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2021 Team Report: New York Giants

Last updated: Sun, Sep 5

Offensive Philosophy

Jason Garrett's return to play-calling didn't go well. The Giants finished 31st in points and yards after finishing 18th in 2019 under former coach Pat Shurmur. A lot went wrong, including injuries on an already-thin offensive line, a season-ending injury to cornerstone Saquon Barkley, and most notably poor play from quarterback Daniel Jones. It's challenging to find a silver lining, but Garrett will get another chance to install his version of Air Coryell system, this time armed with a healthy lead back and new No. 1 receiver in Kenny Golladay. Looking back at Garrett's tenure in Dallas, his run/pass ratio varied wildly from season to season, but the team's most successful years came when the running game was the focal point. Expect a balanced attack emphasizing ball control this year, hoping to take some of the pressure off Jones and giving him more opportunities to make throws downfield off play-action.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Daniel Jones
Backup(s): Mike Glennon

Starting QB: Daniel Jones enters his third season with a mountain of questions. After an up-and-down rookie season, many expected improvements under the watchful eye of head coach Joe Judge and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. But the gains didn't materialize. His completion rate (62.5%), yards (2,943), and yards per attempt (6.6) were mirror images of his rookie season, but his decision-making was the more significant concern. After throwing 24 touchdowns (5.2% rate) in 2019, Jones threw just 11 scores in 14 games last year. He was sacked nearly 10% of dropbacks and fumbled 11 times, giving him 29 fumbles in two seasons. Jones needs to show marked improvement this year, or the Giants will understandably turn their attention elsewhere; it's now or never.

Backup QB: Mike Glennon steps in as the No. 2 and is an ideal fit. At 31 years old, Glennon understands his role but has a healthy amount of starting experience if called upon in an emergency. In eight seasons, Glennon has started games for the Buccaneers, Bears, and Jaguars, but his career averages leave much to be desired. He's a career 61% passer with a paltry 6.1 adjusted yards per attempt average.

Running Backs

Starter: Saquon Barkley
Backup(s): Devontae Booker, Gary Brightwell [R]
Fullback(s): Cullen Gillaspia, Elijhaa Penny

Starting RB: Saquon Barkley has a lot to prove to himself and his organization. GM Dave Gettleman questioned whether the team would pick up Barkley's fifth-year option because of health concerns but ultimately did so. It's a stunning turn of events after he was considered the team's offensive centerpiece 12 months ago, before tearing multiple knee ligaments. When healthy, Barkley is on a shortlist of the league's best ball carriers. As a rookie, he led the NFL with 2,028 yards from scrimmage and scored 15 touchdowns. He can run inside with power, break outside, is deadly in the open field, and is an above-average route runner with soft hands. The team understandably took their time getting Barkley back into team practices, but he resumed team drills at the end of August and is on track for an early-season return.

Backup RBs: GM Gettleman described Devontae Booker as "a legitimate three-down running back" after signing the former Raider to a 2-year, $5.5 million contract to serve as Barkley's new backup. Praise aside, the sixth-year tailback has never run for more than 612 yards (as a rookie in 2016) and has just nine touchdowns in five seasons. Rookie Gary Brightwell is a converted slot receiver who is still learning to play the running back position. That's invited comparison to Washington's Antonio Gibson, but Gibson was a far more explosive playmaker in college, so consider that an aspirational comparison and far from the likeliest of outcomes.

Fullback: Cullen Gillaspia comes over from Houston in hopes of securing the lead blocking role. Elijhaa Penny is more of a hybrid back capable of carrying the ball in short-yardage situations when necessary.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton
Backups: Kadarius Toney [R], Collin Johnson, C.J. Board

Starting WRs: Last year's trio of Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, and Golden Tate was a stunning disappointment, which explains the decision to sign Kenny Golladay to a 4-year, $72 million contract in free agency. Golladay provides Daniel Jones his first true No. 1 receiver; he can leverage his 6-foot-4, 218-pound frame to make contested catches. Golladay has averaged 16.8 yards per catch in four seasons, which dwarves anyone else on the roster. As a big, vertical threat, the hope is he'll help the other receivers step into their more natural roles. Unfortunately, he missed the entire preseason, which undoubtedly sets the offense back as he and Daniel Jones will have to build rapport in-season. Sterling Shepard has been miscast, repeatedly, as a No. 1, but he can add value as the No. 2 target. He's been remarkably consistent, catching between 57 and 66 receptions in each of five seasons. A strong route runner, Shepard's only vice is a tendency to miss time. Darius Slayton shocked the league as a rookie but regressed a bit in Year Two. He has had an up-and-down summer but should have a heavy role out of the slot once Golladay returns.

Backup WRs: Dave Gettleman had his sights set on DeVonta Smith, but division rival Philadelphia jumped in front, prompting the GM to move down and select Kadarius Toney. The mercurial Florida Gator is a divisive player because of the way he was used in college. Mainly a gadget player, there's not much film on Toney running crisp routes or making difficult catches in traffic. But just because we haven't seen a player do something doesn't mean they can't, as we learned with DK Metcalf in Seattle. Unfortunately, Toney was injured for most of the preseason and spotty, at best, when on the practice field. He's going to need time to develop. Collin Johnson flashed briefly in Jacksonville but lost out to a numbers game at the position.

Tight Ends

Starters: Evan Engram
Backups: Kyle Rudolph, Kaden Smith

Evan Engram is never going to be a dominant, every-down playmaker. His inconsistencies haven't improved through four seasons; at this point, he is who he is. Engram is playing on his fifth-year option, and he'll likely suit up for another team in 2022. In the meantime, he'll continue to provide Daniel Jones with a boom or bust option in the middle of the field. Engram is an elite athlete, but minor injuries and lapses of concentration keep him from standing alongside the likes of Travis Kelce and Darren Waller. Kyle Rudolph joins the team after ten years in Minnesota. The two-time Pro Bowler saw his role marginalized in recent seasons but can contribute in New York, particularly if Engram's lapses continue. Rudolph has sure hands (68% catch rate), is an above-average blocker, and has a knack for the red zone (48 career touchdowns).

Place Kicker

Graham Gano: Gano was excellent in his first year as the Giants kicker after missing all of 2019 and losing his job to Joey Slye in Carolina. He hit 31-of-32 field goal attempts, missing only from 50+ yards, where he was still 5-of-6. He actually missed two extra point attempts, with only 23 tries, the lowest in the league for any kicker that played at least 10 games (Gano played all 16). Even with that anemic number, Gano was just outside of the top ten in field goal attempts, so his upside is capped in the Jason Garrett offense, making him bye/injury material and not worthy of a pick in typical fantasy drafts.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Jabrill Peppers, Kadarius Toney [R]

A disappointing preseason for Kadarius Toney leaves veteran Peppers as the lead returner.

Punt Returners: Jabrill Peppers, Adoree Jackson, Kadarius Toney [R]

The coaches hoped Kadarius Toney would take command of the job in camp, but it never happened leaving Jabrill Peppers in the role. Adoree Jackson has experience, too, and seemingly gets the second crack until Toney proves himself.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Andrew Thomas, LG Shane Lemieux, C Nick Gates, RG Will Hernandez, RT Matt Peart
Key Backups: OT Nate Solder, C Billy Price, OG Ben Bredeson

Depending on whether Matt Peart holds off Nate Solder at right tackle, the Giants could have the NFL's youngest offensive line. While it's good to have youth at key positions, it could also mean another rough year for the offense. Andrew Thomas is entrenched at left tackle but hasn't looked good this summer. Peart is barely holding off Nate Solder; Solder will be the swing tackle if he doesn't win the starting job. Shane Lemieux takes over at left guard and is the lone bright spot; he started slowly in camp but finished with a flurry. Will Hernandez moves from left to right guard. Center Nick Gates has much to prove.

Team Defense

The Giants' defense improved under new coordinator Patrick Graham. The unit finished 9th in points allowed, and 12th in yards allowed and brings back a nucleus of talented players. It all starts up front where Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence are dynamic, two-way defenders capable of collapsing the pocket. In the secondary, the team broke the bank to sign cornerback Adoree Jackson who will pair with James Bradberry on the outside. GM Dave Gettleman added a handful of proven veterans, including Danny Shelton and Ifaedi Odenigbo, who will push for rotational roles. Given how well the unit played in Graham's first season, it's exciting to think about what they'll do with a year of experience in the system.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Leonard Williams, NT Austin Johnson, DE Dexter Lawrence
Backups: DT Danny Shelton, DT Raymond Johnson III [R], DE Quincy Roche [R]

Starting DL: Leonard Williams didn't want to play under the franchise tag again, and fortunately, his agent and the team came to terms on a 3-year, $63-million deal that will keep him in New York for the foreseeable future. Williams is a versatile lineman capable of doing whatever the scheme requires; he routinely commands double teams freeing up the linebackers to make plays off the edge. Dexter Lawrence is built like a nose tackle and showed tremendous growth in his second year, notching 53 tackles, four sacks, and 16 quarterback pressures. Few 3-4 fronts offer a more compelling tandem. The team could not keep nose tackle Dalvin Tomlinson for cap reasons but re-signed backup Austin Johnson as the presumptive replacement. Johnson only played 21% of the Giants' snaps last year, so he's a question mark as a full-time contributor.

Backup DL: Danny Shelton had a down year last season but was an above-average interior defender for much of his career. He could step into a starting role with a strong camp or if Austin Johnson struggles. A pair of developmental rookies -- Raymond Johnson and Quincy Roche -- round out the rotation.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Lorenzo Carter, ILB Blake Martinez, OLB Oshane Ximines, ILB Tae Crowder
Backups: OLB Azeez Ojulari [R], LB Cam Brown, LB Reggie Ragland, LB Carter Coughlin, LB Justin Hilliard

Starting LBs: Blake Martinez is a tackling machine; he logged 151 tackles and three sacks in his first season in New York. He's had 144 or more tackles in four consecutive seasons and will be the finisher as the stout defensive line funnels opposing running backs inside. Once a liability in pass coverage, he's improved markedly and is now an above-average pass defender, too. There will be plenty of times when Martinez is the only inside linebacker on the field. Tae Crowder wasn't impressive last year but showed enough in camp to hold onto the starting role. Reggie Ragland will rotate in on obvious run downs. The situation on the edge is far less cemented. Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines will get the first crack, but neither are guaranteed starting jobs without significant productivity upticks.

Backup LBs: Rookie Azeez Ojulari was arguably the best defender on one of the nation's best defenses in Georgia. He had 8.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in 10 games against the toughest competition in college. Ragland will be used interchangeably with Crowder and be a full-time player if Crowder gets hurt. Cam Brown is capable of a heavy workload should injuries open the door.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB James Bradberry, CB Adoree Jackson, SS Jabrill Peppers, FS Ryan Logan
Backups: S Julian Love, S Xavier McKinney, CB Darnay Holmes, CB Josh Jackson, CB Sam Beal, CB Keion Crossen, CB Rodarius Williams [R]

Starting DBs: James Bradberry more than justified his big free-agent deal last year, providing the Giants with a true shutdown corner. According to Pro Football Focus, he played more than 1,000 snaps and had three interceptions and 118 pass breakups while ranking as a top-10 defender. As well as Bradberry played, the defense's biggest hole was on the opposite side, as a rotation of subpar performers gave up big plays at inopportune moments. GM Gettleman hopes he struck gold in free agency by signing Adoree Jackson to a 3-year, $39-million deal after being cut by the Tennessee Titans. Jackson missed most of the 2020 season but was an above-average defensive back in his first three seasons. At safety, the team has an abundance of riches. Jabrill Peppers has become a reliable in-the-box option while Logan Ryan stepped into a leadership role as the deep safety and on-field field general after signing late in the summer. Xavier McKinney missed the first ten games of his rookie year with a foot injury and struggled upon his return. But he rounded into form this summer and may ultimately be better than either Peppers or Ryan.

Backup DBs: Darnay Holmes will stay in the slot until rookie Aaron Robinson gets healthy. Robinson missed all summer with a core injury but has the pedigree and skill set to displace Holmes eventually. Rookie Rodarius Williams wasn't guaranteed anything as a sixth-round pick but showed so well during camp. Safety Julian Love -- a converted cornerback -- sticks as the No. 4 safety.