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Giants position review: Special teams were a bright spot

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Giants went from worst in 2017 to one of the best in 2018

Chicago Bears v New York Giants Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

One of the under-the-radar things the New York Giants did in constructing a massively overhauled roster for the 2018 season was pay extra attention to finding players who could not only contribute on offense or defense, but who had been quality special teams contributors in their other NFL stops.

How successful were the Giants in solidifying their special teams in 2018? How much value does that have for them going forward? Let’s look at those questions as we continue our position-by-position reviews of the 2018 Giants.

2018 review

Using Football Outsiders DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average) the Giants went from having the worst overall special teams units in the NFL in 2017 to having the league’s third-best special teams in 2018.

Let’s examine the reasons.

Placekicker Aldrick Rosas — After a rookie season in which Rosas had made only 18-of-25 field goals (72 percent) the Giants new brain trust of GM Dave Gettleman, head coach Pat Shurmur and special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey chose to stay with the former NAIA kicker.

Rosas rewarded their faith. He made 32-of-33 field goals (97 percent), second only to Robbie Gould of the San Francisco 49ers (33-of-34, 97.1 percent). Rosas also made 31-of-32 extra points). He was selected as the NFL Pro Bowl placekicker.

Punter Riley Dixon — The Giants acquired Dixon from the Denver Broncos in exchange for a conditional seventh-round pick. There was a bit of uncertainty in some quarters as to what the Giants were getting in Dixon. He made the All-Rookie Team in 2016, but was then found wanting by the Broncos after a 2017 season in which he had two punts blocked. There was also the idea that Dixon did not possess a strong leg and that his yards per punt average had been inflated by the thin air in Denver and that the Northeast weather might be problematic.

What the Giants got from Dixon was solid work. His yards per punt average of 45.4 was only three-tenths of a yard below what he averaged for two seasons in Denver, a virtually negligible number.

Dixon had a career-best net average of 41.8 yards per punt, seventh in the league and far better than the 36.7 yards the Giants averaged with Brad Wing punting in 2017. Twenty-eight of his 71 punts (a career-best 39.4 percent) were downed inside the 20-yard line. Dixon gave up just 6.5 yards per return, also a career best. Those numbers were influenced by quality special teams coverage work, but also by his ability to kick the ball where he was supposed to in order to give coverage players a chance.

Coverage teams — Veteran players like Michael Thomas (344 snaps, 9 tackles), Nate Stupar (336 snaps 7 tackles) Antonio Hamilton, Kerry Wynn, and Russell Shepard all helped solidify the Giants’ coverage units.

Return game — The Giants went through a myriad of returners through the season, but by the end of the year appeared to have found potential answers there. Corey Coleman averaged 26.0 yards per kickoff return over eight games. Quadree Henderson averaged a team-best 7.6 yards per punt return and added 22.4 yards per kickoff return over five games before going on IR with a fractured shoulder. Henderson also displayed sure hands and good decision-making ability.

2019 look ahead

It is difficult to sustain special team play from year to year. There is too much roster turnover with no clear picture of which players will be back from one season to the next since special teams players are mostly backups.

The Giants do, though, appear to have solid kickers in Rosas and Dixon at young ages. They also should have good options in the return game should they bring back Coleman and Henderson.