State of the Giants: Lowered Expectations, but Certainly Reachable

Patricia Traina

When an NFL team has won just 12 games in its last three seasons, it should come as no surprise that the expectations will hover at or near the bottom of the heap.

Such is the case for the New York Giants, whom analyst Adam Rank, in his “State of the Franchise” series, notes that the Giants are now in a position where the sense of urgency is to be competitive isn’t as high given the personnel shift.

Specifically, Rank notes:

No longer are they burdened by having to try to give it one more go with a declining Manning. The Giants can take a little bit of time and develop with a rookie head coach and second-year quarterback. That said, fans still are going to expect signs of progress.

Again in having hit rock bottom, there is a lot of room for progress to be made to where if the Giants do deliver a solid season in 2020, most people will view it as a success, regardless if they qualify or go deep into the postseason hunt.

But let’s focus on the questions Rank brings up.

Question No. 1 Can the Giants bring Andrew Thomas up to speed enough to make him the Day 1 starter at left tackle?

Up until recently, I was all for the Giants starting Andrew Thomas at left tackle. But after speaking with people like Brandon Thorn, whose understanding of offensive line play is easily ten levels above mine, I now see the benefit in starting Thomas at right tackle, even though he hasn’t played that position in at least two years.

Rank himself provides the reason for such a move, as follows: “As for that Giants O-line, guard Kevin Zeitler was amazing last year. He was everything they needed. Nate Solder, not so much.”

The offensive line, remember, is about getting the fire starters to work in unison. And while this isn’t meant to be a slight at left guard Will Hernandez, whom I still believe is going to be an outstanding player, given how he regressed last year, does it make sense to put Thomas next to Hernandez and move Solder to right tackle next to Zeitler?

The answer is no. You leave Solder at left tackle because even though he’s clearly on the back nine of his career, his experience is still helpful to Hernandez as he looks to steady his ship. 

Meanwhile, you put Thomas at right tackle next to Zeitler, the guy you’ve identified as the most consistent offensive lineman, and let him learn from that relationship.

To pair Zeitler and Solder on the same side while leaving two relatively inexperienced and young players on the quarterback’s blind side is asking for trouble.

Oct 6, 2019; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants tight end Evan Engram (88) looks up at the scoreboard during the first half against the Minnesota Vikings at MetLife Stadium.
Tight end Evan Engram is facing a big year ahead. Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Question No. 2. Can the Giants get the most out of tight end Evan Engram?

There is no question that Engram is an amazing talent who could break open the Giants offense—if he stays healthy, that is.

I have always believed that the Giants haven’t used Engram properly since he’s joined the team, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his high susceptibility to injury was a result of all those times he was asked to take on a defensive end that outweighed him by a good 30-50 pounds.

While I do not doubt that this coaching staff will utilize Engram’s talents much better, the thing I’m looking for is if the injuries have started to take their toll on his natural gifts. Engram, as we know, is recovering from Lisfranc surgery from December.

He may or may not be ready for the start of training camp. Although he posted an encouraging video of himself on his Instagram account showing him running around and changing direction, game speed is much different.

Question No. 3. Can the Giants establish a No. 1 wide receiver?

A better question to ask (besides what are they going to do about a pass rush, which interestingly wasn’t among the questions posed by Rank), is can they get by without a No. 1 receiver?

Last week, former Giants receiver David Tyree told me how important it was for Eli Manning as a young quarterback to have a No. 1 receiver in the mold of a Plaxico Burress or an Amani Toomer.

“I think when you have a young quarterback talent, you want to have a linchpin to go along with a young quarterback,” Tyree said.

“When you have an Amani Toomer, when you have a Plaxico Burress—guys who are proven playmakers who have done it on a big scale and have size, strength, and ability, I think there's something to that, especially more so with a young, unproven quarterback. It gives them confidence (and) a bigger target.”

The Giants opted to pass on drafting a potential linchpin in this year’s class, a historically deep receiver lass, likely because, in terms of priority, the probably felt that offensive line, the secondary and linebacker were higher on the food chain.

While the Giants do have talent at receiver, the good news is if a linchpin doesn’t emerge, next year’s draft class is said to be shaping up to be equally as deep at receiver as this year’s class was, so the Giants could always try to fill that need again if things don’t work out.