Early Predictions for the New York Giants' 2014 Training Camp Battles
Since then, we've gotten a little more information as well as some new insight on what to expect.
So in this piece, I'm going to attempt to predict how those battles will end.
As you read through these predictions, I'm going to base my opinions on there being no injuries to rattle the playing field and on the information I currently have.
I'm also going to predict based on the player's skill set and what I believe to be the best fit for the team based on the limited information available.
Before I forget, the first media access to watch practice will be on Thursday, and yes, I'll be there, tweeting observations and quotes.
In fact, for my Friday article (which will actually be up sometime Thursday night), I'm going to outline a few observations from OTAs as well as recap some of the storylines to emerge.
So if there are any players in particular you're interested in hearing about, drop a comment below, and I'll do the best I can on that front.
Until then, feel free to jump in and give me your take on these battles.
Starting Tight End
The Primary Contenders
Adrien Robinson, Larry Donnell, Xavier Grimble, Daniel Fells, Kellen Davis
Last week, Adrien Robinson, one of the Giants’ tight end candidates, spoke about the differences for the position in Ben McAdoo’s offense as opposed to the role of the tight end under former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.
“It’s completely different,” Robinson told reporters, per Giants.com. “We move around a lot more in the backfield, (run) different routes. I feel like it’s more fitted for the things that I’m good at.”
It will be a golden opportunity for the Giants’ 2012 fourth-round draft pick, whom general manager Jerry Reese famously dubbed the “JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul) of tight ends,” to show he has what it takes to be successful in this league.
Meanwhile, he'll face some competition for the starting job.
Kellen Davis, a seven-year veteran who has missed just one game in his NFL career, was a two-year starter for the Chicago Bears. He has 50 career receptions for 561 yards and 12 touchdowns but is probably better known for his blocking, where last year, he finished with a minus-5.3 in 2013 run-blocking grade for the Seahawks, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Another wild card in this equation could end up being Larry Donnell, who played in 107 snaps for the Giants last year, per PFF, mostly as an H-back and in some formations as a fullback.
Although he wasn’t used much in the passing game—he was thrown to just six times last season—he appears to have the skill set that McAdoo is believed to be looking for at the tight end position, which includes the ability to line up at fullback in certain packages, line up in the slot and go in motion before the snap.
Another competitor to keep an eye on is rookie Xavier Grimble, who signed as an undrafted free agent out of USC. NFLDraftScout.com (via CBSSports.com) compared him to Davis, and Grimble played three years for the Trojans, ending up with somewhat underwhelming numbers of 69 receptions for 731 yards (10.59 average) and 11 touchdowns.
Still, he could be an intriguing option to keep around on the practice squad if there's no room for him on the roster, given his physical tools.
Unlike last year, when the Giants went with four tight ends, I think this year they will only go with three. Based on the personnel currently on the roster, those three will probably be Robinson, Donnell and Davis.
However, it would not be surprising if one of those three gets swapped out for a guy who is not yet on the roster.
Current Packers unrestricted free agent Jermichael Finley, whose connection with McAdoo—the Packers' former tight ends coach—is one player who has seemed to make sense for the Giants since free agency started.
However, Finley, who underwent a neck operation last October, hasn't yet received medical clearance to resume his career.
That could be coming any day now.
Per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, he will undergo evaluation by the Packers doctors on Friday to see where he stands.
Depending on the outcome of that evaluation, he will either re-sign with the Packers, search for a new team or remain in a holding pattern.
If he remains in a holding pattern or goes back to the Packers, keep an eye on the Arizona Cardinals situation this summer.
According to the depth chart as posted by Ourlads, the Cardinals have six tight ends—John Carlson, former Giant Jake Ballard, rookie Troy Niklas, Rob Housler, Darren Fells and Andre Hardy—on their roster.
Presumably, the Cardinals will be keeping Niklas, whom they just drafted this year. They’ll also probably keep two out of Carlson, Ballard and Housler.
Might the one that they don’t end up keeping find his way to the Giants?
Like I said, keep an eye on that situation, especially if none of the current Giants tight ends on the roster impress this summer.
The Primary Contenders
Ryan Nassib, Josh Freeman, Curtis Painter
Regardless of whether Eli Manning was recovering from offseason ankle surgery—and based on the team report from Wednesday’s OTA practice, which was closed to the media, Manning seems to be coming along nicely—the Giants were going to bring four quarterbacks into camp.
The big question, though, is whether they keep two backups to Manning or just one, as NFL Network's Kimberly Jones reported is the preference.
That all depends on how well Nassib, whom the team famously traded up to nab in the fourth round of last year’s draft, progresses.
Last week, Nassib told reporters that Ben McAdoo’s new offense was very similar to what the second-year player ran at Syracuse, a factor that would presumably give him an advantage in this transition.
However, Josh Freeman, who appears to be Nassib’s biggest competition for the No. 2 job, is no stranger to having run fragments of the West Coast offense either.
The former first-round draft pick of the Bucs enjoyed a three-year stretch between 2010 through 2012 when he completed 943 of 1,583 attempts (59.5 percent) for 11,108 yards, 68 touchdowns and 45 interceptions before ending up in former head coach Greg Schiano's doghouse last year, leading to his contract being terminated.
I think the Giants are going to end up keeping two backup quarterbacks behind Manning: Nassib and Freeman.
I’ll even go so far as to predict that there could be a trade at some point if one of the two backups puts some quality film together this preseason.
The reason why it might make the most sense for the Giants to try and trade one of the quarterbacks now is that in looking ahead to next year, I don’t think they will qualify for any compensatory draft picks—not given how active they were in free agency, a scorecard of which you can see via Inside Football.
I don’t think it would be unrealistic for the Giants to get a conditional draft pick in exchange for either Nassib or Freeman if the two backups are able to put together strong showings in the preseason.
I could see the Giants settling on one backup for the long term and trying to get something of value while they still can for the other.
The Primary Contenders
Henry Hynoski, John Conner
The Hynocerous versus the Terminator.
No, it’s not a pay-per-view wrestling match, though it might as well be, given that both Henry Hynoski and John Conner are very good fullbacks. They bring quite a bit to the table at a position that, based on a compilation of stats gathered from Pro Football Focus' premium data (subscription required), has been used less than 40 percent in the Giants offense the last three years.
This battle, however, isn’t going to be cut-and-dried; in addition to competing against each other, there is the possibility that both Hynoski and Conner are competing against the still-to-be-determined starting tight end.
As I write this, we still don’t yet know exactly what new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is going to ask of the fullback. Also, how much will a tight end do what the fullback typically does?
The other glaring question that needs to be addressed is where Hynoski is physically, after he dealt with a significant knee injury and a broken shoulder, the latter of which ended his season early in Week 3.
Of interest, the Giants signed Conner off the street last year to a two-year contract. He's the only one of the “replacement” players brought in for those injured who received a multiyear deal.
Did management have concerns about Hynoski’s recovery at the time, which prompted such a move?
Then there was the matter of the team's decision not to tender Hynoski as a restricted free agent. The fullback went on to briefly flirt with the Detroit Lions at the start of free agency before re-signing with the Giants for a one-year, $1 million deal with $250,000 guaranteed.
Hynoski hasn't been shy about declaring himself to be 100 percent, occasionally taking to his Twitter to share updates on his offseason workouts.
That's all well and good, but until the pads go on and there's contact, the question remains whether he has lost any quickness or power as a result of those injuries.
Don’t discount Conner from this race. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he finished as the fourth-best fullback overall in the NFL last season, behind Pro Bowlers Anthony Sherman of the Chiefs and Mike Tolbert of the Panthers and former Pro Bowler John Kuhn of the Packers.
Conner’s combined pass- and run-blocking grade (8.7) was the third-best in the league, behind Sherman and Kuhn and ahead of Tolbert.
Both players are starting anew with the playbook. Both are relatively close statistically, and while Hynoski appears to be the better fit for a West Coast offense, we still don’t know how much of a West Coast flavor to anticipate. As a result, this race can't be called yet.
Backup Middle Linebacker
The Primary Contenders
Mark Herzlich, Devon Kennard
There was once a time when Mark Herzlich, who was a star at Boston College, was thought to be the future at middle linebacker for the Giants. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer and had to undergo surgery, radiation and chemo, all of which successfully eradicated it from his body.
That's the good news. The bad news is that he just doesn't seem to have the impact at this level as he had in college before his diagnosis.
That doesn’t mean that he is useless to the organization. After being demoted from the starting lineup last year, he found new life on special teams while also contributing on a limited basis in the goal-line defense.
Apparently, that was good enough for the Giants to sign him to a one-year contract that, per Over the Cap, includes a $775,000 base salary and up to $200,000 in a game-day bonuses. He can earn the full amount if he’s active for all 16 games this season.
Interestingly, Herzlich’s deal did not have any guaranteed money, as the roster bonus was in lieu of a signing bonus.
So what has to happen for him to hold off fifth-round pick Devon Kennard, his primary competition for the backup job behind starter Jon Beason?
If Herzlich stays the course and manages to bring this competition with Kennard to a draw, there should be no reason for the team to cut him, given that he knows the system.
Kennard, in his comments to reporters last week, noted that at this point in his career, he feels more comfortable playing the strong-side linebacker spot.
That likely means that he’s going to be a work in progress in the middle, though certainly with hard work and lots of film study, there’s no reason to think that he won't eventually feel more comfortable in the middle to where he can ascend up the depth chart.
Until then, the most likely scenario regarding this battle is that the Giants will keep both Kennard and Herzlich, who will be two of the six linebackers on the final 53-man roster.
Starting Right Guard
The Primary Contenders
Chris Snee, Weston Richburg
Before I go into the right guard competition, I want to briefly talk about the center position, which I initially thought was unsettled on this offensive line.
The more I thought about it, the more I believe that J.D. Walton, if healthy, makes the most sense at center.
The team is installing a new offense, and while rookie Weston Richburg is very intelligent, it makes more sense to let a veteran like Walton (assuming he's past his ankle issue) make the protection calls for this year.
Again, there is no question that Richburg is the future center of this team. However, NFL Draft Scout noted of Richburg that there are “some questions about level of competition, though Richburg played well against top opponents when CSU faced them, including Alabama in 2013.”
In other words, while he did well against his competition, it doesn’t sound like he faced top-level competition like he will at the NFL level. He might need a year of seasoning to bump his game up to that level.
That brings us to the right guard spot.
Veteran Chris Snee is hoping that all the surgeries he had on his hips and his elbow last year have fully healed and that he can squeeze out one more season before calling it a career.
However, the coaches need to determine at this point if a healthy Snee is a better, more fluid athlete than a younger Richburg.
The right guard spot also makes more sense for Richburg at this point because he can gain experience while not having the added pressure of having to make the protection calls.
While it’s going to be hard to determine just how far Snee has come in his rehab thanks to the half-speed, no-contact drills of the spring, what makes the most sense, barring any injuries or setbacks, is that Snee starts ahead of Richburg for a few games before yielding to the youngster.
Should something go astray with Walton and if Richburg still isn’t ready to assume the center duties, Snee can play the backup center (as can Dallas Reynolds, if he makes the team).
Unless Richburg really struggles, the coaches will try to find a way to get him on the field this year and sooner than later. Right guard seems to be his ticket.
All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter for all the latest Giants news and discussion.