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Updated Giants 53-man roster projection at halfway point of preseason

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A few things have changed, and more will before the season begins

NFL: New York Giants at Detroit Lions
Robert Martin dives for a touchdown.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants have been evaluating their 90-man roster for months now. Soon, they will have to cut that roster to 53 for the regular season. Friday’s preseason game against the New York Jets will go a long way toward determining some of the those roster spots.

“I think what’s important is about this game is whoever is in the game is in there to put good football on tape, and help us win the game. As I’ve mentioned all along, we are going to do our very best to find out who our initial 53 guys are,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “This might be, for some guys, the last real good opportunity to get game experience before the first game. I think that’s the way I like to look at it.”

Here is our latest projection of what that roster might look like.

Offense

Quarterback (3)Eli Manning, Davis Webb, Kyle Lauletta

The really interesting thing here is that while everything — including practice reps and game snaps — tells you that Webb is the clear backup quarterback coach Pat Shurmur has been unwilling to go down that road.

Even after Webb’s solid effort Friday against the Detroit Lions the coach wasn’t going to bite when he was essentially invited by the media to name Webb as the No. 2 quarterback.

“We have Eli, and then there’s really no depth chart there,” Shurmur said. “He did a good job the other night. He played better than he did against Cleveland, and with the reps he gets this week coming up, I’m expecting him to play even better. Within a good performance, the numbers were good and he got a touchdown, but there were still some things in there that we need to clean up to have a winning performance in a real game.”

Webb is a second-year player. Lauletta a rookie. Webb has started a game and played 64 snaps, more than any other Giant. He has thrown 42 passes. Lauletta has played 34 snaps and thrown the ball 14 times.

I have indicated a number of times that I believe the Webb-Lauletta competition has only just begun. Webb has the upper hand entering 2018. Even if Shurmur, because coaches don’t ever like to really admit even the most obvious things, won’t admit it.

The question is can Webb keep that upper hand long-term?

Out: Alex Tanney

There have been conflicting reports about whether or not Tanney has practice squad eligibility. The Giants tell me he does not. So, if this plays out he would have to look for a ninth team to continue his NFL journey.


Running back (4) Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman, Jonathan Stewart, Shane Smith

Undrafted rookie free agent Robert Martin and second-year player Jalen Simmons have both done enough good things to make me consider adding one more running back to the initial 53-man regular-season roster. I keep rejecting the idea because neither guy can really be used as a return man, and I can’t see a place for the additional running back on the active game day roster. Most likely, the Giants could slide one of those two through to the practice squad.

Martin, who wasn’t even a starter at Rutgers, leads the Giants with 86 yards in two preseason games and is averaging 7.2 yards per carry. He is averaging 2.80 yards per carry on 12 rushes. He also has 2 receptions.

Simmons has 13 carries for 49 yards (3.8 per carry) and is averaging 1.90 yards after contact. He spent last season on the practice squads of the Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Chargers.

Martin has an opportunity this week vs. the New York Jets because Simmons, unfortunately, is in the concussion protocol.

The other thing to watch going forward will be the division of playing time between Jonathan Stewart and Wayne Gallman.

Stewart has only 2 rushing yards on 7 preseason carries. I’m not going nuts about that. He’s an 11-year veteran getting limited preseason work and the blocking on some of his runs has been atrocious.

Gallman, though, has shown his value as a runner and a receiver. Against the Lions he had rushing and receiving scores. Gallman, in fact, leads the Giants with 6 receptions in two games. It’s easy to watch and see the upside of playing Gallman, who is still listed behind Stewart on the team’s unofficial depth chart.


Tight end (4)Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Jerell Adams, Scott Simonson

Change: Simonson added

Why did I add Simonson? Well, we have talked a lot about how the Giants are going to be relying much more this season on two-tight end sets within their offense. If that is going to be the case, and we’ve even seen some three-tight end sets during short-yardage situations, having only one extra tight end makes me nervous.

Simonson, a 26-year-old Red Bank, N.J. native, has 18 games of NFL experience with only one reception. At 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, he is a blocking tight end.

Evan Engram is a try-hard blocker, but that doesn’t make him a very good one. Adding Simonson could, in some situations, take that responsibility off Engram’s plate.

Garrett Dickerson, an undrafted free agent rookie from Northwestern, could be ticketed for the practice squad.


Wide receiver (5)Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, Cody Latimer, Russell Shepard, Kalif Raymond

Change: Amba Etta-Tawo and Hunter Sharp out

This is a huge change from my previous projections. Seven receivers, which I have had in my last few projections, was always heavy. One thing I have learned over the years, though, is there is no “formula” for setting a roster. It’s not “we keep X number of receivers, X number of tight ends, X number of cornerbacks.” Teams keep the best players, and if that means they appear short in one area and heavy in another, so be it. Rosters change from week to week, so don’t obsess about the numbers at any given position.

Anyway, I’m dropping two wide receivers in this projection and adding at other positions.

Etta-Tawo is a guy who had a terrific spring and was a sensation early in training camp. He has no receptions and has been targeted only once, however, in two preseason games. Unless something changes, I hear the practice squad calling Etta-Tawo’s name.

Sharp had an outstanding spring. He hasn’t been as productive throughout training camp. His two fumbles in the return game Friday vs. Detroit could be problematic. As of now, Kalif Raymond is probably ahead of him. Not, however, by much. And, not irreversibly.

Truth be told, Shurmur hasn’t really been happy with the return game. Sharp has averaged just 4.3 yards and Raymond 7.7, each on three punt returns. On kickoff returns, Sharp is averaging 25.3 yards and Raymond only 13.3.

Both players could be in jeopardy.

“We are a little bit unsettled there, as well,” Shurmur said. “We have guys back there working, we’ll just play It out through the preseason and see where it goes.”

It could go to the Giants turning to the waiver wire for a return man.

Russell Shepard makes the roster because he has value both on special teams and as an occasional wide receiver.


Offensive line (9) — Starters: Nate Solder (LT), Will Hernandez (LG), Jon Halapio (C), Patrick Omameh (RG), Ereck Flowers (RT); Reserves: Brett Jones, John Greco, Chad Wheeler, John Jerry

Change: Jerry added

Shurmur hinted on Monday that the Giants might keep an extra offensive lineman on the roster. The only guy I can see being added as that ninth lineman at this point is Jerry, the veteran guard who seems to always wind up as a starter despite that often not being the intention.

At guard, Jerry, Greco, Zak Kerin and Chris Scott are all veterans for whom a case can be made. In 61 snaps, Greco’s 79.3 grade is the highest Pro Football Focus score of any Giants offensive player.

I’m still of the firm belief that the Giants have to find an experienced swing tackle when teams trim their rosters at the end of training camp. The options they have currently are Wheeler and Nick Becton, and that just plain isn’t good enough.

Defense

Defensive line (7)Starters: Damon Harrison, Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill; Reserves: Kerry Wynn, Robert Thomas, A.J. Francis, Avery Moss

No change.

Maybe, in fact probably, I should be listing Wynn as a linebacker. My guess is that Moss’s primary competition for a roster spot is Romeo Okwara, who is listed as a linebacker. Okwara has played more through two games, 63 snaps to Moss’s 45. As a hybrid linebacker/defensive end, I simply feel like Moss has a more versatile skill set that makes him a better candidate for the final spot. How I feel doesn’t matter, however. We will see how Shurmur and defensive coordinator James Bettcher feel.

Robert Thomas and A.J. Francis probably are somewhat redundant, but I believe both have played well enough to deserve roster spots. Both have held up well and spent a fair amount of time in the opposing backfields through the first two games.

We will just have to see if the Giants think they have room for both guys.

Linebackers (8) — Starters: Alec Ogletree, B.J. Goodson, Olivier Vernon, Kareem Martin; Reserves: Lorenzo Carter, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Mark Herzlich, Connor Barwin

No change.

Armstrong, with solid play thus far that included an interception vs. the Lions, has been getting some first-team reps this week when the Giants are in nickel or dime defense. A collegiate safety at Miami, he is probably more athletic and better in coverage than either B.J. Goodson or Alec Ogletree.

“As a linebacker, he’s long and he can cover. He’s what linebackers should look like and he’s made progress,” Shurmur said of Armstrong. “We feel like he’s done some really good things as we work through training camp, so it was good to see him have some success. We felt like he had a winning performance in the game the other night.”

In my projections, I have consistently had veteran Mark Herzlich making the team and second-year man Calvin Munson on the outside looking in. As well as Herzlich has played in a comeback from spending last season on IR, Munson has also done well. Munson has 6 stops, leading the Giants thus far. Herzlich, incidentally, is second with 5.

Herzlich’s experience has helped the Giants backup defenders get lined up during the first two games. You consistently see him trying to lead that group.

Still, Herzlich and Munson are largely the same player. Do the Giants want the younger version or the older one?

Cornerbacks (5) — Starters: Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple; Reserves: B.W. Webb, Grant Haley, Leonard Johnson

No change.

I still believe Johnson, who played for the Buffalo Bills a season ago, is in. I still believe Donte Deayon and William Gay will be out.

The one caveat here is that I think Haley is really a borderline player when it comes to making the 53-man roster. Now that he is back from a hamstring injury that cost him two weeks, Deayon could surpass Haley with a couple of good — and healthy weeks.

Gay? The fact that he is spending most of his time at safety now tells you the Giants think, at 33, his days as a cornerback are behind him. On cutdown day, his NFL days might also end up behind him.

I also still believe this is a position the Giants could look to upgrade via the waiver wire.


Safeties (5) — Starters: Landon Collins, Curtis Riley; Reserves: Michael Thomas, Darian Thompson, Andrew Adams

No change.

More and more, this looks like Curtis Riley’s job. The Giants don’t appear to see Michael Thomas or Andrew Adams as viable full-time partners for Landon Collins, though both should make the roster and might see playing time when extra defensive backs are on the field.

Riley, who spent his first two seasons playing mostly at cornerback with the Tennessee Titans, is in competition with Darian Thompson. Right now, Riley is healthy and Thompson (hamstring) is not. That makes this Riley’s job by default.

Riley said recently that that fact that the defense the Giants are playing is similar to what the Titans ran has helped him.

He also said his experience as a corner “helps because there’s times when we have to rotate and come down and cover a receiver, so it’s no different other than being in the slot.”

The Giants do appear to value that type of versatility. They are moving and shifting and Riley said “there really is no free and strong” safety.


Special teams

PlacekickerAldrick Rosas
Punter Riley Dixon
Long-snapperZak DeOssie


Practice squad (10 players)

RB Robert Martin, C Evan Brown, OL Nick Gates, WR Travis Rudolph, S Sean Chandler, CB, Donte Deayon, DL Tyrell Chavis, TE Garrett Dickerson, LB Calvin Munson, Wr Amba Etta-Tawo