New York Giants: Washington named team to beat by Jordan Raanan

new york giants, ryan anderson

The New York Giants narrowly missed out on the division title last season. Instead, it was Washington that ended up with a trip to the playoffs, even if it came in controversial fashion due to their season finale against the Eagles.

Both teams will look different this year with the Giants notably taking a step forward, but will it come down to New York versus Washington once again for the NFC East title?

ESPN’s Jordan Raanan seemingly believes that’s the case. In an article analyzing the outlook of the NFC East for the 2021 season, Raanan was skeptical about crowning Dallas the division champion early on and instead gave the title of team to beat to Washington.

Consider me skeptical of the Cowboys. How about they do something before earning even the slightest bit of public trust? The favorite should be Washington, and it shouldn’t be close. It won the division in 2020 with the league’s second-ranked defense and upgraded this offseason at quarterback. Even though I’m not much of a FitzMagic fan, Washington is the team to beat. — Jordan Raanan

The Cowboys are the +105 betting favorite for the division going into the season. The Giants, on the other hand, were only given the third best odds while Washington was above them and Philadelphia came last.

Washington will have some more tools the next time they meet the Giants. That includes Curtis Samuel, a receiver who might be on the verge of a 1,000 yard season, as well as Jamin Davis, a linebacker who the Giants may have drafted in the first round if Washington hadn’t done so first.

They also come into the season with 38 year old Ryan Fitzpatrick as their apparent starter at QB, which presents an interesting matchup for the Giants – despite his age, Fitzpatrick represents a better option for Washington’s offense than the revolving door at the position that was there last season.

Regardless of who the favorite is, it appears the Giants are being slept on by the oddsmakers who only placed them as the third best team in the division. They may very well surprise Vegas this season, after taking big steps forward in the offseason.

The New York Giants might’ve landed a steal in pass-rusher Elerson Smith

elerson smith, new york giants

When the New York Giants selected Northern Iowa standout defender Elerson Smith, most were surprised, even flabbergasted at the selection. The Giants desperately needed offensive line support after ranking 31st in pass-blocking efficiency in 2020. However, the Giants took a different approach this year, focusing on value and best player available. They ended up with Elerson, who entered college as a 190-pound pass rusher in desperate need of size and strength.

Smith went on a physical journey to transform his body, adding 75 pounds of healthy weight to his frame, increasing his power and speed up the process. As a 6’7″, 255-pound defensive end, Smith projects as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 base scheme. He has the length to seal the edge but also the underrated speed and power to get after the quarterback. The Giants perilously needed more depth and starting level talent at the position, especially with Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines going down last year and not having a healthy sample size to prove their production.

There’s reason to believe that Smith could be one of their bigger steals from this year’ss draft, as he posted a 4.71 40-yard dash and put up 26 reps on the bench press at his Pro Day. He is fast and strong, earning 14 sacks last year for Northern Iowa.

According to Bryce Paup (Elerson’s DL coach at Northern Iowa), who was interviewed by Patricia Traina of Giants Country:

“We knew he had potential, but there’s a lot of people that have potential, but never reached their full potential,” Paup said.

“Why? Because they can’t put it all together. This game is more than just athleticism. It’s the ability to work hard to study, to do the right things at the right time to treat people right, to keep your nose clean all the time, and to be able to handle the mental stress that comes with it.”

Of course, Smith was the 116th pick, so he is a developmental prospect who needs some time to get his feet wet at the NFL level. With stronger and bigger players to beat in the trenches, Smith is going to have a rough time adjusting his game, as these experience players have seen it all, ranging from speed to power. They know how to control and react underdeveloped players, so while I imagine Smith well be viewed as a rotational piece to start his career, he has the upside to make an impact as a potential starter down the line.

Nonetheless, the Giants had serious issues with injury last season at OLB, so Elerson will have an opportunity to earn reps at some point in the season, especially since the Giants scheme for opponent and offensive systems.

New York Giants accidentally walked into a contingency plan for Daniel Jones

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

The New York Giants went into the 2021 NFL draft with their eyes on Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith with the 11th overall pick. As they waited patiently for arguably the best WR in college history to reach their selection, other pass-catchers were flying off the board left and right, as Jaylen Waddle went to Miami and Ja’Marr Chase to the Cincinnati Bengals. However, Smith was on the board with the 10th overall pick; Giants felt strongly they would land the Alabama stand-out receiver.

However, the Philadelphia Eagles leapfrogged the Giants with an inter-divisional trade, including the Dallas Cowboys. They proceeded to select Smith and leave the Giants stranded in the water, but that might’ve been the best thing they could’ve done for a Big Blue squad in dire need of future draft capital and a contingency plan for quarterback Daniel Jones whether they knew it or not.

Jones has had his fair share of struggles at the NFL level, seeing his touchdowns drop from 24 to 11 in 2020 under coordinator Jason Garrett. He did experience an improvement in ball security, but Jones is nowhere near being considered a franchise quarterback until he can prove consistent production on the field.

The Giants provided him with a WR1 in Kenny Golladay, a new TE in Kyle Rudolph, and various playmakers, including John Ross and Kadarius Toney, their 20th overall selection. They also have Saquon Barkley preparing to make a return from a torn ACL, so there is no excuse for Jones to struggle unless the offensive line provides them with minimal time in the pocket. However, I expect them to be a bit more efficient, simply based on the fact that more playmakers will draw more attention and force defenses to play cover-2 and drag LBs and safeties out of the box.

The New York Giants walked away WINNERS:

What the Giants did trading back with the Chicago Bears was exactly what they needed to do, adding a first/fourth-round pick for 2021 and a fifth-round pick this year. In fact, I would go as far as the claim they accidentally put a contingency plan in place for Jones if he doesn’t take the developmental jump they seek in his third year as a pro.

They now have two first-round selections next season, and the Chicago Bears are working through their quarterback situation and don’t plan to start Justin Fields right away. In addition, they have the second hardest schedule in the NFL, so that first-round pick could be even more valuable if they lose a plethora of games.

The Giants would walk away with a heist, offering an opportunity to replace Jones if need be without restarting a rebuild, but also spending draft capital they have now instead of future picks, which would hurt their chances at adding adequate depth.

It took nine drafts for general manager Dave Gettleman to see the value in moving back, and even if it wasn’t his preferred method, he put himself in an incredibly advantageous position moving forward.

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 have plenty of depth in talented secondary

New York Giants, James Bradberry, logan ryan

The New York Giants had a top-ten defense in the NFL last season. New York’s defense won with a strong interior of defensive linemen and a dynamic secondary full of young, talented defensive backs. There should be more of the same in 2021.

The Giants doubled down this offseason and made some upgrades in their already top-tier secondary. They made a splash signing in free agency this offseason, inking outside cornerback Adoree’ Jackson to a three-year, $39 million deal. This move potentially gave the Giants another elite starting cornerback opposite of James Bradberry.

But the New York Giants are no longer top-heavy in the secondary. They do not just have talented starters in their secondary. The Giants now have a secondary with talented depth.

Depth in the Giants’ secondary

The safeties

The New York Giants have a talented trio of safeties that will see significant playing time this season. Jabrill Peppers and Logan Ryan will build on what they started last season as the starting safeties. Ryan, that rangy ball-hawking free safety, and Peppers, that tough run-defending box safety. But the Giants also have Xavier McKinney entering his second season in the NFL. McKinney provides a nice blend of skills that would help him thrive in the box or in deep coverage. Expect to see the Giants run a lot of three safety sets this season to maximize the talent on their roster.

Julian Love will be the Giants’ depth piece for the safeties. Love got starting experience in his rookie 2019 season when Jabrill Peppers went down with an injury. Love was impressive and established himself as a perfect utility player for the Giants’ defense. Julian will provide depth in the Giants’ secondary as a safety, but he also has the skills and experience to fill in at slot and outside cornerback, too.

The outside cornerbacks

James Bradberry and Adoree’ Jackson could be one of the elite cornerback duos in the NFL this season. Bradberry played at an elite level last season, breaking up a career-high 18 passes with 3 interceptions and his first-career Pro Bowl selection. Jackson, however, barely saw the field in 2020.

Adoree’ dealt with a knee injury last season that kept him sidelined most of the year. This was his second significant injury in two years. Adoree’ Jackson is one of the best outside cornerbacks in the NFL when he is healthy. Since 2018, Jackson has the fourth-highest coverage grade when lined up outside according to Pro Football Focus with a grade of 85.6. But his injury history does motivate the Giants to load up on depth behind him.

The Giants still have Isaac Yiadom on their roster. There were times where Yiadom was a liability in the Giants’ secondary last season. Isaac Yiadom might not be capable of being a full-time starting corner, but he does have experience and familiarity with the Giants’ scheme, making him a quality depth piece.

In the 2021 NFL Draft, the Giants once again prioritized the secondary. They drafted two cornerbacks this year: Aaron Robinson out of UCF and Rodarius Williams out of Oklahoma State. Robinson is likely to compete for the starting nickel corner position, but he has the versatility to contribute on the outside as well.

Rodarius Williams, though, is an outside cornerback that will begin his career as a quality backup. Williams forced 30 incompletions in his career (PFF). He has the aggression to play press-man on the outside, something of which the Giants want to do a lot more. Williams is a high-character, quality guy that will enter the Giants locker room. Check out our exclusive interview with him here.

Slot cornerbacks

The Giants are bound to have a competition at slot cornerback this summer. Darnay Holmes looked impressive in that role as a rookie in 2020. But New York added another slot corner in this year’s draft, Aaron Robinson. The two corners are both physical and have a knack for getting their hands on the football.

Regardless of who gets the start in the slot, the Giants have a good problem on their hands. They have two talented players that might be deserving of a starting role. That means that they have a lot of talent at the slot cornerback position and, of course, quality depth.

The Giants know the importance of having depth in the secondary. When Darnay Holmes and James Bradberry were both absent against the Cleveland Browns last season it was a long night on the field for New York. Baker Mayfield had his way with the Giants’ defense during that primetime matchup. Now the Giants have a deep secondary filled with young playmakers on the defensive side of the ball.

New York Giants had major competition for Kadarius Toney, making his selection even better

new york giants, kadarius toney

To the surprise of everybody, New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman executed a trade back in the 2021 NFL draft, moving nine selections and acquiring future draft capital. Overall, with the 11th overall pick, he walked away with a first-rounder in 2022, a fourth round pick, fifth round pick, and Florida Playmaker Kadarius Toney at 20th overall.

Toney goes by many names, some being the “human joystick,” “human highlight reel,” and more. His talents in the open field are unparalleled, utilizing quick-twitch abilities to spot on a dime and lower his center of gravity to remain upright and churning out yards.

However, the Giants had plenty of competition for Toney, even though they selected him at 20. Clearly, they had knowledge that he wouldn’t last until the second round, so they elected to take him a bit prematurely, but it could end up being a fantastic move.

There were three teams that had an interest in Kadarius, including the Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Baltimore Ravens. The Packers and Jaguars were both very vocal about their interest in the stand-out slot receiver.

Green Bay Packers:

Bob McGinn of The Athletic reports also stated that the Packers were interested in moving up to acquire Toney:

This year, Gutekunst resisted the temptation to trade up for Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney, a player the Packers were extremely high on. He went No. 20 to the Giants.

The Packers had their fingers crossed that Toney might fall to them because there was a passel of other slot receivers with similar ratings. The Giants ended that plan by taking the explosive wide receiver.

Jacksonville Jaguars:

“I’ve gotten to know him over the last couple weeks and obviously my connection with [Gators] coach [Dan] Mullen and those guys,” Meyer told ESPN. “You watch [Toney] play, he’s a human highlight reel.”

Baltimore Ravens:

While Baltimore wasn’t as vocal about their interest, many had him mocked to them with the 31st overall pick. As a player who racked up 1,145 yards and 11 touchdowns last season in his senior year, he has all the tangible traits you want in a receiver.

At 6-feet tall, he has adequate size and fantastic speed to make plays in the open field. He ever rarely ever goes down on first contact and is what Gettleman would call a “touchdown maker.”

Considering all these teams were praying he would fall, the Giants likely walked away with an instant playmaker and threat on day 1 for a rebuilt offense.

 

New York Giants: SEC coach claims Giants really wanted DeVonta Smith

New York Giants, Devonta Smith

The New York Giants walked away from the NFL Draft with a new weapon, but it wasn’t the one that was expected. Instead of DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle, they ended up trading down and selecting Kadarius Toney. However, according to one SEC defensive coordinator who spoke with ESPN, the Giants were really interested in Smith.

Coaches expected the SEC’s top three receiver prospects — Waddle, teammate DeVonta Smith and Chase — to go in the top 10. An SEC assistant said the Miami Dolphins would take Waddle or Smith, if available, and an SEC head coach said Philadelphia “got a steal in DeVonta,” likening the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner to former Eagles star DeSean Jackson. An SEC defensive coordinator added, “The Giants wanted DeVonta bad. They were pretty livid when Philly moved in front of them.”

Smith was the player mocked to the Giants in a number of mock drafts in the weeks before the event. The two time national champion is coming off a Heisman winning college season, and is expected to make an instant impact in the NFL.

However, the Eagles trading up to take him before the Giants means that New York will have to face Smith within the division.

It’s not all bad for the Giants, though. From the looks of it, their actual first round pick Kadarius Toney was a steal and the team still comes away with more versatility on the offense than they started with.

The matchups between Philadelphia and the Giants this year will be especially interesting, in part because of their draft results. We’ll have to wait to see which receiver does better head to head, but one look at a highlight reel shows that Toney shouldn’t be counted out.

Kadarius Toney fills a crucial need for the New York Giants

new york giants, kadarius toney

The New York Giants turned heads last week when they traded down in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft and selected Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney at twenty overall. This was the exclamation point on a fantastic offseason that saw the Giants load up on offensive playmakers.

New York filled its major needs this offseason. They got their big-time, alpha-dog outside wide receiver in Kenny Golladay. They signed a dependable tight end who will not drop the ball in Kyle Rudolph. On defense, they signed a seriously talented outside cornerback to play opposite of James Bradberry in Adoree’ Jackson. They also drafted a speed rusher to beat down left tackles in Azeez Ojulari.

When the Giants drafted Kadarius Toney, the selection was almost looked at as a luxury pick. But, in actuality, the Giants were filling a crucial need with this draft selection. Sure, they already invested in the receiver position and already have a talented group of guys with Sterling Shepard in the slot and Darius Slayton as a deep threat. But what the Giants lacked was a playmaker who could accumulate yards after the catch. This is where Kadarius Toney excels.

The need that Kadarius Toney fills

According to Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus, the New York Giants ranked dead last in the league with the fewest yards after the catch per reception in 2020 at 3.0 yards per. Not only did the Giants’ receivers struggle to separate from coverage last season, but they also struggled to make plays with the ball in their hands.

Kadarius Toney was the most explosive after-the-catch wide receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft. Kadarius Toney forced a missed tackle on 35% of touches since 2018, which was first among the 2021 wide receiver draft class (PFF). Toney forced 32 missed tackles on 80 catches the past two seasons (PFF).

Not only does Toney have reliable hands (only 3 drops on 150 targets in 2020), he gives the Giants the playmaking ability with the ball in his hands that no other receiver on their roster provides. Kadarius Toney is nearly impossible to tackle. He has elite contact balance, quickness/agility, speed, and vision. Anytime Toney has the ball in his hands he is a threat to take it to the end zone. Check out this insane leg-breaking move by Kadarius Toney:

New York Giants defensive duo of Azeez Ojulari and Leonard Williams could be special

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

The simple fact that the New York Giants finished the 2020 season with 40 sacks is mesmerizing. After losing starters Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines, the Giants were forced to utilize options like Carter Coughlin, a seventh-round pick last year, and Jabaal Sheard, who was plucked off the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad.

Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham had very little to work with, but the Giants made it a priority to give him another weapon on defense in Georgia stand-out edge rusher Azeez Ojulari.

Ojulari was drafted 50th overall, as the Giants moved back to acquire an additional third-round pack and also managed to land arguably the best pass rusher in this year’s draft class. Last season, he finished with 9.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for a loss, and four forced fumbles. At just 20 years old, he has incredible potential, ranking first in the SEC in sacks and fumbles forced.

What does Azeez Ojulari bring to the New York Giants?

Ojulari has sufficient bend around the edge and great speed off the line of scrimmage, making him the Giants’ best outside pass rusher instantly. While Lorenzo Carter did show signs of progression last season before tearing his Achilles, returning from an injury like that can be problematic, especially for a player who was never considered above average.

The dynamic duo the Giants can create with interior pass rusher Leonard Williams and Ojulari could be special. As we know, Williams was the Giants’ best defender in 2020, finishing the season with 11.5 sacks, 57 combined tackles, 30 quarterback hits, and 14 tackles for a loss. He was incredible in nearly every facet of the game, dominating the trenches and earning a massive payday because of it.

The Giants dished out a three-year, $63 million deal for one of the league’s best interior defenders, and applying a great outside presence next to him will only increase the efficiency of the defense. Having ranked 12th in total sacks last season, the Giants are looking to take a step forward, but how will the duo of Williams and Ojulari work?

While Williams dominates the interior and draws double teams, he will give Azeez the ability to attack tackles 1V1. Considering the NFL has a massive lack of talent at OT, the Giants can get creative with how they utilize their blitzers. For example, if they line up Leonard Williams in the 3-tech on the right side of the line of scrimmage and Azeez at outside linebacker, they can utilize additional pass rushers like Jabrill Peppers or Logan Ryan off the edge to pressure quarterbacks into making premature decisions.

I expect Graham to get extremely creative and progressive with his play-calling this upcoming season, especially with the addition of cornerback Adoree Jackson, who should allow Graham to return to his man coverage roots. This will allow him to send more blitzers and attack the quarterback more efficiently.

Expect to see a healthy dosage of 3-4 and 3-3-5 five formations in 2021, as the Giants have a strong combination of speed, power, and coverage abilities to help stop passing attacks. Since the NFL is becoming a passing league, defenses must prioritize skilled players in the secondary with big interior lineman up front. This 3-3-5 coverage indicates three down lineman and five defensive backs, providing three linebackers — sam, will, mic. While the Giants don’t have a plethora of linebackers for this specific formation, settling into the 3-4 with OLBs primarily makes the most sense.

Since the Giants have strong secondary players, they can utilize their OLB is to rush the passer frequently. That is where I see Ojulari making his impact, and standing him up alongside Leonard Williams should be devastating for opposing offenses.

New York Giants: Packers were also interested in Kadarius Toney

new york giants, kadarius toney

The New York Giants surprised most fans during the recent draft when they traded down and selected Kadarius Toney with their first round pick. While multiple receivers have been talked about in connection with the Giants, Toney wasn’t one of them for the most part.

The move was met with skepticism by some, but there’s some indication that Toney is indeed a good prospect that’s gone under the radar. For one, Urban Meyer is on the record as having wanted Toney to join his offense that already includes Trevor Lawrence now.

Though, the Jaguars aren’t the only team that was interested. According to Bob McGinn from The Athletic, the Green Bay Packers also wanted the player. The Giants would foil those plans by taking Toney after trading down, but it looks like the Packers hoped for a different outcome.

This year, Gutekunst resisted the temptation to trade up for Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney, a player the Packers were extremely high on. He went No. 20 to the Giants.

The Packers had their fingers crossed that Toney might fall to them because there was a passel of other slot receivers with similar ratings. The Giants ended that plan by taking the explosive wide receiver.

The Packers, of course, have been criticized for not drafting receivers to help quarterback Aaron Rodgers. That seems to have created tension between Rodgers and the organization as of late, but if this is true, the franchise at least tried to do something to address the problem before being blocked in that effort by the Giants.

The situation in Green Bay has led to more than a few ideas from fans and media about a trade for Aaron Rodgers, but that looks unlikely based on the Giants’ reputation as a cautious organization.

At the end of the day, the Giants will probably enter the season with Daniel Jones. But through their pick of Toney, which kept Green Bay from adding a weapon for Rodgers, they might have had some hand in how the current falling out has played out.