Last week I asked which of the New York Giants rookies drafted in the first three rounds would have the biggest impact.
But if the Giants are going to take a step forward and build on their 2018 season, they will need more than just a rookie impact. They’ll need a player who is currently under the radar or on the fringe to step up and have a breakout season. So, who will it be? Here are five young players who have the opportunity to break out and help the Giants to take the next step in 2019.
Note: These will all be veteran players. While rookies can certainly burst on the stage in their first year (just as Odell Beckham Jr. or Saquon Barkley did), a breakout performance needs a baseline from which to break out.
Why He Will: Shepard has a golden opportunity to establish himself as a primary receiver on the national stage. He was the most polished receiver in his draft class, coming in to the NFL with an almost Beckham-esque shine to his route running and ball skills. That first year he tied Micheal Thomas for touchdowns among rookie receivers despite playing behind Beckham and in an underperforming offense. He should now get the chance to show his ability as an outside receiver and as the Giants “Number One” receiver. Shepard is similar to Steve Smith Sr. and Antonio Brown in his sudden, detailed route running and surprising play strength (for a smaller receiver). It’s ambitious to say that he will have similar production to those two, but he could surprise those who think the Giants made a mistake in drafting him over Thomas.
Why He Won’t: Shepard won’t have Beckham on the field to draw coverage and influence defenses. This is the flip side of the coin to being the Giants’ primary receiving option, he has to be The Guy who is able to produce despite being the focus of opposing pass defenses. While Shepard has experience playing without Beckham, he hasn’t exactly thrived in those situations. While he saw more time as an outside receiver, got the ball further down the field, and saw a much larger target share — all of which are good things. However, he also saw his efficiency drop while his catch rate, and production became very inconsistent.
Why He Will: Engram has come up a number of times in recent days and weeks, and the verdict is always the same: He has the ability to be so much better than he has been allowed to be. Engram is one of the best athletes at his position in the NFL as well as one of the most dangerous ball carriers in the NFL. He also has the versatility to line up in multiple positions to create and exploit match-ups while being a good enough blocker (he was charged with one hold and no blown blocks in 126 blocking snaps in 2018) to never have to come off the field. As one of the Giants main match-up nightmares and big-play threats, he should figure much more heavily in their offense than he has in the past and get the opportunities to produce. If Engram can get those opportunities, his production rate in 2018 was high enough that he would have exceeded Zach Ertz’s record-setting season (assuming the same number of targets), edged out Michael Thomas to be sixth in the league in receiving yards, and top-10 in receiving touchdowns. That’s obviously academic, but it does illustrate Engram’s potential.
Why He Won’t: If Pat Shurmur stays true to his tendencies, Engram will continue to have one of the lowest average depth of target in the NFL, limiting his ability to unleash his athleticism, and forcing him to evade more defenders to make plays. For much of 2018 he was treated as an ancillary piece in the offense, getting six or fewer targets in seven of his eleven games. He’s not going to have a break-out season if he remains little more than an afterthought or safety blanket.
Why He Will: The Giants don’t just have an opportunity for a pass rusher to step up and seize the role as the Giants’ “ace,” they have a legitimate need. Of the Giants’ EDGE players, Carter is the only one with elite athleticism, and athleticism is a greater factor for pass rushers than almost any other position besides cornerback. He will get plenty of opportunities and if he can take a step forward in using his physical tools and pairing them with a more advanced mental process, Carter could make noise.
Why He Won’t: Carter has never been a natural pass rusher. For all his athletic ability, Carter has never had more than 5.0 sacks in a season, which was his high-water mark in 2016 at Georgia. He came out of college as more of a utility defender and needed to not only learn how to use his tools, but also
Why He Will: Peppers has been disappointing as a safety since entering the NFL. Granted, Gregg Williams playing him at free safety and lining him up so far from the line of scrimmage that he may as well have been playing in the parking lot is a definite factor. But also, he was an athlete without a position coming out of Michigan and free safety is a very demanding position at the NFL level. He did better in his second season playing a psuedo-linebacker position close to the line of scrimmage.
Peppers said that he would be used in a “variety of roles” earlier in the summer, and the Giants have talked about moving one (or more) of their newly acquired cornerbacks to safety. If Peppers takes over the “Moneybacker” position from Alec Ogletree, is allowed to play downhill, and is frequently used as a blitzer, Peppers could find his niche in the NFL.
Why He Won’t: Peppers hasn’t been the most instinctive player and has been at his best when not asked to do too much. If Peppers is asked to play all over the Giants’ back seven, he could struggle to find his footing in his new scheme. Likewise, if Father Time finally catches up to Antoine Bethea and Ogletree is once again slow to process route concepts when in zone coverage, Peppers could fall prey to a similar situation to the one that hurt Landon Collins’ 2018 season.
Why He Will: Rosas was one of the very best kickers in the NFL last year. He has always had one of the strongest legs around, and flashed the “clutch gene” in winning the starting job on a last-second game-winning kick at the end of the 2017 pre-season. That season was a rocky one, but he proved to be dependable to the point of being a legitimate weapon in 2018. It could, and probably should, be argued that last year was his breakout season, but he is still either unknown or regarded with skepticism. If Rosas is able to replicate (or even improve on) his 2018 play, he should be regarded as one of the best kickers in the NFL.
Why He Won’t: It’s possible that Rosas’ 2018 proves to be an outlier and he will regress in his third season. Also, he is still dependent on the offense giving him decent opportunities to convert attempts. While the team would obviously prefer that he kick as few field goals as possible, he is still going to be kicking them. Nobody wants to see the offense stall in the Red Zone, but if the Giants’ offense sputters and Rosas is presented with more long kicks he will likely take a step back as well.
Dalvin Tomlinson (DT) and B.J. Hill (DT) - I thought about including both Hill and Tomlinson in the above list, but it’s just too hard for players on the defensive interior to have “break out” seasons. Tomlinson is already one of the better nose tackles in the NFL, but that is a position that is routinely overlooked (just ask Damon Harrison who is one of the best players at any position in the NFL yet routinely snubbed in post-season superlatives).
Hill has the potential to break out as an interior pass rusher, but he might be limited by opportunity. If the Giants keep a stout rotation on their defensive line, he might not get the consistently high snap counts that players like Aaron Donald, Cameron Jordan, Fletcher Cox, and Calais Campbell do (all of whom play 80-90 percent of their defense’s snaps).
It’s more likely that one — or both — of these players wind up as one of those guys who are consistently talked about as a player that is good (or great) but nobody is talking about.
Which Young Giant Is Most Likely To Have A Breakout Season?
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