Who should return kicks and punts for the New York Giants in 2021?

New York Giants, Jabrill Peppers

The New York Giants possessed an inconsistent special teams unit in 2020. This was a surprise, being that the team’s rookie head coach Joe Judge has extensive experience coaching special teams. Judge was the special teams assistant for the New England Patriots from 2009 to 2014 before becoming the special teams coordinator in 2015 and manning that position through 2019.

In 2020, Judge was hired as the head coach of the New York Giants. This was a surprising hiring as the Patriots’ long-time special teams expert was anything but a household name. Joe Judge put together an impressive coaching staff in his first season, but left the special teams unit the same. Thomas McGaughey remained the team’s special teams coordinator.

Understanding the amount of attention Judge gives the special teams unit, many expected the Giants to have one of the best units in the NFL last season. However, expectations were not exactly met as the Giants’ special teams were in the middle of the pack. One area where the Giants struggled to find consistency was in the return game.

Running back Dion Lewis served as the primary kick returner last season, though he is no longer with the Giants so the team will need to find a capable replacement. Jabrill Peppers and Darius Slayton returned the bulk of the punts last season, but the Giants might now have a better option on the roster.

The punt returner

In 2021, the Giants should make a switch at punt returner. As exciting as it is to see Jabrill Peppers field punts, it is also a bit of a risk. Jabrill has struggled with some injuries in his career, one of which was suffered on a punt return. Peppers returned 15 punts in 2020, averaging a solid 12.5 yards per return.

Darius Slayton was the more efficient punt returner in 2020, returning 9 punts at an average of 21 yards per return. Slayton could see more opportunities as the punt returner this season since his role as a wide receiver is bound to reduce with the additions of Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney. But that new addition, Kadarius Toney, would likely make the most sense as the Giants’ new punt returner.

Kadarius Toney returned punts and kicks during his career at the University of Florida. He averaged 21.6 yards per return on kick returns and 11.3 yards per return on punt returns. In 2020, Toney returned 11 punts for 139 yards (12.6) and 1 touchdown. Toney is a tackle-breaking machine and a threat to take the ball to the house on any given play. He is the Giants’ best punt returner on the roster for those reasons and he should field the majority of punts this season.

Kick returner

As mentioned, Kadarius Toney is impossible to tackle. Toney forced a missed tackle on 35% of touches since 2018, first amongst all draft-eligible receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft class (PFF). This will be applicable to punt returns and kick returns, too. Toney is a solid option for the Giants as a kick returner, though the dangers of the kick return game might encourage the Giants to keep him out of that position. Instead, the Giants might opt to go with a career return specialist in 2021.

The New York Giants signed running back Corey Clement this offseason. Clement has experience as an NFL veteran returning kicks and contributing on special teams. He has averaged 25.1 yards per return on kick returns in his career. As a backup, Clement makes sense to return kicks for the Giants since he is not expected to play a major role in the team’s offense. Corey Clement could focus solely on special teams and contribute as a reliable kick returner.

Whether Kadarius Toney or Corey Clement earns the kick-returning role remains to be seen. Both players should be considered for the position, among other players on the Giants’ roster. Sixth-round rookie running back Gary Brightwell could be another intriguing option for the Giants. The goal for the New York Giants will be to promote a player who is reliable, durable, and explosive to the kick returner position. Luckily, they have a few options on their roster that fit the bill.

Did the New York Giants bury Darius Slayton on the depth chart?

New York Giants, Darius Slayton

When the New York Giants drafted Darius Slayton out of Auburn in the fifth round two years ago, they envision a player who could stretch the field vertically and keep defenses honest. Slayton is known for his speed but lacked that extra gear in 2020, as he carried injuries throughout the season. He finished the campaign with 751 yards and three touchdowns, with two of his scores coming in week one against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

During his rookie season, Slayton posted eight touchdowns, showcasing his ability to blow the top off of defenses and keep the deep secondary honest. However, the insertion of coordinator Jason Garrett limited his opportunities, in addition to a variety of negative factors.

However, Slayton is looking to make an impact this upcoming year, despite the Giants adding several receiving options to their core. This off-season, they signed WR1 Kenny Golladay, John Ross and drafted Kadarius Toney in the first round. It is quite easy to conclude that the deep threat from Auburn will lose snaps next year to this myriad of pass catchers.

What did Slayton offer the New York Giants last season?

In 2020, Slayton enjoyed 94 targets, 50 receptions, and a total of 877 snaps. He enjoyed 724 out wide and 151 in the slot, attesting to his ability in different alignments. Darius has a few refined routes, including the go, slant, and come back. He ran those three route concepts more than any other last year, but without much protection, quarterback Daniel Jones was unable to find him downfield frequently. Jones threw the football 20+ yards on less than 10% of his throws, an awful number that must change dramatically in 2021.

The question is, did the Giants bury Slayton on the depth chart, or are they simply changing his role and how they plan to deploy him moving forward?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many snaps a player has unless they are producing on the field. With more weapons and a better scheme, Slayton could see his snap count drop from 877 to somewhere are his rookie number, 701. Interestingly, Slayton had vastly better numbers on 177 fewer snaps during his first season in the NFL.

What does that tell us?

Production is not correlated to snap count at times, and the Giants will likely deploy a variety of alignments and personnel combinations to expose mismatches in the defensive secondary.

Slayton isn’t being hidden on the depth chart but rather used differently, with the addition of gadget-style players like Toney and Ross. Rotating receivers and creating confusion on defense is exactly with the Giants should be doing, and considering they have several players with different strengths and weaknesses, interchanging them to maximize their abilities is essential.

New York Giants: How Kadarius Toney pick influences Darius Slayton

New York Giants, Darius Slayton

The New York Giants are shaking things up at wide receiver this season. The team added both a new deep threat in Kenny Golladay and a promising draft pick in Kadarius Toney, and it’s certain that their on the field lineup at the position will look different compared to recent years.

For some of the existing players at receiver, that might be unsettling. After all, the newcomers are direct competition for the top performers from the last couple of seasons. However, head coach Joe Judge claims that the Giants aren’t planning to replace their current lineup of playmakers. At least, not yet.

Speaking to reporters after minicamp, Judge talked about the Giants drafting Kadarius Toney as well as how it will impact existing receiver Darius Slayton.

“I would say he’s a veteran player,” Judge said of Slayton. “He’s not in his first year, he’s got skin in the game right there. In terms of Darius, everyone is going to play to their strengths. Darius and Toney, will they be on the field at the same time, different packages, different positions at times, but I think everybody on the team affects the other by the way they work and how they produce.”

As Slayton and Toney are both coming into the season behind Golladay and likely Sterling Shepard on the depth chart, it looks like they’ll be in some kind of competition despite the insistence that they have different roles.

Judge also spoke about talking to Sterling Shepard, another player threatened by the addition of Toney. According to Judge, despite the headlines, the Giants also didn’t make the pick to replace Shepard.

“I thought it was necessary to talk to Shep specifically because when we drafted Toney the word in the press as he was reading those headlines was specifically he’s a slot receiver which, look, we are not bringing in someone to play one position. I thought it was relevant at the time to contact Shep out of respect for how he is with our program to communicate that with him,” Judge continued.

Clearing up misunderstandings like this is something that Judge claims to have done regularly – he also talked on the phone with Nate Solder after the Giants drafted Andrew Thomas. Though, the writing was still on the wall going forward and Thomas ended up taking over the starting role anyway as Solder opted out of the season.

At the end of the day, getting better isn’t an easy process for a team. For better players to come in, some players have to get displaced. That’s just the nature of the sport, and we have yet to see how that process is going to turn out for the Giants. It is, after all, inevitable for some players to lose their spot even if the coaches have the best of intentions.

New York Giants revamped their offense with sure-handed receivers in 2021

New York Giants, Kenny Golladay

The New York Giants had one of the worst offenses in the NFL in 2020. The Giants averaged a putrid 17.5 points per game this past season. New York lacked playmakers on offense once superstar running back Saquon Barkley went down for the season in Week 2.

In the passing game, the Giants severely lacked dependable weapons to haul in passes from Daniel Jones. In a pivotal sophomore season, Daniel Jones had 23 of his passes dropped in 2020. The Giants’ wide receivers were inconsistent and undependable. New York made it a point of emphasis to fix that in the 2021 offseason.

The Giants’ new dependable wide receiver corps

According to Pro Football Focus, the Giants had the second-highest rate of dropped passes last season. Tight end Evan Engram receives a lot of criticism for dropping 11 passes in 2020. However, he was not the only receiver that struggled to hold onto the football last season. Darius Slayton also dropped 6 passes. The Giants’ receivers also struggled to separate last season.

Golden Tate averaged only 2.1 yards of separation in 2020 (tied-fourth worst in the league). Darius Slayton’s separation at a 2.9-yard average was not much better. The Giants recognized a clear need to upgrade Daniel Jones’s offensive weapons and seized the opportunity to do so in the 2021 offseason.

The New York Giants made a splash in free agency this offseason when they landed the market’s top wide receiver, Kenny Golladay. The Giants landed a receiver that is as dependable as they come. Kenny Golladay has the second-highest contested catch rate in the NFL since 2018 (PFF). Daniel Jones now has his big-body “go up and get it” outside receiver with Kenny G.

With their first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Giants got another sure-handed receiver. Kadarius Toney had only 3 career drops on 123 catchable passes during his time at the University of Florida (PFF). Toney fills a huge YAC need for the Giants, but also brings some dependability to the offense, too.

The Giants’ third big receiving acquisition this offseason was tight end Kyle Rudolph. Evan Engram struggled to hold onto the ball as New York’s starting tight end in 2020, so the Giants went out and got the most sure-handed and dependable tight end in football to help him out. Kyle Rudolph has recorded zero drops on 90 targets the past two seasons (PFF).

The New York Giants now have consistency and dependability on offense. Daniel Jones will enjoy throwing to sure-handed receivers as he attempts to establish himself as a franchise quarterback in his third season.

New York Giants rated as second most improved receiving corps

New York Giants, Kenny Golladay

The New York Giants came into this offseason with receivers as a large need, but that was mostly addressed through the draft and free agency. In free agency, of course, the team made the big name signing of Kenny Golladay to add a receiver that may very well finish in the top 10 statistically. And in the draft, they added a further weapon with first round pick Kadarius Toney after trading down.

Those improvements earned them the title of second most improved receiving corps by PFF. The only team rated higher happens to be the Giants’ neighbor, the Jets.

The Giants followed that splash free-agent signing by spending their first-round pick on another wide receiver. Per Zack Rosenblatt, Toney said that he models his game after Alvin Kamara, and like Kamara, his after-the-catch ability is rare. That’s something New York needed to add at wide receiver. The Giants’ wide receivers averaged 3.0 yards after the catch per reception in 2020, dead last in the NFL. Toney should help turn that number around.

The article by PFF mentions how Golladay and Toney aren’t the only additions. The Giants also added Kyle Rudolph, and while the signing has been almost forgotten since the start of the offseason, they also brought in 2017 top 10 pick John Ross.

A deep receiving group

Depth isn’t usually associated with the Giants receiving corps in recent years but the organization really does have a deep group this year. Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton are the top performers from the last couple of seasons, and they both return this year.

With the addition of Golladay as well as Toney, it’s easy to imagine Shepard and Slayton being able to work more effectively. Opposing defenses will be forced to focus on more than just them, and the Giants now have multiple receiving tight ends in Evan Engram and Kyle Rudolph.

The pressure will be on for Daniel Jones now that he has more weapons than ever, but ultimately, the Giants have done about as good a job as possible at setting him up to win in 2021.

New York Giants: Drafting Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith only makes Darius Slayton better

New York Giants, Darius Slayton

The New York Giants are pondering who to select with the eleventh overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. An argument has risen on Giants Twitter based on the team’s reported interest in top prospects. Fans are debating, should the Giants take one of the draft’s top wide receivers or one of the draft’s top cornerbacks?

One of the arguments against drafting a wide receiver with the eleventh overall pick is that the Giants already have a competent receiving corps. New York signed Kenny Golladay as its top receiving option this offseason. Opposite of him will be Darius Slayton in his third season. The dependable Sterling Shepard will move back into the slot.

On paper, that is a solid receiving trio. Behind the top three are a couple of quality depth options in John Ross and Dante Pettis. Fans are arguing that Darius Slayton is a quality secondary outside receiver, which is why the Giants should address a different position of need with their first draft pick. However, I will make a counterargument. Drafting an elite wide receiver talent at eleven overall will serve to maximize Darius Slayton’s talents and give Daniel Jones and the Giants’ offense all the tools possible to find success in 2021.

How Darius Slayton benefits from the Giants going receiver at eleven

There are two elite wide receiver talents that the Giants are reportedly interested in at eleven overall. Alabam wideouts Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. Devonta Smith was this year’s Heisman Trophy winner and is an elite talent that shattered records in 2020 at Alabama. Jaylen Waddle is considered by some to be the best wide receiver in this year’s draft class thanks to his game-breaking speed and rare athletic traits.

Darius Slayton is currently projected to be the Giants’ number two receiving option as their “Z” receiver. If the Giants were to draft Waddle or Smith, they would move into that number two role opposite of Golladay while Shepard continues to hold down the slot. This means Darius Slayton would fall to number four on the Giants’ receiver list.

Some view that as a negative for Big Play Slay. I think that this influx of additional receiver talent would benefit Darius Slayton and the Giants’ offense as a whole. Having four talented, starting-level receivers on the roster would allow the Giants to run more 14-personnel and four or five receiver sets. This would stretch opposing defenses’ secondaries thin, forcing a team’s fourth-string cornerback to be tasked with guarding Darius Slayton, a potential WR2 on some teams.

It is difficult to find depth at the cornerback position, similarly to wide receiver. But the pick of a wide receiver at eleven would give the Giants tremendous depth at the position to roast opposing secondaries lacking cornerback depth. Darius Slayton is likely talented enough to toast most fourth-string cornerbacks in the NFL on a play-by-play basis.

How Daniel Jones benefits, too

Additionally, having so much wide receiver talent on the roster and on the field at the same time makes life a whole lot easier for Daniel Jones. The Giants’ receivers struggled to gain separation and make plays for Jones in 2020. With such an influx in talent in 2021, that problem would dissipate and Daniel Jones would enjoy slinging the rock to a group of playmakers that could outmatch nearly any secondary in the NFL.

New York Giants: An NFC East best offense in 2021?

New York Giants, Saquon Barkley, Darius Slayton

The New York Giants had one of the worst offenses in the league in 2020 – but that might have changed around quickly based on how things have gone so far during the offseason. The Giants were already expected to see a boost to their offense going into the next season with a healthy Saquon Barkley, but that boost is greatly expanded by adding a receiver that has the potential to finish as one of the top ten in the league: Kenny Golladay.

The Golladay deal gives the Giants the number one receiver they haven’t had since they moved on from Odell Beckham Jr. Sterling Shepard never quite rose to that role, and Darius Slayton hasn’t been consistent enough to seize it either. Now, the Giants have what they’re looking for.

But the Giants still have other, less consistent but still dangerous talents in their back pocket. With a number one threat for defenses to focus on, these talents might be able to shine more. They include Evan Engram, whose receiving potential the Giants have continued to bet on each season as calls to trade the tight end go unheard. And Darius Slayton, who was still an 8 touchdown receiver in 2019 despite his lesser performance in 2020.

The Giants added another depth player to the receiving game with tight end Kyle Rudolph, who himself is only one year removed from a 6 touchdown season in 2019. If Saquon Barkley can stay healthy this entire season, the Giants will also have one of the most dynamic weapons in the running game this year.

It’s a bit early to start crowning the best offense in the division, and the last Giants teams to be crowned early have underperformed big time. But if there’s one season when the Giants will avoid that fate, it seems like this one.

After all, with the team finally getting a number one receiver, and other talents returning and having less pressure on them to take on the entire load for the offense, we might just see more than one player blossom from the move the Giants have made.

New York Giants: What will Darius Slayton’s role be in 2021?

New York Giants, Darius Slayton

Those who expected big things from the New York Giants‘ offense in 2020 were left severely disappointed. The Giants averaged a putrid 17.5 points per game this past season. Entering the season, there was plenty of excitement surrounding the Giants’ offensive core.

Veterans like Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard were looking to grow in a new offensive scheme. Quarterback Daniel Jones was entering his second season, along with wide receiver Darius Slayton, with both players coming off of impressive rookie campaigns. But, unfortunately, one of these players did not make the strides forward that they were expected to.

Daniel Jones seemed to make progress in 2020. His statistics were not impressive, but many fans feel he took a step forward and played much better in the second half of the year. Daniel did have a huge grade jump from Pro Football Focus. In 2019, his overall grade was a 65.9. In 2020, his overall grade rose to a respectable 78.4.

Darius Slayton, however, did not take the same jump that was expected of him. After an impressive rookie season where Slayton found the end zone 8 times with 740 receiving yards, fans thought he could elevate to a new status. But, it was more of the same, maybe even a little less from Slayton in 2020. Darius totaled only 750 yards on 2 more receptions with only 3 total touchdowns.

Now, entering the 2021 NFL offseason, the Giants are looking for new playmakers. General manager Dave Gettleman promised at his post-season press conference that he would upgrade the offense. With this in mind, Darius Slayton’s role in 2021 seems clouded and needs definition.

What will Darius Slayton’s role be in 2021?

Many Giants fans had high hopes for Darius Slayton in 2020. They thought he could elevate to “WR1” status and become New York’s primary receiver. But as the season went on, fans’ opinions changed and they started to hope he would develop into a high-end WR2.

Now, entering this offseason, the Giants are looking for new wide receivers to add to the mix. This could push Slayton down to “WR3” or “WR4” status. But could a reduced role like that benefit the wide receiver as he enters his third season?

As a primary receiver in the Giants’ offense, Slayton struggled at times. Lining up against opposing defense’s best cornerbacks might have been a task too tall for Darius. But in 2021, if the Giants are able to add a new primary wide receiver, Slayton could reap the benefits of facing the opposing team’s second, third, or even fourth-best cornerbacks.

Against team’s with weak secondaries, Darius Slayton flashed his high-end play. For example, Big Play Slay had 8 receptions for 129 yards against the Dallas Cowboys in Week Five. He also had a 93 yard receiving performance against Philadelphia in Week Ten.

Darius Slayton still had a couple of elite performances in 2020. But the consistency was lacking week-to-week. This could have been caused by injuries that bugged Slayton throughout the season. But looking ahead to 2021, if the Giants are able to add that new wide receiver they are searching for, they could see a new and improved Darius Slayton in a more refined role.

New York Giants: Darius Slayton’s stock dropping with every passing week

New York Giants, Darius Slayton

Entering the 2020 season, most believed the New York Giants‘ wide receiver Darius Slayton would make a significant jump. So far this season, Slayton has struggled to improve his route running and hands, completing just 52.2% of his attempted catches.

On the year, he has 729 yards and three touchdowns, down from his 2019 statistics, where he posted 740 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Giants’ offense has been struggling all year to get things going, and Darius hasn’t been the only disappointing player. Offensive playcalling has been lackluster from Jason Garrett, following a disappointing year from Pat Shurmur and his schematics.

Quarterback Daniel Jones has suffered through multiple injuries, including a pulled hamstring and left ankle issue, which has kept him out of two games this year so far. Against the Baltimore Ravens this past weekend, the Giants posted just 13 points, totaling 26 over the last three games. If there’s any indication of lackluster performance, it is that statistic. Jones has only thrown for nine touchdown passes this year, indicating poor efficiency in the red zone, but an uptick in running the football has been a major cause for his minimal production.

Who’s to blame for the New York Giants’ inept on offense?

Jason Garrett is to blame for most of the Giants’ issues, but we can’t forget about the playmakers and their inability to separate on routes. It seems as if their opponents know what is coming on any given play, just take a look at the clip below, as Slayton lines up in man coverage, and the cornerback brakes on the slant and nearly causes a turnover.

Whether it be Jones staring down his receivers and avoiding reads on the opposite side of the field, or Slayton’s poor sell on the route, things aren’t clicking. Slayton’s decreasing efficiency makes acquiring a wide receiver this upcoming off-season a necessity.

Whether it be a free agent or draft prospect, the Giants would benefit from adding an elite route runner to their receivers’ core. For example, let’s say they manage to grab Allen Robinson in free agency, pairing him with a dynamic slot receiver like Sterling Shepard, and deep threat like Slayton would completely open up the field.

With Saquon Barkley also expected to be back in 2021, the offense could be entirely different. However, it starts with the play calling and route concepts, which are criminally undeveloped and predictable.

Following back up on Slayton, I believe he’s lacking confidence, and when Jones is staring him down on slants and the only opportunities he gets downfield are in man-coverage and not exposing cover-2, his abilities are limited. It’s tough to say, but Shurmur actually utilized this offense more adequately, and he was bad from what we remember.

New York Giants: Wide receivers held offense back against Arizona

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

The New York Giants‘ winning streak came to an end on Sunday after a putrid offensive performance against the Arizona Cardinals. New York let up eight sacks and gained only 159 total yards of offense. Daniel Jones played through his hamstring injury and passed for only 127 yards before being pulled for backup Colt McCoy.

All game long, Daniel Jones was struggling to find open receivers to throw to. The Giants’ wide receivers could not separate from coverage on Sunday. They were completely outmatched and they have been for most of this season. The season is far from over, with the Giants only one game out of first place in the NFC East. However, it will be hard for the Giants to slip into the postseason if their receiving corps continues to play at this level.

The 2020 Giants wide receivers

The New York Giants starting wide receivers are Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, and Golden Tate. Shepard has been with the Giants the longest but has been held back by injuries over the last few seasons. But now, seemingly fully healthy, Shepard has not opened up the offense the way he was expected to.

Golden Tate is in his second season with the New York Giants. He was signed to a lucrative contract last offseason. Since then, Tate has been in the spotlight for a few of the wrong reasons, such as a PED suspension and a public criticism of the Giants’ offense.

Darius Slayton is the Giants’ second-year wide receiver that was expected to have a breakout 2020 season. That has not happened, though, as Slayton has been entirely unreliable this season. In Week 10, Slayton had 5 receptions for 93 yards. He followed that up with a 0 reception performance in Week 11.

Inconsistency and injuries have held the Giants’ receiving corps back in 2020. But what has held them back the most is a simple lack of talent. Yes, Tate, Shepard, and Slayton are talented receiving options. But no, none of those guys are true number one wide receivers that open up an offense and allow the offense to run through them.

In Week 14, the Giants’ wide receivers failed to separate from coverage. According to Next Gen Stats, the league average receiver separation is 2.86 yards. Golden Tate’s average separation in Week 14 was 0.42 yards. Slayton’s average separation was 1.37 yards. Shepard’s average separation was 1.86 yards. The entirety of the Giants’ receiving corps was far below average on Sunday, making things incredibly difficult for quarterback Daniel Jones.