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Final grades for the Giants

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It has been a week now since the Giants defeated New England to win Super Bowl XLII. That's long enough, I think, for me to look back and try to grade the Giants' roster without being overly emotional.

So, let's do that. Let's try to grade the Giants, position-by-position.

Head Coach

Tom Coughlin had the magic touch all year. Forming a leadership council to get player input, taking the team bowling during training camp to build camaraderie, showing the team the softer side of his personality. None of that change could have been easy for the hard-nosded, 61-year-old curmudgeonly coach. But it helped build a team that believed in each other and played hard for him. TC also had the magic touch the last several weeks, playing to win in the regular-season finale against the Patriots and leading a team no one else believed in to a Super Bowl title. Grade: A+

Offense

Offensive Coordinator: He provided a tremendous improvement over the departed John Hufnagel, but there were still plenty of times throughout the season when I wondered if Kevin Gilbride was up to the task of calling plays for this offense. Toward the end of the season, though, Gilbride seemed to find a rhythm with his play-calling and he was terrific throughout the playoffs. The Giants achieved terrific balance, kept things fairly simply and finally figured out how to consistently play to their strengths offensively. The only thing that keeps the overall grade from being higher is some of the early season struggles. Grade: B

Quarterback: Eli Manning should really get two grades, a 'C' for his regular-season work and an 'A+' for his incredible work in the post-season. Throughout the regular season Eli often left fans scratching their heads and wondering how Ernie Accorsi ever thought this guy would be a star, completing just 56.1% of his passes and often looking befuddled. In the playoffs, though, he completed 60.5% of his passes, committed just one turnover made every play, met every challenge, wound up as Super Bowl MVP and made his mark as a guy who can lead his team when it matters most. Grade: B+

Running Back: We've been over it a zillion times, but the biggest question going into the season was how the Giants would replace Tiki Barber. I would say they did just fine without him. Brandon Jacobs gained 1,011 yards in just 11 games, averaging 5.0 yards per carry and delivering a ton of punishment. He's not a breakaway back, but he doesn't have to be. Derrick Ward gained 602 yards (4.8 yards per carry) in 8 games before getting hurt. Ahmad Bradshaw emerged as a big-play threat and may end up being the best of them all. Madison Hedgecock, rescued from the waiver wire scrap heap, proved to be a tremendous blocking fullback. Even veteran Reuben Droughns had his moments. Grade: A

Wide Receiver: There is no question Plaxico Burress should have been selected to the Pro Bowl. Amani Toomer (59 catches) had a nice season returning from a knee injury. Steve Smith missed a huge chunk of the season and made just 8 catches, but the rookie from USC showed his skills in the post-season. In those four games he caught 14 passes, many of them critical. Also, kudos to David Tyree for what he did in the Super Bowl. The Giants did, though, drop a league-high 42 passes during the regular season, and Sinorice Moss failed to make an impact for the second straight year. Grade: B

Tight End: This is a tough one to grade. Jeremy Shockey caught 57 passes before breaking his leg with two games left in the season, but often looked lost as he and Eli Manning never seemed to get into a rhythm. Kevin Boss showed terrific receiving skills replacing Shockey and Michael Matthews is an excellent blocker but has hands of stone. Grade: B

Offensive Line: This is a solid unit. Chris Snee is a Pro Bowl-caliber guard, and David Diehl deserves props for proving the doubters wrong and handling left tackle with great skill. Shaun O'Hara, Rich Seubert and Kareem McKenzie need to be commended for protecting Eli Manning, opening holes for the running game and helping make the Giants the least-penalized team in the league. Grade: B+

Defense

Defensive Coordinator: Of all the things Tom Coughlin did to turn the Giants into a Super Bowl champion, the best move was likely the hiring of Steve Spagnuolo. Spags turned a soft, ineffective defense into an aggressive, sack-happy, championship caliber unit. All season whenever it looked like a team would be able to move the ball against the Giants, Spagnuolo would make adjustments and the Giants would regain control. Without him, I doubt the Giants are Super Bowl champions today. Grade: A+

Defensive Line: There is no better front four in the league than this unit, which helped the Giants lead the league in sacks. The Giants were never afraid to bring blitz pressure, but this unit's ability to control games made it easier on the rest of the defense. Osi Umenyiora was the only Giant named to the Pro Bowl, but Justin Tuck and Michael Strahan were just as good, if not better. Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield are quality tackles, and Jay Alford flashed plenty of potential toward the end of the season. Also, don't forget about Mathias Kiwanuka. Grade: A+

Linebacker: This unit struggled early with Kiwanuka and Kawika Mitchell learning new positions. But it improved immensely as the season progressed. Mitchell grew into a solid playmaker, Kiwanuka was getting the hang of linebacker before getting hurt, Reggie Torbor played well and even Gerris Wilkinson flashed potential in limited opportunities. The anchor to this unit was, of course, Antonio Pierce. This group's grade is affected by its early-season difficulties. Grade: B

Cornerback: This group played better than anyone could have ever expected. Sam Madison played well, Aaron Ross justified his status as the team's No. 1 draft pick, Corey Webster was incredible throughout the post-season, and both Kevin Dockery and R.W. McQuarters made contributions. Grade: B

Safety: I have mixed feelings about this group. Gibril Wilson had a terrific season, but whenever there was a coverage breakdown it seemed like James Butler was in the middle of it. Seventh-round pick Michael Johnson showed enough that he may eventually play Butler out of a job. Grade: B-

Special Teams

Snappers: The Giants made it through the season without really getting burned by a pair of rookie snappers, Zak DeOssie (punts) and Jay Alford (field goals, PATs). DeOssie may snap on punts for a long time, but Alford was often an adventure and it wouldn't surprise me if he is replaced next season. Grade: C

Returners: As the season progressed the Giants uncovered a pair of lethal kickoff returners in Ahmad Bradshaw and Domenic Hixon. R.W. McQuarters is an adequate punt returner, whose best attribute is that he doesn't fumble. I would love to see Hixon get a shot at replacing McQuarters on punt returns next season. Grade: B

Kickers: Lawrence Tynes started slowly, but did make a career-high 85.2% of his field goals and manage to kick the Giants into the Super Bowl with his Green Bay game-winner. Jeff Feagles rarely hits a booming punt, but he's the best in the business at pinning opponents deep and using directional punts to neutralize dangerous returners. Grade: B