Earlier this week ESPN and Pro Football Focus put out a ranking of the best position groups in the NFL (Insider needed). For each position, they listed the best team and two runners up. These rankings looked at the full positions, not just the starters, so quality depth was just as important as top-level talent. Not surprisingly, the New York Giants did not finish at the top or as a runner-up in any of them.
So let’s take a look at the Giants position-by-position to see how close they might be to the top and how likely it could be for the Giants to finish the season there.
The Giants pushed all their chips to the middle of the table when it comes to Eli Manning. Unless there’s a complete disaster — which considering the schedule, there’s a non-zero chance — Manning will be the starter for the full 2018 season. But even with the Giants throwing their full support behind the 37-year-old, no one is expecting a top three performance in a best case scenario. Manning’s best seasons still saw him fall well out of the top three quarterbacks in the league, so there’s little reason to expect that now.
Behind Manning on the depth chart is a 2017 third-round pick who saw limited practice time in his first year and a fourth-round rookie. It’s not a deep quarterback room.
Chance of a top-three finish: None.
Top Three: New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons
These rankings aren’t just for the starters, but for the whole positional group — it’s why the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t included with two of the league’s best running backs. So while the Giants expect big things from Saquon Barkley, this will also include the contributions from Wayne Gallman, Jonathan Stewart, and others. The running back groups listed here have multiple backs who can step in and produce on a given play. Barkley could have one of the more impressive individual performances for a running back this season, but the overall position group won’t be one of the league’s best without contributions from Gallman and Stewart. Last season Gallman was 29th of 45 qualified running backs by DVOA and Stewart was 42nd.
Chance of a top-three finish: Moderate, but lacking depth.
Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard would be on the shortlist for best wide receiver duo in the league, but there’s little that inspires confidence behind them. There’s a battle for the third wide receiver between Roger Lewis, Cody Latimer, and perhaps Russell Shepard, who was just released by the Panthers. The rest of the current depth chart is littered with undrafted free agents. Some of them have potential — I personally remain a believer in Amba Etta-Tawo — but it’s still not the type of depth that could be put against the best in the league.
Chance of a top-three finish: In need of huge/unexpected breakouts from whoever the No. 3/4 receivers are.
Top Three: New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles
Evan Engram is a great talent who was consistently used inefficiently in a bad offense last season. Even though he led the Giants with 115 targets last season, Engram wasn’t often put in a position to get the most out his passing game production. With some more plays lined up in the slot or outside, Engram could truly breakout as the offensive mismatch he was at Mississippi. A lack of depth at wide receiver and a reduction in the use of 11 personnel (three receivers) could lend more playing time to Rhett Ellison as a blocking tight end and Jerell Adams as a secondary receiving option. Ellison himself was 11th in DVOA among tight ends last season though with just 32 targets and Adams was productive in a limited sample.
Chance of a top-three finish: Better than any position so far.
The 2018 version of the offensive line should be much improved over what took the field in 2017. Significant investments were made to upgrade at three of the five positions, but it takes quite a bit to go from one of the weakest offensive lines in the league to one of the best. Nate Solder will be an upgrade over Ereck Flowers at left tackle but Flowers is still slate to start on the right side, which doesn’t make his job any easier. There’s also not a lot of depth behind the projected starters and one injury during the season could shift the entire look of the line — not something any team wants entering the season.
Chance of a top-three finish: Come on.
All the eggs are in the Olivier Vernon basket. With the trade of Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants believe Vernon can turn into their Chandler Jones in a transition from a defensive end to a standup edge linebacker. Even if Vernon’s transition goes better than planned, there’s a lot of unknown behind him. Kareem Martin is a veteran who knows James Bettcher’s scheme. Lorenzo Carter is a third-round rookie who will be asked to have more pass rush responsibilities than he had in college. Avery Moss will also shift from a 4-3 defensive end, but he didn’t get nearly enough playing time during his rookie season. This is a team that was 25th in pressure rate last season per Football Outsiders and unless you’re a big believer in what Bettcher can scheme up, it’s hard to see where the pass rush got better.
Chance of a top-three finish: Slim.
Top Three: Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings
Damon Harrison is probably the best pure nose tackle in the league, so that’s a good start. What the Giants do lack in the interior is consistent pass pressure. That’s what those top three teams can do along with stopping the run and no matter how much of a brick wall a defense can be in run defense, getting pressure up the middle is one of the most important aspects of today’s game. Harrison’s 20 pressures were third on the team last season per Football Outsiders and an improvement on that is a lot to ask of a player like Harrison. Rookies B.J. Hill and R.J. McIntosh could bring additional pressure, but their production so far is unknown. The Giants are starting with one of the league’s top interior players, but again it remains to be seen what the rest of the line will bring to the table.
Chance of a top-three finish: Moderate.
Top Three: Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys
Off-ball linebacker should be another position on the Giants that is improved — some attention was paid to it this offseason — but it’s still a group that lacks compared to the rest of the league. How you feel about the linebacking corps probably has a lot to do with how you view Alec Ogletree. But either way, there’s still a lot left to be desired among the linebackers. Adding someone like Mychal Kendricks would help, but still fall short of the league’s best units.
Chance of a top-three finish: Slim.
Top Three: Los Angeles Chargers, Los Angeles Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars
Landon Collins, Janoris Jenkins, and what else? Even those two come into the season with some questions. There might not be a better example of the lack of quality depth on this team than in the secondary. Eli Apple is still penciled in as an outside starter, there’s no frontrunner for the safety post opposite Collins, and there’s a larger group of journeymen or undrafted free agents vying for the nickel and dime corner roles. For this to be one of the league’s best secondaries, there would have to be multiple breakouts at multiple positions — cornerback and safety. The odds of that happening in one season just aren’t good.
Chance of a top-three finish: Slim.
Top Three: Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore Ravens, Minnesota Vikings
The Giants were 32nd in special teams DVOA last season. They bring back the same kicker, traded for a punter who provided the league’s seventh-worst punting value, per Football Outsiders, while having the aid of Denver altitude, and have no clear option for kickoff and punt returners. Many of the “depth” moves this offseason focused on players with special teams experience, but there’s still so much to fix. New special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey got the Carolina Panthers to sixth in special teams DVOA during his second season, but that was after they were 25th in his first year — nearly the level they were the previous season (23rd).
Chance of a top-three finish: Low, but special teams is the least consistent year-to-year unit in football.