Behind Enemy Lines: NFC East Offseason Review- New York Giants
The “Year Three Test” is underway in New York after this offseason. Dave Gettleman has given Daniel Jones an arsenal of offensive weapons to see if he’s the guy for the future. And selfishly, this saves his job for at least another season as he can take credit for Jones’ success with the roster built around him or blame the third-year quarterback for not performing with a plethora of talent around him.
However, we have seen this strategy year after year in the NFL. A team spends a boatload of money in free agency only to drastically underwhelm. The Giants fit that bill this year with flashy wide receiver and cornerback signings. But as the saying goes, “you win in the trenches,” and PFF listed the New York Giants as the 32nd ranked offensive line heading into the 2021 season. Gettleman can surround Daniel Jones with as many dynamic weapons as he wants, but if there’s no time for him to throw, it’s all for nothing.
The biggest win for New York is the return of superstar running back Saquon Barkley. The former PSU back suffered a devastating torn ACL in Week Two of last season. While there is still no timetable for his return, a physical freak like Barkley should be ahead of schedule with his rehab.
Barkley became the 1st player in Giants history to rush for 1,000+ yards in each of his first two seasons, where he played behind a sub-par offensive line. His game-changing talent is always something to keep an eye on as he can break a drive-saving touchdown at any moment. Besides the return of their human joystick running back, let’s take an in-depth look at the rest of the New York Giants offseason roster changes.
New York Giants Re-Signings
DT Leonard Williams (27): 3-year, $63M
NT Austin Johnson (27): 1-year, $3M
New York Giants Key Departures
cut RG Kevin Zeitler (31)- BAL: 3-year, $22.5M
NT Dalvin Tomlinson (27)- MIN: 2-year, $22M
cut OT Cameron Fleming (28)- DEN: 1-year, $1.67M
LB Kyler Fackrell (29)- LAC: 1-year, $1.5M
New York Giants Key Free Agent Signings
WR Kenny Golladay (27, DET): 4-year, $72M
CB Adoree Jackson (25, TEN): 3-year, $39M
TE Kyle Rudolph (31, MIN): 2-year, $12M
RB Devontae Booker (28, OAK): 2-year, $5.5M
OG Zach Fulton (29, HOU): 1-year, $1.2M
LB Reggie Ragland (27, DET): 1-year, $1.12M
EDGE Ryan Anderson (26, WAS): 1-year, $1.12M
NT Danny Shelton (27, DET): 1-year, $1.12M
New York Giants Notable Draft Picks
Rd.1 (#20) WR Kadarius Toney, Florida
Rd.2 (#50) EDGE Azeez Ojulari, Georgia
Rd.3 (#71) CB Aaron Robinson, UCF
The offensive line is in shambles while the defensive line remains solid
Replacing Dalvin Tomlinson is not going to be easy for what he brought to that defensive line. The fifth-year nose tackle graded as a Top Five overall defender for the Giants in each of his four seasons.
Austin Johnson is entering his second year after spending last season as a rotational player, and the team is counting on him to fill that full-time role. For insurance purposes, journeymen defensive tackle Danny Shelton signed to provide some veteran depth if Johnson struggles.
Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence continue to develop as one of the best inside duos in the league. Amongst interior defensive linemen, Williams (79.8) and Lawrence (79.7) each graded as Top 20 players in the NFL in 2020. Since the Giants traded for Leonard Williams in Week 9 of 2019, he and Dexter Lawrence have been a terror squad. The two combined for 104 solo tackles, 25 TFLs, 21 sacks, 42 QB hits, and 89 QB hurries in 24 games together.
Not to mention, they drafted one of my favorite edge rushers in the 2021 Draft with their 50th overall selection of Georgia’s EDGE Azeez Ojulari. The Giants also poached linebacker/EDGE Ryan Anderson from Washington to create a promising pass-rush duo from their outside linebackers.
The other side of the ball is complete chaos. One of the biggest overpays in free-agent history, OT Nate Solder is set to return after opting for the 2020 season. He’s in the mix for the starting right tackle spot after second-year OT Andrew Thomas took his place last season. Solder will battle 2020 third-round pick Matt Peart, who took only 150 snaps as a rookie. In the end, Solder’s $9.5M cap hit may be too much for the Giants to handle, given his current talent level.
There is no stalwart piece to this line as almost every position remains a mystery. But if you think Andrew Thomas is the fix at left tackle, let me give you a telling statistic. As a rookie, the former Georgia Bulldog let up a team-high ten sacks while recording a 54.7 pass-blocking grade, ranking him 82nd out of 84 qualifiers.
With Kevin Zeitler gone, both guard positions are complete question marks. Former second-round pick Will Hernandez has not recorded an offensive grade over 60.0 since his rookie season. His backup, fifth-round rookie Shane Lemieux, took 504 snaps last season but struggled with a 32.2 overall grade. The only hope for some consistency on that line is in the hands of newly signed Zach Fulton. He finished last season with a 63.0 overall grade with the Texans, which is by far and away the best the Giants have at their disposal.
Trench Grade: C
Gettleman created an offensive juggernaut for Daniel Jones’ third-year exam
The Giants landed one of the more prominent free-agent names in former Lions’ wide receiver Kenny Golladay. Since 2018, Golladay has the 2nd high contested catch rate (63%) behind only Michael Thomas (64%), giving Daniel Jones a reliable “just chuck it up to him” option.
The addition of an alpha, contested-catch machine like Kenny Golladay opens the door for Darius Slayton, who is an explosive weapon in his own. However, placing Slayton as the team’s number one go-to receiver seemed to be too much for him to handle. Still, he’s averaged 15.2 yards per reception in his first two seasons and creates a dangerous downfield duo with Golladay.
The Giants then furthered their receiving core by drafting Florida’s Kadarius Toney with the 20th pick after trading down. Some saw this as a reach, but Toney is next-level shifty and will compete with Sterling Shepherd as well as another free agent, John Ross III, in the slot.
Their last free-agent splash on offense was signing 31-year old Kyle Rudolph to pair with Evan Engram. The fifth-year tight end, Engram, suffered one of his worst seasons to date, and Rudolph’s blocking and catching ability allows the Giants to run some two-tight end sets.
Oh, and a two-time 1,000-yard rusher who looks like one of the most dynamic backs we’ve seen in years is returning to help the cause as well. Daniel Jones, all eyes are on you, pal.
QB and Weapons Grade: A-
The Giants arguably have one of the most elite secondaries in the NFL
The Giants have transformed their once pedestrian secondary into a formidable unit. They went from Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple/B.W. Webb on the outside to James Bradberry and Adoree Jackson. Bradberry finished his first season in New York with a 79.9 coverage grade, placing him 7th amongst all qualified cornerbacks. Jackson’s 82.5 coverage grade ranked sixth amongst all qualified cornerbacks in his last full season of action.
At safety, Xavier McKinney is looking to build upon a strong second half of his rookie season after returning from a fractured foot suffered in training camp. The young Alabama product paired with Logan Ryan, who finished 2nd on the team in pass breakups (8) last season, should help the young and talented McKinney improve in his second season.
Jabril Peppers has turned into a versatile, dynamic playmaker on defense. He’ll play his typical box safety position where he registered 383 snaps in 2020 but can hold his own in the slot, playing effectively for 264 snaps there.
Lastly, the Giants used the 71st overall pick in the 2021 Draft to select CB Aaron Robinson out of UCF. At 5’11 1/2″ (just give him 6’0″ @NFL), Robinson has the versatility to play both outside and inside and could compete for the starting slot position.
While the secondary implies a strength for the Giants moving forward, their linebackers are a different story. Kyler Fackrell just didn’t fit with Blake Martinez, and it’s now time for either Lorenzo Carter, Devante Downs, or Reggie Ragland to fill that role.
Carter, a 2018 third-round pick out of Georgia, played mainly on the edge as an outside linebacker before tearing his Achilles in Week 5. Devante Downs has a bit more experience playing in the box with 150 snaps there last season but finished with a lowly 46.2 defensive grade.
The last man to compete is former second-round pick out of Alabama in 2016, Reggie Ragland. Now joining his third team in five years, Ragland excels where Downs and Carter lack: run defense. It will be an intriguing training camp battle to see who gets the nod next to Blake Martinez heading into 2021.
Secondary and LBs: B
Dave Gettleman is pushing all of his chips into the middle of the table for Daniel Jones. Surrounding him with elite, reliable weapons and a strong defensive unit is enough to buy this guy another shot at being the Giants’ general manager even if Daniel Jones fails. Do I think the Giants put everything in place for him to succeed? Yes. Do I believe that he will? Not at all. The offensive line is still a patchwork job, and Daniel Jones has proven he’s not one to thrive under pressure.