The folks from Football Outsiders have often been kind enough in recent years to celebrate the release of their annual almanac, and the return of football, by answering questions from SB Nation writers.
Today, Thomas Bassinger of FO answer our New York Giants questions.
Ed: The Daniel Jones question. Will he do enough in 2022 to convince the Giants to go forward with him as their quarterback? Or, will the Giants be on the hunt for a quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft?
Thomas Bassinger: John Mara was right when he said, “We’ve done everything possible to screw this kid up.” Still, Jones didn’t play in 2021 like a quarterback on the cusp of a breakout. He was below average when under pressure; he was below average when not under pressure. He was below average in the pocket; he was below average out of the pocket. He was below average when throwing short; he was below average when throwing deep. In each of his three seasons, he has posted a pass DVOA below -10%, which puts him on a very short and uninspiring list that includes Jeff George, Rick Mirer, Tim Couch, and Sam Darnold.
So why is Jones still here? He’s cheap (the Giants will pay him $4.2 million this season), there wasn’t a quarterback worth taking at the top of this year’s draft, and Mara needs one more season to be really, reeeeaaaally sure that he’s not Eli Manning 2.0.
Ed: A two-pronged Saquon Barkley question. Do you still consider him or call him a ‘superstar?’ I have been refraining from using that word with him. Do you believe he has a long-term future with the Giants, or is this his last year with Big Blue?
Thomas Bassinger: A running back has to meet at least two conditions to reach “superstar” status: 1.) He has to be dependable. 2.) He has to be better than Devontae Booker. Barkley wasn’t either of those last season.
I think it’s time to reset our expectations for Barkley. He might never be what he was in 2018, or even 2019. That’s not to say he’ll be out of the league soon, but we should let go of the “gold jacket” fantasy. Though our KUBIAK projections see a rebound – about 1,000 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns – he’s unlikely to deliver the kind of season that would lure the Giants into committing more years and money.
Ed: By your definition, a successful New York Giants season looks like what?
Thomas Bassinger: Avoiding humiliation. Not that anyone here needs a reminder, but the Giants lost a league-high nine games by 14 or more points last season. If Daboll can field a more competitive team and sound like an actual NFL head coach instead of an unhinged gym teacher during press conferences, that’s progress.
Of course you would like to see your favorite team shock the world and win 12 games, but if we’re being realistic, that’s probably not happening. This season, then, is about determining which players will form the core of the next contender. Say the Giants enter the offseason feeling more assured about Andrew Thomas, Evan Neal, Kadarius Toney, Wan’Dale Robinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Azeez Ojulari, and Xavier McKinney. I’d call that a success.
Ed: Your ‘Sackseer’ projections call Kayvon Thibodeaux’s future “uncertain.” Where do you stand on Thibodeaux? Did the Giants do the right thing taking him at No. 5, and what kind of career do you foresee?
Thomas Bassinger: Though our SackSEER model dinged Thibodeaux for his lackluster pre-draft workouts, he still earned the second-best rating among edge-rusher prospects, behind only Travon Walker. His sack numbers at Oregon – 19 sacks in 30 games – were good, but his pressure rate was better. Almost one out of every five of his pass rushes resulted in a hurry, hit, knockdown, or sack, according to Sports Info Solutions. The only edge-rusher prospect to post a higher rate was Nik Bonitto, who went 64th overall to the Broncos.
So when Thibodeaux fell to No. 5, New York was wise to take him. He’s a tremendous talent and fills a need (the Giants ranked 26th in pressure rate last season) at a premium position. In Wink Martindale’s aggressive defense, Thibodeaux will get after the quarterback, but he’s more likely to rack up hits than sacks (no Ravens recorded double-digit sacks during Martindale’s four seasons as defensive coordinator). I don’t doubt that Martindale is happy to have Thibodeaux, but, as I write in the Almanac, I wonder what New York would have done had Derek Stingley or “Sauce” Gardner been available. Martindale hasn’t been shy about his preference for strong cover corners.
Ed: Did you like the work Joe Schoen did in his first offseason as GM? Do you believe he is the right decision-maker to – finally – get the floundering Giants back on the right path?
Thomas Bassinger: The Giants’ best transaction of the offseason: trading Dave Gettleman’s shortsightedness and I-know-better bluster for Joe Schoen’s pragmatism and humility. It’s refreshing.
Schoen checked off a lot of boxes during his first few months. He rebuilt the offensive line. He signed a capable backup quarterback in Tyrod Taylor. He drafted a pair of prospects (Thibodeaux and Neal) who could develop into franchise cornerstones. And he paved a path out of salary cap hell. The Giants now rank fourth in effective cap space in 2023 and second in 2024, according to Over the Cap.
The one blemish: I was surprised Schoen couldn’t find a trade partner for James Bradberry. I get that he didn’t have much leverage – teams knew he didn’t have room for that contract – but cutting Bradberry and watching a division rival sign him was the worst possible outcome.
Otherwise, Schoen had a solid first offseason. There will be moments when the Giants are tough to watch, but they aren’t as hopeless as they were a season ago.