State of the Franchise
It's hardly surprising the Giants got off to a good start last year and collapsed down the stretch, narrowly missing the playoffs. In fact, in Tom Coughlin's nine seasons with the team, they've started out 6-2 in six of them, 11-1 in one of them and 5-0 and 5-2 in the two others. When you consider the Giants made the playoffs only four times in that span, the pattern is hard to miss. Of course, winning two Super Bowls over the last six years has softened the blows considerably.
Heading into 2013, the Giants have most of their key pieces still in place. QB Eli Manning is coming off a mediocre season, but at 32 and working on 137 consecutive starts, he's still very much at his peak. The receiving corps is as good as it's ever been, with Victor Cruz back and Hakeem Nicks healthy again after having minor offseason knee surgery. Moreover, Rueben Randle showed a spark in limited action as a rookie, plus the addition of TE Brandon Myers gives the team another viable option.
With Ahmad Bradshaw gone, it looks like Andre Brown and the explosive David Wilson will share carries in the Giants' backfield, though the exact split has yet to be worked out. The offensive line also played well last year – seventh in YPC (4.6), fewest sacks allowed (20) – and the Giants improved it by taking Justin Pugh, a versatile blocker who can play all five line spots, with the 19th overall pick.
On defense, the Giants replaced the departed Osi Umenyiora with third-round DE Damontre Moore, and aimed to shore up their 28th-ranked per-play run defense (4.6 YPC) with a pair of defensive tackles; second-rounder Johnathan Hankins and free-agent signee Cullen Jenkins. Otherwise, most of the key members of the unit are back with DE's Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck, coming off down years, leading the front seven and Prince Amukamara, Antrel Rolle and Corey Webster returning to the secondary. Stevie Brown takes the departed Kenny Phillips' place at strong safety.
Linebacker is probably the weakest area of the team. Dan Connor, Keith Rivers and Jacquian Williams are slated to start, and the team did not add any competition for them in the draft. Of course, there's a decent chance GM Jerry Reese adds a player or two this summer.
The bottom line, this is a playoff contender, provided the team's stars, Pierre-Paul, Manning, Nicks and Cruz bounce back from down seasons. Three key players to watch are Randle, whose role should grow significantly with fellow wideout Domenik Hixon gone, Amukamara, who at times last year looked like a shut-down corner and David Wilson who has the physical skills to become a game-breaker in the Jamaal Charles/Chris Johnson mold.
Cullen Jenkins - DT, Eagles
Known for his pass-rushing prowess, the 6-2, 305-pounder is a stout presence in the middle who replaces Rocky Bernard.
Justin Pugh - OT, Syracuse
(Round 1, 19th overall)
Will compete with David Diehl for the starting right tackle job.
Brandon Myers - TE, Raiders
Put up a 79-806-4 line with the Raiders and should have a regular role in the offense while replacing Martellus Bennett.
Dan Connor - LB, Cowboys
Hard-hitter and solid tackler, but not particularly useful in coverage; he's the favorite to start in the middle.
Ryan Nassib - QB, Syracuse
(Round 4, 110th overall)
A backup quarterback with long-term upside upside and a nice draft value, given how late the team was able to select him.
Osi Umenyiora - DE, Falcons
A Pro Bowl level pass rusher when healthy.
Ahmad Bradshaw - RB, COLTS
Tough as nails, but injury prone and had lost a step.
Martellus Bennett - TE, Bears
A strong blocker and solid pass-catcher at tight end, but he was only around for one season with the Giants.
HOW WILL THEY SPLIT THE CARRIES?
From what we saw of rookie running back David Wilson last season, he could be a game changer, with explosive quickness, home run speed and occasional bursts of tough inside running. He averaged 5.0 YPC last year and even took a kick back to the house. But let's not forget about reclamation project Andre Brown who actually averaged 5.3 YPC (on roughly the same workload), and scored eight touchdowns before breaking his leg in late November. At press time, our best guess is that playing time will be split down the middle with Brown (6-0, 224) getting most of the goal-line carries and possibly even the third-down work, thanks to Wilson's poor pass-protection skills. But Brown is injury prone, and Wilson has the talent to claim a bigger role if he shows he can pick up the blitz.
EFFICACY Of THE PASS RUSH
The Giants had 48 sacks in 2011, thanks in part to Jason Pierre-Paul's 16.5, but those numbers fell to 33 and 6.5, respectively in 2012. It didn't help that Justin Tuck was almost invisible (four sacks in 15 games), and Osi Umenyiora dropped from nine in nine games to six in 16 games. With Umenyiora now in Atlanta, the Giants need to get more out of their DE starters in Tuck and Pierre-Paul, and something out of rotation rushers Mathias Kiwanuka and rookie Damontre Moore. The normally reliable Corey Webster was exposed last year, and while fellow CB Prince Amukamara is a rising star, the tandem isn't good enough to hold up unless the front four is getting more pressure.
The team is thin at the position after forgoing any help in the draft. While in the modern pass-heavy NFL, the pass rush and defensive backfield are probably more important, it's still hard to imagine the Giants going into the year with a starting linebacker corps featuring an unproven Jacquian Williams, the fragile Keith Rivers and Dan Connor, who's more of a one-dimensional run-stopper. They signed former first-rounder and current journeyman Aaron Curry in May, and chances are they're not done, with some notable free agents still on the market at press time. The additions of Connor and DT Cullen Jenkins could help them improve against the run, but it's a problem that's far from solved, and they're still vulnerable to opposing backs in coverage. The current reserves, Spencer Paysinger and Mark Herzlich, will push the starters for snaps, but it's unclear whether anyone on the current roster is going to be a significant upgrade from what the Giants had last year.
Rising: David Wilson should get a significant piece of the RB timeshare, and, given his speed and playmaking ability, there's a good chance for a breakout.
Declining: Victor Cruz is still a good receiver, but his per-play averages dropped from 11.7 to 7.6 YPT, and he tied for the league lead with 11 drops.
Sleeper: Rueben Randle is the team's No. 3 wideout this year, and at 6-3, 208 and with good speed, he'll be a factor in the red zone and down the field.
Supersleeper: The Giants nabbed Michael Cox in the seventh round, but the 6-0, 220-pound back has quick feet and good speed. He could win the No. 3 job behind Wilson and injury-prone Andre Brown.
Jason Pierre-Paul - DE
Last year was a down one, but he'll get you tackles as well as sacks once he returns from a back procedure.
Stevie Brown - S
Ball hawk had eight picks in 11 starts last year and now replaces Kenny Phillips.
Antrel Rolle - S
Steady tackler for deeper formats, but not a huge playmaker.
RotoWire Rank: 12