New York Giants 2019 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

It’s hard to believe the Giants made the post-season in 2016. They were led by a defense that ranked first in the NFL in first down rate allowed, thanks to dominant seasons from interior defender Damon Harrison, edge rushers Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul, cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins, and safety Landon Collins. That group fell apart quickly, as new GM Dave Gettleman, hired in 2018, has sought to remake this roster.

Harrison was sent to the Lions for a 5th round pick at the 2018 trade deadline, in what amounted to a salary dump. Vernon was traded to the Browns this off-season for guard Kevin Zeitler. Jason Pierre-Paul was traded to the Buccaneers last off-season for a 3rd round pick. Landon Collins was allowed to walk as an unrestricted free agent this off-season. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was released last off-season after a down 2017. Janoris Jenkins is the only one still on the team, but that’s likely because he hasn’t been the same player since 2016 and no team is willing to trade for the 22.5 million over 2 years left on his contract.

The Giants have gone just 8-24 in the past 2 seasons and they could be even worse in 2019. Not only did they lose Landon Collins, probably their best remaining defensive player, for nothing, but they also traded probably their best offensive player, Odell Beckham, for a 1st round pick, a 3rd round pick, and a poor man’s Landon Collins in Jabrill Peppers. The extra draft picks allowed them to take Dexter Lawrence and Oshane Ximines, a pair of promising defensive linemen, but they also used their own first round pick, 6th overall, on a quarterback in Daniel Jones who likely won’t see action in 2019.

Despite all the changes the Giants have made in recent years and despite all of the Giants’ other moves signaling they want to go through a full rebuild, the Giants still have Eli Manning under center. He made 16 million last season and will make another 17 million this season. The Giants have also talked about extending Eli beyond the final year of his contract in 2019 and possibly not playing Daniel Jones for 3 years like the Packers did with Aaron Rodgers, which would be crazy considering Eli Manning hasn’t played at a high level since 2015 and is now going into his age 38 season. In the past 3 seasons, he’s completed 63.6% of his passes for an average of 6.76 YPA, 66 touchdowns, and 40 interceptions while earning middling grades from Pro Football Focus. This should be his last season as the starter with the Giants turning to Daniel Jones in 2020.

Jones was also a questionable pick at #6 overall. The Giants are hoping that the reason he didn’t produce big numbers in college was his lack of supporting cast and their scouts clearly love the way the ball comes out of his hand, but he comes with a lot of risk that high in the draft. He also could have been available when the Giants picked at 17, or somewhere in the 10-14 range where the Giants could have traded up into, and he might not be as good of a prospect as Dwayne Haskins, who went 15th overall. On top of that, this was not as good of a quarterback class as 2018, when the Giants had the 2nd overall pick, and 2020 will likely also be a stronger quarterback class. With the Giants likely to get a high pick again in 2020, they might have been better off waiting until 2020, rather than using the 6th overall pick in 2019 on a developmental prospect like Daniel Jones. For better or for worse, he’s the future for the Giants under center, but that future probably won’t come in 2019.

Grade: C+

Offensive Line

Two areas in which the Giants are improved since Dave Gettleman took over are the offensive line and running game. Their offensive line is even more improved this off-season after the trade of Olivier Vernon to Cleveland for Kevin Zeitler. Losing Vernon will hurt their defense, but Zeitler was Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked guard last season and will be a massive upgrade at right guard, which was a position of weakness for the Giants in 2018. Zeitler has been a top-15 guard on PFF in 5 straight seasons and is still only going into his age 29 season. He’s also been very durable, making 64 of 64 starts over the past 4 seasons. He’s owed 32 million over the next 3 seasons, but for the Giants that’s better than paying Olivier Vernon 31 million over the next 2 seasons.

Zeitler is not the only high paid addition Gettleman has made on the offensive line, also signing left tackle Nate Solder to a 4-year, 62 million dollar deal last off-season. It was a bit of an overpay because Solder is the 3rd highest paid offensive tackle in the league in average annual salary, despite only finishing in the top-10 among offensive tackles on PFF once in 8 seasons in the league. The Giants were desperate for an upgrade at left tackle though and Solder was an obvious one, finishing 21st among offensive tackles on PFF. He’s going into his age 31 season, but should remain an above average starter for at least another couple years.

The Giants also added left guard Will Hernandez in the 2nd round of the 2018 NFL Draft and signed veteran Mike Remmers this off-season to start at right tackle. Hernandez had a very promising rookie year, finishing 22nd among guards on PFF, and could take another step forward in his 2nd season in the league in 2019. Remmers, meanwhile, appears to be on the downswing, going into his age 30 season, coming off of a down year, but he still has some bounce back potential. He didn’t look comfortable playing out of position at right guard last season and could benefit from a move back to tackle, where he made 42 starts from 2015-2017 and earned above average grades from PFF in all 3 seasons.

The one question mark upfront is center. Jon Halapio made the first 2 starts of the season there last season, but then missed the rest of the season with a broken ankle. Halapio was not bad, but the 2014 6th round pick has just 6 other career starts (at right guard in 2017), so he’s a very unproven commodity. He’ll likely get the job by default because his biggest competition is Spencer Pulley, who finished 27th out of 39 qualifying centers on PFF in Halapio’s absence in 2018. Center is the one weakness on an offensive line that has been significantly improved over the past two off-seasons.

Grade: B+

Running Backs

Gettleman also significantly upgraded the Giants’ running game by selecting Saquon Barkley 2nd overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, passing on potential franchise quarterbacks like Sam Darnold and Josh Allen. The Giants had under 4 yards per carry for 5 straight seasons prior to 2017, but Barkley rushed for 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns on 261 carries (5.01 YPC) as a rookie and the Giants finished 10th in the NFL in yards per carry as a team with 4.66. More than half of Barkley’s yardage came on his 20 longest runs (706 of 1,307), meaning he averaged just 2.49 YPC on his other 241 carries, and he ranked just 40th out of 47 qualifying running backs in carry success rate, but he should become a better runner between the carries with better run blocking and he’s a threat to break a home run play at any time even without great blocking.

Barkley is also a weapon through the air, catching 91 passes for 721 yards and 4 touchdowns last season and finishing as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked overall running back. If the Giants are trailing often again in 2019, they won’t be able to establish their running game as much as they’d like, so Barkley should get a good amount of his yardage again through the air. He could push to be a 400+ touch back after handling 352 as a rookie. Backup Wayne Gallman (4.02 YPC on 162 career carries) won’t see much more than a few touches per game.

Grade: A

Receiving Corps

Barkley will also probably have to run against a lot of stacked boxes, as their offense lacks a receiver that commands a defense’s action downfield without Odell Beckham. In the 5 seasons Eli Manning played with Odell Beckham, he played much better with Beckham healthy than without, posting a 91.7 QB rating in 59 starts with Beckham and a 80.6 QB rating in 20 starts without Beckham. The Giants didn’t get terrible compensation for him, but they probably could have gotten the same compensation for him last off-season, rather than re-signing him to an extension that hasn’t even started yet and paying him 21.459 million, including a 13 million dollar signing bonus, for one season in 2018.

Trading a receiver like Odell Beckham makes some sense if you want to be a running team and don’t want to have too much money tied up into the wide receiver position, but the Giants also gave wide receiver Sterling Shepard a 4-year, 41 million dollar extension ahead of the final year of his rookie deal and then signed veteran Golden Tate to a 4-year, 37.5 million dollar deal in free agency. Together they make more than Beckham and neither presents the same matchup problems to the defense downfield.

Tate has been a reliably consistent receiver in recent years, averaging a 85/986/5 slash line for the past 6 seasons, but he’s an underneath receiver, who has an average reception depth of 5.3 yards from scrimmage for his career. He’s averaged 6.5 yards per catch after the carry and has broken 168 tackles over the past 8 seasons, but he doesn’t stretch the field and that’s unlikely to change, now in his age 31 season. He’ll be the Giants’ primary receiver on the slot, where he has run 76.2% of his routes over the past 2 seasons.

Sterling Shepard has primarily been a slot receiver (75.5% of his routes over the past 3 seasons), but he’s expected to move to the outside with Tate coming in. Tate will eat into his targets, but Shepard should get a bigger role with Beckham gone. Shepard has 58 catches for 746 yards and 2 touchdowns in 11 games with Beckham over the past 2 seasons, a 84/1085/3 slash line extrapolated over a 16 game season. In his 4th season in the league in 2019, he could surpass his current career high of 872 receiving yards in a season.

Tight end Evan Engram is also a big part of this passing game. A first round pick in 2017, Engram had 64/722/6 slash line as a rookie and then in 2018 he had a 45/577/3 slash line in 11 games, which extrapolates to 65/839/4 over a 16 game season. He could match or exceed those extrapolated totals in 2019 if he stays healthy. He’s not a run blocker at all at 6-3 240, but he’s a mismatch in the middle of the field in the passing game.

The quartet of Barkley, Tate, Shepard, and Engram should have the majority of the receiving yardage, as they don’t have a clear 5th option. #2 tight end Rhett Ellison is a strong blocking tight end, but he has 100 catches in 103 career games. The #3 receiver job will be an open competition between Corey Coleman, Bennie Fowler, Cody Latimer, and Russell Shepard, none of whom have ever topped 33 catches in a season. Coleman was a first round pick by the Browns in 2016 and he has the most upside of the group, but he managed just 5 catches in 2018 and is not even a lock for the final roster. Their lack of depth hurts them, especially if injuries strike.

Grade: B

Interior Defenders

The Giants might not be that bad on offense, but their defense has fallen a long way from what it was a couple seasons ago and could really struggle to stop teams. The Giants used their other first round pick, the one acquired in the Odell Beckham trade, on Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, who they are hoping can be a younger, cheaper version of Damon Harrison, who they traded to the Lions at the trade deadline last year. Considering Harrison has been Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked interior defender against the run for 3 straight seasons, it’s definitely premature to count on Lawrence being that good. The 6-4 342 pounder will play a big role on this defensive line, especially as a nose tackle in base packages.

Dalvin Tomlinson and BJ Hill, who played 628 snaps and 642 snaps respectively in 2018, will likely play similar snap totals in 2019. They will line up primarily as defensive ends in the Giants’ base 3-4 defense and also rush the passer from the interior in sub packages. Hill is the better pass rusher of the two, actually finishing 2nd on the team with 5.5 sacks last season, as a 3rd round rookie. His peripheral pass rush stats weren’t great, as he added just 1 other quarterback hit and 20 hurries on 356 pass rush snaps (7.4% pressure rate), but he also played the run well and overall earned an above average grade from PFF. He could be take another step forward in his 2nd season in the league in 2019.

Tomlinson, meanwhile, is a dominant run stuffer who doesn’t get much pass rush. He’s finished in the top-24 among interior defenders on PFF in run grade in each of his first 2 seasons in the league, but he’s also managed just 1 sack and 30 hurries on 585 pass rush snaps (5.3% pressure rate). A 2nd round pick in 2017, Tomlinson is still young and could keep getting better, but he may never develop into a pass rush threat. At the very least, he should continue playing the run well, so this starting trio should be tough to run on.

The Giants don’t have much depth on this 3-man defensive line though. They are probably going to give 2018 5th round pick RJ McIntosh a bigger role. The 6-4 283 pounder is undersized and played just 65 snaps as a rookie, but he could carve out a role as a pass rush specialist. The Giants also signed veteran Olsen Pierre from Arizona as depth. He’s played just 597 snaps over the past 2 seasons and hasn’t been particularly good, but there’s an opportunity for him to have a slightly bigger role with the Giants. Their lack of depth could hurt them if injuries strike and they lack a 2nd interior pass rusher, but this defensive line will at least be tough to run on.

Grade: B

Edge Defenders

Since they aren’t expected to generate much pass rush from the interior, the Giants will need their edge defenders to step up. That’s unlikely though, as the Giants traded Olivier Vernon, Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked edge defender in 2018 and the Giants’ 2018 team leader in sacks with 7, and are replacing him with free agent signing Markus Golden and 3rd round rookie Oshane Ximines. Ximines is making a big jump from Old Dominion to the NFL, so he probably won’t contribute much as a rookie, though he could develop into a starter long-term.

Golden has a better shot to contribute in 2019, now another year removed from an October 2017 torn ACL. Golden was PFF’s 36th ranked edge defender in 2016 and had 12.5 sacks, 11 hits, and 29 hurries on 455 pass rush snaps (11.5% pressure rate), but injuries have limited him to 2.5 sacks, 7 hits, and 32 hurries on 351 pass rush snaps in 15 games in the past 2 seasons. He’s still only in his age 28 season, so he’s a worthwhile flyer on a 1-year, 3.75 million dollar deal. He could wind up leading this team in sacks by default.

Holdovers Lorenzo Carter and Kareem Martin will also be in the mix, after playing 442 snaps and 610 snaps respectively last season. A 3rd round pick in 2018, Carter’s 4 sacks lead all returning players, but his 10.1% pressure rate on 287 snaps is not overly impressive. The Giants are hoping he takes a step forward in 2019 and he at least has upside. Martin, meanwhile, has a career 7.5% pressure rate in 5 seasons in the league, including a 8.1% pressure rate in 2018. The 610 snaps he played last season were a career high and the Giants should avoid playing him that much in 2019 if they can help it. This isn’t a strong group, even if one of Markus Golden or Lorenzo Carter exceeds expectations.

Grade: C

Linebackers

The Giants have an underwhelming group at linebacker as well. Alec Ogletree is a big name, but he’s missed 101 tackles in 80 games in 6 seasons in the league and is not worth his 10 million dollar salary. He has great physical tools, but has earned a below average grade from Pro Football Focus in 4 of 6 seasons in the league, including a 2018 season in which he finished 81st out of 96 qualifying off ball linebackers. Expect more of the same from him in his age 28 season in 2019.

BJ Goodson will start next to Ogletree in base packages. He’s a good run stopper, but struggles mightily in coverage and has never played more than 513 snaps in a season in 3 seasons in the league. Part of that is injury, as he’s missed 11 of 48 games in his career, but he’s also only a part-time player even when healthy. Tae Davis remains as the coverage linebacker specialist, but he was PFF’s 93rd ranked off ball linebacker out of 96 qualifiers on 344 snaps last season. The 2018 undrafted free agent is no guarantee to be any better in his 2nd season in the league. This is a position of weakness.

Grade: C

Secondary

Janoris Jenkins one of their few remaining starters from 2016, but he’s fallen to 61st and 53rd among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus over the past 2 seasons respectively, after ranking 9th in 2016. Now going into his age 31 season, Jenkins’ best days are likely behind him. The Giants essentially committed four of their eleven 2019 draft picks to cornerbacks, so this could be Jenkins’ final season in New York, owed 11.25 million non-guaranteed in the final year of his contract in 2020.

The Giants used a first round pick (after trading up from the early 2nd round) on Georgia’s DeAndre Baker, a 4th round pick on Notre Dame’s Julian Love, and a 6th round pick on Washburn’s Corey Ballentine and they used their 2019 3rd round pick to select Western Michigan cornerback Sam Beal in the supplemental draft last fall. Beal missed all of 2018 with injury, so he’s essentially a rookie like the other three cornerbacks.

Baker is the most starter ready and ranked as PFF’s 16th best draft prospect, allowing just 10 first downs through the air in the SEC all season in 2018. He’ll likely be the week 1 starter, with Beal and Love competing for the slot cornerback job. Ballentine, meanwhile, is more of a long-term developmental prospect and is unlikely to have a big role in 2019. BW Webb and Grant Haley were underwhelming as the #2 and #3 cornerbacks in 2018, but it’s unclear if any of these young cornerbacks will be an improvement immediately.

The Giants also have new starters at safety, with veteran Antoine Bethea coming over on a 2-year, 6.5 million dollar deal to replace free agent departure Curtis Riley, while Jabrill Peppers comes over from Cleveland in the Odell Beckham trade to replace free agent departure Landon Collins. Bethea is going into his age 35 season and earned middling grades from PFF in 2018, but it wouldn’t be hard for him to be an upgrade over Riley, who finished last season 83rd out of 101 qualifying safeties on PFF.

Peppers, meanwhile, is someone they are hoping can be a cheaper version of Landon Collins. The Giants didn’t want to keep Collins even on a 11.15 million dollar franchise tag this off-season, letting him sign a 6-year, 84 million dollar deal with the Redskins. That deal suggests Collins could have had a significant trade market if the Giants franchise tagged him at 11.15 million and tried to trade him, but the Giants let him go in hopes of getting a 2020 3rd round compensatory pick.

Peppers was a first round pick in 2017 and has the physical tools to be a Landon Collins type player, but he hasn’t put it all together yet. He’s only played 70% of the snaps in 2 seasons in the league, but played much better in 2018 than 2017, finishing as PFF’s 23rd ranked safety on 766 snaps. That’s in large part to him being used properly as primarily a box safety, after playing mostly deep safety as a rookie. Replacing Collins, he’ll be a box safety in New York. Only in his age 24 season in 2019, the Giants are hoping he takes another step forward and breaks out as an every down player. He’ll be a downgrade from Collins, but it might not be by much, as he has plenty of breakout potential. He’s arguably the Giants’ best defensive back in a group that has a lot of question marks.

Grade: B-

Conclusion

The Giants’ recent moves have been headscratching. They get rid of top players like Damon Harrison, Odell Beckham, and Landon Collins to save money, but keep Eli Manning, Janoris Jenkins, and Alec Ogletree on the roster for 17 million, 11.25 million, and 10 million respectively and then sign Golden Tate for 37.5 million over 4 years. They used the first round pick they got from the Odell Beckham trade to select a player who they hope will become Damon Harrison and used their own first round pick to select a quarterback who will sit for at least a year behind the highly paid Eli Manning. They want to build around running the football and playing defense, but on paper they have one of the worst defenses in the league and they are paying significant money to two wide receivers. This is a team that should struggle again in 2019.  I will have an official prediction later in the off-season.

Prediction: 5-11, 3rd in NFC East

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