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Giants 2021 position review: Wide receiver was a mess all season

After a huge offseason effort to add play-makers, injuries and offensive dysfunction rendered wide receivers ineffective

New York Giants v Washington Football Team
It was this kind of season for Giants’ wide receiver Kenny Golladay.
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

A priority of the 2021 offseason for the New York Giants, probably their biggest priority, was adding play-making weapons to their offense.

They handed wide receiver Kenny Golladay a four-year, $72 million contract — the richest of the offseason for a wide receiver. They drafted Kadarius Toney in Round 1. They took a one-year flier on injury-prone 2017 ninth overall pick John Ross.

Obviously, it did not work out. The Giants finished 31st in the league scoring for the second straight year. This time, though, they averaged just 15.2 points per game, 2.3 less than the 17.5 they averaged in 2020. They were 31st in the league in passing yards and 30th in touchdowns. None of the trio of receivers they added provided a major impact.

Let’s look at what happened in 2021 and what might happen in 2022 as we continue our series of position-by-position profiles of the Giants.

2021 in review

The roster

Starters (theoretically): Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton
Reserves: Kadarius Toney, Collin Johnson, John Ross
IR: C.J. Board, Dante Pettis
Practice squad: Pharoh Cooper, David Sills, Alex Bachman, Travis Toivonen

The 2021 season was a disaster at the wide receiver position.

  • Golladay missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury and missed three games with a knee injury. When he was playing, the Giants often either ignored him, couldn’t figure out how to use him or couldn’t get the ball thrown accurately when they did try to get it to him. He finished with just 37 catches, 521 yards and no touchdowns.
  • Toney had all sorts of maladies, beginning in training camp. He played in only 10 games with 39 receptions and no touchdowns. He also had a couple of social media missteps.
  • Sterling Shepard had yet another injury-plagued year, playing in only seven games.
  • Ross, predictably, had injury issues. He played in only 10 games with 11 catches, one for a touchdown. In five NFL seasons, the most games he has ever appeared in is 13.
  • Depth players C.J. Board and Dante Pettis landed on IR.

Whatever issues existed in the Giants’ schematics approach to passing the ball, they were exacerbated by massive amounts of missed game and practice time. On a week-to-week basis, there was seldom certainty about who would be available. Per official NFL statistics, Daniel Jones, Golladay, Shepard and Toney were on the field together for only 20 snaps all season.


2022 outlook

Let’s start with this. Golladay is almost certain to be a Giant next season. The Giants would have to carry $23.6 million in dead money against the cap, which is $2.45 million MORE than his 2021 cap hit of $21.15 million. That is because of pro-rated bonus money.

Secondly, I would be surprised if Shepard is back with the Giants. He played in only seven games, and has not played more than 12 in a season since 2018. As a post-June 1 cut, the Giants can save $8.5 million against the cap while carrying just $3.995 million in dead money. They almost certainly have to do that.

Ross also seems unlikely to be back.

Whether a new regime will give Darius Slayton an opportunity in the final year of his rookie deal remains to be seen. Slayton has regressed mightily since his promising rookie season.

Board, Cooper, Pettis and the group of practice squad receivers are all replaceable parts.

That leaves the Giants building a 2022 receiving corps around Golladay, Toney and maybe Slayton.

Hopefully, a new offensive coordinator will have a better plan for helping Jones or whoever is at quarterback get the ball to Golladay.

Toney’s development could also hold a key to the future of the position. He flashed immense potential for a couple of weeks when reasonably healthy. Yet, he was hurt almost from the beginning of the season to the end, appearing in just 10 games. Worse, the coaching began the season questioning his professionalism and trustworthiness, and ended the same the same way.

Toney has game-breaking ability. The questions are whether he can be healthy enough and mature enough to use that ability to its fullest potential.