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Big Blue View mailbag, 9/12: Expectations, Ryan Connelly, Dexter Lawrence at fullback, more

The mail’s here!

Let’s open the final Big Blue View Mailbag prior to the New York Giants opening their 2020 NFL season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Austin Willis asks: I think most Giants fans would see even 8 wins as exceeding expectations this year. But are we underselling the Giants a little this year? The Giants offense had some nice moments last year, even with the starters never having played a game altogether because of injury. If our defense is at least middle of the road and the offense stays healthy could we see the Giants playing meaningful games late in the season?

Ed says: Austin, anything is possible. I don’t, though, think anyone is “underselling” the Giants. This team has the worst record in football, 12-36, over the past three seasons. They have a first-time head coach. They have an exceedingly young team with a second-year quarterback and an unproven defense.

I would say enjoy the ride, look for signs of improvement, hope that as the year unfolds in feels and looks like the Giants are finally moving in the right direction. I don’t, though, think anyone should be expecting a playoff run.

JayB asks: Of the rookies third round or later who have made the team so far who would be your bet based purely on upside and what you saw in camp will be at least a certified starter in three years barring injury and we will be looking back saying that was a steal?

I’m going Matt Peart and Cam Brown. Matt Peart because there is an argument that his ceiling might actually be higher than Thomas he is certainly longer and more athletic and Cam Brown might have the tools to be that modern LBer that fans like me wanted in Simmons the past draft.

Ed says: I think the easy answer TODAY is Darnay Holmes. He was selected in the fourth round, and I believe we will see right from the beginning on Monday night that Holmes is the Giants’ slot cornerback. I think Peart could turn out to be a good player. I think Brown could turn out to be a good player. I also think fifth-round Shane Lemieux could end up as a starter down the road. That’s a lot of key pieces out of the back half of one draft.

Douglas Mollin asks: Yahoo Sports had a story today on NFL teams going from worst to first. While it’s very rare to see in baseball or basketball, it actually happens fairly regularly with the NFL. Prior to 2019, it had happened 15 or the previous 16 seasons.

Barring a surprise, this will likely be 4 years in a row with a losing record for the Giants (and 7 of 8 years).

Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, what are the top 3 reasons the Giants lost their way so badly for so long?

Ed says: Bad drafting. Bad drafting. Bad drafting. I’m not going into a long-winded answer here. I think I’ve given this explanation before. Look at the draft classes from 2009-2016. That’s your answer.

It takes time to dig out from such an awful stretch. The Giants are trying to do that now. After this season I think we will have a better idea as to whether or not they are making some headway.

Joseph Marrongelle asks: As A Giant fan, it is disappointing to see the team continue to make poor decisions. Drafting Baker, trading for Williams and now releasing Connelly. This is a terrible decision and one the Giants will come to regret. Instead of releasing him on Saturday, he should have been retained and one of the three players released on Sunday could have been released. It appears the team is signing players released by other teams. If they were not talented enough to make that team, how is it determined it is an upgrade for the Giants? Ten teams have retained all of their draft choices. Two teams have retained four undrafted players, three teams have retained three undrafted players and two teams have kept four undrafted players. The Giants are not any of these teams. My question for you, please explain how a player becomes a starter in his rookie year and is not deemed acceptable in his second year?

The Giants had 10 draft picks. Nine of them made the roster. One is on the practice squad. That’s a pretty good batting average. Six of the 10 they drafted in 2019 are on the 53-man roster, as are five of the six they drafted in 2018. That’s 20 of 26. I’ll take that, to be honest. That collection of young, drafted players is also likely part of the reason no undrafted free agents made the roster this time around. Remember, there are also six undrafted free agent rookies on the 16-man practice squad who could eventually find their way to the active roster.

Ed says: Joseph, I almost hate to do it, but I’m going to bring back something that Jerry Reese used to say all the time — no one ever bat a thousand in personnel. You get some wrong.

When it comes to DeAndre Baker, I’ve said before that I thought that was a mistake. The Giants thought he was the best cover cornerback in the draft and gave up fourth- and fifth-round draft assets to get him. In my view, there seem to have been several cornerbacks around the same skill level and the Giants could have kept their other draft picks and just taken one by staying at No. 37.

The other thing, though, is that people have to get over this notion that the Giants should have foreseen his alleged criminal activity. There might have been some red flags in his background when it comes to work ethic, but that’s the case with a lot of guys. There was nothing to suggest what he’s accused of. The Giants could not have foreseen that. I don’t see the doom and gloom when it comes to the young talent.

Now, Connelly. I was surprised that the Giants cut him. That doesn’t mean I don’t understand or that I can’t explain it.

The kid was a fifth-round pick who played in four games last season. We’re not talking about an All-Pro who is headed to the Hall of Fame. The Giants’ defense was bad. The captain of that defense, Alec Ogletree, is now a practice squad player for the Jets.

Reality is, this is the kind of thing that happens when you get a new coaching staff and new scheme. The Pat Shurmur/James Bettcher regime liked what Connelly brought to the table — he fit what they wanted. The Joe Judge/Patrick Graham regime likes the skill set of Devante Downs and the young linebackers the Giants just drafted better.

Was letting Connelly go a mistake? I don’t know that. You don’t know that. Nobody knows that. We’ll see when his career unfolds.

I remember Giants fans being up in arms when the Giants traded center Brett Jones and chose Jon Halapio for that job. Now, Halapio wasn’t great. But, Jones is a career backup who has started three games since leaving the Giants and is now on the Minnesota Vikings’ practice squad. Turns out the rest of the league seems to agree with the Giants that Jones isn’t a starting-caliber NFL center.

Jeff Newman asks: what do you think about bringing in Dexter Lawrence as a lead blocker or even and him the ball on short yardage like the Bears use to do with The Fridge back in the day? He’s big, strong, and athletic. He’d be tough to stop.

Ed says: Jeff, I think it would be fun. I would love to see it. I also think Judge is a coach who would do it if he thinks it would be beneficial. He comes from a program where he watched Bill Belichick use defensive players on offense and offensive players on defense. New England used linebacker Elandon Roberts at fullback for 58 snaps last season. Playing fullback is something Lawrence did successfully at Clemson.

Bruce Frazer asks: The Giants begin the season with a multitude of questions waiting to be answered. In your view, picking one unit from each side of the line, which group on offense and defense needs to improve the most, in order to make the team competitive?

My own choice would be O-line and pass rush. If the Giants can do a better job of protecting the passer, and on the other side rushing the passer, I think these two areas will allow them to win 3 or 4 more games than last year.

Ed says: Bruce, this is a split decision. I will agree with you on offense. If they can all stay healthy, the group of Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton give the Giants quality playmakers. I think we’re going to see growing pains with Andrew Thomas and Nick Gates, but if those players develop Daniel Jones should have opportunities to get the ball to all of his playmakers.

On defense, pass rush is obviously important. I think, though, the biggest question is how Patrick Graham pieces together a secondary. He’s doing that on the fly with a bunch of new players, and it can’t be easy.

Can the Giants win three or four more games than a year ago? I really have no idea at this point. Good play from those two groups is going to be necessary, though, to give them a chance.

CTscan123 asks: Here’s what seems an obvious question to me. Why is Prince Amukamara not on this team? I think most pundits and fans agreed that adding Ross Cockrell was going to be a good move and were disappointed when it fell through. in my estimation, Prince is a significantly better, though not necessarily a dynamic player. While often injured, he would be cheap on a one-year deal. If Baker or Beal were still options or if Ballentine did anything in camp, you might worry about the development of the young guys, but who’s development on the outside are we worrying about here? I can’t for the life of me figure out what the downside here would be. Going into the season with this guy from Denver is ridiculous. He is going to be targeted 72,526 times per game.

Ed says: Wow, CT, 72,526 times per game? That’s one heckuva hurry-up offense. Seriously, I think the answer might be as simple as Prince Amukamara isn’t on the team because Logan Ryan is. Listen, short-term I would support signing Amukamara. He’s been a good player for a number of years.

My guess is the Giants are looking at the long term. That’s not a bad thing. They like Corey Ballentine’s skill set. I’m not sure where this impression that Ballentine had a bad training camp came from. They like Isaac Yiadom’s skill set. They like Darnay Holmes. They like Julian Love. They think Brandon Williams will help them on special teams. Adrian Colbert and Ryan Lewis are guys who played for Patrick Graham last season. They want to let these guys play and learn and grow because they believe they can develop them into something. Amukamara might help them now, but a year down the road they might be back in the cornerback market.

The other thing I keep coming back to is the salary cap. Spotrac currently shows the Giants with $9.279 million in cap space, a touch below the league average of $13.465 million. The cap is at 198.2 million this year and because of revenue lost due to the pandemic could drop as low as $175 million next year. It’s smart business to try and leave yourself at least a little wiggle room heading into next offseason.