The chief goal of every NFL team, every offseason, is to get better than they were the year before. The New York Giants are no exception, especially after a putrid 3-13 season.
We decided to use the lull between the NFL Draft and the start of the Giants’ mandatory off-season program to take a look and see if the Giants really are adding talent and getting better. We are breaking the team down by position, having already looked at the quarterback and offensive line positions, and today we look at the Giants’ offensive skill positions.
The Giants’ front office has tried for years to assemble a collection of offensive skill position players — wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs — deep and talented enough to frighten any opposing defense. But each year it seems they are foiled by injury (such as with David Wilson and Victor Cruz) or disappointing under-achievement (such as with Reuben Randle or Jerrell Jernigan).
Dave Gettleman proudly proclaimed that the Giants are “getting better” after the draft concluded. Let’s take a look at the offensive playmakers and see if that’s true.
Starters - Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, Brandon Marshall
Backups - Dwayne Harris, Roger Lewis Jr., Tavarres King
Starters - Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, Cody Latimer
Backups - Roger Lewis Jr., Travis Rudolph, Hunter Sharp
2017 - Orleans Darkwa, Shane Vereen, Wayne Gallman, Paul Perkins
2018 - Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman, Jonathan Stewart, Paul Perkins
2017 - Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Jerell Adams
2018 - Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Jerell Adams
The two biggest personnel differences between 2017 and 2018 are, obviously, the absence of Brandon Marshall and the presence of Saquon Barkley. The move from Marshall to Latimer might not be of much consequence for the offense. Marshall did not have much impact in the brief window between his preseason injury against the Cleveland Browns and his season ending injury against the Los Angeles Chargers. He was briefly at his best (such as it was) as a big possession receiver opposite a not-healthy Odell Beckham, and then both their seasons ended.
Latimer is coming off a career year in Denver, but that doesn’t sound as good when the best season of his career was 19 receptions for 287 yards and a pair of touchdowns. However, with Denver’s quarterback situation being what it has been for Latimer’s career there, perhaps he can blossom with Eli Manning.
Even if he does, the depth behind Beckham and Shepard is still scary. Lewis looks set to take over Dwayne Harris’ role as a reserve receiver and special teams ace. However, his 36 catches for 416 yards and 2 touchdowns in eight starts last year is hardly inspiring. Behind Harris the Giants only have more questions.
The position should be improved in 2018 by the simple virtue of Beckham and Shepard being healthy. Odell Beckham is easily one of the best receivers in the league. And even injured and missing five games in 2017, Shepard was still one of the top five slot receivers in the NFL. A return to health and a more aggressive scheme that isn’t predictable and easily countered should do them a world of good.
Much the same could be said about the tight end position. Right now it figures to be the same line-up as 2017, with Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, and Jerell Adams returning. If the position improves, it will be because of the continued development of Engram and Adams, who both have significant athletic potential yet to tap. The position could also be used far more effectively than it was last year, with Engram playing almost exclusively in-line and as a safety net, rarely using his incredible athleticism to attack the defense.
Given the potential of the group, it would be a smart move to emphasize two-tight end personnel groupings. The athleticism and versatility of Engram and Saquon Barkley could make the Giants’ “12” personnel a nightmare for defensive coaches.
Paul Perkins (who is injured) and Wayne Gallman each flashed in their respective rookie seasons, but they aren’t the reason why the Giants’ running back position has improved. While it is hard not to like Orleans Darkwa and the fire with which he runs, the addition of Barkley is an obvious, and potentially massive upgrade to the Giants’ backfield. Barkley’s ability and versatility have been well discussed, and he has the potential to improve nearly every facet of the Giants’ offense as a runner and receiver.
The Giants made the curious move to add Jonathan Stewart in free agency. The motivations aren’t curious — he will add stability and a veteran presence to a very young group of running backs. The curious part is the amount of money paid to a player who is obviously declining.
The addition of yet another nightmare mismatch to the Giants’ offense in the form of Barkley give them a three-headed monster that few in the League can match. That alone should constitute an upgrade for the skill-positions as a whole.
The fact that so many of them are young and still growing as professionals, as well as a head coach adept at putting his players in position to succeed, also bodes well for the Giants’ offense to finally live up to the hype.