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Big Blue View mailbag: Saquon Barkley, Jalin Hyatt, NFL schedule, more questions

The mail’s here!

We might be in the throes of the offseason, but the questions about the New York Giants never stop coming to the Big Blue View Mailbag. Let’s open it up and see what pops out this week.

Gino Phillips asks: The NFL clearly has to juggle a million factors in creating their schedule each year. The one thing that I think should be built into one of their constraints is having two division foes playing each other twice in a three-week period (as do the Giants and Eagles this year).

It is unfair to either of the teams if they are dealing with key injuries, as that can affect the outcome of two key games, vs. possibly one.

Your thoughts?

Ed says: Gino, this is simple. The NFL does not care about fairness. It’s about money. It’s about Amazon Prime. It’s about ABC and ESPN. It’s about the TV ratings. It’s about streaming. It’s about selling the game globally. It’s about getting the best games on when the most people will be available to watch.

The NFL cares about getting Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes on TV in prime time as much as possible, not about making the schedule as competitively balanced as possible.

If the NFL cared about fairness there would be no Thursday games, or Monday games, or games in England or Germany

Freddy Roman asks: Your best guesses: do you think Dane Belton will start at safety this year? Separately, do you think the Giants let Julian Love go because they see Belton as a starter?

Ed says: Freddy, no I do not think the Giants let Love go because they see Belton as a starter. I think they let Love go because Joe Schoen, Brian Daboll and Wink Martindale — who were not part of the decision-making group that drafted Love — simply didn’t see the player’s value the same way the player saw it.

As for whether or not Belton will start, I think that is possible but not likely. Look at what happened to Belton’s playing time last season. He played a fairly significant role up until Week 12. Excluding Week 18 when started didn’t play, over the other eight games that concluded the season, Belton played a total of 25 defensive snaps. He was inactive in one game and played zero defensive snaps in three others.

That tells you the Giants did not like what they were seeing.

In contract, reserve safety Jason Pinnock saw his role increase as the year went on. He played double-digit snaps in each of the final eight regular-season games, including more than 70 snaps three times.

I think Pinnock and free-agent signee Bobby McCain likely enter training camp ahead of Belton.

Gary Hamalainen asks: I’m anxious to see just how the Giants will use Darren Waller. I consider him more or less a big WR. As a TE, I don’t know how much blocking he did with the Raiders and I am wondering if he will be asked to block at all for the Giants. In other words, does he have any value whatsoever as a blocker?

Ed says: Gary, the honest answer is that whatever Waller can or can’t do as a blocker doesn’t really isn’t a big concern. That’s not what the Giants acquired him for. They acquired him to be their No. 1 receiving threat, to try and help transform a passing attack that generated fewer explosive plays than any passing attack in the league.

Waller’s not a good blocker. In seven years, Pro Football Focus has only graded above 50.0 as a run blocker twice, and scores below that mark are, well, not good. As a pass blocker, his grade last season was 36.0. Thing is, Waller blocking and not running a route on a passing play is a misuse of his talent.

There are times when he will have to block — every tight end does. The main inline blocking responsibility, though, should fall to Daniel Bellinger, Tommy Sweeney or anyone else on the tight end depth chart. It will always be a mistake to rely on Waller to fulfill a key blocking assignment.

ctscan123 asks: One of the things that we read about Jalin Hyatt repeatedly, and the presumptive reason that he dropped to the third round is that he may be an underdeveloped route runner due to his college program. Maybe not, who knows.

My question is about route running in general. You sometimes hear about players who don’t run the entire NFL route tree … What does that even mean? How could you not be able to run the full route tree? You can’t run a cross? A dig? A post? I always assumed that if someone couldn’t get open on a particular route it was because they lacked some kind of explosiveness at the break. I guess I just assumed that if you had the physical ability, you could get open on any route. that doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you could “develop” though. does it have something to do with not being able to read a zone?

Ed says: Years ago, we did a ‘Summer School’ piece on the route tree. Going back and reading that is beneficial for anyone who is uncertain of what the route tree entails. The nine basic routes in an NFL route tree are shown below.

As for not running the entire route tree, it does not mean that a receiver does not know what those routes are.

For a kid like Jalin Hyatt it means that his college offense only asked him to run part of the route tree. There is little to no evidence on tape of him running all of the routes the NFL will require.

Hyatt ran almost exclusively bubble screens, slants, hitches or comeback routes, and go routes at Tennessee. That’s maybe half, or less than half, of the route tree. That’s what the offense asked for. There was no real subtlety, no double moves, not a lot of deception.

None of that means he can’t run those routes. It means he has little to no experience running them.

Route running is about a lot more than knowing what a curl or a dig or a post route is. We talk all the time about separation, and that doesn’t happen by accident. Wide receivers have to be able to sell the route to a cornerback, they have to be able to use subtle steps or body movements to set up a defender before you break where you want to go, they have to be able to cut sharply at exactly the right time, or be able to step off a route and be at the exact depth a quarterback expects you to be at when he expects you to be there.

Those are the types of things we really didn’t see Hyatt do in college, and that he will have to show the ability to do before he becomes what might be called a complete receiver.

Every wide receiver can run the routes. It’s about whether or not they can run those routes well enough to get open against the best defensive backs and coverage schemes in the world. Not every receiver masters the ability to do that on every route in the route tree.

Whether Hyatt masters the entire route tree or not, game-breaking speed is always valuable.

Listen to the podcast below for more about Hyatt:

Kyle Kilday asks: Could we get to a point where Schoen decides to rescind the tag on Saquon? In your opinion based on what you know/have heard about the situation is that even in the realm of possibility if his agent refuses to budge and they’re staring down a holdout?

Ed says: Kyle, as Ben McAdoo used to say “never say never.” I would be stunned, though, if the situation between Saquon Barkley and the Giants got to the point where the Giants simply cut the cord and turned Barkley loose on the free agent market. I honestly don’t believe either side benefits from that scenario, and I think they both understand that.

From the Giants’ perspective, they said from the beginning of the offseason that they would be willing to use the franchise tag. They did use it, and it gives them the hammer. If no long-term deal is reached and Barkley wants to play football in 2023, he has to do it for the Giants.

Yes, the Giants would get the $10.091 million back on their salary cap if they rescinded the tag, but they have enough ways to create cap space that they don’t need it.

Plus, they could tag Barkley again next year and get two years out of him for a shade above $22 million.

Barkley is an important player for the Giants. He’s important to ownership. He’s important in the locker room. I don’t see the organization cutting him loose. At least not while he is still a top-tier running back.

From Barkley’s perspective, that isn’t something I would want, either. The narrative that Barkley and his agent, Kim Miale, have made a mistake by turning down Giants’ offers of $12.5-13 million annually may or may not be right.

Barkley’s camp, though, is smart enough to know at this point that no one is going to give Barkley a contract approaching what the Giants have already offered him and will likely have to offer him again. Shoot, they have to know that no one is going to offer him the $22.1 million he can make on the franchise tag over the next two years.

The smart play for Barkley is to make sure he doesn’t burn this bridge, and to either get a deal done or sign the tag and try again after the 2023 season.

Listen to the podcast below with former agent Joel Corry to understand more about the Barkley situation:

Patrick Bulgaro asks: In the run up to the draft pundits who evaluated linemen usually mentioned whether or not they had “ bend”. What exactly constitutes “bend” and why has it become a more important area of focus in recent years?

Ed says: Patrick, because he can explain it better and far more detail than I can, I turned to BBV’s Nick Falato for an answer to this one. Nick wrote:

Great question. Bend has always been an important focus for offensive linemen and every position. Having bend and flexibility in one’s ankles, knees, and hips are desirable - if not necessary - traits for football players. Possessing more range of motion in joints allows for quicker and more controlled change of direction ability. For an edge rusher, it’s imperative to win high-side (through the outside shoulder); a quick first step and advantageous angels can assist with that goal, but having the lower-body flexion to get hip-to-hip with the outside foot flat on the ground as one attempts to orient his hips into the pocket while keeping his upper body square is not a universal capability that every good edge rushers possess - it’s innate and possible because of the player’s lower-body flexion.

As it pertains to offensive linemen, bend is very important. Keeping one’s hips low, reestablishing leverage while engaged, being able to flip one’s hips and locate a twist, and initiating contact on an edge rusher attempting to corner around you all require bend. Absorbing contact and engaging one’s anchor requires bend.

Defensive players attempting to power-rush will uncoil their hips into contact, exploding low to high; the best way to absorb that is to stay square to target, get your hips low, and force that defender to exhaust their energy while you slowly walk back the bull-rush; as the pass-rusher explodes low-to-high, the offensive linemen can fit his hands inside and lift the defensive player, accelerating their power before they can exude their full-might. This forces the defensive player to get high and lose any ability to regenerate power; that’s when they start acting like the wacky waving inflatable tube man from Family Guy as the offensive lineman keeps his feet active and stays in front. Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson uses this technique to perfection.

A simple answer is this: better range of motion in the lower-body results in a lack of stiffness, better positioning, and optimal movement skills. Having a rigor mortis play style will rarely yield positive results. Possessing bend allows a player more - flexibility - to better position himself to win on any given play.

Austin Willis asks: I’ve seen a lot of negativity around the schedule release. I, for one, am really excited. I expect us to be an improved team who can actually walk away from some of these big time games (Dallas, Buffalo, Jets) with some wins. After all, we won some big games last year with an inferior roster (Jacksonville, Baltimore, Minnesota). What are some reasonable expectations this year? Should we expect a similar offense to last year? Is it wrong for me to be disappointed with anything less than finishing second in the division with a playoff berth?

Ed says: Austin, you are entitled to have whatever expectations you have and to be disappointed by any outcome you deem below your expectations. Everyone is. I am not going to tell anyone how they should think.

What I can and will do is give you what I think is reality. Do with it what you may.

I think Tony DelGenio’s prediction of an 11-6 record in the upcoming season is pie in the sky fantasy. It is possible, but everything would have to fall in line pretty much perfectly and I just think that is unlikely.

By whatever measure you use, the 2023 schedule is a daunting one. Seven of the first 11 games on the road. Eleven games against the projected top eight defenses in the league. A net rest disadvantage of -9, fifth-worst in the NFL.

On the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast recently, CBS Sports cap analyst Joel Corry opined that the Giants could be due for some regression in 2023.

The challenges of the schedule are part of the reason why. The fact that the Giants went 8-3 in one-score games a year ago is another, as that tends to level out.

When Brandon Beane took over as general manager of the Buffalo Bills in 2017 they went a surprising 9-7 and reached the playoffs. The next year, they went 6-10. Since then, they have made the playoffs in four consecutive seasons.

The Giants enter 2023 with a better roster than they had in 2022. All of the things I outlined above could make it even more difficult for them to win games, though. I agree with Corry that they could be a better team and yet, due to circumstances, win the same number or fewer games in the upcoming season than they did last year.

Warren Sharp

Gregory Hart asks: The XFL just concluded their season and some of the games have been fun. The USFL is just getting going. What, if anything, are you hearing about how the NFL teams (particularly our NYG) view these leagues and evaluate the players. I also wonder if the NFL is looking at some of the different rules, for example the kickoff rule in the XFL?

Ed says: Gregory, I think the answer in terms of how the NFL looks at the players in these leagues comes in the reality that some have already been signed to NFL 90-man rosters. It is another avenue for the league to find players who might have fallen off the radar but could have the ability to compete for a spot on a roster or practice squad.

As for the rules, I’m sure they are aware of the differences and monitor their impact. The NFL is always looking to tweak the rules, especially in the return game. I can’t imagine the NFL adopting the XFL kickoff rule, which I happen to dislike immensely, but you never know.

BBV mailbag

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