Predicting the New York Giants' Offensive and Defensive Starters for 2013

Nathan TesslerCorrespondent IJanuary 30, 2013

Predicting the New York Giants' Offensive and Defensive Starters for 2013

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    After a disappointing attempt at a title defense, the New York Giants should expect some changes that will put the team back in a position to make the playoffs.

    The Giants have an eerily impressive ability to get off to a great first half of a season, and then crumble slowly throughout the second half.

    This has been the team’s modus operandi for the past five seasons. But for two of those five seasons, the Giants have had an incredible Week 17 game to squeak into the playoffs. They then use that Week 17 form to find the confidence that inexplicably eluded them, and go on a run to the Super Bowl.

    Despite the 42-7 Week 17 beatdown of the rival Philadelphia Eagles, the Giants were not so lucky this year, as they finished 9-7 and just out of the last wild card spot. 

    Therefore, expect a number of changes on the offensive and defensive side to give the team a much better chance to contend next season.

    Here are my predictions for the 2013 offensive and defensive starters:

Quarterback: Eli Manning

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    This one is an absolute no-brainer.

    Manning is the centerpiece of this team. Coming off a disappointing season for him where he did not reach 4,000 passing yards or 30 touchdowns, expect him to have a bounce back season in 2013. 

    Manning even managed to make the Pro Bowl in spite of the substandard season for him and throw for two touchdowns.

    He may look like someone who has trouble walking in a straight line, but make no mistake that whatever happens to this team next year, they will live and die by the right arm of Manning.

Running Back: David Wilson, Ahmad Bradshaw

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    Bradshaw’s time as the starting running back for the Giants is slowly coming to an end. 

    Wilson had a very up-and-down season in 2012, but by the end of the season was arguably the most confident and consistent performer on the team.

    Wilson was electric as a kick returner, which is something the Giants have severely lacked for years. After he boldly claimed he would be a Hall of Famer one day, Wilson showed some dazzling rushing skill at the end of last season.

    Wilson had his first 100-yard game in Week 14 against the New Orleans Saints, as well as two rushing touchdowns. Despite only getting 71 carries after fumbling the first snap of his career, Wilson averaged 5.0 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns.

    Bradshaw, though, had another 1,000-yard season. He is also one of the best pass-blocking running backs in the league.

    However, he was riddled with foot and neck injuries this season, as well as maddeningly inconsistent.

    Bradshaw barely eclipsed 1,000 yards this season by rushing for 107 yards in the last game against a Philadelphia Eagles team that had given up on the season. He also rushed for 200 yards against a pretty poor Cleveland Browns defense, which makes barely reaching 1,000 yards not look quite so good anymore.

    Bradshaw also had four games with fewer than 40 rushing yards, and eight games with fewer than 60 rushing yards.

    That won’t cut it for a starting running back. 

    And considering the GM believes Wilson can be a feature back, Bradshaw’s days are likely numbered as the starter. Bradshaw does have an incredible amount of passion and desire to play, but for his own health the Giants should consider limiting his touches. Thankfully, Bradshaw’s eventual replacement is not far away.

    But before Wilson takes over as the feature back, he must greatly improve his pass-blocking skills. 

    Bradshaw will be the starter until then, but assuming Wilson works on his pass-blocking skills now, his time will come.

Fullback: Henry Hynoski

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    The man known as the Hynocerous is quietly one of the Giants’ better players.

    He does not get much love, but Hynoski is a powerful blocker and has performed very well doing the dirty work for his first two years with the Giants. 

    Even more, Hynoski finally scored his first career touchdown and got to unveil the Hynocerous touchdown dance 

    He should probably stick to blocking.

    Hynoski is a restricted free agent at the end of next season, but fans should be excited for at least one more season of the Hynocerous.

Wide Receiver: Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Reuben Randle

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    Things are quiet as usual with the Giants front office, but it appears Victor Cruz should get a well-deserved contract extension at some point this offseason.

    Assuming the extension does happen, he and Nicks should again be one of the top wide receiver duos in the league.

    Nicks labored through a number of leg injuries this season and finished with only 53 receptions for 692 yards and three touchdowns.

    Nicks said he doesn't regret playing through the injuries most of the season. He wanted to play for the team, which is always comforting in a professional athlete. But now that the season was a dud, the worry is whether Nicks has caused permanent damage to himself. Although he admits surgery is a minor possibility, he is currently resting until mid-February when he will begin training again.

    It does seem for now that Nicks will be fully healthy by next season. 

    Randle, the second-round pick last season out of LSU, struggled early on. 

    There were even rumors of players questioning his work ethic in early October. But based on the quotes, it appears to be another case of the media creating a story that isn’t there. Randle struggled to adapt to the NFL, but if the head coach and star quarterback say Randle is trying hard, he is probably trying hard.

    Randle now has an entire offseason to work on his game and develop into a threatening third receiver. 

    Cruz should finally get his paycheck, too.  Combine that with a healthy Hakeem Nicks entering a contract year, and the Giants should again have a dangerous set of receivers.

Tight End: Martellus Bennett

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    Bennett achieved more than expected during his one-year contract with the Giants.

    Also fighting through injuries, Bennett finished the season with 55 catches for 616 yards and five touchdowns, which are very good numbers for a Giant tight end.

    But more importantly, Bennett is a character, to say the least. For a team that prides itself on its staunch professionalism, he is walking a dangerous road.

    But Bennett has never become a prima donna and a negative distraction, especially for the Giants. He’s just a creative, very outspoken and slightly odd person.

    To list the notable things Bennett has done, they include: posting a rap song about his love of Cap'n Crunch, forming a gang long ago called the Ocean View Gangsters whose sole purpose was to steal ice cream, using his "Spidey-senses" to save a man who fell over the railing at MetLife Stadium, dubbing himself as The Black Unicorn, carrying around business cards that describe him as a "Visionary Architect" and last but not least, cooking with Rachael Ray.

    Bennett is clearly a fascinating man, and his personality fits perfectly with the eclectic style of New York City. 

    He even wants to create a design firm, finish a novel he compares to The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter, develop a new social networking site and finish a children’s book about a group of bees called the Wannabees. The story alludes to several Bible stories, and the smallest bee is aptly named Marty B.

    In retrospect, none of this takes away from what the 6’6”, 265 pound Bennett has accomplished on the field for the Giants. 

    He is one of the most threatening receiving tight ends the Giants have had since the days of Jeremy Shockey.

    Even more, Bennett loves New York so much that he has stated he would be willing to take a hometown discount to stay here, and the Giants would be wise to sign him long-term.

Left Tackle/Right Tackle: Will Beatty/Max Starks

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    Every year, the Giants seem to need help with their offensive line.

    Beatty was signed before this season by the Giants and turned out to be one of the more pleasant surprises of the season. He was a consistently dominant blocker wherever he lined up, and the polar opposite of David Diehl, who should be gone after a string of disappointing seasons.

    Even though Beatty is a free agent, the Giants will likely re-sign him after his successful 2012 season.

    Since the Giants tend to look toward free agency for offensive line help, Starks seems like the best fit.

    Starks, who has been with the Pittsburgh Steelers his entire career, is an incredibly strong run blocker and underrated pass blocker who can play both left and right tackle.

    For the past few years, it has seemed Starks has been on the way out of Pittsburgh. Yet every year he has played himself back on the team and performed exceptionally throughout the season. After tearing his ACL in last season’s playoffs, Starks miraculously worked his way back to a starting role by the regular season and had a very productive year.

    However, considering the fact that the Steelers have drafted offensive tackles in the second round the past two seasons, even the 31-year-old Starks believes his time is up in Pittsburgh.

    Considering Starks’ injury history and advancing age, the Giants could potentially sign him for a relatively low price. 

    If not, Sean Locklear performed serviceably for the Giants this season, and he could perhaps be a cheaper free-agent option if he can recover from an ugly knee injury.

Left Guard/Center/Right Guard: Kevin Boothe, Jim Cordle, Chris Snee

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    The most notable aspect of this group is the departure of David Baas, the starting center last season.

    Baas has played solid football over the past couple seasons.  Roughly, he is due at least $6 million in total next season.  Unless he restructures his contract like he did last season, Baas may be cut to add cap space for more pressing needs.

    Baas’ backup, Jim Cordle, has yet to get consistent playing time but should be able to handle full-time duties as the center.

    Cordle, the 25-year-old from Ohio State, played guard, tackle and center for the Buckeyes, and the Giants certainly value versatility.

    The Giants love to develop their offensive linemen and have them mesh well together. Cordle is a much cheaper option than Baas, and center is his primary position as well. At 6’3” and 320 pounds, Cordle is a big body and can stand up to most nose tackles.

    In the meantime, Snee and Boothe have played very consistently the past seasons.

    Boothe is an unrestricted free agent, but he will very likely be back at a reasonable cost.

    Considering Snee is the head coach’s son-in-law, as well as a very productive right guard, it’s reasonable to assume he is not going anywhere.

    While Snee and Boothe seem to be set starters, Cordle is a bit of a risk compared to Baas, but the large contract of Baas may just drive him out of New York.

Defensive End: Jason Pierre-Paul, Ezekiel Ansah; Backup: Justin Tuck

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    The only thing better than one Jason Pierre-Paul is two Jason Pierre-Paul’s.

    The similarities between Pierre-Paul and Ansah, who I predict will be the first-round draft pick of the Giants, are almost spooky.

    Pierre-Paul did not start playing football until his high school football coach nearly begged him to play football. Similarly, Ansah, a Ghanaian, was originally a track walk-on at BYU before his coach suggested football.

    Although, some argue that Ansah is not as raw a prospect as Pierre-Paul was and shows great instinct. 

    At 6’6” and 270 pounds, he has nearly the same size as the 6'5", 275 pound Pierre-Paul. Ansah also has the experience to play outside linebacker or defensive end, but is more suited as an end.

    He must work on his stamina if he is going to be a full-time pass-rusher.

    Notably, I believe Osi Umenyiora will also be gone from the Giants roster.

    After clamoring for a new contract for four years, Umenyiora finally got his paycheck, and then gave the worst season of his career. He recorded only two sacks against playoff teams despite the tough Giants schedule, and one of those sacks was a gift where he went untouched to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

    He should definitely be gone.

    Tuck, the defensive captain, has admirably played through injuries for a couple seasons. He is a great leader, but his production has slowed and will likely never be the same. Tuck can provide energy off the bench especially in pass-rush situations, but at this point not much more.

    Another name to consider is Adewale Ojomo, who after getting four sacks this past preseason could see more playing time this year.

    But for a team that prides itself on pass-rush, 2012 was disappointing to say the least.

    Pierre-Paul and Ansah will be the cornerstones of the new and improved pass rush and provide constant pressure every game.

Defensive Tackle: Linval Joseph, Marvin Austin, Kwame Geathers

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    The Giants’ most notable defensive tackle, Chris Canty, could and should be released this offseason.

    When healthy, Canty could be far and away the best interior lineman the Giants have. 

    But considering the Giants can recoup $6.5 million of the $8.2 million he is due next year, the Giants must cut the injury-plagued Canty, or at the very least restructure his contract. He only played in nine games last season and has a history of back injuries, which is in no way worth $8.2 million. 

    Joseph was a quality starter for the Giants last season, recording 59 tackles and four sacks and, most importantly, playing in all 16 games. He will certainly be starting next season, especially for less than $1 million. 

    Austin, though, is also a liability with regards to his health. He played sparingly in his eight games in 2012 and only recorded eight tackles. 

    But he is still a much cheaper option than Canty.

    If the Giants do not feel Austin is ready to take full-time snaps, then they could re-sign Rocky Bernard, who is a fairly serviceable veteran.

    As for Geathers, I believe he could be a steal for the Giants in a late round. 

    Experts believe Geathers could go anywhere between the third and the sixth round.

    Geathers had the unfortunate task of being the backup 3-4 nose tackle at Georgia to John Jenkins, who will almost assuredly go in the first round of the draft this year.

    But at 6’6” and 355 pounds, Geathers could be the run-stuffing defensive tackle the Giants have long lacked. Considering the Giants gave up the seventh-most yards per rushing attempt, they need clear help at run defense.

    Even though he was a backup, Geathers played enough to record 40 tackles and five tackles for a loss for Georgia’s dominant defense.

    The Giants could have a group of very fearsome defensive tackles with Joseph, a healthy Austin and rookie Geathers.

Outside Linebacker: Mathias Kiwanuka, Keith Rivers, Khaseem Greene

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    Again, after such a disappointing season, the Giants need to make changes to the team.

    Therefore, Michael Boley, who has been a mainstay on the team for years, must go.

    Boley actually had a good 2012 season, recording 92 tackles and a surprising three interceptions. He also played every game and is likely one of the faster linebackers left on the team. But at 30 years old, he is one of the aging veterans on this defense. He is not getting faster either and is due $5.9 million in 2013. The Giants must get cheaper and younger.

    Kiwanuka has come back commendably after a neck injury a few years ago and has played in all 16 games for the past two seasons.

    He signed a contract extension in April, and the versatile Kiwanuka is here to stay.

    Rivers, who has always been an injury risk, played in 11 games this season and recorded 44 tackles.

    He is also an unrestricted free agent, and when he was healthy he certainly showed off his incredible speed and athleticism. Due to the injury risk, the Giants could re-sign him for a very low price and add much-needed speed to the position.

    Greene, who I believe should be the Giants’ second-round pick, would also add speed to the position.

    A former safety, Greene has the speed that the Giants should covet in free agency and the draft. He also has the pass rush instincts that define a Giant defense. With 136 tackles and 12 tackles for a loss, Greene was the 2012 Big East Defensive Player of the Year.

    The Giants defense desperately needs depth, versatility, and speed. A linebacker corps of Kiwanuka, Rivers, and Greene would fill that need.

Middle Linebacker: Chase Blackburn

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    Blackburn is a free agent this offseason, and at this point it is anyone’s guess who the starting middle linebacker will be in 2013.

    If Blackburn returns, he will be the starter.

    But Mark Herzlich is younger and much more athletic than the veteran Blackburn, so each player has their pros and cons. 

    At this point, I have a feeling the Giants are not ready to trust Herzlich as the starting middle linebacker. Blackburn knows the defense so well and has an incredible work ethic. His leadership, veteran presence, and tackling ability are indispensable.

    Furthermore, this season Blackburn recorded a career-high 98 tackles, three sacks and five forced fumbles, which are very good all-around stats. 

    If the Giants are able to add more speed and depth to the rest of the defense, then Blackburn’s severe lack of speed will not be nearly as damaging, and he should be back to command the defense in 2013.

Cornerback: Corey Webster, Prince Amukamara; Slot: Jayron Hosley

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    Corey Webster’s 2012 season was a disaster.

    Until this season, Webster has been one of the best defensive backs on the team. The 30-year-old has been a staple of the defense since the 2005 season. This season, though, Webster looked terrible in coverage and could hardly even locate the ball in the air.

    The Giants decided not to pay Victor Cruz after last season to be sure he was not a one-year-wonder. But since Webster is due $7 million in base salary next season, the Giants will likely not use the same tactic on him.

    Therefore, Webster will be back with a pay cut.

    If he does not take a dramatic pay cut, though, then I believe Webster will be gone by the 2013 season.

    To Webster’s credit, he played through a broken hand suffered in Week 3, as well as a hamstring injury throughout most of the season. The extent of the injury is unknown. 

    But until this season, Webster has been such a solid playmaker for the Giants that I believe he has earned another shot.

    At this point, the Giants do not have many other options, anyway. Amukamara is very effective when he is healthy, but he must prove he can stay healthy for an entire season. Hosley has also been effective at times, but only has the size to be a slot cornerback. Other players such as Justin Tryon and Michael Coe are simply role players.

    There is also a good chance the Giants look toward the draft to add depth to this position of need.

    With the emergence of FCS players holding their own in the NFL, one name to watch in perhaps the third round is Robert Alford. Alford has 4.4 speed and has been becoming a very popular name after his impressive Senior Bowl performance. He has the ability to be a lockdown cornerback, but may perhaps go as high as the second round.

    Nevertheless, Webster will be back assuming he takes a pay cut. He will have a second chance to prove that this season was a fluke.

Safety: Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, Duke Williams

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    Once again, the Giants must make another tough decision and let go of Kenny Phillips.

    Phillips, 26, is the run-stopping safety that defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has utilized significantly in his three-safety system.

    But Phillips is also injury-prone and missed nine games this season due to injury. He is an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

    Brown filled in incredibly in the place of Phillips. The 25-year-old recorded 76 tackles, two forced fumbles and an astounding eight interceptions. He has a penchant for the big play, and he will be a fixture in the Giants’ defensive system for a while. Brown can only improve for years to come.

    Rolle, meanwhile, is one of the leaders of the defense.

    He has played in every game since joining the Giants before the 2010 season, and this year he recorded 96 tackles and two interceptions.

    The 30-year-old will certainly be back in 2013 and be just as productive as well. 

    Duke Williams is not a name many people know. 

    But Williams could be the quick replacement to the departing Phillips.

    At 6’1” and 201 pounds, the Nevada safety is compact and an incredibly hard hitter. In his senior season, Williams recorded 106 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, one interception and three forced fumbles. Williams is excellent in run support and tackles extremely well. He is good in deep coverage, but must work on his athleticism to maintain that ability in the NFL. 

    He will likely go in the fourth or fifth round, and if the Giants draft him he will be the perfect hybrid run stopping safety that Phillips was in Fewell’s three-safety system.

Kicker/Punter: Lawrence Tynes/Steve Weatherford

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    This one is also a no-brainer.

    Tynes is an unrestricted free agent, but he is one of the best kickers in the league, and the Giants will surely re-sign him. He is automatic in field goals under 40 yards, but is frustratingly bad anywhere beyond that distance.

    Weatherford is locked up long-term, and he is the most reliable punter in the league.

    Even though the Giants will likely go through a number of changes after such a disappointing season, Tynes and Weatherford are a couple of the main pieces of this team that will stay, and help bring the Giants back into playoff contention in 2013.