Sometimes an idea is so good, or so obvious, that you just have to piggyback off of it. That is how I felt when I read the list 25 most intriguing NFL players heading into the 2021 season that Sheil Kapadia put together for The Athletic.
Who are the five most intriguing New York Giants? For me, anyway, it isn’t a hard list to generate.
5. Andrew Thomas
The Giants had their choice of four top-tier offensive tackles with the No. 4 overall pick in the draft a year ago. They chose Thomas. While the other three — Tristan Wirfs, Mekhi Becton, Jedrick Wills — had rookie seasons ranging from good to outstanding, Thomas struggled. The advanced data from Pro Football Focus indicates that Thomas might have even been the league’s worst offensive tackle a season ago.
Can he be better than that — make that, much better than that — in his sophomore season? Can he close the gap on the other three first-round tackles and make the Giants think they were right to believe Thomas could turn out to be their long-term answer at left tackle? They need him to be.
I have said before that I believe Thomas is the one player who can change the narrative regarding the Giants’ beleaguered offensive line. Let’s see if he does.
4. Evan Engram
The Giant everybody loves to hate. Engram is a great guy. He’s personable. He’s accountable. He works his tail off. He has an athletic skillset few tight ends can match. He just drops too dang many footballs, many of them at really inopportune times.
Engram has had a terrific training camp. You have, no doubt, read that in other places. It’s true. He is in fantastic shape. He hasn’t dropped a pass in any of the practices I have attended.
Will any of that matter when the regular season starts and games are on the line? Over four seasons Engram has, occasionally, played to his talent level. Whether he hasn’t done that enough or the Giants haven’t taken advantage of it enough is a matter for debate, and there is probably truth on both sides.
Can Engram finally put together not only a healthy season but a consistently productive one?
3. Kadarius Toney
Was he the right player to pick after the Giants traded down from No. 11 to No. 20? Can he have an impact on the 2021 Giants either as a receiver or as a returner? Or both?
Toney had a weird start to his NFL career, skipping voluntary OTAs and then beginning training camp on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. He appears to finally be settling over the last few days.
The Giants don’t need Toney to be Offensive Rookie of the Year. They do need him to make some plays, and look like a guy who can justify the selection at No. 20 by being an impact player for the next several seasons. It is important to remember that the trade that netted Toney was a four-for-one swap that brought the Giants first- and fourth-round picks next season. Still, Toney’s selection was not universally loved.
So, can he make the Giants look right?
2. Daniel Jones
You knew he had to be on this list somewhere, right?
So much of this season — and the future direction of the franchise — is riding on whether or not Jones can take a major step forward in his third season and play like a top-flight Nfl quarterback.
Tuesday on Sirius XM NFL Radio, GM Dave Gettleman said 2021 is “an important year for Daniel, an important year for us.”
He wasn’t kidding.
The Giants have expressed faith in Jones to the point now where we are probably all tired of hearing it. Now, can he justify it?
1. Saquon Barkley
Barkley checked in at No 23 on Kapadia’s list, the only Giant to make the cut.
Barkley was electric as a rookie but has failed to regain that form and played in just two games last season. Without him, the Giants still finished 11th in rushing efficiency.
We know that Jason Garrett is going to run the ball a lot. And the Giants very well could embrace a formula that calls on the defense and run game to lead the way. Barkley is only under contract through 2022. He has a lot riding on this season.
Kapadia is correct. Barkley has a lot at stake financially. He is entering his fourth season, a time where top-tier running backs like Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliott have gotten big long-term deals.
That doesn’t seem to be in the cards right now for Barkley. Can he turn the clock back to 2018? Is that player gone? Can Barkley have an Adrian Peterson-like 2,000-yard season in his return from a major injury? Will his play be more pedestrian?
The Giants already made a major bet on Barkley when they took him No. 2 overall, going against the accepted wisdom that you shouldn’t take running backs that high or really try to build a team around one.
What kind of player Barkley is from here on out likely tells us whether the Giants were right or wrong.