Impact Players? Yeah, the Giants Have a Few

Jackson Thompson

Ideally, every team would like to boast of having one or more players who keep the opponent up at night.

But the Giants? With running back Saquon Barkley on injured reserve, it's hard to find anyone on the roster capable of delivering the type of impact Barkley can.

"We're not looking to make this a team full of stars' we're not looking to make it an individuals team. This is a team," said head coach Joe Judge.

"In terms of what someone thinks about our guys individually on the other side, I'm more focused on making sure they understand as a team what we're about."

But what the Giants are about can probably be illustrated through the solid and consistent performance of the following six players.

Inside Linebacker Blake Martinez

As a defensive captain, Blake Martinez is a central figure on the Giants' defense. His leadership and football intelligence lends itself to the philosophy that Judge stresses with what he wants in his players and is critical to ensuring the defense is aligned and flows properly.

However, Martinez's abilities as a tackler and blitzer have made him a presence that opposing offenses can't afford to ignore as well.

Martinez, the Packers' leader in tackles from 2017-19 and the NFL's co-leader in tackles in 2017, has taken his game to a new level in his first season in New York in 2020.

Currently, he leads the Giants with 50 tackles, which ranks fifth in the NFL, and is tied for the team lead in sacks with two.

"Everything kind of flows through the middle of the field, and you want to be that dominant force in the middle that makes plays, and when plays come to you, you make them," Martinez said of his position.

"I think that's kind of what I've always prided myself on as being that kind of guy that coaches can count on and players can count on as the guy that's going to always be there to make the plays that come to you."

Martinez has been on the field for every defensive snap for the Giants so far this year and has been a game-wrecker for opponents' rushing attacks.

He has racked up 26 stops according to Pro Football Focus as the highest-graded linebacker in the NFL versus the run.

Martinez's two sacks are evidence of his efficiency as a blitzer, as he's made the most of his limited opportunities to get after the quarterback this season.

Those two sacks came on just three total pressures, while the only pressure that didn't result in a sack still resulted in a quarterback hit.

Opposing quarterbacks don't have to worry about Martinez being in their face too often, but it's still a facet of Martinez's game they have to be aware of in a potentially scary way.

Wide Receiver Darius Slayton

Darius Slayton emerged as the Giants' leading wide receiver as a rookie in 2019 and has kept that title so far in 2020.

Slayton leads the team with 23 catches for 365 yards and two touchdowns.

Slayton's production doesn't quite do justice to his ability as a deep threat, as the offense around him hasn't managed to click into gear, which has limited his opportunities to get deep.

Slayton, who ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the 2019 NFL scouting combine, finished 2019 with eight touchdowns, six of which went for 20+ yards, and four of which went from a distance of 35+ yards.

In Week 1 against the Steelers, Slayton added a 41-yard score, which still stands as the Giants' most extended passing play of the season.

Slayton does most of his damage in between the numbers. The Giants have used Slayton to create mismatches in the middle of the field, where he's racked up 16 of his catches for 240 yards in the middle of the field, including his 41-yard touchdown.

While Slayton lines up out wide for the majority of snaps, his production outside the numbers is limited as he's racked up seven catches for 125 yards and consistently faces opposing teams' best cornerbacks.

The Giants' offense may not keep opposing defenses up at night as a whole, but if there is one healthy player on the unit that comes closest to being considered a threat, it's Slayton.

Outside Linebacker Kyler Fackrell

Kyler Fackrell is on a mission to recapture his double-digit sack form in 2020, and so far, he's on pace to do so with some touchdowns on top.

Fackrell is tied for the team lead in sacks with two and has the Giants' only defensive touchdown this season with a pick-six in Week 5 against the Cowboys.

While Fackrell has never been regarded for his ball skills, his first-career interception will undoubtedly make its mark on film. But where teams will have to prepare most for Fackrell is on the edge.

Fackrell's two sacks and 17 tackles haven't even come with him as a full-time starter yet as he's only made two starts this year, but that could be changing.

With injuries to Oshane Ximines and Lorenzo Carter, Fackrell could see a boost in playing time throughout the rest of the season, which would allow him to build on his impressive start.

"I like to have a clear picture of what I need to do within the defense," Fackrell said.

"Once I know what I need to do or what my responsibility is, then there are different ways that I can fulfill that responsibility.

"I would agree a lot to where I want to know and need to know the details and the reasons for how the defense is supposed to be played to be able to feel confident and kind of step out when I need to and still be able to do my responsibility."

Fackrell has generated four total pressures lining up on both sides of the line at a relatively balanced ratio of 120 snaps on the right side and 84 snaps on the left side.

Opposing offenses can't afford to sleep on Fackrell in their preparation to face the Giants moving forward, as he is locked in to be a key contributor for the Giants' defense with the potential to cause a lot of damage to offensive game plans, as he's done so far this year.

Cornerback James Bradberry

Cornerback James Bradberry

James Bradberry has been arguably the Giants' best player this season and by far one of the most important in a depleted cornerback group.

Bradberry has taken on the opposing offense's top wide receiver through each of the first five games of the season and has given each of them a fight that surely stands out on film.

According to Pro Football Reference, he has allowed 15 receptions on 28 targets for 180 yards this season, with 17 tackles, one interception, one forced fumble, and a league-leading nine passes defended.

"I watch film, prepare throughput the week, practice hard," Bradberry said. "Try to execute when I get out there on the field.

"Am I surprised by quarterbacks attacking? Not really. When you follow guys, you primarily try to follow the top receiver. What comes with that is usually a lot of throws your way to get the receiver their touches. I'm not surprised."

Bradberry hasn't given any breaks to his opponents either, as he's only been off the field for one defensive snap throughout the first five games so far.

PFF recognized Bradberry as one of the league's best cornerbacks, naming him to their First-Quarter NFL All-Pro Team, where he joins Green Bay's Jaire Alexander in having earned recognition from the analytics site.

Bradberry has established himself as a prominent presence on defense that opposing offenses must gameplan for, and he knows what it's like preparing for those top-tier opponents.

In four seasons with the Carolina Panthers from 2016-19, Bradberry was tasked with covering wide receivers Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons, Mike Evans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints twice a year each.

That level of competition has appeared to condition Bradberry to expect top competition on a week-to-week basis and never back down, which is an attitude that can surely keep opposing wide receivers up at night.

Kicker Graham Gano

A scary kicker?

The Giants will take their impact players wherever they can find them, and veteran kicker Graham Gano has provided as much of a positive impact as any other player on the roster so far.

While Gano doesn't offer any impact on offense or defense like the other players on this list, he's still been the team's leading scorer this year, accounting for 43 of the team's 81 points scored.

The fear that Gano presents to opposing teams is how he enables the Giants to score even if opposing defenses keep them well out of the red zone.

Gano has made four of five field goals from beyond 50 yards this year, and Giants fans know he is even capable of converting from beyond 60 yards as he did against them in 2018 as a member of the Carolina Panthers.

Gano hasn't had the opportunity to deliver a game-winning field goal for the Giants yet. Still, the thought of the Giants crossing midfield in the final minutes of a close game is sure to be a concerning thought for opposing coaches.

Riley Dixon
Riley Dixon.

Punter Riley Dixon

And yes, if there can be scary kickers, there can also be scary punters.

Riley Dixon has put opposing offenses up against the wall all season with 16 punts for a 46.3 average yards per punt and ten punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

Dixon has been one of the Giants' special teams anchors since joining the team in 2018. His poise and efficiency as a punter have consistently left opposing offenses with much more work to do than they would against average NFL punters.

But beyond that, Dixon showed off another aspect of his game that will surely catch opposing teams' attention against the Cowboys last Sunday.

On a fake field goal play, Dixon, who was serving as the place-holder for Gano, took the snap, stood in the pocket, and delivered a touchdown pass to tight end, Evan Engram.

The play was ultimately called back due to an illegal shift penalty on offensive tackle Cameron Fleming. Still, Dixon nonetheless executed the play, and it is out on film as something opposing special teams coordinators need to watch for when they play the Giants.

Register today for free or log in to access this premium article.
Comments (4)
No. 1-2

Martinez was a good pick.. we just need two of him. Slayton can catch.. but is small like all our receivers.. need one big man. Right now the only thing that is working on the Giants is our kickers... the rest of the team should look at them and try to play their position was well as the kickers are playing theirs.



It says something when the one player the opposition must always game plan against, is your punter.