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The Giants exceeded expectations in 2022. Can the 2023 roster do it again?

The Giants ended a playoff drought after a nine-win season in 2022. With Saquon Barkley back in the fold and additions like Darren Waller, they could be right back in the postseason in 2023.

The 2022 New York Giants surpassed expectations in Brian Daboll’s first year as head coach. In a June 2022 DraftKings Nation article by Ben Hall, the Giants' win-loss over/under was set at seven wins. They won nine games. Betting the over wasn’t obvious last season, nor is it in 2023.

Chet Gresham’s March 29, 2023, DraftKings Nation article had the Giants at +105 for 8.5 wins, with the under favored at -125. Gresham’s piece was written after most of the Giants' additions through free agency and the trade for star tight end Darren Waller. That 8.5 number remained as the over/under in Spencer Limbach’s post-draft May 11 article.

The number was consistent for much of the late spring until the drama surrounding Saquon Barkley’s franchise tag transpired. DraftKings lowered the number by a game to 7.5, with the odds of the over at +100, with the under coming in at -120. After the July 17 deadline when Barkley did not sign a long-term contract, and even after the news of Barkley’s one-year, incentive-laden deal with the team emerged, the 7.5 over/under win total remained, though it may shift again before the season starts.

Key departures

Although the Giants retained several contributors from the 2022 squad that provided Big Blue the team’s first playoff victory since Super Bowl XLVI, they also lost several starters on both sides of the football.

On offense, starting center Jon Feliciano signed with the San Francisco 49ers after playing 1,095 snaps for the Giants last season. Feliciano’s knowledge and experience working with offensive line coach Bobby Johnson and head coach Brian Daboll could be one aspect missed with a neophyte superseding the capable veteran.

One of the more inspiring comeback stories in recent memory belongs to veteran offensive lineman Nick Gates, who was an undrafted tackle out of Nebraska in 2018. Gates made the improbable move to center in 2020 before suffering a career-threatening leg injury in Week 2 of the 2021 season. Against the odds, he battled back and played 413 snaps at left guard and center last season. His infectious personality, rugged mentality, and versatility will be missed, as he signed a three-year, $16.5 million contract with the Washington Commanders.

Wide receiver Richie James Jr. signed with the Kansas City Chiefs after leading the Giants in receptions last season. James Jr. was acquired as a potential special teams contributor with no certainty to secure a roster spot, but his perseverance, health, and reliability allowed him to play 606 offensive snaps, ranking second at WR behind only Darius Slayton.

The $72 million experiment known as Kenny Golladay caught his only touchdown in two years with the Giants on his final route of the regular season. Despite the lucrative contract, and the considerable expense on the Giants' part, Golladay only played 267 offensive snaps, while spending much of the season healthy. Daboll’s benching of Golladay for the likes of David Sills illustrates the meritocracy engendered at 1925 Giants Drive.

Marcus Johnson is another receiver who departed the Giants. Johnson wasn’t statistically productive on the field through his shockingly high 324 offensive snaps (fourth-highest at wide receiver on the season); he caught 10 of 21 targets for 116 yards. Still, his presence provided much-needed speed to threaten defenses vertically, especially off play action to open up the middle of the field.


Julian Love lead the Giants with 1,133 snaps, and his ability to handle many responsibilities proved valuable throughout his time with the Giants. He signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks. Love was a captain last season.

Cornerback Fabian Moreau was one of the many players identified by Chris Rossetti and the Giants’ pro scouting department during the season. Moreau was signed ahead of Week 2 and played 860 important snaps for Wink Martindale’s aggressive man-coverage defense. Moreau’s hustle tackle of Christian McCaffrey in Week 2, along with several successful one-on-one passes defended against Green Bay in Week 5, and his coverage on WR Christian Kirk at the tail end of Week 7 were possible game-changing situations that helped the Giants secure multiple victories.

Starting middle linebacker and former New York Giant Jaylon Smith returned for his second stint after Week 3. Smith played 724 snaps as the best option at linebacker, which was arguably the Giants' worst position group on the entire team. Both Moreau and Smith are still free agents.

New York signed another former Giant, Landon Collins, to operate as a box safety alongside veteran Tony Jefferson, who retired this offseason. Collins played 171 snaps through seven games, and Jefferson 193 through eleven games. Both were box players in Wink Martindale’s quarter package that featured seven or more defensive backs.

A few veteran defensive linemen are no longer with the team, as one of the essential tasks for general manager Joe Schoen was to upgrade the unit. Justin Ellis (377 snaps), Henry Mondeaux (249), and Nick Williams (227), who was injured mid-season last year, are not on the roster.

Key additions

Firstly, the Giants retained several key contributors from the 2022 season. Quarterback Daniel Jones, running back Matt Breida, wide receivers Isaiah Hodgins, Sterling Shepard, and Darius Slayton, as well as EDGE rushers Jihad Ward and Oshane Ximines. Punter Jamie Gillan and long-snapper Casey Kreiter were also retained. As Schoen stated before free agency, focusing on the current Giants was paramount. Schoen executed this task well and found high-upside and cheap players to plug critical vulnerabilities from the previous season.

At the start of the new league year, Joe Schoen called his old buddy and current general manager for the Las Vegas Raiders, Dave Ziegler, to extrapolate on a conversation the two shared at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine. Schoen wanted to know the price of 30-year-old TE Darren Waller.

Ziegler only asked for the 100th pick in the upcoming draft, a selection the Giants acquired via the Chiefs when they traded Kadarius Toney earlier in the 2022 season. Waller spent much of the 2022 season ailing with a hamstring issue, as the hampered star caught only 28 passes on 42 targets for 388 yards and three touchdowns.

Waller went north of 1,000 yards in 2019 and in 2020, and had 741 yards in 2021. His recent soft-tissue injuries are problematic, but Schoen’s confidence in the Giants’ training staff provided the necessary conviction to accept the trade:

“Our training staff was the Ed Block training staff of the year this year. Our soft tissue injuries were down over 200 percent if you take out a couple of players that had multiple soft tissues, we were in really good shape.” - Joe Schoen

Waller was not the only explosive playmaker with injuries in his past added to the roster. Big Blue united former Colts WR Parris Campbell with his former positional coach Mike Groh. Campbell spent two seasons in Indianapolis with the current Giants’ WR coach. Unfortunately, Campbell was injured for both of those seasons.

However, Campbell had his best and most healthy season in 2022. He caught 63 of 85 targets for 623 yards with three touchdowns on the 27th-ranked offense (total yards per game) while dressing in 17 games. His explosiveness remains evident on tape, and he’s a high-upside, low-cost 25-year-old.

The Giants also added special teams WR Jeff Smith from the Jets. Smith must prove himself on special teams to crack the roster in a deep WR room.

Fixing the Giants' 28th-ranked rush defense was also a priority for Joe Schoen, and the second-year general manager did so at multiple levels. Colts’ linebacker Bobby Okereke was signed to a four-year, $40 million contract with $21.8 million guaranteed. Fixing the linebacker position took precedence from a monetary standpoint.

Schoen also signed Rakeem “Nacho” Nunez-Roches to a three-year, $12 million deal, with $7.5 million guaranteed, and later added A’Shawn Robinson (who’s questionable for Week 1 with a meniscus injury) to a one-year, $5 million deal with $4 million guaranteed. Bolstering the depth behind Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams alleviates the pressure on both players.

Lawrence, at 346 pounds, played the fourth-most snaps of any defensive linemen in 2022, and Williams missed a handful of games for the first time in his career. Signing competent depth not only secures the run defense woes, but it takes a burden of responsibility off the shoulders of the dynamic duo.

Defensive back Bobby McCain will compete to replace Love, but will find competition in 2022 fourth-round pick Dane Belton and another Rossetti gem in Nick McCloud, who is transitioning to a safety role. McCain signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract to join Big Blue.

Other veteran additions made by the Giants consist of WR Jamison Crowder, TE Tommy Sweeny, center J.C. Hassenaer, CB Amani Oruwariye, and CB Leonard Johnson.

The draft

Joe Schoen’s aggressiveness earned immediate appreciation from Giants fans, as the general manager drafted three players who, at one point, were projected to be New York’s selection at pick 25. Schoen traded twice to achieve this detail; first, Schoen traded up one slot with the Jacksonville Jaguars to secure Maryland CB Deonte Banks at pick 24, which earned Schoen a grizzly bear hug from defensive coordinator Wink Martindale.

Jacksonville received picks 25, 160, and 240 for the Giants’ right to secure a prototype press-man CB to pair with Adoree’ Jackson. As a video later revealed, the Giants were content to stay at pick 57 in hopes of landing either Minnesota center John Michael-Schmitz or Tennessee WR Jalin Hyatt.

The anxiety was palpable as the Bears traded up to pick 56, but both were available, and Schoen drafted Schmitz to be the long-term center. Hyatt continued to fall, which prompted Brian Daboll to call Sean McVay for a possible trade-up scenario that materialized. New York sent the 89th and 128th picks to the Los Angeles Rams for the 73rd selection and the right to Jalin Hyatt.

New York then added the running back out of Oklahoma, Eric Gray, at pick 172 in the fifth round. Gray is elusive and can make a person miss in a phone booth but lacks long speed. Even with Barkley in the fold for this season, Gray and Matt Breida should get some opportunities.

Schoen rounded the draft out with a physical CB out of Old Dominion, Tre Hawkins III (209), an imposing run-defender from Oregon in Jordan Riley (243), and Houston’s instinctive safety Gervarrius Owens (254).

The notable undrafted free agents were West Virginia WR Bryce Ford-Wheaton, who took the combine by storm with his unique size/speed profile; Pitt EDGE Habakkuk Baldonado and a pair of linebackers Dyontae Johnson and Troy Brown from Toledo and Ole Miss, respectively.

Scheme differences

Retaining Hodgins and Slayton, while acquiring Waller, Campbell, and rookie Jalin Hyatt should assist the Giants in rectifying their biggest weakness from 2022 — their lack of explosive plays. Even though the Giants exceeded expectations and won a playoff game, they ranked last in the NFL in explosive plays; that had to change.

The Giants developed a formidable quick-hitting 11-personnel passing attack down the stretch of the season, but their lack of field-stretching ability capped the upside of two brilliant offensive minds in Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka.

Quarterback Daniel Jones ranked 25th among quarterbacks with 6.8 yards per attempt. Jones could improve his deep-anticipatory throwing and left some plays on the field last year, as every quarterback does. However, the Giants’ lack of consistent field-stretching ability at the wide receiver position hindered the offense from threatening the defense vertically.

Speed and a mismatch nightmare like Darren Waller will help Jones exploit mismatches, which brings me to the Giants’ possible 13-personnel package. One of the more pleasant developments from the 2022 season was Giants’ fourth-round pick, TE Daniel Bellinger. The rookie was a rare two-way tight end with a keen sense of space, awareness, and a nature rapport with quarterback Daniel Jones.

Bellinger makes way for Waller, who is a different type of athlete. That 12-personnel package is interesting. But factor in TE Lawrence Cager and we will see a very athletic 13-personnel package that can spread the field and exploit defenses that match with base personnel. That’s, of course, if the defense matches with base personnel, and if the Giants can find a way to run the football adequately out of that package with Waller and Cager on the field; something, hopefully, John Michael Schmitz can assist with this season.

Still, the athletic capability of the potential 13-personnel package will give Kafka more options off the play-action and in the red zone, where Waller figures to be a huge contributor in any personnel package.

As creating explosive plays was the primary objective of the offense, stopping the run was the goal of the defense. The specific struggle of the Giants’ 2022 run defense was against power-gap teams that blocked down on the 4i-shade/5-technique and ran off-tackle. The defensive linemen struggled to anchor in place, which pressured the EDGE to keep the rushing lane narrow enough for the scrapping linebackers, who were often late or occupied; this put the alley defender under duress, in a precarious one-on-one situation; and, by that time, the running back had already picked up at least five yards.

The continuity of the defense wasn’t stable. Offenses like the Eagles (three times), used their RPO attack to put linebackers in conflict and the Giants had little to no answer to slow them down. With the additions of Nunez-Roches, Robinson, and Bobby Okereke, the Giants’ run defense will be more respectable up front.

Adding Banks to pair with Jackson gives the Giants two competent press-man cornerbacks with elite athletic ability. Martindale doesn't receive the credit he deserves for his adjustments and unique personnel packages. Still, when it’s third-and-medium or third-and-short, the pressure is likely coming and cornerbacks on the outside have to sustain their responsibilities to allow the blitz to get home. Banks will help the Giants achieve that intention.

Final thoughts

The Giants improved their roster from last season. Schoen retained, and added, several explosive playmakers who should allow the offense to mix and match their personnel, while attacking defenses vertically, which could open up softer boxes for the rushing attack.

Beefing up the defensive line was a necessity not only to stop the run, which linebacker Bobby Okereke will significantly help achieve, but to keep Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams fresh down the stretch of games, and well into the season.

Big Blue targeted two priority areas on each side of the football and made savvy investments to improve the offense and defense, while also absorbing all $ 14.7 million of Kenny Golladay’s dead cap hit this season. That’s a positive for the long-term health of the cap but could hamper the Giants' flexibility if injuries befall the franchise as they’ve already experienced with linebacker Jarrad Davis.

Daniel Jones has several playmakers including, arguably, the most athletic tight end in the league. The defense improved its starters and its overall depth. Saquon Barkley signing his one-year deal answers the biggest question that was facing the team. The Giants, obviously, are much better off in 2023 with Barkley toting the rock.

After winning Coach of the Year in 2022, Brian Daboll will look to earn back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since Super Bowl XLII and the subsequent season. It won’t be easy, the schedule is difficult, but I’m sure the Giants will be a well-coached, prepared, and hungry team every week.