Projecting New York Giants' Depth Chart After Peak of Free Agency
It has been a busy month of March for the New York Giants. General Manager Jerry Reese has attacked the open market this spring in hopes of improving a roster in flux.
New York added 10 new players in free agency, while losing seven of their own to higher bidders on the open market. Nine players from the 2012 roster were either re-signed or tendered; eight remain free agents.
These moves, combined with some former practice squad players who re-signed reserve/future contracts before the turn of 2014, bloats New York's roster a bit. The squad will only expand with the draft and subsequent signing of undrafted free agents. All these players will be ranked on a depth chart—only the first few stringers will survive to see the regular season.
This article will provide an early look at what the Giants' depth chart may resemble sans rookies in training camp this summer.
1. Eli Manning — Under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, Manning looks to rebound from his worst full season as a pro. In 2013, he set career-high marks for interceptions (27) and sacks absorbed (39). Little has been reported on Manning's high ankle sprain suffered in Week 17 last season, but the injury isn't likely to inhibit the quarterback's attempt to recapture greatness in a new-look offense.
2. Ryan Nassib — The Giants are reportedly committed to giving Nassib a chance to win the backup job (per Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News). He saw no action as a rookie in 2013, although the Giants kept him on the 53-man roster throughout the season. The team was not willing to risk losing its fourth-round selection by attempting to sneak it onto the practice squad.
3. Curtis Painter — Painter's days in New York—and backing up Manning, for that matter—may be numbered. If the Giants are comfortable going with Nassib as the No. 2, there's no reason to keep the former Purdue Boilermaker around. The roster spot would be better utilized on a special teams standout.
1. Rashad Jennings — The Giants signed Jennings from the Oakland Raiders to be the featured running back. He is large (6'1", 231 lbs), but runs with an appealing blend of power and speed. Jennings is a natural pass-catcher, a reliable pass protector and a sure-handed ball-handler. With the Giants, he will enjoy his first outright shot to start from Day 1.
2. David Wilson — The team is confident that Wilson will be cleared to play in 2014, but the trickiness of his spinal condition has New York aptly armed with a serviceable alternative should he be unable to return. The former first-round selection will be expected to contribute in some fashion if healthy, although head coach Tom Coughlin admitted it could be in a "different capacity," per Jordan Ranaan of NJ.com.
3. Peyton Hillis — Hillis became a fan favorite in 2013, as the unlikely hero helped New York trudge its way to several midseason victories. Nothing about those wins was pretty—much like Hillis' running style. Something about the 250-pounder's hard-nosed approach is effective, though; he was re-signed to a two-year deal this offseason.
4. Michael Cox — The Giants spent a seventh-round selection on Cox, a UMass product, in 2013. He had limited exposure in the offense as a rookie, but he was involved as a kick returner after David Wilson was injured. His contributions must expand beyond returns to save his job in 2014.
5. Kendall Gaskins — Gaskins was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Buffalo Bills, but he was cut before the 2013 season began. The Richmond product will get his second shot at NFL stardom with the Giants on a future/reserve contract.
1. Henry Hynoski — Hynoski did not play all of last season save for three games. He was quickly becoming one of the league's most formidable fullbacks before injuring his knee and shoulder in 2013. If Hynoski is again at full strength, as he claims to be, he should enter training camp as the team's No. 1 option.
2. John Conner — In Hynoski's place, Conner was a reliable replacement. He blocked and caught well out of the backfield in the 13 games he played last season (7 starts). His chasing of Hynoski should provide for one of the summer's more interesting camp battles.
1. Victor Cruz — Although he is most effective when he is lined up in the slot, Cruz will still draw most of the opposing defense's attention. He was the only playmaker who performed with any degree of consistency in 2013, though his big-play explosions were noticeably curbed. If your memory of the salsa dance has grown foggy, it's because Cruz scored just four times last year.
2. Rueben Randle — Randle may be tasked with more of the traditional No. 1 receiver duties, in the sense that he will serve as the big body (6'2", 208 lbs) on the outside. With Hakeem Nicks finally out of the equation, Randle must find a way to draw some double-teams in his third year as a professional. He was a second-round pick in 2012.
3. Jerrel Jernigan — Now in a contract year, it's time for the Jernigan project to either come to fruition or not. We caught glimpses of his athletic potential toward the end of the 2013 season, but similar hope has been stifled by injuries and ball security issues in the past. Jernigan is small (5'8", 189 lbs), so the Giants would be smart to get him the ball in space, where his breakaway speed is best utilized.
4. Mario Manningham — A former Super Bowl hero returns to the city that made him, as Manningham teams backup with Big Blue. During his first stint in New York, Manningham was a solid contributor but never a focal point of the offense. His time in San Francisco was marred by complications from an ugly knee injury.
5. Julian Talley — Talley made it up from the practice squad last year, appearing in two regular season games. The former undrafted free agent out of UMass did not catch a pass, but he is an underdog to make the roster in 2014.
6. Trindon Holliday — Holliday will make the team, but not because of his receiving ability. The return specialist is likely too small (5'5", 170 lbs) to be used on offense on a consistent basis.
7. Preston Parker — The 2011 season was Parker's only semi-successful one as a pro. He has gone from the Buccaneers to the Saints and now to the Giants since then, adding zero catches to his career total during that time.
1. Adrien Robinson — The Giants haven't pursued a starting tight end in free agency, leaving the door wide open for 2012 fourth-rounder Adrien Robinson to finally claim the job. The big tight end has always possessed the raw athleticism to thrive in the NFL, but injuries have significantly hindered his progression into Manning's passing scheme.
2. Larry Donnell — Donnell's frame (6'6", 269 lbs) is similar to that of Robinson's, and the former undrafted free agent has slightly more game experience under his belt. He is a suitable alternative at tight end should Robinson fail to catch on yet again.
3. Daniel Fells — Out of all the tight ends currently on New York's roster, Fells has enjoyed the most productive career by far. He was once a full-time starter with the Broncos, and his contributions with the Rams date all the way back to 2008.
1. Will Beatty — Awful 2013 season and gruesome leg injury aside, the Giants are still paying Beatty to be their top offensive lineman. His mind should not only be on a recovery to full strength, it should also be on the prospect of a bounce-back season, performance-wise, in 2014.
2. Justin Pugh — The rookie right guard was one of New York's lone bright spots along the offensive line last season, as Pugh began forging an NFL career from the first snap of his first season. Perhaps we'll see a more hardened lineman this year, as the former first-rounder now has a year's worth of confidence propping him up.
3. Brandon Mosley — The Giants' fourth-round selection in 2012 played in 13 games last season but started only one. He is an under-the-radar candidate to make a significant jump in year No. 3.
4. James Brewer — Brewer has been largely a disappointment since he was drafted out of Indiana in the fourth round in 2011. Now entering his fourth season with the Giants, Brewer and the massive frame (6'6", 330 lbs) he lugs have yet to find a permanent home along the O-line.
6. Steven Baker — A 6'8" behemoth out of East Carolina, Baker hasn't much of a chance to find himself on the 53-man roster in 2014.
1. Geoff Schwartz — The Giants' first big splurge of the offseason was the signing of Schwartz, who should hold the offensive front together moving forward. He was a reliable starter with the Chiefs last season, thanks to a big body (6'6", 340 lbs) that is equally adept at run-blocking as it is protecting the passer. He should be the team's immediate starter at left guard.
2. Chris Snee — After a decade of service, Snee could have retired an accomplished man. Two Super Bowls apparently weren't enough for the stalwart right guard; he took a pay cut worth more than $5 million to stay with the team for just one more season. Snee will retain his starting job, if healthy.
3. John Jerry — Likely brought in for depth along the entire offensive front, Jerry may possess the exact tackle/guard versatility New York will be missing with Kevin Boothe now in Oakland. He will make the team, although he has yet to be punished by the league for his involvement in the Dolphins' harassment case.
4. Stephen Goodin — Goodin has been with the Giants organization for two seasons now, although he has appeared in only one game.
5. Eric Herman — A seventh-round selection in 2013, Herman is incredibly massive (6'4", 320 lbs) and incredibly raw. He spent all of last season on the practice squad and it's uncertain whether or not he'll be in position to compete for a roster spot this year.
1. J.D. Walton — The Giants likely signed Walton for him to be their starter in 2014, unless they still have plans to draft a center in May. He has plenty of experience with 36 career starts, yet not one has occurred in the past season-and-a-half. Walton is attempting to rebound from a troublesome ankle injury.
2. Dallas Reynolds — Reynolds was the Giants' only Exclusive Rights Free Agent in 2014, which made him a virtual lock to be re-signed. Although he played in three games last season, Reynolds is not a player upon whom New York wants to rely.
1. Jason Pierre-Paul — After a pair of down seasons, Pierre-Paul must prove that he can once again be the dominant player he was in 2011. With Justin Tuck now a Raider, JPP may be asked to take up his run-stuffing duties as the left defensive end. It will be a trying season for the 25-year-old, who is also staring down a new contract.
2. Damontre Moore — Another reason for Pierre-Paul to move to the left side would be to free up the blind side for the younger, more refined pass-rusher, 2013 third-rounder Damontre Moore. He can become an Osi Umenyiora-type of threat on the edge, as Moore displayed a natural ability to penetrate the backfield when he blocked punts as a rookie. He is bound to be a disruptive force in 2014.
3. Mathias Kiwanuka — Kiwanuka will recede from his starting role after a disappointing homecoming to his natural position in 2013. Now, after taking a pay cut, Kiwi may be more effective in a limited, situational role—whether that's as an end or a linebacker.
4. Kendrick Adams — The Louisiana State product joined the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent in 2012. He has since landed with the Buccaneers, Lions and Browns before settling with the Giants on a futures/reserve deal for 2014.
1. Cullen Jenkins — Jenkins, who was scooped up from the wreckage of the Eagles' failed Dream Team, was a versatile addition to the Giants defensive front in 2013. He is effective lining up both on the inside and the outside. Jenkins performs well against the run, but he is an exceptional pass-rusher for a man of his size (6'2", 305 lbs).
2. Johnathan Hankins — The Vikings outbid the Giants for Linval Joseph's service's, but New York must feel prepared with Hankins waiting in the wings. The 2013 second-rounder has the size (6'2", 320 lbs) to be an elite run-stuffer; will the 22-year-old fill the gaping hole left by Linval immediately?
3. Markus Kuhn — Kuhn is another late-round, raw project. He showed good natural ability before tearing his ACL as a rookie in 2012. He started to make a comeback at the end of last season, and he'll have the chance to complete it in 2014.
1. Jon Beason — The impact Beason had on the Giants defense in 2013 was undeniable. He was the single most dominant force in the run-stuffing effort. A seven-year veteran, Beason immediately commanded control of the platoon upon his insertion into the starting lineup. He was a no-brainer to lock up through the 2014 season.
2. Mark Herzlich — Herzlich has had a chance to win the starting job each of the past few summers. That may not be the case this summer with Beason now on the roster, but he could still be a difference-maker on special teams.
1. Spencer Paysinger — Paysinger took a noticeable step forward in 2013, playing in all 16 games (11 starts). He often lined up as the starting weak-side linebacker in the Giants' base 4-3 defense. Paysinger is neither a liability to the Giants defense nor a threat to the opposition's offense.
2. Jacquian Williams — Williams is the more athletic option at weak-side linebacker, but much of his progress has been stunted by injuries, specifically one to his knee. He is more useful than Paysinger in the nickel package, where he can shadow monster tight ends that terrorize most defenses. Williams is also a better blitzer.
3. Jameel McClain — On the strong side, the Giants have the newly acquired McClain. For a while, he was a full-time starter in a dominant Ravens defense, so McClain may lay claim to more playing time than both Paysinger and Williams. He should be a bullish run-defender with Big Blue, but his ability to defend the pass will greatly affect his snap count in 2014.
4. Allen Bradford — The Buccaneers drafted Bradford in the sixth-round of the 2011 draft, and in Tampa Bay he played running back. The former USC Trojan made a stop in Seattle and converted to linebacker before landing with the Giants last year. He played in nine games.
1. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie — The most lucrative contract doled out by the Giants in free agency went to Rodgers-Cromartie. He solidifies a secondary that loses Corey Webster as a long-time starter. It was recently reported by Jordan Ranaan of NJ.com that DRC would be shadowing the opposition's No. 1 receiving threat. Thanks to this signing, the Giants could soon possess the defensive "island" that is much desired in today's NFL.
2. Prince Amukamara — Still, Amukamara is no pushover to yield his starting job. The 2011 first-round selection has improved every single season since his premature rookie debut. Last year, Amukamara was one step away from shutdown-caliber. If he can make the jump in 2014, Prince and DRC will make for a devastating duo protecting the outsides.
3. Walter Thurmond — Thurmond is a very talented defensive back himself, but his fight for a starting role remains an uphill battle. He is more likely to assume Terrell Thomas' duties as the slot cornerback, when the Giants employ five defensive backs. He has both the size (5'11", 190 lbs) and athleticism to thrive in inside coverage.
4. Trumaine McBride — When cornerbacks started going down with injuries, few expected McBride to be the one to step in and hold the entire secondary together. That was the case in 2013, though, as the 5'9" corner started 10 of the 15 games in which he played. He will face some expanded competition this summer, given the acquisitions of Rodgers-Cromartie and Thurmond.
5. Jayron Hosley — Once a promising third-round draft pick, Hosley has since receded to the background of the cornerback depth chart. While Hosley probably has the athleticism and instincts to be a real playmaker—à la fellow Virginia Tech product DeAngelo Hall—he won't ever prove it if he doesn't ever escape the injury report.
6. Charles James — James was an undrafted free agent from Charleston Southern who played in 12 games last season. He is a scrappy, undersized (5'9", 179 lbs) cornerback with a long road ahead of him to a roster spot.
7. LaRon Scott — Another small (5'9", 184 lbs) cornerback, Scott once played with the New Orleans Saints, where he made a slight impact as a returner. He performed no such duties with the Giants, making him yet another outsider to make the roster.
8. Travis Howard — The 24-year-old out of Ohio State has absolutely no NFL experience, and the Giants signed him to a future/reserve deal back in December.
1. Antrel Rolle — The undoubted heart of the Giants defense, Rolle had a Pro Bowl-caliber impact on the team last season. He is the most experienced, and also most versatile, defender in the Giants secondary. Never before has he been surrounded by so much talent, which could mean less shifting around for the 31-year-old. That could spell increased production for the nine-year pro.
2. Will Hill — Hill is an up-and-coming talent in the NFL. If he can stay out of trouble, Hill can become the most dominant safety in the game. He is fearless when attacking the line of scrimmage. A sure tackler, Hill has the range to engulf the shiftiest targets in the open field. He will throw his weight around recklessly, making him a threat to any pass-catcher looking to make a play in his vicinity.
3. Stevie Brown — Don't forget about Brown either. Just two seasons ago, Brown valiantly substituted for Kenny Phillips, showcasing an uncanny nose for the ball with eight interceptions and two forced fumbles in only 11 starts. He missed all of last season with a torn ACL, but he looks to get back into the mix with Hill and Rolle in 2014.
4. Quintin Demps — One of the many defensive backs signed by the Giants during this free-agency period was Demps, a 28-year-old who did not truly catch on until last season with the Chiefs. There, he earned the first six starts of his career. In the midst of such a thick pack now in New York, it's unlikely he earns many more.
5. Cooper Taylor — One of the more intriguing picks of the 2013 draft was New York's fifth-rounder, Taylor. The former Richmond Spider has the body frame (6'4", 228 lbs) to be a sort-of linebacker/safety hybrid. With larger defensive backs seemingly all the rage lately, Taylor could shoot up this deep, deep depth chart rather quickly.
6. Junior Mertile — Mertile is a Florida International product with wide receiver experience. He was signed to a reserve/futures contract back in December.
7. Ross Weaver — After landing with the Dolphins as an undrafted free agent in 2010, Weaver has spent time with the Seahawks, Cowboys, Lions and Jacksonville Sharks of the Arena Football League. He hopes to catch on with the Giants.
8. Chaz Powell — A member of the Giants' practice squad in 2013, Powell is a highly unlikely candidate to make the 53-man roster by the end of training camp.
1. Josh Brown — Brown kicked well for the Giants last year. The 34-year-old was re-signed to a two-year contract, presumably locking up the starting job until then.
2. Brandon McManus — With no NFL experience, McManus, a Temple grad, is a mere camp body.
1. Steve Weatherford — Weatherford has punted well for the Giants since the 2011 Super Bowl season, and he just recently restructured his contract to free up some cap space. He will be the starter again in 2014.
2. Jordan Gay — Like McManus, Gay has never punted a day in the NFL and is likely just a camp body.
1. Zak DeOssie — DeOssie was a member of Jerry Reese's masterful draft of 2007. The fourth-round selection has settled in nicely as the team's long snapper, where he performs with much consistency and little praise.
1. Trindon Holliday — The Giants may have added an X-factor in return specialist Trindon Holliday. Sure, Holliday is only 5'5", but he is a demon with the ball with room to run. Although kickoffs result in more touchbacks than they used to, Holliday's presence alone will have a positive effect on the Giants' overall starting field position.
2. Quintin Demps — Demps is also an experienced return specialist, although all of his experience comes on kickoffs, while Holliday also handles punts. He could stand next to Holliday on kick returns, making coverage units respect both halves of the field evenly.
3. David Wilson — Wilson was a very talented kick returner as a rookie in 2012. If his role on offense diminishes, it only makes sense to utilize him once again as a kick returner. For a highly specialized role, the Giants possess a lot of depth here.
1. Trindon Holliday — Holliday is just as effective a punt returner as he is a kick returner. The Giants should know that firsthand; Holliday returned a punt 81 yards all the way back to the house when the Broncos came to MetLife in Week 2 of last season. He is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
2. Rueben Randle — Randle doesn't possess the same type of scoring ability as a return man, but he is an extremely sure-handed option. With his role likely to expand on offense, it's unlikely he winds up a deep man again—even if Holliday struggles with ball security.