There is an impression that the wide receivers for the New York Giants are not very good. It is absolutely true that the big-name wide receivers are either hurt (Sterling Shepard, Wan’Dale Robinson) or under-productive and rarely used (Kenny Golladay).
Is it true, though, that the Giants really don’t have much talent at wide receiver?
Man of the people Doug Mollin sent a question this week to the Big Blue View Mailbag regarding that topic. And yes, I noticed that Doug couldn’t hold his water and dropped his question into a comment thread.
Anyway, here is the question Doug raised:
Are the Giant WRers as bad as we’ve been thinking?
Raptor notoriously has been beating that drum, but the PFF scores (FWIW) are not bad on this bunch:
- Slayton: 68.7
- James: 71.6
- Hodgins: 76.6
- WanDale: didn’t play much but got a 72.0 grade
Obviously there’s no WR1 in that group, but is this a more productive group of receivers than we may have been assuming?
So, let’s examine the idea that perhaps Giants wide receivers — at least the current Isaiah Hodgins, Richie James, Darius Slayton iteration of the receiving corps — has been more productive than they have been given credit for.
Pro Football Focus wide receiver grades might not be the best measuring stick of wide receiver play. Going by that measure, though, Isaiah Hodgins is ranked No. 26 among 101 wide receivers who have met PFF’s threshold of at least 34 targets, one spot below Chris Godwin of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and one spot ahead of Bucs star Mike Evans. James is 36th, one spot behind JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Kansas City Chiefs, and Slayton is 49th.
If you want a different measuring stick, let’s look at the wide receiver rankings from FiveThirtyEight that incorporate Next Gen Stats tracking data to evaluate every pass route a receiver runs.
FiveThirtyEight lists 82 eligible wide receivers, with their cutoff being 45 or more targets for the season. The rankings include measurements for being open, catching the ball and yards after catch.
- James ranks No. 18, two spots behind Terry McLaurin of the Washington Commanders and three spots ahead of Davante Adams of the Las Vegas Raiders.
- Hodgins ranks 24th, just ahead of DeAndre Hopkins and D.K. Metcalf.
- Slayton ranks 29th, tied in overall effectiveness with Jaylen Waddle of the Miami Dolphins.
Let’s break those rankings down into individual categories:
- Hodgins (18th)
- Slayton (19th)
- James (30th)
- James (6th)
- Hodgins (12th)
- Slayton (65th)
Yards After Catch
- Slayton (12th)
- James (73rd)
- Hodgins (80th)
So, those numbers tell us that the trio of Hodgins, James and Slayton is getting open frequently, catching the ball consistently (except) for Slayton, but that aside from Slayton the Giants are not getting much post-catch production.
There is not a true No. 1 wide receiver in that group for the Giants. All in all, though, the Giants current trio of receivers has been undeniably productive.
“They’ve done a tremendous job being in the right spot, executing, playing really hard in both the run and the pass game,” said offensive coordinator Mike Kafka. “They’re detail guys, they’re smart guys that you really trust that are dependable and tough.”
The Giants began the season with David Sills and Kenny Golladay as their starting wide receivers. Sills is on the practice squad and Golladay has been buried on the bench for weeks. Sterling Shepard and Wan’ Dale Robinson landed on season-ending injured reserve. Kadarius Toney was never a factor and was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. Marcus Johnson had a fleeting opportunity and was found wanting, playing limited snaps and going without a target since Week 10.
Hodgins, James and Slayton emerged to take their place.
“There’s no excuses in this league,” said head coach Brian Daboll recently when I asked him about the team’s evolving roster. “There’s just whoever you have, whoever you’re playing, get ready to play ‘em, get the guys in there, get them ready to play. They’re on the team for a reason. Maybe they’re not a starter right away. But guys that you’re doing walkthrough with that are on the practice squad, you get those guys ready as well. And then once they’re ready to play, you put them in there and you let them play.
“Everybody needs a shot. Sometimes they’re not just handed the job ... Sometimes all you need is an opportunity.”
Hodgins, acquired via waivers from the Buffalo Bills, has been a revelation. In eight games and five starts, he has 33 receptions for 351 yards (10.6 yards per catch) and is tied with James for the team-high in receiving touchdowns with four. He has a 123.3 passer rating when targeted and has yet to drop a pass.
The 24-year-old Hodgins has gone from a mostly unused spare part in Buffalo to a key part of the Giants’ offense. When the team introduced starting offensive players individually Sunday at MetLife Stadium, Hodgins received one of the loudest ovations. In the Giants’ locker room these days, there is always a line of media members wanting to talk to Hodgins. So, yes, things have changed for the 2020 sixth-round pick.
“In the span of a couple weeks it’s changed a whole lot,” he said. “Even when I was on the active in Buffalo I wasn’t getting a lot of opportunities and then they let me go. Now I’m here and getting an opportunity.
“There’s a lot of people who are in my position who people might want to label as practice squad players or not that good. That’s not true. They really are good. It might be just the team that they’re on or injuries or something. There’s a lot of good players out there who are waiting for the opportunity.”
‘Unheralded’ is a label that is often attached to the Giants’ group of receivers. Is it a label Hodgins is tired of?
“Yes and no,” he said. “Everyone is going to have their own opinion and everyone is going to want the big, flashy guys, household names and this and that, but I feel like this wide receiver group since I came in has done a great job of understanding the assignment and executing and making plays when the time is called.
“I know one thing — to play in this offense and to play in Daboll’s system you’ve gotta be smart and you’ve gotta be able to make decisions on the fly. A lot of it is being smart, being accountable and being there for the quarterback. I feel like these guys have done that.”
James, never given a chance to be a full-time receiver during three seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, has career highs in receptions (57), receiving yards (569) and touchdowns (4). His previous career-high in receptions was 23 in 2020. James has a 119.6 passer rating when targeted.
“Richie’s done a really good job in the slot,” said quarterback Daniel Jones. “Getting open, making a lot of plays, run after the catch.”
Hodgins, coached by Daboll for two seasons in Buffalo, sees James as the kind of player the head coach wants.
“He’s not like a 10-year vet, but he brings that veteran presence. He’s been there before,” Hodgins said. “He’s confident, he’s someone you can lean on, you can ask questions, he’s someone who’s going to work hard every day at practice, too, and I think that’s the environment Daboll is trying to being here — hard workers, people who grind for their spot, who are never taking this game for granted, they’re in here every day trying to grind and earn a spot.”
Giants fans know Slayton’s story. Promising rookie season in 2019, his production declined the last two seasons, and he began this season as low man on the receiving totem pole. He was inactive Week 1 and did not have a target or a reception until Week 3, when he made a single catch.
Now, Slayton is the team’s deep threat. He has 46 receptions for a team-high 724 yards. His average of 15.7 yards per catch is also a team best. Slayton has a 96.2 passer rating when targeted, his best since a 98.3 as a rookie. He does, though, have a career-worst seven drops (9.9 percent of his targets).
“He’s told me the story of how long he had to wait,” Hodgins said of Slayton. “The hard work’s starting to show now. It makes me excited for people like that. He kept working and he still does it. He’s still running routes after practice and doing all the extra stuff. It’s his time to shine, and he’s shining.”
With this trio of wide receivers, the Giants have leaned heavily into ‘11’ personnel — one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers — in recent weeks.
On the season, the Giants have used 11 personnel on 69 percent of their offensive plays. In the last four weeks, though, they have used 11 personnel on 217 of 256 offensive snaps (84.8 percent).
“I think just as the weeks go on you evaluate the personnel (groups) that give you an advantage in each game plan,” said offensive coordinator Mike Kafka. “For the past couple of weeks, it’s been that way so we’ve kind of been riding that.”
The Giants have had only one game in the past five weeks where they have thrown for more than 200 yards (319 vs. the Minnesota Vikings), but they have been efficient.
“It [11 personnel] gets us more of a chance to open up the offense a little bit. You have multiple playmakers out there, multiple people who are helping all areas of the game. A team can’t just sit there and focus just on Saquon [Barkley],” Hodgins said.
“Saquon is the top player on our offense, but we have to be able to help him out. We help him out by receivers making plays and making sure that defenses respect our passing game.”
The play of Hodgins, James and Slayton is giving Jones places to throw the ball and forcing opposing defenses to do just that.