This article is part of our Team Previews series.
New York Giants
The Giants offense should be roughly league average with a modestly effective short-passing scheme, a better offensive line and an all-world back. The defense, on the other hand, could be one of the league's worst after losing key players from an already mediocre unit last year.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
DANIEL JONES AT NO. 6 OVERALL
GM Dave Gettleman surprised and largely dismayed Giants fans by using his top selection on Duke signal-caller Daniel Jones, who wasn't especially productive in college – a paltry 59.9 completion percentage, only 6.4 yards per attempt and 52 touchdowns versus 29 interceptions across 36 games. Contrast that with No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray's numbers, 42 TDs, seven picks, 11.6 YPA and 69 percent completion rate in 2018 (and that's not even counting Murray's vastly superior rushing stats). That said, with ideal QB size (6-5, 221) and decent mobility, Jones is deemed pro-ready. He'll start his career behind Eli Manning, but should take over either at some point this season or next when Manning's contract expires. Despite the modest college production, Jones is considered a relatively polished prospect, and he'll largely be asked to make short throws to skilled targets in Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, Golden Tate and Saquon Barkley. As such, Jones will need to be decisive and accurate, with his playmakers doing much of the heavy lifting after the catch. While Jones was considered a reach by many at No. 6 – especially because there was some chance he would still have been on the board for their second pick at No. 17 – quarterback is arguably the hardest position to project in all of sports, and the Giants obviously needed a Manning replacement.
TOO MANY SHORT-PASS CATCHERS
The Giants dealt Odell Beckham Jr. this offseason and replaced him with the tough and dependable Golden Tate. While Beckham fetched first- and third-round picks in addition to S Jabrill Peppers, his departure leaves the Giants with a lot of players who catch short passes and no established downfield playmakers. Consider Tate had an average target depth (aDOT) of only 6.4 yards between the Lions and Eagles in 2018, compared to Beckham's 11.1. Meanwhile, Evan Engram had an aDOT of just 5.1, and Saquon Barkley's aDOT was actually negative, i.e., like many RBs he usually caught his passes behind the line of scrimmage. That leaves Sterling Shepard as the main downfield look, and while he had an aDOT of 10.1 last year, he averaged a modest 13.2 YPC and 8.1 YPT and only has six catches of 40-plus yards in his 296-target career. Moreover, Shepard runs a 4.48 40, about average for a WR and on the slow side for someone only 5-10, 201 pounds. Coach Pat Shurmur's offense will be designed around quick reads, but that's a lot of mouths to feed in the short area of the field. In the wake of Corey Coleman's torn ACL in training camp, the speedy Darius Slayton appears to be the sole receiver currently on the roster that can keep safeties honest. However, Slayton may find it difficult to make an impact as a 2019 fifth-rounder.
WILL THE DEFENSE BE TERRIBLE?
The Giants have lost several key players from a year ago – they dealt arguably the NFL's best run stopper in Damon Harrison last October, let Pro-Bowl safety Landon Collins walk this offseason and traded their best edge rusher, Oliver Vernon, to the Browns in March. And keep in mind last year's unit (5.7 yards per play, 17th) was league-average at best. The Giants did use picks 17 (DT Dexter Lawrence) and 30 (CB Deandre Baker) on defense, but for a team that finished tied for 30th in the league with only 30 sacks, it was surprising they passed on the class' top edge rushers. Apparently, the team is placing its hopes in third-rounder Oshane Ximines and free-agent signee Markus Golden (Cardinals), and it could still sign a big-name free agent. But on paper at least, this is one of the weaker front sevens in the league. The secondary should be okay, however. The Giants got Jabrill Peppers back in the Odell Beckham Jr. trade, returns cover corner Janoris Jenkins and should get a lift from Baker for whom they moved up in the first round. It's also possible the short-passing, ball-control offense will shorten games and keep the defense fresh, a style of play the Cowboys have used with mixed success in recent seasons. But with Eli Manning and/or Daniel Jones under center, it's asking a lot from the team's playmakers to keep the defense off the field.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Saquon Barkley
Barkley will be a top-three pick in virtually every format, and rightly so. He's the most complete back in the league, and his workload will be heavy. Barkley is a physical freak – 5-11, 233 with a 4.41 40 time and 41-inch vertical leap – but he also has unique vision, strength and balance. An improved O-line should give him more room to run, too.
RISING: Sterling Shepard
Sure, the team brought in Golden Tate, who mimics much of Shepard's skill set, but Shepard already has a rapport with Eli Manning, and Tate won't absorb all of the targets left behind by the departed Odell Beckham Jr.
FALLING: Giants Defense
It was mediocre to begin with, but unless the team can vastly improve its pass rush – a particularly tough challenge given it let Olivier Vernon walk – it could be one of the league's bottom-five units.
SLEEPER: Aldrick Rosas
Rosas was quietly one of the best kickers in the league last year, and now that the team knows what it has, expect him to see more attempts, especially from long distance, on a roughly average offense.
KEY JOB BATTLE – NO. 3 WIDE RECEIVER
The Giants are set in the slot and at one of the outside spots with Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard, respectively, but the other outside job is up for grabs. Corey Coleman, the first receiver taken in the 2016 draft, may have been the favorite if he hadn't suffered an ACL tear on the second day of training camp. None of the remaining options are particularly inspiring, either. Cody Latimer (2014 second-round pick) has more size and has been with the team longer. Rookie fifth rounder Darius Slayton is 6-2, 190 with 4.39 speed and looked good during the spring, while Bennie Fowler (6-1, 212) has good size but is probably a long shot. Bottom line, the Giants have a lot of possession types (Shepard, Tate and tight end Evan Engram) and could really use a field stretcher. Either way, whoever wins the role will be the passing game's fifth option behind the top two wideouts, Engram and tailback Saquon Barkley.
GOLDEN TATE – WR (from Eagles)
Solid wideout, but he's 31 and awfully similar to Sterling Shepard.
DANIEL JONES – QB (Rd. 1, No. 6 – Duke)
Unexpected top-10 pick tapped as Eli Manning's eventual replacement.
KEVIN ZEITLER – G (from Browns)
Upgrades a weak spot on the offensive line.
JABRILL PEPPERS – S (from Browns)
A third-year pro, he also will handle return duties.
ANTOINE BETHEA – S (from Cardinals)
The starting free safety is a good source of tackles.
ODELL BECKHAM JR. – WR (to Browns)
Generational talent moved in a rebuild.
OLIVIER VERNON – DE (to Browns)
The team's best edge rusher was scrapped for O-line help.
LANDON COLLINS – S (to Redskins)
Injury-prone Pro-Bowl safety got too expensive.
THE INJURY FRONT
Sterling Shepard, WR – Shepard kicked off training camp with a dislocated thumb and now is a candidate to miss most, if not all, of the preseason. He joins rookie Darius Slayton in the trainer's room, while Corey Coleman will miss the campaign with a torn ACL, leaving the Giants even more short-handed. Fortunately, Shepard has a week-to-week prognosis, so the team is confident he'll be ready for the regular-season opener.
Evan Engram, TE – Engram missed June workouts with what was described as a minor hamstring injury, but it's not expected to affect his status for training camp. Of more concern, perhaps, is the fact he missed three games with a knee injury and two more with a hamstring injury last season, but he and the team described his recent absence as merely precautionary. Engram should be a significant part of the team's short passing game this fall.
Markus Golden, LB – Golden missed 17 games over the last two seasons in Arizona with an ACL tear and an ankle injury, but racked up 12.5 sacks during his last healthy campaign in 2016. He participated in OTAs in May and should be 100 percent recovered from last year's ankle injury come training camp. Golden has a good chance to lead the team in sacks if he stays healthy this year.