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Roster analysis: Assessing the Giants roster with one preseason game left

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Much remains to be decided with cuts looming on Saturday

NFL: New York Giants at New York Jets
Pat Shurmur and the Giants have many decisions to finalize this week.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants have one more preseason game, Thursday night at MetLife Stadium vs. the New England Patriots. After that, NFL teams have until 4 p.m. ET on Saturday to trim their rosters from the preseason group of 90 to the regular season limit of 53 players.

I’m not going to make a final 53-man roster projection until Saturday. Instead, let’s go through the roster position-by-position. What seems to have already been decided? Which players are on the roster bubble? What can we hope to learn, or who really stands to gain, from Thursday’s preseason finale?

Quarterback

The Giants have been all-in on Eli Manning since shortly after Dave Gettleman became general manager. Friday night’s play vs. the Jets showed that, properly protected and used in an offense that provides him with a variety of options. Manning has the arm strength, decision-making ability and enough mobility to get the job done.

Davis Webb is clearly the backup. He had a rough first preseason game, but he has done enough to feel OK about that. Rookie Kyle Lauletta will be No. 3 and, unless there is an injury, will spend game days in street clothes.

Is one of these guys the long-term answer? That’s a question for another day. Besides, it’s one that doesn’t have a yes or no answer, anyway.

Alex Tanney? Nice guy. Seemingly a capable backup quarterback. Not making the roster unless something bad happens to Webb or Lauletta on Thursday.

What can we learn Thursday?

Well, it will be another chance for Webb to continue to progress and gain confidence. Maybe we will see Lauletta, who threw only two passes against the Jets, get an extended run.

Running back

The Big Three are, of course, Saquon Barkley, Jonathan Stewart and Wayne Gallman.

Barkley is going to be the primary back — everybody knows that. The interesting thing to watch long term is whether it is Stewart or Gallman who becomes the No. 2 back. Gallman is much younger and clearly a better pass receiver, but Stewart continues to have the support of the coaching staff despite his preseason struggles.

Fullback Shane Smith is in an interesting spot. If the Giants keep a true fullback, he is the guy. But, do they want to? Could they keep an extra blocking tight end like Scott Simonson instead.

What can we learn Thursday?

This will be the final chance for undrafted free agent Robert Martin, newly-arrived Jhurell Pressley and Jalen Simmons to convince the Giants they need to keep an additional running back on the 53-man roster. Failing that, one of the three — probably Martin — should land on the practice squad.

Tight end

Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison are set as the starting tight ends. And, yes, I’m listing them both as starting tight ends. That is because the Giants appear to be leaning heavily on two-tight end sets in their base offensive, which means both will be on the field a lot.

Jerell Adams at one time appeared to be in a fight to keep a roster spot, but now he appears to be safe.

What can we learn Thursday?

Can a fourth tight end emerge? Which one. The candidates are Simonson, Ryan O’Malley and Garrett Dickerson. Simonson, a 26-year-old with 18 games of NFL experience, seems the most likely to grab a fourth tight end roster spot should the Giants keep that many. O’Malley lost a lot of time this summer with an apparent foot injury. Dickerson is an intriguing undrafted free agent who could be ticketed for the practice squad.

NFL: New York Giants at New York Jets
Cody Latimer
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Wide receiver

Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Cody Latimer are locks. Obviously. I believe Russell Shepard is, as well. His combination of receiving and special teams ability gives him value on a 53-man roster, especially on game days when only 46 players get uniforms.

Beckham has looked healthy all summer and could soon be getting a rich, new contract. Sterling Shepard has been impressive. Latimer has continued to get most of the looks as the third wide receiver, and could also be in line to be the primary kickoff returner.

What could we learn Thursday?

Well, that comes down to which receiver(s) will earn remaining roster spots. The Giants will likely keep at least five, with six seeming like a stretch at this point.

After Friday’s 55-yard punt return for a touchdown, Hunter Sharp seems like the favorite for the fifth spot. That, however, isn’t any sort of guarantee.

Kalif Raymond also did some good work vs. the Jets, and still has a shot at the job.

Roger Lewis Jr. had 36 catches last season, but has been buried on the depth chart all spring and summer. He’s going to need a big game vs. the Patriots to convince the Giants to keep him.

Amba Etta-Tawo, Jawill Davis, Marquis Bundy, Travis Rudolph and Alonzo Russell seem to be competing for practice squad spots at this point.

Offensive line

First, some thoughts on the trade of center Brett Jones to the Minnesota Vikings. Many, including myself, have wondered why Jones never really got a chance to compete with Jon Halapio for the Giants’ starting center role. Perhaps this is why. Entering the season the Giants are in desperate need of cap space, with Over The Cap showing them with only $1.406 million, second-lowest in the league. Trading Jones saves the Giants $2.914 million against the cap, and it’s possible that was the intent all along. See if Halapio could do an adequate job, and if they felt he could move Jones for some cap relief.

The starting group of Nate Solder, Will Hernandez, Halapio, Patrick Omameh and Ereck Flowers is set. The depth? Not so much.

What can we learn Thursday?

We will get a clearer idea of what the Giants are thinking in terms of which guys they will keep as backup offensive linemen.

John Greco, entering his 11th season, figures to stay as the backup center. He has played primarily at guard in his career, but has played some at center. Greco started one game at center for the Cleveland Browns in 2014 and two in 2016. He has worked at the position since OTAs, and was the No. 3 center until the trading of Jones.

At guard, John Jerry, Chris Scott and Zac Kerin all have significant NFL experience. The Giants figure to only keep two, with Kerin the likely odd man out. Unless the Giants are able to find a taker for Jerry, which would save them $2 million against the cap and leave them with $1.6 million in dead money.

At tackle, Chad Wheeler and Nick Becton have been functioning as the second-teamers. Wheeler worked at both left and right tackle against the New York Jets on Friday, perhaps signifying that the Giants are prepping him for a swing tackle role. Can he handle it? We will get a long look vs. the Patriots.

Young players like Nick Gates, Evan Brown and Victor Salako all figure to be trying to show the Giants enough to land a spot on the 10-man practice squad.

Defensive line

The starting group of Damon Harrison, Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill is set. Kerry Wynn has earned one of the backup spots. Josh Mauro will be suspended for the first four games, but will likely get a backup spot once he is able to be activated.

What can we learn Thursday?

As far as the 53-man roster is concerned, I really have only one question. Can the Giants keep both Robert Thomas and A.J. Francis? The two are both deserving of roster spots, but like Sharp and Raymond at wide receiver, have somewhat redundant skill sets. Just in case they are competing for one spot, watch to see which player has the bigger impact on Thursday.

Can Jordan Williams do anything to force his way on to the roster? The answer is probably not, but let’s see.

Young players Tyrell Chavis, Josh Banks and Izaah Lunsford will all be aiming to make a final good impression and gain a spot on the practice squad.

NFL: New York Giants at New York Jets
Ray-Ray Armstrong
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Linebacker

First, cross your fingers and hope that Olivier Vernon did not suffer a significant ankle injury when he was carted off the field on Sunday. A high ankle sprain forced him to miss four games and limited his effectiveness in others last season. As of Monday morning, there are mixed reports on the type of injury Vernon suffered. Vernon is the one true pass-rushing force on the roster, and has had a dominant summer. The Connor Barwin injury also has to be a concern. It has kept him out since the first preseason game and has to be more than “soreness,” which is what the Giants have called it.

Roster-wise, Vernon and Kareem Martin are the starters on the outside with Barwin and Lorenzo Carter the likely backups. B.J. Goodson and Alec Ogletree start on the inside. Ray-Ray Armstrong has locked up a reserve spot, and probably a role as a nickel linebacker. Mark Herzlich and Calvin Munson are competing for a spot, with the feeling here being that Herzlich has the inside track.

What can we learn Thursday?

First, will I be right that Herzlich has the edge on Munson?

Second, can EDGE guys Romeo Okwara and Avery Moss do anything to convince the Giants they deserve a roster spot? Right now it looks like both guys could end up on the outside looking in.

Tae Davis and Warren Long are both undrafted rookies looking to make enough of an impression to land on the practice squad.

Cornerback

Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple are set on the outside. One interesting thing to note that will likely continue in the regular season — teams appear to be avoiding Jenkins (three targets in 34 coverage snaps) and throwing at Apple (seven targets in 34 coverage snaps).

What can we learn Thursday?

A lot.

Who is in the slot? B.W. Webb has been the starter there, but it’s debatable whether or not he has locked down that spot. If he plays Thursday, that would be an indication the job is still up for grabs. If Webb is held out of the lineup — given final preseason game starter treatment — we know the job is his. The only other real candidate for that job right now appears to be Donte Deayon.

Who are the reserves? Deayon, Leonard Johnson and perhaps Chris Lewis-Harris seem like the leading candidates depending in how many corners the Giants ultimately keep.

Undrafted free agent Grant Haley could still make a splash on Thursday vs. the Patriots and force his way onto the roster, but right now the guess is that he is ticketed for the practice squad.

If the Giants aren’t satisfied with what they see from this group, don’t be shocked if they add a veteran corner once teams make their roster cuts on Saturday.

Safety

Landon Collins is the best player on this defense, though I still prefer to see him close to the line of scrimmage instead of playing deep as a single-high center fielder. Curtis Riley appears to have won the competition to be the starter next to Collins. Shurmur wouldn’t name Riley the starter, but he’s been there the past two games and after Friday the coach said “I wouldn’t say we’re unsettled there.”

What can we learn Thursday?

Quite simply, which guys will be the backups.

Darian Thompson has what Shurmur referrred to as a “lingering” hamstring injury. We almost certainly won’t see him. Michael Thomas is an outstanding special teams player and quality depth at safety. He is making the roster.

For me, the intrigue surrounds Andrew Adams and William Gay. The Giants have moved the 33-year-old Gay to safety and it’s possible that there will only be room on the roster for one of the two. We’ll see how they are used on Thursday, and which guy ends up making the 53-man roster.

Undrafted rookie Sean Chandler is probably a practice squad candidate.

Special teams

The only “competition” here has been Aldrick Rosas vs. Marshall Koehn at placekicker, and it’s been clear all along that the Giants want to see Rosas earn the job. He is 6-for-6 on field goals and is doing just that. Koehn is 1-for-1.

Riley Dixon, acquired from the Denver Broncos for a conditional seventh-round pick, doesn’t have a booming leg. He really hasn’t given the Giants anything to be truly unhappy about, though.

The competition is at punt returner, and we have already covered Sharp and Raymond.