Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
19 Apr 2013
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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