ESPN's Very Encouraging Ranking of the Giants’ Skill Position Players Revealed

Patricia Traina

Giants fans looking for a reason to be encouraged about the offense this year might start with the team’s skill position players, which according to Bill Barnwell of ESPN, ranks as the seventh-best group in the NFL, an improvement over their eight-place ranking from 2019.

The Giants' primary skill-position players—receivers Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, and Darius Slayton; tight end Evan Engram; and running back Saquon Barkley—weren’t able to get on the field at the same time last year. Still, as Barnwell noted, in the gams in which quarterback Daniel Jones had all but Shepard of that group, he posted a passer rating of 100.7, which was 13 points higher than his regular-season record.

That’s not bad considering the Giants haven’t had a true No. 1 receiver since trading away Odell Beckham Jr during the 2019 off-season.

Barnwell’s ranking and supporting analysis are all based on what the Giants skill position players did in a different offense, that run by now-former head coach Pat Shurmur.

A big knock against the Giants offense last year was the lack of creativity shown by Shurmur, especially in the deployment of Barkley, who despite missing three games with a high ankle sprain, still saw a drop in the average number of pass targets he had in games (from 7.56 in 2018 to 5.61 in 2019), and whose rushes primarily were primarily inside, per PFF.

This year, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett is thought to be planning more of a vertical offense based on the Air Coryell system. 

Whereas West Coast offense principles are predicated on offenses having receivers who can catch the short, quick passes and then turn them into long gains, vertical offenses are going to rely more on receivers who can consistently separate down the field and win the contested catches, something that Tate, Shepard, and Slayton can do.

Meanwhile, while Barkley will probably see more of a mixture of inside and outside zone runs to execute, don’t be surprised to see him split out wide or in the slot if it means matching him against a linebacker in coverage. Last year Barkley saw just 10 snaps from the slot and 29 split out wide.

The same can be said of Engram, assuming he’s over his 2019 season-ending foot ailment. Despite being a willing blocker, Engram is more of a receiver in a tight end’s body. To consistently ask him to take on defensive ends that outweigh him by 30 or more pounds isn’t exactly the best use of his talents. 

Sending him up the seam or lining him up in the slot, for example, are better ways to optimize his production and are all approaches Garrett has used in the past with personnel deployment.

The biggest challenge for the Giants offense—make that for any team with a new offense—is going to be their ability to hit the ground running and play fast. The lack of OTAs and minicamps could potentially be viewed as a built-in excuse for the Giants offense to start slowly.

However, head coach, Joe Judge, in adapting to the restrictions placed on his program because of the COVID-19 pandemic, has tried to ensure the players and coaches are on the same page regarding the schemes' concepts. 

He believes that if they are, they will give themselves a chance at playing just as fast as if they had had a regular off-season.

Comments (2)
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I don't buy into rankings. Why? If the team doesn't make the playoffs the critics will point to these rankings to say the team under performed and it is an indictment on the team, coach, and GM.