Even though the NFL’s preseason is here and the first week of games kicks off when the New York Giants take on the New York Jets tomorrow night, it seems as though there is one last gasp of List Season.
But while most of the offseason’s lists and power rankings weren’t terribly kind to the Giants, ESPN’s latest is very high on Big Blue.
ESPN ranked the 32 teams based on their talent under the age of 25, listing the Giants as the fifth best team in the NFL.
Giants GM Dave Gettleman has somehow made a slew of analytics-opposing trades and moves, but he still accumulated a top-five roster in under-25 talent. If his freshman season is any indication, Barkley is the once-in-a-generation rusher that might justify his top-five selection. His 94 broken tackles were 31 more than second-place finisher Christian McCaffrey, and Barkley will play his entire second season at just 22 years old. Still, it is difficult to make a compelling argument that Barkley will be anywhere close to as valuable as crosstown rival quarterback Sam Darnold, so the Giants will need to hit on this year’s No. 6 pick from 2019, Jones.
QBASE is not a big fan of Jones thanks to his subpar college yards per attempt and completion rates. But Jones did not play with a single player who was drafted by the NFL in his three-year Duke career. It is possible he will improve more than his contemporaries because of a greater step up in surrounding talent.
That surrounding talent won’t include star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who Gettleman traded to the Browns. It was a strange move for a team with a rookie quarterback and limited receiving options, but it subtracted a 26-year-old player who was already excluded from these rankings and added Jabrill Peppers and two 2019 draft picks -- Dexter Lawrence and Oshane Ximines -- who are 23 and younger. The Giants also have a young blue-chip left guard in Hernandez who allowed just 4.3 sacks over a line-leading 1,028 snaps, Football Outsiders’ favorite unheralded prospect is pass-rusher Lorenzo Carter and the team has a pair of potential cornerback starters in 22-year-old Deandre Baker and 23-year-old Sam Beal. If fifth-round rookie receiver Darius Slayton adds a deep threat to a passing game that is overly skewed toward Barkley and tight end Evan Engram in the short passing game, then the Giants will have a valuable young asset at every level of their team.
Top Five Teams
This is, obviously, good news for the Giants. They probably deserve to be top-10 in the rankings just for the presence of Saquon Barkley and Will Hernandez.
Nearly a third of the Giants’ 90-man roster is under the age of 25, and I count a solid 17 players (more than half) who are either locks to be on the Giants’ 53-man roster or have a very good chance of surviving final cuts. While the team’s average age is increased by players like Eli Manning, Zak De Ossie, and Antoine Bethea, they really do have a very young roster.
That youth could be something of a double-edged sword, as only eight of the Giants’ 29 players under 25 have taken a snap in the NFL snap. Youth has a learning curve as young players have to get used to the speed and complexity of the NFL game. But it could also provide a long-term core of talent for the future. How much the Giants’ current youth translates into future roster stability and success will, in large part, be determined by how well the coaching staff is able to develop those players. There is a world of difference between Lawrence, Carter, and Ximines turning out to be Haloti Ngata, Danielle Hunter, and Olivier Vernon and them turning out to be Phil Taylor, Manny Lawson, and Dave Tollefson.
We don’t know how much of the Giants’ young talent will develop. We do know that Saquon Barkley and Will Hernandez are great players, that B.J. Hill has flashed the ability to be disruptive on the interior and Carter has the tools to be a good pass rusher or a good off-ball linebacker. The Giants have good players just over the cusp of being included, like Aldrick Rosas, Evan Engram, and Dalvin Tomlinson.
How current crop of rookies develops and how the Giants’ youth translates into power rankings — and more importantly, wins — is in the hands of the Giants’ coaches. It’s no small task, but having so many players with the potential and opportunity to step up is not a bad position in which to be.