3 New York Giants players primed to make big jumps in 2021

New York Giants, Dexter Lawrence

The New York Giants’ defense surprised everybody in 2020, ranking ninth in points allowed per game with 22.3. In rushing yards allowed, they were a top 10 unit but struggled in defending the pass until the second half of the year, ending up average, allowing 237.9 yards.

The injection of essential free agents completely overhauled the unit, along with Leonard Williams, who produced 11.5 sacks. Cornerback James Bradberry, formerly of the Carolina Panthers, had his best season to date, allowing 50+ yards just twice over the course of the entire season. He allowed three touchdowns, two of which came in week one against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

However, it was some of the rookies and youngsters that played a significant part, and some fresh faces are primed to take a significant jump in 2021.

Three New York Giants players primed to take big jumps in 2021:

1.) Dexter Lawrence

Lawrence is going into his third season in the NFL, and he took a big jump last year with the Giants. Alongside Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson, who both had career seasons, Lawrence nearly doubled his sack totals from 2.5 to 4.0. He also totaled 10 QB hits and six tackles for loss. His combined tackles number went up from 38 to 53 over just 60% of defensive snaps, a decrease of 3%.

Lawrence was double-teamed more than either of his counterparts and ranked near the top of the league in the category as well. He recorded 33 stops, 19 hurries, and just two missed tackles all season long.

With his growth, I expect him to take a nice jump in 2021, especially if the Giants retain both of their interior lineman who are hitting free agency. If all goes well, Dexter is in line to become a staple in the trenches.

2.) Xavier McKinney

Xavier McKinney missed a majority of his rookie season with a fractured foot which occurred during training camp. However, he returned in the second half of the year to post some quality numbers to finish the season.

In week 17 against Dallas, he recorded eight combined tackles, one tackle for a loss, one pass defended, and one interception. He was all over the field making plays, at one point bursting through a TE to take down CeeDee Lamb in the backfield. With that impressive performance, the Giants must feel confident he can take a step forward in 2021.

Based on the fact that McKinney came from a pro-style defense with Alabama, his transition to the NFL was never expected to take long. It seemed as if he finally settled down against Dallas to finish the campaign, so I expect that to translate over to next year.

3.) Darnay Holmes

While rookie slot corner Darnay Holmes suffered through m injuries as well, he didn’t allow a touchdown the entire season, the only starting rookie corner to do so.

In addition, he allowed 30 yards or less in six appearances but did have some struggles toward the end of the campaign. A lingering injury hurt his efficiency, posting four penalties in his last four starts. With a superior mentality and NFL genetics, Holmes has the ability to become a stellar corner in the NFL, but he must remain healthy moving forward.

New York Giants: The Underrated Benefit of Drafting a Cornerback

New York Giants, Patrick Surtain

As the 2021 NFL Draft swiftly approaches, the New York Giants are doing their best to make sure they get the No. 11 overall pick correct. Following a 2020 season that saw the team make strides towards competitiveness for the first time in years, it’s vital Big Blue makes the correct choice. Most mock drafts have suggested the team take an offensive-playmaker, a pass rusher, or an offensive lineman. While all of those options would greatly benefit the Giants, there’s one position that would kill two birds with one stone – cornerback.

The Underrated Benefit of Drafting a Cornerback at No. 11 Overall

The Role a Strong Secondary Plays in the Pass Rushing Game

On paper, a cornerback’s main duty is to defend against the opponent’s passing game. Whether that be via soft-zone, press-man, or any other scheme that Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham draws up, that is their job. A strong secondary-unit does more than just wreak havoc on opposing receivers and quarterbacks though. It allows the pass rush to get after the QB and forces the opponent to adjust their style of play. The Giants would reap the major benefits of this style of play by taking a defensive-back in round one this spring.

Following the 2019 season, the Giants knew they needed to improve their secondary. They allowed the fifth-most passing yards per game in the NFL and consistently failed to get off the field in crunch-time. To fix this issue they went out and signed James Bradberry. Bradberry outperformed all expectations in his first year with Big Blue in 2020, earning the first pro-bowl nod of his career. But it wasn’t only Bradberry who enjoyed a successful season – the entire Giants secondary improved significantly. The team allowed 26.2 less yards per game through the air and finished as the 17th-ranked unit in the league. Along with the improved pass defense came an uptick in pressure on the QB.

The Giants finished 2020 tied for the 11th-most sacks in the NFL with 40, 11 spots higher than their ranking in 2019. Despite not signing a dominant pass rusher in free agency last offseason, their pass rush improved. How? Strong play from the secondary. It’s not a coincidence both sections of the defense improved either. Almost all of the best passing defenses rushed the passer effectively in 2020.

The Correlation Between a Strong Passing Defense/Sacks

Of the six-best defenses against the pass in 2020, three of them finished in the top-six for sacks. On the other end of the rankings the correlation is relevant as well. Of the 10-worst pass defenses, five of them were in the bottom-10 for total sacks. A strong secondary allows the defensive line to produce something called a “coverage sack.” That is when a team forces the QB to hold onto the ball for an extended period of time, allowing the pass rushers to blow the play up.

The biggest example of a player benefitting from strong secondary play, and converting on “coverage sacks” is the Giants own Leonard Williams. In eight games with the team in 2019 Williams posted a measly 0.5 sacks. He did, however, register 11 hits on the QB. It was clear in 2019 that Williams needed only one more second to turn those hits into sacks. And when he received that extra second this past season, he made it count.

In 16 games with Big Blue in 2020 Williams was simply dominant. His 11.5 sacks led the team and were the 7th-most in the NFL. Nothing much about the former No. 6 overall pick changed heading into 2020. He was the same player but this time around had a group of high-football-IQ players behind him. He pounced on his secondary’s success and showed everyone why he was taken so high back in 2015.

Who Would be in Play at No. 11

If the Giants were to go the CB route in round one, which I strongly endorse, there are two players on the table: Patrick Surtain from Alabama and Caleb Farley out of Virginia Tech. Both are projected to be lockdown corners at the next level, and with good reason. Each played against top-tier competition while in college, possess nearly identical long, rangy frames, as well as a wealth of skill to play in almost any type of defense. They’re each projected to go in the top-15 of the draft this April.

Let’s say the Giants like Surtain a bit more because of coach Judge’s connection to Alabama, and take him at No. 11. He would immediately slide into CB2 opposite Bradberry. It’s fair to say the Giants would have one of, if not the best CB duo in the NFL with that pairing. It would be extremely difficult for an opposing to QB to find an open receiver each play, thus giving the d-line time to do their job.

There’s no need to draft an edge rusher at No. 11 overall or overpay for one in free agency this offseason. Continue to build up the secondary and the sack production will increase as a result. When there’s a chance to fill two positions of need with one player, you must take it.

Should the New York Giants propose a trade for star CB Stephon Gilmore?

New York Giants, stephon Gilmore

In 2020, one of the New York Giants’ biggest weaknesses was the CB2 position. After starting the campaign with Corey Ballentine at the position, the Giants quickly moved onto Ryan Lewis and then Isaac Yiadom, as all three struggled to hold down the spot opposite James Bradberry. Bradberry’s emergency at CB1 was unexpected, but he dominated at a Pro Bowl level, proving he can be a solidified corner on the starting defense for the foreseeable future.

Bradberry’s going into the second year of a three-year contract, and the Giants might even consider extending him to lower his cap hit for the 2021 season. Nonetheless, it doesn’t eradicate the issue at CB2, a position the Giants need to solve this off-season. They could theoretically go with a rotation, similar to what they did in 2020, but they would be taking a major risk and forcing coordinator Patrick Graham to play more zone coverage.

There is a possibility the Giants tried to allocate a draft pick or trade for a player who could solve the spot, and this is where star CB Stephon Gilmore comes into play.

How could the New York Giants manage to trade for Gilmore?

Gilmore is one of the best man-to-man corners in the NFL, and with one year left on his contract, the Giants could strike a deal with the New England Patriots. It was reported last season that New England was searching for a first-round pick in exchange for Gilmore, but there were no takers, which likely drove his value down.

Considering he played in just 11 games this past season due to injuries, acquiring him might be a perfect scenario for the Giants, who likely wouldn’t have to offer significant value. Some believe that a second-round pick might be a realistic haul, but if the Giants were to offer a third-round pick from 2021 and a 5th rounder from 2022 (NYG gave 5th rounder for Leonard Williams in 2019), they could convince the Patriots to get it done. Of course, New England GM Bill Belichick and Giants’ head coach Joe Judge have a positive connection, so negotiations could be far more efficient with their relationship in place.

The star corner is currently 30 years old in entering the final year of a five-year deal he signed with the Patriots back in 2017. If the Giants did trade for him, he would count only $7.6 million against the cap, which is a significantly reduced number to the $15 million he would count if the Patriots retained him. Considering New England is in a rebuilding stage, acquiring draft capital might be in their best interest heading into the off-season.

As for the Giants, they would be adding a corner capable of dominating any receivers on the boundary, and pairing him with Bradberry would make them arguably the best CB duo in football. If the Giants are truly committed to building through their defense, which has been apparent over the last few seasons, trading for Gilmore would be a fantastic move.

Think about it this way, the Giants have wasted mid-round picks over the past few seasons, with 2020 finally changing the trend. From when Dave Gettleman become general manager, they’ve missed on mid-rounders Kyle Lauletta, Ryan Connelly, RJ McIntosh, and Corey Ballentine. Throw in Lorenzo Carter, BJ Hill, and Oshane Ximines for giggles.

Allocating mid-round picks for a proven player on a low cap hit would be a tremendous acquisition for Big Blue and allow Graham to get back to his roots of man coverage and utilizing blitzers more efficiently on defense.

Of course, trading for Gilmore would be under the assumption that the Giants can improve their offense quickly and become a postseason caliber team within the next two seasons. Gilmore would likely receive an extension shortly after and considering his age, he wouldn’t command an astronomical AAV.

This is just a theoretical scenario that the Giants could explore, and adding a dominant CB opposite Bradberry would terrify opposing offensive coordinators. An exciting thought, and I expect the Giants to be creative with how they approach this upcoming off-season.

New York Giants: Can Julian Love be the answer at CB2 in 2021?

New York Giants, Julian Love

The New York Giants had a great defense last season, much to the surprise of many. One of the weak spots of the unit, however, was CB2. James Bradberry was elite as a lockdown CB1 for the team, but on the other end of the field was a revolving door of cornerbacks.

This has resulted in many believing that Giants would look to address that position over the offseason, but it might not be as pressing of a need as we thought.

The multiple players the Giants put out there at CB2 continuously underwhelmed for much of the season. However, their last guy ended up being the best guy. In Week 17 against the Dallas Cowboys, the Giants decided to give 2019 fourth-round pick Julian Love a try, and it worked out really well.

Love, who was a very good cornerback at Notre Dame, broke up a couple of passes and displayed tight coverage throughout against one of the premier wide receiving units in the league. He played a big part in the Giants holding Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup to under 50 receiving yards each. Love shored up the weak link in the Giants secondary with his play and provided them with two legitimate corners for the first time all season.

Love’s play made Giants fans wonder why it took so long for the team to give him a shot at cornerback. It is his natural position, after all, and he was one of the nation’s best in college.

Over his three-year career with the Fighting Irish, Love totaled 176 tackles, 5 interceptions, 39 passes defended, and 2 forced fumbles. He was a Consensus All-American in 2018 and was also a Thorpe Award finalist, which is given to the best defensive back in college football.

Since Love has been with the Giants, they’ve been using him as more of a safety than a corner, which is something he didn’t play much of in college. Despite showing some promise in his role, it was clear at times that Love was playing a new position. He was even starting to see his playing time disappear because of how crowded the Giants’ safety group became, and it was looking like he was on his way to being another wasted draft pick. Not anymore.

As someone who’s been calling for the Giants to try Love at cornerback for a while now, it was great to see them finally give him a shot. Ideally, you would’ve like to see them make the move sooner so we could’ve had a bigger sample size, but the promise Love showed against a good offense is intriguing.

I’m not saying that the Giants shouldn’t add to the cornerback group at all during the offseason, but they should be more confident in Love’s abilities. I, for one, think his play has made CB2 not as big of a need as it was prior to Week 17.

The Giants would still be wise to use a mid-to-late round draft pick on a defensive back or sign a lower-tier free agent for depth and insurance purposes, but I think that they should go into next season, giving Love every opportunity to start opposite Bradberry each week. He should definitely be the lead candidate.

Will Julian Love be the answer? That remains to be seen. But after what he showed when given a chance, he has definitely earned more of them going forward. Most thought that the Giants would have to look elsewhere to fill the void in the secondary, but for all we know, the Giants might not have to look very far after all.

New York Giants: Former Tennessee Vol’s HC Jeremy Pruitt joining Giants staff

Jeremy Pruitt, New York Giants

According to Dan Duggan of The Athletic, recently fired University of Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt will be joining the New York Giants’ staff in a role that’s yet to be revealed. Duggan reported the news Wednesday evening. Pruitt was let go from Tennessee earlier this month after recruiting violation evidence was discovered.

It was previously reported that Pruitt was working on a deal to join Robert Saleh’s Jets staff, but that ended up not coming to fruition, per Connor Hughes of The Athletic. Pruitt would not have gone far from the Jets to the Giants.

While the role hasn’t been revealed yet, there’s a chance Pruitt could be working as a defensive backs coach, whether it’s as an assistant or in the lead role. With Patrick Graham getting some head coaching talks, Pruitt could be the next defensive coordinator if Graham would leave New York for a head coaching job.

What does Pruitt bring to the New York Giants?

Pruitt not only would be a great fit for New York, but he also has connections with head coach Joe Judge. Pruitt and Judge both coached at Alabama together during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Pruitt was the defensive backs coach, while Judge was the special team’s coordinator.

At the moment, the New York Giants employ Jerome Henderson as their defensive backs coach and Anthony Blevins as their assistant defensive backs coach. Will, the Giants, let one of them go to make room for Pruitt, or will he coach the linebacker?

Yes, Pruitt was also the linebackers coach for a few seasons (2016-2017) at Bama. That could be a potential role for Pruitt.

New York Giants: Early free-agents contracts Gettleman should be pro-active with

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

The 2020 NFL season did not go as planned for the New York Giants, but the franchised showed promise. Big Blue managed just a 6-10 record and was one game away from playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Wildcard. Giants’ head coach Joe Judge seems to have his team on the right track for the future.

The Giants are a player or two away from being a force in a wide-open NFC East. The first chance the G-Men will be able to build the roster will come on March 17th. New York is projected to have more than $13 million over the salary cap, but the team should have their eye on a few top targets this offseason.

Here are three players the New York Giants should consider signing or re-signing this offseason:

DE Leonard Williams

If there is one player Dave Gettleman needs to re-sign this offseason, it has to be Leonard Williams. Gettleman is so invested in Williams, but that is not the main reason why he deserves a big deal.

Williams deserves an extension for being one of the best players on the Giants last season. Big Will proved to be the game-wrecker the Giants’ defense needed. He appeared in all 16 games for New York, finishing with 57 tackles, 11.5 sacks, and 14 tackles for losses. Not only did Williams have a monster season, but he is also a scheme fit for Patrick Graham.

“We love him in the building, he’s a great teammate, he’s fun to coach,” Judge said, per Steve Serby of the New York Post. “He makes your job a lot easier in terms of coming to work and enjoying your job, but then also making plays on the field, ’cause really, players make coaches good or not.”

If the New York Giants re-sign LW, they will probably not have enough money for Dalvin Tomlinson. The Giants have to choose if they want a dominant run stopper in Tomlinson or if they want a premier 3-4 pass rusher in Williams. The Giants should take the pass rusher, no questions asked.

Williams will likely earn in the $18-20 million per-season range. It would be wise of the Giants to get a deal done before the start of free agency.

WR Curtis Samuel

If the New York Giants want to bring the most out of quarterback Daniel Jones, they need to prove the pieces they have around him. Receiver/RB Curtis Samuel could be that sneaky piece the Giants’ offense needs.

Samuel had an impressive 200 rushing yards, 851 receiving yards, and five total touchdowns in the 2020 season. With Samuel’s production, he will not be a budget option. He is projected to make $12.4 million annually, according to Spotrac.

However, Samuel will not command money like Allen Robinson or Kenny Golladay would in free agency. He will be a bit of a cheaper option and way younger. If the Giants are able to add the 24-year old to their roster, the Giants could boost both their rushing and passing game in 2021.

LB Matt Milano

Judge and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham forged an impressive defensive unit in 2020, and with a few additional pieces, it could be championship-caliber. Adding a rangy, run-stuffing linebacker like Matt Milano to pair up with Blake Martinez could take this defense where it wants to go in 2021.

Milano dealt with injuries in 2020, only was limited to 10 games. But in 2019, he was healthy. He played in all but one game in 2019 and produced. He finished with 101 total tackles, nine passes defended, and 1.5 sacks.

Something most people do not know about Milano, he played safety in college. For a linebacker, he has elite pass coverage skills. He could pair up beautifully right next to Martinez.

Signing the 26-year-old could be difficult given New York’s cap situation. He’s projected to have a market value of a little under $14 million annually, according to Spotrac. But if the Giants wanted to sign an elite edge rusher or cornerback this offseason, this option would be a bit cheaper as well.

 

New York Giants: What are the odds the Giants get Deshaun Watson or Matthew Stafford?

Deshaun Watson, New York Giants

Will the New York Giants be trading for a quarterback this offseason? It’s highly unlikely after head coach Joe Judge firmly committed to Daniel Jones, but not impossible. General Manager Dave Gettleman can be unpredictable at times.

Gettelman traded away the face of the Giants’ franchise just a few seasons ago. It is not crazy to think Gettleman makes a move to acquire a player like Deshaun Watson or Matthew Stafford.

On Monday, BetOnline released odds on the potential destinations for both Watson and Stafford. The Giants were a 28/1 for Watson and 35/1 for Stafford. Vegas oddsmakers are not sold the G-Men will sit this one out.

The Giants are not the favorites to acquire one of these two quarterbacks. New York would have to give up valuable assets to acquire one of these quarterbacks, especially Watson.

What are the favorites?

The New York Jets are considered favorites to land Watson at 15/4, while the Indianapolis Colts are considered favorites to land Stafford at 3/1.

Watson came out publicly saying his preferred landing spot would be the New York Jets. Why not go to a team that has a more built-up roster, and there are still in New York, the Giants?

Ultimately, do not expect the Giants to be serious players for either Watson or Stafford. However, it would be foolish if Gettleman didn’t at least put a call in to see what the asking price is on both.

Will the New York Giants receive any compensatory picks this year?

New York Giants, Cleveland Browns

The New York Giants are not expected to be awarded any compensatory draft picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Giants hold the 11th overall pick in the 2021 Draft. They will only have six picks overall to fill the many needs on the roster.

In addition to their first-round pick, the G-Men will have the 42nd overall pick in round two, No. 76 overall in round three, No. 107 overall in round four, and two sixth-round selections — No. 172 and No. 177, the latter received in exchange from the Arizona Cardinals in the Markus Golden trade.

The Giants do not have a fifth-round selection due to the trade with the New York Jets for Leonard Williams. Big Blue also does not have a seventh-round selection either due to the trade with the Denver Broncos for Isaac Yaidom.

According to the compensatory draft pick cancellation chart compiled by “Over The Cap,” the Giants are not due any additional selections due to their aggressive shopping spree in free agency last March. They signed cornerback James Bradberry, linebacker Blake Martinez, kicker Graham Gano, outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell, quarterback Colt McCoy, tight end Levine Toilolo, and safety/special teamer Nate Ebner.

Safety/Special Teamer Michael Thomas was signed by Houston, but according to the chart, he is listed as non-eligible for compensation.

The New York Giants will have $4.8 million in salary cap rollover in 2021

New York Giants, John Mara, Dave Gettleman

The New York Giants will have an additional $4.8 million in salary-cap space this year as a result of a surplus from 2020. Space gets rolled over to this year’s cap, giving the Giants a cap ceiling of $179.8 million for the 2021 season. That rollover figure helps a great deal but the Giants are still over the cap by a sliver over $2 million in the 2021 season.

Due to lost revenues as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, the league, which had been raising the salary cap by approximately $10 million per season the past decade, needed to contract the cap from $198 million in 2020 to what could be as little as $175 million this year.

In his year-end address to the media, Giants CEO John Mara felt confident the team’s finances would not be an issue.

“We’ll be ok. We’re not ready to put a padlock on the door just yet,” Mara said. “I think we’ll survive just fine. It’s been a tough year from that point of view. But listen, there are people all over this country that are suffering. I’m not out here complaining or anything. We’ll be fine as an organization going forward.”

The biggest test this offseason will be retaining defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson or defensive end Leonard Williams or if the New York Giants decided to keep both.

New York Giants: Daniel Jones was an improved QB in 2020

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

To the naked eye, New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones did not improve in his second NFL season. He threw 13 fewer touchdowns, his passer rating dropped 7.7 points, and his team finished 6-10. But despite those notable regressions, he improved in a number of areas as well – including the one that plagued his rookie year. By no means did Jones take a monumental leap in year two like some of the quarterbacks in recent years, but progress was made, and the Giants should be confident in their QB of the future heading into 2021.

How Daniel Jones Improved During His Second Season:

He stopped turning the ball over:

During his rookie year Daniel Jones turned the ball over 23 times, tied for the second-most in the NFL. The Giants lost multiple games in 2019 strictly because of Jones’ inability to keep the ball in his teams’ hands. Heading into the 2020 offseason it was clear that protecting the pigskin needed to be worked on.

After turning the ball over 11 times in the G-Men’s first seven games of 2020, it looked as though Jones hadn’t made any progress with his biggest weakness. But as the season went on, his hard work finally started to show on the field. In his final seven starts, the former Duke signal-caller turned the ball over five times, six less than the first half of the year. Even more impressive though was in his final six starts he coughed the ball up only three times, one of them being a perfect pass that was dropped by tight end Evan Engram in week 17.

When the season was all said and done, Daniel Jones had turned the ball over seven less times than his rookie year. His NFL-leading 11 fumbles in 2019 shrank to six in year two, and his interceptions dropped from 12 to 10. He turned the ball over 1.14 times a game, a sizable decrease from 1.77 in 2019. Of course there’s still plenty of room for improvement in 2021, but the Giants should be pleased about Jones’ development in the turnover area.

He became a real threat with his legs:

After a rookie season that saw Jones rush for 279 yards and two scores on 45 carries, it was clear an elite running ability was present. His 4.82 40-yard dash speed was on full display in 2020, as he ran for 423 yards and a score on 65 carries. That uptick in production was huge for the Giants in a number of games this past season. His 49-yard run against Washington in week six led to a field goal, his 80-yard scamper against Philadelphia in week eight led to a touchdown two plays later, and his 34-yard sprint in week 11 against Philadelphia resulted in his lone rushing touchdown of the season.

Not only did Jones set almost every single Giants QB rushing record in 2020, but he was also one of the best running quarterbacks in the NFL. His 6.5 yards per rush led the NFL among players with at least 60 rush attempts and his top speed of 21.23 MPH on his 80-yard run against the Eagles was the fastest speed reached by any QB since 2018. Jones’ running ability needs to be a focal point of the Giants’ offense in 2021. His ability to read a defense on the option is awe-inspiring.

The other categories that saw modest improvement:

The two aspects of Jones’ game mentioned above were the most significant areas of development, but there are plenty of others that saw progress in 2020. His completion percentage increased slightly by .6%, his QBR increased significantly by 5.8 points (largely due to the decrease in turnovers and increase in rushing yards), and he accounted for 3,366 total yards, 60 more than his rookie year.

His improved record:

On top of his individual statistics, his record as a starting QB improved as well. He was 5-9 in 14 starts in 2020, equivalent to a .357 winning percentage. While minimal, that was an improvement from a 3-9 record and .250 winning percentage in 2019. More importantly though, Jones was 4-2 against the NFC East. For a Giants team that has finished above .500 against their division only once since 2010, those four wins are huge. Jones and Big Blue also managed to beat the Cowboys and Eagles for the first time since 2016.

Despite having to play without star running back Saquon Barkley for 14 games, getting sacked on 9.1% of pass attempts (second-highest in the NFL), and struggling to find success in offensive coordinator Jason Garrett’s terrible scheme, Daniel Jones made progress in his second year.