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Best and worst of the first 12 weeks for the Giants

There has been some good, mixed in with a LOT of bad

New York Giants v Washington Commanders Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Over the weekend the New York Post put together a look at what it called the ‘highs and lows’ of the New York Giants’ 2023-24 season. I thought it was a nice idea. With the Giants returning to work today to get ready for their Week 14 game against the Green Bay Packers I thought I would do my own version of Paul Schwartz’s post.

I will use many of the same categories Schwartz did, but add a couple of my own. I’m actually curious how my own thoughts stack up to one of the best, longest-tenured Giants writers.

Most Valuable Players

I can’t list just one. You will see why in a second.

Defense — Dexter Lawrence: The massive defensive tackle has, in my view, been the Giants’ best player this season. He is second on the team in sacks with 4.0 and leads the team in quarterback hits with 17. He leads all defensive tackles with 37 pressures, per Pro Football Focus. He is PFF’s highest-graded interior defensive tackle (92.8). His pass rush win percentage of 20.0 is second in the NFL behind Aaron Donald among defensive tackles. His PFF run defense grade of 87.5 is second in the NFL behind Quinnen Williams among defensive tackles.

Lawrence is a wrecking ball, even when teams use two and three blockers to try and stop him.

Offense — Saquon Barkley: The star running back is the reason why I couldn’t simply single out Lawrence. While the big defensive tackle has been the team’s best player, what the Giants have asked of Barkley — and how much they missed him when he was injured — is impossible to ignore.

Barkley is averaging 21.5 touches per game, just shy of the 22.0 touches he averaged in 2018 and 2022. The Giants continue to ride Barkley as hard as they can, and maybe harder than they should considering the state of the season. Barkley’s leadership was also critical in the way the team rallied around Tommy DeVito.

I understand and support the idea of not making massive long-term commitments to running backs. In Barkley’s case, though, I don’t know how the Giants justify not making him a three-year offer this offseason somewhere in between the $36.6 million Cleveland’s Nick Chubb makes and the $42 million Jonathan Taylor got this year from the Indianapolis Colts.

Least Valuable Player

Azeez Ojulari — Expected to be part of a dynamic edge duo with Kayvon Thibodeaux, Ojulari has been a complete non-factor. This is Ojulari’s second straight injury-plagued season as he has played just six of 12 games. He played only seven games a season ago.

At least last season he was productive when healthy, getting 5.5 sacks and 7 quarterback hits. This year? Ojulari has been invisible, with 0 sacks, just 4 tackles in 199 defensive snaps and 1 measly quarterback hit.

Most Improved Player

Kayvon Thibodeaux — Early in the year, the ‘bust’ label was being tossed around by some Thibodeaux critics. If you are still doing that you are not paying attention. Thibodeaux is among the league leaders with 11.0 sacks and has already equaled his number of quarterback hits from last season with 13.

There is also the idea that he is just 22.

Need more evidence? Check out Nick Falato’s film study.

Best addition

There were some eyebrows raised when GM Joe Schoen have linebacker Bobby Okereke a four-year, $40 million contract with $21.8 million guaranteed. Okereke, though, certainly looks to be worth it.

Okereke leads the Giants in tackles with 113. At that pace, he will finish with 160 tackles, topping the career-high of 151 he had last season with the Indianapolis Colts. He already has a career-high 9 tackles for loss.

Okereke’s value, though, goes beyond the tackle numbers. He is an on-field and locker room leader. He has been instrumental in the development of second-year linebacker Micah McFadden.

Biggest Disappointment

The lack of development from Evan Neal. It was never fair to expect Neal to make an Andrew Thomas-like leap from Year 1 to Year 2 — while second-year improvement is expected, what Thomas did in Year 2 was beyond expectations.

It was fair, though, to expected the seventh overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft to make progress. It hasn’t happened.

There have been injuries — a training camp concussion and two ankle injuries — that have cost him valuable practice and game reps. Still, after an optimistic offseason in which Neal made adjustments to his stance and worked to get into better condition, there haven’t been enough signs of improvement. In fact, there really haven’t been any. His PFF numbers are almost identical to his rookie year.

The Giants still hope Neal can be an effective right tackle. Having to spend big free agent dollars or yet another high draft pick on the position is not ideal. The sand, though, has almost reached the bottom of the hour glass.

Biggest Head-Scratcher

What the heck happened to Daniel Jones? The offensive line was putrid. Saquon Barkley was hurt for many of the games he played. Jones, Barkley, Andrew Thomas and Darren Waller — the four players the offense was built around — played 40 snaps together this season. Yet, after the best season of his career in 2022, how could Jones be as bad as he was in 2022?

How bad was Jones? Well, the analytics will tell you he was Zach Wilson-level bad.

Best Story

The rise of Tommy DeVito. Nobody saw this coming. An undrafted free agent quarterback who didn’t look like he belonged in an NFL camp this spring, DeVito has risen to cult hero status over the past two games. Sandwiches being named after him. Massive lines to get his autograph. Nicknames. Being the last player introduced at home games. It’s Linsanity redux.

Of course, Linsanity didn’t last. What is happening with DeVito probably won’t, either. Let’s just enjoy it, though, while it does.