The New York Giants are facing their biggest season since 2016. Entering the fifth year of their rebuild that had its fair share of lows, the Giants logged in a notable bounce-back performance last year under head coach Joe Judge, finishing 6-10 and just missing the playoffs in the process.
Following this revival, the Giants capitalized on free agency and executed a great draft to reinforce key areas of their roster with influential talent and depth.
However, now comes the hard part. The Giants acquired a lot of new pieces that not only have to build chemistry with their new teammates, but in addition, the team as a whole has to grow from the success they’ve already achieved over their rebuild period.
But putting this all together throughout a season while trying to make the playoffs remains the greatest test for this Giants team this year.
The Giants need their cornerstone players to be healthy, ambitious and dedicated to improving all year round for that to happen. The Giants have so many important players, but a few key names rise above the others when thinking about this season in specific.
Naturally, the Giants have a handful of standout stars they can lean on and whose production is virtually guaranteed outside of injury setbacks. But for several others, 2021 has another level of meaning and importance to it where consistent success is simply a “must” if the Giants want to make the playoffs.
Value can be measured in many ways in football. But for the sake of this article, the most important players of the 2021 season will be assessed by the following key components:
- Role on the team (How important of a starter are they? How significant is their role?)
- Impact when out (How would their unit fair without them? How’s their depth?)
- Previous success (Are they coming off a bad season or a good one? How successful have they been so far in their career?)
Based on this criteria, here are the Top 7 most important players for the Giants in 2021:
No. 7. CB Adoree’ Jackson
Though it’s his first season with the Giants, Jackson is an integral starter for the Giants’ defensive secondary. The Giants have needed a strong, imposing right-hand man beside their ace cornerback James Bradberry—someone who can stay pace-for-pace with speedy receivers yet use their awareness and athleticism to interrupt big plays.
Jackson has proven over his first four seasons that he can do just that. However, the biggest concern with Jackson is his health. Following two breakout seasons with the Titans, where he had a total of 143 tackles, three forced fumbles, two interceptions, and 27 passes defended in 32 games played, Jackson’s next two were well below-par.
Playing 11 games in 2019 and only three in 2020, Jackson accumulated 57 tackles with no forced fumbles, no interceptions, and only six passes defended, highlighting why he must stay healthy.
Without him, the Giants certainly have good depth with Isaac Yiadom and Darnay Holmes. Jackson must be as actively present as possible for this Giants defensive secondary to be at its best.
There are many important players on this Giants defense, but considering his last two seasons and new role on this team, it’s of the utmost importance for Jackson to log in a healthy, strong, bounce-back campaign.
No. 6. LG Shane Lemieux
The greatest sacrifice the Giants had to make this offseason was letting guard Kevin Zeitler go to free up cap space to acquire wide receiver Kenny Golladay and others. Whether you were for that decision or not, the deed has been done, and the void left behind is dauntingly large. As part of the one-two punch responsible for protecting Daniel Jones’s blindside, and given the struggles he had last year, Lemieux’s improvement is simply vital to the passing game’s success this season.
After starting 9 of the 12 games he played last year as a rookie, Lemieux displayed positive signs of growth and maturity. But the fact of that matter is that the offensive line was a mess last season, and Lemieux’s presence wasn’t as influential as the Giants needed it to be. However, despite his slow start, the Giants have gone ahead with making Lemieux their starting left guard in hopes that his development will leapfrog this year with more games under his belt.
Some players rise to the occasion when granted significant opportunities, but some don’t. And considering the Giants don’t have many other options at the guard position, the level of importance of Lemieux’s role this season is flat-out immense and paramount to the Giants' success offensively.
No. 5. DL Leonard Williams
Williams had a career year in his second season with the Giants. Recording 11.5 sacks (a career-high), along with 57 total tackles and his first fumble recovery ever, Williams became the most effective defensive lineman on this Giants defense, reigniting a pass rush that had been virtually nonexistent from this unit for quite some time.
Williams was arguably the only good pass rusher the Giants had, with Dexter Lawrence and Kyler Fackrell tying for second in sacks with four each.
Entering the 2021 season, the importance for Williams to spearhead the pass-rushing responsibilities by following up his career performance with another great season has risen substantially.
Without Williams, the Giants pass rush success rate would greatly diminish as no one on the Giants defensive[PD1] has proven to rush the edge as good as Williams can.
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When it comes to his health, Williams has been very consistent, playing 16 games in every season outside of 2019. But if the Giants want to build off the success they achieved defensively last season, Williams needs to deliver another big year for this Giants defensive line.
No. 4. TE Evan Engram
After jumping onto the scene in 2017 with 64 receptions, 722 yards, and six touchdowns, Engram has yet to surpass his rookie numbers in any of the three seasons he’s played since, though coming close in receptions (63) and yards (654) last season.
On top of that, Engram hit a team-high in drops last year (8), adding another layer of concern to a discouraging decline. Though the Giants have been patient with his injury setbacks and given him another shot at redemption, Engram faces a “make or break” year.
The Giants were not shy about bringing in Kyle Rudolph as an insurance policy and have a bright, young tight end to rely on in Kaden Smith as well. However, Engram provides remarkable athleticism and pace amongst a tight end unit that doesn’t have a whole lot of both.
On top of the fact that his starting role with the Giants rests on this season, fulfilling his potential by putting up his best numbers to date is a must for Engram this year.
No. 3. S Jabril Peppers
The Giants have a handful of really talented players on their defense. That said, there’s simply no one on this unit that’s quite like safety Jabrill Peppers.
At only 25, Peppers has transformed into an elite strong safety and is a Swiss Army knife for this Giants defense. Whether it’s his tracking presence downfield, to his lightning quickness and agility, to his ability to flatten a running back well into his own backfield, Peppers embraces his versatility like no other on this unit and has not only become an essential role player for this secondary, but also this defense.
Peppers has gotten better every single season since he stepped into the league in 2017, with his best numbers to date with the Giants last year in which he finished with 91 tackles, one forced fumble, one interception, 2.5 sacks, 8.5 tackles for a loss, and a career-high 11 pass breakups.
If Peppers goes down this season, the Giants have great depth at the safety position with both Julian Love and Xavier McKinney. But the tenacity and experience that Peppers brings are irreplaceable. And if his work ethic has told us anything over his first four seasons, it’s that Peppers is primed and ready to build on the success he’s accomplished so far.
No. 2. RB Saquon Barkley
Barkley is not only the definition of an impact player, but he simply elevates the talent of this unit immensely with his unparalleled athleticism and diverse set of skills.
Ever since he entered the NFL scene in 2018 with an emphatic “Rookie of the Year” performance that included a total of 2,028 yards from scrimmage and 11 rushing touchdowns, Barkley’s career has been interrupted by two consecutive injury-plagued seasons, the most serious of which being the torn ACL he suffered in Week 2 last year that required reconstructive ACL surgery.
Though the Giants did sign a backup running back in Devontae Booker, there’s just no one the Giants could bring on that generates the impact a healthy Barkley is capable of making.
His role is not only vital for this Giants offense to reach its full potential and clinch a playoff berth. But in addition, the biggest hurdle for Barkley is simply staying healthy and regaining his confidence so that he can dominate and bounce back in a big way.
No. 1. QB Daniel Jones
The Giants’ starting quarterback, Daniel Jones, tops this list for the simple reason that this is “the year” in which Jones is finally expected to take that leap forward from being a game manager to a game-winner.
After showing growth in his rookie season in which he threw for 3,027 yards and 24 touchdowns with a stout 61.9 completion percentage, Jones went through a sophomore slump in which he struggled to limit turnovers and couldn’t manage to find a level of consistency.
Whether that was due to the offensive line, the lack of talent in his receiving corps, or Jones himself, in 2021, the Giants went out on a limb to provide him with the talent he needs to succeed.
This offseason, the Giants signed receivers Kenny Golladay and John Ross and tight end Kyle Rudolph. They also drafted speedy receiver Kadarius Toney with their first-round pick to give Jones just about everything he needs to win.
Now, it’s up to Jones to execute.
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