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State of the Giants’ roster: Fixing the line, getting quarterback right are keys on offense

Let’s assess the Giants offense at the season’s halfway point

NFL: Washington Redskins at New York Giants
Saquon Barkley
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the trade deadline has passed, we know what the New York Giants will look like when they return from their bye week for the second half of the season. Let’s look at the state of the roster on offense, try to assess where the Giants are, what they might be able to learn over the final 8 games and what positions they will need to try and upgrade heading into 2019.

NFL: Washington Redskins at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports


Current rosterEli Manning, Alex Tanney, Kyle Lauletta
Ex-Giant of noteDavis Webb

We know Eli Manning is not the long-term future. At 37, struggling to create points and on a team that has to be more concerned about the future than the present or the past, he just can’t be.

Manning is the present because that’s the path John Mara, Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur chose. They believed they could still make it work if they could a) protect him and b) give him enough play-makers. They have done the latter, but not the former.

Manning will continue to be the present once the Giants return from their bye. The arrest of Kyle Lauletta on Tuesday shattered any hopes that the fourth-round pick would get his chance beginning in Week 10. Could Lauletta play at some point this season? Maybe, but whatever disciplinary action could be taken against him and whatever his his stock has taken within the organization as a result of his current situation complicate matters. That could end up leading to Manning starting the rest of the season.

In 2019? Unless Manning and the offense have some type of turnaround over the final 8 games that shows reason to believe Manning behind center could work for another year, that would be a tough sell. Manning, though, is under contract for next season. So, it’s a possibility. Until it isn’t.

Would the Giants be in position to draft Justin Herbert of Oregon, considered the No. 1 quarterback prospect, should he declare? Would they want to? Might they have their eyes on someone else in the draft class?

Would they dip into the free agent market or perhaps make a trade for a young, unheralded quarterback like Nate Sudfeld or Kyle Sloter and give him an opportunity?

Coach Pat Shurmur indicated on WFAN Tuesday that the Giants are aware of “what’s going to happen a year from now” at the quarterback spot.

What that is the Giants aren’t going to tell us. The Giants, though, know they have to get the quarterback position right for the long term. It really is the key to the long-term success or failure of the franchise.

2019 need: High. Obviously.

Running back

Current rosterSaquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman, Elijhaa Penny
Injured reserveJonathan Stewart, Paul Perkins
Practice squadRobert Martin, Jhurell Pressley
Ex-Giant of noteOrleans Darkwa

The Giants drafted Saquon Barkley second overall, and he’s a star. With 519 rushing yards and 497 receiving yards through eight games, Barkley has a chance to become only the third player in NFL history to surpass 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. Roger Craig (49ers, 1985) and Marshall Faulk (Rams, 1999) are the others.

Whether or not the Giants’ future would have been better served by drafting a quarterback with the second overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft is an argument that may never really go away. What we know for certain is that in Barkley the Giants drafted a wonderful player and person who will be a cornerstone of the team’s reconstruction and has already become a locker room leader.

The question really is do the Giants have a backup they believe in to ease the workload on Barkley going forward?

The Jonathan Stewart signing hasn’t worked out. For $3.45 million in guaranteed money and $3.925 million against the cap the Giants got 6 carries for 17 yards before Stewart landed on IR. The Giants can save $3.1 million against the cap in 2019 with only $250,000 in dead money by releasing the 31-year-old. It would be stunning if they don’t do that.

Is second-year man Wayne Gallman the long-term backup? He has only 15 carries and 8 receptions through 8 games, and he has played only 7 total snaps the past two weeks.

Perhaps the Giants will find a roster spot at some point this season for either undrafted rookie free agent Robert Martin or Jhurell Pressley, both of whom impressed in the preseason and are currently on the practice squad. Could one of them jump past Gallman on the depth chart?

Penny replaced Shane Smith at fullback. He offers more versatility than Smith, but has played only 22 snaps in 6 games. The 25-year-old could be the team’s fullback going forward — if they plan to continue using a true fullback.

2019 need: Let’s start with this. It would be nice to get Barkley to 1,000 yards rushing and receiving. It might be more important to spend some time figuring out if someone from the Gallman/Martin/Pressley triumvirate can be a trustworthy backup. If not, while the Giants should not spend big money or use a high draft pick on the position, they need to find one.

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys
Evan Engram
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Tight end

Current rosterEvan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Scott Simonson
Ex-Giant of noteJerell Adams

Engram, the final first-round pick (2017) by former GM Jerry Reese, is a building block player. The 24-year-old has had a problem with dropped passes his first two seasons. He dropped 11 passes a rookie, most of any NFL tight end. This year, per Pro Football Focus, he had dropped three of 20 catchable passes, 15 percent. Only two tight ends, Davis Njoku (seven drops in 40 catchable balls) and George Kittle (4 drops of 40 catchable balls) have more.

Despite that, Engram has size, speed and route-running ability that give him a unique skill set for the tight end position. He is also a young player who could emerge as a locker room leader. If he can ever overcome his issue with drops, he can be a solid player for the Giants for years to come.

Rhett Ellison is a nice player, but he will be 31 next season. The Giants could save $12 million against the cap in 2019 and 2020 while incurring only $3.75 million in dead money. An early guess is that they will do just that.

Scott Simonson is a blocking tight end, really just a guy Eli Manning seems to throw the ball to at inopportune times.

2019 need: That depends largely on what they do with Ellison. Regardless of whether they keep Ellison or not, because of their needs at other positions I can’t see the Giants investing either a high draft pick or a large amount of free agent dollars in this spot.

Wide receiver

Current rosterOdell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, Bennie Fowler, Russell Shepard, Corey Coleman, Jawill Davis, Quadree Henderson
Practice squadAlonzo Russell
Injured reserveCody Latimer
Ex-Giant of noteBrandon Marshall

The Giants didn’t move Beckham or Shepard at the trade deadline, and along with Barkley they will be key figures as the Giants continue to try and get their offense fixed.

The search for a third — or even fourth — wide receiver, though, continues.

Latimer might be the answer, or at least part of the roster in 2019, but he caught only 6 passes in 4 games before going on IR. Bennie Fowler is really just a placeholder, and Russell Shepard is a special teams player who has never caught more than 23 passes in a season during his six-year career.

Jawill Davis is an intriguing rookie, who could see more playing time in the second half of the season once he is out of the concussion protocol. Quadree Henderson could be the answer the Giants have been seeking as a returner. As an offensive player? The 5-foot-8 Henderson was a gadget player on offense at Pitt, and might be useful in that role with the Giants.

The real intrigue for the Giants over the final eight games will surround Corey Coleman. Selected 15th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft, Coleman is now on his fourth team (Browns, Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots, Giants) since August.

At 1-7 and looking around every rock for talent, the Giants are giving Coleman another chance to rescue his floundering career.

“We brought him here because we feel like he’s got a future. He’s very talented, he’s fast, he’s a good receiver,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “He’s been a couple places already. We’re kicking the tires on him with the idea that he’s got a future.”

Beginning in Week 10 against the San Francisco 49ers the Giants figure to get Coleman on the field, if not full time, at least for enough snaps to judge whether he could have a future with them.

2019 need: Undetermined. That probably depends on what they see from Coleman and Davis, if he returns from his concussion. Also, what they think of Latimer. I can’t see the Giants spending big money or using a high draft pick to supplement this position, though.

New Orleans Saints v New York Giants
Nate Solder (76)
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Offensive line

Current rosterNate Solder, Will Hernandez, Stephen Pulley, John Greco, Chad Wheeler, Brian Mihalik, Evan Brown, Patrick Omameh
Injured reserveJon Halapio, Nick Gates
Practice squadVictor Salako, Jylan Ware
Ex-Giants of noteJustin Pugh, Weston Richburg, Ereck Flowers, Brett Jones, John Jerry, D.J. Fluker, Bobby Hart

GM Dave Gettleman’s hog mollie rebuild has not gone as hoped. Eli Manning has been sacked an atrocious 31 times. Only the Cleveland Browns, with the mobile Baker Mayfield and Tyrod Taylor, have given up more (33).

You could probably pencil in two of the players Gettleman brought in as part of the solution heading into 2019.

Left tackle Nate Solder was, as we have acknowledged many times, an overpay at $62 million ($34.8 million guaranteed) over four years. Considering the market and the lack of available left tackles in the draft, that simply was the price the Giants had to pay to replace Ereck Flowers at that spot.

Solder was never going to be an All-Pro. He is a B or B+ player with an A+ contract. He has already surrendered six sacks, tying the second-highest total of his career, but his other quantifiable numbers (pressures allowed, Pro Football Focus grades) are in line with what he’s done throughout his career. Basically, he’s done about what he should have been expected to do.

Left guard Will Hernandez has had ups and downs and has given up too many sacks (5), but he is PFF’s 11th-ranked guard and seems to be a long-term building block who should continue to get better.

The other three positions on the line? Gettleman likely needs to go back to the drawing board and find new solutions at center, right guard and right tackle.

The Giants’ decisions entering the season at center and right guard were curious.

At center, they chose Jon Halapio and never really gave Brett Jones a chance to win the job despite his having played fairly well in 2017. Halapio is on IR, Jones is in Minnesota (where he hasn’t played a snap in the past 5 games), and Spencer Pulley is now the team’s third starting center.

Can the 25-year-old Pulley be the long-term answer? Do the Giants want to give Halapio another opportunity? Or, will they be back to the drawing board?

At right guard, the Giants passed on a chance to retain D.J. Fluker. He signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Seattle Seahawks. Instead, the Giants signed Patrick Omameh to a three-year, $15 million contract ($10.05 million guaranteed). A flop, he’s already been benched. John Greco, a 33-year-old 11-year veteran is the current placeholder, and the Giants will be back to the drawing board at this position next season.

In the wishful thinking department, you have to believe that the Giants line would be much better with Jones at center and Fluker at right guard than with any other combination they have used at those positions so far this season.

At right tackle, the Giants quickly ended the Ereck Flowers experiment and inserted Chad Wheeler. The former undrafted free agent has allowed 3 sacks and 26 pressures. Among tackles who have played at least 100 snaps, Wheeler is ranked second-last in the league by PFF. He doesn’t appear to be the answer. This is another spot where the Giants will be back to the drawing board.

2019 need: High. The Giants need to invest heavily, preferably in the draft, to upgrade the right side of the line. To capitalize on the weapons the Giants have, Gettleman simply has to get this right.

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