GIANTS TEAM PREVIEW
by Christopher Liss
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Giants finished 10-6 last year, but it had to be viewed as a disappointment given where they were two thirds of the way through the year and the terrible collapse in the second game against Michael Vick and the Eagles. Still, this is a team with a strong passing game, arguably the best defensive line in the NFL, a solid secondary and good running game, so barring catastrophic injuries, it should be in contention for a playoff berth. Questions remain on the retooled offensive line (LT David Diehl moves to LG, replacing Rich Seubert, William Beatty starts at LT replacing Diehl, and David Baas was signed to play center, replacing Shaun O'Hara), the linebacking corps (Mathias Kiwanuka will man the strong side, Jonathan Goff the middle) and on special teams (punter Steve Weatherford will compete with Matt Dodge, the team hasn't had an effective kick returner in a few years and kickoff coverage has been a weakness at times).
While the team did not make a big splash in free agency, and lost key contributors from recent seasons like tight end Kevin Boss and wide receiver Steve Smith, it expects bigger contributions from players like Mario Manningham, a fourth-year receiver who had nine TDs and 944 yards on just 92 targets last year, second-year defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who looked dominant in the team's first preseason game and Kiwanuka who missed most of last season with a neck injury. Strong safety Kenny Phillips should also have a more prominent role now that he's another year removed from knee surgery, and the interior of the defensive line - with Chris Canty, Linval Joseph and rookie Marvin Austin - should also be better.
The secondary which also includes Pro Bowler Antrel Rolle and solid cover corners Terrell Thomas and Corey Webster, suffered a blow when first-round rookie Prince Amukamara went down with a foot injury that will likely sideline him until midseason. But former first-rounder Aaron Ross and impressive rookie Tyler Sash offer added depth while Amukamara recovers.
The team's offensive backfield returns wholly intact with Brandon Jacobs re-structuring his contract and Ahmad Bradshaw re-signing with the team. Whether it'll be as effective as last season's depends upon how long it takes the new offensive line to jell as well as whether likely starting tight end Travis Beckum can replace the departed Boss as a blocker. Beckum's pass-catching skills are less in doubt.
Besides the tight end job which is Beckum's to lose, the only starting spot up for grabs right now is the third wide receiver job, which could go to any among Domenik Hixon, Ramses Barden, Devin Thomas, Michael Clayton, Victor Cruz, Duke Calhoun or rookie Jerrel Jernigan.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (19) Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Potential star, out for half the year.
2. (52) Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina
First-round talent with character issues.
3. (83) Jerrel Jernigan, WR, Troy
Small, speedy deep threat.
4. (117) James Brewer, OT, Indiana
Provides offensive line depth.
6. (185) Greg Jones, LB, Michigan State
Likely to have a special teams role.
6. (198) Tyler Sash, S, Iowa
Reserve safety showing promise early in camp.
6. (202) Jacquian Williams, LB, South Florida
Will battle for special teams roster spot.
7. (221) Da'Rel Scott, RB, Maryland
Reserve running back.
Davis Baas, C (49ers)
Can he adequately replace Shaun O'Hara?
Steve Weatherford P (Jets)
Could replace Matt Dodge
Stacy Andrews RT (Seahawks)
Offensive line depth.
Steve Smith, WR (Eagles)
Elite possession receiver when healthy
Kevin Boss, TE (Raiders)
Solid blocker and receiver
Shaun O'Hara, C (FA)
Injuries and age made him expendable
CAN THE RE-TOOLED OFFENSIVE LINE THRIVE?
On the one hand, the Giants right side is intact with Chris Snee at guard and Kareem McKenzie at tackle, giving the team some continuity. On the other, the team must break in a new left tackle in William Beatty (though as a one-on-one pass blocker he should be at least as good as David Diehl), Diehl moves to his natural position at left guard and David Baas takes over from Shaun O'Hara at center. Strictly from a talent perspective this group should be fine, but it often takes time for an offensive line to jell as a unit. Moreover, tight end Kevin Boss was an able blocker, and it's unclear whether his likely replacement Travis Beckum will be up to the task.
WHO BESIDES Mario Manningham AND Hakeem Nicks WILL CATCH PASSES?
The Giants have a lot of potential third wideouts - Domenik Hixon, Devin Thomas, Michael Clayton, Victor Cruz, Jerrel Jernigan, Duke Calhoun and Ramses Barden, any of whom could play this important role with Steve Smith gone. Moreover, with Kevin Boss also gone, and Travis Beckum an uncertain replacement, there are extra targets to go around. And that's assuming the injury prone Nicks stays healthy. In other words, there's a good chance one or more of these players has a significant role before season's end. Our money's on Hixon and Jernigan right now, but Barden or Thomas could surprise if they can stay healthy and focused.
CAN THE TEAM IMPROVE ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Kicker Lawrence Tynes is battling a thigh bruise in training camp and even when 100 percent healthy is merely an average NFL kicker. Punter Matt Dodge had a disastrous season, and he'll face competition from Steve Weatherford for the job. The team's return game was poor last year, but Jernigan has the speed to give it a lift, assuming the team uses him in that role. Otherwise, D.J. Ware, Aaron Ross (who has plenty of speed) and Darius Reynaud will handle those duties. The team could also stand to improve in punt return coverage (31st).
Rising: Mario Manningham should see a significant increase in targets with Steve Smith gone. Manningham's capable of stretching the field or taking a short pass to the house.
Declining: Brandon Jacobs is still an effective change of pace, but last year is likely his ceiling with Ahmad Bradshaw locking up the starting job.
Sleeper: The Giants Defense is chock full of pass rushers from Justin Tuck to Osi Umenyiora (if he stays) to Mathias Kiwanuka to Jason Pierre-Paul. Expect a lot of sacks and the turnovers that often follow from them.
Supersleeper: Travis Beckum will likely replace the departed Kevin Boss as the starting tight end, and could be a significant factor in the passing game, especially with Steve Smith gone.
Justin Tuck, DE
Perennial top-five defensive lineman due to his combination of tackles and sacks.
Terrell Thomas, CB
Top tackling DB who gets passes thrown his way due to Corey Webster's solid play.
Will be turned loose this year now that he's another season removed from knee surgery.
RotoWire Rank: 2