We have hit the doldrums ladies and gentlemen. Fans of the New York Giants, much like fans of any other NFL team, can only sit and wait for the next two months. The front office has done the bulk of their job, and whether or not you agree with their agenda, you can’t help but be excited to see a better brand of football coming from our squad in the upcoming season.
By all accounts (including those coming from our defensive players) Saquon Barkley is at least as good as advertised. Will Hernandez and Nate Solder will elevate our O-line play to no less than ‘average’…a vast improvement over the mostly laughable production by the unit in 2017.
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While we have many good reasons to feel content right now, a sober look at our team should leave you wondering about a few areas of our roster. The NFC is about as stacked as I’ve ever seen since the early 90’s. For the Giants to truly be relevant come January, there are some questions that must be0 answered during training camp come August.
1.) Who will be our starting right tackle?
Until further notice, this is a two man battle between Chad Wheeler and twitter pariah Ereck Flowers. Wheeler came to us after last year’s draft as an undrafted free agent. As four year starter at USC, Chad ranked high among 2017 tackle prospects as far as physical traits and talent go, but he slipped in the draft due to inconsistent play and his smaller frame. 6’7” is more than ideal height, but he weighs in at 310 lbs. and looks slight for the position.
Given the state of our offense last year, it should surprise no one that Wheeler was pressed into duty during his rookie season at several times and at different positions. While he should be commended for his versatility and general aptitude, his ceiling as a starter is probably league average at best. He has earned the shot to prove he can be more than that (word is that he’s bulked up this offseason) and hold down the position, but I’m not betting that way.
I believe Ereck Flowers wins the job. Or maybe I should say keeps it since he was immediately inserted into the starting lineup…once he bothered to show up. The 2015 9th overall looks exactly like your starting tackle. 6’6”, 325 lbs. with long arms and quick feet. Too bad his play has been about as consistent as Wi-Fi in Antarctica.
Here’s a peek of what I’m talking about:
To be fair, the Wi-Fi in Antarctica probably is consistent as long as you’re in the right area. Maybe Flowers works the same way. At left tackle he was getting no signal, but possibly for him right tackle is like the 1% of the south pole where you get 5 bars.
MY ANSWER: Flowers keeps the job and performs well.
2.) Do we have enough depth at cornerback?
I am actually wondering do we even have two good starters? The Jackrabbit..aka Janoris Jenkins, is coming off an injury plagued 2017 season that included a team enforced suspension. At least we have seen him play at an All-Pro level. The same cannot be said for Eli Apple. The enigmatic cornerback has flashed the elite skills that prompted us to select him with the 10th pick two years ago, but he better known for repeated benchings and disrupting team chemistry.
Behind them, the depth chart gets alarmingly thin. William Gay had a nice career in Pittsburgh, but he is on the wrong side of 33! And behind him there’s Teddy Williams, B.W. Webb, Jeremiah McKinnon, C.J. Goodwin & Chris Lewis-Harris. I’ve said before that you can’t rub a bunch of back-ups together to make a starter, but it feels like that’s exactly what we’re gonna try at nickel CB…sounds like a risky course of action in today’s NFL.
MY ANSWER: We get exposed if Jenkins or Apple get injured. Make that when it happens
3.) Who is our #3 receiver?
Just kidding, but only a little bit. As of this moment, Dez is still waiting for us to call. He is hoping that Cody Lattimer does in New York exactly what he did in Denver…which isn’t much. He underwhelmed for four seasons at mile high, but possesses the tools to be an effective possession/slot receiver. The G-men picked him up rather early in free agency, and right now he’s penciled in at #3, but there is competition for that spot.
Enter Roger Lewis. Coming to us in 2016 as an UFA, Lewis has had a few highlight moments for the G-men.
That was one of the few bright spots of a 2017 season where Lewis was inserted into the starting lineup due to the injury bug, no, injury bazooka hitting the receiver corps. Almost nobody on the Giants offense last year looked good, but Lewis didn’t look bad which is saying something.
After Lattimer & Lewis, we get into a lot of names you have no reason to know. Amba Etta-Tawo has an intriguing skill set, but not much else to speak of in his career. Ramses Barden also had an intriguing skill set for the record. The rest of the depth chart excites me as much as Barden did.
If the stars stay healthy, these ‘other guys’ should do fine, but if the injury bazooka comes back we’re in trouble.
MY ANSWER: We sign Dez in mid-August when his price is low…he catches 3 td’s against the Cowboys in week 2. Gets benched by week 6.
4.) Will our defense return to 2016 form?
I almost wanna give any defensive players left from last year a mulligan. Our putrid offense left our defense in the worst possible position incessantly. I’m talking about an offense that averaged 15.4 points per game and a 32% 3rd down conversion rate (both good for 31st in the NFL). That’s hard for any defense to deal with.
But a defense that ranked 27th or lower in the 4 major categories (points, total yards, passing & rushing yards) cannot be blamed solely on poor offensive production, bad coaching, or even locker room revolt. The eyeball test says that last year many players just weren’t performing for whatever reason.
The coaching staff house cleaning brings us not only a new coordinator in James Bettcher, but a new defensive scheme. I wrote earlier how the return of the 3-4 defense will place more emphasis on our linebackers. Free agent Alec Ogletree and returning vet B.J. Goodson will man the inside, while Olivier Vernon will have to adjust to a stand-up role as an outside backer. Rookie Lorenzo Carter is in line to play on the opposite side and help Vernon pressure opposing QB’s.
A little peek at what we hope Carter will bring to our squad:
I talked earlier about the secondary…and you know I don’t like how thin we look. Thankfully, I love how thick we look on the D-line. Giants vets Damon Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson will eat up blockers, and free agent Kareem Martin rounds out our starting unit. Martin was a solid 3-4 end in Arizona for the past 4 seasons and should ease the transition for our front 7. This defense needs to hit the ground running to stand a chance in the NFC this year.
MY ANSWER: After a slow start, the defense becomes an above average unit due mostly to the front 7 and Landry Collins.
5.) Does Eli Manning still have it?
There it is. The 100 million dollar question. Can Eli still play? If you ask some people, he never was all that good to begin with. If you ask most people, he’s been bad for at least 2 years…although that does coincide with the tenure of a coach who recently had his keycard taken away.
I’ll put my cards on the table: I believe he still can play at a very high level…but I haven’t really seen it for nearly 2 seasons. I’ve been an Eli fan/supporter since day 1, so it isn’t easy for me to admit that the end is near for my favorite QB. His arm strength is lessened (although not as much as others would have you believe). He can no longer move well enough to be effective behind a porous O-line.
Maybe most alarmingly, his yds per attempt has been trending down for years. In 2011, the 2nd Superbowl win for Eli, he averaged a robust 8.4 yds per attempt. In 2014 it was 7.3 yds per. Last year was his career low at 6.1 yds per attempt.
Despite those and other stats that suggest Eli is done, the Giants brass from top to bottom still see Eli as a championship level QB with years left to play. I can understand their reasoning. He’s as good as it gets at pre-snap at the line of scrimmage getting the G-men in and out of the right plays. Last season proved what kind of leader and teammate he is and how much New York fans truly love him, even when they hate him.
Behind an offensive line that can provide sufficient time and with what on paper looks like the best cast of skill players he’s ever played with, the New York Giants believe there is some magic left in Eli’s 37 year old arm.
MY ANSWER: I think they’re right. Eli enjoys a great statistical season.