There will be no playoffs for the New York Giants this season. There might not be another victory. Disillusioned fans expecting better after a playoff victory a season ago, already care more about the 2024 NFL Draft than the results of the next eight games.
These games, though, are important for the future of the franchise. The biggest reason? Just how insanely young the Giants are.
I posted the following snap-weighted age rankings graphic from @Doug_Analytics the other day, and talked about this topic a bit, but it deserves more attention.
-— Doug Analytics (@Doug_Analytics) November 7, 2023
(2023 | Weeks 1-9)
1) Packers: 25.8 years old
2) Giants: 25.9
3) Bears: 26.0
30) Broncos: 27.4
31) Eagles: 27.6
32) Saints: 28.1 pic.twitter.com/axlKD1yjs2
By snaps played, only the Green Bay Packers have played a younger roster this season than the Giants. That, at least partially, explains the team’s 2-7 record. It also explains why these next eight games are important, and what you should pay attention to if you are looking for a reason to remain invested.
These young players brought in by GM Joe Schoen over the past couple of years are the team’s future. What those players are today is, hopefully, not what they will be a year or two years from now. Every snap played, every practice rep taken, is an opportunity for them to get better. Their development is a big part of what the remainder of the season has to be about.
Can Micah McFadden continue his rise? Can first-round pick Deonte Banks play through some of his recent struggles and make strides toward becoming the cornerback the Giants think he can be? Can Jalin Hyatt and Wan’Dale make strides toward becoming the play-making wide receivers the Giants need them to be? Can John Michael Schmitz solidify his place as as the team’s long-term starting center? Can Tre Hawkins show that his summer splash wasn’t a mirage?
These are just a few of the young players to watch. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Azeez Ojulari, Evan Neal, Dane Belton, Cor’Dale Flott, Daniel Bellinger, Tommy DeVito and maybe even Marcus McKethan and Jordon Riley are others.
Andrew Thomas, the Giants’ star left tackle, understands the importance of these games to the youngest Giants.
“If I recall, I don’t remember exactly what our record was, but I know having your starting quarterback out is never ideal. It was a similar situation – like we had some injuries on the offensive line, some moving parts and that was around when I started to turn around as a player,” Thomas said. “I feel like, especially for our young guys, every snap you get is an opportunity to get better, so we can use this as a time to get better, hone in our crafts and put the best product on the field.”
The Giants were 1-7 during the first half of Thomas’s 2020 season. An overwhelmed rookie, he gave up 39 pressures in those eight games. Over the final eight, though, he surrendered only 18 and gave a glimpse of the improvement to come.
Need something to pay attention to the rest of the way? Pay attention to the young players and see if any of them make positive strides late in the season the way Thomas did.
“Regardless of what the record is each week is about getting better — not only personally, but as a team, too,” McFadden said. “We’ve just got to stay focused and recognize that part of it, like Andrew was talking about, that regardless of what happens and the results of the games that we play in there’s opportunity out there to showcase your work ethic and the work that we put in throughout the season, and for the young guys to get better.”
Rookie center John Michael Schmitz, the Giants’ second-round pick, liked Thomas’s words of wisdom.
“Record is what it is. Can’t do anything to change it,” Schmitz said. “I think Andrew hit it right on the head with his mentality and that’s what everyone’s mentality has to be, especially me being a rookie. These are valuable reps and you can’t take anything for granted.”
Banks was part of Maryland teams that won a total of five games combined during the 2019 and 2020 seasons, then qualified for and won bowl games in his final two seasons.
“You’ve just got to keep playing regardless of what the record is or what the score is, you’ve gotta keep playing,” Banks said. “It’s really a mentality thing. You’ve got to be mentally tough to go through it.”
Banks’ rookie season has had ups and downs. I have checked in with the team’s first-round pick almost every week since training camp, and despite the way things have gone he is still the same low-key, nose to the grindstone player.
“I take everything a day at a time,” Banks said. “I just really want to keep building and try to find that momentum so we can get a chance to win. That’s really all it is to me.
“This is my first year in the league. I haven’t got any doubt or nothing. I’m going to keep riding this wave and keep building on it until the season’s over. and then build on it to Year 2.”
Hyatt has just 11 catches for 214 yards (19.5 yards per catch) and no touchdowns after a summer that hinted at the possibility of more for the third-round pick.
“For me personally, I take it as a challenge,” Hyatt said. “Even though the record’s not what we wanted it to be, it’s still good for my development, good for me to get out there and run different looks, just be in the game more and do what I do.
“It doesn’t matter what our record is. I’m trying to go out there every game and give my all. It takes reps and it takes being out there on the field.”
“I’m a rookie; we’ve got other rookies, we’ve got a rookie that’s starting at quarterback, we’ve got young guys in the room, Wan’Dale is a second-year player. We have a lot of young guys. I think we’re one of the youngest teams in the league. For us, I think it’s good for the rookies and the second-year players and the young guys in general, this is the time for them to go out and do what they do.”
- Tommy DeVito: Can the undrafted free agent rookie play well enough during his audition, however, long it lasts, to show that he belongs in the NFL. No one is expecting DeVito to become the long-term QB1, but if he shows the ability to become a trustworthy backup that is a good thing.
- Xavier McKinney: Whether McKinney is a Giant beyond this season, has been a question ever since Schoen refused to negotiate a contract extension with him. McKinney hasn’t been great this year, and his public frustration with Wink Martindale isn’t going to help his case for sticking around. McKinney is playing the rest of the way for contract, either with the Giants or elsewhere.
- Evan Neal: The Giants have a decision to make about Neal? Can he play right tackle at least adequately, which is in doubt, or do the Giants need to move him inside? If they know they want to move him inside, would they do it over the season’s final few games? It would help, of course, if Neal could get off crutches and get back on the field.
- Backing off Barkley? Despite missing three games with an ankle injury, Saquon Barkley is on pace to have 345 touches this season. He tied his career high last season with 352 touches over a full 16 games. Will the Giants continue to ride Barkley hard in an effort to be as competitive as possible over the final eight games, or will they look to back off? Maybe that depends on whether or not they plan to make him a legitimate multi-year contract offer during the upcoming offseason.