By: Michael Gagliardi
It’s that time of year again, New York Giants fans! Training camp is here, and we finally have our chance to act like we’re smart enough to tell which players will make it in the league based on how they look in shorts and a helmet. Hopefully, football can be played this year in these uncertain times, but for optimism’s sake, I’m going to operate under the assumption that there will be a 2020 NFL season. Either way, I feel like it’s about that time to put a way-too-early lineup prediction out there to see whether or not I possess psychic powers. The Giants are one of the youngest teams in the league, and with the departure of Eli Manning and Zak DeOssie, the last vestiges of the old guard are gone. This is Jones’ and Saquon’s team now, and the rest of the roster will no doubt look to them for leadership. Let’s see what “the rest of the roster” could look like for the regular season, as we head into the first few days of training camp.
QB1: Daniel “Danny Dimes” Jones
QB2: Colt McCoy
QB3: Alex Tanney, “Trickshot Quarterback”
Danny Dimes has some big expectations on his plate this year, and I believe that he will step up to the challenge. He has worked on building up his strength this summer especially, famously adding “9 lbs of muscle,” according to team sources. This will no doubt help him with his ball security, and more game experience behind a (hopefully) quality O-line will allow him to address his pocket awareness issues from last year. In terms of backups, Colt McCoy was a good cheap signing in free agency, and I’d trust him more in an emergency than some random guy from off the street. I also think that they’ll keep veteran Alex Tanney on the roster as well to serve as an emergency QB because he already has at least some chemistry with the receivers from being on the roster these past couple of years. By the way, if you’re confused about why I called him “Trickshot Quarterback,” look him up on YouTube; you’re in for a treat. A lot of people are very excited for some reason about undrafted rookie Case Cookus, from Northern Arizona, but I just don’t see him, along with fellow young QB Cooper Rush, being more than a camp arm. However, I think Cookus will make the practice squad if he makes it through waivers because he does seem like he has some potential as an NFL backup eventually. If and when he becomes the next Tom Brady, you can feel free to come back to this article and laugh at how dumb I am; that’s a risk I’m willing to take.
RB1: Saquon “Saquads” Barkley
RB2: Dion Lewis
RB3: Wayne Gallman Jr.
Hopefully, you’ve recovered from the shock you were put into after seeing I’ve outlandishly predicted that Saquon will get the start at RB. Anyway, after last year’s tearful goodbye to Eli Manning, the New York Giants are now undisputedly Saquon Barkley’s team to lead. I have no problem at all calling him the best RB in the league, and I expect Jason Garrett to use him like that’s the case. Pat Shurmer ran Barkley on inside zone 20,000 times per game last season, making for the most uninspired use of one of the game’s great talents anybody has ever seen. With a new play-caller and a revamped O-line, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in saying that Saquads will be in the MVP running this season. Meanwhile, Wayne Gallman, after a promising first season, has shown nothing but flashes for the past 2 years and has been plagued with fumbling problems. He’s got to watch his back, and the Giants made that message very clear to him this offseason when they signed veteran Dion Lewis. Gallman better make an impact on special teams, or else I don’t see him getting on the field much this year.
FB: Elijhaa Penny
Yes, I think that the Giants will carry a fullback this year, and I really like Eli Penny. He has been a solid blocker, as well as a reliable check-down option the past two seasons, and was criminally underplayed by Pat Shurmer last season. The Giants have a young QB and the most talented running back in the league right now, so they have to be a run-first team this year (they should’ve been last year too but oh well). As history has shown, good run-first teams use a fullback. Even though it is a so-called “dying position,” I will always be an advocate to carry a quality fullback on your roster. Hopefully, Jason Garrett can use Penny’s blocking capabilities to give Saquon that extra couple foot of daylight because, as we all know, that’s all he needs to break a game wide open.
WR1: Evan Engram
WR2: Golden Tate
WR3 (SLOT): Sterling Shepard
WR4: Darius Slayton
WR5: Binjimen Victor (UFA)
Okay, now that you’ve recovered from falling out of your chair, let me explain myself. Evan Engram is a very good player, and there are truly no other tight ends in the league with his raw athleticism and speed. Maybe there’s a reason for that. The tight end position has evolved a lot throughout the history of the game, and we are now entering an era in which the elite TEs of the league are athletic enough to be receiving threats, but are still asked to be solid blockers in the run game. Tight ends pass blocking is essentially non-existent anymore in the NFL, but run blocking is still a major part of a tight end’s responsibilities. Engram is a willing blocker, but he isn’t a very good one, and new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has had a great blocking TE in Jason Witten for essentially his entire career. My point is that Engram’s receiving ability is great and all, but in Garrett’s run-first system, his blocking will not be up to par. This is why I think Joe Judge will stay true to his philosophy of “playing players where they can best aid the team” and will transition Engram to a full-time WR. The Giants don’t have a big rangy #1 receiver right now, and it has been something they have been missing since the departure of Hakeem Nicks. If Engram, entering a contract year, can prove his worth at a new position that better fits his skill set, I think the Giants could have a #1 receiver for years to come.
If Engram is the team’s WR1, then the Giants may very well have one of the deepest receiving corps in the league. Tate is still a very solid player and has great big-play ability, and Shephard can return to his natural slot position and dominate linebackers and nickel corners all day over the middle of the field. Slayton would be the best 4th receiver in the entire league, and if he’s on the field at the same time as Engram at WR, the other team would have to choose which dangerous deep threat they’d want to cover. For the final spot, it would be a battle between veteran Corey Coleman, and UFAs Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack (both out of Ohio State). I think that Victor will be ~the victor~ in this battle, as he has the most potential. Coleman is aging, coming off a torn ACL, and has never really lived up to his potential as a former 1st round pick of the Browns. Mack (6’2”, 208lbs) is the more polished of the two UFAs, but I think that Victor has a higher ceiling. Standing at 6’4”, 180 lbs, Binjimen (yes, that’s not a typo) Victor has plenty of room to put on muscle, and he is more athletic than Mack, despite having the same 40 yard dash time (4.6 sec). Victor’s tape, compared to Mack’s, shows much better game speed, and he looks like an overall more threatening, athletic target than his classmate. No matter who ends up grabbing this final WR spot, I fully expect the other two guys to either be claimed off waivers by another team or find themselves on the Giants’ practice squad because all 3 guys can definitely play.
TE1: Kaden Smith
TE2: Levine Toilolo
Since Engram, in my opinion, will transition to a WR1 role this year, Kaden Smith will have his chance to prove himself over the course of a full season. A 6th round pick of the 49ers in 2019, Smith was picked up by the Giants on waivers: a move that I give Dave Gettleman a ton of credit for. He improved every single week he was out there and even made Landon Collins his son in week 17. His blocking is considerably better than Engram’s, and his playstyle is very reminiscent of new-wave tight ends like George Kittle, David Njoku, and Travis Kelce. He had a couple of bad drops last year, but if he can correct that, I think he can be a real diamond in the rough. Meanwhile, 6’8” Levine Toilolo was signed this offseason from the 49ers mainly as a blocker and a tall red-zone threat. I don’t think he will see the ball much this year, but he is a solid veteran and has played on quite a few successful teams in his career. I would be concerned about carrying only 3 tight ends, but Engram can line up as the wing TE in goal-line sets if needed.
LT1: Andrew Thomas “The Tank Engine” (R)
RT1: Nate Solder
Swing Tackles: Matt Peart (R), Cameron Fleming
Don’t look now, but the Giants seem to have a pretty solid O-line all of a sudden. Andrew Thomas was drafted to be a Giant for life, and if you are wondering why I have him starting at LT, rather than on the right, feel free to check out my article on the subject (the link is at the bottom of the page). If and when the Giants give Thomas the opportunity to prove himself on the left side, I firmly believe that he will show he is the much better left tackle than Solder at this point in his career. Speaking of Solder, he is not washed up enough to justify starting rookie 3rd round pick Matt Peart or solid career backup Cameron Fleming at RT, so I see him still being in the starting lineup. He still has his size, strength, and has NFL-caliber footwork and intelligence, and in 2020 I expect him to level out the recent freefall of his play, at a new, lower pressure position. Matt Peart is one of, if not the most intriguing player in the Giants’ draft class this year. At 6’8, 318, he looks skinny and needs to put on some weight and muscle if he wants to not get pushed around by NFL D-linemen. Because of his body type, he tends to have his center of gravity too high in the pass game, and at the NFL level, he will get manhandled if that’s the case. That being said, he is a monster at the 2nd level because of his long arms, and he has great feet in the run game. If he can put on weight and get some quality coaching, he will be Thomas’s bookend for a long time. Cam Fleming, who the Giants picked up from the Cowboys this off-season, is a solid backup who has been the first tackle off the bench for many good Cowboys and Patriots lines throughout his career.
LG1: Will Hernandez
RG1: Kevin Zeitler
I’m going to be honest and just say that Will Hernandez is probably my favorite Giant right now. He plays tough, mean, and is a great pass blocker. He did regress last year, especially in the run game, but that has largely been attributed to last year’s O-line coach, Hal Hunter, not being the best (by most accounts). I can say with confidence that big Will will have an even bigger year this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if he makes the Pro Bowl. This is a huge year for Hernandez, and I expect him to step up to the plate big time. Kevin Zeitler, on the other hand, is the definition of solid, and he is a true pro’s pro. I predict that he will be the veteran anchor on this young line this year and will continue his solid play from 2019. The Giants could actually have one of the best guard tandems in the league, and hopefully, it will serve as an anchor for the offense this year and open up plenty of holes for Saquon. Any way you cut it, Jones should have a lot more time to throw this year, and we will see much fewer fumbles from him this year.
C1: Shane Lemieux (R)
C2/G2: Nick Gates
Center has been a position of contention this offseason for the Giants, and there has been a lot of buzz around the competition to make the roster. Jon Halapio, last year’s starter, is still not signed, as he is rehabbing a torn Achilles. This leaves the Giants with a wide-open competition for the starting job. The two trendy options are 5th round pick Shane Lemieux and 2nd-year player Nick Gates, both of whom are guards by trade. This is going to be a close battle between these two, but I think that Lemieux will come out on top. He is one of the steals in the draft in my opinion, and I see very few flaws on his film. He has the perfect body for a center: very stocky and compact, and he packs a punch on his run blocks especially. Nick Gates is a very underrated player as well, and played great last year at guard when filling in for Zeitler for 2 games. He has been taking snaps next to Will Hernandez this offseason, and his athleticism would be very valuable for an interior lineman. Having never seen either of them take an in-game snap at center, I don’t think the Giants can go wrong with starting either. I just think Lemieux’s physical attributes will give him the edge over Gates, who will end up playing the swing guard/center role this year. He also has tackle experience from last year, so his versatility reminds me of Kevin Boothe from the great teams of the 2007-2011 era. Veteran Spencer Pulley, who started at center for most of 2018 and saw action in 2019 seems to be the odd man out this year, as he has failed to stand out to me at all. He is the definition of “OK” and he is a quality NFL backup, but all of a sudden the Giants are particularly deep on the O-line, and there doesn’t seem to be any room for him. He will definitely find a job elsewhere if the Giants do decide to cut him.
DE1: Leonard Williams, Dexter “Sexy Dexy” Lawrence
NT1: Dalvin Tomlinson
Rotational Players: BJ Hill, Austin Johnson, RJ McIntosh
In possibly the best starting group on the team, the D-line has to continue its quality production from last year. Leonard Williams is playing on the franchise tag this year and should be looking to prove his worth to the Giants, and any other team that may be looking at him. He played fantastic, by my eye, against the run last year, but he needs to live up to his pass rush expectations if he wants to be paid like he thinks he should. Sexy Dexy is looking to improve upon his impressive rookie campaign from last year, and I expect him to do just that. Not many guys of his size can move as he does, and he will have to use his athleticism to make up for the Giants’ lack of outside pass rushers. Dalvin Tomlinson is the most underrated player on the Giants roster. He is a beast in the middle against the run and does his part against the pass as well. I just hope that Gettleman is smart enough to resign him next year.
In terms of rotational players, it’s the same cast of characters as last year, with BJ Hill trying to meet the media’s much-too-high expectations of him. He played solidly last year, despite his numbers not showing that, but I don’t think he will ever be as good as the media wants him to be. The Giants picked up Austin Johnson from the Titans in free agency to be a backup NT. At 6’4”, 318, and possessing good athleticism, he’s a quality backup space eater. Either RJ McIntosh or 2nd-year guy Chris Slayton will limp in on the bottom of the roster, and will hopefully raise each other’s game through competition. Despite McIntosh only having 18 tackles and 2 sacks in his 2-year career, I believe that he will beat out Slayton, who never left the practice squad last year.
OLB1: Markus Golden, Lorenzo Carter
Rotational: Oshane Ximines, Kyler Fackrell, Cam Brown (R), Carter Coughlin (R)
Flat out, this is the worst position group on the team. The Giants have no pass rush. Markus Golden, who will be signed under the UFA tag, is not a #1 rusher. He’s a very solid #2, but he cannot be your main guy if you want to maintain any semblance of consistent pressure. Lorenzo Carter may have the athleticism and strength he needs to be a #1 rusher, but he has done nothing with it. His first two years in the league have been pretty much identical, totaling 4.0 and 4.5 sacks in 2018 and 2019. He did not progress as advertised last year and overall looked extremely average in all areas of his game. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that James Bettcher’s system was awful and nobody really progressed on defense from 2018 to 2019, but he better start showing something.
Oshane Ximines is another guy that everybody seems to be gassing up this year, but I don’t see it right now. The next edge he sets in the run game will be his first, and he looked plain silly at times playing the run last year. Yes, he has shown potential in the pass rush game (4.5 sacks on a limited number of snaps last year), but if he doesn’t show improvement in the run game this year, then I don’t want to see him on the field too much. Honestly, I think Kyler Fackrell can sneakily be a good signing from this offseason. He totaled 10.5 sacks in 2018 for the Packers, but he has never had over 3.0 sacks in his other 3 years in the league, even though he’s played in every game but 3 in his career, which doesn’t bode well. That being said, double-digit sacks in the NFL doesn’t come by accident, and he has been overall okay against the run in his career.
6th round pick Cam Brown, out of Penn State, is essentially a more unpolished version of Lorenzo Carter. They’re built exactly the same and are both freak athletes. Brown got by in college by relying on his athleticism to make plays, rather than skill and knowledge of the game. This is clear as soon as you watch his tape, in the fact that I have yet to see him run his feet through a tackle; he just delivers a big hit and then lets his legs go limp. That may work against high-level college players, but as soon as he sees Adrian Peterson coming through the hole at him, he’s going to be in for a rude awakening. However, if the Giants coaching staff can get this bad habit out of him and polish him up overall, he may be able to be a solid NFL starter eventually. Even though he may not see the field much on defense, his raw athleticism gives him a real opportunity to make an impact on special teams this year. Carter Coughlin, a 7th round pick from Minnesota, seems to be as vanilla as it gets for a 7th rounder. From what I’ve seen, he’s a solid tackler, but his pass rush seems lacking against good competition. I think with good coaching, he has the potential to be a good rotational player, but for now, he’s a bottom-of-the-roster guy. Playing well on special teams is key for him as well if he wants to make the team.
ILB1: Ryan Connelly, Blake Martinez
ILB2: David Mayo, Tae Crowder (R), TJ Brunson (R)
The Giants have had linebacker problems since the departure of Antonio Pierce in 2008. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a new era for a franchise with a great history of linebackers. Ryan Connelly, coming off a great season that was cut way short by injury, is the real deal. If you want to read more about why he’s going to be a very good player, feel free to scroll down and click the link to an article I wrote about him. Long story short, he’s the best ILB the Giants have had in a long time and will secure the top spot on the depth chart. There’s been a lot of buzz about free agency signing Blake Martinez from the Packers, but I really don’t see it. Yes, he is very good against the run, especially towards the inside, but struggles in coverage, leading to his tackle numbers being inflated from tackling his man after he catches the ball all the time. If his coverage skills can be improved, I see him being a solid guy to start next to Connelly for the next few years.
David Mayo saw extended action last year with the injury to Connelly and was fantastic against the run for the most part. However, he was a nonfactor in coverage and tended to get caught out of position. To me, he is a special teams player who can play from scrimmage in a pinch or in a rotation, but nothing more. In an effort to get some depth at the position, the Giants used 2 of their 7th round picks on TJ Brunson from South Carolina and Tae Crowder from Georgia. Even though Crowder was this year’s Mr. Irrelevant, I actually liked his tape a lot better than Brunson, leading me to believe that he will be higher on the depth chart. I doubt either of these two will see the field much from scrimmage this year, but with 7th rounders, it’s really a crapshoot, especially in a year without preseason games.
CB1: James Bradberry
CB2: DeAndre Baker******************************
CB3 (SLOT/Nickel): Darnay Holmes (R)
CB4: Sam “Oh yeah I forgot about that guy” Beal
CB5: Julian Love
CB6: Corey Ballentine
After a dismal season last year where teams seemed to be able to go deep on the Giants secondary anytime they wanted, Dave Gettleman went looking in free agency for a veteran leader who could whip this young group of corners into shape. Enter James Bradberry, a 5th-year corner from the Panthers, who has made a living in this league blanketing the likes of Julio Jones, Mike Evans (who torched Janoris Jenkins last year), and Mike Thomas twice a year for his whole career. His numbers against these guys are incredible, and he is a true pro’s pro at the position. I have no idea why the signing didn’t get more media attention this off-season but as soon as the season starts I can tell you for sure that it’ll be looked upon very fondly. DeAndre Baker has 1 million asterisks next to his name because he is currently in legal proceedings for an armed robbery that he may or may not have committed. I’m not going to explain the whole legal battle in this article because it is really complicated and has a lot of layers, but long story short, he has been placed on the Commissioner’s exempt list, and his status will depend on whether or not his charges get dropped. There seems to be an okay chance that they might, but the news about him seems to change every hour at this point, so who knows. If he’s on the team this year, I expect him to have a huge amount of growth, being that he has a new defensive coordinator and a new veteran leader in front of him. If he doesn’t step up this year then Gettleman has a big storm coming for trading up to get him. There’s been a lot of hype around rookie fourth-round pick Darney Holmes recently, as he has garnered praise from Hall of Famers Deion Sanders and Rod Woodson. He shows great speed and athleticism and seemed to provide a spark to his UCLA defense last year. Holmes is slightly undersized, standing at 5’10”, 195, and I haven’t seen any standout coverage ability that would allow him to cover outside on the NFL level, so I see him being a solid option in the slot this year.
Sam Beal is still on the team after being drafted in the 3rd round of the 2018 supplemental draft. I’ve barely seen him play, and don’t particularly remember any tackle or play he has ever made. After allowing 16 completions for 171 yards on 21 targets in his 6 career games (all in 2019), it’s clear that he needs to step up if he wants to stay in the league, let alone on the team. I think Julian Love, last year’s 4th round pick, can be a hidden gem for the Giants defense. Because of his versatility and ability to play corner, nickel, and both safety spots I can see the Giants using him as a Swiss Army knife for the defense, and his impact will be felt in some way this year. He is a good player, and good players will find their way onto the field, no matter what position he may be playing. Last year’s 6th round pick Corey Ballentine was embarrassed in coverage in a few games, despite showing well in the preseason. However, he played well on special teams last year and showed some kick return ability, which I think will win him the last CB roster spot.
Note: If Baker gets released, then look for Grant Haley to grab the CB6 spot.
SS1: Jabrill Peppers
SS2: Chris Williamson (R)
As a New Jerseyan, I have always been a fan of Jabrill Peppers. He played very well last year before he got injured, and provided a real spark to the defense that I think they were missing after he went out. That being said, this is a prove-it year for him, as he tries to earn a contract, and all Giants fans are hoping for a huge impact from him. So far in his career, he has underachieved from what was expected from him coming out of Michigan, but there is always a need for a big physical safety, especially on a young team. I’m looking for Peppers to be a leader for this defense this year, and prove why Gettleman demanded him in the Odell trade. Rookie 7th rounder Chris Williamson out of Minnesota looks like a strictly special-teamer to me. He tackles well, but I doubt he’d be able to stay with NFL receivers in coverage. Realistically, if Peppers gets hurt this year, fellow rookie Xavier McKinney would likely fill in for him at SS instead of Williamson, but the former Golden Gopher will make the team and contribute on specials. If one of your four 7th rounders in a draft earns a second contract, you have to consider it a victory.
FS1: Xavier McKinney (R)
FS2: Julian Love
In the steal of the draft, the Giants snapped up McKinney, who many experts said should be a mid-1st rounder, with their 2nd round pick, and boy is everyone excited. There’s not much to say about McKinney other than that he has all the tools to make it at the NFL level, but needs some work covering the deep ball. He plays with great instincts and flies to the ball wherever he is; the guy can play. I have Julian Love listed here again because of his versatility, as I said before. In the past, the Giants have played a lot of 3 safety sets, and if DC Patrick Graham chooses to do that, then Love will fill into the 3rd safety spot: a role he is perfect for in my opinion.
K: Chandler Catanzaro
Boy, have the Giants had terrible luck with their kickers’ off-field behavior these past few years. First Josh Brown getting charged with domestic violence in 2015, and now Aldrick “Speed Racer” Rosas committing a hit and run while driving over 100 mph, and possibly under the influence. Rosas was cut on Sunday 7/26, so it is clear that he did NOT kick well enough last year to justify keeping a kicker with a criminal record. The same day, the Giants signed Chandler Catanzaro, who has kicked for the various teams throughout his 6-year career, most famously for the Jets and Cardinals. He has been extremely inconsistent throughout his career, and his FG% has been trending downward to 80% for 2019 (along with an 85.7 XP%). We may have to deal with some misses this year, but it’s not like Rosas was so much better than this last year. Whatever.
P: Riley Dixon
Ahh the unsung hero of the Giants last year. Dixon was quietly one of the best punters in the league last year and was extremely consistent. If he can keep up his production from last year, then he will be a huge asset in 2020. The Giants have a young defense, and if there is anything that benefits a young defense (besides a good coach) it’s good field position, and Dixon has the skill to provide that on a consistent basis.
Special Teams Specialists:
LS: Casey Kreiter
Gunners: Cody Core (WR), Nate Ebner (SS/FS)
Can anyone tell me why Long Snapper is still not a position in Madden after all these years? Anyway, Casey Kreiter made the Pro Bowl last year, so I’m confident that he won’t snap the ball over anyone’s head. This will be the first year since 2008 that someone not named Zak DeOssie will be starting the season-long snapping for the Giants, which will be a little strange. Cody Core’s special teams play last year was ridiculously underrated, and he made at least one play that legitimately impressed me every single game. With Joe Judge’s special teams background, he’ll without a doubt recognize a special teams beast when he sees one. Former rugby player, Nate Ebner, who was picked up from the Patriots in free agency this offseason, has been Coach Judge’s main special teams guy for the past few years in New England. He’ll be a solid, experienced player to have on all special teams units this year, and if Patriots players are anything, they are as fundamentally sound as it gets.
My Andrew Thomas Article: https://www.blitzalytics.com/post/the-giants-should-let-andrew-thomas-compete-at-left-tackle-in-2020
My Ryan Connelly Article: https://www.blitzalytics.com/post/ryan-connelly-2019-in-review
(All stats from www.pro-football-reference.com)