The New York Giants’ struggles in their wide receiver room last season are well-documented. A combination of heavy capital invested in severely underachieving players, injuries, and lack of quality depth left Daniel Jones with very few weapons to throw to. Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka were left to use every ounce of creativity in their arsenal to push the ball downfield in an offense that featured a running back.
One of the big questions of 2023 will be whether the Giants have fixed that problem. They acquired Darren Waller in a trade to be possibly their top target as a tight end. However, they waited until the third round of the draft to pick a receiver and still seemingly don’t have a high-end room.
Furthermore, there are many questions about which wide receivers will even make the roster. With Darius Slayton, Parris Campbell, Jalin Hyatt, Isaiah Hodgins, and Wan’Dale Robinson figuring to take up five slots, how many other receivers will the team carry? Ed Valentine predicted that Collin Johnson and Jeff Smith for a total of seven, which is the number the Giants carried last season. He had Sterling Shepard starting the season on the PUP list.
However, there are other guys like David Sills, Jamison Crowder, Makai Polk, Kalil Pimpleton, Jaydon Mickens, and even Bryce Ford-Wheaton who could push to make the team. In total, that’s 14 players vying for seven slots. Of those players, there are many with seemingly redundant skill sets: several smaller slot receivers, a few bigger possession-type receivers, and little in the way of a true X.
How will the Giants make use of their weapons in 2023?
What a difference a year makes. In the 2022 offseason, Slayton was considered a trade or cut candidate following a subpar season. He seemingly could not recreate the chemistry he and Jones found together in their rookie season when he caught 48 balls for 740 yards and eight touchdowns. The former fifth-round pick played just five games in 2021 and seemed destined for a similar fate in 2022 after he was inactive in Week 1.
However, injuries and poor performance gave Slayton his opportunity. By Week 3, he was seeing a higher volume of snaps, and by mid-season, he was seeing the majority of the team’s offensive plays.
Slayton capitalized, posting 46 receptions (65.7% catch rate) for 724 yards and two scores in the regular season. He added four catches for 88 yards in the team’s Wild Card victory over Minnesota before going out with a whimper against the Eagles with one reception for four yards.
The biggest issue Slayton had was drops. He recorded seven drops for a 9.9% drop rate according to Pro Football Reference, which was the third-worst out of 73 qualified receivers (min. 60 targets). This followed back-to-back six-drop seasons, giving him a career 6.8% drop rate compared to the 2022 league average of 4.8%. It is difficult for a quarterback to trust any receiver with that kind of record.
On the plus side, Slayton was above-average in targeted quarterback rating (96.2, 56th percentile), yards after contact per reception (5.7, 92nd percentile), and first down rate (65.2%, 71st percentile), which means that he still added plenty of value to the Giants when he did hang on to the ball. His 67 ESPN open score was tied for 18th-best out of 82 receivers. His hands are what prevent him from getting to the next level as a receiver.
Hodgins was the Jones’ most reliable target down the stretch last season. He came out of nowhere to post solid numbers for the team. He is the presumed WR2 heading into 2023.
Hodgins’ biggest asset is just where Slayton’s is not: he posted zero drops in 2022, one of only four receivers with at least 48 targets (84 total receivers) who held that distinction. That might have been due in part to a small average depth of target, as his mark of 9.1 ranked 56th out of those 84 receivers (compared to Slayton’s 12.5 aDOT, which was tied for the 15th-highest). Still, Hodgins posted a first down on 64.9% of his targets, which was in the 69th percentile. He brought tremendous value to the Giants underneath.
Hodgins’ overall ESPN receiver score of 67 was tied for 19th-best out of the 82 receivers tracked in 2022. This largely came as a result of his 85 hands score, which ranked fourth; he ranked 34th in open score (63) and 71st in YAC score (32).
The Giants signed Campbell because they recognized his potential in their offense. He ranked in the 66th percentile in YAC per reception last season (4.4) despite the sixth-lowest aDOT (6.4). Considering that Jones had one of the lowest aDOTs in the league last year, Campbell’s skills are well-suited to maximize yardage underneath.
However, ESPN didn’t think highly of Campbell’s ability to get open, as his 36 open score ranked 77th out of 82 receivers. His overall score of 37 was 75th. It remains to be seen whether ESPN or Daboll and the Giants’ talent evaluators are correct about Campbell’s abilities.
Injuries have been an issue for Campbell. He played all 17 games last season but never played more than seven in the three prior years, including back-to-back seasons landing on injured reserve before the end of October.
Campbell’s 5.5% drop rate last season was in the 41st percentile for receivers. However, he had previously had just one drop on 63 career targets, a 1.6% rate. Still, a high drop rate is concerning for a receiver with such a low aDOT. There is often a correlation between poor quarterback accuracy and a high drop rate among receivers, but Matt Ryan was average in on-target rate last season. It appears that the drops were Campbell’s alone.
Hyatt comes in as a possible draft steal after he slid to the third round. The speedster was at his best in the deep part of the field, where he posted a 99.9 Pro Football Focus grade and eight touchdowns on 24 targets (14 catches). He was particularly lethal in the deep middle of the field, where he caught 6-of-8 targets for 299 yards and three TDs.
The idea that Hyatt is “just” a deep threat is somewhat misguided based on his numbers. He posted a 93.3 PFF grade in the intermediate area, as well, with 10 of 18 receptions for 230 yards and four touchdowns. He also had 9.3 YAC per reception in the 10-to-19 range.
Once again, though, Hyatt had a higher drop rate than you’d like. He posted a 6.9% rate per PFF, which ranked 92nd out of 185 FBS receivers (min. 60 targets). Only one of his five drops came on deep balls, meaning that the issue was not just the depth of target.
Still, Hyatt’s 1.5 10-yard split indicates that he can get up to speed very quickly. That’s a trait the Giants value as they seek to stretch the field. If he can bring that big-play ability to the NFL, he’ll contribute in Year 1 even if his other route-running skills take longer to develop.
Joe Schoen was widely criticized for selecting Robinson at No. 43 overall in 2022, at least a round before his earliest possible projection. Robinson didn’t have enough time to try to prove the doubters wrong, as a strained patella in Week 1 caused him to miss four games before a torn ACL in Week 11 ended his season. Robinson’s status for Week 1 of 2023 is in doubt, as the injury occurred on November 20, and players average 11 months of recovery following an ACL tear.
In his rookie season, Robinson posted 23 receptions on 31 targets (74.2% catch rate) for 227 yards and a touchdown. He had one drop for a 3.2% rate. Jones posted a 105.2 quarterback rating when targeting Robinson, which shows that something was going right.
According to PFF, Robinson was actually quite efficient on a per-route basis, ranking 35th out of 115 receivers (70th percentile, min. 30 targets) with 1.76 yards per route run. For reference, Slayton’s mark was 1.70, Hodgins’ was 1.50, and Campbell’s was 1.03 (one of the worst in the league). Obviously, it was a small sample size, but there was the start of a good connection for a rookie.
In fact, on a per-game basis, Robinson’s stats would have translated to 65 receptions, 643 yards, and 2.8 touchdowns. A cumulative rookie season like that would have fans excited about the future of the young player. Instead, with his injury, some projections have gone as far as to speculate that he might not make the Giants’ 53-man roster.
Johnson spent 2021 with the Giants and was seeking to make the team in 2022 when he tore his Achilles in training camp. Reports indicate that his rehab is going well, and he will compete for a depth spot on the Giants’ 53-man roster for 2023.
Johnson’s best game with the Giants came in Week 1 of 2021 when he caught 5 of 7 targets for 51 yards and three first downs. He totaled 11 receptions on 21 targets for 105 yards that season. He played 224 total offensive snaps and added 108 on special teams. His coverage ability gives him the possibility of making the team.
Jeff Smith played with the Jets for the last four seasons. His primary value comes as a special teamer, though his 4.36 speed gives him the occasional flash as a receiver. The Giants clearly brought Smith in for his special teams value. He topped out at 17 receptions on 37 targets for 167 yards in 2020.
Shepard has been a standup veteran for the Giants, but he rarely manages to stay on the field. He had a decent start to last season, posting 13 catches (24 targets) for 154 yards and a 65-yard touchdown in three games. He did post a whopping 12.5% drop rate, the second consecutive year in which he had hands issues after showing reliability earlier in his career.
However, a torn ACL ended his season in Week 3, a year after a torn Achilles shut him down in Week 15. Shepard has not managed to play a full slate since his rookie year in 2018 and has missed half of the Giants’ games from 2019-22. It is unknown how much he has left in the tank at age 30 with a slew of serious leg injuries littering his career.
The Giants like Shepard’s leadership and have indicated they want to keep him around. Still, it’s hard to predict if he’ll find his way onto the field this season.
Sills started five games last year for the Giants and has made 13 total appearances with the team in 2021-22. The team gave a $20,000 signing bonus to Ford-Wheaton and $216,000 in base salary guarantees. Considering that this is the equivalent of a full-season practice squad salary, it’s possible that there’s something they like about him, namely his 6-foot-3, 221-pound frame and 4.38 speed.
It’s worth keeping an eye on the undrafted free agent this summer. Of note, he caught 18 of 34 contested targets (52.9%) with West Virginia last season, a skill that the Giants may covet in a big-bodied receiver. Ford-Wheaton also took 51 special teams snaps, primarily in punt coverage.
Here is how the Giants’ receivers split their alignments in 2022, per PFF. I’m going to focus mainly on the top six and add Ford-Wheaton to the mix as a possible outlier.
- Slayton: 492 snaps wide (70.6%), 195 slot (28.0%), 9 inline (1.3%), 1 backfield (0.1%)
- Hodgins: 366 wide (84.5%), 62 slot (14.3%), 3 inline (0.7%), 2 backfield (0.5%)
- Campbell: 218 wide (22.3%), 756 slot (77.4%), 3 inline (0.3%), 0 backfield
- Hyatt: 92 wide (12.6%), 624 slot (85.1%), 16 inline (2.1%), 1 backfield (0.1%)
- Robinson: 66 wide (28.8%), 162 slot (70.7%), 0 inline, 1 backfield (0.4%)
- Johnson (2021): 190 wide (84.8%), 30 slot (13.4%), 2 inline (0.9%), 2 backfield (0.9%)
- Ford-Wheaton: 688 wide (91.6%), 63 slot (8.4%)
The problem the Giants may face offensively is evident in the snap counts. Slayton and Hodgins are the clear outside receivers, but the next three are all heavily featured in the slot. Someone is going to lose playing time there unless they can learn how to play outside more. Considering that Hyatt and Robinson are both 185 pounds, Robinson is 5-foot-8, and both are young players who have previously been heavily featured in the slot, neither one is particularly suited for the outside right now.
Adding to the issue is that Waller has moved to the slot at times throughout his career. In fact, he played 55.4% of his snaps there in 2022, although that was by far the highest rate of his career; he averaged roughly 21% there in his other seasons with the Raiders. Still, that can be solved because Waller has also played around 18% of his snaps outside each season, and he also plays plenty of inline tight end.
It’s possible, though, that Campbell is merely the Giants’ insurance in case the young players cannot step into bigger roles more quickly. He is on a one-year, $5 million deal with $2.9 million guaranteed and $1.7 million in per-game roster bonuses. His position could be usurped on the team, and that may be an ideal scenario for the Giants.
There’s a chance that Johnson and Ford-Wheaton are in direct competition for the final spot, as they’re both big-bodied outside receivers.
Per NFL Next Gen Stats, here is the rate of routes run by the Giants’ non-rookie (and non-injured) receivers in 2022. (The data is unavailable for college players.)
Giants Wide Receivers: Routes Run 2022
|Player||Slayton||Hodgins||Campbell||Robinson||Shepard||Sills||Daniel Jones||League Average for Qualified WRs|
|Player||Slayton||Hodgins||Campbell||Robinson||Shepard||Sills||Daniel Jones||League Average for Qualified WRs|
Jones had the lowest aDOT among all starting quarterbacks in 2022 at just 6.4. He had the second-lowest rate of deep attempts at 4.9%, with only 23 attempts of 20+ yards the entire season. Interestingly, his top two receivers ran an above-average rate of go routes. Considering that both had above-average open scores, as well, it’s fair to wonder whether Jones avoided the deep ball because he was under pressure too often (42.4% of dropbacks, the second-highest among starting quarterbacks) or because he was afraid to pull the trigger.
Interestingly, Jones was pretty efficient when he did unleash the deep ball, ranking third in passer rating (119.4), ninth in completion percentage (43.5%), fifth in adjusted completion percentage (52.2%), seventh-best in turnover-worthy play rate (3.6%), and fifth in yards per attempt (15.6) on passes of 20+ yards. The question is if that was because he threw the ball deep only when the receiver was wide open; he ranked 27th in big-time throw rate on deep passes, which would indicate that the passes he made likely had a high expected completion percentage.
This leads to the question about the Giants’ deep passing game in 2023. Hyatt is known for running deep a lot, as 27% of his targets in 2022 were in the deep area of the field. For the Giants’ offense to take the next step, they need to be able to push the ball downfield more often. They appear to have a few enticing weapons to do so. The question is if Jones will have the time to throw and make the attempts when he can.
Another noticeable trend is that Jones liked his crossing patterns (6.2% above league-average for quarterbacks), and most of the Giants’ receivers ran an above-average rate of crossers. Daboll and Kafka effectively used crossing patterns to create open space. Overall, the Giants’ receivers ran many in-breakers, and Jones liked to throw them. Every one of their receivers was above average in the category.
2023 usage prediction
Pretty much everything in the Giants’ receiver room could shift throughout the season. Players returning from injury are never a guarantee, and with the Giants’ long-standing injury problems, there’s a good chance they’ll need their depth once more.
Having another player step up this year, as Slayton and Hodgins did in 2022, would be huge for the Giants. Even if Waller stays healthy and is the featured intermediate target in the offense, Wyatt, in particular, can add a dimension in the deep part of the field. The other Giants receivers have much more skill in the short-to-intermediate range, although Slayton has the speed to win deep.
Here is my prediction for how the Giants will use their receivers this season. I am including the possibility of injuries based on past track records.
- Slayton: 70% snaps, 85% wide/15% slot
- Hodgins: 70% snaps, 85% wide/15% slot
- Campbell: 35% snaps, 25% wide/75% slot
- Hyatt: 38% snaps, 20% wide/80% slot
- Robinson: 35% snaps, 35% wide/65% slot
- Shepard: 25% snaps, 75% wide/25% slot
- Ford-Wheaton: 10% snaps, 90% wide/10% slot
- Smith: 2% snaps, 80% wide/20% slot
This was my rationale for splitting the receiving snaps: the Giants had roughly 2,500 receiver snaps available in 2022 (on 1,100 total offensive snaps). These snap count breakdowns add up roughly to those snap totals. Obviously, the Giants could run more or fewer snaps next season depending on how the team performs.
Additionally, because there are only a finite number of slot snap counts to go around, Campbell, Hyatt, and Robinson will find themselves limited on their snap counts unless they prove they can win outside. Campbell played 85% of the snaps for Indianapolis last season and is ostensibly the Giants’ starting slot receiver.
However, Hyatt is a lot more dynamic, which means that the team could try to get him some more playing time. I think they’ll want to get another look at Robinson and work him into the lineup, as well. Between the three players, though, there’s a good chance that injuries will eliminate some of the snaps crunch.
I have no idea what to expect from Shepard, but I assume he’ll play when he’s healthy and get some looks. How much that will be is anyone’s guess. He’s varied his time on the outside and in the slot throughout his career, but he’ll probably be used more to spell the outside receivers if he does play.
I doubt all these players will be on the roster at once, as well. Perhaps Shepard starts the season on the PUP list and someone gets cut once he can be activated. Maybe Ford-Wheaton and Johnson obviate the need for Smith’s special teams play. (As someone who also covers the Jets, I can attest to the fact that Smith’s special teams impact is barely noticeable. Statistically, he had zero special teams tackles last season and had one tackle vs. three misses in 2021.) Or maybe one of the other receivers makes the roster and all three of these miss it.
This is certainly a good problem to have in the sense that there are playmakers on the roster. Still, maximizing and diversifying the skills of the players on the field is going to be a challenge. The Giants can only hope that it continues to be their primary issue in the receiving corps.
In terms of route utilization, I think that the Giants are going to try to coach Jones up to pull the trigger deep more often. He’s strong enough to stand in the pocket and take a hit if necessary, and he showed an increased ability to step up in the pocket in 2022. Slayton and Hyatt will actually receive more go balls.
Ultimately, every area of the deeper route tree should increase, including posts and corner routes. Meanwhile, the quick hitches and flat routes would do better to decrease, as Jones was too quick to look there when his first option was covered.
Additionally, with Hyatt in tow, I’d expect to see more slants in addition to crossers. Having a slot receiver with that quick burst means it’s easier to let it go quickly. The preference for crossers will continue, though, since that was a staple of the Bills’ offense under Daboll to punish man coverage.
What do you think, Giants fans? What changes do you expect from the team’s receivers in 2023?