What a difference a week makes! Or, really, in the case of the New York Giants and their pass receivers a period of about 48 hours.
The moves made by general manager Joe Schoen this week — trading for star tight end Darren Waller, adding low-cost and low-risk wide receivers Parris Campbell and Jeff Smith, somewhat surprisingly managing to find a way to keep Darius Slayton, signing linebacker Bobby Okereke — are potentially transformative for the Giants.
First, the group of receivers head coach Brian Daboll, offensive coordinator Mike Kafka and quarterback Daniel Jones have to work with are different. It’s a faster, deeper, more explosive group. At wide receiver it is also younger.
Second, the needs at the top of the Giants’ draft board now look much different than they might have at the beginning of the week. You can cross off tight end as a possibility at No. 25. A wide receiver might still be in play for the Giants in Round 1, but the Giants no longer find themselves in a spot where they might have to force a wide receiver pick if there are players at other positions they like better.
A cornerback, defensive lineman, safety, offensive lineman, or even an off-ball linebacker to pair with Bobby Okereke will do just fine.
Like I said, a transformative series of events for the Giants.
Let’s focus on the wide receivers
Look at the ages of the Giants’ wide receivers:
Darius Slayton (26)
Parris Campbell (25)
Isaiah Hodgins (24)
Wan’Dale Robinson (22)
Collin Johnson (25)
Jeff Smith 25
Sterling Shepard (30)
Campbell ran a 4.31 second 40-yard dash at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, 96th percentile. Slayton ran a 4.39 that same year. Robinson ran a 4.44. Smith was timed at 4.36 at the Boston College Pro Day in 2019. We are not focused on tight end here, but Waller ran 4.46, which would put him around the 95th percentile or above for tight ends, back in 2015.
There isn’t a No. 1 wide receiver in this group. The No. 1 receiver, following the current Kansas City Chiefs model with Travis Kelce and the Tom Brady-Rob Gronkowski New England Patriots model, is Waller.
What there is now is more speed, flexibility with several players who can man multiple spots, increased play-making ability, depth and upside. The Giants, who finished last in the NFL in 20+ yards passing plays in 2022, are not going to do that again.
Let’s talk about Parris Campbell
Here is this explosion graph with Parris Campbell added— Doug Analytics (@Doug_Analytics) March 16, 2023
• % of targets that were 20+ Air Yards: 8.8%
• % of catches that gained 20+ yards: 7.7% https://t.co/2I8m4Iac3e pic.twitter.com/8ed93DgH0v
Look at the explosion graphic above and you would think that Campbell, who turns 26 in July, is similar to Isaiah Hodgins.
That wouldn’t be a bad thing, considering that Hodgins emerged as the Giants’ best wide receiver in the second half of last season after being claimed on waivers from the Buffalo Bills.
It also might not be accurate.
Hodgins averaged 10.6 yards per catch for the Giants. Campbell only 9.9 for the Colts.
On Friday’s ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast, Nick Falato pointed out that poor quarterback play in Indianapolis last season left the Colts unable to fully utilize Campbell’s abilities. Falato said that in his film study he often saw Campbell open downfield, but that Indianapolis quarterbacks Matt Ryan, Sam Ehlinger and Nick Foles were unable to get him the ball.
To get Campbell the ball, the Colts often had to basically dump it to him. His average depth of target was just 6.4 yards, compared to 9.3 yards for Hodgins and 12.5 yards per target for Slayton.
Giants’ wide receivers coach Mike Groh was in Indianapolis when Campbell’s depth of target was 11.9 yards in 2020 and 16.7 yards in 2021. So, the Giants know Campbell can stretch the field. You can bet they will use that ability.
Campbell is a pure upside play by GM Joe Schoen, getting a one-year deal worth $4.7 million in base value with incentives that could push the deal to $6.7 million. The deal includes $2.9 million guaranteed, a $100,000 workout bonus and $1.9 million in ‘likely to be earned’ bonuses.
Schoen has talked about not having the money a year ago to acquire many players who made more than the veteran minimum. Campbell is an excellent, low-risk flier by Schoen and the type of player he likely could not have signed a season ago.
Let’s talk about Darius Slayton
First and foremost, you have to feel good for Slayton. He earned his chance to return to the Giants.
Slayton was forced to take a pay cut a year ago and barely made the roster, perhaps only sticking around because Johnson was lost for the season. He was ignored the first three games, but ended up leading the team in receiving yards. His play on the field showed that Schoen and Brian Daboll perhaps under-valued him initially.
He was also an excellent teammate in the locker room, and always accountable and available to the media — even when the early-season questions were ones he really didn’t want to answer.
Yes, the money — two years, $12 million with the possibility of earning as much as $16.5 million — seems a little rich for Slayton. The Giants, though, decided they wanted to keep him and were able to to do in a climate where Slayton had other offers. Like with Campbell, they probably could not have done that a year ago.
Slayton drops too many balls, but he also provides a deep threat and after the Campbell signing was probably as good or better than any of the receivers left on the market. To me, his signing also tells the locker room that hard work, production and being a solid teammate matters to this Giants regime.
A few other thoughts
- Having Hodgins from the beginning will be a boost. He knows the offense, can play anywhere and is a quality player. If he plays in 2023 the way he did in 2022, a long-term deal has to be in the offing.
- Shepard, Robinson and Johnson are all coming off injuries. It is going to be interesting to see how soon any of them are ready to be full contributors. Based on the timeline of when he was hurt (last August) Johnson (Achilles) should be full go by training camp if not earlier. Robinson tore his ACL in November. I have no inside information on this, but that might put his early-season availability in doubt. Shepard figures to be ready earlier than Robinson, but how much he has left after Achilles and ACL tears is anyone’s guess.