Giants head coach Pat Shurmur tried very hard to take the high road when he spoke about Odell Beckham Jr. with reporters during the league meetings earlier this week, but in getting a look at the full context of what he had to say, it didn’t sound as though Shurmur was too concerned about having a guy who was arguably the best receiver in the NFL removed from the roster.
“Odell is an outstanding player, but it is a business and Dave addressed that,” Shurmur said. “I really believe that we got good value in return. I am one of those that believes a trade can be good for both parties. We came to an agreement with Cleveland and we sent them an outstanding player. We got good value in return.”
Shurmur, who early on in his press briefing said he reached out to Beckham after the trade was consummated but has yet to hear back from the receiver, did insist that the narrative that the team grew tired of Beckham’s antics was “not accurate” and that it “was business.”
But in trying to explain the plan on how he intended to move on without Beckham, Shurmur’s comments might have raised more questions than answers.
For example, he spoke about the opportunity there for the current set of skill position players to contribute to the cause, noting that it “takes a village to spread the ball around.”
“I think when you play offense, you try and get the most out of the players you have,” Shurmur said. “You have to use their skill sets. We have a lot of fine players on offense. We will spread the ball.”
He pointed to the last four weeks of the season, which Beckham missed due to a quad injury, and noted how the Giants offense was able to score their highest points of the year in those games in which they also went 1-3 and suffered one shutout.
In reality, the average difference in points per game and touchdowns per game scored in games with and without Beckham isn’t that significant.
With Beckham in the lineup last season, the Giants averaged 21.4 points per game and scored an average of 1.3 passing touchdowns. Without him, the Giants averaged 23.0 points and 1.5 touchdowns per game.
To even contemplate that Beckham’s absence from the lineup in favor of spreading the ball around more had that much of an impact on the averages is misleading if one considers that once Beckham was forced from the lineup, the Giants also cut down on average sacks allowed per game, going from 3.4 in the games in which Beckham played to 1.5 in those final four games without him.
The big question for the Giants is if they have the personnel to replace Beckham’s production.
One such player who will probably see an increase in his pass targets is tight end Evan Engram, who got better once he was able to shake the injury bug last year.
In his first seven games (with Beckham in the lineup), Engram was targeted 33 times, catching 23 balls for 257 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Over the last four games (without Beckham in the lineup), Engram caught 22 of 31 passes for 320 yards and 1 touchdown.
“When he got healthier, he was able to produce in a way we think he can,” Shurmur said of Engram, who is entering his third season this year. “He had production when he was in there, but then he got hurt a few times. By the end he was feeling good, running well and playing well.”
The Giants are also hoping to get more production out of Sterling Shepard and newcomer Golden Tate.
Tate and Shepard have very similar skill sets as both have functioned as slot receivers. But Shurmur also believes that both can function on the edges.
“I am excited about (Tate),” he said. “His skill set is like Sterling’s. When we run the ball, they are gritty blockers and you can play them on the edge and in the slot.
“Then, when you throw the ball, they have both done good work in the slot and have had production outside. You can play both guys wherever.”
Perhaps, but in looking at the production, it’s debatable whether both players can excel from the slot and from the outside.
Shepard, who in three seasons has played in 16 games both as a rookie in 2016 and in 2018, saw a career high 393 snaps playing outside last season.
In terms of his production, Shepard managed to catch just one more pass in 2018 (66, a new career high) than he did during his rookie season, when he recorded 65 receptions.
He also set a new career high in receiving yards with 872; however, he only caught four touchdown passes (all from the slot), which was half of what he caught in his rookie season.
In fact, per Pro Football Focus, all of Shepard’s 14 touchdown passes have come from him working from the slot, a stat that would raise question about just how productive he could be working from both the slot and from the outside if scoring is your sole criteria.
Tate played in a total of 15 games last season, losing a game due to a mid-year trade from Detroit to Philadelphia. He finished with 77 receptions for 795 yards and 4 touchdowns combined in 2018, his lowest receiving output since 2012 when he was with Seattle.
And what about running back Saquon Barkley? Can he be a player the Giants might build the offense around?
“I don’t look at it that way. We have an outstanding running back that is going to get his touches. We are going to build an offense to score more points,” Shurmur said.
If they’re going to do that, they better still have more pieces to the puzzle they’re looking to add to replace Beckham’s production.