New York Giants: 5 Starters That Need to Be Replaced This Offseason
Bombarded by inconsistencies, injuries and a very formidable schedule, the G-Men have pulled off one of the most improbable playoff runs in recent memory, punching their ticket to Super Bowl XLVI for a shot at a second ring in five years.
As arduous as it is to remember, Big Blue struggled to finish above .500 this year. Looking ahead to next season, here are five members of the current starting lineup that need to be replaced in New York's effort to defend its title as NFC, or perhaps even NFL, champion.
OG Kevin Boothe
New York's offensive line has been cohesive and effective for the majority of this season, but Kevin Boothe's play at guard has been a liability.
The Giants averaged less than four yards per carry when running behind their guards this year, and Boothe's removal is the first step toward re-establishing a dominant ground game.
With 2010 fifth-round selection Mitch Petrus awaiting an opportunity to start, it wouldn't be sensible to leave Boothe in the offensive line rotation.
Petrus was an all-SEC first teamer who nearly set an NFL Combine record for repetitions on the bench press. Boothe provides a veteran presence, but not much else, and it's time for him and the Giants to go their separate ways.
TE Jake Ballard
The loyal masses at MetLife Stadium have been pleasantly surprised by Jake Ballard this season. Few will forget his late-second heroics against the New England Patriots in Week 9, and Giants fans can only hope to see a similar occurrence come Super Bowl Sunday.
Still, Ballard's lack of pass-blocking ability and his expiring contract make him a candidate to be replaced.
Ballard has been plagued with injuries this year, and in what was dubbed as the Year of the Tight End in professional football, he averaged just 43.1 receiving yards per game.
Furthermore, Bear Pascoe's key score in San Francisco illustrates how Ballard's absence does not yield negative results.
Ballard will surely demand a lot of money in 2012 after seeing mediocre tight ends Zach Miller and Kevin Boss earn prime-time contracts in free agency this summer.
With so many electrifying prospects at the position in this year's draft class (Clemson's Dwayne Allen, Stanford's Coby Fleener), it's hard to believe that Ballard will be back in 2012-13.
OT Kareem McKenzie
The G-Men were spectacular en route to a thrilling win at Candlestick Park Sunday night, but they weren't perfect.
New York's protection scheme allowed 12 quarterback knockdowns and six sacks. Niners defensive end Aldon Smith gave Kareem McKenzie fits on the edge, and Eli Manning was nearly intercepted a few times as a result.
McKenzie's struggles in pass blocking are only magnified by his inability to aid the rushing attack. When running from the McKenzie's right tackle position, the Giants averaged just 3.5 yards per attempt this season, ranking 26th in the league.
With 11 years of NFL physicality under his belt, McKenzie's not getting any younger—or healthier. Expect New York to search for an immediate replacement through the draft.
CB Aaron Ross
True, this selection is a bit unfair, as Ross was a desperate midseason fill-in in the secondary, and his four interceptions this year make him a serviceable starter.
Still, with rookie CB Prince Amukamara fully recovered from a broken foot, and with upper-echelon corner Terrell Thomas back next season, Ross' niche in New York will surely shrink.
The two aforementioned players in addition to Corey Webster are likely ahead of him on next year's depth chart, and as a result, Ross will become excellent trade bait to teams in need of an athletic coverage man. After the Super Bowl, his time in the Big Apple is all but over.
KR Devin Thomas
The Giants used a committee of kick-return specialists this season, none of whom found much success. The leader of this bunch, WR Devin Thomas, was completely ineffective and never a threat to bust a big run-back.
With kickoffs moved forward to the 35-yard line, there has been a sharp decline in return efficiency across the league. Still, New York has lacked a dangerous return game for years.
Perhaps Big Blue can look in-house for a new starter or sign a speedy free agent to assume the responsibilities. Thomas ranked a mere 41st in the NFL in average return yardage. Considering there are 32 teams in the league, something definitely needs to change here.
This is not to say that Thomas should be removed from the roster altogether. Far from it, as he was the star of the special teams unit on Sunday, saving the game by recovering two vital fumbles. His role in the coverage unit is certainly solidified, but he probably won't be deep for many kickoffs next year.