STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Despite a disastrous showing from their offense, the 2013 Giants finished the year on a 7-3 run, but it was too little too late as a 0-6 start was too deep a hole out of which to climb.
The reasons for the Giants' offensive struggles were manifold. The offensive line went from mediocre to terrible with the losses of guard Chris Snee and center David Baas. This had the predictable result of destroying the team's running game – its 3.5 yards per carry ranked 29th in the league, and featured tandem Andre Brown and David Wilson missed 19 games between them. The passing game was no better. Eli Manning found himself under constant pressure, a tough situation for any quarterback, but especially dire for an immobile pocket passer. Worse, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride stuck with calling downfield pass plays that never had a chance to develop. Moreover, Manning seemed to lack communication and rapport with second-year wideout Rueben Randle, resulting in a laughably easy pick-six against the Bears among other gaffes. All told, Manning led the NFL by a mile with 27 interceptions, took a career-worst 39 sacks and posted his lowest yards per attempt since 2008.
It's fairly amazing the Giants won seven of their final 10 games under those conditions, but the defense played well from Week 7 on, and they caught some breaks, facing the Packers without Aaron Rodgers, the Eagles with Matt Barkley and the Vikings during the brief Josh Freeman experiment.
Heading into 2014, there's reason for temperate optimism on both sides of the ball. While veteran Justin Tuck left via free agency, Jason Pierre-Paul should be healthy after recovering from back surgery and missing time with a shoulder injury last season. The team also signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to start at left corner opposite Prince Amukamara and former Seahawks corner Walter Thurmond for depth, potentially making the secondary one of the league's top units.
On offense, the Giants moved on from Gilbride to new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo who will install a quicker-hitting West Coast style offense. They also used the 12th overall pick in the NFL Draft on speedy wideout Odell Beckham, who will provide a needed downfield weapon in place of the departed Hakeem Nicks, assuming Manning has time to get him the ball. To that end, the Giants took center Weston Richburg in the second round, signed guard Geoff Schwartz and expect to have Snee back. The team also upgraded its running game by signing Rashad Jennings and drafting Andre Williams. Plus, the Giants expect to have Wilson back from a career-threatening neck injury. But the key to the team's 2014 season is still Manning, who at 33 will have to show he hasn't lost his fastball or his decision-making skills.
Odell Beckham – WR, LSU (Round 1, 12th Overall)
Explosive deep threat and kick returner. Will vie for the No. 2 wideout job with Rueben Randle.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – CB, Broncos
Starting left corner, giving the team a strong tandem with Prince Amukamara.
Geoff Schwartz – G, Chiefs
The starting left guard represents a big upgrade to the line.
Weston Richburg – C, Colorado State (Round 2, 43rd overall)
Likely starting center; another upgrade to the offensive line.
Andre Williams - RB, Boston College (Round 4, 113th Overall)
Not much of a pass-catcher, but adds power and depth to the backfield.
Rashad Jennings – RB, Raiders
A good pass catcher, who's projected as the team's starting tailback.
Justin Tuck – DE, Raiders
Coming off a strong year, but older and pricey.
Hakeem Nicks – WR, Colts
Terrific talent when healthy, but rarely healthy.
WHO WILL BE THE TEAM'S BEST RUNNING BACK?
The Giants signed Rashad Jennings to be their lead back, but Jennings is 29, has never exceeded 163 carries in a season, has never played a full 16 games in his five years in the league and missed the 2011 season entirely with a knee injury. A 2012 first-round pick, David Wilson is attempting to come back from a career-threatening neck injury. While ball-security and pass-protection issues prevented Wilson from regular work even when he was healthy, there's little doubt about his explosiveness and game-changing speed. At press time, he has yet to be cleared for contact work, however. Finally, the Giants took Andre Williams, a big, powerful runner with good burst, in the fourth round. Williams lacks receiving skills that will be important in the team's new West Coast scheme, but he could be a factor at the goal line. Journeyman Peyton Hillis is nominally in the mix, but he's a long shot to make an impact.
BATTLE FOR NO. 2 TARGET
Victor Cruz will almost certainly be the team's top receiving target again this year, but with Hakeem Nicks gone, several players will vie for the No. 2 role. Rueben Randle showed promise at times last year, particularly as a red-zone threat, and at 6-2, he has by far the most size among a smallish corps. But his focus and rapport with Eli Manning were lacking at times, and it proved costly. Rookie Odell Beckham is the fastest receiver on the roster, but rookie wideouts rarely produce – only five have had 1,000 yards since 2000. Moreover, Beckham's likely to see extra duty in the return game. Also in the mix are Jerrel Jernigan who's only 5-8, 189 pounds, but caught 19 passes over last season's final three games and tight end Adrien Robinson, a big target who ran a 4.51 40 at his Pro Day in 2012.
CAN ELI MANNING BOUNCE BACK?
At 33, Manning isn't ancient for a quarterback by any means, but the steep decline from his 2011 peak actually started mid-way through 2012, making this more than an isolated off year. There's been speculation Manning's lost some arm strength over the last two years, though former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, who saw him every day in practice and during games, vehemently denies it. Manning should benefit from the offensive line upgrades, the new West Coast offense that gets the ball out of his hands more quickly and the addition of Odell Beckham. At the very least with fewer deep throws, he's likely to cut down on the interceptions, but it could be at the expense of per-play efficiency – from 2009 to 2012 Manning averaged 7.8 yards per attempt. Manning also underwent arthroscopic ankle surgery in April but is expected to be ready for the start of camp.
Rising: Eli Manning can't be any worse, and a new system, improved O-line and upgraded skill players should help.
Declining: Rueben Randle probably isn't viewed as the main complement to Victor Cruz if the team drafted a wideout with the 12th overall pick.
Sleeper: Health permitting, David Wilson has a chance to take a sizeable chunk of the team's carries.
Supersleeper: Adrien Robinson is big, strong, fast, has a huge catch radius and no one ahead of him on the depth chart.
Jason Pierre-Paul – DE
A full year removed from back surgery.
Jon Beason – LB
A consistent source of tackles when healthy.
Antrel Rolle – S
The reliable tackler had two sacks and six picks last year.
RotoWire Rank: 12