If Eli Manning becomes a star, he'll have Tiki Barber to thank.
And if Eli Manning turns into a bust, he'll have Brandon Jacobs and Reuben Droughns to blame.
Barber's heroic efforts at running back in 2005 and 2006 helped ease the growing pains for the Giant's struggling young quarterback.
With Barber gone, New York turns to Jacobs and Droughns as feature backs—obviously taking great liberty with the term "feature."
Neither Jacobs nor Droughns has shown any signs of star potential, but they'll have to carry the team until Manning shows he's ready for the responsibility.
The truth is that Jacobs and Droughs are victims of horrible timing. Both are serviceable players looking for breakthroughs—but to do it in the media capital of he world...replacing a local hero who retired after a career year...while nurturing the fragile sibling of NFL royalty...is simply too much.
They're in over their heads.
Jacobs will get first crack as the starter. Many in the Giants organization believe he's something special.
Jacobs is the biggest starting running back in the league at 6'4' and 260 pounds—but he runs too upright to be effective. That style makes him an easy target, and his love for contact will lead to injuries more often than explosive runs.
Jacobs should remain a red zone threat thanks to pure physics, but the bigger question is whether he'll be able to maintain his 4.4 YPC average over an entire season.
If not, the job falls to Droughns.
Droughns is Jacobs minus 40 pounds, five inches, and respectable agility: a plodding bruiser with no moves. He did record back-to-back solid years in Denver and in Cleveland, but only managed 758 yards on 3.4 YPC for the Browns last season.
Of course, the shortcomings of the Giants' new running attack might not be so tragic but for the uncertainty around Brother Eli. The poor kid has been alternately brilliant and awful. Without a safety net in Barber, who caught 58 passes last season against a combined 38 for Jacobs and Droughns, Manning looks to be in for a long year.
The defense will be a work in progress too. Apart from rushing the passer, the Giants don't do anything particularly well.
The good news is that Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, and Mathias Kiwanuka will provide pressure, and new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will bring stability. However, New York's linebacking corps is still wanting, and the defensive backfield is still second-rate.
In a division filled with budding offensive talent, that's not good enough.
On the surface, the 2007 Giants season will be about Eli Manning finding himself. But he can't do it alone, and with Barber on the fast track to Katie Couric's blackberry, Jacobs and Droughns have big shoes to fill.
If they can't get it done, at least Tom Coughlin will have someone to blame for his firing.
Projected finish: 6-10, 3rd NFC East
Keep your eyes on: DT Barry Cofield—was solid as a rookie; will be spectacular as a sophomore.
Take your eyes off: CB Corey Webster—was uninspiring as a cover corner; will be spectacular as a bench-warmer.