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Read ‘em and weep: The 2023 Giants as seen by PFF

It’s (mostly) not pretty

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New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

The word “postmortem,” according to Merriam-Webster, can mean “an analysis or discussion of an event after it is over,” or it can refer to an autopsy. A look back at the 2023 New York Giants probably falls somewhere in between those two definitions. 2023 was the Giants’ most disappointing season since...2017. Or maybe since 2021. You know things are bad when you only have to go back two years and six years to find other seasons as brutal. To look at the bright side, though, at least this time the Giants’ coaching situation isn’t in shambles...oh, wait.

Anyway, you have to diagnose the disease before you can cure it, so let’s go. We’ll use Pro Football Focus grades for the team and for individual players, and supplement them with some statistics.

Team rankings

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus

It’s always nice to be No. 1 in something, but the the 2023 Giants were unfortunately No. 1 in futility, with the lowest team grade overall in the NFL - and it wasn’t that close. PFF doesn’t grade coaches, but the fact that the Giants at 6-11 (which could have been 9-8 with better execution of single plays), finished with a better record than the four teams below them in overall PFF grade, probably tells us that the coaching overall was good. The Giants outscored Carolina and New England, while giving up fewer points than Washington, Arizona, Philadelphia, Carolina, Indianapolis, Denver.

Have the Giants as a whole made progress or regressed?

Here are the PFF grades for, in descending order, the 2021, 2022, and 2023 teams:

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus

PFF color-codes grades from warm (bad) to cool (good) parts of the spectrum. It’s worth noting that in each of the past three years the Giants as a whole have been bottom-feeders, rising only from 30th to 29th when Joe Judge gave way to Brian Daboll and then sinking to dead last this season. Some specific notable aspects for the 2023 team are:

  • The offense as a whole (OFF) was noticeably better in 2022 than in the other two seasons.
  • Quarterback play (PASS) improved significantly from the Judge to the Daboll era.
  • Pass blocking, poor under Judge, became (barely) average in Daboll’s first season but plummeted to the lowest team pass blocking grade ever recorded by PFF in 2023.
  • The running backs, who were outstanding last season, were still above average this season but barely. Run blocking, though, which had been acceptable in 2021 and 2022, was actually a bit worse this season than the all-time poor pass blocking.
  • The defense, slightly below average in Patrick Graham’s final season and Wink Martindale’s first season, was at the high end of the average range this season.
  • The reasons for that improvement were better (though still a bit below average) run defense and much better pass coverage, the latter being not far from the elite (80+) category.
  • The pass rush, however, has remained average (60-70) for three consecutive seasons, while tackling, which had been above average, was abominable team-wide this season.

Defense

These are the season grades for every Giants defensive player who saw at least 100 snaps:

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus

We have to begin with Dexter Lawrence. His 93.0 season grade was two full points higher than any interior defensive linemen, and second only to Myles Garrett’s 93.6 among all defensive players.

This happened because Brian Daboll lured Andre Patterson away from Minnesota to coach the IDLs. Patterson moved Lawrence to the 0-technique position:

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus

Lawrence had previously played primarily in the B-gap and sometimes over tackle. He was good there, but with Patterson’s teaching and strategic switch of him to the A-gap, he has exploded. His pressure rate has more than doubled that of his first three seasons. Lawrence’s 92.6 pass rush grade also led all IDLs.

The Giants other elite defensive player in 2023 was Xavier McKinney, whose 87.8 overall PFF grade was his highest ever and fourth best among NFL safeties. McKinney has had a frustrating Giants career, missing most of his rookie year and half of his third year due to his ATV misadventure. He will always be compared to 2020 classmate Antoine Winfield Jr., whose 91.2 led the NFL and who is probably headed for a big payday this offseason:

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus

McKinney and Winfield have been used in a variety of roles, although Winfield has played more free safety and less in the box than McKInney has. Winfield made more “impact” plays this season, with 18 QB pressures and 6 sacks to McKinney’s 4 and 0, with 6 forced fumbles to McKinney’s 1, and with 7 pass breakups to McKinney’s 3. Both had 3 interceptions. McKinney was a better pass defender overall, though, with a 62.3% completion rate and 53.0 NFL passer rating against vs. Winfield’s 70.3% and 71.0.

My own beef with McKinney has been his inconsistency. This year, he graded above average nine times (three of them elite or outstanding), but he also graded below average four times, though never below 50. Then I compared to Winfield: 10 games above average (6 elite or outstanding), but 4 below average, including one 43.6. Lesson to self: No player is great every week, even the best. McKinney is pretty good, in the context of other safeties.

The Giants’ other full-time above-average player this season was Bobby Okereke, whose 78.2 grade placed 13th (Fred Warner led all LBs at 90.1). It’s hard to say that a player is a good value at $10M per year, but Okereke is. What separated Okereke from the truly elite LBs was his run defense, which was above average (74.4) but paled in comparison to Warner’s 90.7. On the plus side, Okereke had career highs in tackling (80.0) and coverage (81.2), both of which were top 10.

Nick McCloud, in only his second season with any significant playing time, was a pleasant surprise, with a 74.8 overall grade. McCloud played almost exclusively at the boundary this season after seeing more action in the slot and in the box in 2022. His 80.7 coverage grade was elite, and he had 2 forced fumbles and an interception. He graded above average in four of his 13 games (two of them outstanding, i.e., 90+), and in no game was he below 54.3. McCloud should be a Giant in 2024.

The Giants had four defenders who graded overall in the average (60s) category, but their futures in blue may vary widely. Isaiah Simmons (68.9) had a nice season as a Giant, with an elite (82.7) coverage grade, including the pick-6 in Washington and two pass breakups. Simmons was used almost equally on the line and in the box, and sometimes in the slot. The Giants should bring him back. Jason Pinnock (67.8) was solid in every category and played the most free safety snaps of any Giant and the third most snaps overall of any defender; he is under contract for 2024. Micah McFadden (65.6) improved dramatically on his rookie performance; if he can do something about his awful tackling this season (28.8), a disease so many Giants defenders caught, he could have a long career. Darnay Holmes (63.9) played adequately but saw the field on defense rarely; with his contract expiring there’s a good chance he has played his last game as a Giant.

That’s eight out of 21 Giants defenders with significant snaps who graded average or better. That’s not enough. San Francisco had 18 of 22, Baltimore had 20 of 22, Dallas had 16 of 21. The other players on the Giants roster fall into two groups - promising players the Giants should continue to develop, and players the Giants should actively seek to replace:

Promising players:

  • Kayvon Thibodeaux (58.5) - if Brian Daboll wanted to argue that he was firing Drew Wilkins for cause rather than to force Wink Martindale to resign, Kayvon Thibodeaux could be his justification. Enough talent to finish with 13 sacks, tied for 12th and just behind Nick Bosa. But only tied for 46th in total pressures with 44. Part of it was that he tied for 10th among edge defenders in coverage snaps, but he was invisible in too many games. Perhaps a better outside linebackers coach or more “edge-friendly” scheme can get more out of him.
  • Deonte Banks (51.4) - Banks’ rookie season was mixed. He finished only 23rd in PFF grade among rookie CBs with at least 100 snaps. He tied for 11th best in completion percentage, though, at 57.6%, was fifth in stops (receptions that prevented first downs or made them less likely), and ninth in NFL passer rating allowed. The hype among Giants fans over Banks early in the season was probably a bit much, but in his defense, he was thrown into the deep end of the pool, often assigned to an opponent’s best receiver.
  • Tre Hawkins III (52.6) - Hawkins’ surprising training camp did not carry over to the season. Once the real games started, QBs picked on him mercilessly, with an 80.8% completion rate and an almost perfect passer rating against. He saw little action after Week 11 until the final game. Nonetheless, he is worth developing to see if he can become a contributor.
  • Cor’Dale Flott (53.3) - Flott became the starting slot corner once Hawkins was benched and Adoree’ Jackson went back to the boundary. He makes good plays and bad plays. Overall his completion rate (65.6%) and passer rating against (97.2) are not awful but not great either. Worth keeping as a depth piece, but probably not as a starter.
  • Dane Belton (51.7) - like Flott, Belton had good and bad plays rotating between the slot and free safety. His 86.7% completion rate against and 88.7 NFL passer rating against were not good, but he’s as much of a ballhawk as anyone on the Giants, with 4 interceptions in two seasons. Another player worth keeping and developing as a depth piece.
  • A’Shawn Robinson (58.7) - Robinson was a good player to have as IDL3, but with Leonard Williams gone the Giants will need to sign or draft a potential IDL2. Robinson cost $4.6M on a one-year contract, $2.1M of which is in a 2024 void year, so retaining him may depend on the price point.
  • D.J. Davidson (51.6) - Davidson showed some promise as a backup IDL in limited action; he is worth continuing to develop on a cheap rookie contract ($1.1M in 2024).
  • Jordon Riley (33.1) - Riley’s season grade was terrible, but he improved some with more playing time the last four games (grades of 44.3-55.8). At only $936K for 2024, he is worth continuing to develop.

Replacement-level players:

  • Jihad Ward (42.4) - it is safe to say that with Wink Martindale gone, Ward will not be a Giant in 2024.
  • Adoree’ Jackson (48.6) - his contract is up and his play (only two games with above average grades) does not warrant a new one.
  • Azeez Ojulari (51.8) - he still has a year left on his rookie contract (at $2.2M), so the Giants should probably hold onto him as a backup until they draft or sign someone better or until a new outside LBs coach unlocks the potential he showed early in his career.
  • Rakeem Nunez-Roches (46.2) - he has two years and $9.36M left on his three-year contract, but none of it is guaranteed. He’s not worth the cost.
  • Boogie Basham (55.0) - he has a year left on his rookie contract at $1.4M but had little discernable impact this season.

Offense

PFF doesn’t allow players with less than 100 snaps to be excluded for the entire offense at once, so we’ll sort by position groups. Suffice to say, offense is where the Giants biggest problems are. They had no elite or outstanding performers on offense this season, only 3 who were even above average, and only six who were average. That leaves 15 below-average players. Compare to San Francisco, which had eight elite or outstanding players and only three below average, or Miami, which also had eight elite or outstanding players and eight below average. Let’s start with quarterback:

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus

This topic has been discussed to death. Tyrod Taylor was the Giants’ best QB in 2023. Daniel Jones was the worst. All three QBs had to leave or miss games at some point this season with injuries. Jones will definitely be back in 2025 but has to show out - meaning more big time throws, fewer turnover-worthy plays, and in general just better reading of defenses and pocket presence - or else it will be his final year as a Giant. Tommy DeVito will probably be back as QB3 and have a chance to eventually develop into QB2. Taylor deserves to be back and to compete for the QB1 role, but it is more likely that the Giants draft a QB on Day 1 or 2 instead.

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus

The much-maligned Darius Slayton, with a 68.2 route running (RECV) grade, once again led the Giants in receiving yards, the 4th time in his 5 seasons. He’s not a good contested catch receiver (only 2 of 11), but he had his best season avoiding drops (71.4 DROP grade) and forced 12 missed tackles, which contributed to his 302 yards after catch (6.0 YAC per reception, tied for seventh among WRs with at least 50 targets). QBs had a 105.6 rating when targeting him.

Wan’Dale Robinson (66.4 RECV) began to more consistently show the promise that we saw in small doses in his abbreviated rookie season, especially as the season progressed and his injury was farther in the rear-view mirror. He had a 78.9% catch rate (albeit on much shorter target depths), and almost as many YAC (291) as Slayton, plus a 4 of 5 contested catch rate. QBs had a 99.8 rating passing to him.

Neither Slayton nor Robinson is a WR1; the Giants need to seek that player in the draft. If they do, the depth behind Slayton and Robinson is good. Jalin Hyatt (58.5 RECV) had an uneven season getting open against NFL defenses but showed enough promise to be hopeful about his future. His 20.7 yard ADOT led the NFL among WRs with at least 15 targets. Isaiah Hodgins (56.6 RECV) took a step back from his surprising 2022 success, but partly that was a function of the presence of Robinson and Darren Waller, which made Hodgins the odd man out on many plays.

Saquon Barkley was the only Giants running back with at least 100 carries. Let’s compare his two years in the Daboll-Kafka offense:

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus

Barkley had less of a workload in 2023, partly because of the three games he missed to injury. His rushing grade (RUN) was above average but down from the elite grade he earned last season. Overall his stats were quite similar to his 2019 season. Barkley only finished 16th in the NFL in rushing yardage, but ninth in yards after contact. That says a lot about the Giants’ run blocking. Rumors of his loss of explosiveness were somewhat exaggerated: Barkley had 26 explosive (10+ yards) runs in 295 carries vs. 35 in 404 carries in 2022. A big difference was in the blocking scheme, which went from primarily power/gap in 2022 to primarily zone this season.

At tight end, neither Darren Waller nor Daniel Bellinger distinguished themselves this season:

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus

Waller’s 2023 season was in many respects quite similar to his injury-limited 2021 and 2022 seasons in Las Vegas. He was above average in RECV grade but was not the impact receiver the Giants had hoped for. Bellinger took a step back from his promising 2022, when he graded 60.2. As expected, Waller was not a great blocker either for runs (40.9) or passes (57.6). Bellinger, however, the de facto “blocking TE,” only graded 56.9 blocking for runs and 45.4 blocking for passes. The Giants need a true blocking TE.

Speaking of blocking:

Other than Andrew Thomas, whose 2023 was compromised by the hamstring injury he suffered in the opening game, the offensive line was a disaster, with eight of the 10 OLs who played grading below average:

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus

For reasons unknown, Mark Glowinski, who was the Giants’ second-best blocker (64.8), was mostly banished to the bench after his awful Game 1 against Dallas. The pass blocking was routinely terrible, with six players grading in the 40s or lower. The oft-criticized Matt Peart was actually the third-best blocker on the team. 2022 draftees Joshua Ezeudu and Marcus McKethan showed little evidence of being NFL-caliber blockers. Justin Pugh seems to be finished. Evan Neal is of course the biggest disappointment, but rookie John Michael Schmitz was as bad or worse. The concern is that group as a whole was bad at run blocking as well, with only Tyre Phillips showing skill in that phase (besides Thomas). Ben Bredeson was poor across the board but didn’t stand out amidst the horror elsewhere on the line.

Going forward, it’s hard to consider more than a handful of players as definitely part of the long-term solution for making an explosive offense:

  • Jones will get no more than one more year, and maybe less, to show that he can stay on the field and build on his successful 2022. DeVito is worth keeping as QB3.
  • Slayton, Robinson, and Thomas should be certainties for 2024 and beyond. They, along with Barkley, are the heart of the Giants offense at this time - a sobering thing to say. Barkley may or may not be back given his contract situation and the wear and tear.
  • Darren Waller will surely get another year to see if he can return to his healthy 2019-2020 form, but if not, he can be cut in 2025 with only $4.9M in dead money.
  • Hyatt, Bellinger, Hodgins, and Phillips have shown enough to remain at least as depth pieces and hopefully as significant pieces in a rotational or backup role.
  • Schmitz and Neal will get more time to develop under a new offensive line coach, but the clock is now ticking on both of them.
  • Bredeson, Ezeudu, McKethan, and Peart could all be released and no one would bat an eyelash given their struggles. Probably all or most of them, along with Neal and Schmitz, will get another chance with a new OL coach developing them, but equally likely, the Giants will bring in two or more new offensive linemen in free agency and/or the draft to compete with them. Without a competent line, evaluation of all other offensive personnel is almost impossible.
  • The Giants will need to find an explosive wide receiver, a potential franchise quarterback, and an explosive running back in the draft. A tall order for a single draft, so don’t expect the Giants’ offense to become 49ers-east or Dolphins-north right away.