Last season, wide receivers named Tavaress King, Travis Rudolph, Hunter Sharp, Darius Powe, Marquis Bundy, Kalif Raymond and Ed Eagan caught a combined 36 passes, four for touchdowns, for the New York Giants in 79 targets. That’s a 45.6 percent completion rate.
Odell Beckham Jr. caught 26 passes in 45 targets.
You want to identify reasons why the offense wasn’t very good last season, that’s a big one.
Beckham, thanks to a preseason ankle injury and a season-ending fractured ankle, was far behind the 158 targets he had in 2015 and the 169 targets that went his way in 2016.
The Giants’ offense was never good enough during the Ben McAdoo era, having not scored 30 points in a game since the final game of Tom Coughlin’s tenure. It is, however, obviously much better with Beckham — considered one of the game’s three best receivers by most analysts.
It’s still a pedestrian number, but the Giants averaged 19.75 points in the four games Beckham played last season, and just an embarrassing 13.9 in the 12 games he missed.
So, Beckham’s return to being Beckham will — and this is hardly ground-breaking analysis — be an important factor in whether or not Eli Manning, Pat Shurmur, Saquon Barkley and the Giants succeed in resuscitating the offense.
Beckham did an extremely limited amount of work during spring practices, but videos posted to his Instagram this summer show a player who looks healthy. Tight end Evan Engram has spent time working out with Beckham, and told BBV’s Dan Pizzuta that Beckham looks ready to go:
“He looks really good,’ Engram said of Beckham. “[He’s] running all his routes, breaking all his breaks, making all the cuts. He’s getting his confidence back, definitely. He looks like his old self. He’s running around, having fun, making all the catches. He looks really good.”
The elephant in the room, of course, is Beckham’s contract. Here, though, we are going to leave that topic alone and focus strictly on on-field matters.
Beyond Beckham, let’s look at the rest of the Giants wide receiver situation.
Sterling Shepard has something to prove
At 5-foot-10, Shepard has always been considered “just” a slot receiver in the NFL. The offense the Giants are running, though, looks like it could often feature ‘12’ personnel, or two tight ends and two wide receivers. If that is the case, Shepard will have to show that he can have some success on the outside.
Shepard is looking forward to the challenge:
“That’s been that way since college. I feel like I’ve proven that I can play outside and just try to handle my business. I know that I can play outside and we will soon see,” he said.
There isn’t much data to go on to judge how Shepard will do if he does play more snaps outside, In 2018, 83.8 percent of the 4239 pass routes he ran came from the slot, and so did 51 of his 59 receptions.
Who’s No. 3?
Cody Latimer spent significant time with the first team in the spring and at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds looks like an intriguing red zone option. Still, he is a former second-round pick who has only 35 career receptions. What’s up with that, and can the Giants really expect him to be better?
Hunter Sharp impressed as a deep threat in the spring, but can he keep that up with pads on? Russell Shepard was added as a free agent, but the Carolina Panthers cut Shepard after a disappointing 2017, just one year into a three-year deal.
In lieu of an obvious No. 3, the Giants may move tight end Evan Engram around as a pseudo-third receiver.
This position still comes down to whether Beckham is still Beckham, and whether the Giants can find ways to get him the ball with space to operate. His yards per catch and receptions per game have been declining since 2015, probably due as much to the offense the Giants ran rather than a declining skill set. That needs to change.
The Giants need production out of Shepard. The rest? Window dressing and players who may be asked to contribute in specialized situations.