The New York Giants weren’t good on special teams last season. They were lacking in the return game, rookie placekicker Aldrick Rosas was among the NFL’s least-accurate kickers, and Brad Wing was cut after the Giants posted a league-worst average for net punting yards. Let’s look at special teams overall as we continue our position-by-position look at the Giants in advance of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Key players lost: Dwayne Harris, Brad Wing, Nat Berhe, Shane Vereen
Key players added: P Riley Dixon, Cody Latimer (several of the veteran cornerbacks added are also experienced special teams players)
Let’s look at the three areas of concern — punter, placekicker and the return game.
Yes, the Giants traded for former Denver Broncos punter Riley Dixon. That, however, does not mean Dixon will absolutely be their punter in 2018. The Giants gave up next to nothing — a conditional seventh-round pick in 2019, one of the two they have. Dixon has a fairly impressive 45.7 yards per punt average over two seasons, but he is reputed to have a fairly weak leg and that average was likely boosted by the rarefied air in Denver.
The premier punter in the draft class is Michael Dickson of Texas, a player who has a third- or fourth-round grade on many draft boards.
NFL Draft Scout says “His uncanny touch, accuracy and leg strength could earn Dickson top 100 consideration.”
Dickson is the rare punter with good size, hands, touch, and power who is able to dig his team out of their own end zone and stick his opponents close to theirs. Over the last ten years, just one punter (Bryan Anger in 2012 to Jaguars) was taken inside the first three rounds but Dickson could be that guy this year.
The second punter currently on the Giants’ roster is Austin Rekhow, who has never punted in an NFL game.
Rosas made only 18-of-25 field goals last season, a 72 percent accuracy rating that placed him 37th out of 41 qualifying kickers.
It seems unlikely the Giants would draft a placekicker to compete with Rosas. If they draft someone to kick it would likely be Dickson, the punter.
What seems almost certain, though, is that at some point the Giants will add a veteran placekicker for competition.
The Giants also have placekicker Marshall Koehn on the roster. His NFL experience consists of kicking one extra point for the Cincinnati Bengals last season.
After Harris got hurt last season the Giants used Vereen, Kalif Raymond and Hunter Sharp to return kickoffs, without much success. Raymond, Sharp and Ed Eagan tried to return punts, again with little to show for it.
The Giants are, of course, not going to draft someone just to be a return man. There are, however, several players who, in addition to their primary position, were quality returners in college.
Saquon Barkley was a dangerous kickoff returner. Wide receiver Dante Pettis set an NCAA record for punt return touchdowns. N.C. State running back Nyheim Hines, a player who has drawn comparisons to Darren Sproles, comes to mind. There are many others.
It stands to reason that the Giants will draft one or more players who have had some collegiate return experience.
If he goes undrafted, the Giants have also shown interest in Pitt return specialist Quadree Henderson.