If there was any position unit on the New York Giants crying out for a significant infusion of talent after last season, the wide receiver group had to be it.
How bad was it? The Giants’ top three being Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, and Darius Slayton—combined for eight touchdown receptions—the same number that Slayton alone posted as a rookie the year prior.
Dropped passes? Shepard, Slayton, and Tate accounted for 10 of the 29 dropped balls by all the Giants receiving targets (including running backs, tight ends, and the rest of the receivers)
Want to talk about separation? While the league’s top receivers averaged over three yards of separation according to NFL NextGen Stats, the Giants’ “best” receiver in separating was Shepard. He averaged three yards between him and the nearest defender.
And perhaps one of the most alarming stats of all was that except for Shepard (53.8 percent), not one other Giants wide receiver finished with a 50 percent (or better) contested catch rate last season, Tate finishing precisely at 50 percent and Slayton at 31.8 percent.
Then there is the injury factor. Shepard has missed ten games over the last two seasons, including four last year, due to injury and Tate missed four over that same period because of injury.
And when speaking of injury, the stats don't include Slayton, who was injured against Washington, managed to stay on the field but who struggled to be effective, a factor that also undercut their depth at the position.
So did the Giants need playmakers after last year’s showing? Between the numbers and the eyeball test, the answer was a resounding YES!
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Things were so dire among this group that the Giants made the receiving corps a top priority, adding two free agents in Kenny Golladay, a legitimate X-receiver, and John Ross, a sprinter type capable of burning opponents with his straight-line speed.
In the draft, they added Florida wideout Kadarius Toney, a diverse player who can also run with the ball in his hands and chuck the ball down the field on a trick play.
Although still relatively new to playing the position after excelling in high school as a quarterback and hence is a bit unpolished in his route-running (a fixable aspect in his game), Toney is a hard-nosed and physical player who, per Pro Football Focus, racked up an astonishing 43 broken tackles forced among his 120 career receptions.
That’s a lot invested into a Giants receiver group that finished 29th league-wide with 3,336 receiving yards last season. That same receiver corps recorded 12 touchdowns, tied for dead last with the Patriots, and finished 30th in terms of big-play receptions of 20+ yards (36), just one ahead of the Bengals.
So here we are. The Giants have added lots of depth to arguably one of their worst position groups last year on offense—yes, even worse than the offensive line, which at least showed signs of trending upward.
Here are a couple of post-draft questions regarding this group.
What is the best fit for Sterling Shepard now that Kadarius Toney is here?
Toney eventually will become the team’s full-time slot receiver once the Giants move on from Sterling Shepard. In the interim, it will be interesting to see if the Giants deploy Toney mainly in the slot and leave Shepard outside (where he hasn't been quite as productive or had much luck in the injury department).
Last year, Shepard played 32.2 percent of his snaps in the slot, finishing with 656 yards and three touchdowns on 66 receptions. In 2018, Shepard played 58.7% of his snaps in the slot and had 66 receptions for 873 yards and four touchdowns.
For what it's worth, before having his slot snaps reduced in 2019, Shepard only missed five games in three seasons.
What about the competition at the bottom of the depth chart?
Last year, the Giants acquired Dante Pettis, one of the best return specialists in college football in the last several years, via waivers. Pettis, who set an NCAA record with nine career touchdown returns on punts while at the University of Washington, was delayed in contributing thanks to COVID-19, which cost him about eight weeks from the time he was acquired to when he finally got on the field.
Despite Pettis's history and potential, the Giants have Toney and running back Deontae Booker, who can serve as return specialists. And they also have quite the logjam at the bottom of the roster with C.J. Board, Austin Mack, Alex Bachman, and David Sills V.
Golladay, Shepard, Toney, and Slayton are locks. Ross is probably going to be the fifth receiver (though that's not a lock).
Now that the Giants have enough firepower to run more 11-personnel, they'll probably carry six on the roster and a couple on the practice squad, and based on prior roster experience, that final spot could very well come down to Board (a gunner from last year) Mack, or Pettis.