Where does WR Hakeem Nicks land on this list?
Recently, New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese set a standard for his team. After missing the playoffs for a third time in four seasons, Reese made it very clear that another postseason-less year would be unacceptable.
Several players' contributions will be key for the Giants to reach Reese's goal for the team. Many of these players will need to take their performance to the next level in 2013.It won't be easy, but these Giants will be motivated to make their respective naysayers' choke on their continual assertions of doubt.
Click through this slideshow to see a ranked list of the 10 Giants with the most to prove in 2013.
Eli: "What else do you want me to do?"
Quarterback Eli Manning has already proven himself to Giants fans, earning two Super Bowl MVP honors since joining the team in 2004.But after a down season in which he failed to break 4,000 yards and complete 60 percent of his passes, Manning must reestablish himself among the league's elite passers in 2013.
Beyond the statistics, Manning needs to find a way to guide his team back to the playoffs. The Giants haven't qualified for the postseason nearly as often as they should. Before training camp opened this summer, Jerry Reese made it very clear that the standard has been raised.
While Manning's passing game has been one of the team's most consistent aspects since 2009, great quarterbacks will find a way to take their team to the next level.Manning had that ability in 2011, when he led the Giants to seven fourth-quarter comebacks, but he needs to display it once again in 2013 if the team aims to reclaim its dominance in the National Football Conference.
LT Will Beatty recently scored a big contract.
The Giants are returning their entire starting offensive line from last year, including left tackle Will Beatty, who signed a five-year, $38.75 million contract extension in February.In 2012, Beatty was the Giants' most stalwart lineman, but it wasn't so long ago that fans referred to him as "Will Beat-Me," as Art Stapleton of the Bergen Record recalled on Twitter.
Last season marked the first time since Beatty's rookie year that he completed a full 16-game season. A broken foot limited Beatty to eight games in 2010 and a detached retina landed him on injured reserve a year later. The most problematic issue, however, has been his recurring back troubles, which stem from a sciatic-nerve condition.
So, now, adding to the pressure to stay on the field, Beatty must also live up to the terms of his new contract. He is officially one of the highest paid left tackles in the NFL. The Giants are hoping that money will help keep Eli Manning upright.
DT Linval Joseph engulfs opponents -- and teammates, too.
The Giants' run defense was noticeably poor last season, springing a meltdown that negatively affected the pass rush and, in turn, the secondary. Now, refocused on stopping the run, the Giants will rely heavily on the contributions of their longest tenured defensive tackle, Linval Joseph.
The 2010 second-round draft pick has subtly developed into one of the most consistent members of New York's defense, starting every game except for one over the past two seasons. The status quo won't cut it this season, though; Joseph, the most established member of the interior defensive line, needs to take his play to the next level in 2013.
For some added motivation, Joseph is in the final year of his rookie deal. With Johnathan Hankins, a second-round selection out of Ohio State waiting in the wings, Joseph's best interest may be to find big money on the open market in 2014, much like Barry Cofield did following Joseph's rookie season. If that's the case, he'll want to bulk up his résumé as much as possible in 2013.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul is recovering from back surgery.
Following an incredible 2011 campaign in which he was named All-Pro for his 16.5 sacks, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul's production plummeted. He nabbed the passer just 6.5 times last season, looking like a fractured shell of himself in the process. An ill-timed surgical procedure on his back now places a question mark on Pierre-Paul's availability for the team's season opener.
When training camp opened at the end of July, Pierre-Paul claimed that he was only about "75 percent," but Jerry Reese insists that he's on pace in his rehabilitation to make a healthy Week 1 return. He remains on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, where he'll presumably stay for the remainder of camp and the preseason.
When Pierre-Paul does eventually return, there will be no grace period. Fans will not only expect him to perform at full strength, they'll also expect him to rebound to All-Pro form. As a member of a struggling defense, Pierre-Paul will need to prove that he is still one of the league's most feared impact playmakers.
CB Terrell Thomas is finally back in action.
Two seasons have passed cornerback Terrell Thomas by as he has diligently rehabbed consecutive ACL injuries. On Tuesday, August 6, Thomas returned to practice from the PUP list—the first step toward a full recovery and a reinsertion into a defensive backfield he once dominated.
It's uncertain whether Thomas, who has sustained significant and repeated damage to his knee, will ever be as effective at cornerback as he was in 2010, when he led the defense in several statistical categories. He could, however, develop into an "X factor" for the defense, as he described on his blog. That probably means taking up a combination of cornerback, nickel/dime back and safety duties.
With Thomas back in the lineup, the Giants have a talented yet fragile defensive back at their disposal. At one point in his career, the former second-rounder looked like he was well on his way to multiple Pro Bowl bids. Now he's out to prove that he can still contribute by any means necessary.
RB David Wilson will attempt to shrug off any competition.
The 2012 first-round pick was kept on a short leash during his rookie season, but David Wilson could provide an explosive impact from the running back position in year two. His athletic ability supersedes current co-starter Andre Brown, but, in order to maximize his production, Wilson needs to become a more complete back.
Wilson is the type of running back that can score from anywhere on the field, but his pass protection and ball security were suspect as a rookie. In the final weeks of the season, Coughlin started to let Wilson loose, and the 21-year-old cashed in five total touchdowns in the final four games. That's the type of production New York would like to stretch over the course of 16 games in 2013.
Now that Ahmad Bradshaw is no longer with the team, Wilson is in position to establish himself as the Giants' top ball-carrier. Brown, however, will provide some formidable competition for the second-year back, so the pressure is on for Wilson to create a spark that's impossible to ignore.
DC Perry Fewell is at a crossroads.
I hope you didn't think this list would be limited to players; defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is on the hot seat and arguably under just as much pressure as any of the young men he coaches. In both of the past two seasons, Fewell's defense has yielded over 6,000 yards, an unacceptable total for a team striving to exceed the 9-win mark in 2013.
Fewell has some new faces in his defensive mix, including an abundant injection of talent along the defensive line that ranges from free agent acquisition Cullen Jenkins to draft picks Johnathan Hankins (2nd round; 49th overall) and Damontre Moore (3rd round; 81st overall). It will be Fewell's job to get all the new moving parts working in concert.
This is a make-or-break season for Fewell. A poor season could result in his firing, while a solid turnaround could—quite surprisingly—earn him a head coaching position. Fewell has experience as the Buffalo Bills' interim head coach in 2009, and Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News lists him as a hypothetical replacement after Coughlin retires.
Can WR Hakeem Nicks stay healthy?
The big receiver on the outside is widely considered the Giants' top receiving threat. Even Victor Cruz, who just recently became the team's highest paid receiver, conceded that Hakeem Nicks is the No. 1 target in Eli Manning's arsenal. The 2009 first-round pick has racked up over 3,700 yards in four seasons with the team.
But Nicks is often nicked up. Last season, nagging knee and foot problems limited his yardage and touchdown totals to the lowest of his career. Now, early on in a contract year, Nicks has already missed significant practice time in training camp with a groin injury.
Fans are beginning to wonder if Nicks will ever stay healthy; Nicks is wondering how big his new deal will be if he somehow does. After witnessing in 2012 how essential a cog Nicks really is, there should be a mutual interest for the former Tar Heel to have a big season in 2013.
CB Corey Webster wants to squash any doubts about his ability.
For the better part of eight seasons, veteran cornerback Corey Webster has been one of the most reliable members of the defensive backfield. He has only missed four games in the past five seasons, and, during that time, he has intercepted 18 passes. In 2012, however, Webster was downright terrible.
In fairness, the entire defense performed very poorly, and Webster was without his trusty center fielder, Kenny Phillips, for the majority of the season. Still, a lot of the blame fell squarely on the shoulders of the 31-year-old cornerback. As a result, Webster had to take a pay cut to stay with the team.
Webster is looking to prove that his poor 2012 season was an anomaly. He still sees himself as the team's top corner, someone who can shut down an opposing No. 1 receiver. In 2013, we will see if Webster still has what it takes—or if he's stuck living in the past.
A determined Justin Tuck will take the field in 2013.
He's the captain, the emotional leader of the defense. From 2007-2010, Tuck had three double-digit sack seasons, earning an All-Pro honor and two Pro Bowl bids all without missing a single game. Lately, though, Tuck's presence has been rather deflated.
Injuries have taken their toll on Tuck's body—and his production. His sack total fell from 11.5 in 2010 to just five a season later and a measly four a season ago. And it isn't just Tuck's pass-rushing that has struggled; he totaled just one more tackle in 2012 than he did during his rookie season, when he only started a single game.
Tuck needs to reassert himself as one of the most feared members of the Giants' once-vaunted defense. Right now, he's so far from that reputation that some opponents may view him as the weak point of New York's talented defensive line. If healthy, Tuck has the potential to make those doubters pay in 2013.