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19 Apr 2013

State of the Team: New York Giants

by Andy Benoit

The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that many units are listed with 12 starters rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL.

Color Legend:

  • Star
  • Good
  • Adequate
  • Jury’s still out
  • Just a guy
  • Upgrade needed
  • No longer on the team

Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.

Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.

Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.

Click here for an archive of all State of the Team articles.

OFFENSE

OVERVIEW

A few times each year there are bouts of baffling ineptitude from the Giants. But overall, with Eli Manning at the helm and longtime offensive assistant Kevin Gilbride crafting the game plans, this offense is a fine-tuned machine. Manning’s ability to improvise before and after the snap is what makes this system work. Other important factors are Manning’s unique chemistry with his wide receivers, the offensive line’s continuity and, per Tom Coughlin’s wishes (demands), Gilbride’s commitment to staying balanced with the run game.

BACKFIELD

QB: Eli Manning, David Carr

RB: David Wilson, Andre Brown, Da'Rel Scott, Henry Hynoski (FB); Lost: Ahmad Bradshaw

What’s not talked about enough is Manning’s arm strength and his ability to make quality throws in the face of pressure. The Giants can win with Manning dropping back 50 times a game, but they’re even more likely to win with him dropping back only 35 times. They no longer have a veteran backfield to rely on. The plan is for Wilson to assume a larger load in the absence of Bradshaw. The late first-round pick of a year ago has sensational speed and acceleration, making him extremely dangerous in space. However, Wilson won’t be able to fully recognize his potential until coaches trust he can secure the ball and handle basic pass-protection assignments. Brown emerged last season as a quality inside pounder with surprisingly nimble feet. He can also do the dirty work on passing downs. Hynoski is one of the few NFL fullbacks who is still a big part of his team’s identity. He’s a great lead-blocker, particularly on the weak side.

RECEIVERS

WR: Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, Louis Murphy, Jerrel Jernigan; Lost: Ramses Barden, Domenik Hixon

TE: Brandon Myers, Bear Pascoe, Adrien Robinson; Lost: Marcellus Bennett

Cruz is a star, but few people seem to notice just how much his production dropped in 2012 once defenses were fully dialed in on him after his 2011 breakout campaign. He dropped from sixth to 41st in DVOA among wide receivers, and his yardage total dropped by nearly 500. Aaron Schatz pointed out to me that even if you remove the three plays in 2011 where Cruz had over 60 yards after the catch, his YAC average still dropped from 5.8 to 3.8. Does this have something to do with New York’s delay in signing him to a long-term contract?

Nicks has superstar talent but must prove he can stay strong for 16-plus games. He and Cruz have Manning’s full confidence because both are mechanically-sound route runners with an uncommon wiggle that allows them to shake man coverage. Randle is being counted on to emerge as the long-term No. 3 receiver. So far, the organization is a bit disappointed with his professional maturity (or lack thereof), but it’s way too early to give up hope.

Inside, Bennett wasn’t worth retaining at a slightly inflated price. Replacing him with Myers downgrades the Giants at tight end, particularly blocking. Myers' high DVOA in 2012 (11th among tight ends) was in large part a product of circumstance from the structure of the Oakland offense. He's not a creator or someone who worries the defense, and it's telling that the Raiders made very little attempt to re-sign him. At least Myers should be more consistent than Bennett.

OFFENSIVE LINE

LT: Will Beatty LG: Kevin Boothe C: David Baas RG: Chris Snee RT: David Diehl

Backups: James Brewer, Brandon Mosley; Lost: Sean Locklear

Individually, none of these linemen are particularly dynamic, even if Snee gets perennial Pro Bowl consideration. Collectively, though, this group clicks. Boothe in particular has improved dramatically since he entered the starting lineup in mid-2011. However, what happens if Diehl persists in slowing down? And what if the Giants at some point have to (again) rely on their unproven depth? Can Beatty continue to progress? He was slow out of the gates, but emerged enough last season to warrant a new five-year deal with $19 million in guarantees.

DEFENSE

OVERVIEW

The Giants defense never fully sprouted in 2012. A variety of factors were to blame –- the most prominent being that there always seemed to be handful of different guys hurt at some point. Disconcertingly, the sub-standard 2012 season looks more like a harbinger than an aberration. New York’s lauded four-man pass rush is now without Osi Umenyiora, plus its most versatile component, Justin Tuck, has become less and less dynamic over the past two years. On the back end, this perennially revamped linebacking corps is still very much a question mark, while the secondary is banking on a pair of under-performing corners. Of course, critics have learned some hard lessons over the years about doubting the Giants defense. On a related note, it’s worth mentioning that this excellent coaching staff has remained mostly intact the past few years.

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE: Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Adrian Tracy, Adewale Ojomo Lost: Osi Umenyiora

DT: Cullen Jenkins, Linval Joseph, Marvin Austin, Shaun Rogers, Mike Patterson; Lost: Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard

Don’t expect Pierre-Paul’s letdown in 2012 to carry over. He’ll likely drop the extra pounds of muscle that he misguidedly put on and regain the devastating quickness that amplifies his even more devastating power. Tuck will only be 31 on the season-opener; if he can be truly healthy, he should regain his Pro Bowl form as an inside-outside line of scrimmage technician. In obvious passing situations, he will slide to a three-technique in order to make room for Mathias Kiwanuka on the edge. With Umenyiora gone, Kiwanuka becomes this team’s purest speed rusher. Jenkins, a fine technician, is a good replacement for Canty. Rogers and Austin are both supremely gifted, though in recent years those gifts have been nullified by injuries. Patterson is trying to recover from brain surgery.

LINEBACKERS

OLB: Keith Rivers, Jacquain Williams, Mathias Kiwanuka, Spencer Paysinger; Lost: Michael Boley

ILB: Dan Connor, Mark Herzlich; Lost: Chase Blackburn

Injuries have also greatly impacted Rivers and Connor, two players who briefly looked like future stars early in their careers. Williams is a solid cover linebacker, while Kiwanuka is strictly a first-and second-down linebacker. Paysinger and Herzlich will likely get reps this season given that it’s unlikely the Giants will suddenly stop toying with different personnel packages. They’re always searching for the right combination of players. It would help if they could bring back Blackburn, a veteran who more than makes up for a lack of athleticism with instincts and intelligence. He was a valuable stabilizing presence last year.

SECONDARY

CB: Corey Webster, Prince Amukamara, Terrell Thomas, Jayron Hosley, Aaron Ross; Lost: Bruce Johnson, Justin Tryon

S: Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, Will Hill, Ryan Mundy; Lost: Kenny Phillips

Webster’s jury is out because he has had a rollercoaster career. He was a bust his first few years, an unexpected star the next few years, then reverted back to a bust last year. The Giants are praying he regains his No. 1 form. If he’s bad again, this defense will crumble. Amukamara’s jury is out because the 2011 first-round pick has been wildly up-and-down when not injured. He must play with more assertiveness, particularly in one-on-one coverage. Thomas’ jury is out because he’s missed the past two years with knee injuries. If he cannot contribute, Hosley will assume the slot duties. The 2012 third-rounder flashed in this role last season, especially as a blitzer. However, he must be more consistent, including on the outside. (It seems like every Giants nickel back winds up playing outside for at least a little bit at some point.) Rolle is at his best near the line of scrimmage. Brown was a turnover machine last year who really impressed coaches. Hill is a solid hitter, and has a watered-down version of Rolle’s versatility.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Josh Brown, David Buehler; P: Steve Weatherford; Lost: Lawrence Tynes

Brown really isn't any worse than he was during his long tenure with the Rams. Buehler is the kind of reasonable kicker who is always floating around on the waiver wire. Weatherford has seen his gross punt value decline the last two years, but he's still above-average, and he brings extra value because he's good at running fakes.

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Posted by: Andy Benoit on 19 Apr 2013

23 comments, Last at 24 Apr 2013, 12:02pm by Roch Bear

Comments

1
by RickD :: Fri, 04/19/2013 - 8:44pm

OK, Eli's a "star" eh?

Time to open the floodgates. "Why is he blue when (insert QB here) is only green?"

5
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Sat, 04/20/2013 - 2:41pm

Because his last name is Manning.

6
by nat :: Sat, 04/20/2013 - 3:50pm

Because Andy is in love with long desperation throws into coverage. And arm strength in general.

Compare with his comments on Matt Schaub, who in the past four years has produced about as much and about as consistently as Eli in the regular season, but didn't even rate green, much less blue.

This also explains his Flacco love, who does indeed throw a nice ball for long throws into coverage.

The Manning name might come into it, too. But I'd put my money on selectively remembering all the successful heaves, and forgetting all the weaker plays that made the heaves necessary.

9
by theslothook :: Sat, 04/20/2013 - 9:31pm

I agree...No one ever mentions that the giants offense is often as liable as the defense in their second half collapses and eli's a big part of that too. When eli is on, hes damn near hard to beat with great awareness, accuracy, compensation for the o line - basically all you want from your qb. But he also gets into very long streaks of horrid inaccuracy - balls into the dirt or sailing over head. Its why I've always been leery of exactly how to judge eli overall.

10
by jonnyblazin :: Sat, 04/20/2013 - 9:49pm

The nice thing about having a big arm is that it means a QB can succeed in cold and windy weather. That might not translate into great regular season stats, but in January it has its benefits.

QBs like Schaub and Ryan seem to me like they might be able to make it to the super bowl if they get home field advantage and everything breaks in their favor, but guys like Manning can go on the road in bad conditions and at least threaten the defense with downfield throws.

11
by theslothook :: Sat, 04/20/2013 - 11:23pm

That I will agree with. Plus, its possible flacco will use this postseason as a step toward a much more consistent and higher plateau.

12
by Sifter :: Sun, 04/21/2013 - 5:17am

Have we got a reference for this kind of claim? Big arm = more likely to succeed in January? Because on the face of it I call it complete BS. For every Terry Bradshaw or John Elway who had a gun, there is a Tom Brady or Joe Montana who didn't have the vaunted 'arm strength'.

13
by jonnyblazin :: Sun, 04/21/2013 - 11:58am

I usually use references in my doctoral research, but not my football website comments, sorry about that.

First off, I didn't say big arm = more likely to succeed in January. I said that if the conditions are cold and windy, a QB with a big arm will have a better chance of success than a QB without one. If you want to look in to the aerodynamics of it that's fine, but a ball thrown with a tight spiral and at a high velocity into the wind is going to be more accurate than a lob.

But it's a claim based on what I've observed recently. Look out how Flacco outplayed Brady in the wind and P. Manning in the cold in Denver and Foxboro last year. Everyone would agree that those two are superior QBs than Flacco. But Manning was a shell of himself in that game. Brady tried to go deep to Welker early and was off target, so the Ravens flooded the short and intermediate parts of the field because they didn't think he could throw it through the wind. Flacco destroyed Denver by throwing over the top, and the Pats safeties were consistently deep, allowing the Ravens to complete intermediate throws.

Tom Brady won those super bowls on the strength of his defense, by the way. You'll notice he hasn't been that great of a playoff QB since 2004. Both Eli and Flacco have better post season numbers than Brady in terms of Y/A, AY/A, TD/INT.

Montana was maybe the greatest QB ever, coached by one of the greatest offensive minds, threw to the greatest WR of all time, and had dominant defenses to boot. So if you combine all those factors, yes, playoff success is likely. Of course he played poorly when he had to travel to the NYG, even in his prime.

So next year if Romo or Ryan are heading to GB in January to play in 0 degree temperature and wind, you can feel free to wager on them but I wouldn't.

14
by theslothook :: Sun, 04/21/2013 - 3:17pm

I actually thought Manning played quite well against Baltimore. Obviously, everyone plays worse in the postseason generally(everyone except flacco this season), but overall - he played well right up until OT when his last throw was just a terrible horrible favresque decision. That said, one int was pretty blatant defensive holding and all three of his tds were absolutely threaded throws. I was amazed at that one to moreno which was fitted into the tightest of windows.

Now to brady - again - i thought last years AFC champ game he was horridly terrible. This one he was ok but lot of little things got in the way that normally don't happen. There were drops on third down, fumbles by his rbs, a mixup on routes - bb conservatively punting. Overall it wasn't stellar, but I don't think it was a result of his arm strength.

In general - I think arm strength matters a lot. Not just for deep, it matters to get the ball medium and short quickly. I do think it helps in january, but I'm not sure it was the deciding factor in any of these games. And ps - ironically - I thought flacco was horrible against INdy(the worst defense he would see all postseason).

20
by Perfundle :: Mon, 04/22/2013 - 4:27pm

"Obviously, everyone plays worse in the postseason generally(everyone except flacco this season)"

Obviously? I don't find that obvious at all. Just this year, Flacco, Wilson, Kaepernick and Ryan all had higher QB ratings in the playoffs than the regular season. In 2011 there was Tebow, Manning, Smith, and Flacco again, plus Brees and Stafford were basically the same. Considering that Houston in 2011 and Minnesota in 2012 didn't have their starting quarterbacks available, and that Griffin was hurt in the first quarter against Seattle, that makes 10 out of 21 healthy quarterbacks that didn't get worse in the playoffs the last two years.

I would guess that if you looked at DVOA, the average quarterback isn't going to perform too differently in the playoffs compared to the regular season.

23
by Roch Bear :: Wed, 04/24/2013 - 12:02pm

The "Obvious" would seem to stem from the observation that defenses are better in playoff teams. So, VOA should fall on average while DVOA should remain about the same.

18
by Alex (not verified) :: Mon, 04/22/2013 - 5:57am

If it were really about the deep ball for him he would have made Kaepernick blue. It's just his subjective opinion. It's pretty obvious he hasn't had time to really fully appreciate all the players he's evaluating. But how could he?

2
by Yaguar :: Sat, 04/20/2013 - 1:17am

The only greens so far with a legitimate case over Eli are Ryan, Wilson, and Romo.

Ryan has three receivers in blue. Wilson only has a year on his resume so far. And Romo, well, that's a fight for the Cowboys thread.

4
by justanothersteve :: Sat, 04/20/2013 - 1:02pm

I'd take Eli over both Ryan and Romo. Not as certain about Wilson. But it's for the same reason you mentioned; he only has one year on his resume at this point.

3
by rich31689 (not verified) :: Sat, 04/20/2013 - 10:32am

The lack of talent on the back 7 of the defense is extremely worrisome. Nobody knows what they're going to get from anybody in the linebackers or the secondary - there are some guys who could step up, but thats a scary thing to rely on. Methinks that Reese has gotten cocky about certain dearly-held beliefs due to playoff success, like his continual refusal to invest anything in linebackers. The secondary is still terribad, but not really from lack of investment. Every year they pick an early round DB, they've just had a little run of bad luck with injuries there. The best-case scenario for the defense is the DL goes back to dominant (likely), Amukamara becomes a consistently great cornerback (possible), and those things make up for the fact that there isn't nearly enough talent in the middle of the field (maybe). IF that goes right, the defense could be average. If not, it's gonna be another long year near the bottom of the defensive rankings. Then again, there have been years when the talent projected defensive dominance and the reality was very disappointing. Perhaps coaching is the problem. It's strange that a coaching staff which is otherwise so solid seems to have problems finding a decent defensive coordinator. Coughlin loves him some continuity, so it's almost like if you don't totally blow it, you have at least a 3 year leash. This is probably the make-or-break year for Perry Fewell.

There aren't any NYG fans worried about the offense, as long as Eli is there and has a decent O-line, they'll be fine. And that is what makes him a blue.

My 2 cents on your rankings - Will Beatty and Linval Joseph are greens, Tuck is just adequate until proven otherwise, and Diehl is red. The guy has been atrocious for years, but he's one of Coughlin's "guys" so they keep him around. Otherwise the colors look pretty fair.

21
by Independent George :: Tue, 04/23/2013 - 9:52am

I think at this point, Antrel Rolle is adequate at best; he's still a fierce tackler, but he's been a liability in coverage for a while now. That might not matter so much if he's the 'heavy' nickel back, with Phillips and Brown behind him, but he can't play two deep anymore.

7
by cisforcookie (not verified) :: Sat, 04/20/2013 - 4:33pm

I can't help but question the adoration directed at victor cruz. The man had one amazing season wherein he splashed onto the scene with a ton of YAC and deep passes. And that was very impressive. But he's basically limited to the slot, his sophomore season was mediocre given the number of targets he received, and he benefits from having a very good quarterback and a very good starting split-end. Their tight ends haven't been bad either. I would honestly rate Cruz as somewhere between green and black at this point.

15
by justanothersteve :: Sun, 04/21/2013 - 4:36pm

He does have arguably the best Campbell's soup commercial.

16
by rich31689 (not verified) :: Sun, 04/21/2013 - 6:16pm

He's clearly a much better slot receiver than an outside guy, and not somebody who can carry the load himself. He misses Nicks more than anybody else on the Giants. And clearly NFL management in general doesn't see him as an elite WR, or else he would have gotten more play in RFA. Still, he's a great guy to have on your team; very reliable on 3rd down, makes guys miss, cool TD dance. As for the "adoration," he's just the kind of feel-good story that the media loves; non-traditional football power school, undrafted, vaulted to stardom after getting a chance due to injuries to other players, now hitting it big on the big stage with a flashy style. He also has a gift for self-promotion that is uncommon in professional football players. I think a green rating is fair for him.

22
by Perfundle :: Tue, 04/23/2013 - 6:05pm

It seems that between the article itself and the comments, there is no evidence that Cruz should be blue at all. I don't remember any other blue player having only negative comments in the writeup.

Cruz has quite a low yards per target number, which I only found out about after puzzling over why he was so low in DVOA. And on that note, why don't they list this stat instead of the yards per catch stat? You wouldn't rank QBs on YPC, would you?

8
by Sifter :: Sat, 04/20/2013 - 6:05pm

Had to laugh at all the CBs being yellow - but I can't disagree, and arguably Hosley should be yellow as well. Theoretically they should be able to find 3 decent CBs from those 5 as there's plenty of talent and raw ability there (2 former 1st rounders, 2 former 2nd rounders, 1 3rd rounder), which makes you wonder what the coaching is like if none of the CBs can get it right consistently.

17
by Toastolio Patterson (not verified) :: Mon, 04/22/2013 - 2:31am

"it's telling that the Raiders made very little attempt to re-sign him."

No, it isn't. The Raiders were $31M over the salary cap. It's almost irrelevant to Brandon Myers as a player.

19
by Dean :: Mon, 04/22/2013 - 9:24am

There was a time when Cullen Jenkins was green. I think those days have passed.