Off-season report card: New York Giants
Last Year: 11-5, second in NFC East. Lost in Wild-Card Round.
Significant Additions: WR Brandon Marshall (FA), OL D.J. Fluker (FA), TE Evan Engram (R1), DT Dalvin Tomlinson (R2), DE Avery Moss (R5)
Significant Losses: WR Victor Cruz, K Robbie Gould
The addition of Brandon Marshall is critical. His big-bodied catching style perfectly fits an offense that relies heavily on slant routes. And, obviously, with Odell Beckham around, Marshall won’t see the types of double-teams and zone-coverage rotations he saw with the Jets. Marshall’s only real adjustment will be where he lines up. With the Jets he was often an X-iso receiver, meaning he was by himself on the weak side. But that’s usually Beckham’s role. Marshall’s other playing spot was the slot, which is filled on the Giants by Sterling Shepard.
Most likely, Marshall will see more snaps as a flanker—the receiver who lines up on the side of the tight end. That tight end will be first-round rookie Evan Engram. This is the first true middle-of-the-field threat the Giants have had in the Beckham era. Engram is young and raw but should immediately supplant the supremely limited Will Tye.
It remains to be seen how good of a run-blocker Engram can be. Mediocre blocking at tight end has hindered the Giants’ ground game, which is predicated on basic inside zone runs from shotgun. Barring unexpected greatness from fourth round rookie Wayne Gallman, it won’t be a dynamic backfield. Incumbent back Paul Perkins has decent lateral agility but not quite enough of it to consistently create his own yards. (Though with a year under his belt and increased first-team reps this offseason, perhaps he’ll be a more comfortable runner in 2017.) Shane Vereen is almost strictly a “backfield receiver.”
The Giants don’t have the type of offensive line that can consistently pave lanes for ball-carriers. It was once thought that massive 2013 first-rounder D.J. Fluker could be that, but after four so-so seasons in San Diego, the Chargers let him walk. Expect Fluker to vie for a starting spot along the right side, either at tackle (replacing Bobby Hart) or guard (replacing John Jerry). Too bad Fluker can’t play left tackle; that’s the one position where New York could really stand to improve (so far 2015 first-round pick Ereck Flowers has not panned out).
On defense, instead of paying known-entity Jonathan Hankins roughly $10 million a year to continue at tackle, the Giants spent a second-round pick on Dalvin Tomlinson. They’d love for him and fifth-round defensive end Avery Moss to spark a more successful pass rush. Last year’s big-money free agent pickup, Olivier Vernon, was superb in run defense (better in this department than any other D-end in the league, in fact), but he had only 8.5 sacks, spearheading an often futile four-man rush.
Strangely enough, that Giants’ pass rush also had another upper-echelon defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul. He was re-signed for $62 million over four years. Like Vernon, Pierre-Paul is a monster against the run. And it’s not like these two can’t put the heat on quarterbacks. Both just need to do it more regularly.
Typically an impotent pass rush fells a defense. But the Giants have something no other team has save for the Broncos: three high-quality pure cover corners: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie plus last year’s newcomers, Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple. As long as these guys are on the field, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo can dial up any blitz imaginable. And he does. Spagnuolo can be especially creative with his blitzes out of two-safety coverages, which is unusual (in most blitzes there’s just one safety back).
The only tenuous thing with this defense is its depth. If any of the corners are out, it’s in trouble. Recall the playoff loss last year at Green Bay. Rodgers-Cromartie left with a thigh injury on the first series. That compromised part of the man coverage’s reliability, which wiped several blitz packages off Spagnuolo’s play sheet. Eventually Aaron Rodgers exploited this.