Giants’ safety Jabrill Peppers has strong words ahead of Thursday night battle in Washington

New York Giants, Jabrill Peppers

The New York Giants are gearing up for a big Week 2 matchup against the Washington Football Team, and most are coining it a “must-win” game for both teams. After a disappointing loss in Week 1 to the Denver Broncos, the Giants are trying to bounce back in a strong way as they take on backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke.

After Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered a hip injury that put him on injured reserve, Heinicke stepped into the game. Over 15 passing attempts, Heinicke tallied 122 yards and a touchdown, recording a 70.1 QBR. Overall, he had a solid performance against Los Angeles, but with subpar arm talent, the Giants have the personnel to take advantage.

On the defensive side, the Giants blitzed more in Week 1 than in any game last year, showcasing a shift in strategy. With Patrick Graham attempting to substitute to a more man-coverage-based scheme, the goal will be to get after Heinicke and put him under immediate pressure.

One of the Giants’ key defenders, Jabrill Peppers, struggled in the opening game of the season, as he allowed four receptions on four targets for 34 yards. Peppers gave up several third-down conversions and catches in the red zone, which forced Graham to go in a different direction defensively.

“Subpar,” Peppers said. “I gave up two big third downs. I gave up a catch in the red zone … the standard I hold myself to, those are the routes I usually cover in my sleep. It is what it is, man. I gotta go back to the drawing board, hone in and get better.”

However, Peppers is resilient player and is eyeing a bounce-back against Washington on Thursday evening. Last season, Peppers emerged as one of the Giants’ best playmakers, playing a career-high 912 snaps, tallying 62 tackles, and posting seven pass breakups.
Peppers used some of that fiery energy to express the importance of this upcoming game, which attest to the notion that this is a must-win contest for both teams.

“Well, every game is important. This is a division game. We don’t like them. They don’t like us,” Peppers said. “So that’s where my head’s at right now.”

The Giants have beaten Washington four consecutive times since Daniel Jones took over as the starting quarterback. They will be looking to extend that streak, as Washington’s signal-caller issues presents Big Blue with a great opportunity to smooth over the fan base after an embarrassing loss to Denver.

New York Giants name 2021 team captains ahead of Week One

New York Giants, Nick Gates

The New York Giants are days away from kicking off their regular season. The team has announced its new team captains for the 2021 season with kickoff only six days away. There are a few players returning as captains with a couple of new names also added to the mix.

New York Giants 2021 Captains

Offensive Captains:

  • Daniel Jones
  • Saquon Barkley
  • Nick Gates

Defensive Captains:

  • Blake Martinez
  • Logan Ryan

Special Teams Captains

  • Jabrill Peppers
  • Graham Gano

Offense

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones is entering his second season as a captain of the team. This is his third career season, one that fans expect to be a big breakout year. He is a carryover captain, along with star running back Saquon Barkley. Saquon was named a captain in 2019 and has maintained that role ever since.

The new captain on offense is starting center Nick Gates. Entering his third season with the team, Gates has been named a captain. Nick Gates has proven to be the definition of a good teammate and a hard worker during his time in New York.

Defense

For the first time in his nine-year career, Logan Ryan is a captain. Ryan spent many years as one of the best players on the Tennessee Titans and New England Patriots defenses but was never named a captain. The Giants signed Ryan late last offseason and he instantly proved himself as one of the team’s best leaders. The Giants have awarded Logan Ryan with a captain’s patch in his second year with the team.

Blake Martinez is a captain for the second consecutive season. Martinez was one of the Giants’ splash signings in last year’s free agency period. He quickly proved himself as one of the best players on the team and had a career year with the Giants last season.

Special teams

Graham Gano is another new captain on the Giants. Another player entering his second season with the team, Gano earned his captain’s patch after having a phenomenal 2020 season where he made 31 of his 32 field goal attempts.

Jabrill Peppers earned his captain’s patch for the second consecutive season. Peppers brings that energy every Sunday and leads the team’s defense and special teams. Peppers contributes primarily as the team’s starting safety, but also as a punt returner. The Giants are expecting a huge year out of Peppers in 2021.

New York Giants: Dave Gettleman open to negotiating contracts mid-season

New York Giants, Dave Gettleman

Those who are already looking ahead to next season’s free agency may not have to wait so long for the New York Giants to make some moves. While General Manager Dave Gettleman has stayed away from negotiating new contracts during the season before, that appears to have changed. The shift may end up affecting some of the most relevant players for the Giants, such as running back Saquon Barkley and safety Jabrill Peppers.

I think it depends upon the guy, I think it depends upon where the team‘s at. I used to feel that it was a bad idea, but not so much. Have I changed my idea on that? Yes, I’m a lot more flexible on that,” Gettleman told reporters on Tuesday when asked about his current position on negotiating contracts in-season.

He was specifically asked if Jabrill Peppers could be one of the players that enters early negotiations, but Gettleman refused to go into detail about specific contract situations.

Peppers is set to enter unrestricted free agency following this season. Due to the team’s depth at safety and their ability to recover from losing Peppers’ presence at the position, a trade before the deadline looks like a possible outcome to ensure that the Giants get something back rather than letting the player walk. If the Giants are planning on making such a move, it makes sense that Gettleman isn’t willing to speak publicly on Peppers’ contract just yet.

Saquon Barkley, on the other hand, is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2023. Given his important role in the offense and the future of the franchise, it’s likely the Giants work out a deal before the point where Barkley hits the open market.

Could that deal make progress this season after Barkley makes his return? We’ll have to wait to find out, but much of it likely depends on just how fast Barkley gets back up to speed and whether his performance on the field gives him the leverage for a larger payday come contract time.

The New York Giants’ secondary has a challenging 2021 season on the horizon

The New York Giants’ 2021 schedule features a list of challenges for the team’s secondary. The Giants are set to face off against some of the best offensive weapons in the NFL this season. Wide receiver talent is plentiful in the modern NFL, a revelation the Giants will have this season.

Top wide receivers that the Giants will be facing in 2021:

(* indicates a player selected to a Pro Bowl, + indicates a player selected to an All-Pro team)

  • Jerry Jeudy
  • Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel (2x)
  • Calvin Ridley+, Kyle Pitts
  • Michael Thomas+ (maybe)
  • Amari Cooper*, CeeDee Lamb (2x)
  • Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp
  • Robby Anderson, DJ Moore
  • Tyreek Hill+, Travis Kelce+
  • Darren Waller+
  • Mike Evans*, Chris Godwin*, Rob Gronkowski+
  • DeVonta Smith (2x)
  • Will Fuller V
  • Keenan Allen*
  • Allen Robinson*

The New York Giants’ elite secondary

Thankfully, the New York Giants do seem to have the talent necessary to defend against these Pro Bowl and All-Pro receivers and tight ends. The Giants have invested a great number of assets into their secondary over the past few years. These investments have paid off as the Giants now possess one of the league’s best secondaries. New York’s 22 passing touchdowns allowed were tied for the fifth-fewest in the NFL.

James Bradberry

The Giants’ secondary is led by star cornerback James Bradberry IV. In 2020, Bradberry was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, earning his first career Pro Bowl selection while being snubbed from the All-Pro teams. He set a new career-high with 18 passes defended, tied for the second-most in the NFL and only two behind Miami’s Xavien Howard for the league lead (Giants.com).

Logan Ryan

James Bradberry was one of two big free agent signings that the Giants made in their secondary last offseason. New York also signed safety Logan Ryan who had a stellar season during his first year with the Giants. Ryan totaled 93 combined tackles, forced 3 fumbles, and hauled in 1 interception.

Jabrill Peppers

Alongside Logan Ryan is another stud safety on the Giants’ defense: Jabrill Peppers. Jabrill had a career year in 2020, setting new career-highs in combined tackles (91), sacks (2.5), tackles for loss (8), and passes defended (11). Peppers is a phenomenal strong safety that impacts the run game and has the coverage skills to lock down tight ends and running backs.

Adoree’ Jackson

If there was one weakness in the Giants’ secondary last season, though, it was at the outside cornerback spot opposite of James Bradberry. The Giants had a revolving door at CB2. They made an effort to fill this hole in the 2021 offseason, signing former Tennessee Titans cornerback Adoree’ Jackson. This signing makes for a significant upgrade. Since 2018, Adoree Jackson has the fourth-highest coverage grade when lined up outside according to Pro Football Focus with a grade of 85.6.

Xavier McKinney

The Giants like to run a lot of three-safety packages on defense. This means that second-year safety Xavier McKinney could see starting-level snaps in 2021. According to Pro Football Focus, Xavier McKinney’s 70 overall grade was on track to be the highest-graded rookie safety of the season in his 212 snaps after coming back from injury, but he did not meet the minimum snap requirement.

Depth

Behind all of these starters, the Giants have plenty of depth in the secondary. Julian Love has proven to be a solid utility player in the secondary. Darnay Holmes and Aaron Robinson will compete at slot cornerback. Players like Isaac Yiadom and Rodarius Williams also provide the team with solid depth. The New York Giants secondary has a challenging 2021 season on the horizon, but it possesses the talent necessary to get the job done.

Why the New York Giants should extend Jabrill Peppers instead of trade him

New York Giants, Jabrill Peppers

The New York Giants have several pillars on the defense, and one of them is safety Jabrill Peppers, who not only brings a unique blend of coverage ability and run-stopping prowess but energy to a team that has lacked in the past.

Peppers first entered the NFL with the Cleveland Browns, transitioning from strong safety to free safety during his first two years, but it wasn’t until this past season where he truly found his potential under coordinator Patrick Graham.

To give you an idea of how much Graham helped Peppers elevate his game, he set personal bests in almost every influential defensive category. To list them all, Peppers improved in tackles, tackles for a loss, sacks, passes defended, pressures, hurries and posted the lowest missed tackle right of his career.

Statistically, he recorded 91 tackles, eight tackles for a loss, three QB hits, 2.5 sacks, and posted 11 passes defended. He was one of the Giants’ best defensive players and is only set to make $6.7 million this upcoming season, but some believe he could be a trade piece prior to the start of the campaign.

CBS Sports believes the Giants could trade Jabirll Peppers for cap space, which makes little sense:

He’s still a big name with a big role, but with 2022 free agency on the horizon, Peppers could be dangled for the chance to gain $6.8M in cap savings for a team with just $2.4M in current space. It’s not as if New York hasn’t invested in alternatives at the position, paying up to retain Logan Ryan, recently spending a high pick on Xavier McKinney and finding snaps for the versatile Julian Love.

Even if the Giants did manage to find a trade partner for Peppers, they would be creating a weakness where they currently have a strength. Adding $6.7 million to their $2.4 million available funds would have little impact, considering the only unit that could theoretically use an upgrade is the offensive line, and the options on the market are thin.

Some might argue that Xavier McKinney can play the role that Peppers currently houses, but the Alabama product is still finding his sea legs in the NFL and is far less adequate against the run. McKinney stands at 6’0” and 201 pounds, while Peppers has 20 pounds of additional muscle mass, giving him a bit more thump in the run game.

In addition, Jabrill is one of the team’s captains, and after letting Dalvin Tomlinson walk in free agency, parting ways with two captains doesn’t exactly scream efficiency in the locker room. The Michigan product has provided a level of energy for the Giants’ defense that was incomprehensible before his acquisition in the OBJ trade with the Browns.

If there’s an argument for trading away Peppers, it boils down to the trade deadline, and if the team is struggling, looking to add draft capital for the future. However, trading him away now and creating a weakness could be viewed as malpractice. If there’s any course of action, the Giants should be looking to extend Peppers before the end of the season than trade him, as his value could sky-rocket after another impressive campaign littered with growth and quality.

New York Giants: Jabrill Peppers named as surprise summer trade candidate

New York Giants, Jabrill Peppers

The cap situation for the New York Giants naturally isn’t as good as it was before this offseason. The Giants spent big to bring in new additions and retain important players from last year’s roster, in the hopes of turning things around and making the playoffs in 2021. But could they improve their standing with the salary cap by making a trade this season that would offload a player with a large contract?

CBS Sports listed the Giants as one team that could make such a trade in an article predicting surprise players that could switch teams during training camp. Among the names listed was Jabrill Peppers, who looks to have plenty of security with the Giants right now. Despite being secure in his spot, though, the Giants have other high profile players at Peppers’ position and could do well to save money by moving on.

He’s still a big name with a big role, but with 2022 free agency on the horizon, Peppers could be dangled for the chance to gain $6.8M in cap savings for a team with just $2.4M in current space. It’s not as if New York hasn’t invested in alternatives at the position, paying up to retain Logan Ryan, recently spending a high pick on Xavier McKinney and finding snaps for the versatile Julian Love.

To put it simply, the Giants are paying a lot for Peppers when they have others that can fill the role well. Logan Ryan is on a good sized deal of his own and looks like the leader at the safety position, and the Giants also still have Xavier McKinney to develop into a player on a similar caliber to Ryan or Peppers. When you add in Julian Love to the mix, the position looks quite crowded.

It would be understandable if the Giants did want to move on from Peppers and clear some cap space while getting back something in return in a trade.

There’s nothing wrong with Peppers’ play on the field, after all, even if it’s clear why the Giants might want to move on from a teambuilding perspective. Given that, it also wouldn’t be surprising if the Giants got a decent draft pick in return for sending him elsewhere.

New York Jets: Three aftershocks from the Marcus Maye franchise tag

Maye will officially play the 2021 season on a franchise tag. How will that affect the New York Jets’ ongoing rebuild?

Tag, Marcus Maye is it.

Thursday marked the deadline for Maye and the New York Jets to come to a long-term deal. With the 4 p.m. cutoff long breached, Maye will play the 2021 season on a franchise tag worth over $10 million.

While the tag has Maye listed as the sixth-richest safety in football, there seems to a lingering sense of iciness between the safety and the team. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport has claimed that tensions rose long before Thursday’s final horn, saying that the Jets’ offer went drastically lower than what Maye would be offered with the tag. Thus, 2021 has the makings of a lame duck season for Maye, who is coming a career-best campaign.

How does this affect the Jets this season and beyond? ESM investigates…

ashtyn davis, new york giants

Ashtyn Can’t Butcher An Opportunity

After the Jamal Adams saga ended in a fruitful trade, Maye stepped up and perhaps created this whole controversy in the first place. A similar opportunity awaits Ashtyn Davis, a second year strong safety who is projected to line up next to Maye this season.

Davis, a third-round pick out of Cal during the virtual draft of 2020, went from walk-on to projected day two choice, perhaps falling out of the second round due to surgery following his senior campaign. His rookie season was a bit of a wash, as he struggled when thrust into action after Adams was traded and Seattle arrival Bradley McDougald was lost to an injury. Davis likewise fell victim to a foot injury that ended his year after six games (one start).

Praised for his athleticism and physicality, the Jets hope that Davis can enjoy a breakout campaign similar to what Maye experienced last season. Beyond him, the secondary depth chart is disturbingly thin: Las Vegas import LaMarcus Joyner, 30, brings experience but will need a truly impressive season to factor in the Jets’ long-term plans. At cornerback, the Jets stockpiled project defenders like Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock, and Brandin Echols. Starters Bless Austin and Bryce Hall have a lot of upside, but are no guarantee.

Needless to say, a Davis breakthrough would definitely give their defense a clearer path toward the future.

New York Giants, Jabrill Peppers
Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Safety First

There’s plenty of time for Maye and the Jets to change each other’s minds and it’s probably far too late in the offseason to consider a trade. But all signs currently point to a separation come next spring, so the Jets have to start planning now.

Both the 2022 free agency and draft classes have some strong names to keep an eye on. Marcus Williams, with whom Maye is tied in 2021 salary, should be one the marquee names, followed by Jabrill Peppers. The incoming rookie class is headlined by Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton (who could very well be a top ten pick) while redshirt sophomore Brandon Joseph could be an intriguing pick with the latter first round pick from the Seahawks. New York is currently projected to work with over $71 million in cap space in 2022, third-best in the league behind Indianapolis and Pittsburgh.

Frankly, the potential Maye exit always applies a certain amount of pressure of the offense. The past offseason saw the Jets in such dire straits that it was a near guarantee that at least one area was going to be neglected. A majority of the Jets’ offseason resources were shifted toward the offense and front seven, including free agency dollars (Corey Davis, Keelan Cole, Carl Lawson, Jarrad Davis). Their primary draft picks were dedicated to the offense, as each of their first four choices (Zach Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore, and Michael Carter) have been hired to put points on the board. If the anemic offense shows no signs of improving the season, the  secondary could wind up woefully neglected again.

New York Jets, Joe Douglas
Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

Off-Broadway Joe

It doesn’t do anyone much good to write Maye’s New York farewell song just yet. But, if these next 17 games make up his final hours in green, it continues two disturbing trends in recent Jets history.

With Maye’s New York future in doubt, the 2017 draft class is officially an endangered species. Nothing more needs to be written about top pick Adams, but the class has been a scourge on not only the Jets, but the league as well. Three of the nine picks (including third-round receiver ArDarius Stewart) are already out of football and only one beyond the safeties (Texan-turned-Lion Chad Hansen) appeared in 2020 regular season action.

The Jets have not only had trouble drafting, they’ve had troubling keeping the homegrown talent that appears to have a future. Maye appeared to be on pace to break that trend, but the past few weeks have only commenced a countdown to his departure.

Could this serve as a commentary on the Joe Douglas era?

It’s easy to view this situations from both sides: Douglas and company want to see how Maye performs in year two of the post-Adams era and they save some money in the short and long-run (maybe the immediate savings could go toward secondary help and a backup quarterback…?). Maye believes he’s a top ten safety and wants to be paid as such.

No one can deny that Douglas knows the team’s needs and can work with an offseason budget, at least on paper. But there could be a lingering side effect of free agents being scared away by Douglas’ unwillingness to deal pricy long-term deals?

Simply put, there’s a little more pressure on the 2021 Jets to perform now, to showcase visible signs of improvement. Again, asking them to make the postseason leap seems like a little much: they’re trapped in a division with America’s powerful football sweethearts in Buffalo and there are too many established contenders to leapfrog for the wild card. But there has to be at least some semblance of hope out there, a “throat-clearing” year of sorts, something similar to what the Los Angeles Chargers did with Justin Herbert in tow.

Entering Herbert’s rookie year, there wasn’t much to be excited about from an LA perspective. They seemed destined for a rebuild period and were struggling to attract fans even when they were allowed to play in front of a crowd. But the Chargers went on to surprise a lot of people. Herbert had an exemplary rookie season and the team won seven games. Even their losses were impressive: they took Kansas City and New Orleans to overtime and sheer bad luck probably kept them away from a winning record.

Seven of the Chargers’ nine losses came by single digits and they won each of their final four games following a December shellacking from New England. Los Angeles is now everyone’s NFL preview dark horse and the good vibes attracted new starters like Corey Linsley, Oday Aboushi, Matt Feiler, and Jared Cook to the cause.

Patience has paid off in the early stages of this New York rebuilding stage. But in certain regards, the time is now.

How do you think the Jets’ plans will be affected by Maye’s franchise tag? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and keep the conversation going.

New York Giants: Jabrill Peppers establishing himself as one of the best safeties in the NFL

New York Giants, Jabrill Peppers

The New York Giants have the best type of problem on the defensive side of the ball. Patrick Graham’s unit is filled with so many talented players that some of them might not see as much playing time as they truly deserve. Arguably the strongest positional unit on the Giants’ roster is at the safety position, led by Jabrill Peppers.

Safeties like Julian Love and Xavier McKinney might see more playing time as starters on other teams. But with talents like Logan Ryan and Logan Ryan on the roster, Love and McKinney might not see full playing time in 2021. Jabrill Peppers, however, will be on the field as frequently as possible.

Entering his fourth season in the NFL, Jabrill Peppers is establishing himself as one of the best safeties in the league. Peppers is a versatile Swiss Army Knife on the Giants’ defense that impacts the game at every level and lines up any and everywhere.

Jabrill Peppers stats and highlights

Jabrill Peppers had a career year in 2020. He totaled career-highs with 91 combined tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and 11 passes defended. Jabrill also added 1 interception and 1 forced fumble. Peppers was acquired by the Giants in the 2019 offseason via the infamous Odell Beckham trade with the Cleveland Browns.

In his rookie season with the Browns, Jabrill Peppers was playing mostly free safety in Cleveland’s defense that frequently utilized single-high safety. This did not exactly fit Peppers’s skill set, as he is more of a downhill thumper that thrives as a linebacker. That is the role he started playing full-time for the Giants in 2020.

In 2020, the majority of Jabrill Peppers’s snaps came in the box (383 snaps). He only played 143 snaps as a free safety (PFF). Many of Jabrill’s snaps came lined up as a linebacker in the Giants’ speedy zone-coverage heavy defense.

This upcoming season, expect to see Jabrill Peppers continue to play a lot of linebacker. The Giants play a lot of nickel and dime packages, which means they run extra defensive backs onto the field. Logan Ryan should be a constant at free safety. But when the team looks to get Xavier McKinney on the field, they will plug him in at strong safety and have Jabrill Peppers shift to linebacker.

Not many safeties in the NFL can play multiple positions the way Jabrill Peppers can. He lines up all over the field and still makes plays. Jabrill Peppers is the ultimate chess piece in the New York Giants’ defense and with a big year in 2021, he could earn himself a lucrative contract extension.

The New York Giants should run a ton of three-safety sets in 2021

new york giants

The New York Giants‘ defense exceeded all expectations in the 2020 NFL season. They ranked ninth in the league in points allowed per game and twelfth in yards allowed per game. One of the reasons for the Giants’ great defensive success was defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s creative scheme.

Patrick Graham put his players in a position to play to their strengths in 2020. One of the ways he did this was playing a lot of nickel defensive packages that featured three safeties on the field. Jabrill Peppers and Logan Ryan formed one of the best safety duos in the NFL last season. The Giants also enjoyed the talents of Julian Love, their versatile utility player in the secondary. Towards the end of the season, fans got a glimpse of what the Giants’ defense might look like in 2021 once Xavier McKinney returned to the lineup.

Last year, the Giants loved running three-safety sets. But in 2021, the Giants should run so many three-safety sets that it becomes their base defense. Running these nickel packages will allow the Giants to get their most talented defenders on the field more frequently while also masking any thin depth that the Giants have in their front seven.

Why the Giants should play a lot of nickel defense next season

The New York Giants have put together an excellent defensive unit. Their defensive line has a couple of studs in Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams. Blake Martinez has proven to be a premier inside linebacker. But the real strength of this Giants’ defense is now its secondary.

James Bradberry leads the Giants’ secondary as one of the NFL’s best outside cornerbacks. New York paired him with Adoree’ Jackson on the other side this offseason, a duo that could be elite this season. Rounding out the Giants’ secondary are a bunch of young, talented safeties and slot cornerbacks.

Darnay Holmes was impressive as a fourth-round rookie this past season, yet the Giants still went ahead and added another talented nickel corner in Aaron Robinson via the 2021 NFL Draft. Jabrill Peppers is emerging as one of the best box safeties in the NFL who thrives as a moneybacker in Patrick Graham’s defense. And, of course, Xavier McKinney will enter the lineup in his second season. The former second-round pick was thought to be a first-round talent when the Giants stole him in round two. They’ll want to get all of these guys on the field as much as possible.

In order to get Holmes, Robinson, McKinney, and Peppers on the field with frequency, the Giants will need to play a lot of nickel coverage and many packages where the team has three safeties on the field. The Giants did this a lot last year, spending much of their time in a nickel 3-3-5 package. But this season it will be even more crucial that this package hits the field as the Giants try to get Xavier McKinney to establish himself in the NFL.

Additionally, there is not a ton of depth behind Blake Martinez at the inside linebacker position. The Giants’ depth is a little thin there, as it is at nose tackle as well. To supplement this weakness, the Giants should play nickel formations where there are fewer defensive linemen and linebackers on the field. Put that talented trio of safeties and that exciting young duo of slot cornerbacks to work this season.

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.