Breaking Down the New York Giants' Roster After the 2014 Draft
After what seemed like an endless wait, the 2014 NFL draft is over.
The results of the selections combined with the free-agent acquisitions and losses made by the New York Giants are finally starting to provide clues as to what teams can likely anticipate come training camp.
A quick scan of the Giants roster, which when the undrafted free-agent signings are announced should be at 90, the training camp limit, shows that less than half—42 players to be precise—were on the roster last year at some point.
That’s a significant yet not unexpected turnover given the Giants’ 7-9 record from a year ago.
There’s still a lot more work for the team to get done, and I fully believe the training camp roster will continue to be tweaked right into the preseason.
Based on the information that’s available today, which doesn't take into consideration any new injuries that you just know are going to pop up, here’s a look at how I am projecting the Giants’ 2014 opening-day roster to look like.
Starter: Eli Manning
Backups: Josh Freeman, Ryan Nassib
Ideally, the Giants would like to keep two quarterbacks on their roster, as Kimberly Jones of the NFL Network reported.
The question is can they?
Although the Giants have five preseason games, a question that no one is really discussing yet is if the Giants plan to limit starting quarterback Eli Manning’s preseason snaps.
With a new offense being installed, you’d think that he might see a little more action than he has in past preseasons.
If that happens, will there be enough snaps to go around to make a determination on Ryan Nassib’s progress as a backup?
If the Giants ultimately plan to trade Nassib for something, then they’ll have to.
If Nassib shows enough this year to where they might be able to work out a deal with a quarterback-needy club that finds itself in a bind due to injuries, then having an extra arm on the roster will be necessary.
Speaking of injuries, last year Manning proved he’s not made of stone.
While his protection should be significantly better this year, do the Giants want to take a chance by leaving themselves with just one unproven quarterback if that signal-caller ends up being Nassib?
Starter: Rashad Jennings
Backups: Peyton Hillis, Andre Williams and Michael Cox
Rashad Jennings was signed to be the bell cow for the Giants, replacing Andre Brown, who departed via free agency to Houston.
Jennings brings relatively fresh legs to the table in that he’s only carried the ball 387 times for 1,677 yards over four years.
If we dig a little deeper into the math, Jennings has averaged 96.75 carries per season, which further breaks down to 6.04 carries per game.
Per his injury history at KFFL, Jennings hasn’t made it through a 16-game season yet, having had concussion issues in 2012 and 2013.
So does that mean the Giants are in for more misery regarding injuries affecting their running back rotation?
My guess is no because of the addition of Andre Williams, the team’s fourth-round draft pick.
Whereas last year, the Giants really didn't have a true second option to share the workload with Brown, especially not after David Wilson was lost for the year with a neck injury, this year the Giants have that option.
Look for Williams to get the bulk of the carries between the tackles while Jennings works the perimeter.
Peyton Hillis will probably be the third-down back and the backup fullback in this offense, and Michael Cox, if he develops, will be another change-of-pace option if he’s active.
Hillis most likely will start off as the No. 2 running back off the bench, but I could see Williams eventually passing him on the depth chart as the season wears on.
As for Wilson, despite general manager Jerry Reese’s continued optimism about having Wilson, Tom Rock of Newsday reported that Reese, in a radio interview with WFAN on May 9, added that he’s not “1,000 percent” sure about Wilson’s return.
My guess is that Wilson will start the 2014 on the PUP list, which will buy him and the Giants some extra time if his MRIs don’t show the doctors what they need to see in Wilson’s neck before granting him medical clearance to resume his career.
This is by far the one position on the Giants roster that I can’t really get a handle on for the simple reason that I don’t know exactly how new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo plans to use the fullback.
As I noted in my predraft forecast of the starting lineup, if McAdoo wants a John Kuhn clone, then that would presumably favor Henry Hynoski? If so, that would appear to favor Henry Hynoski.
If McAdoo wants more of a traditional bruising blocker for the fullback, then John Conner, the only one of the injury fill-ins from last year who was signed to a multiyear contract, would appear to have the edge.
There are other factors that will go into this decision.
First, how healthy is Hynoski, who last year fought his way back from a knee injury suffered in OTAs but who didn’t look anywhere near to being the force he was in 2012 in his limited snaps played prior to a season-ending fractured left shoulder?
That’s all encouraging, but how will all that progress translate when he has to take the field and engage in football activities that include leading with a shoulder on blocks?
Statistically speaking, Conner, who is starting his fifth season, and Hynoski, who is starting his fourth, are practically equal at this point in their respective careers.
We’ll start with rushing the ball, which is something that Kuhn did for the Green Bay Packers.
Hynoski has five carries for 20 yards (4.0 avg.), all coming in 2012. Conner has 21 carries for 88 yards (4.2 avg.) and two touchdowns, all from his first two NFL seasons with the New York Jets.
In the receiving game, Hynoski has 24 career receptions for 138 yards (5.8 per catch) and one touchdown. Conner has 10 receptions for 49 yards (4.9 avg.).
Per a data compilation from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Conner has been targeted 18 times in his career, catching 55.5 percent of the passes thrown his way (with one dropped ball). Hynoski has been targeted 35 times, catching 68.5 percent of the passes with two drops.
Like I said, statistically, they’re practically even anyway, which is why I can’t declare a starter at this point until I see for myself what McAdoo is running and how each man is responding.
If both remain healthy during camp, this is going to be one of the most underrated battles of the summer.
Starters: Victor Cruz, Odell Beckham Jr.
Backups: Rueben Randle (third receiver), Mario Manningham, Jerrel Jernigan, Trindon Holliday
The Giants seem to have found a replacement for Hakeem Nicks—the 2011 version and not the player we saw in 2012 and 2013—in rookie Odell Beckham, Jr., their first-round draft pick this year.
Despite not possessing ideal size at 5’11", 198 pounds, the former LSU standout is not afraid to make the touch catches over the middle and has secure hands to hang onto the ball.
Beckham’s presence should help veteran victor Cruz, who last year was a double-team magnet—get back to doing what he does best, which is stretching the field and going for the home run ball.
In 2013, Cruz saw his big-play receptions of 20 or more yards tail off to 10, down two from 2012 and down by 15 from the 2011 season. With Beckham Jr. in the lineup, opponents might now want to think twice about bracketing Cruz.
The Giants haven’t given up on Rueben Randle, who’s entering his third season.
However, they’re going to need more consistency from Randle, who per Pro Football Focus (subscription required) was the target on eight of Eli Manning’s 27 interceptions and only six of his touchdowns, his last touchdown reception coming in Week 11 of the season.
Randle's biggest issue has been his consistency, and that starts with preparation. He has the tools to thrive in a pro-level offense.
With McAdoo's system said to be easier to pick up, Randle and the rest of the receivers should be able to hit the ground running.
I have Trindon Holliday listed with the receivers because he’s a receiver first. However, I don’t expect that he’ll contribute much on offense if he makes the team; his role will be as a return specialist.
If Mario Manningham’s knee holds up, I think he’ll make a solid fourth receiving option. He could even pass Randle on the depth chart if Randle struggles out of the gate in the new offense.
However, that's a big "if" on all counts as head coach Tom Coughlin told WFAN that Manningham's knee is "not 100" or "not ready," according to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News.
Tom Coughlin also said on @WFAN660 Mario Manningham got bigger, but his knee is still "not ready" and "not 100%."— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoNYDN) May 12, 2014
Despite his flashes shown last year, I don’t think that Jerrel Jernigan is necessarily a lock to make this roster, especially if the Giants need extra numbers elsewhere because of injuries. Jernigan is best-suited for the slot, which is Cruz’s position.
Might New York try to trade Jernigan for a 2015 seventh-round pick if he has a strong summer? That wouldn’t surprise me, especially since the Giants are unlikely to get any compensatory picks next year after their busy free-agency period.
Starters: Kellen Davis
Backup: Adrien Robinson, Larry Donnell
The Giants surprised a lot of people by not taking a tight end in in this draft class, the reason being, per vice president of player evaluation Marc Ross, “The tight end position wasn’t a class we felt was very strong.”
So where does that leave the depth chart? Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services has third-year pro Adrien Robinson listed as the starter, presumably because he’s a fourth-round draft pick.
However, it’s very difficult for me to agree that Robinson is the No. 1 tight end on this team based on a whopping three snaps total taken on the offense (those in 2012), per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
I think barring another move—I would not rule out unrestricted free agent Jermichael Finley of Green Bay if and when he’s medically cleared to return from spinal surgery as being in the Giants’ cross-hairs.
Until such time, however, and barring injury, I think Kellen Davis, who has 50 career receptions (out of 99 targets) for 561 yards and 12 touchdowns, is the projected starter.
While Davis is more of a traditional in-line blocking tight end, people seem to forget that before the Chicago Bears lured Martellus Bennett away from the Giants in 2012, Davis was their starting tight end.
That's why I think it makes much more sense for the Giants to have Davis as the starter, replacing the departed Brandon Myers, than it does Robinson.
Robinson will get a lot of opportunities to take the starting job. Can he stay healthy, though?
Meanwhile, Larry Donnell is the other of the young tight ends the Giants remain high on.
Donnell offers a great deal of versatility as not just a traditional tight end but also as an H-back and as a backup fullback. If he shows progress, there’s no reason to think that he won’t make the roster as well as being a reserve.
Starters: LT Will Beatty, LG Geoff Schwartz, C Weston Richburg, RG Chris Snee, RT Justin Pugh
Backups: G/T James Brewer, G/T Charles Brown, G/C Brandon Mosley, C J.D. Walton
The biggest question mark I have about the Giants’ starting offensive line is whether right guard Chris Snee actually comes out of camp as the starter.
Actually, I’m getting ahead of myself because as I write this, while there is still optimism about Snee’s return from hip and elbow surgeries, it’s not known yet just how much Snee has been able to do football-wise.
While we’re on the subject of tackle, it was probably a good sign that the Giants didn’t spend a high draft pick on an offensive tackle.
That probably means that left tackle Will Beatty, who’s recovering from a broken leg and who a few weeks ago during the player-availability session with the media sounded unsure about when he would be back on the field, is making satisfactory progress in his rehab.
Lastly, I have Weston Richburg, the team's second-round draft pick, starting at center ahead of J.D. Walton.
The reason for this is that if I’m the coaching staff, it makes more sense to put my center of the future in there from day one, provided he shows he can master the line calls—and Richburg has the intelligence to do so, based on NFL Draft Scout's scouting report, per Rob Rang.
As for Walton, he can also play guard. Thus, if Snee doesn’t make it back or doesn’t last 16 games, Walton would be my guess to replace him at right guard.
Starters: LDE Mathias Kiwanuka, LDT Johnathan Hankins, RDT Cullen Jenkins, RDE Jason Pierre-Paul
Backups: DE Robert Ayers, DE Damontre Moore, DT Markus Kuhn, DT Mike Patterson and DT Jay Bromley
The Giants lost half of their starting defensive line, that being defensive end Justin Tuck (Oakland Raiders) and defensive tackle Linval Joseph (Minnesota Vikings). Those two players alone accounted for 166 of the defense’s 1,166 total tackles (14.2 percent) and 14 of its 34 sacks (41.1 percent) last season.
Joseph’s replacement was always going to be Johnathan Hankins, last year’s second-round pick, who as a rookie posted 21 total tackles in 195 snaps, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Based on that data, that comes to one tackle per every 9.28 snaps, which is not all that far off from the one tackle per every 7.94 snaps that Joseph produced last season.
Tuck’s replacement is a little trickier. I have Mathias Kiwanuka penciled in at the moment to be the starter, even though he was PFF’s worst ranked 4-3 defensive end last season among ends who took at least 60 percent of their team’s defensive snaps.
The reason why I have Kiwanuka as the starter right now is because he’s the most familiar with Perry Fewell’s defense.
Second-year man Damontre Moore, who many people thought might be ready to assume a larger role this year, still needs to prove that he can handle the run, an area in which he only received 34 snaps last season, per PFF.
As for Robert Ayers, whom PFF had ranked several spots lower than Tuck in the overall category, his snap breakdown also showed a heavy flavor as a pass-rusher as opposed to a run-defender.
Per PFF, Ayers took 49.4 percent (616) of the Denver Broncos' defensive snaps last season, but only 192 of those (31.1 percent) came against the run.
By contrast, Tuck had a little better balance between run defense and pass rush, 336 to 545.
One other note about the defensive line is I’m going with just four ends at the moment, because Cullen Jenkins can play both end and tackle. Because of that, I’m projecting the Giants keep five defensive tackles.
Starters: Jameel McClain (SLB), Jon Beason (MLB), Jacquian Williams (WLB)
Backups: Spencer Paysinger (OLB), Devon Kennard (ILB)
Because I have the Giants keeping three quarterbacks and six receivers, I’m only going with five linebackers.
Jon Beason is a lock as a starter if he’s healthy. Last season following his arrival from Carolina via trade, Beason helped to stabilize a defense that, as Jordan Raanan of NJ.com noted, allowed an average of 36.4 points in the first five games prior to his arrival and 18.3 points per game the rest of the way once he stabilized the defense.
I think the training-camp battle between Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams for the weak-side linebacker spot will be a close one, but Williams will just barely edge out Paysinger for the starting job.
However, I fully believe that Paysinger will see a good number of snaps in various sub-packages regardless if he’s a starter.
If Jameel McClain’s health holds up, he should be the strong-side linebacker, a position that in the past has been primarily used on running downs but which comes off the field on passing downs.
McClain is probably going to see the least amount of snaps of the three projected starting linebackers as I suspect the Giants are going to use a lot of sub-packages this year.
However, if my belief that defensive coordinator Perry Fewell might revisit the use of multiple fronts, which would include some 3-4 looks, then don’t be surprised to see McClain move inside, where he played as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, in those packages.
I think rookie draft pick Devon Kennard, who is versatile enough to play inside and outside, will get the bulk of his work inside behind Beason.
You’ll notice that I don’t have Mark Herzlich in my initial projection. As I said, I had to cut a number down somewhere, and I chose linebackers because I think both Paysinger and the Kennard are versatile enough to play both inside and outside, while Herzlich is best-suited for the inside.
For as good as Herzlich was on special teams last year—he led the Giants with 14 special teams tackles—he's not indispensable.
For whatever the reason, Herzlich has been unable to grab onto the starting inside linebacker job after three seasons.
As a rookie in 2011, he didn’t see the field on defense until Week 11, when Chase Blackburn was unable to play.
Herzlich started two games before suffering a broken ankle in Week 12 and was never heard from again the rest of the season on defense, finishing with a minus-1.6 overall grade, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
In 2012, Blackburn again won the starting job, though Herzlich did get two starts that season. However, he graded out in the red, per PFF, finishing with a minus-4.3 grade based on his 176 defensive snaps.
In 2013 after Blackburn left via free agency to join the Carolina Panthers, the starting job was Herzlich’s to lose, even after the team acquired free agent Dan Connor.
A tough four-game stretch saw Herzlich given two starts. In that four-game stretch, he consistently graded out in the red, his best grade of that stretch being a minus-0.1 in Week 2 against Denver, a game in which he only played 26 snaps by the way.
Herzlich has been a solid ambassador for the Giants in the community, and his fight against cancer is something of which he should be very proud.
At the end of the day, however, his inspiring story isn’t going to help the Giants win football games, which is why it wasn’t surprising that his one-year, $1 million contract, per Over the Cap, provides up to $200,000 in roster bonuses if he’s active for all 16 games instead of a traditional signing bonus.
If Herzlich doesn’t make the team, he’ll count for a mere $25,000 against the 2014 salary cap, his workout bonus, per Spotrac.
Starters: Prince Amukamara, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Backups: Walter Thurmond (nickelback), Trumaine McBride, Zack Bowman
Although the Giants' pass defense finished 10th in the NFL (per the final 2013 stats pack handed out by the team), there was definitely some room for improvement.
The slot cornerback spot, played by Terrell Thomas, who returned after two straight ACL surgeries, was one area the team apparently felt needed to be upgraded.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Thomas’ 91.0 NFL rating was the 13th-highest among slot cornerbacks who took at least 60 percent of their team’s snaps (the lower the NFL rating for a defensive back, the better).
While Thomas did well, considering he hadn’t been on the field for two years, the Giants opted to not re-sign Thomas, an unrestricted free agent. Instead, they signed Walter Thurmond III from the Seattle Seahawks, a slot cornerback who finished with a 69.5 NFL rating.
On the outside, although Trumaine McBride did well when pressed into action as a starter—he finished with a 57.4 NFL rating, the fourth-best NFL rating by a cornerback taking at least 50 percent of his team’s snaps, per PFF—his biggest vice is his height.
He stands just 5’9”, and he had trouble in at least six games last year where, per PFF, his NFL rating soared above 52.0.
The Giants’ plan to replace McBride, who was re-signed to a two-year contract, with 6’2” Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who interestingly finished with a 67.8 NFL rating last year, placing him 11th in that category.
You might notice two omissions from my listed depth—Jayron Hosley, a third-round pick in 2012, and Bennett Jackson, the sixth-round pick this year.
Hosley has talent and was initially viewed as a candidate to play the nickel. However, one injury after another has rendered him unreliable and given the competition at this position, his time could very well be up unless there are injuries.
If Jackson is going to make the team, I believe he’ll have to do so on special teams, where he’d have to beat out Zack Bowman.
Which that’s certainly possible, but I think if there are no injuries, it might make more sense to try to stash Jackson on the practice squad for a year.
Starters: Antrel Rolle, Quintin Demps
Backups: Nat Berhe, Stevie Brown, Cooper Taylor
As you can see by my depth chart, I don’t have a lot of confidence that Will Hill, the insanely talented defensive back who just can’t seem to stay out of trouble, is going to be with the Giants this season.
Even if Hill wins his appeal and his pending third league suspension that Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News reports would be six to eight weeks, is lifted, the Giants just can’t count on a guy who’s not going to be there for 16 games.
With Ryan Mundy having moved on to Chicago and Stevie Brown working his way back from ACL surgery, I think the Giants are going to turn to Quintin Demps, whom they originally signed to add firepower on special teams.
I think it also speaks volumes that the team drafted Nat Berhe with the second of their two fifth-round picks this year.
Berhe told reporters after his selection by the Giants that he played the “Aztec” position at San Diego State, a pseudo linebacker/safety role that is very similar to how the Giants used to deploy Deon Grant when he was on the team.
I could see Berhe moving ahead of Cooper Taylor, last year’s fifth-round pick who battled through an injury-filled rookie season.
Had Hill not landed in trouble, I had doubts as to whether Taylor would have even made the 2014 roster.
Hill’s situation just goes to show how important he was to the Giants, as his pending absence now creates a domino effect across the safety position—and not in a good way.
Kicker Josh Brown, Long Snapper Zak DeOssie, Punter Steve Weatherford, Returner Trindon Holliday
The only notable change to this group is the addition of Holliday, whom I also listed with the receivers since that’s his official position.
Last season, the Giants averaged 7.2 yards per punt return and 21.2 yards per kickoff return. Holliday’s career averages in both of those areas top the collaborative effort the Giants had last season from a group that included Randle and Hosley on punt returns, and Michael Cox and Jernigan on kickoff returns.
The 5’5” Holliday is averaging 9.4 yards per return on punts and 27.1 yards per return on kickoffs. He also has two touchdown returns a piece as a punt returner and as a kickoff returner.
Holliday will offer firepower that the Giants really haven’t had since David Wilson returned kickoffs for them in 2012, averaging 26.9 yards per return that season.
Holliday’s only negative is his ball security—he has 10 career fumbles as a punt returner, a number that’s increased every year since 2012.
As a kickoff returner, he’s had just one fumble, but regardless if a player has one fumble or 11, that’s still too many fumbles as far as the Giants are probably concerned.