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New York Giants 53-man roster projection: Nikita Whitlock, Uani Unga in, Markus Kuhn out

There are plenty of surprises in the final roster projection.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The preseason is complete. NFL teams now have until 4 p.m. ET on Saturday to trim their rosters to the 53-man regular season limit. Rosters were at 75 players for the final preseason game. Your New York Giants have a number of interesting decisions to make. Who will stay and who will go? After what transpired in Thursday's 12-9 victory over the New England Patriots, and with some of the injuries the Giants need to work around, projecting this 53-man roster is incredibly difficult.


Quarterbacks (2)

Eli Manning, Ryan Nassib

Big shock, eh?

Fullback (2)

Henry Hynoski, Nikita Whitlock

Two fullbacks? Yep. Did you watch the game on Thursday night? The Giants have to find a way to keep Whitlock on the roster, and it's going to require thinking outside the box to do it. The guy throws everything he has into every block when he's at fullback. He's always around the ball on special teams. He even played some defensive tackle, his college position, and came up with a tackle and a fumble recovery. At 250 pounds, that isn't something the Giants would want to see in a regular-season game but the fact he did OK there in his short stint is another plus for him.

I can't bring myself to cut Hynoski because he is still one of the league's better fullbacks, and Whitlock is still learning the position. Besides, as you will see below there is a way both guys can be utilized. Whitlock has to be part of this team, though. His energy, aggression, versatility and special teams contributions in coverage demand it. The trick is going to be where to steal a roster spot from to make room for Whitlock.

Running back (4)

Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams, Shane Vereen, Orleans Darkwa

It was tempting -- very tempting -- to drop Darkwa to make room for Whitlock. Darkwa has earned his spot, though, with his running, receiving and work on special teams. I think the Giants will regret if if they let the second-year man go.

Tight end (2)

Larry Donnell, Jerome Cunningham

OK, so full disclosure here. This idea comes from friend and "Big Blue Chat" podcast co-host Pat Traina. She has been trumpeting the idea of two tight ends and two fullbacks for the better part of a week, and she has finally convinced me that this is the way to go.

Keeping Donnell is a no-brainer. Way back in the spring I thought veteran Daniel Fells, through no fault of his own, was in jeopardy of losing his roster spot. I have had him making the team in my recent projections, but I've had the nagging feeling all along that Fells wasn't going to make it.

That leaves Cunningham vs. Adrien Robinson. Did you see the terrific 33-yard catch Cunningham made Thursday night? That's one more impact play than Robinson has made in three-plus seasons. Robinson dropped a touchdown pass Thursday, a beautifully thrown back-shoulder ball from Ryan Nassib that simply has to be caught. The Giants have shown extreme patience with Robinson, and while he can block adequately it just seems he will never become a real asset in the passing game.

What about the blocking aspect of the tight end role? Neither Donnell nor Cunningham excel as inline blockers. Thinking outside the box, perhaps this is where you get more snaps for Hynoski, using him in an H-Back type role to replace the traditional blocking tight end. Maybe you even use both fullbacks in short yardage. The Giants? Doing something different? They might have to.

Wide receiver (7)

Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, James Jones, Geremy Davis, Dwayne Harris, Preston Parker

Every roster projection I have done up until now has had the Giants keeping six wide receivers. Ultimately, I think they will carry six for most of the season. It seems unlikely that Victor Cruz (calf) will play Week 1 vs. the Dallas Cowboys, and Rueben Randle is still working his way back from knee tendinitis so the Giants have to protect themselves. Thus, Parker gets a reprieve and makes the season-opening roster. Why Parker instead of Corey Washington? He can do more things. He has experience in the slot, Cruz's primary position. He can play outside. He can also return punts and kickoffs if necessary.

Offensive line (8)

Starters -- Ereck Flowers, Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, Geoff Schwartz, Marshall Newhouse

Reserves -- John Jerry, Dallas Reynolds, Adam Gettis

Only eight linemen? No Brett Jones? Read on and I will explain. Jones' knee injury comes at an awful time for him in terms of making the roster. The Giants need to protect themselves in other areas, like wide receiver, and Jones could unfortunately end up on IR as a result. That's the scenario I am envisioning here. As for the eight linemen, remember that veterans are often added to the roster after Week 1 because then their full salary is not guaranteed. Remember, the Giants added Adam Snyder after Week 1 a season ago. What I'm envisioning here is Parker being kept Week 1 as Cruz protection, then being dropped Week 2 in favor of a veteran offensive lineman. The versatility of Geoff Schwartz and Justin Pugh to go outside to right and left tackle respectively in an emergency allows the Giants to get by with just three reserves for a week. Also, remember that Reynolds can play both center and guard.


Defensive tackle (4)

Johnathan Hankins, Jay Bromley, Kenrick Ellis, Cullen Jenkins

I went back-and-forth on this one. I have, if you have been reading my weekly projections, been going back-and-forth on it for weeks. Truth is, I'm still uncertain. Deadlines are deadlines, though, and a choice had to be made. It comes to this, at least for me. Even at 34, Jenkins is a better player than Markus Kuhn. The Giants have to see that. Don't they? We have floated theories as to why Kuhn has continued to get first-team reps. Only Tom Coughlin, Steve Apagnuolo and Jerry Reese know for sure. I know this much. Kenrick Ellis is a far superior run defender than Kuhn. Jay Bromley has far more upside. They have to make the team. If the Giants cut Kuhn, they wouldn't miss him.

Defensive end (5)

Robert Ayers, Kerry Wynn, Damontre Moore, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, George Selvie

The projection here is, of course, complicated by the Jason Pierre-Paul situation. JPP is apparently going to be examined by the Giants next week. Playing Week 1 seems unrealistic, but right now it's impossible to know if he ends up on the roster, the Non-Football Injury list, signs and gets the short-term IR designation or maybe waits until a couple of weeks into the season to sign.

Best guess is that if Pierre-Paul is in, Selvie is out. I don't like cutting Selvie, but I don't see how the Giants keep six defensive ends. For now, though, JPP is not projected to be part of the roster since he remains unsigned.

Linebacker (7)

Jon Beason, Devon Kennard, J.T. Thomas III, Jameel McClain, Mark Herzlich, Uani Unga, Ashlee Palmer

Yes, seven linebackers. Much like wide receiver and offensive line, this is about Week 1. The Giants have to have protection for Beason and, to a lesser extent, McClain. We know how badly Beason wants to be ready for Week 1, but whether that is realistic or not we don't have any idea. We do know the Giants need to protect themselves. Unga deserves a spot, regardless of Beason's status. He might even wind up playing significant snaps in the nickel package. Palmer makes the team, at least initially, as insurance.

Cornerback (5)

Prince Amukamara, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Trumaine McBride, Trevin Wade, Jayron Hosley

Wade (back) didn't play Thursday night, but he did enough in training camp and three preseason games that he belongs on the roster. Hosley and Harris round out the cornerback group. They are, basically, the last healthy guys standing. Hosley has shown flashes, but this is his fourth year and it's still difficult to trust him. He does, however, give them a backup on the outside to start the season. I dislike cutting Harris because he's an adequate slot corner, but somebody has to pay the price for the uncertainty at linebacker. Should the Giants choose to open the season with just five corners, look for them to drop a linebacker and add a corner off the free-agent market after Week 1.

Safety (4)

Landon Collins, Stevie Brown, Brandon Meriweather, Cooper Taylor

This is a tough one. Collins, Brown and Taylor would all appear to be safe. Jeromy Miles' groin injury might cost him a spot. I have Meriweather making it over Miles and Nat Berhe, who is recuperating from calf surgery. I'm not sold on Meriweather, though. He wasn't impressive on defense Thursday, and committed a special teams penalty. Really interesting call here. I'm just going with the healthy guys.


Placekicker -- Josh Brown

Punter -- Steve Weatherford

Long-snapper -- Zak DeOssie

Considering the recent comments by head coach Tom Coughlin about Weatherford it would be a surprise, but not a complete shock, if the Giants look to the free agent market for a replacement for the popular punter.

Final thoughts

This is not the 53-man roster I expected to end up with, even a few days ago. The Giants simply have to make room for guys like Whitlock and Unga. They are hungry, useful players who help them immensely on special teams and offer them protection in other ways. The Cruz injury forces an adjustment I really didn't want to make. Same with the Beason injury. As I said multiple times above, this roster is also constructed with the idea that changes can and will be made after Week 1.

Your thoughts, Giants fans?