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Revealing Cornerstone Pieces Found Among the Giants' 2021 Season Rubble

The Giants will have a new head coach and general manager whose first task will be determining which core players to retain. Coach Gene Clemons offers up his list of just a few who will likely be part of the new regime's inaugural year.

Although the season has not turned out the way many fans would want, there is cause for optimism. At every level in all facets of the game, there have been those who have performed up to or beyond expectations. Their age and production make them valuable to the team for years to come.

A team needs cornerstones on the offense, defense, and special teams. While wins were scarce, production was not. Whether it was a flash of what could be or a demonstration of consistency, there's no doubt talent exists. There are players on this team who will most likely be a part of the new foundation laid by the new regime.

Here is our list.

Andrew Thomas LT

People were worried about Thomas when he first lined up for the Giants, and for a good reason. Thomas struggled as a rookie between having multiple offensive line coaches in his ear and dealing with an injured ankle all year long.

But once he became comfortable in his role, he became a quality offensive lineman who showed the potential to be a dominant run blocker and a quality pass blocker.

At 22 years old and having just completed his second season, Thomas has so much time to improve and a lot of years (hopefully) left before him to where he, without question, qualifies as a cornerstone piece for the next ten-plus seasons.

He still needs to become more consistent and locked in during games, but that will continue to improve as he grows as a professional.

Kadarius Toney WR

Toney was a surprise for many outsiders when the Giants took him with the 20th pick in the first round. Those who know talent knew that Toney was one of the best talents in the 2021 draft.

Unfortunately, he got off to a slow start thanks to injuries and COVID. His entire rookie season was marred by one injury after another. But if you need a reason to be excited about Toney's future here and to qualify him as a cornerstone piece, look no further than his breakout game in Week 5 against Dallas.

In that game, he showed the type of dynamics that will make him valuable in all game phases.

As noted, he's also shown that he may have some injury issues, a problem he was said to have in college. But hopefully, with an entire off-season in an NFL weight room, Toney will get the guidance and resources he needs to improve his physical strength and flexibility to better withstand the rigors of the NFL season.

That said, we believe Toney is the real deal. He is a guy that can make defenders miss in a phone booth, run precise routes, separate from defenders, and get handoffs, all of which are invaluable at this level. There are other quality receivers on this team, but none are like Toney. And at 22, he should have a nice career in front of him.

Saquon Barkley/Devontae Booker, RBs

If there is one thing that this Giants season has shown us, it's that a team needs a solid one-two punch at running back.

The Giants have that. The duo of Saquon Barkley and Devontae Booker turned out to be one of the more solid ones in the league. They have a chance to become even better as this offseason, Barkley won't have to spend part of his workouts rehabbing and instead focus more fully on training to get back to the force he was as a rookie.

Booker came in and performed well, even outperforming Barkley on a few occasions when both were splitting carries. Barkley is only 24 and Booker is 29, and Booker doesn't have a lot of wear and tear on his tires.

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They both will prove valuable because they will push each other, share the load, and offer an element in the passing game necessary to keep balance.

Leonard Williams/Dexter Lawrence, DL

Many people scoffed when the Giants traded a third-round pick and conditional fourth-round pick to the Jets for Leonard Williams. But management's thinking at the time was that they were unlikely to find a talent anywhere near what Williams offered in the third round rounds of the draft.

Williams has been the most consistently productive defensive player on the team. His versatility is almost unmatched on the line around the league. He is fantastic against the run and is a quality pass rusher. Will he give you 20 sacks a year? No, but sacks are somewhat random and are not the barometer by which all defensive linemen should be judged.

Lawrence has been a great addition since the Giants took him with the 17th pick in the 2019 draft. He has been a disruptor as an interior lineman and still has room for growth.

He is not the quintessential pass rusher you are looking for, but in a three-man front like the Giants have used, his ability to play the 5-tech down to the nose guard makes him highly valuable.

The best thing about Lawrence and Williams is that both are still young. Lawrence is only 24 years old, and many would be surprised to realize that Williams is only 27 years old.

Azeez Ojulari, OLB

A 30-front is predicated on having outside linebackers who can get to the quarterback. Ojulari came out the gate and showed that he could be that disruptive force off the edge for this defense by recording a sack in the first three games of his career. Not bad for a guy the Giants were able to pick up in the second round of the 2021 draft.

He is twitchy and has a motor that keeps going, which works well because that seems to be the type of linebacker that thrives in an NFL defense. With a full off-season to add bulk and strength, expectations for Ojulari's second season will be big and may include a double-digit sack season which would build on his rookie campaign.

Xavier McKinney DB

The best defenses in NFL history all have one thing in common. They all have a premiere football player on the back third. McKinney has the chance to be that for the Giants.

After missing a large chunk of his rookie season, McKinney flashed the dynamics he could bring to the team on the back end of last season. He has recorded over 80 tackles this season, and he has five interceptions.

More important than the numbers, McKinney gives the defense the ability to be flexible. He can play man to man, he's good on the hash or deep middle, and he can play at the intermediate level. He's also not afraid to get his nose in there on the line of scrimmage. At 22 years old, he can take over as the defensive leader going into 2022.

Graham Gano/Riley Dixon

The special teams have been special this season and these two are the big reasons why. Gano is 60-for-65 in his two seasons with the Giants, the best two-year stretch of his 12-season career. He's only missed two extra points during that span, none of which came this season. 

Unfortunately, there were not many opportunities to kick extra points because of the offense's lack of scoring. Gano seems to be getting better with age and will be a key contributor next season as he hopefully gets more opportunities to kick extra points.

Dixon, 28 years old, is a punter with one of the stronger legs in the NFL. He has booted at least one punt over 60 yards each of his six seasons in the league. He has averaged 45 yards per punt over his four seasons with the Giants and gives them stability at the position and as the placeholder.  


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