New York Giants Unit Review: Better or Worse?

Mike Addvensky

After logging a four-win season last year, an easy argument regarding the New York Giants is they have nowhere to go but up, right?

That's what general manager Dave Gettleman is hoping to see. Gettleman made some significant off-season roster changes, but whether those changes are upgrades remains to be seen.

In using what we know so far after a couple of weeks of training camp and in hearing from the coaches, as well as what we heard from the players and our team's film work here on Giants Country, here an initial impression as to whether the various positions are better or worse than a year ago.

Agree or disagree with these rankings? Tell us in the comments section at the end of this article.

Quarterback: Worse

The Giants have a good situation at quarterback heading into the 2020 season, as Daniel Jones will look to build off his strong rookie campaign.

We do not yet know who his backup will be, but veteran Colt McCoy and former Dallas Cowboy Cooper Rush are the two leading contenders. Either of these players would be a solid choice, but they cannot compare to who the Giants had as their backup quarterback in 2019.

Daniel Jones
Daniel JonesGiants.com

Jones really could not have had a better mentor during his rookie season than Eli Manning. After the Giants decided to bench the two-time Super Bowl MVP after just two games, he did everything he could to help Jones.

The Giants will still have a serviceable backup quarterback in 2020, but there is no doubt that they will miss Manning’s presence. Because of this, they are technically worse at this position than they were last year.

Running Back: Better

The Giants made one notable move at running back this offseason when they signed veteran Dion Lewis.

One of the most significant issues that they had at this position in 2019 was no one was able to step up and take over the backfield when Saquon Barkley got hurt.

Wayne Gallman tried, but he too got hurt. And his injury left the Giants to turn to relatively inexperienced depth, which left them high and dry.

This year, the addition of Lewis solidifies the depth behind Barkley. During his two years with the Titans, Lewis was mainly utilized as a pass-catching running back.

New offensive coordinator Jason Garrett will find ways to use Lewis to spell Barkley so that the team can work their star running back smarter versus harder.

By merely adding Lewis to their roster, the Giants are better off at running back than they were in 2019. Wayne Gallman was Barkley’s primary backup last year but only ended up carrying the ball 29 times in ten games played before mysteriously vanishing from the rotation.

Gallman and undrafted rookie Javon Leake are competing for the third spot behind Lewis. Leake has return ability for special teams; Gallman does not. So don't be surprised if Leake jumps ahead of Gallman on the depth chart.

Dec 9, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Darius Slayton (86) reacts after his touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field.
Darius SlaytonBill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Wide Receiver: Better

This one is very close since the Giants made minimal changes at wide receiver this offseason and have the same top three guys as they did last year (Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, and Darius Slayton).

After missing the entire 2019 season due to an injury, Corey Coleman has a decent chance to be the fourth receiver. Having Coleman back should help this unit.

While the Giants didn't draft at this position, they did add three intriguing undrafted free agents in Austin Mack, Derrick Dillon, and Binjimen Victor, who have already begun creating a buzz around camp.

Keep an eye on the 6'2" Mack out of Ohio State--he's a big receiving target whose tape suggests a future role as a possession receiver.

Tight End: Better

The tight end position is expected to play a significant role in the offense this year, but with Evan Engram unable to make it through a full season and Rhett Ellison calling it a career, there were questions.

The good news is Engram appears to be fully over his foot injury that required surgery in December. He'll be joined by impressive rookie pickup Kaden Smith, whom they acquired via the 49ers off waivers last year.

Another former 49ers tight end, Levine Toilolo, joins the group. Toilolo has been an effective blocker throughout his career and represents an upgrade over Ellison.

Ultimately, how good they are at this position will mainly depend on the health of Engram. It’s hard to imagine the Giants getting significant production from this position if Engram has to miss time again.

Offensive Line: Worse

This was another difficult decision, as the Giants added plenty of young and promising talent to the group. But for the short-term, Nate Solder’s decision to opt-out of the 2020 season changes things for this unit.

That decision means Andrew Thomas, the team's first-round draft pick is most likely going to start at left tackle this year. Thomas was going to be a key player for the offensive line no matter what, but now there is a new competition open at right tackle.

The leading candidates are Cam Fleming, Nick Gates, and rookie Matt Peart. But Gates is also involved in the competition at center, where it is looking more and more as though Spencer Pulley will be the starter given his experience and the unusual off-season that deprived the Giants of a chance to get Gates additional practice time in this new offense.

The Giants will have the same two starting guards as they did last season.

Again, for the long-term, the Giants’ offensive line has a much brighter future than it did a year ago, but the loss of Solder hurts them in the short term, even though Solder struggled last year.

Defensive Line: Better

The Giants’ defensive line is very similar to what was last year, but now they have Leonard Williams.

Although Williams has never been an elite pass rusher in the NFL--his problem has been an inability to finish plays--he is an effective run-stopper.

New defensive coordinator Patrick Graham could have Williams either line up at EDGE rusher or flank Dalvin Tomlinson up the middle. B.J. Hill, Chirs Slayton, and R.J. McIntosh are all returning members of the Giants’ defensive line.

The signing of Kyler Fackrell and the return of Markus Golden are also reasons why the Giants’ defensive line is better than it was last year.

Linebackers: Better

Gettleman put a lot of focus on the Giants’ linebacking corps this offseason, signing Kyler Fackrell and Blake Martinez in free agency, re-signing run-stopper David Mayo, and using four of his ten draft picks on linebackers.

Martinez tallied at least 140 total tackles in each of the last three seasons. He and Fackrell have been reunited with Graham, the linebackers coach for the Green Bay Packers in 2018.

Another guy who could have a significant impact on this unit is Ryan Connelly. Before getting hurt during Week 4 last year, Connelly already had 20 total tackles, two interceptions, and a sack. Having him back should help this unit improve from 2019.

Markus Golden, who led the Giants last year with ten sacks, returns to anchor a group of relatively young edge rushers that includes Oshane Ximines and Lorenzo Carter.

Head coach Joe Judge said that over the rest of training camp, they'd figure out where guys like Carter Coughlin, who recorded 14 sacks over his final two years at Minnesota, and Cam Brown, who had 72 total tackles as a senior at Penn State, fit in.

Both might see spot duty as rookies, but the talent they bring, as well as the talent of TJ Brunson and Tae Crowder, gives the Giants a more well-rounded unit.

Cornerbacks: Worse

Gettleman made some substantial additions to the Giants’ secondary in the offseason. The signing of James Bradberry gives them a new No. 1 corner.

While with the Carolina Panthers, Bradberry was tasked with guarding guys like Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, and Mike Evans and did so with success.

If you look at the Giants’ secondary as a whole, the Giants are worse than they were in 2019. Last season, Janoris Jenkins and DeAndre Baker were their starting corners in Week 1.

Jenkins was cut toward the end of the season, while Baker is now embroiled in a serious legal matter and sits on the Commissioner's Exempt List.

Additionally, Sam Beal decided to opt-out of the 2020 season due to coronavirus concerns. In limited action last season, Beal showed some promise to leave one to think that he might be a contender for a starting job this year, but that will have to wait another season.

The Giants have a lot of youth at this position, which struggled last year. They added more youth in the draft this year. If the coaching can get these guys to play at a high level and show incremental improvement, they'll be in good shape.

But that's a big "if," and there's probably little doubt that having another veteran on this roster would maybe ease some concerns about the cornerback position.

Safeties: Better

if you're looking for the unit that has been upgraded the most, look no further than safety. The addition of Xavier McKinney, who will replace Antoine Bethea, gives the Giants another versatile safety who, like the returning Jabril Peppers and Julian Love can be moved around the defense based on matchups.

The Giants haven't had such a deep and versatile safety unit since 2011 when Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips., and Deon Grant roamed the field for them.

Judge and Graham have both spoken about being multiple and creating advantageous matchups each week. With these three young safeties, the Giants will be able to do just that if everyone stays healthy. And that could end up being a big key on a Giants defense that's looking to return to respectability.

Special Teams: Better

Riley Dixon is set to return as the Giants’ punter this season. Last year Dixon had as close to a Pro Bowl year as anyone on the team but was overlooked for the honor. Of course, he was aided by the outstanding gunner play of Cody Core and Antonio Hamilton, of which he'll have Core back in the fold. (Hamilton signed with the Chiefs.)

The real question here involves the return specialist. After losing Jabrill Peppers to a back injury suffered on a punt return, the Giants might be reluctant to put him or receiver Golden Tate back there again.

Undrafted rookie free agent running back Javon Leake could be a leading contender for the kickoff returner's role. Still, it's unknown if he might be able to handle punt returns as well given how punted balls tend to be a lot trickier to handle than those coming off a kicking tee.

This Giants replaced two-time special teams captain Michael Thomas with Nate Ebner, one-half of the Patriots' dynamic duo that included future Hall of Famer Matthew Slater. Ebner has consistently been one of the top special teams aces in the NFL.

The only question mark for the Giants on special teams is at kicker. The team cut ties with Aldrick Rosas, who is dealing with legal issues related to his alleged involvement in a hit-and-run accident from June.

They signed Chandler Catanzaro, most recently with the Jets, to a low-cost one-year contract, Catanzaro's experience kicking inside of MetLife Stadium no doubt a plus.

But don't be surprised if the Giants have their eye on the Colts kicking competition between second-year Chase McLaughlin and undrafted rookie Rodrigo Blankenship. 

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Comments (1)
No. 1-1
Patricia Traina
Patricia Traina

Readers

Some interesting rankings here. I can certainly appreciate the ranking on the offensive as all too often we've seen instances where people fall into the trap of getting excited over potential that never pans out. But I would disagree with the QB ranking--I think it's better and that's not a slam against Eli Manning. I think Colt McCoy will suffice as a backup, and Cooper Rush's knowledge of the offense is a huge help.


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