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Giants need more — much more — from ‘enigma’ WR Kenny Golladay

Golladay knows he needs to be better than he was last year, but early 2022 results are not encouraging

New York Giants v Los Angeles Chargers
Kenny Golladay
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The level of vitriol aimed by fans at New York Giants wide receiver Kenny Golladay hasn’t quite reached that of Yankee outfielder Aaron Hicks (or pre-trade Joey Gallo). It is, though, obviously there. And obviously understandable.

Golladay Giants’ fans frustrated by years of losing and by the mistakes of the previous regime that have prolonged a dark period for the franchise that has now lasted a decade.

When Golladay failed to make a play early in training camp, a fan jeered him because of his contract. When Golladay dropped a pass during the preseason opener, and appeared to be lackadaisical while doing it, Giants Twitter (and Big Blue View commenters) lit him up. When fans watch training camp videos like the two below, they can’t help but point out the difference in athleticism between the 6’4, 213-pound Golladay and some of his smaller, shiftier teammates.

The media has not been kind, either.

Steve Politi of wondered if Golladay might be trending toward becoming “the Giants’ biggest free-agent bust ... ever?”

Paul Schwartz of the New York Post wrote this after Tuesday’s practice:

More troubling than that drop is the way Golladay, 28, has looked throughout training camp. If there were no numbers on the jerseys and the identities of the players were unknown, all anyone would think about Golladay from watching him every day is that he is a tall receiver who does not display much burst, does not achieve much separation, does not fight overly hard for the ball in the air and does not do much of anything to make anyone think he is anything special.

On the ‘Bleav in Giants’ podcast, Carl Banks called Golladay “an enigma” and that there is “so much alarming” about the way Golladay is performing.

“I don’t quite understand what’s happening with him,” Banks said. “He’s certainly not the guy who came from Detroit.

“Let’s take whatever amount of money he’s making let’s take that off the table. Let’s talk about his ability, the expected performance. He’s been way below that.”

Banks added that Golladay was “brought in to be the top dog,” yet is “barely being a guy.”

Banks finished up with this, using a phrase from the entertainer Fat Joe:

“Yesterday’s price is not today’s price. I think that’s where we’ve gotta be with Golladay. The expectation is higher ... he’s gotta step up. You are a No. 1 receiver on this team, and you’re playing to the level of just an also-ran.”

This is the kind of criticism that should be expected when you sign a bloated four-year, $72 million contract, have an unproductive season while your offense is terrible, your team wins just four games, your head coach and GM get fired, and then you follow that up with a middling — at best — training camp.

Kenny Golladay during Tuesday’s practice.
Ed Valentine

Banks and Schwartz are right. Golladay has not been any better this training camp than Robert Foster, Marcus Kemp or Keelan Doss — wide receivers who seem like long shots to make the roster.

Make no mistake, though. Golladay is making the roster. The backloaded contract Dave Gettleman and Kevin Abrams gave him means the Giants would carry a gargantuan $25.4 million dead money hit by cutting him.

That, almost certainly, isn’t happening. Eyebrows were raised when the Giants cut Logan Ryan, accepting $11.45 million in dead money this season. More than twice that to rid themselves of Golladay? I can’t see how new GM Joe Schoen could justify that.

Golladay and the Giants are going to have to make the best of it for at least the 2022 season.

Golladay, who has always been honest and accountable in his dealings with the media, said Tuesday that he knows what the outside perception is.

“I’m my biggest critic pretty much so, other people that say anything about me, they’re not going to be harder than I am on myself,” Golladay said.

Golladay’s lack of production in 2021 was partly due to injuries and partly due to the dysfunction around the entire Giants’ offense.

“It was just a lot of different moving parts last year. It was last year,” Golladay said early in this training camp. “It was disappointing, but like I said, a lot played a role in that.”

There was optimism entering this training camp that head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka would make better use of their $72 million man, that a better connection with quarterback Daniel Jones would develop, that improved production from Golladay would be part of a more functional offense.

Those things still hold true, despite uneven results thus far. Golladay has had a couple of good days, has encouragingly practiced every day, but has had too many drops and too few impact catches thus far this summer. He has looked like anything but a No. 1 wide receiver. He certainly has not resembled the guy who scored 16 total touchdowns during back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons with the Detroit Lions in 2018 and 2019.

“I wouldn’t say so,” said Golladay when asked if he has played like the player he was in Detroit.

“Maybe I probably showed glimpses last year in New Orleans (six catches, 116 yards) a little bit, I definitely would say I got a lot to prove, not just everybody else. I would say to myself I’m always in a daily competition with myself, just trying to better myself each and every day.”

Speed, elusiveness, separation and yards after catch have never really been Golladay’s game. Here is his Relative Athletic Score (RAS) coming out of Northern Illinois in 2017:

Golladay’s game is about using his big body to shield defenders in the red zone and on third downs, and to use his size and strength to make contested catches down the field. He knows that thus far in his tenure with the Giants he has not made those plays consistently enough.

“I’m not going to talk about last year, but just as far as training camp and me coming down making those 50/50 balls I pride myself on just catching the ball period, to be honest,” Golladay said. “I’m the type of person whenever my number is called, I just want to make the play.”

Golladay is not a demonstrative player. He did yell at Jason Garrett on the sideline near the end of a Week 2 loss to the Washington Football Team last season, but that was an unusual display for the 28-year-old. There is a narrative among some that Golladay is going through the motions. That he is simply collecting the overly large paycheck bestowed upon him by Gettleman, and that he doesn’t care.

Golladay, though, does sound and act like a player who wants to succeed.

Golladay, remember, told media at the beginning of training camp that he spent much of the offseason in New Jersey training at the team facility and catching passes from Jones whenever possible.

“That’s just how much it means to me, to be honest. Just going in the training room doing little stuff, working out here as far as in the weight room and then just throwing with DJ,” Golladay said. “I just made a point to myself that I wanted to be up here and just really focus on my body a little bit more.”

He put in the work. The production, as of yet, has not followed. The signs this summer have been troubling at times, but we are still talking mostly about practice. A time when Daboll and other Giants’ coaches remind us again and again that process currently matters more than results.

Speaking of process, Giants’ cornerback Adoree’ Jackson said on Tuesday that Golladay has been demanding to be covered by the team’s top cornerbacks during 1-on-1 drills.

“We’ll be doing one-on-ones or going to team and somebody else may be up and then Kenny will be like, ‘Nah, Adoree’ get up,’ or, ‘A-Rob (Aaron Robinson), come up,’ so we can guard,” Jackson said. “That’s what I respect the most about it. It’s not like anybody is shying away from competition.”

Golladay knows a major fuss has been made over his goal line drop in the first preseason game.

“I definitely wish I would’ve come up with it, Golladay said. “It’s something that we definitely talk about as far as just the route itself. I want to say Wan’Dale at three, Collin (Johnson) at two, and I was outside. Kind of trying to take my time a little bit for those guys, but at the end of the day I have to make the play.”

The aforementioned Collin Johnson has had an excellent training camp. Coincidentally, the 2020 fifth-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, is 6’6, 220 pounds and offers many of the same contested catch/red zone target skills the Giants are paying Golladay to provide.

Could Johnson, or any of the Giants’ other receivers, cut into Golladay’s playing time if he doesn’t start to make more plays?

“I think Joe (Schoen) and I are on the same page that whoever performs the best is going to play,” said head coach Brian Daboll. “So, whoever comes in and has the right habits, priorities and then ultimately actions out there on the field, that’s why you create competition ... however that sorts out, we still got three weeks or whatever it is left. Those are the guys we feel best about playing.”

Golladay acknowledged the competition.

“I compete with myself, with everybody. When I go out there and see Wan’Dale, KT (Kadarius Toney), (David) Sills, Slay (Darius Slayton) make a catch, I’m competing with those guys. When they make a play, that urges you to go out there and want to make a play, that type of stuff excites me ... So, when he says every day is a competition, I would say that is a fact. When I step on that field, I’m competing each and every play.”

Reality is, though, the Giants simply need Golladay to make more plays. That is the only way the narrative is going to change, and that Golladay will ever be considered at least somewhat close to being worth what the Giants are paying him.