For 16 years, the Giants more or less had one quarterback under center. Drafted #1 overall in 2004, Eli Manning took over as the starter in week 11 of his rookie year and then started 232 of the next 233 games until being benched after week 2 of last season for another highly drafted rookie quarterback, 2019 #6 overall pick Daniel Jones. Manning made another 2 starts down the stretch as an injury replacement for Jones to bring his career total to 234 career starts in 16 seasons in the league, but he rode off into the sunset this off-season, officially making this Daniel Jones’ team.
Manning had a mixed career in New York, starting for over a decade in a half, resetting all of the team passing records, and winning a pair of Super Bowls and Super Bowl MVPs, but he never won a playoff game in any of the other 14 seasons, he finished with a .500 record overall, and he never led the league in a passing category other than interceptions. All in all, the Giants will be happy if Jones has the same kind of career, but the jury is very much still out on him.
Not particularly successful in college at Duke University, Jones entered the league with controversy, as most considered Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, who eventually went 15th overall to the Redskins, to be a better quarterback prospect, while Jones was considered to be someone who would have been available with the Giants’ other first round pick at 17 overall. However, the Giants liked him enough to not take any chances and took him 6th overall.
Jones didn’t do much to quiet his critics as a rookie. He definitely showed flashes of why he was drafted high and he adds much more as a runner than Manning, rushing for 279 yards and 2 touchdowns on 45 carries (6.20 YPC), but he completed just 61.9% of his passes for an average of 6.60 YPA, 24 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, while leading the league with 18 fumbles (5th most in a single season in NFL history), which was a significant knock on him coming out of college. Overall, he was Pro Football Focus’ 26th ranked quarterback out of 39 qualifiers last season and the Giants actually had a noticeably worse first down rate (33.99%) in Jones’ 12 starts than in Manning’s 4 starts (37.25%), even though Manning was in his age 38 season and on his last legs.
Jones still has plenty of upside and in some ways his 2019 season is a good first year to build on, but he didn’t change any opinions as a rookie. If you liked him being selected 6th overall a year ago, that is likely still the case, and the same is true for people who didn’t like the pick. It’s easy to expect he’ll be a little better in his 2nd season in the league, especially if he can improve his fumbling issues, but how much better is really up in the air, which makes it tough to project the Giants as a team in 2020. The Giants, for what it’s worth, don’t seem concerned at all about Jones, only bringing in career backup Colt McCoy (28 career starts, 78.4 QB rating in 10 seasons in the league) to hold the clipboard. If he can take a big step forward, this is a team that could make some noise.
The one big thing Daniel Jones has going for him is he has a lot of talent around him on offense. That was true at the skill positions last season too, but the problem was injuries, as their top-5 skill position guys didn’t play a single snap together last season and none of them played all 16 games. Wide receivers Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, and Darius Slayton were limited to 11 games, 10 games, and 14 games respectively, while pass catching tight end Evan Engram played just 8 games and feature back Saquon Barkley, who is also a big part of their passing game, was limited to 13 games and never seemed quite the same after an early season ankle injury. If those five players can all be healthy or mostly healthy for all or most of next season, this could be one of the more complete receiving corps in the NFL.
Though this is a deep receiving corps, none of them are true #1 receivers. Golden Tate has some experience in that role in the past, averaging a 80/968/5 slash line from 2012-2017, topping 1000 yards in 2014, 2016, and 2017, and finishing in the top-19 on Pro Football Focus among wide receivers in 4 of those 6 seasons, including a career best 7th in 2017. However, he was limited to a 74/795/4 slash line in 15 games in 2018, a 49/676/6 slash line in 11 games in 2019, and now is going into his age 32 season. He has still finished 48th and 35th among wide receivers on PFF in the past two seasons respectively, but at this stage of his career he’s much more of a #2 wide receiver than a #1.
Sterling Shepard is a similar player, although he’s on the way up instead of the way down, going into his age 27 season. A 2nd round pick in 2016, Shepard improved his receiving yardage in each of his first 3 seasons in the league, going from a 65/683/8 slash line as a rookie in 2016 to 59/731/2 in 2017 and 66/872/4 in 2018, and he was seen by many to be a potential breakout option in 2019 with Odell Beckham being traded to the Browns last off-season.
Shepard had averaged a 84/1085/3 slash line per 16 games in 2017 and 2018 combined without Beckham and the Giants seemed to be trying to pre-emptively sign him long-term ahead of a breakout year, locking him up last off-season on a 4-year, 41 million dollar extension last off-season, but the breakout year never came, as he was limited to a 57/576/3 slash line in 10 games (91/922/5 per 16). Shepard did earn the highest grade of his career on PFF, finishing 23rd among wide receivers after topping out at 45th in the first 3 seasons of his career, a good sign for his chances of having something of a breakout year in 2020 if he can stay on the field.
With Tate and Shepard both missing significant time, rookie Darius Slayton actually led the team with a 48/740/8 slash line, even though he also missed 2 games. Slayton also played just 61 snaps in the first 4 weeks of the season, as he entered the year as an unheralded 5th round pick. He showed himself to be much more than that and earned PFF’s 49th highest grade among wide receivers overall and, while he’s still just a one-year wonder, he looks like a potential long-term starter. He gives them a talented trio of wide receivers with Tate and Shepard. The Giants also get #4 Corey Coleman back after he missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Coleman has had injury problems throughout his career and has just 61 catches in 27 career games, but he’s a former first round pick who is only going into his age 26 season, so he could still have some upside, which makes him not a bad 4th option.
Tight end Evan Engram could also push for the team lead in receiving, although injuries have been a concern for him throughout his career. The 6-3 241 pound former first round pick moves like a wide receiver and has averaged a 72/831/6 slash line per 16 games in 3 seasons in the league, so, only going into his age 26 season, he has the upside to be one of the better pass catching tight ends in the league in 2020, but he’s never made it through a full 16 game season and has missed 14 of 48 possible games total in 3 seasons in the league. He also doesn’t block well at all, which is a more minor concern, but still worth noting.
Blocking tight end Rhett Ellison was also limited to 10 games (18/167/1) last season by injuries and injuries eventually led him to hang them up this off-season, after 8 seasons in the league. Ellison was a consistently an above average run blocker and he was also a reliable set of hands as an underneath target, so replacing him won’t be as easy as it might seem. Veteran Levine Toilolo was signed in free agency, but he hasn’t topped 264 yards receiving in a season in 7 seasons in the league, despite plenty of opportunity, and he isn’t much better as a blocker. Kaden Smith, a 2019 6th round pick who played 434 snaps in the absence of Engram and Ellison last season, could also be in the mix, but he finished 38th out of 44 qualifying tight ends on PFF last season and isn’t much of a run blocker, so he may settle in as the 3rd tight end. Aside from some potential minor depth issues, this is a deep and talented group.
Feature back Saquon Barkley also is a huge part of this offense, both as a runner and as a receiver. The #2 overall pick in 2018, Barkley had an incredible rookie year, rushing for 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns on 261 carries (5.01 YPC), while adding a 91/721/4 slash line through the air and finishing as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked running back. His 2019 season was derailed by injuries, however, as he hurt his ankle week 3, missed 3 games, and didn’t seem to be quite his usual self the rest of the way upon his return, finishing with season with 1,003 yards and 6 touchdowns on 217 carries (4.63 YPC) and a 52/438/2 slash line through the air, while ranking 24th among running backs on PFF.
The biggest difference between Barkley’s 2018 performance and his 2019 performance is the relative lack of big plays in 2019. Barkley has actually been below average at keeping this offense on track in his career, with a 41% carry success rate as a rookie (40th out of 47 qualifiers) and a 44% carry success rate last season (38th out of 45 qualifiers), but as a rookie he had 20 carries of 15+ yards for 706 rushing yards that accounted for 54.0% of his rushing total and in 2019 that dropped to 9 carries for 331 rushing yards.
Big plays are tough to predict on a year-to-year basis, but Barkley has as much big play ability as any running back in the NFL, so I would expect more explosive runs and a better overall season from him in 2020 if he can stay healthy. Injuries are always part of the reality at the running back position more so than anywhere else, but Barkley doesn’t have a real injury history and his return in 3 games last season was actually ahead of schedule, given that he had a 4-8 timetable, even if he wasn’t quite the same back upon his return. Still only going into his age 23 season, Barkley has as much potential as any running back in the league going into 2020 and beyond.
Barkley is also as close to an every down back as they come, ranking 3rd among running backs with 853 snaps played in 2018. Even with Barkley missing 3 games in 2019, the Giants’ backup running backs combined just for 84 total carries. They don’t have bad depth though, as 2017 4th round pick Wayne Gallman has been alright with a 3.99 YPC on 191 carries thus far in his career, while free agent acquisition Dion Lewis has 116 catches over the past 3 seasons and offers some change of pace as well. Perhaps the Giants will take Barkley off the field a little more in 2020 in an effort to keep him healthy, though as durable and talented as he is, it would be hard to blame the Giants if they didn’t.
One thing that would help Saquon Barkley have a higher carry success rate and keep this offense on track more often would be better offensive line play, which he should have this season. This is a much improved unit from the one that was one of the league’s worst a few years back and this season they have new starters at the two spots of weakness on last year’s line, right tackle Mike Remmers and center Jon Halapio, who both earned negative grades last season. Halapio especially struggled, finishing 32nd out of 35 qualifying centers on Pro Football Focus.
Remmers was replaced with a big investment, as the Giants used the 4th overall pick on Georgia’s Andrew Thomas. Thomas may have a few growing pains as a rookie, but figures to be a capable starter at the very least from the word go and could make a big impact, even as a rookie. The long-term plan may be to move Thomas to left tackle, where Nate Solder is going into his age 32 season and has one expensive year (14 million non-guaranteed) left on his deal after this season. In that scenario, third round rookie Matt Peart would likely be the long-term right tackle.
In the meantime, Peart is unlikely to see action unless an injury strikes, while Nate Solder is likely locked in as the left tackle, going into his 10th season in the league (127 starts). Not only is Solder’s age becoming a concern, but he finished a career worst on PFF last season, earning a middling grade after earning an above average grade in each of the first 9 seasons of his career, including 6 seasons in the top-25 among offensive tackles. He’ll likely remain a capable starter for another couple seasons and may even have a little bounce back potential, but his best days are likely behind him and he could possibly keep declining.
At center, the Giants are having a competition between Spencer Pulley and Nick Gates for the starting role. Pulley is a natural center, while Gates has only ever played guard and tackle, but Gates is probably still the better option. Pulley made 25 starts from 2017-2018 with the Chargers, but finished 38th out of 40 qualifying centers on PFF in 2017 and 29th out of 39 qualifying centers in 2018, before being limited to 95 snaps as the Giants’ backup center last season. He’s a backup caliber talent who would almost definitely continue struggling if counted on to start.
Gates, meanwhile, is a 2018 undrafted free agent who flashed a lot of potential in the first 291 snaps (3 starts) of his career last season, playing both guard and tackle. He doesn’t have a clear path to playing time at either of those positions, so the Giants are trying him at center this off-season. He’s unproven overall and very new to the position, so it’s hard to count on him, but it wouldn’t be difficult for him to be an upgrade over Halapio or Pulley.
Guards Will Hernandez (left) and Kevin Zeitler (remain) as the starters. Zeitler is one of the best guards in the league and has been for a long time, finishing in the top-25 among guards in all 8 seasons in the league (119 starts), including 6 straight seasons in the top-15 and a 7th ranked finish in 2019. His age is a minor concern, going into his age 30 season, but he should remain at least an above average guard.
Hernandez, meanwhile, went 34th overall in 2018 and looked to be on his way to having a Zeitler type career when he finished 21st among guards on PFF in 2018, but he fell to 57th in 2019, dampening his long-term outlook. Only going into his age 25 season, Hernandez still has a lot of upside and could easily have a bounce back season, but that’s not necessarily a guarantee. Even still, this looks like a solid offensive line, especially if Nick Gates can develop at center.
The Giants won just 4 games in 2019, but they finished 22nd in first down rate differential at -2.16%, not good, but as bad as their record suggested. The difference is they had a -17 turnover margin on the season. Normally I like first down rate differential as a stat because it minimizes the impact of outlier plays like turnovers, which tend to be totally unpredictable on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis, but the Giants may consistently struggle with the turnover margin as long as they have a fumble prone quarterback under center.
Even Jones fixes his fumbling problems and the Giants don’t struggle with the turnover margin this season, they weren’t particularly good in first down rate on either side of the ball last season either, ranking 20th in first down rate on offense and 21st in first down rate allowed on defense, so they have problems on both sides of the ball beyond turnover margin. I already got into some of the problems with their offense and there were definitely problems on defense as well. Their 16 takeaways, tied for 3rd worst in the NFL, should improve by pure randomness, so the Giants should have a better turnover margin in 2020 than in 2019 even if Jones continues fumbling, but their other problems aren’t so easily fixed.
The one area without problems is the Giants’ interior defenders and their 3-man defensive line in base packages, as this is definitely the strength of the defense. The Giants go four deep at the position with Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, and BJ Hill. All four are recent high draft picks who are still young and all four, strangely enough, are better run stuffers than pass rushers. They’re good players, but ordinarily you don’t want your top-4 players at a position to be all similar. They are the primary reason why the Giants ranked 4th with 3.86 yards per carry allowed last season, but also, along with their lack of edge rushers, they are a big part of why the Giants ranked just 22nd in the NFL with 36 sacks.
Williams is the best pass rusher of the bunch. He only managed a half sack last season, but added a ridiculous 19 quarterback hits and a 10.3% pressure rate. This has been a trend for Williams since he was drafted 6th overall by the Jets in 2015. He has just 17.5 career sacks in 79 career games (75 starts), but has added 86 hits and a 10.0% pressure rate. A strong run stuffer to boot, Williams has gotten an above average grade from Pro Football Focus in all 5 seasons in the league (maxing out at 10th in 2016) and his 43rd ranked overall finish in 2019 was actually the worst of his career. His relative down year didn’t stop the Giants from trading a 3rd and a future 5th round pick to acquire him from the Jets at the deadline and then franchise tagging him this off-season for 16.126 million. He’s a talented player and still very much in the prime of his career in his age 26 season, though he was kind of a weird addition to a team that was already deep upfront.
Dexter Lawrence also sees significant sub package snaps, even though he’s built more like a nose tackle at 6-4 342. Drafted 17th overall by the Giants in 2019, Lawrence’s run stopping ability was his best attribute as a rookie, but he added 2.5 sacks, 6 hits, and a 7.3% pressure rate as well and finished as PFF’s 22nd ranked interior defender overall. Lawrence entered the league with a massive ceiling and, still only going into his age 23 season, he has a good chance to keep getting better and develop into one of the better players at his position in the league.
Dalvin Tomlinson and BJ Hill, meanwhile, are primarily base package players. They finished 14th and 11th respectively on PFF among interior defenders in run stopping grade, but combined for just 4.5 sacks, 5 hits, and a 5.4% pressure rate. This is nothing new for Tomlinson, as the 2017 2nd round pick has finished in the top-24 among interior defenders in run grade in all 3 seasons in the league, but has managed just a 5.1% pressure rate for his career.
Hill, meanwhile, was a 3rd round pick in 2018. He’s a better pass rusher with a career 6.9% pressure rate (although just 6.0% in 2019), but he wasn’t quite as good of a run stuffer as a rookie, so he’s not as proven in that aspect as Tomlinson. With Williams, Lawrence, Tomlinson, and Hill at the position, this is a very deep group and one that should stuff the run again, even if their interior pass rush leaves something to be desired.
As mentioned, the Giants’ edge rushers left something to be desired in 2019 as well. Things are unlikely to be better in 2020 and could easily be worse as they let Markus Golden (who led the team with 10 sacks last season) walk as a free agent. Aside from him, they didn’t have anyone with more than 4.5 sacks last season and they didn’t really replace him, so they should continue having trouble getting to the quarterback in 2020.
The only addition they made to this group was signing ex-Packer Kyler Fackrell to a 1-year, 4.6 million dollar deal in free agency. Fackrell probably won’t play the 917 snaps he played last season, but he should have a significant rotational role, along with holdovers Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines. Fackrell did have a 10.5-sack season in 2018, but the Packers shouldn’t expect anything close to that.
Fackrell’s peripheral pass rush numbers were very underwhelming in 2018, adding just 2 sacks and a 9.5% pressure rate and earning a middling grade overall from Pro Football Focus. Fackrell also totaled just 6 sacks in his other 3 seasons in the league. Even the Packers weren’t fooled by his sack total, as they added Za’Darius and Preston Smith last off-season on big contracts last off-season and gave Fackrell a reduced role in 2019 (626 snaps in 2018, 415 in 2019). He may play significant snaps with the Giants, but he’s unlikely to be anything more than a snap eater at best.
Carter and Ximines, meanwhile, are recent 3rd round picks, getting drafted in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Both were underwhelming pass rushers last season, 8.8% and 9.3% pressure rate respectively, but Carter has at least developed into a strong run stuffer off the edge and both still have upside to develop into more. The Giants will need one of them to take a big step forward though, or to make a big addition like Jadeveon Clowney or Yannick Ngakoue, otherwise they’ll have one of the more underwhelming edge defender groups in the league.
The Giants’ lack of pass rush was a problem last season, but they also had significant problems in the backend of their defense in coverage. With issues rushing the passer and covering pass catchers, it’s unsurprising the Giants had the 3rd highest YPA allowed in the NFL. The Giants’ defense should be strong against the run again, but they’ll need to significantly improve against the pass if this is going to be a respectable defense. The Giants seemed to recognize this, even if they didn’t really address their pass rush, as they made several big investments in their coverage unit this off-season.
At linebacker, the big addition is former Packer Blake Martinez, who comes over on a 3-year, 30.75 million dollar deal. He’ll be a direct replacement for Alec Ogletree, who was released ahead of 10 million non-guaranteed owed in 2020, after finishing just 73rd out of 100 qualifying off ball linebackers on Pro Football Focus last season. Martinez has been a tackling machine for the Packers, topping 140 tackles in each of the past 3 seasons, but that’s a little misleading, as he’s actually better in coverage than he is against the run. Overall, he’s earned middling grades from PFF in 4 seasons in the league, so he was a bit of an overpay on a deal that makes him one of the highest paid off ball linebackers in the league, but he should be an upgrade on Ogletree, even if he’s more of a snap eater than anything.
David Mayo remains as the other starting linebacker inside in their 3-4 defense. Mayo is only a two down player (631 snaps last season), but he excelled against the run, finishing as PFF’s 2nd ranked off ball linebacker in run grade. Mayo is a one-year wonder who had never topped 145 snaps in a season prior to last season and he struggled mightily in coverage last season, but he’s a former 5th round pick who flashed as a run stuffer in limited action in a deep Panthers linebacking corps in his first 4 seasons in the league prior to joining the Giants last season and the Giants frequently use 3 safeties in sub packages, dropping box safety Jabrill Peppers near the line of scrimmage as a linebacker, so Mayo won’t have to play many passing situations. He should remain a useful situational player. This is an unspectacular group, but with Martinez coming in as an upgrade as an every down linebacker and Mayo and Peppers essentially platooning at the other spot, this isn’t a bad group either.
The secondary is the group that got the biggest investment this off-season, as the Giants signed ex-Panther James Bradberry to a 3-year, 43.5 million dollar deal to be their #1 cornerback and then used the 36th overall pick to take the draft class’ top safety Xavier McKinney, who projects as a long-term starter. Bradberry essentially replaces Janoris Jenkins, who was released late last season ahead of the final 1 year and 12.5 million of his deal, after an underwhelming 2019 season, while McKinney essentially replaces veteran Antoine Bethea, who was capable in 16 starts last season, but was still released ahead of 2.75 million non-guaranteed for his age 36 season in 2020.
Bradberry will take over immediately as the #1 cornerback and may continue shadowing #1 receivers in that role, as he did in Carolina. He has earned middling grades from Pro Football Focus throughout his 4-year career and has finished in the top-15 among cornerbacks in yards allowed in each of the past 3 seasons, including 2 seasons in the top-7, but he also regularly matched up with #1 wide receivers in a division with Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, and Mike Evans and he should remain in his prime for at least a few more years, only going into his age 27 season.
When the Giants signed Bradberry, they likely envisioned him and 2019 1st round pick DeAndre Baker starting outside together for years to come, but Baker’s future is murky after an off-season arrest for armed robbery. He could be looking at significant prison time if convicted and is likely at least looking at a lengthy suspension from the league, barring something that totally exonerates him. Baker came into the league with a lot of potential, but he finished 122nd out of 135 qualifying cornerbacks on PFF as a 15-game starter as a rookie and now his long-term future is in doubt.
Baker being unavailable would be a problem, as the Giants have a depth problem at cornerback even with Baker available. Grant Haley, Sam Beal, Julian Love, and Corey Ballentine could all be in the mix for the #3 cornerback job, but they’re all questionable options. Grant Haley is a 2018 undrafted free agent who has played 851 underwhelming snaps in 2 seasons in the league. Sam Beal went in the 3rd round in 2018, but has been limited to 289 mediocre snaps by injury thus far in his career. Corey Ballentine is a 2019 6th round pick who struggled mightily as a rookie on 298 snaps. Julian Love is probably the best of the bunch, flashing on 408 snaps as a 4th round rookie in 2019, but he may play some safety too, where he made 4 starts in place of an injured Jabrill Peppers last season. One of those 4 cornerbacks would have to start opposite Bradberry if Baker misses time. Aside from Bradberry, this is a very questionable group.
Second round rookie Xavier McKinney is likely locked in as a starter at safety, though he’ll likely have growing pains as a rookie, while Jabrill Peppers is locked in as well, but Love could still see some time at safety in sub packages, as Peppers is likely to line up as a linebacker with regularity in sub packages. A first round pick in 2017 by the Browns, Peppers was acquired as part of the Odell Beckham trade last year. He struggled as a rookie, but seemingly broke out with a 23rd ranked finish among safeties on PFF in 2018, before falling back to 51st in 2019. Still only going into his age 25 season, Peppers has a lot of bounce back potential and could develop into a consistently above average strong safety/sub package linebacker long-term. The Giants are better at safety than cornerback, but only by default, as this is still an underwhelming secondary overall, despite some big investments this off-season.
The Giants should be better on offense, with an improved offensive line, Daniel Jones in his 2nd year in the league, and likely better health at the skill positions, while their defense should force more takeaways and should continue to stuff the run at a high level, but their defense still has a long way to go against pass to be a capable unit and could be even worse rushing the passer this season without their sack leader last year Markus Golden. The Giants’ offense has a lot of potential if Daniel Jones can be even an average starting quarterback, but even in that scenario their defense could still keep them out of a playoff berth and Jones showed he had a lot to work on as a rookie. This team is heading in the right direction, but I wouldn’t expect them to be true post-season contenders. I will have an official prediction closer to the start of the season.
Final Update: The Giants lost Nate Solder to an opt out and cornerback DeAndre Baker to an off-the-field issue, but they signed Logan Ryan as an upgrade at the cornerback spot and they re-signed Markus Golden as well, to give them at least some pass rush, even if he’s not as good as his sack numbers last season suggested. This is still unlikely to be a playoff team, but they won’t be an easy team to beat.
Projection: 5-11 (3rd in NFC East)