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New York Giants position battle: Who will be the fourth wide receiver?

Corey Coleman? Austin Mack? Derrick Dillon? Da’Mari Scott? It’s wide open

Tulane v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The 2020 NFL Draft was one of the most wide receiver laden drafts in recent history. The New York Giants choose to forgo selecting a wide receiver, which can be debated. I, for one, was fine with the omission of a draft selection being allocated to the wide receiver position for three reasons:

  1. The Giants’ roster had a dearth of depth and talent at key positions along the offensive line and in the linebacking room, not to mention the necessity of key secondary pieces being added to the roster.
  2. Yes, it was a deep draft, which is all the more reason to not select a receiver, for the draft itself will yield more talented undrafted free agents, so address the position in that phase of the off-season, which the Giants did by signing Ohio State wide receivers Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack, as well as LSU wide receiver Derrick Dillon,
  3. The 2021 wide receiver class should be even more talented than 2020. LSU has JaMarr Chase and Terrance Marshall. Alabama has DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. Also pay attention to Clemson’s Justyn Ross, Purdue’s Rondale Moore, Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman, Ohio State’s Chris Olave, USC’s Tyler Vaughns, and Wake Forest’s Sage Surratt, among many others.

The Giants are in an interesting year where they are hoping that wide receiver coach Tyke Tolbert can further the immense growth of Darius Slayton. The team also hopes that Sterling Shepard, who recently signed a contract extension, can avoid the injuries and stay healthy in 2020. Golden Tate, who is going on 32, is another important domino in the equation, as he was a reliable third-down target for the young Daniel Jones in 2019. If he has a down season, the Giants can release him with a minimal dead cap hit ($5 million) in 2021. If that’s the course of action, the Giants will have to upgrade the position.

As of now, the Giants look to have a strong top three receivers who shouldn’t be threatened by the other receivers on the roster. Both Shepard and Tate are effective short to intermediate options who win with nuance in route running. With Tate on the roster, Shepard was relegated in 2019 to a lot more snaps at the boundary, as opposed to being the pure slot guy.

Slayton was Jones’ favorite deep target. He had 80 targets on the season with 48 catches and 8 touchdowns. He theoretically should be more heavily utilized in Garrett’s more vertical-based offense. Slayton thrived against man coverage and Jones trusts him. With the top three spots all but solidified, who will step up and be the fourth wide receiver in 10 or 01 personnel, and which player will push for a spot in 11 personnel if one of the big three suffers an injury? Let’s discuss it!

Front runner: Corey Coleman

The Cleveland Browns selected Coleman in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He suffered broken hands in both his rookie and sophomore campaigns that derailed both seasons in Cleveland. His rocky start with the Browns culminated in him having a public dispute with the team on HBO’s Hard Knocks, which effectively got him traded to Buffalo, but he wasn’t long for the Bills, either.

After a quick stint with New England, Coleman ended up with Pat Shurmur and the Giants. He played in 8 games during the 2018 season, starting one, and recorded 5 receptions for 71 yards. A lot of people expected him to have an impact on the 2019 Giants team, but a torn ACL on the first day of training camp robbed him of that year.

Coleman had freak athletic scores at the combine in 2016. He ran a 4.37 40 (90th percentile) and jumped 40.5 inches in the vertical (93rd percentile), while also jumping 129 inches in the broad jump (90th percentile). He’s not the biggest guy, 5-foot-11, 194 pounds, but his athleticism was top-notch. The question now is of course ... does he still have that juice?

It’s fair to say that Coleman hasn’t been healthy enough to showcase the talent that led him to be a high draft pick. The pedigree of being a high draft selection should give him a step above some of the undrafted free agents, but 2016 was a long time ago. He’ll have to prove he’s healthy, still athletic, and reliable enough to learn the offense and play to an effective level. If he proves health, coachability, and retains a lot of his athletic ability, he would be a valuable addition as the fourth wide receiver at the age of 26.

Potential candidate: Austin Mack

Mack was a highly regarded recruit heading into Ohio State who didn’t exactly live up to expectations. He spent a lot of time with nagging injuries and he didn’t exactly blow the lid off the competition as a Buckeye. He finished his Buckeyes’ career with 79 catches in 45 career games (28 starts) and 1,050 yards and 6 touchdown receptions. He never had more than 30 catches, 400 yards, or 3 touchdowns in any given season as a Buckeye.

A lack of statistical success wasn’t the only reason why Mack failed to be drafted. He also had a dismal Combine where he ran a 4.59 40-yard dash (22nd percentile), and both of his jumps didn’t crack the 30th percentile for wide receivers. It’s not a ringing endorsement, but the flashes Mack did show on the field displayed someone who could crack an NFL roster.

Mack showed exceptional subtleties and nuance with his route running. He was quick in and out of his breaks, showed a ton of awareness against both man and zone, while also using subtle fakes to disguise his route’s intentions up his stem. He’s also very strong at the catch point and has made some spectacular catches in college. His ability to make tough contested catches in traffic help mask his adequate separation quickness.

His body, and tape, seem to suggest that he could easily be a boundary receiver, which could benefit the Giants in 4 wide sets since they have two very talented receivers who are more naturally meant for the slot. Mack is 6-foot-1, 208 pounds, with big 10-inch hands and a long 33 ⅝-inch wingspan, which is in the 91st percentile for receivers. Mack’s intelligence, savvy route running, and strong hands are all traits that can lend this undrafted rookie to Year 1 playing time. If Coleman can’t return to his pre-injury form and stay healthy, I expect Mack to be the choice for the fourth wide receiver spot.

Underdog: Derrick Dillon

One of the heroes of the LSU 2019 National Championship season was Dillon, who will be famously heralded for his fourth quarter catch-and-run touchdown against Auburn. Outside of that very important moment, Dillon had a pretty uninspiring career at LSU. He was buried on the depth chart behind Chase, Marshall, and Vikings’ first-round pick Justin Jefferson.

Dillon has to be considered, though, because of his game-breaking speed. He was reportedly clocked in as a 4.28 at LSU’s closed Pro Day. It sounds like a myth or a fabrication, but the tape doesn’t lie and Dillon has some wheels. The Giants’ wide receiver room is filled with talent, yet none of them possess game-breaking, stretch the defense, type of speed.

Slayton is very fast, and pre-injury Coleman had some serious speed, but Dillon can offer this speed differently as a role player. Slayton will be on defensive coordinator’s radars and both Tate/Shepard aren’t known for their speed, but Dillon can be the guy to stretch the defense and keep them honest. More speed equals less loaded boxes for Saquon Barkley and more one-on-one coverage for Evan Engram and the rest of the receiving options.

I considered Da’Mari Scott and Binjimen Victor for this slot as well. The former hasn’t proved a whole lot in his short stint with the Giants and the presence of Javon Leake may make the former college kick returner expendable. The latter’s catch radius intrigues me, but his lack of athletic ability and physicality may be a problem. However, the thought of getting Dillon into space, against a team’s No. 4 cornerback in man coverage gives me a different feeling than the other receivers in consideration on the roster. Dillon isn’t polished, and he needs some development in route running/release off the line of scrimmage versus press, but his type of speed and quickness are very important in the modern NFL.

Final thoughts

Coleman should get the first crack at the WR4 spot. It’s a shortened offseason and Coleman is now a veteran, but he has to prove he can stay healthy, which has been very tough in his short career. Mack’s the first boundary option out of the rest of the roster because of his route running, processing, and strong hands, yet I don’t feel his skill set is limited to playing on the outside.

Dillon is the difference maker because of his lighting type speed and quickness. Jason Garrett should be able to devise plays against weaker corners in man coverage that can mask the raw nature of Dillon if he sees the field in 2020. As for Victor, I hope the Giants stash him on the practice squad if he doesn’t earn a spot because he has qualities and upside. You can’t teach 34 ⅛-inch arm length (97th percentile) or 128-inch broad jump (88th percentile), but he’ll have to get stronger.

The rest of the roster should have an uphill climb to beat out Coleman, Mack, Dillon, and even Scott and Victor. David Sills was productive at West Virginia, but his lack of separation quickness will be his biggest issue. Alex Bachman is a solid slot option, but again athletic ability could hinder his chances of making the squad, although he seems to be a nuanced route runner. One thing seems to be certain and that’s the top three spots at the wide receiver position. Tate’s future with the team isn’t certain beyond the season, so if a Coleman, Mack, Dillon, Scott or Victor ascend and prevail the turbulence of 2020, then they just may earn a real shot at a starting spot in 11 personnel for the 2021 season.