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Better or Worse? How the New York Giants’ 2021 Roster Has Taken Shape

Let's see how New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman's free-agency moves (or lack thereof) have re-shaped the various units on the roster.

Ever since the NFL introduced free agency, there have been off-season winners and losers in terms of personnel decisions made. But rarely does an off-season winner have that momentum carry over to the regular season when the games are played.

But in looking at the Giants’ off-season moves, it's hard not to be encouraged by what they’ve done in terms of at least putting themselves into a position to be competitive. So let’s run down each position unit and determine if the Giants got better or worse on paper.

Quarterback

Who’s Coming: Mike Glennon
Who’s Going: Colt McCoy (UFA)
Who’s Staying: Daniel Jones, Joe Webb, Clayton Thorson
Verdict: Better*

The Giants upgraded their backup quarterback spot—sort of. In Mike Glennon, they’re getting a player with a bit stronger throwing arm who’s probably better equipped to hit some of those deep speed targets the Giants added, which we’ll get to in a moment. But unlike Colt McCoy, Glennon isn’t quite athletic.

Not that it matters. The Giants are hoping that starter Daniel Jones, who has missed two games in each of his first two seasons, not only stays healthy for the full season but that he also finally takes that huge step forward toward becoming an upper-echelon signal-caller, which is why there is an asterisk next to the verdict.

(Check out the video above in which former NFL and NCAA head coach Jim Mora explains why Daniel Jones did indeed improve from Year 1 to Year 2.)


Running Back

Who’s Coming: Devontae Booker, FB Cullen Gillaspia
Who’s Going: Wayne Gallman (UFA), Dion Lewis (UFA), Alfred Morris (UFA)
Who’s Staying: Saquon Barkley, Jordan Chunn, Taquan Mizzell, FB Eli Penny
Verdict: Worse

All eyes will be on Saquon Barkley, the first time he takes the field for the Giants this year as he’s coming off a torn ACL. While optimism is high about Barkley’s recovery and the likelihood of him being back as good as new, it’s worth reminding people that there was also optimism when receiver Victor Cruz was trying to return from a torn patellar tendon.

That doesn’t mean that the same fate will befall Barkley, but seeing is believing, and it will be several more weeks yet before he gets on the grass fields outside of the Giants team headquarters to assuage concerns about his rehab.

It's because of this uncertainty that the verdict here is worse. Still, a healthy Barkley and the addition of another running back in the draft (probably a Day 3 pick who's a solid north-south runner) will go a long way toward improving the outlook on this position group.

And speaking of backups, the Giants swapped out Dion Lewis for Deontae Booker, who should be an upgrade over Lewis as both a third-down back and as a potential kickoff returner. 

The rest of the returning depth—Jordan Chunn and Taquan Mizzell—have yet to stick their feet into the pool at the NFL level. Ideally, if the Giants can get their next Wayne Gallman—a young north-south runner who can plow his way ahead for yards after contact—that player, along with a healthy Barkley, will help improve the current outlook on this group.


Wide Receiver

Who’s Coming: Kenny Golladay, John Ross
Who’s Going: Golden Tate (cut), Cody Core (cut)
Who’s Staying: Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, Dante Pettis, Austin Mack, CJ Board, David Sills, Alex Bachman, Derrick Dillon
Verdict: Better

Did the Giants overpay for Kenny Golladay? Perhaps, but this move is all about giving Jones every opportunity to be successful as the team’s franchise quarterback, and that wasn’t happening with his previous group of receivers.

The Giants are thought to be looking to open up the vertical passing game this coming season, and Golladay, Ross, and Slayton should give them plenty of options to do that.

If Sterling Shepard, who has missed time due to injuries in each of the last two seasons, can stay healthy, this receiver group is going to be light years ahead of last year’s crew. 

Don't be stunned if the Giants add another receiver to the group--not necessarily in the first round but certainly by at least the fourth round as this class is THAT deep.  


Tight End

Who’s Coming: Kyle Rudolph
Who’s Going: No One
Who’s Staying: Evan Engram, Kaden Smith, Levine Toilolo, Rysen John, Nakia Griffin-Stewart, Nate Wieting 
Verdict: Same

Kyle Rudolph, who has a lot of football left in him, alone is an upgrade to this unit. However, he's set to have foot surgery any day now, a procedure that will likely limit him through training camp. 

While there is optimism that he won't miss any football, with any injury, it’s always best to keep your expectations low and be surprised a the outcome than to raise them and be disappointed.

Speaking of disappointments, despite coming off a Pro Bowl season, Evan Engram’s case of the yips last year is as much of a concern as is the fact that between his injury history. Indeed, the changes in offensive coordinators and position coaches he’s gone through haven't helped, but the talent is undoubtedly there. The question is can someone finally get the production out of him? 

If the Giants are somehow fortunate enough to have Florida tight end Kyle Pitts sitting at No. 11, consider this group vastly upgraded. Heck, even Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth in the second round would upgrade this unit too. And if either of those two lands with the Giants, don't be stunned if rumors of Engram being on the trade block surface. 

All that said, between Rudolph’s pending surgery and recovery, not much has changed in terms of expectations with this group.


Offensive Line

Who’s Coming: C Jonotthan Harrison, G Zach Fulton
Who’s Going: Kevin Zeitler, Cameron Fleming, Spencer Pulley 
Who’s Staying: T Andrew Thomas, LG Shane Lemieux, C Nick Gates, RG Will Hernandez, RT Matt Peart, T Nate Solder, G Kyle Murphy, T Jackson Barton, G Chad Slade, G Kenny Wiggins
Verdict: Undecided

Last year the Giants did another major makeover on their offensive line by installing a rookie left tackle (Andrew Thomas), a new center who had never played the position in a live game (Nick Gates), and a new starting right tackle. 

And in an unexpected twist, head coach Joe Judge, who lost out on an opportunity to get his younger offensive linemen some quality snaps in the preseason when the preseason was canceled, went to a rotation that saw rookie Matt Peart rotate in and out of the lineup at right tackle, and rookie guard Shane Lemieux get some quality snaps at left guard after Will Hernandez tested positive for COVID-19.

In short, the results weren't always pretty, but both Judge and Gettleman feel the line will be better for it in Year 2, especially with some new coaching (Robe Sale and Pat Flaherty) coming in to work with the group.

The questions with this group lie in what the final configuration will look like, specifically at both guard spots and at right tackle. 

The Giants brought back Nate Solder on a reduced contract to be a veteran swing tackle if Peart wins the starting right tackle job. Meanwhile, the Giants are believed to be eyeing adding a guard from a very deep draft class.

One thing is for sure: This unit needs to perform better than it last year. And with that, the coaching staff needs to decide who their starting five will be to begin to build some continuity moving forward.


Defensive Line

Who’s Coming: Ifeadi Odenigbo
Who’s Going: Dalvin Tomlinson
Who’s Staying: Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Austin Johnson, BJ Hill, RJ McIntosh, Niko Lalos, David Moa, Breeland Speaks
Verdict: Worse

The Giants finally locked up Leonard Williams to a multi-year deal, but in doing so, they weren't able to retain Dalvin Tomlinson, whose contributions in run defense were so underrated yet important. 

The team did give Austin Johnson, who last year in limited run support snaps wasn't a disaster, a bit more money to stay, and the expectation is they'll get B.J. Hill more involved in taking on some of what Tomlinson did. Currently, there is a legitimate question as to whether there will be a drop-off in the run defense.

Don't be shocked if the Giants draft another hog molly for the defensive line, as that's another position group that's loaded in this year's draft class.  


Outside Linebacker

Who’s Coming: Ryan Anderson
Who’s Going: Kyler Fackrell, Jabaal Sheard
Who’s Staying: Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, Carter Coughlin, Cam Brown, Trent Harris
Verdict: Same

The Giants are set to welcome back Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines from their respective season-ending injuries last year. However, this group continues to lack a legitimate pass rusher worthy of drawing double-team blocks like back in the days of Jason Pierre-Paul.

Perhaps the Giants might get lucky and find the next JPP in next month's draft (Micah Parsons? Gregory Rousseau? Kwity Paye? Joe Tryon?) For now, the needle hasn't moved all that much to where one man has emerged a potential "takeover" of the pass rush off the edge and who can keep his edge clean against the run.


Inside Linebacker

Who’s Coming: Reggie Ragland
Who’s Going: David Mayo
Who’s Staying: Blake Martinez, Tae Crowder, Devante Downs, TJ Brunson, Cale Garrett
Verdict: Better

In a cost-savings (and smart) move, the Giants moved on from David Mayo, who has since signed with Washington. For what Mayo gave the Giants, they got similar production from Crowder at more than half the price.

Blake Martinez proved to be a stud after signing with the team last year in free agency, but there are still questions as to who his partner in the base defense will be. 

That will likely come down to either Reggie Ragland or Tae Crowder, the latter of whom won playing time over Devante Downs (who was recently re-signed after the Giants declined to tender him as an RFA in a cost-savings move).


Cornerbacks

Who’s Coming: Adoree’ Jackson
Who’s Going: Ryan Lewis
Who’s Staying: James Bradberry, Isaac Yiadom, Darnay Holmes, Madre Harper, Jarren Williams, Sam Beal, Quincy Wilson
Verdict: Better (Slightly)

By landing Adoree’ Jackson, the Giants finally have a solid No. 2 cornerback option opposite of James Bradberry. 

The depth is still somewhat questionable behind the two projected starters (Jackson and Bradberry) and nickelback Darnay Holmes.

Among those questions includes Sam Beal, the team’s third-round pick in the 2018 supplemental draft who has eight games under his belt since being drafted. The Giants like his skill set, but he did opt out last year, and there have been some questions as to whether he has a future in this league.

Yiadom, whom the Giants traded their seventh-round draft pick last year to Denver to acquire, didn't fare well as a starter, and Williams, Harper, and Wilson are all young and relatively untested. It would not be a shock if the Giants added a draft pick to this group to improve the overall depth.


Safeties

Who’s Coming: N/A
Who’s Going: Adrian Colbert, Nate Ebner
Who’s Staying: Logan Ryan, Jabrill Peppers, Xavier McKinney, Julian Love, Montre Hartage
Verdict: Better

Toward the end of last season, the Giants got a glimpse at how much of a strength this unit could be once rookie Xavier McKinney returned from his broken foot. Year 2 should be even more promising if the Giants’ top-3 safeties—McKinney, Logan Ryan, and Jabrill Peppers—stay healthy.

Overall the safety position, which is the only one where the Giants haven’t added to in free agency, has now become the undisputed strength on this team.


Specialists

Who’s Coming: N/A
Who’s Going: N/A
Who’s Staying: K Graham Gano, P Riley Dixon, LS Casey Kreiter, K/P Ryan Santoso, LS Carson Tinker
Verdict: Same

There wasn’t much expectation that the specialists would change, which means the Giants will stick with punter Riley Dixon despite his up-and-down year last season. (It's fair to wonder how much he was affected by the loss of his top two gunners from the previous season, Cody Core and Antonio Hamilton).

What still needs to be determined is the identity of the return specialists moving forward. 

Last year, Dion Lewis as a kickoff returner wasn’t very effective (and is one reason why he wasn't offered a deal to return), and the Giants have to find a better option on punt returns than safety Jabrill Peppers, not because he’s terrible at it, but because he’s so valuable on defense. 


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