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9 New York Giants players to watch over the final six games

Can the Giants make progress? The play of these nine players will go a long way toward answering that question

NFL: New York Giants at New York Jets Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

From the beginning, the New York Giants 2019 season was always going to be measured by whatever progress was made or not made. At 2-8 and sitting on a six-game losing streak, it’s apparent that whether or not progress has been made in improving the roster, progress has for the most part not been made on the field this season.

With six weeks remaining, the progress the Giants seek will have to come from young players. Nurturing them toward improvement is part of that, and simply finding out if others can help them is another part of it.

Let’s look at 10 young players to watch as the Giants look for those signs of progress in the final weeks of another largely lost season.

Daniel Jones

The future of the Giants is in Jones’ hands. Is the future secure, or will he and the Giants fumble it away?

Jones’ success or failure will ultimately be the biggest factor in whether or not Pat Shurmur has a long-term future with the Giants, and whether or not the Giants are eventually able to climb out of the hole they have dug, having gone 10-32, a .238 winning percentage, since the beginning of the 2017 season.

Jones has shown immense potential. He has thrown four touchdown passes in two of his last three games. He has completed 63 percent of his passes. He has only thrown two interceptions in his last four games. He has shown toughness, and both the ability and the willingness to use his legs to make plays.

The big concern with Jones is ball security, as he has fumbled a league-worst 13 times. The mechanics of learning to protect the ball better in the pocket or when he is carrying it in the open field is something that should be correctable. The worry is that some of his fumbles have been caused when he did not appear to feel or be aware of the pass rush closing in on him. That seems like more of an innate sense of timing, an instinctive thing. Can it be developed or improved through experience?

We are going to find out.

DeAndre Baker

The rookie cornerback has been at the center of the storm that has pelted the Giants’ struggling defense so far this season.

The Giants made a huge commitment to Baker in the draft. To move up from No. 37 to No. 30 to select him, they have up the No. 132 pick (Round 4) and No. 142 pick (Round 5). Through 10 games the return on that investment is not looking good.

Baker got hurt in training camp and predictably started the season slowly. Rookie cornerbacks never have it easy, and missing a couple of weeks of preseason practice didn’t help. Still, the concern is things aren’t getting better.

Per Pro Football Focus, Baker (149.9) has the worst passer rating against of any qualifying cornerback. He is second-worst in yards allowed per snap, tied for third in yards allowed after a catch and only two cornerbacks have committed more than his six penalties.

It gets worse.

Baker has admitted confusion about the Giants’ defensive scheme, leading to questions about his study habits and the work it takes to be a success at the NFL level.

Even worse than that, now Baker’s on-field effort is being called into question.

Defensive backs coach Everett Withers said recently that Baker “didn’t quite understand the sense of urgency” required to play in the NFL. Withers said Baker is “working at it,” but it has to be a concern.

Work and study habits only change if a person wants them to. There are so many talented players in the NFL, the difference between success and failure is often how well a player prepares before the games are played.

The Giants sacrificed a lot to get Baker. Over the final six weeks, it would be nice to see signs that their investment will pay dividends in the long run.

Saquon Barkley

Barkley has the heart of a champion. There is no doubt about that. He will never admit to not being the player he wants to be or was last season, but we know from watching that the high ankle sprain that cost him 3 12 games remains a problem. He isn’t 100 percent. He’s capable of playing, but not of doing the extraordinary things that make him Saquon Barkley.

Some are suggesting that Barkley should shut it down for the remainder of a lost season to protect himself for the future. Barkley’s having none of that:

Again and again, going back to the offseason, we have said the Giants’ approach to using him doesn’t appear to maximize Barkley’s immense talents.

Over the season’s final six games it will be interesting to see both how much and how well the Giants utilize their best player.

Nick Gates

With chaos all around him on Sunday, the second-year offensive lineman held up well in his first career start. It wasn’t enough to convince anyone that Gates should be the Giants’ right tackle in 2020, but it was enough to make you want to see more.

Veteran Mike Remmers is probably one and done as a Giant, at least he should be one and done as a starter. Remmers’ back injury opened the door for Gates to get his opportunity. Whether Remmers is healthy or not after the bye week, Gates should stay in the lineup so the Giants can get an extended look at whether or not he can be part of the offensive line solution going forward.

Julian Love

If, of course, we get to watch Love play. While the Giants have gotten more snaps from rookies than any team in the NFL this season, the fourth-round pick out of Notre Dame has played but three defensive snaps all season.

That might be about to change.

There were reports that Love took first-team reps during Tuesday’s practice, the Giants’ final workout before players left for their mandated bye week time off.

Fans have been clamoring to see Love in place of the aging and no longer athletic enough Antoine Bethea for weeks now. As I think about why Love hasn’t gotten an opportunity before now, I wonder if the Corey Ballentine case is instructive.

We all wondered why Ballentine, so impressive in the preseason, didn’t really get an opportunity to play defense the first half of the season. He surfaced two games ago at slot corner and now seems likely to stay there for the rest of the season. Turns out the Giants had been working with Ballentine for several weeks, interrupted by a concussion Ballentine suffered returning a kickoff, to convert him from an outside corner into a player who could handle the slot. When he was healthy and ready, the Giants got him on the field.

Could that be the case with Love? Bethea’s value is his experience, but when a team is 2-8 and pointed to the future that value diminishes. Love was drafted as a cornerback and figured to get chances either outside or in the slot. The Giants, though, saw the potential for him as a free safety — a position Love has admitted not playing since high school.

Perhaps this is a case of the Giants working behind the scenes with Love until they are certain he can handle the responsibilities of being the player who has to align the secondary and can read offenses well enough to get himself into position to make plays.

If he doesn’t get to play the Giants are telling us they don’t think he is up to the task, and that free safety will have to be an offseason priority. If he does get to play, maybe he can show the organization it can cross that position off its list for the offseason.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at New York Giants Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Darius Slayton

You can argue that the Giants have not hit a home run with a Day 3 draft pick since Jerry Reese selected Ahmad Bradshaw in Round 7 of the 2007 Draft. Well, Slayton, a fifth-round pick might be the player to change that.

The speedy wide receiver has 27 receptions, including 10 last week. At times against the Jets, Jones to Slayton was the Giants offense. It is a combination worth getting excited about. Jones leads the Giants in touchdown receptions with five and yards per catch (14.6). Slayton is the first Giants receiver with a pair of two-touchdown games since Odell Beckham Jr. in 2016.

Can Slayton continue his excellent work? We shouldn’t expect 10 receptions or 121 yards receiving every week, but it could be entertaining to watch the Jones-Slayton connection continue to blossom.

Leonard Williams

GM Dave Gettleman made the risky move of trading away a pair of draft picks, a third-rounder in 2020 and what will be a fourth in 2021 if the free-agent-to-be re-signs with the Giants.

Over the past couple of seasons, Williams has developed a reputation as a bit of an “almost” kind of player. A guy who does a lot of good things in terms of creating pressure vs. the pass and executing his assignment vs. the run, but hasn’t recently made the big splash plays. He still doesn’t have a sack this season. Against the Jets on Sunday Williams had one of those “almost” days. He had six pressures, including four hits on Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, but ended up without a sack and with only three tackles, one solo.

All of those pressures are a good thing, but that kind of production reminds a little bit of what the Giants used to get from Olivier Vernon. If the Giants are going to give Williams a big-money deal to stick around, which they are pretty much going to have to do after committing the two draft picks, they are going to want real impact plays for their money.

Let’s see if Williams can give them a few over the season’s final six weeks.

B.J. Hill

After a 5.5-sack, eight quarterback hit rookie season, Hill has zeroes in both of those categories this season. His playing time has dwindled over the past month, and Hill has played fewer than 20 snaps in three of the Giants’ last four games.

Right now, Hill is the Giants’ fourth defensive lineman behind Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Williams. Since they are often playing only two of those four big men Hill’s stock is plummeting.

Can he change that over the final six weeks?

Sam Beal

After injuries sidelined him for the first 25 games of his Giants career, the 2018 supplemental draft selection finally got on the field against the Jets. It was only 10 snaps, but it was a start for a player who could still become part of the solution in the Giants’ troubled secondary.

Shurmur said Beal “did a pretty good job the first time back” in those 10 snaps.

As Chris pointed out, the Giants have to get better play out of their cornerbacks. The next six games could offer us a hint as to whether or not Beal might be part of the solution.