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New York Giants position-by-position roster assessment

Before the Giants head to New England, and one week from cuts to the initial 53-man roster, let’s break down the roster

NFL: Cleveland Browns Training Camp
David Sills
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

A day before the New York Giants begin joint pratices with the New England Patriots and a week before they have to set their initial 53-man roster, let’s go position-by-position and asses

Quarterback

We should finally get to see Daniel Jones in a preseason game this Sunday. Head coach Joe Judge says the current plan is for Jones to play a half, maybe a bit more, against the New England Patriots.

Why hasn’t Jones played in the first two preseason games when other, more accomplished, quarterbacks have?

“This to me has nothing to do with comparisons to other players in the league or their individual status,” Judge said. “This is our team and how we choose to prepare them the best, get the guys exposure to who we thought we needed with different units and different situations, and keep building our team going forward. This is no comparison to any other player and it’s not a reflection on any kind of comparison by any position within the league.”

Veteran backup Mike Glennon has gotten the bulk of the playing time. He is 13 of 20 (65 percent) for 106 yards. Glennon had a solid (10 of 13) performance against the Cleveland Browns.

Third quarterback Brian Lewerke, a guy Judge said the team had been considering for a while, replaced Clayton Thorson (waived/injured). He is likely headed to the practice squad.

Running back

Saquon Barkley is expected to progress this week in his comeback from major knee surgery. Judge said Barkley would do “more than what we saw last week.” What this is, Judge said Monday he wasn’t certain.

My guess? We could see Barkley in some 1-on-1 or, more likely, 7-on-7 periods this week.

Devontae Booker began to show the three-down ability the Giants believe he has on Sunday vs. the Browns. He has nine carries for 39 yards (4.3 yards per attempt), a touchdown and a pair of receptions thus far.

Corey Clement (14 carries, 62 yards, 4.4 yards per attempt) has run well. He had a costly fumble against the Jets, though, a reminder that he has averaged a fumble every 33.3 touches in his career. I have had him making the cut in my roster predictions, but I’m not 100 percent convinced he will be part of the 53.

Interestingly, rookie sixth-round pick Gary Brightwell has been working with the first unit on special teams. I still think Brightwell (three carries, 12 yards, 4.0 yards per attempt) is headed to the practice squad, but I will be watching the running back situation closely all week.

Fan favorite Sandro Platzgummer (four carries, 51 yards, 12.8 yards per attempt) did not play a snap vs. the Browns after his 48-yard run vs. the Jets. To answer a question I get on occasion, he is not better than Clement or Brightwell in my view. He will almost certainly be part of the practice squad.

New York Giants v Cleveland Browns
Elijhaa penny carries the ball against the Cleveland Browns.
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Fullback

Things get interesting here.

The Giants — finally — seem interested in actually using the versatile Elijhaa Penny, a collegiate running back, as more than just a blocker. Judge pretty much committed on Monday to keeping Penny on the roster, and to perhaps using him more often in single back sets.

“Eli is a guy that’s done a good job for us as a fullback. He’s got experience in his career as a runner. Eli is a guy that we just talked about, we talked about last year. Things we did in practice didn’t necessarily show up in the games, but Eli is a guy we wanted to go ahead and use as a runner for us, as well,” Judge siad. “So, not just that true fullback position, but there’s going to be opportunities for him to play as that back, not just by different personnel groups or different situations.”

Cullen Gillaspia has played only seven offensive snaps, but has 37 snaps over two games on special teams. His path to the roster would seem to be as a pure special teamer, a kind of Nate Ebner player.

Tight end

Evan Engram, Kaden Smith and Kyle Rudolph will be on the roster. The only question there is whether Rudolph, still on PUP as of this writing, will be available Week 1 vs. the Denver Broncos.

Will the Giants keep a fourth tight end? Or, perhaps keep two fullbacks and use one of those players as a hybrid tight end on occasion? If they keep a fourth, who will it be.

Rysen John, the 6-foot-7 former Division II wide receiver, has impressed as a receiver. He has six catches for 72 yards, including a 29-yarder. He can obviously be an additional pass-catching weapon. Thing is, his blocking leaves a lot to be desired. His Pro Football Focus blocking grades — in a small sample size — are 42.7 in run blocking and a puny 8.7 as a pass blocker.

Unfortunately, John will reportedly land on season-ending IR after suffering an ankle injury Sunday vs. Cleveland.

Cole Hikutini has had a good training camp, but has been slowed recently by injuries.

A darkhorse candidate to at least stick on the practice squad is former Ohio State tight end Jake Hausmann, a blocking tight end with significant special teams experience.

Cleveland Browns Training Camp
Kenny Golladay
Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

Wide receiver

There are, in my view, four locks to make the roster. Those are, of course, Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, Kadarius Toney.

The question is when Golladay, the premier free-agent signing of the offseason, and Toney, the much-debated first-round pick, will be available.

Golladay has missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury. As of last week, he was still only running lightly and doing all of his pass-catching while standing still.

Judge said “I don’t have an answer for you on that” when asked if Golladay would be ready for the Broncos.

Toney has barely practiced, first because of COVID-19 and now because of an apparent injury the Giants have not detailed.

Per Judge, it sounds like we should not expect Toney to do more than individual drills this week. If he even does that much.

“He’ll definitely be on the trip with us, along with several other players who are continuing their rehab,” Judge said. “We’ll talk later today to see if we can build him more into some of the early practice individuals and see if at that point he’s ready to go ahead and progress and do anything more competitive, whether it’s seven-on-sevens or one-on-ones or anything of that nature.”

Now, for the guys who are competing for roster spots.

The Giants are obviously enamored by John Ross’s blazing speed. Ross. though, has played to his history during training camp. He’s hurt more than he’s healthy. At this point, I’m not sure he makes the 53.

C.J. Board is a functional receiver, provides an option as a return man, and is a good special teamer. Will that be enough?

David Sills has been terrific as a receiver for two straight training camps. He has six receptions for a team-high 80 yards and a touchdown this preseason (13.3 yards per catch). He doesn’t offer much on special teams, though. Will that be his downfall.

Dante Pettis (three catches, 25 yards, 8.3 yards per catch) seems to make plays when the ball comes his way. I wonder if the fact he hasn’t gotten any opportunities in the return game is an indication he won’t make the 53.

Matt Cole has done everything he has been asked to do (offense, defense, special teams) thus far. He has shown to be an excellent punt gunner. Is there space for him on the roster? My guess is he is headed to the practice squad.

Offensive line

I think there are seven spots on the line that are settled.

The starters are LT Andrew Thomas, LG Shane Lemieux, C Nick Gates, RG Will Hernandez, RT Matt Peart.

The two reserves I believe are virtually certain to make the roster are tackle Nate Solder, provided his shoulder is OK. and center Jonotthan Harrison. I wasn’t sure about Harrison because he missed a lot of camp with an injury, but he played a full game against the Browns and played well. Harrison allowed one pressure in 38 pass blocking snaps.

Will the Giants keep eight offensive linemen or nine? Who will get the additional spot or spots?

I think you can make cases both for and against veterans Kenny Wiggins, Ted Larsen and Chad Slade. None inspires a ton of confidence. Slade, who can play guard and tackle, offers the most positional flexibility. I’m certain the Giants will be scouring the waiver wire for upgrades as teams trim their rosters over the next week.

Undrafted free agents Brett Heggie and Jake Burton have flashed. Heggie can play center and guard, Burton guard and right tackle. I think both land on the practice squad.

Defensive line

I have had five players — Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Danny Shelton, Austin Johnson, B.J. Hill — making the roster all along. I see no reason to change that.

David Moa, a practice squad player last season, has drawn attention with 10 tackles and two forced fumbles. Undrafted free agent Raymond Johnson III has also flashed. I think both guys end up on the 16-man practice squad.

Edge

This position is interesting — and convoluted — as we approach the cutdown to the 53-man roster.

Lorenzo Carter, slowed for a bit by a calf injury, has had an otherwise excellent camp as he comes back from an Achilles tear. Second-round pick Azeez Ojulari has been good, and reportedly had an impactful week in joint practices vs. the Browns before suffering a “nick” that kept him sidelined in the preseason game. Oshane Ximines had an impactful game Sunday vs. Cleveland (a sack and five total pressures in 18 pass rush snaps) that probably secured a place on the roster for him. Cam Brown is making this team. He’s a special teams monster.

After that is where it gets interesting, or convoluted.

Fourth-round pick Elerson Smith has done nothing in camp. He has practiced even less than Toney. Thing is, he has to make the 53-man roster because he is no longer on PUP. If the Giants cut him he will almost certainly get picked up via waivers and won’t make it to the practice squad. The likely scenario would be Smith makes the initial roster, then gets placed on IR. That would keep him out for at least the first six games.

Ifeadi Odenigbo was signed to provide pass rush depth. He has had a quiet camp, though, and if there are going to be surprise roster cuts he might be one.

Trent Harris has flashed and drawn praise from Judge. Niko Lalos showed some value last season and has also flashed at times. Is there room for either?

Veteran Ryan Anderson has shown little. My guess is he ends up as an odd man out.

New York Giants v Cleveland Browns
Carter Coughlin makes a tackle.
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Inside linebacker

Tae Crowder, Reggie Ragland and Carter Coughlin should all make the roster as options next to Blake Martinez. Coughlin has had a particularly good camp as he transitions from edge defender.

The question will be which of those three guys ends up getting the most playing time.

Devante Downs has, in my view, played his way off the roster.

Cornerback

An interesting position. Beyond James Bradberry, Adoree’ Jackson and Darnay Holmes there are still decisions to make.

The Giants traded for two backup cornerbacks/special teams players last week in Keion Crossen and Josh Jackson. Neither played Sunday vs. Cleveland. I think Crossen, a guy who was with Judge in New England and whom the Giants surrendered a draft pick for, is certain to make the roster. I am less certain about Jackson.

Sixth-round pick Rodarius Williams has played his way onto the roster. He is competitive, tackle with authority, has shown that he might be able to adapt to playing in the slot, and has even seen some time at safety.

Madre Harper is a guy who was on the roster last season. The Giants like his skill set, but defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson indicated recently the Giants aren’t sure they can always trust Harper to do the right thing on the field. I think he heads to the practice squad.

Sam Beal is still around, as well. He isn’t making the 53-man roster. He might be a practice squad candidate.

Third-round pick Aaron Robinson remains on PUP with a core muscle injury. My guess is he stays there once the season starts, meaning he could be available to the Giants if healthy the second half of the season.

Cornerback Quincy Wilson is reportedly headed to IR with an ankle injury.

Safety

Not much to see here. Logan Ryan, Jabrill Peppers, Xavier McKinney and Julian Love are making the roster. They comprise an excellent group. It is going to be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Patrick Graham uses them.

I thought it was interesting the other day that Judge referred to Love as “duct tape,” a guy the Giants can use to solve several different problems. Love will never be a star, but he is a valuable guy to have around.

Special teams

The big question here is what will happen with placekicker Ryan Santoso. Coming off the best season of his career, Graham Gano is entrenched as the Giants’ placekicker.

Could the Giants get something in return for Santoso, whose only regular-season NFL experience is a handful of kickoffs for the Tennessee Titans in 2019? We know they are trying.

The only other question is whether the Giants might keep Carson Tinker, a veteran long snapper who was on the practice squad last year instead of Casey Kreiter. I see that as doubtful, but anything is possible.