5 New York Giants Bound to Break out in 2014
New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese was asked during his year-end press conference if the task of improving a Giants roster that had finished 7-9 was one he viewed as a “massive reconstruction” project
“There is definitely some reconstruction that needs to be done,” he said. “You’ve seen teams turn it around quickly in this league, but we definitely have some personnel issues that we need to resolve as we move into the next season.”
At this point, the Giants' needs are about as crystal clear as they've ever been. Offensive line, tight end, receiver, cornerback and running back are just a few of the many areas that are no doubt on the radar.
The questions though are how they plan to fill those needs and if they can address everything in one offseason.
On the bright side, the Giants do have a handful of young players believed to be in the team's 2014 plans who, if they can show improvement, could very well become part of the team’s core.
Here’s a look at five of those players.
Defensive Tackle Johnathan Hankins
While many people seem to prefer Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins as the stating defensive tackles in 2014, that seems to have a very slim chance of occurring.
Joseph, an unrestricted free agent, is coming off his best season as a pro. He’s also just 25 years old, the youngest of the top free agent defensive tackles per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Those two factors alone make the possibility of a team with a lot of cap space to burn making Joseph an offer that the Giants just might not be able to match.
Enter Hankins, the Giants’ second-round draft pick last year. In his rookie season, he received 195 snaps at both defensive interior spots, playing 113 of those against the run.
When he was given an opportunity to play, Hankins never looked to be overwhelmed. He demonstrated good athleticism for a man of his size, and did an impressive job controlling his gap. Hankins also looked to be just as quick and mobile as Joseph against the run.
Overall, Hankins showed enough promise to where the Giants just might feel comfortable with him as a starter alongside Jenkins should Joseph leave via free agency.
Defensive End Damontre Moore
When the Giants plucked defensive end Damontre Moore in the third round last year, many people thought they came away with a steal.
With good reason. Despite some early concerns about his maturity, as noted by the New York Daily News, Moore has remained focus since joining the Giants, and has worked hard at refining his craft.
The problem is that in his rookie season, he suffered shoulder and hamstring injuries that cut into his practice time. The shoulder injury in particular was a big one because it wiped out a large part of Moore's preseason.
Still, give him credit for overcoming both injuries. By season's end, Moore took part in just 136 defensive snaps (14.4 percent) in his rookie season. Of those, 100 came against the pass and 34 came against the run.
If Moore stays healthy and has a strong offseason, he'll almost certainly be in line for a larger chunk of playing time. If that's to happen, Moore needs to play with a little more control, as there were numerous times when a play was there to be made, but because he was a little overzealous he just missed out.
Moore's speed and ability to turn the corner at times reminds one of Osi Umenyiora's ability. Moore also brings physicality to his game that you like to see from a defensive end, though it remains to be seen if he can also handle the run on a more frequent basis.
He certainly has the talent and the tools to be something special at his position. It will be interesting to see what kind of progress he makes.
Wide Receiver Rueben Randle
Last offseason, all eyes were on Rueben Randle, the second-year receiver who capitalized on the increased reps he got because of the absences of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz from the Giants’ offseason program.
Indeed, one of the daily highlights of training camp was Randle going against Prince Amukamara, a battle that came to a draw by the time camp ended.
More importantly, it looked like the Giants had finally found a solid third receiver, something they really didn't have since Mario Manningham left via free agency after the 2011 season.
Once the games started to count, all the good things that Randle consistently showed in training camp tapered off.
Randle played 589 (56.5 percent) of the offense’s snaps, starting three games. He finished with 41 (out of 76 targets) receptions for 611 yards and a team-leading six receiving touchdowns.
What was most frustrating with Randle is that despite getting a lot of offseason work with quarterback Eli Manning, Randle was the intended target on eight of Manning’s interceptions this season.
Moving forward, Nicks, an unrestricted free agent, is unlikely to be re-signed, which would mean that Randle has a good chance of joining Cruz in the starting lineup.
In addition, the Giants will change their offensive scheme under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.
It's not yet known exactly what McAdoo has planned, but with him having come from a West Coast offensive system in Green Bay, it would not be surprising if the Giants passing game places more of an emphasis on getting the receivers the ball in space and letting them run to daylight.
In a different system, Randle, who in 2013 recorded 209 yards after the catch (34.2 percent of his receiving-yard total), could see that number increase significantly if he can show the coaches he’s able to handle a full-time starting job.
Wide Receiver Jerrel Jernigan
There were many unanswered questions to emerge from the Giants’ 2013 season, ranging from why the team started 0-6 to how some of the personnel was used.
One of the many questions that team CEO John Mara had about 2013, based on his comments to the media, was about the lack of use of certain players such as receiver Jerrel Jernigan.
Without having access to the team part of practice during the season—the Giants only allow the media to watch the first 20 or so minutes of their practices—only the coaches know why they were reluctant to use him in the offense.
However, as Mara also pointed out, “We finally put him in the game and he starts making plays.”
Whatever the circumstances, Jernigan, who per Pro Football Focus (subscription required) played in 221 snaps and started three games in 2013, made the most of his opportunities.
He caught his highest percentage of pass targets (87.5 percent) against Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense, recording 67 yards, 37 of which were after the catch.
He followed that performance up with 12 more receptions for 170 yards and two touchdowns in the final two games of the season, playing in relief of the injured Cruz.
Listed at 5’9” and 181 pounds, the question regarding Jernigan is whether he can be more than just a slot receiver.
Certainly if new offensive coordinator McAdoo installs a West Coast offense, as many seem to believe will be the case, Jernigan—who has the quickness to pick up significant yardage after the catch—could very well find himself building on his 2013 numbers.
Offensive Lineman Brandon Mosley
Lost in the rubble that was the offensive line, second-year guard Brandon Mosley emerged as someone who could be in line for a significant role in 2014.
Mosley, remember, missed his entire rookie season in 2012 thanks to a preseason injury. Thus 2013 was really the first full season that he was able to practice his craft.
While he was a work in progress—his footwork was a little rough around the edges—he did show some potential in the 59 snaps he received at guard.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Mosley had his best game as a run blocker against the Seahawks, earning a 2.0 run blocking grade.
While still feeling his way around in the pass blocking game, Mosley mostly held his own, allowing just three quarterback hurries.
He suffered a broken hand against Detroit in Week 16, an injury that ended his season. Still, he showed enough promise to where he should be in the mix for playing time.
If he has a solid offseason and can stay away from those major injuries, Mosley could very well become a lineman who ends up playing a bigger role at some point in 2014.
Patricia Traina is the senior editor for Inside Football. All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.
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