The New York Giants have already made it clear. They need more playmakers for an offense that finished 31st in the NFL in 2020. They should have Saquon Barkley back next season, provided he recovers as expected from his torn ACL. That means aggressively addressing the wide receiver position.
“I think we certainly need to help our offense a little bit this offseason, be it free agency and the draft. I think we need some more pieces there. ... That will be a priority for us,” co-owner John Mara said during his end-of-season videoconference.
Let’s review the performance of the players the Giants used at wide receiver in 2020. This will be the first installment of a position-by-position series looking at the 2020 Giants.
Starters: Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate
Reserves: C.J. Board, Austin Mack, Dante Pettis
Practice squad: Binjimen Victor, Alex Bachman, Derrick Dillon
IR: Cody Core, David Sills
Others: Damion Ratley (cut midseason), Joe Webb
Near the end of the season wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert admitted that Slayton, in his second season, “hasn’t had the success to this point that he had last year.”
The statistics bear that out.
- Slayton’s touchdowns dropped from eight to three.
- His receptions per game dropped from 3.4 to 3.1.
- Slayton’s yards per game dropped from 52.9 to 46.9.
- His reception percentage fell from 57.1 to 52.1 percent.
- Slayton’s yards per target dropped from 8.8 to 7.8.
- Slayton’s yards after catch dropped from 3.9 to 3.1 yards per reception.
- His drops rose from three in 2019 to six in 2020, with his 10.7 drop rate sixth-worst among 48 receivers targeted 81 or more times.
- Slayton’s passer rating when targeted dropped from 103.1 to 81.5.
Slayton remains an excellent young receiver and a terrific find for a player selected in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. What the Giants needed, and didn’t have, was a true dominant wide receiver to take the focus of NFL defenses away from Slayton.
Shepard did what he pretty much has done throughout his five-year career with the Giants. He caught 66 passes and has caught between 57 and 66 balls each season. He averaged 54.7 yards receiving per game, right on his 54.1 career average. He averaged 7.3 yards per target, right on his 7.5 per target career mark. Shepard averaged 3.1 yards after catch, exactly what he did in 2019. Shepard also missed four games, the third time in his five seasons he has missed at least that many games.
Shepard is a good player. A valuable locker room leader. Tolbert, wide receivers coach for the Giants since 2018, loves him.
“Sterling’s a football player. I love Sterling. He brings energy to our whole offense and our team. He has really good routes, really good suddenness, he can run after the catch, he’s tough blocking in the run game, he’s a complete guy. I wish I had a thousand Sterling Shepards,” Tolbert said.
“He’s a very, very tough competitor. When I give the guys their grades from the previous game and he doesn’t score the highest he wants to know why and he wants to see if I can change my grade.”
Still, as good and as valuable as he is, Shepard is a complementary receiver who has a habit of not making it through a 16-game season.
It’s fair to wonder if a full-time return to the slot receiver position would benefit Shepard. He played 880 snaps in the slot in 2016, 511 snaps in the slot to 163 out wide in 2017 and 517 in the slot to 393 out wide in 2018. In the last two seasons, Shepard was outside a majority of the time. In 2019, that split was 331-256 snaps and this season it was 356-190.
The 32-year-old Tate has had a distinguished NFL career. He has 695 receptions and 8,278 yards receiving in 11 seasons. He has scored 46 touchdowns. He has spent a career breaking tackles and creating yards after catch in the open field.
Tate simply has not had a distinguished two-year run with the Giants. Memorable, yes. He was suspended for the first four games in 2019 due a PED violation. He missed a game this season when on-field antics landed him in Joe Judge’s doghouse, and two more at the end of the season with a calf injury.
His performance in 2020 showed a declining player. Tate caught just 2.9 passes per game, his lowest since 2011. He did not break a single tackle and averaged only 2.3 yards after catch. That’s 3.5 yards per catch below his average from 2019.
The Giants can save at least $6.147 million against the cap by cutting Tate. That number rises to $8.5 million if they make him a post-June 1 cut.
Others of note
Austin Mack caught seven passes in 11 games after working his way up from the practice squad. Mack played 192 snaps, largely because of his blocking in the run game. He should get an opportunity to make the team in 2021.
C.J. Board caught 11 passes and was a valued special teams contributor.
Dante Pettis played in the season’s final two games after being claimed off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers. With four catches, including a 33-yard touchdown, Pettis likely put himself into consideration for a roster spot next season. He also has return ability.
David Sills, who spent the season on IR after fracturing his foot, and veteran multi-position player Joe Webb, have already been added to what will be the team’s 90-man roster for the offseason. Cody Core (Achilles tear) is another player who spent the season on IR. A valuable special teams player, Core could have a spot on the 53-man roster next season if he is healthy.