One common situation that can be seen often around professional sports is something we can refer to as “the anomaly year.” Whether it is an individual player or team, specific circumstances throughout a season can make one of those two seem better than they are in actuality.
On the opposite side, players can enter a year with great expectations and somehow disappoint and falter for various reasons.
The New York Giants are examples of a franchise that many see as a team entering a pivotal year. Despite the improvements under now second-year head coach Joe Judge and an impressive defensive overhaul spearheaded by defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, Giants general manager Dave Gettleman enters his fourth year with the organization and has overseen the worst three stretch in franchise history since 1981-1983.
A lot has been done to improve the team’s chances of competing this year, but for some veterans, the level of their play this upcoming year will be substantial to the Giants’ success.
Who are they? Let’s take a look at several New York Giants who will need to produce not only for the team’s sake but for their careers themselves.
QB Daniel Jones
We begin with the player whose level of success will be paramount towards the next steps of the franchise. Going into his third season with the New York Giants, the play of Daniel Jones has been spotty.
After a promising rookie campaign that somewhat quieted the critics, Jones failed to take that next step in 2020. His touchdown percentage fell from 5.2% in 2019 to 2.5% in 2020, his passer rating fell to 80.4, and the fumbling issue, while slightly improved, is still extremely high (11 fumbles last season, which tied for most in the NFL).
It is rather apparent his lack of elite production is not entirely his fault. Despite Gettleman’s stated desire to improve the offensive line, 2020 first-round rookie Andrew Thomas was shockingly inconsistent. The unit as a whole was highly underwhelming, allowing Jones to be sacked 45 times.
There are also the inconsistencies and injuries of some of his weapons in the passing game (more on that shortly), and first-year offensive coordinator Jason Garrett's play-calling was rather hot or cold.
Jones is also chock full of positives, let’s not forget that. He is statistically one of the best deep-ball passers in the game. According to NFL Media, Jones was the NFL’s most efficient in that category with a 134.3 passer rating over 49 attempts and a deep-CPOE (completed passes over expectation) of 14.8%.
When he has the time to hit these shots, he’s silky smooth. The running ability Jones put forth in 2020 should also be mentioned-he’s a non-traditional dual-threat quarterback who might be trusted more if he didn’t put the ball on the ground so much.
The front office added wide receivers Kenny Golladay, John Ross, and draft pick Kadarius Toney; and tight end Kyle Rudolph, all of whom should give Jones plenty of options in the passing game and help alleviate the team’s struggles in the red zone.
All in all, the keys to Jones success will come down to three factors:
- Can the offensive line take a step forward?
- Will the play-calling by Jason Garrett be more effective?
- Will Jones cut down the turnovers?
If those three sore spots can be addressed accordingly, the Giants will know for sure they have their franchise quarterback. If not, there’s a chance the New York Giants will once again go through a sweeping of their organization.
TE Evan Engram
Don’t let Evan Engram’s selection to the Pro Bowl in 2020 cloud your judgment. The uber-talented tight end had a rough season last year.
Engram was maddeningly inconsistent. Despite the respectable at first glance 63 catches and 654 stat-line, Engram led the entire NFL in drops with 11 and only scored one receiving touchdown.
The failure to bring in passes was such an issue last season that it was projected to have cost the Giants 35 points. That may not seem like a lot, but for a team that lost three games by seven points or less, it certainly makes you wonder what might have been.
The Giants selected Engram in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, and the freaky athletic weapon out of Ole Miss looked to be on a steady trajectory into stardom before last year.
As mentioned prior, the entire offense struggled last season, but Engram’s lack of production and miscues played a decent-sized part.
Engram is playing in 2021 on his fifth-year option, and the Giants brought in Rudolph while also retaining Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo.
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Engram will be playing for a lot this year, and given how cap-strapped the Giants are projected to be next off-season, he would have to outperform expectations to be re-signed at this point.
On the contrary, the talent has always been present with Engram, and I would not be shocked in the slightest to see him have a major bounce-back year. This fall, he is playing for a lot. Whether he signs a long-term deal with the Giants or another team after the season.
OLB Lorenzo Carter
While both Jones and Engram are included in this piece for performance reasons, Lorenzo Carter is more of a combination of that plus injury.
A third-round pick by the Giants in 2018, the front office knew he would be a work in progress. Despite solid production in his last season at Georgia (8.5 tackles for loss & 4.5 sacks) and being blessed with elite athleticism, there were questions regarding his having an adequate football IQ and pass-rushing acumen to contribute right away.
Given the state of the Giants' edge rushers that season, he was forced to play more snaps than anticipated.
Carter played 40% of snaps that year and was surprisingly solid for the most part, totaling ten quarterback hits and four sacks.
The following year his snap count increased by nearly three hundred, but he disappointed with 4.5 sacks and didn’t turn into the premier pass rusher next to Markus Golden the Giants hoped he'd become.
Luckily for Carter, Gettleman did little to refine New York’s edge group, and he was an incumbent starter heading into 2020.
Through the first five games of the year, the production failed to show up once more with only a sack through that first portion of the year. He then, unfortunately, tore his Achilles tendon and was placed on IR on October 19.
Carter is returning to a room where fellow Georgia alum Azeez Ojulari and former Minnesota Viking Ifeadi Odenigbo are now a part of the rotation.
It is evident that, despite the aforementioned physical gifts, Carter is a player who will need to step up and have a career year. It’s not just for the team’s sake-- he’s entering the final year of his contract, and a solid year could give him a nice payday.
Having turned 25 only a month ago, Carter's ceiling is undoubtedly not capped right now, but the time is ticking for him to take that next step on the New York defense.
DB Julian Love
Julian Love’s addition to this list may be surprising to some readers, but I think the reasoning becomes more comprehensible once it is explained.
Love was a fourth-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft and played mainly as an outside cornerback during his time at Notre Dame.
Many draft analysts foresaw him moving inside to the slot or making the switch at safety due to some physical limitations, and that is just what the Giants have done with him.
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He primarily was a slot/box safety weapon throughout his rookie season. He was adequate for the Giants’ defense in limited snaps and even received a couple of linebacker reps.
His innate ability to sniff out running plays, plus his contributions on special teams made him a potential breakout candidate in 2020.
Then the Giants signed James Bradberry and drafted Xavier McKinney and Darnay Holmes. Love still played 300 snaps more last season, but his production stagnated, and the newer guys got more reps.
Now we’re in 2021, and Adoree’ Jackson and Aaron Robinson have joined the secondary. So what does this mean for Love?
I firmly believe head coach Joe Judge, being a former special teams coach, is thrilled that Love has the skillset to play that role for the team. He’ll undoubtedly get ample playing time given his versatility this year, but new faces plus inert development does not bode well.
I was personally a big fan of Love's when he was a draft prospect, and I think he brings a lot of value to this team. Unless injuries occur, it’s certainly fair to wonder if he'll get the same opportunities as in years past.