Now that the NFL Draft has wrapped up, we can finally get a proper look at what next season's New York Giants roster may look like. There will still be some shuffling to come, as well as injuries and the late additions to camp, but our picture of this team right now is quite clear.
For this assignment, I am building on the pre-draft depth chart that I put together last week and adjusting it where appropriate. I can tell you right now that, yes I did rate your favorite player too low, and yes I am crazy for saying that other player is good. Predicting the opening day rosters this far in advance is very difficult but this article mainly serves to outline the positions where players will have to compete for a starting spot or to make the final 53-man roster.
A quick note about the color codes. They reflect the likelihood of making the final roster, not the talent or production of the player. A green designation does not necessarily mean that I think this person is better than the back-up listed here (unless otherwise stated). For example, a late-round rookie may not be better than a veteran player but he has a better shot at making the roster because of the draft capital invested in his future. I have adjusted these to reflect what I think the team may do as opposed to my own personal preference.
DEPTH CHART COLOR CODE
This player is likely to be on the opening day roster.
This player is not certain to make the opening day roster.
This player is unlikely to be on the opening day roster.
DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS
Well, Eli Manning was obviously going to be the starter, but the lack of competition for the back-up job means that 2013 fourth-round pick Ryan Nassib has the job all but sewn up. He gets a bump from yellow to green. Ricky Stanzi is unlikely to be anything more than a camp body.
I fully expect Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams to carry the bulk of the load with Shane Vereen's role on the team being more of a specialty player than workhorse running-back (think Darren Sproles). These three are near locks to make the roster but the possibility of carrying a fourth running back is probable if they can contribute something on special teams. This should be a straight-forward camp battle between Orleans Darkwa, Chris Ogbonnaya and undrafted rookie Akeem Hunt. I think Darkwa gets the nod because of his experience with the scheme from last year but strange things happen in training camp.
No new competition at the position increases Henry Hynoski's chances at making the final roster but I think it comes down to him and Adrien Robinson. Hynoski is the smart choice but if Ben McAdoo thinks he doesn't need a fullback next season, it would allow Jerry Reese to hang on to another disappointing draft pick for an extra year.
Let's talk about all of these guys in one section. The most notable thing here is that I've slotted first-round rookie Ereck Flowers at left guard. I think he's a strong possibility to play right tackle but that this is a better move for the overall performance of the offensive line in 2015. If you look at it, it's clear that Weston Richburg at center is the weak point. By sticking Flowers and Geoff Schwartz either side of him, the defense has to work harder to generate interior pressure. My problem with Flowers at RT is that it would push Justin Pugh inside to guard. If Pugh is having an off-day (something which happened a few times last year), then the Pugh-Richburg combination is the discernable attack point.
And now for the backups. After drafting Flowers in the first round, the Giants took Florida State's Bobby Hart in the seventh. Flowers takes John Jerry's spot in the starting lineup, and the team signed Marshall Newhouse to be their swing tackle. Suddenly this team has some legitimate depth along the line for the first time in ages.
The competition to be the ninth offensive lineman will come down to previous draft picks Eric Herman and Brandon Mosley, veteran Dallas Reynolds and Canada's 'Offensive Lineman of the Year' Brett Jones. I have no idea how this will go. Reese will want to save a former draft pick while the other direction may be for the upside of Jones or the versatility of Reynolds. It's too early to make a prediction for this one.
This preseason will be Adrien Robinson's last chance to impress the top brass. Larry Donnell is the starter and I think Daniel Fells showed enough last season to warrant another year as the back-up. The third tight-end role could be played by Henry Hynoski if needed, much like how the fullback role could be done by a tight end. That's a generality, but it's applicable in this scenario, so it wouldn't surprise me if it comes down to Robinson or Hynoski in an inter-positional camp battle.
Odell Beckham Jr. and Reuben Randle aren't getting cut so they get one spot each. Victor Cruz is returning from injury which means expectations of production will be tapered. Dwayne Harris signed a huge contract that is mainly justified through special teams contributions so he's safe too. Geremy Davis gets the fifth spot because he's an incoming draft pick (Though it's not like he isn't talented. He had ZERO drops last season).
That means there's only one available spot. Of the players in this group, Preston Parker played the most snaps last year so he makes sense but Corey Washington offers a lot in red-zone packages. This is a decision that possibly hinges on the availability of Cruz. If he's good to go, they might not need a back-up slot guy like Parker and could opt for Washington.
Though they're not the only options. Marcus Harris was good before he got injured in camp last year. A veteran receiver like Kevin Ogletree could provide a lot in the film room to an incredibly young receiver group. The wild-card is Julian Talley whose name is always mentioned with the words "Eli", "Manning" and "workout" every summer. Let's see if anyone makes a big splash in the preseason.
Here I have projected Owamagbe Odighizuwa as the opening day starter at left defensive end opposite Jason Pierre-Paul. Many people would disagree with me and state that Damontre Moore is the clear favorite to take that spot, but I can't get on board with that right now. Moore is an excellent pass-rusher that is yet to develop into a well-rounded player. Until proven otherwise, he is not to be trusted on early downs.
According to PFF, Moore's run stop percentage last season was just 5.0 percent (albeit on a small sample size of 80 run snaps). Jason Pierre-Paul rated at 8.4, Kerry Wynn at 8.9 and Robert Ayers at 9.1. He needs to improve significantly in this area for Coughlin & Co. to trust him as a starter. I suspect he will open training camp atop the depth chart with the hopes that experience let's him build on this area, but he won't remain there for long if he can't stuff the run.
In the long run, I see Odighizuwa as the better prospect for the early-down workload. He played a huge number of snaps against the run during his final year and performed admirably. Considering Steve Spagnuolo will like to feature a heavy rotation on the line, I don't think it will even come down to "starters vs. backups" as much as playing time will be based on situational personnel packages. In terms of defensive linemen though, starters means playing the run.
What about Ayers? The Giants have a strong history of giving preference to the veterans, even if it's to their detriment. Well, Ayers is recovering from a torn pectoral muscle that he injured in early December. Considering a pass-rusher's dependency on arm-moves, my guess is Ayers seems unlikely to be ready for training camp or opening day. The Giants have other options and don't want to rush Ayers back too soon because when fully healthy again, he's the likely starter.
That just leaves George Selvie. I don't see this as an issue. Selvie is a player whose snap count for next season faded away as the Giants wrote 'ODIGHIZUWA' on the draft card. His salary for this year is just $1 million and if the Giants do decide to part ways, he carries just a $200K cap hit.
On the inside of the line, I expect last year's second-round pick, Jay Bromley, to see a lot more playing time. He appears to have trimmed down this offseason while working out with Pierre-Paul. A beefy combination in the middle with Johnathan Hankins should shore up some of the issues surrounding one of the worst run defenses in the league.
For NASCAR packages, I suspect that both Double-O and JPP kick inside for Ayers and Moore on the edges. Something to potentially look for is a lopsided version of this package that keeps Hankins on the field for questionable second-and-long scenarios.
Finally, if we assume the four starters and their immediate backups are safe, it leaves two open spots for some combination of ends Selvie, Wynn and tackle Markus Kuhn. I prefer both of the ends to Kuhn but could foresee the team keeping an extra guy at each position. In that case, my pick is Wynn over Selvie.
No draft picks were spent on linebackers this year so I suspect there should be no surprises here. However, I kept Jameel McClain in yellow because I think if one of these unknown guys does impress, it's his spot that would be in jeopardy.
The only difference to my pre-draft project is that I bumped Jonathan Casillas ahead of J.T. Thomas. I don't see what Thomas could offer this team that would merit giving him one of three starting linebacker spots. Maybe something will happen in camp, but based on what this guy showed last year, I don't see it at all.
Outside positions are locked down by Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie but the slot corner spot is up for grabs. My money is on Trumaine McBride. Two years ago, he was one of the best nickel backs in the league. If he can somehow regain his form, this would be a fearsome trio of corners.
Jayron Hosley is probably safe too. Somehow. His level of play and his off-field antics haven't impressed but much like McBride, his contract expires after 2015 so maybe we'll see his delayed promise finally come to fruition. If not, the Giants don't have to cut one of their own draft picks and instead just let him sign somewhere else in free agency.
The fifth cornerback spot is difficult to predict and one of the more interesting aspects of this roster. It looks like a three-way battle of "who makes the least mistakes" between Chandler Fenner, Bennett Jackson and Josh Gordy. I have Gordy listed here as a a cornerback, but GM Jerry Reese indicated he sees Gordy as a safety.
If Gordy focuses his attention towards becoming a safety, that may persuade the coaching staff to keep Chykie Brown as a cornerback instead of the announced positional change. I wouldn't be shocked if Gordy and Brown make the roster at the reverse of what I have listed here.
Landon Collins steps right into the starting line-up and I think that causes Nat Berhe, who played a little free-safety before, to focus his full-time attention on becoming Collins' running mate rather than his sparring partner.
Cooper Taylor, if he's still healthy by opening day, gets the back-up strong safety job and rookie Mykkele Thompson sits behind Berhe to learn (and maybe even teach him a thing or two). Don't sleep on the undrafted free-agent Justin Currie, who is expected to be among players attending rookie mini-camp. He would have the best chance of any undrafted player in camp to make the final 53.
Josh Brown is as safe as can be without getting a green label. Kickers are never guaranteed their jobs and can go bad without prior notice. If it happens to Brown, he won't get more than a preseason game or two to correct his mistakes before the Giants bring in a replacement.
As much as I would like to have seen this team get a rookie long-snapper, Zak DeOssie will have to do for another year. I talked to Gordon McGuiness of Pro Football Focus about why DeOssie gets such poor grades and he says it's simply down to poor snaps (makes sense), but that he makes up for it by being one of the best special teams players to run down the ball after the play is in motion. I guess there's a silver lining to remember next time Steve Weatherford has to jump-catch the snap in a critical moment. Speaking of which, he's safe. Good player, decent contract. Both sides are happy.
It's easy to dismiss special teams for this article because it appears fairly cut and dry. However, the reality is that several of these camp battles will be decided by who can contribute on special teams. I always watch kickoffs and punts closer in the preseason than the regular season, and you should, too. Half the time, it's more important than how the starting units perform. So next August when you think about grabbing a beer from the kitchen or changing over to Gilmore Girls, keep your butt firmly on that seat and observe some good ol' fashioned gunner play because you may just catch a glimpse of your team's future.