Despite an extravagant free agency splurge, the Giants still have plenty of questions on defense as they enter camp.
The Giants’ defense last season was abysmal. Their solution to that problem was to go on an aggressive free agent shopping spree reminiscent of the mid-aughts Redskins. Armed with cap space, the Giants showered defensive lineman Olivier Vernon with an astounding $85 million deal ($40 million guaranteed), cornerback Janoris Jenkins with $62.5 million ($29 million guaranteed) and nose tackle Damon Harrison with $46.2 million ($24 million guaranteed). The buzz surrounding those signings should give Giants fans some excitement heading into training camp, but they will want $93 million guaranteed worth of results this season.
With a new coach in Ben McAdoo but a familiar offense (which McAdoo ran last season), the Giants will rely on the same formula as before: the shine of Odell Beckham Jr., the good days of Eli Manning and some consistency from a running back pairing of Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen. Despite the free agent splurge, plenty of questions remain on defense, but defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will try and improve a unit that finished last in pass defense last year (somehow below the ridiculed Saints) and 24th in run defense.
It’s not hard to identify what the Giants need to do to improve, it’s a question of whether the high-priced talent will execute.
The Rookie: With the departure of Rueben Randle to the division-rival Eagles, the Giants will likely slot in hyped rookie Sterling Shepard as the team’s second receiver. Even if he wasn’t a first-round pick, Shepard is one of the most tantalizing rookies to watch this preseason. He was a devastating vertical threat at Oklahoma; he’s explosive in the open field and good at shedding double coverage. In short, he should have been a first-round pick and ultimately could be the best receiver to emerge from a deep rookie class. Barring injury, Shepard could be the next star wideout in the NFC East, even if Washington drafted a phenomenal receiver in first-rounder Josh Doctson.
Position Battle Spoilers: The Giants spent a ton of money on Janoris Jenkins, have an established commodity in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and drafted Eli Apple with the No. 10 pick. Apple probably loses the battle for cornerback reps on the outside, but where will the Giants find time to play the immensely talented, if admittedly raw (he played just two years at Ohio State) cornerback? Perhaps Spagnuolo gives Apple time to develop as a rookie, but it’s hard to envision the Giants using him sparingly after spending such a precious pick on him.
The Stat: 15, missed tackles forced by Odell Beckham Jr., the most of any wide receiver in the NFL last season. He may be an established superstar, but the digger you deep into his numbers, the better Beckham (somehow) gets.
Preseason Watchability Guide: By facing back-to-back stiff defensive lines in the Bills and Jets, the Giants’ cloudy running back situation (featuring Jennings, Vereen, Orleans Darkwa and Bobby Rainey) should get a test that may turn into a crowning moment for one of the lesser-known candidates.