The New York Giants have lacked an alpha wide receiver since they traded Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns ahead of the 2019 NFL Draft. An attempt to rectify that situation during the 2021 offseason was thwarted by reality after both free-agent additions Kenny Golladay and first-round pick Kadarius Toney had little to no impact on the 2022 Giants under rookie head coach Brian Daboll.
Excellent coaching, play-calling, scheming, and a fourth-year quarterback limiting mistakes and developing his game gave the Giants a functional wide receiver group, despite several critical injuries to the position.
New York lost Collin Johnson - a promising big-bodied receiver - in training camp. Veteran Sterling Shepard tore his ACL in Week 3; rookie Wan’Dale Robinson also tore his ACL after his first 100-yard game in Week 11. Kadarius Toney was traded to Kansas City for what would amount to the 100th pick in the draft, which turned into star tight end Darren Waller.
The midseason acquisition of Isaiah Hodgins allowed the Giants to develop a formidable quick-game passing attack out of 11 personnel late last season. The decision to retain Hodgins was easy for Joe Schoen, but resigning the 2022 receiving yards leader - Darius Slayton - wasn’t assured.
Slayton is the most consistent face of the Giants’ receiving corps since Dave Gettleman chose him out of Auburn in the fifth round of the 2019 draft. Buried on the depth chart last year, it seemed like Slayton would not make the roster post-training camp. However, he took advantage of the Giants’ injury situation at the position.
Slayton is a microcosm of the meritorious culture cultivated by Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll. His career has seen peaks and valleys, but his presence was essential to the success of the Giants last season. The Giants’ offense ranked last in explosive plays in 2022. Slayton alone had 14 explosive plays (20+ yards), playoffs included. The most any other Giants receiver had was three.
Key losses: Richie James, Kenny Golladay, Marcus Johnson
Key additions: Parris Campbell, Jalin Hyatt, Jeff Smith, Jamison Crowder, Bryce Ford-Wheaton
Why the Giants might be better
The Giants added multi-dimensional talent to their wide receiver corps. Not only did they retain crucial 2022 contributors Slayton and Hodgins, but they also added an explosive playmaker in Parris Campbell, a special teams’ ace in Jeff Smith, and a savvy slot veteran who could return punts in Jamison Crowder.
Selecting 2022 Biletnikoff Award recipient Jalin Hyatt in the third round after almost choosing him in the second was a victory, and rolling the dice on a size/speed threat like undrafted free gent Bryce Ford-Wheaton is a wise gamble.
The additions bolster the Giants' ability to generate explosive plays, which was the offense’s critical vulnerability last season. Hyatt averaged 18.9 yards per catch in college, just 1.1 yards shy of an explosive play per catch. That won’t directly translate to the NFL field, especially coming out of Josh Heupel’s offense at Tennessee, but Hyatt’s presence should theoretically help the Giants stretch the field.
Giants’ fans should be excited about Hyatt and what his future can be in New York, but Parris Campbell should engender elation for the former Indianapolis Colt has un-realized talent. Campbell spent much of his first contract injured with various PCL, MCL, and Pedal foot strains and sprains.
The 25-year-old had his first healthy season last year, but the Colts’ quarterback situation was inept. With the creative minds of Mike Kafka and Brian Daboll, a talent like Campbell can be used all over the offense. Even though Campbell is on a one-year deal, reuniting with Mike Groh is a smart decision, as the athletic receiver will look to capitalize on his new-found opportunity. If he can stay healthy, he’ll have a gigantic role in the offense.
Both Sterling Shepard and Wan’Dale Robinson are rehabbing injuries. I’m not certain what to expect from the former; his presence in the locker room is invaluable, and he seemed to be moving relatively unencumbered during the spring. Robinson seems a little further behind on his recovery, which makes sense due to the timeline of their respective injuries. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Robinson on the PUP to start the season, but there’s still plenty of time until then.
If Jeff Smith and Jamison Crowder make the team, it’ll likely be due to special teams' ability. That’s not to say they can’t have an impact on the offense, but that won’t be their primary role since the receiver room is replete with talent and depth. New York seems intrigued by Bryce Ford-Wheaton, but the undrafted rookie has an uphill battle, as does the other former Mountaineer, David Sills.
Collin Johnson is another receiver with a realistic shot to make the roster. Johnson impressed this coaching staff during training camp and preseason last year before suffering an Achilles injury. He is healthy and has worked with the second-team offense this spring.
A healthy Johnson could give the Giants a more reliable big-bodied receiver to play opposite of Hodgins. Johnson would possibly have started over Kenny Golladay last season if he didn’t suffer the injury.
Why the Giants might be worse
The Giants receiving corps wasn’t in the best place last season around this time. There were questions about Toney’s commitment, Shepard’s health, and many were suspicious that Jason Garrett was not Golladay’s only issue. There was no Hodgins, Slayton seemed like an afterthought, and fliers like Richie James and Robert Foster were sparking conversation.
It seems bleak in retrospect, but the Giants’ 2022 spring wide receivers were still much better than the 2021 Giants’ receiving room. However, the 2023 spring wide receivers are in a different stratosphere, and that remains true despite the lack of an elite wide receiver. It’s a collective approach but a deep one.
For the first time in a long time, the Giants have talented receivers that won’t make the roster. The injury to Robinson could open a roster spot for another receiver early in the season. It’s a great situation for the Giants, who can hold an open competition and allow the most qualified receivers to transcend their contemporaries. New York’s receiving corps is in a much better situation right now than they were last year.