New York Giants: Grading the Strength of Every Positional Unit Heading into Camp
The New York Giants mandatory minicamp starts June 12, officially marking the start of their Super Bowl title defense. They have several starting positions up for grabs and the competition will be fierce.
But have the Giants gotten better since before the draft? That was the last time we evaluated the strength of each positional unit.
The Giants had one of the more underrated drafts this year. Not many gave the Giants an amazing draft, but no one really knocked what they did either. GM Jerry Reese got the Giants some terrific replacements for players lost to free agency, as well as added depth at important positions.
The grades will not be much different from last time, but the Giants have definitely improved.
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Eli Manning carried the Giants for most of the regular season with his eye-popping numbers and late-game heroics. If it weren't for his play, the Giants likely would have missed the playoffs altogether; instead, they celebrated the franchise's fourth championship.
Eli had the best season of his career, throwing for 4,933 yards, 29 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and a 92.9 quarterback rating.
Backup David Carr decided to stick around for at least one more season as the veteran re-signed with the Giants this offseason. Though Manning has never missed a start in his career, Carr is a good backup to have around.
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In the last version of this article, I speculated whether the Giants trusted D.J. Ware or Da'Rel Scott to be Ahmad Bradshaw's backup. Well, it seems the Giants wanted to upgrade, as they drafted David Wilson in the first round.
The Giants were dead last in the NFL rushing the football in 2011, averaging just 89.2 yards per game. Hopefully the addition of Wilson provides a boost to the running game; I'm not sure the Giants can be as effective offensively without at least a decent rushing attack.
They were able to do so last year, but that is not typical of a Tom Coughlin-coached team.
The Giants also added Joe Martinek as an undrafted free agent and Andre Brown's suspension has been overturned. The battle for roster spots at this position will be a tight race.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
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Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz were the NFL's best one-two punch in 2011, combining for 2,728 yards and 16 touchdowns. They, along with Mario Manningham, made the Giants go, as the running game was nonexistent for most of the season.
With Manningham no longer in the fold, this year's camp will be crucial for the Giants to find a replacement. They drafted Rueben Randle in the second round of the draft, significantly increasing their depth at the position.
Ramses Barden, Jerrel Jernigan and Domenik Hixon are all also vying for playing time. With Nicks breaking his foot and missing these OTAs, it gives these guys extra opportunities to show what they can do. If Nicks comes back healthy, his injury could be a blessing in disguise.
The Giants also added Adrien Robinson in the fourth round, adding depth and a fantastic blocker at the tight end position.
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You could make an argument that the offensive line is the only weakness on the Giants offense and not many would quarrel with you.
The unit was pretty awful in 2011, but somehow the team was able to overcome that and still win a championship. If the unit can get it together this year, the offense will be scary good.
Reese added some bodies in the draft and free agency, but none of the moves were big splashes. He added Brandon Mosley and Matt McCants in the draft, but neither are expected to contribute right away. He also added long-time Seattle Seahawks right tackle Sean Locklear. These were depth moves, nothing more.
Hopefully with a full offseason to gel and become more familiar with each other, the offensive line will improve on last season.
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With a young, emerging Jason Pierre-Paul and a happy Osi Umenyiora, the sky is the limit for this defensive line. It's hard to ignore the correlation between the Giants flipping the switch in Week 16 and the health of the defensive line.
Justin Tuck had played through injuries most of the season but started looking like his old self at the end of the year, and Osi had finally gotten healthy from the knee and ankle injuries he battled all year long. Once the pass rush got going, it was hard to move the ball against this group.
The Giants added Markus Kuhn in the seventh round, but they have a host of candidates looking to replace Dave Tollefson. Craig Marshall and Justin Trattou are two who could see a significant increase in playing time this season.
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Since the last time we evaluated each positional group, the Giants made perhaps one of the steals of the offseason when they traded a fifth-round pick for Keith Rivers, former top-10 pick in the 2008 draft. Though he has gone through some injuries and missed a lot of time, I wouldn't consider his injuries as lingering issues.
He suffered a broken jaw in his rookie year, and wrist surgery kept him out of the entire 2011 season. If he comes back fully healthy, the Giants will have added a dangerous weapon.
They also brought back Chase Blackburn, who played well down the stretch last season and has been lining up with the starters in camp.
The Giants may not have anyone that jumps off the page in this group, but they have plenty of solid players who just get the job done.
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The Giants coaches will have a very tough decision on their hands when it comes time to make cuts in the secondary. At corner, the Giants have Prince Amukamara, 2012 third-rounder Jayron Hosley, recently signed Antwaun Molden, Michael Coe, Justin Tryon, Bruce Johnson and Brandon Bing all competing for maybe three roster spots.
At safety, the Giants have Tyler Sash, Janzen Jackson, Jojo Nicolas, Chris Horton, Stevie Brown and Will Hill looking for two or three roster spots.
They say competition brings out the best in professional athletes; the Giants have no shortage of competitors in this race.
Getting Terrell Thomas back will make the Giants a much better unit in 2012 despite losing Aaron Ross to the Jacksonville Jaguars. In 2010, Thomas was the Giants' best defender, recording 101 tackles, five interceptions, 21 pass deflections and four forced fumbles.
The addition of Hosley and (hopefully) improvement of Prince Amukamara could give the Giants one of the deeper secondaries in the NFL.
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Locking up Steve Weatherford for five years and $12.75 million will help head coach Tom Coughlin sleep at night. Coughlin places a huge emphasis on special teams and an even bigger one on having a punter that can control field position.
Weatherford was a major underrated weapon for the Giants' playoff run, and the team wasted no time re-signing him.
Lawrence Tynes will still hang around as long as he can be accurate within 50 yards. The team could use a kicker with a bigger leg, but Coughlin is wary of attempting long field goals anyway. He would much rather pin a team deep than risk giving his opponent great field position.
Special teams coach Tom Quinn improved the punt and kick coverage teams from a year ago, but most of that had to do with the Giants getting much better and committed players. Hopefully they can continue to improve; 2010 was an embarrassing year for this unit.