New York Giants: Grading the Strength of Every Position Heading into Camp
In less than seven weeks, the New York Giants will be met with hefty expectations, the bright lights of Sunday Night Football and a chorus of boos in Arlington. Let that sit in for a second.
The Giants have worlds to go before their opening night matchup with the Cowboys, and while the majority of positions on both sides of the ball seem stable, a few important red flags linger. Is Prince Amukamara a No. 1 corner, and can Corey Webster return to pre-2012 form? Will Justin Pugh, David Diehl or James Brewer man the right tackle spot? Are any of the linebackers reliable starters?
As the G-Men head to training camp, let's see exactly what we're working with at each position.
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Make no mistake about it, Eli Manning is still one of the best in the business. The nine-year vet touts one of the sharpest deep balls in football and tossed more than 25 touchdown passes for the fourth consecutive season in 2012. Manning's yet to miss a start since taking the reins in '04, and that alone constitutes a stellar grade.
Behind the two-time Super Bowl MVP sits one of the league's stronger second-stringers in David Carr and a promising rookie in Ryan Nassib. Draft day plummet aside, Nassib is an intriguing prospect who bolsters depth, though he likely makes the practice squad this summer. Still, the unit is all about Manning. He's averaged a 3.58 win probability over the past two seasons.
David Wilson and Andre Brown each averaged at least five yards a carry last year, and the mix of Wilson's agility and Brown's straight-ahead strength make for a formidable two-headed attack. Though Wilson's favored to get the starting job, both backs have serious upside for 2013.
Ryan Torain, Da'Rel Scott and Michael Cox are nothing to write home about for now, and none of them will be needed unless one of the two feature backs goes down. If Wilson can continue progressing from his rookie season and Brown stays healthy, watch out.
You have to be leery of the combo's lack of experience though; the two combine for four career starts. The fullback situation remains uncertain, as Henry Hynoski nurses his knee and Vonta Leach sifts through his options in free agency.
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Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are a nasty one-two punch. Nicks will be Manning's hot read on third downs, while Cruz will function as a vertical threat. Both can feasibly snag double-digit touchdown grabs, and if Nicks can remain on the field and be productive, Cruz will get slightly less safety attention.
Of course, if opposing defenses opt to double-team both receivers, speedster wideouts Louis Murphy and Rueben Randle could make some noise. This is ultimately one of the strongest units in the league at full strength.
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The jury's still out on Brandon Myers, who broached 80 receptions but scored only four touchdowns with the Raiders last year. Critics think his run blocking is a significant downgrade from Martellus Bennett's, but Bear Pascoe will help with that.
Second-year player Adrien Robinson could finally see some reps as well. Like the running backs, the Giants are relying mostly on upside here. Myers' 7.6 percent deep pass rate is particularly low for a tight end, but heck, New York's not looking for another deep target.
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The Giants shocked just about everyone with their line play last year. Big Blue ranked second in both adjusted line yards and adjusted sack rate in 2012, per Football Outsiders. The line was gutsy in interior run blocking, clean off the edge and penalty-free for much of the season.
Now let's see if they can do it again.
Chris Snee shows no signs of slowing down after a Pro Bowl 2012, while Will Beatty and Kevin Boothe continue trending upward. David Baas will have to prove himself with another full season at center, but the only real question mark in a stellar starting five is right tackle. David Diehl allowed five sacks last year despite not being a full-time starter, while James Brewer and first-round draftee Justin Pugh have no pro experience.
If the right tackle holds up, this unit could reprise its success from last year. Re-signing Beatty and Boothe was huge. Second-string depth is pretty skimpy though.
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Jason Pierre-Paul was a Pro Bowler largely by name last year, though his 6.5 sacks understate his importance to the team in run defense. Justin Tuck continues to free fall after recording six or fewer sacks in three of the past four seasons. Still, this is one of the deepest D-lines in football.
JPP, Tuck, Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins make up a respectable front four, while Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore have potential as rookies. Adrian Tracy has been dubbed "young Osi"—yeah, remember him?—and Mike Patterson is good added depth in the middle.
While this could be another year of underperformance, you have to approve of the unit on paper.
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This is the clear-cut weakest spot on the team, and it's scary. The Giants have been traditionally dominant in run defense, but you can argue that none of the team's top five linebackers are reliable starters. Keith Rivers didn't do much to dispel the bust tag last year, though he wasn't given much opportunity. Mark Herzlich has four career starts in two years, and Jacquian Williams has struggled mightily with pass coverage and over-pursuit. Aaron Curry has a seasonal career high of 60 tackles; Dan Connor just got out of jail.
Of course, one strong preseason could change our minds, and perhaps a gem like Jake Muasau will emerge. If we're playing the on paper game, however, the linebackers don't grade too well right now.
It's anyone's guess at this point. Prince Amukamara has No. 1 corner potential, and Corey Webster was one of the league's most criminally underrated studs up until last year's stinker. Aaron Ross and Terrell Thomas are shots in the dark at this point.
'Muk came on strong toward the end of last year, and after taking a pay cut, Webster could transition to a new role in the secondary. The two paired with Jayron Hosley might not be as bad as you think.
But Webster's .73 win probability was highest of the team's cornerbacks by a long shot. His four picks doubled the total of Hosley and Amukamara combined. Yikes. There's a lot of uncertainty for now.
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No Will Hill, likely no problem. Stevie Brown's eight interceptions and Antrel Rolle's veteran leadership make for a good starting tandem, while fifth-round pick Cooper Taylor should elbow his way into conversation. Tack on Ryan Mundy and this unit will be solid.
The safeties will have the added labor of picking up whomever the corners and linebackers lose.
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Steve Weatherford's healthy 47.5 yard average on punts gives the G-Men all the help they need for field position. We don't know if David Wilson will retain his return responsibilities as a starting running back (Maurice Jones-Drew did it with the Jags for a few years in a similar situation), nor do we know how Josh Brown will hold up after going 19-of-20 on field goals with the Bengals in 2012. For now, this group looks reliable as usual.