The list ranged from former first-round pick Ereck Flowers who has the chance to finally harness his considerable physical talent and help solidify the Giants’ offensive line, to unheralded free agent acquisitions like Hunter Sharp or Curtis Riley, who could emerge from obscurity and become significant contributors.
But while there are players who could — and will — surprise this year, there are also players who will disappoint. Where the surprises come be players from whom the team or fans aren’t expecting much, it’s difficult to have an “under-the-radar disappointment”.
I started off the look at potential pleasant surprises with Ereck Flowers and noted the potential positive impact Solder could have on him as a mentor.
But I also have to start this off by noting Solder as a potential disappointment for the Giants in 2018.
A big part of that is his contract. After missing out on Andrew Norwell, Dave Gettleman made Solder the highest-paid offensive tackle in the NFL and to paraphrase Uncle Ben, with great contract, come great responsibility.
If the Giants, and fans, are basing their expectations on his contract, they are bound to be disappointed.
Throughout his career, Solder is best described as “solid”. In talking to our own Ed Valentine on the LockedOn Giants podcast, offensive line experts Duke Manyweather and Brandon Thorn have both described Solder as able to hold his own against average pass rushers, but needing help against upper echelon pass rushers, particularly speed rushers. Per Pro Football Focus, Solder gave up a career worst 51 pressures in 2017, though they graded Solder as the league’s eighth-most efficient pass protector over the last seven games of the regular season.
(It should be noted that over that the Patriots faced one “good” defense over that period in the Pittsburgh Steelers fifth-ranked defense. The other six weeks they faced the Oakland Raiders’ 23rd-ranked defense, Miami Dolphins 16th-ranked defense (twice), the Buffalo Bills 26th-ranked defense (twice), and the New York Jets 28th-ranked defense).
None of this is to say that Solder was a bad signing. Teams have to open up their wallets to players at premium positions in free agency. But rather that expectations should be tempered. Solder should be an upgrade at left tackle over Ereck Flowers, but anyone expecting a massive upgrade and to never have to worry about the left side of the offensive line might just be setting themselves up for disappointment.
Thompson looked like a steal at the start of the 2016 season. Before the draft that year, he was considered to be a fringe first round talent after a great career at Boise State that involved taking the Mountain West division’s interception record from Eric Weddle. But then a bout with the flu at the NFL Scouting Combine, and the 4.7 second 40-yard dash time that resulted, dropped his stock all the way to the third round.
Thompson earned the job as the starting safety next to Landon Collins, and his intelligence on the back end of the defense allowed Steve Spagnuolo to make some truly audacious calls at the start of the season. Then he got hurt and his rookie campaign was put on hold until 2017, a year in which just about everything which could go wrong, did. Thompson got his starting job back and lead the team in snaps played, but his season was marred by too many instances of poor tackling.
Now, Thompson is riding the bike while Curtis Riley (one of our potential surprises) gets the snaps as the starting free safety.
It’s entirely possible that James Bettcher never viewed the big-bodied (6-foot-2, 213 pounds) Thompson as a free safety, roaming the middle of the field. Given his processing speed and aggressiveness coming downhill, it’s possible he envisions Thompson working closer to the line of scrimmage in a nickel package.
Given how often Bettcher used nickel and dime packages in Arizona, the position change from free safety to nickel safety (or perhaps even Moneybacker, if that position exists in the new defense) might not constitute a disappointment. But if Thompson winds up riding the pine or worse, that would definitely be disappointing.
Stewart was one of the first free agents signed by the Giants, being inked to a two-year contract with a cap hit of $7.125 million as the 2018 free agency period opened.
The move was considered curious at best at the time, not just because of the money involved, but because Stewart is 31 years old and has been in decline over the last four seasons. However, because of his career and contract, he has been penciled in as the number two running back behind Saquon Barkley, with analysts projecting him as the Giants’ goal line and short-yardage back.
Gettleman and Mike Shula obviously have more than some faith in him, but what if it is misplaced? Stewart hasn’t played a complete season since 2011, and what if his four-year slide from 4.6 yards per carry to 3.4 holds true for a fifth year?
Having a veteran running back who can mentor young players and pick up the hard yards is important. But given the contract to which the Giants signed Stewart, and how quickly, they obviously place a premium on his skills and expect him to be a contributor.
I want to say this up front and before anything else: I do not believe that Saquon Barkley was a mistake or a bad pick. It is FAR too early to say anything like that.
However, expectations have been heaped upon the young man, and it might not be possible for him to meet them as a rookie. Barkley has been a Heisman candidate each of the last two years. His freakish physical ability and production as a rusher, receiver, and returner, earned him glowing scouting reports. The Giants’ own GM remarked that Barkley had been “touched by God” and placed “Hall of Fame” expectations on him by saying before the draft that whoever the Giants picked at second overall had to be of that caliber.
That is a LOT for a 21-year-old rookie to live up to.
I’m as guilty of building up expectations as anyone: I’ve said his athleticism, the way he moves, reminds me of Bo Jackson, and his game reminds me of LaDainian Tomlinson and Marshall Faulk. And, in all honesty, comparing a young man to one of the greatest athletes the NFL has ever seen and two running backs who combined to have years seasons of at least 1,500 total yards in their first eight seasons, with nine straight seasons with double-digit touchdowns for Tomlinson and four straight seasons of at least 2,100 yards for Faulk. That’s just ridiculous.
But Barkley just makes it all too easy.
And those sky-high expectations are all too easy to fail to meet. It might not even happen through any fault of Barkley’s. It could be something as simple as Wayne Gallman carving out a bigger than expected role for himself. He impressed as a runner and receiver despite an almost non-existent commitment to the running game, a constantly shifting offensive line, and a generally broken offense.
Of course, Barkley could meet those expectations and have “Rookie Of The Year” campaign, or he could even exceed them.