“We’re getting better, baby.”
New York Giants GM Dave Gettleman said that after conclusion of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Of course, every team’s goal every offseason is to get better than they were the year before. Every team wants to reinforce weaknesses and strengthen strengths, get younger, and generally find any advantage they can in a hyper-competitive league.
The Giants have certainly made a lot of moves in pursuit of this goal. They have hired a new GM, almost completely revamped their coaching staff, parted ways with a large number of players, and brought in a similarly large number.
But, as legendary coach John Wooden once said, “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.”
The Giants have been very active, but have they actually gotten better?
At least one writer, Jeff Freyerer of Inside The Pylon, doesn’t think so, tweeting:
Playing around with my Preseason Roster Valuations post draft....the Giants got worse this offseason? pic.twitter.com/RZi41sX4zw— Jeff Feyerer (@jeff_feyerer) April 30, 2018
That tweet prompted me to take a more in-depth look at the Giants’ roster, as it stands now, and see if they really have gotten better or worse in the last year. It was all originally intended to happen in a single piece, but I quickly realized that giving each position group a fair look was going to be pretty involved and that one post would be several thousand words long.
So instead, I decided to take a look at a different position group each day. What follows is a brief summary of my thoughts on each position.
Quarterback (note: This post has an explanation of how Feyerer reached his conclusion)
Ultimately, how the Giants’ quarterback position is perceived in 2018 will depend on how Eli Manning plays. I believe that many of Eli’s issues the past two seasons were due to an inefficient, overly cautious, and far-too-predictable offensive scheme and play calling under Ben McAdoo. Given that Pat Shurmur’s reputation for scheming to his players strengths and putting them in position to succeed, I believe Eli should have a resurgeant season in 2018.
Alex Tanney wasn’t signed until after the post was published, so I couldn’t factor him into the equation, but if he doesn’t make the final roster, the Giants will have gone from an experienced backup in Geno Smith to either Davis Webb or Kyle Lauletta as the principle backup. While the future might be brighter, they don’t inspire quite as much confidence in the face of an emergency.
How the position will be perceived long-term has more to do with whether either Webb or Lauletta are able to step forward and succeed Manning as the Giants’ starting (and possibly Franchise) quarterback.
I took “some” heat from Ed for this, but I have some skepticism over whether the complete reconstruction of the Giants’ offensive line has significantly improved it over last season.
Complicating matters is the fact that — at least in my view — the Giants never fielded their best offensive line grouping in 2017.
The left side of the offensive line should be improved over 2017, but the right side (which, as of now, I think will be Patrick Omameh and Chad Wheeler) is still a question mark. As well, how all the moving pieces gel and work together is a question to which we do not yet know the answer. The line could benefit from a new blocking scheme that doesn’t leave the offensive tackles on islands with pass rushers most of the time.
Skill Positions (Running Backs, Wide Receivers, and Tight Ends)
The top of the Giants’ depth chart at the skill positions is largely unchanged from 2017, apart from the additions of Saquon Barkley and Cody Latimer, and the departures Brandon Marshall, Dwayne Harris, and Shane Vereen.
The addition of Barkley adds a new dimension to the offense, and yet another nightmarish athletic mismatch to Odell Beckham Jr. and Evan Engram. However, as with the quarterback position, the biggest improvement will likely be schematic, as both Shurmur and Shula have reputations for creative play design and more aggression than McAdoo displayed.
This group might have gone through the most change of any position group on the Giants’ roster. Not only have they replaced several players along the defensive line and among the linebackers, but they are moving to a defensive scheme that is based in a 3-4 front.
Moving Olivier Vernon to outside linebacker, adding linebackers Alec Ogletree and Lorenzo Carter, as well as Josh Mauro (DL), Kareem Martin (DE/OLB), B.J. Hill (DT) and R.J. McIntosh (DL), this is one position that I believe the Giants have unequivocally gotten better.
If the Giants have certainly upgraded their front seven, their secondary has taken a step back on paper.
Over the off-season, the team waived Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and allowed Ross Cockrell to leave via free agency. Unl Likewise, the move of DRC to free safety before cutting him suggest that they might not have confidence in Darian Thompson as the free safety in James Bettcher’s.
While the loss of DRC and Cockrell are both easily explained — DRC for cap reasons and Cockrell for schematic reasons — they haven’t been replaced. The lack of depth at a vital position, and even the (current) lack of a starting slot defender, is scary.
However, it is also possible that while the personnel has taken a potentially dramatic step backward, the position could play at a higher level than in 2017. Part of that is schematic and health related — the other part is that Pat Shurmur seems much more dedicated to being a “complete” head coach and developing relationships with his entire roster. The Giants need Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple to play at a consistently high level in 2018, and they are more likely to do so with good leadership from the top.
Have the Giants gotten better? In some areas the answer is “yes”, but in others they have taken steps backwards. From a personnel perspective, looking at both sides of the equation, it is tough to say that the Giants’ roster is definitively better now than it was in September.
Nate Solder, Alec Ogletree, Saquon Barkley, and Will Hernandez are all good players. Kareem Martin, Josh Mauro, and Cody Latimer could be solid additions as well.
On the other side of the equation is the departed talent. Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, D.J. Fluker, Jason Pierre-Paul, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Ross Cockrell are talented players in their own rights. There is an explanation for why each is no longer on the roster — injury, cost, or scheme fit — but at the end of the day that is still talent leaving the roster.
But there is another theme that popped up in every position group: Coaching.
The Giants’ roster might not have been as talented as we wanted to believe it was heading in to 2017 — and having multiple position groups destroyed by injury certainly didn’t help — but at every turn it was notable how poorly players were used. The offensive scheme the previous two years had no commitment to running the ball, even when they could do it well. It featured little diversity in formation or personnel grouping, making it predictable and easily countered by the most vanilla defenses. Players were rarely put in position to succeed individually (such as consistently designing routes short of first down markers) or as a part of a larger concept (such as using Evan Engram’s speed in the middle of the field to open coverage underneath). There was also an apparent lack of leadership that only got worse as the season unraveled, and that was toxic for the locker room.
All in all, I believe that the Giants had a talented enough roster to make the post-season in 2017. But the greatest shame of last year isn’t that the team played badly, but how badly under-performed.
So while the roster might not be more talented, on the whole, than it was last year, maybe they still got better. Perhaps the biggest move of the 2018 season was one of the first, when the Giants made the change from Ben McAdoo to Pat Shurmur.