Frank Dyevoich | September 1st, 2018
2017 was a year that the New York Giants hope to erase from existence. They had Super Bowl aspirations going into the season after they finished with an 11-5 record in 2016, but the team completely imploded as they finished with 13 losses, the most in the history of the franchise. No one could predict the onslaught of despair that would befall the New York Giants last year.
New York Giants Season Preview
Recap of Last Season
2017 was a year that the New York Giants hope to erase from existence. They had Super Bowl aspirations going into the season after they finished with an 11-5 record in 2016, but the team completely imploded as they finished with 13 losses, the most in the history of the franchise. No one could predict the onslaught of despair that would befall the New York Giants last year. Their wide receiving corps was decimated with injuries as they lost superstar Odell Beckham Jr. and newly acquired Brandon Marshall for the season, as well as their prolific slot receiver Sterling Shepard for 5 games. The only bright spot was the breakout of rookie tight end Evan Engram, who posted 64 catches for over 700 yards and 6 TDs. But despite Engram’s fantastic season, their 2x Super Bowl MVP quarterback Eli Manning was finished before he even got started.
The Offensive Line was dreadful in 2017, and it was led by Ereck Flowers at left tackle. Flowers was a disaster yet again. In fact, over the past two seasons, no tackle has given up more quarterback pressures than Flowers. Perhaps the worst moment of the season came when he had to watch Eli’s legendary consecutive start streak come to an end at the hands of the inept and floundering Ben Macadoo because of the team’s struggles. It was downright shameful and an embarrassment to the organization, and it rightfully resulted in Mcadoo’s immediate termination. However, even though the Giants offense was as pathetic as it gets in 2017, their defense did not do them any favors either.
Strengths This Year
Despite their epic collapse last year, there are many strengths on this team, both offensively and defensively, that have the New York Giants with realistic playoff expectations in 2018. Offensively, the Giants are arguably the most explosive team in the league. The addition of Saquon Barkley with the 2nd pick of the NFL Draft should immediately revamp their dreadful running game. Barkley is an athletic marvel, with 4.4 speed and Nike SPARQ (Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction, and Quickness) score of 149.8 (99th percentile). He should see upwards of 250 carries and will be a candidate to lead the league in evaded tackles. Further, the Giants passing game should be lights out with the return of Odell Beckham, Jr (OBJ). Since he entered the league, OBJ has reached 90 receptions for over 1,300 yards and 10 TDs each of his 3 healthy seasons, and before he was injured last year he was on pace to continue that streak. In addition to OBJ, the Giants have an up-and-coming star tight end in Evan Engram. Last year, he stepped up in the wake of the injuries that plagued the receiving corps and became Eli Manning’s go-to receiver. This year with everyone back, Engram will be matched up against linebackers trying to cover him and he will feast. Word out of training camp is that the Giants are lining him up all over the field and he looks even more explosive than he did last year. The Giants stud slot receiver Sterling Shepard should also have a breakout season in 2018. With Beckham and Engram drawing the attention of opposing secondaries, Shepard will have his way with nickel corners and linebackers lined up against him. He was a top 3 receiver in his draft class and the Giants stole him in Round 2. Expect him to be a big factor this year under Pat Shurmur’s offense, similar to how Adam Thielen was used on the Vikings last year. With so many offensive weapons to go around, the Giants should be a top 10 scoring offense next year.
The Giants also have a few key pieces on the defensive side of the ball that should allow them to improve on their bottom-five finish in points allowed last year. Landon Collins is arguably the best safety in the NFL. He was robbed of the Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2016 where he led all safeties with 100 solo tackles, 18 passes defended, 4 sacks and 5 interceptions. In addition to one of the top safeties in the game, the Giants also have a shutdown corner in Janoris Jenkins. Known as the Jack Rabbit, Jenkins is a pick-six specialist with 7 for his career, including 2 last year. He is also among the least targeted cornerbacks by opposing offenses. However, even though the Giants have two Pro-Bowl defensive backs, there is one player on this defense that transcends all other defensive players. Damon “Snacks” Harrison is the undisputed best defensive tackle in the league and it is not even close. Snacks was the best run-stopper last year with a 94.1 run-defense grade according to PFF, an honor that he has had for the last three seasons. He also led the league last year in run stops with 40 and a run-stop percentage of 13.4%. Amongst all the defensive uncertainty going into 2018, one thing is clear, you simply can’t run the football on Snacks Harrison.
Weaknesses This Year
When we take a step back and look at the Giants going into 2018, there is one glaring weakness that could prevent them from becoming a playoff team. They have no pass rush. Last year, the Giants had the league’s third-worst pass rushing performance, as they finished with only 27 sacks. Unfortunately, not much was done in the draft or free agency to address the need. In fact, the pass rush has gotten even worse since the Giants decided not to re-sign Jason Pierre-Paul. Rookies Lorenzo Carter and B.J. Hill hope to improve the pass rush this year, as well as pre-season standout Kerry Wynn. However, the hopes and dreams of new Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher lie with Olivier Vernon. Vernon broke the bank when the Giants made him one of the highest paid defensive players in 2016, but he has yet to live up to the hype. He had 8.5 sacks in 2016, but he dropped to 6.5 last year. If this defense has any hopes of disrupting opposing quarterbacks in 2018, Vernon has to have a career year.
Besides the ailing pass rush, the Giants also have a pitiful offensive line. Last year, PFF ranked the Giants’ O-line as the 26th offensive line heading into the season. Left tackle Ereck Flowers was among the worst offensive linemen in the league. In fact, over the past two seasons, Ereck Flowers has given up 100 quarterback pressures, more than any other tackle in the league. The Giants have attempted to improve the O-line with newly signed left tackle Nate Solder and rookie guard Will Hernandez, but they lost guard Justin Pugh and center Weston Richburg.
After a forgettable 2017, the Giants cleaned house by firing longtime General Manager Jerry Reese and newly appointed Head Coach Ben Mcadoo. The organization appointed Dave Gettleman, former General Manager of the Carolina Panthers as the man to revamp this team and bring them back to the playoffs, and he hired Minnesota Vikings Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur to be the head coach. The two quickly hit it off and began rebuilding the team. They hired a new coaching staff led by Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula, also formerly of the Carolina Panthers, and Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher, former Defensive Coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals. The Giants continued their rebuild in Free Agency where they finally addressed the offensive line, adding left tackle Nate Solder from the New England Patriots to protect Eli Manning’s blind side and Patrick Omameh from the Jacksonville Jaguars to play right guard. These signings were crucial as the team was reeling from the losses of guard Justin Pugh and center Weston Richburg. The team also took care of the huge holes at linebacker by trading for Alec Ogletree, a tackling machine from the Los Angeles Rams and signing Kareem Martin from the Arizona Cardinals and Connor Barwin also from the Los Angeles Rams. Ogletree and Barwin will bring some much-needed leadership to this defense and Ogletree is the one most likely to quarterback that side of the field.
After free agency wound down, the Giants turned their attention to the NFL Draft. With the 2nd overall pick, they selected Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. Barkley is an athletic marvel and the best running back prospect maybe ever when you consider his size, speed, power, vision, and agility coupled with his elite receiving skills. Check out a full breakdown of Barkley’s traits here. He should immediately improve this team’s lackluster running game and establish himself as one of the league’s best running backs right away. They followed up the Barkley pick by stealing offensive guard Will Hernandez with their 2nd round pick. Hernandez is a mauler, or a hog molly if you ask Dave Gettleman. According to Gettleman, a hog molly represents a strong, big-bodied player who knows how to fight in the trenches, and that is exactly what Hernandez is. He will make an immediate impact next to Nate Solder on the left side of the line.
While the Giants did an excellent job improving the team through free agency and the NFL Draft, there are some departures from 2017 that still sting. In Free Agency, the Giants took a beating to their offensive line as they lost their staple at guard/right tackle Justin Pugh to the Arizona Cardinals, their center for the last four years Weston Richburg to the San Francisco 49ers, and newly signed guard D.J. Fluker to the Seattle Seahawks, who significantly improved the Giants’ running game for the six games he was healthy. The team also took hits to their defense as they lost linebacker Keenan Robinson to the Buffalo Bills, defensive tackle Jay Bromley to the New Orleans Saints, safety Nat Berhe to the Pittsburg Steelers, stand out linebacker Devon Kennard to the Detroit Lions and cornerback Ross Cockrell to the Carolina Panthers.
In addition to the free agency losses, the Giants got rid of some dead weight themselves. To start, they traded two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (JPP) and a 4th round pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 3rd and a 4th round pick. JPP was an elite pass-rusher when he entered the league, but his performance has been steadily declining along with his ability to tip passes and his playing style was not a good fit for the new 3-4 defense that James Bettcher is installing. The team also gave up on wide receiver Brandon Marshall after his injury-plagued season and took a hit in their secondary when they released their starting cornerback Dominique Rogers-Cromartie (DRC) in order to save $6.5 million on their salary cap. Out of all the offseason departures for this team, DRC and his 4.29 40-yard dash speed will surely be missed the most.
The true test for this team is going to be the first half of the season as they face five playoff teams from last year in their first 7 games. However, only the Jaguars and the Saints have cornerbacks that can go toe to toe with OBJ, and Engram, Shepard, and Barkley should still feast regardless. As long as the Giants can win three out of the first seven games, I like their chances of having a winning record this year and contending for the NFC East division. After the first seven games, the schedule really opens up for the Giants as they only face 1 playoff team from last year in their final nine games. In 2018, I predict that the Giants will lose 5 of their first 7 games, but will finish strong at a respectable 9-7. Though they are in line for a marked improvement, they will fall just shy of winning the division as they are barely edged out by the Eagles 10-6 record. They will also fall just shy of making the playoffs as the NFC is loaded with talent, and at least 2 teams will lose their divisions with records of 10-6 and 11-5 and secure the two wild-card spots in the playoffs leaving the Giants once again on the outside looking in.
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