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Giants’ position review: How big of a need is wide receiver?

Will Dave Gettleman and Joe Judge see upgrading it as an offseason priority?

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New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles
Darius Slayton’s play was one of the pleasant surprises of 2019 for the Giants.
Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

The 2019 season began with questions about whether or not the New York Giants had enough playmakers at the wide receiver position. Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton each performed well at times, but injuries and Tate’s four-game PED suspension made it difficult to get a clear picture of this group’s potential.

Toss in injuries to running back Saquon Barkley and tight ends Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison and the Giants rarely had the pass-catching group they had anticipated together in 2019.

Let’s look at the 2019 receiving group and discuss what the Giants might look to do at the position in 2020.

Starters (players who started more than half the 2019 games): Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, Cody Latimer
Others who caught passes: Bennie Fowler (cut during the season), Cody Core, T.J. Jones (cut during the season), Russell Shepard (finished on IR), DaMari Scott
Practice squad: David Sills V, Alex Bachman, Reggie White Jr.

Let’s go through the players who are still on the roster.

The top 4

Golden Tate — Tate’s time with the Giants didn’t get off to a good start as he was suspended for the first four games of 2019 for a PED violation after signing a four-year, $37.5 million contract. In the 11 games in which he did play, though, the 31-year-old Tate produced numbers right in line with what he was done throughout his career.

Tate caught 49 passes and his 4.5 receptions per game, while his lowest since 2013, was right on his career average. He had six touchdowns, tied for second-most in his career. His yards per target (8.0) was right on his career average and his yards per catch (13.8) was above his career mark of 12.0.

Some have wondered if Tate, 32 next season, is in the Giants’ future plans. He carries a $10.5 million cap hit in 2020 and the Giants would accrue $7.5 million in dead money by cutting him, so that would seem unlikely.

The Giants could consider trading him to acquire draft assets, but it’s hard to imagine them receiving anything remotely close to value for Tate, who will be entering his 11th season.

Besides, with Sterling Shepard having missed five games last season with a pair of concussions having protection on the roster in the form of another veteran receiver who can excel in the slot seems like a good idea.

Sterling Shepard — When he played in 2019, Shepard was terrific. He led the Giants with 57 receptions, and his 5.7 catches per game were a career-best. Problem is, Shepard didn’t play enough. Two concussions, the second of which cost him five games, limited his season and cast a cloud of uncertainty over his future.

Shepard, entering the second year of a four-year, $41 million contract, will certainly play in 2020. The memory of those concussions will linger, though, and the Giants would be well-advised to make sure they some depth at the position.

Darius Slayton — The fifth-round pick out of Auburn vastly exceeded expectations, forming a nice on-field bond with quarterback Daniel Jones and at times emerging as the Giants’ go-to receiver. Slayton led the Giants with 740 receiving yards on 48 catches. He also led the Giants in yards per reception (15.4) and touchdown receptions (8).

Cody Latimer — While 24 catches and 300 receiving yards may not seem like tremendous numbers, they were career highs for the 27-year-old six-year veteran. Latimer also returned 24 kickoffs for 570 yards, 23.8 per return. His 870 total yards of offense were a career-best.

Latimer is an unrestricted free agent after playing 2019 on a one-year, $1.5 million contract. Wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert, who previously had that job with the Denver Broncos, has been with Latimer his entire career. Whether he would advocate to keep Latimer, and whether GM Dave Gettleman and head coach Joe Judge would listen, is unknown.

The rest of the roster

Cody Core had only three receptions in five targets, but Core proved invaluable as a gunner on special teams. He is an unrestricted free agent, a player I would like to see the Giants bring back, and one I would be surprised to see Gettleman and Judge let slip away.

Russell Shepard finished the season on IR after playing in just three games. The 29-year-old is more valuable on special teams and as a locker room presence than as a wide receiver. Whether that’s enough for the Giants to offer him a chance to return in 2020 is unknown.

Damari Scott showed some potential toward the end of the season as a kick and punt returner. He is an Exclusive Rights Free Agent. Best guess is the Giants bring him back to compete for a roster spot in 2020.

Is this a position of need for 2020?

Yes. In my view, though, it is not a top of the mountain, use the fourth overall pick in the draft on a receiver need. It’s a comb through free agency to find a big wide receiver who can be an upgrade from Cody Latimer kind of need, or a Day 2 or Day 3 look for a guy who falls down the board in what Dane Brugler of The Athletic calls in his latest mock draft “a wide receiver-rich class” kind of need.

As much as it might be nice to dream about what somebody like CeeDee Lamb of Oklahoma or Jerry Jeudy of Alabama could do catching passes from Daniel Jones, the Giants have bigger fish to fry. Finding defensive playmakers and adding talent to the offensive line has to take priority over wide receiver.