We’re about a week removed from rookie minicamps, where everything is awesome and everything is cool when you’re part of a team. But while that gave us a first glimpse of the rookies on the field, it leaves us in one of the most dead periods on the NFL calendar with little else to talk about.
So we can keep talking about the rookies and move on to what expectations might be for the upcoming season. For that, instead of giving plain bold predictions, we’ll give a little ode to the now legalized sports betting and look at some over/unders for the Giants’ rookie class. The actual over/unders are made up for the purpose of this column, but each number does have some significance. We’ll do one for each player and start with the first-round pick.
Saquon Barkley: o/u 1,782.5 yards from scrimmage
This number isn’t as made up as it looks. 1,782 was Kareem Hunt’s yards from scrimmage total in his rookie season. Despite losing out the Rookie of the Year vote to Alvin Kamara, Hunt outgained the Saints rookie, who totaled 1,554 yards from scrimmage while sharing the backfield with Mark Ingram. Hunt led the league in rushing with 1,327 yards and added another 455 yards through the air. Hunt’s total was third in the league behind Todd Gurley (2,093) and Le’Veon Bell (1,946).
As the second overall pick, expectations for Saquon Barkley are sky high. Dave Gettleman did the rookie no favors with his continued “Hall of Fame” comments. So on one hand of course Barkley is going to be better than last year’s rookies. On the other, 1,700-plus yards from scrimmage is really hard. Typically about three running backs surpass that total in a given year.
What could derail Barkley is the performance of the team as a whole. Last season 50.7 percent of Hunt’s rushing attempts and 54.4 percent of Hunt’s rushing yards came when the Chiefs were leading. 57 percent of his rushing attempts came in the second half — lending to the idea offenses use to run after the pass has already scored the points. We have no idea how good the Giants offense is going to be and if they get behind early, Barkley won’t be asked to run often enough to put up Hunt-like numbers.
It may seem like a disappointment if Barkley isn’t immediately putting up the numbers of the best running backs in the league, but it’s also dangerous to believe he’ll automatically get there.
Will Hernandez: o/u 3.6 yard per carry behind left guard
It’s not easy to get good stats on offensive linemen, but we’ll work with this. 3.6 yards per carry is what the Giants averaged when running behind the left guard in 2017, which was the worst split along the offensive line per Sharp Football Stats.
The number was even worse after Week 6 when Justin Pugh moved from left guard to right tackle. From that point on, the Giants averaged just 3.2 yards per carry to that part of the line. They also averaged 3.6 yards per carry directly behind center, but over 4.0 everywhere else from Week 6.
Hernandez got work on both side of the lines at rookie minicamp like the coaching staff said he would, but it shouldn’t be a surprise for him to get the nod at left guard when the season begins. Last season the Minnesota Vikings ran between the guards 60 percent of the time — above the league average of 54 percent — so that interior spot is going to be important no matter where Hernandez lines up. But with Hernandez slotted next to Nate Solder at left tackle, the Giants should be way more productive running to that side of the line.
Lorenzo Carter: o/u 40.0 pressures
Ok, so this is an easy and unfair under, but let’s put some context around this. Forty pressures is what Jason Pierre-Paul was credited with during the 2017 season per Sports Info Solutions charting from Football Outsiders. Not only did that lead the Giants, it was the 13th-highest total in the league. So while Pierre-Paul’s 8.5 sacks were only 25th among defenders, he was still getting to the quarterback at a decent rate.
This is technically what Lorenzo Carter has been brought in to replace. Now the Giants are going to be a little more exotic with their pressure packages and a healthy Olivier Vernon is likely to see more than 27 pressures — he led the league with 61 in 2016, 12 more than second place — but there’s still a lot of be replaced on the edge.
A highly productive season for Carter would be to replicate Pierre-Paul’s 8.5 sacks, but that’s also not accounting for his 11 tackles for loss and five passes defensed.
Last season the Giants were 25th in defensive pressure rate, a season after finishing eighth. For the Giants to get back to the dominant pass rush they’ve had in the past, they’re going to need a number of players to step up, including the third-round rookie.
B.J. Hill/R.J. McIntosh: o/u 25 percent of defensive snaps
Another way for the Giants to get some more pressure is to do it from the interior. Damon Harrison was third on the team last season with 15.5 pressures, but he’s not known as disruptor against the pass. What will really help the defense and something that has been stressed by both the front office and the coaching staff is a heavier rotation along the defensive line.
The Giants rotated a little more on the interior — Harrison played 58.4 percent of the defensive snaps and Dalvin Tomlinson played 53.4 percent in 2017 — but it wasn’t a deep rotation. Jay Bromley, who just signed with the New Orleans Saints — played 38.6 percent of the snaps and Robert Thomas played 21.3 percent. That was really the whole defensive tackle rotation.
Now with the added ability to kick some of these players out as 3-4 ends, getting each of the rookies involved in a quarter of the defensive snaps should not be a hard goal to reach.
Kyle Lauletta: o/u 0.5 starts
Kyle Lauletta wasn’t drafted to start in 2018. It’s possible Lauletta wasn’t drafted to start ever, but that’s a different topic. However, there’s a non-zero chance the fourth-round pick could start a game this season. Let’s look at how that happens.
First, the Giants have one of the league’s hardest schedules and no team has a harder first half of the season. Now imagine the Giants struggle out of the gate and they’re 2-6 heading into a Week 9 bye. With the outcry of puzzlement surrounding Davis Webb not getting a chance to see any regular season action last season, it’s hard to imagine the Giants wouldn’t start to seriously considering getting Webb or Lauletta in the lineup in this scenario, if not directly after the bye, at least sometime during the second half of the season.
While the handling of Eli Manning was a mess last season, one thing it did do was take the pressure of snapping his starting streak away from this regime. It would be easier to bench Manning should he struggle since it’s already been done. That’s not a scenario anyone with the Giants is hoping for, but it’s one no one should pretend isn’t realistic.
Or if you want to be super optimistic, the Giants are great, the Week 17 game against the Cowboys doesn’t mean anything and Lauletta gets the backup start while the starter rests — also known as the Landry Jones Open.
Either way, over.
Bonus - Grant Haley: o/u 0.5 starts
Grant Haley wasn’t a Giants draft pick, but the team is almost treating him like one. Haley, an undrafted cornerback from Penn State, got a $25,000 signing bonus, which is a third of the bonus pool money allotted for undrafted free agents in a given year. He also impressed quite a bit during the rookie minicamp.
At this point it would be an accomplishment just for an undrafted rookie to make the 53-man roster, but with the current depth chart at cornerback Haley could in line to push his way into the starting lineup. Maybe that’s a bit premature, but really is everything we’ve talked about thus far.
Per the PFF draft guide, Haley allowed a 46.2 percent completion percentage on balls thrown his way during his final year at Penn State — 43.5 percent when he was in the slot. He still spent over 60 percent of his time on the outside excelling against Big Ten receivers despite a 5-foot-9frame — he allowed a 48.3 percent completion percentage on the outside last season. Haley also tested as one of the more athletic corners in the draft, in the 72nd percentile of SPARQ.
Haley generates the most excitement of any cornerback on the 90-man roster after Janoris Jenkins and it wouldn’t be surprising to see that pay off during the regular season. Over.