emerged at the end of last season as a quick, shifty receiver with potential to be a solid pro. After him, the Giants resigned Mario Manningham, who had two forgettable, injury-plagued seasons on San Francisco. This former Giants’ Superbowl hero will not likely make a huge impact on the field, but can be a veteran presence in the locker room and help mold the young receivers. Finally, Trindon Holliday has shown flashes in OTAs as a receiver, but likely will make the team solely as a return specialist, where he has thrived in years past.
The abundance of quality receivers as well as the implementation of OC Ben McAdoo’s offensive system makes the wide receiver position a great strength on Big Blue.
Grade: 6 (Strong)
The Giants lave lacked stability at the tight end position since Jeremy Shockey left, as they have not had the same Week 1 starter any season since he departed. This year will be no exception. Last year’s starting tight end Brandon Myers was a complete bust and never got acclimated into the offense. He is now on Tampa Bay, and the Giants are left with several unproven tight ends.
They did not address the position in the draft, and in free agency they signed Kellen Davis, who is most notable as a run blocker. He will help in the redzone and goal line situations, but not much elsewhere.
The Giants are hoping that Adrien Robinson emerges as the freaky athletic, pass catching tight end that they hoped they would get when they drafted him in the 4th round of the 2012 draft. He had great expectations when Jerry Reese notably said that he was “the JPP of tight ends,” referring to his crazy athletic ability. He has not stayed on the field his whole career, and cannot be counted on as an everyday starter. They also have Larry Donnell and Daniel Fells on the roster, but neither is expected to make much of an impact. Also, UDFA Xavier Grimble has opened some eyes in OTAs, and he may be a sleeper to make the active roster in September.
The front office did not do much to improve this position over the offseason. Due to the lack of proven talent and experience, the tight end position is one of the weaker positions on the whole team. There is, however, potential for breakout years from the likes of Adrien Robinson, who understands it is now or never for him, Larry Donnell, and Xavier Grimble.
Grade: 2 (Weak)
In years past, the Giants’ offensive line was consistently comprised of the same starters each week. They dominated the line of scrimmage: giving the runningbacks holes to run through and Eli Manning time in the pocket to throw. In fact, in 2012, Manning led the league in lowest sack percentage with 3.4%.
But this was not the case last year. Issues on the offensive line were the single biggest reason the 2013 season imploded. Just one year after leading the league with the lowest percentage, last year Manning’s sack percentage almost doubled. Starters were in and out of the lineup with injuries. And when they were in there, they were ineffective to say the least. Changes had to be made in the offseason, and they were.
First, the Giants signed guard Geoff Schwartz from Kansas City. Schwartz is a very good run blocker who does not get injured. He was a major part of the Chiefs’’ success running the ball last season and will be immediately inserted into the starting left guard position, where Kevin Boothe played last season. Boothe struggled in both phases last season and the Giants let him walk, and Schwartz should be a major improvement.
At left tackle, the Giants had hoped Will Beatty would be the franchise left tackle, when they signed him to a huge deal last offseason. But, like most of the offensive line, he struggled immensely keeping Eli Manning upright. He said that he felt pressure to live up to his huge contract, which led to his poor play. If this is the case, then there is reason for hope that he can become the player the Giants thought they would get when they gave him a huge contract. However, he severely injured his knee in the final game last season and required surgery this offseason, but should be ready for training camp. If he can play the way the Giants’ thought he could when they signed him, the left side of the line is in great shape.
At center, David Baas struggled to stay on the field with the Giants in his time here, and they cut him this offseason. They have three players pushing for the starting job going into this season. Veteran Dallas Reynolds can play all over the line, and will likely be used primarily as a backup. They signed JD Walton, who flashed potential to be a quality center with the Broncos a few years ago, but has not played since 2012. Finally, they drafted the center of the future Weston Richburg in the 2nd round of the draft. He was seen by many as plug-in ready at center, a perfect fit for the Giants. Many see the starting job to be Richburg’s job to win. But whoever wins, they seem to be in better shape than last year.
At right guard, the Giants played several different players in this position last year, all of which struggled mightily. They hope that the aging Chris Snee can recover from offseason surgery and return to his days where he played every game, but this is a long shot. Snee is slated to start, but things can change if he gets injured again. If healthy, he is still a quality right guard.
At right tackle, Justin Pugh was the only bright spot on the line last year. After drafting him in the first round in 2012, he started all 16 games of the season. He did an admirable job last season, and he will continue to develop. He gained about 10 pounds of muscle this offseason, and is poised to continue to start at right guard.
What mainly killed the Giants’ line last season was the lack of quality backups. This offseason they signed veteran linemen Charles Brown and John Jerry to provide depth and a veteran presence. The younger linemen, such as Brandon Mosley and Eric Herman, will not be pushed into starting like last season and continue to develop as backups.
The offensive line is one of the most, if not the most, important group on the offense. If strong, it allows the offense to run smoothly and successfully. If it is weak, it makes quarterbacks as well as runningbacks look awful (Re: Giants in 2013). This year, it is still to be seen whether the line will triumph. But, it should better than last year. I mean…How can it be any worse?
Grade: 4 (Average)
The Giants’ calling card for years has been getting after the passer. The two franchise defensive ends who were with Big Blue for both recent Superbowls, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, are both gone. Linval Joseph, who was becoming a premier defensive tackle in the league, is gone. So who do the Giants still have on the defensive line?
Jason Pierre-Paul is only 25 years old. In only his second season, he recorded 16.5 sacks. But, since then, injuries have taken their toll. Last season, still feeling the effects of his June back surgery, JPP finished with just 2.0 sacks and missed the final five games with a shoulder injury. But, the two-time Pro Bowler feels healthy and strong as he prepares for his fifth NFL season. He has blamed his struggles on his poor health, so a healthy JPP should again wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
Opposite JPP, the other defensive end spot is up for grabs between veteran Mathias Kiwanuka, whose play has been declining over the past few years, second-year player Damontre Moore, and free agent acquisition Robert Ayers. New Jersey native Ayers underperformed in his five years with Denver, but did show some potential last season, where he recorded 5.5 sacks. Damontre Moore will compete for more playing time this season. In his rookie season, he flashed some potential when he had a dominant preseason, but was limited by injuries and never really fit into the defensive line rotation. He has the quickness and athleticism to become a dominant defensive end, and could end up winning the starting spot alongside JPP. The Giants like to rotate defensive linemen in and out, so these three will all see the field plenty, regardless of who starts.
At defensive tackle, the Giants have several players who will compete for playing time. They will likely keep 4 DTs on the roster, so there will be competition in the preseason to determine who makes it. They will likely keep Johnathan Hankins, Cullen Jenkins, and this year’s 3rd round pick Jay Bromley on the roster. So, there will be competition between veterans Mike Patterson, Markus Kuhn, and UDFA Kelcy Quarles for the last DT spot. Whichever one wins the spot remains to be seen. Whichever four make the roster, one thing is certain: all four will be quality players.
The defensive line has the potential to be very, very good this year. But, a few things have to happen in Big Blue’s favor. JPP needs to stay healthy and regain his old, dominant form. The other three in Ayers, Kiwanuka, and Moore all have to contribute. They have to stay healthy for the most part and take advantage of the depth they have at defensive tackle. If these things all happen, the defensive line can dominate the game like it did in 2007 and 2011. But, that is a lot to ask for.
Grade: 5 (Above Average)
This group was a big question mark going into last season, and will again be one coming into this season. The biggest is the health of MLB Jon Beason. In OTAs, he suffered a broken bone and torn ligament in his right foot. He will not need surgery, but is out at least through July, therefore missing some training camp, and perhaps a lot longer. When he came over from Carolina last season, he quickly became a defensive leader and sparked a turnaround: joining the Giants when they were 0-5 and finishing 7-4. A three-time Pro Bowl linebacker, Beason had 98 tackles in only 11 games and the defense finished eighth in the league overall after being near the bottom of the rankings before he arrived. The Giants hope he can return for week 1, but his level of play when he does return will still be in question.
On the outside, Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams will compete for one of the spots. Both of these backers have experience on the outside and are developing into solid starting caliber players, but both compete for one spot. Paysinger had 65 tackles last season splitting time with Williams, who had 39 tackles and 2 fumble recoveries.
Opposite them last season was Keith Rivers, who the Giants did not resign. In free agency, they signed Jameel McClain. McClain was slated to start on the outside but may now start on the inside in Jon Beason’s absence. The 28-year-old McClain has played inside in Baltimore’s 3-4 defense, but he also has played some outside linebacker as well. McClain notched 52 tackles in 10 games for the Ravens in 2013. The Giants also have Mark Herzlich at middle linebacker who has been with New York for four years, as well as 5th round pick Devon Kennard. Kennard blew the Giants away when he visited the facility several weeks back. They value his versatility, as he can play middle, strong side linebacker and defensive end. He is a quality character (team captain with highest GPA on team) who has good instincts and plays smart.
The linebackers for the Giants can be a weak spot on the defense this year, but this all hinges on the health of Jon Beason. If he returns to his form of last season, they can be a solid group. But, this is a huge “if”. Williams and Paysinger solidify one side, Beason in the middle, and McClain on the other side, with Kennard making an impact off the bench.
Grade: 3 (Below Average)
Firstly, Prince Amukamara has consistently improved in each of his four seasons and has been relatively healthy, starting all 16 games last season. He led all NFL corners in tackles last season while consistently matched up with the opponent’s best receiver. He will keep getting better and better with experience. He represents one side of the defensive backfield.
In free agency, the Giants made it their top priority to improve the secondary. They signed several quality corners to bolster this group. Most notably, they signed rising star CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to a 5-year deal. With 19 career interceptions at only 28 years old, DRC is entering his prime. He is slated to start opposite Amukamara and create one of the top corner tandems in the league, while guarding the other team’s top wide out.
But, the Giants almost always use 3 or more corners in a nickel or dime package. Because of this, a strong nickel corner is imperative. Last year, Terrell Thomas did a good job in this position, but his continuing health concerns about his knee kept the Giants from resigning him. So the Giants went out and signed arguably the best nickel corner in the league, Walter Thurmond III. Coming over from the Legion of Boom, or Seattle’s vaunted secondary of last season, Thurmond is emerging as a quality cornerback with great athletic ability. The only question mark about Thurmond is his past injury and suspension history. But, the Giants are protected if he gets hurt again or violates league policy and gets suspended.
Towards the end of last season, Trumaine McBride was forced into a starting role with injuries to others such as Aaron Ross and Corey Webster. In that role, he did an admirable job. Because of this, the Giants resigned him to a 2-year deal. He gives them added depth at corner.
They also signed veteran corner Zack Bowman from Chicago. He will most likely see more time on special teams, where he has thrived in the past. Other players who could possibly contribute are Jayron Hosley, a former 3rd round draft pick who’s inability to stay on the field may cause him to fail to make the team altogether, and this year’s 6th round pick Bennett Jackson, who is a high character guy who may have trouble making the final 53-man roster with the Giants already considerably deep at cornerback.
The Giants are as deep as any team in the league at cornerback. The additions of Rodgers-Cromartie and Thurmond along with Amukamara will cause problems for opposing offenses trying to move the ball through the air against Big Blue.
Grade: 6 (Strong)
This group was very good last season, and should continue to be solid. But, the loss of Will Hill is huge. Hill was released after being suspended again for testing positive for marijuana. Last season, Hill ranked 2nd in the entire league in player efficiency rating for safeties. He will be tough to replace.
The Giants do get Stevie Brown back, who is almost back to 100% healthy after missing all of last year with a torn ACL. He should be completely healthy by the start of the regular season. If so, this will go a long way towards replacing Hill. In 2012, his 8 interceptions were tied for 1st in the NFL. He should be able to get back to his play before the injury.
Along with Brown, he and Pro Bowl Safety Antrel Rolle create a dominant duo. He had 80 tackles and 6 interceptions last season and has taken over as the defensive leader with Justin Tuck’s departure. His veteran presence will protrude all throughout the defense. Also, he courted Rodgers-Cromartie and was a key reason why DRC signed with New York, as they were former teammates and close friends in Arizona.
They also signed safety Quintin Demps from Kansas City, who had 4 interceptions last season. He provides valuable depth at safety because of the health concerns of Brown. They also have 2nd year safety Cooper Taylor, who continues to develop, and Nat Berhe, this year’s 5th round pick who is a solid tackler and should immediately contribute on special teams.
With Rolle, Brown, and Demps this group should be a strength on the team. Along with the skilled corners, could potentially emerge as the best secondary in the league.
Grade: 5 (Above Average)
There are several aspects of special teams. In some, the Giants were very good last year, such as kicking and kick-offs and poor in other aspects, such as punt coverage.
The return game will be vastly improved due to the Trindon Holliday and Quintin Demps signings. Both are elite returners with experience and should start at kick returner and punt returner, respectively. The Giants added several quality special teamers in the offseason and should improve in kick and punt coverage, which was uncharacteristically bad last season. Josh Brown did a great job in field goal kicking last season, making 23 out of 26 field goal attempts. He also was strong on kickoffs and did not give the opposition a chance for returns. Steve Weatherford is still a very good punter with a knack for pinning the opposition deep in its own end.
Grade: 5 (Above Average)