Offseason New York Giants Player Power Rankings
Who is the best New York Giant heading into the 2014 season?
These power rankings aim to answer that very question, as I've highlighted, analyzed and listed all 22 of New York's projected starters in ascending order in terms of talent.
For the purposes of this article, the term "starter" is loosely defined. With so many different offensive and defensive sets, I've chosen to rank the personnel that I anticipate to be on the field most often in 2014—even if that's not the exact 22 I expect to be on the field for the first snap of every game. Special teamers—such as kickers, punters and return specialists—were also left off this list.
Keep this in mind, as I've ranked an extra wide receiver and extra defensive back, excluding a starting fullback and one of the three linebackers in New York's base 4-3 defense. The league is geared more toward passing, so the third wide receiver arguably plays a larger role than the fullback in today's offenses. The same can be said about the nickel cornerback and strong-side linebackers in today's defenses.
Enjoy the slideshow, and let me know which rankings I got wrong in the comment section below.
22. TE Adrien Robinson
Opening up this list at No. 22 is tight end Adrien Robinson, a third-year player out of Cincinnati. Robinson makes the list by default. A tight end had to be listed, as I expect whomever starts at the position in 2014 to be an essential cog in the Giants offense. And at the moment, Robinson appears to be that tight end.
Absolutely no on-field evidence leads me to believe Robinson is deserving of this spot on the list. He has only appeared in three career games, and in those three career games, he has not caught a single pass. Yeah, the general manager called him the you-know-who of tight ends, but if Robinson doesn't produce soon, he'll be reduced to the Jason Pierre-Paul of prison wardens or bailiffs (he majored in criminal justice at Cincinnati).
Now, I've got plenty of respect for prison wardens and bailiffs, but I'd much rather see Robinson catching touchdown passes in a Giants jersey than pursuing a career in his field of study. It really is now or never for the athletic tight end with minimal NFL experience.
21. C J.D. Walton
The Giants will probably want veteran center J.D. Walton to start over rookie Weston Richburg, a second-round selection (43rd overall) out of Colorado State. This is a safe decision due to the complexities associated with the position, such as calling out protection assignments and getting both sides of the offensive line to work in concert.
Walton may be the starting center in 2014, but he won't be a star. He hasn't played a single snap since 2012, a season in which he only played just four games before breaking his ankle. Before that injury, Walton was a reliable center for the Denver Broncos, starting the first 36 games of his NFL career.
A third-round selection (80th overall) back in 2010, Walton is not a shabby football player. Still, without seeing him in action for nearly two years, I can't rank him any higher than the remaining 20 players on this list.
20. DE Robert Ayers
Defensive end Robert Ayers makes this list at No. 20 over second-year man Damontre Moore because I think he will be utilized more thoroughly in New York's defense this season. While Ayers, a former first-round bust (18th overall) with the Broncos, can fill the void Justin Tuck (now with Oakland Raiders) leaves behind on the strong side, I see Moore as more of an Osi Umenyiora-type pass-rush specialist.
The Giants won't need Ayers to be a sack master, which is a good thing since he probably wouldn't deliver anyway (just 12 sacks in five NFL seasons). Instead, they will use his 275-pound frame more so as a staunch run defender opposite Jason Pierre-Paul. If he gets to the passer in the process, that's great; if he doesn't, New York has other guys on the roster who should.
Ayers has a chance to revive his career with the Giants. He does not need to become an imported superstar. However, if he develops into a solid two-way defender, Ayers will quickly find himself moving up this list (on which I'm sure he's keeping close tabs).
19. G Chris Snee
There was a time when Chris Snee might have topped this list, but those days are long gone. Even though Snee was named to the Pro Bowl just two seasons ago, he has clearly been in decline since New York's Super Bowl-winning season of 2011.
Snee has been quarterback Eli Manning's personal protector at right guard ever since they both entered the league in 2004 (Snee was drafted one round after Manning that year). From 2005-2012, Snee only missed one game. Then, in 2013, he missed 13, landing on injured reserve with a hip injury.
If the 32-year-old has any football left in his body, the Giants will surely milk it from him in 2014. To this day, Snee has started every single game in which he has appeared. That will not change this season; if Snee is healthy, he will once again hold down New York's starting right guard job. He just won't be as effective as he was in years past.
18. LT Will Beatty
Even though the Giants focused on rebuilding their offensive line this offseason, they mostly did so by adding quality depth. Three of the five projected starters, including left tackle Will Beatty, rank in this list's bottom five.
Beatty has dealt with injury issues in the past, but they appeared to be resolved by the end of the 2012 season. He had just completed the most successful season of his career, for which New York rewarded him with a five-year, $38.75 million contract. Last season, Beatty started all 16 games for the first time ever, but in most of those games, he was a liability.
This Jared Allen sack from Week 7 sums up Beatty's struggles in 2013.
Beatty's contract must have the Giants front office sweating. The 2009 second-round selection admitted that his contract and the expectations that went along with it weighed heavily on him last season. He must put that pressure behind him in 2014 and just play football.
17. S Stevie Brown
Due to a recent year-long suspension and a grim-looking appeal process, I've decided to keep safety Will Hill off this list, even though he would have easily ranked in the top two or three. New York simply cannot count on him to be available in 2014 with two suspensions in as many seasons, plus a third one pending.
In Hill's place on this list is Stevie Brown, who missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL suffered in last year's final preseason contest. Brown was set to have a promising season. He intercepted 11 passes, returning them for a magnificent 307 yards in 2012, which earned him a restricted-free-agent tender worth just over $2 million. Then came his full-season setback.
Due to the injury and the time it takes to recover from such devastating knee damage, Brown slips to No. 17 on this list. He should be ranked higher based on his 2012 production, but it's best not to be overly optimistic about Brown's return to the game after a torn ACL.
16. CB Walter Thurmond
He is the self-proclaimed best slot cornerback in the league, and he's on the Giants roster.
Walter Thurmond came to New York in March after winning a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks in February. In Thurmond, the Giants signed a 5'11", 190-pound spark plug who should excel in the nickel package. Now a part of a revamped secondary, Thurmond believes New York's defensive backfield could be better than the one he left behind in Seattle.
Thurmond talks a lot for someone who has contributed only marginally during his four NFL seasons. Fighting through injuries, Thurmond appeared in only eight games in 2011 and 2012 combined. He missed four more last season due to a suspension for a failed drug test, but he did record his first career interception (and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown).
The Giants will pay Thurmond $3.5 million for one year of service in which he can either put up or shut up.
15. WR Odell Beckham Jr.
Fans are ready to christen 2014 first-round selection (12th overall) Odell Beckham Jr. the Giants' No. 1 receiving option. He very well may be in time, but as of right now, Beckham has zero career NFL receptions. Therefore, he ranks no higher than No. 15 on this list.
Beckham is generating a lot of excitement—and rightly so. Giants GM Jerry Reese used terms such as "pro-ready" and "dynamic" when describing Beckham, per Dave Hutchinson of The Star-Ledger. He is slightly undersized for an "X" receiver at 5'11", but he makes up for his lack of height with superior route running and solid leaping ability to go up and grab the ball at its highest point.
Giants fans are expecting a lot out of Beckham in Year 1, as they do with all first-round selections, particularly ones at the skill positions. Although he can bring an added dimension to New York's offense, I don't see him as the focal point just yet. Give him a couple of seasons to work his way up this list.
14. LB Spencer Paysinger
Former Baltimore Raven Jameel McClain was the Giants' big offseason addition at linebacker, but I don't see McClain displacing many of Spencer Paysinger's snaps in 2013. Only two linebackers will stay on the field when New York shifts from its 4-3 base defense to its nickel package.
I think Paysinger will be one of those two linebackers.
It has been a slow but steady climb to the top for Paysinger, who joined the Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2011. Once but a solid special teamer, Paysinger forced his way into the starting lineup 11 times last season, appearing in all 16 games. Since his rookie season, Paysinger has gradually developed into one of the team's few every-down linebackers, as he is serviceable against both the run and the pass.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will field different linebacker alignments depending on the situation, as he has in the past. McClain or Jacquian Williams may be better-suited for a certain situation, but the more complete Paysinger will own a higher snap count when the day is done.
13. DT Johnathan Hankins
Perhaps its presumptuous to list Johnathan Hankins as high as No. 13 on this list, since he recorded just 16 total tackles in 11 games played last season. I'm high on the 2013 second-round selection (49th overall), though, and I see him as a viable replacement for Linval Joseph (now with the Minnesota Vikings) in the interior defensive line.
The 320-pounder is the good kind of fat, the kind that stuffs the run and eats up a ton of space. Hankins will draw the attention of two offensive linemen, much like Joseph did, freeing up essential one-on-one matchups on the outside. If he can also penetrate the backfield, then he will be a legitimate force in the middle—one teams will want to avoid entirely.
Hankins must make a massive leap in his second year as a pro. It may not be as grand a leap as the one I've projected here—ranking him the 13th-best player on the team—but it certainly has the potential to be.
Keep your eye on Hankins; he's hard to miss.
12. WR Rueben Randle
Wide receiver Rueben Randle has the potential to rank much higher than No. 12 on this list, but only if he can become a more consistent playmaker. Too often, Randle would flash his dazzling pass-catching ability only to have it fizzle out a few plays later with a miscommunication-induced interception.
Several of Eli Manning's league-high 27 interceptions last season were the fault of Randle. However, to be fair, Randle also led the team in touchdown receptions with six. Until his play balances out a bit, he cannot be relied upon as a true No. 1 outside receiving threat.
The Giants need more out of their tallest starting receiver (6'2"), for whom they spent a second-round pick in 2012. Year 3 will be a boom-or-bust season for Randle, and much of his development will revolve around how well he grasps the new offense being implemented in New York.
Randle has all the physical tools necessary to make great things happen.
11. LB Jon Beason
After witnessing the impact linebacker John Beason had on the defense in 2013, the Giants decided to lock him up for three additional seasons. It took just a seventh-round pick to get Beason in New York, but it will take $19 million to keep him there.
The money will be well-spent, however, as Beason has shored up a once-shaky linebacker unit. From his middle linebacker position, Beason takes on a natural leadership role and makes a tremendous impact against the run. With Justin Tuck now in Oakland, I wouldn't be surprised to see Beason join safety Antrel Rolle as a defensive co-captain in 2014.
Beason can afford to improve in pass coverage. He is another year removed from the Achilles and knee injuries that robbed him of the 2011 and 2012 seasons, respectively, and this summer will be his first full offseason with the Giants. Both of those factors should improve his ability to be an all-around linebacker.
10. RB Rashad Jennings
We're now in the top 10, where former Oakland Raiders running back Rashad Jennings will get us started. Signed to a four-year, $10 million deal earlier in the offseason, Jennings is being asked to hold down the Giants' offensive backfield in 2014 as the featured running back.
Boston College product Andre Williams, a 2014 fourth-round selection, and David Wilson (if healthy) will also take handoffs this season, but Jennings will be the starter. It's a relatively new opportunity for Jennings, who was brought to Oakland to back up Darren McFadden after backing up Maurice Jones-Drew for four years in Jacksonville.
Although most running backs are over-the-hill when they approach 30, the 29-year-old Jennings has low mileage since most of his career to date has been spent as a reserve.
At 6'1" and 231 pounds, Jennings will pack a significant punch for the Giants, who seem dedicated to featuring a true power running game in 2014. Yet, Jennings still has the speed to break a long run, as evidenced by his 80-yard touchdown scamper against the Houston Texans last year. Jennings should help New York control the pace of the game, more so than it has been able to in recent years.
9. DT Cullen Jenkins
Sneaking his way just inside the top 10 is defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, one of New York's most underappreciated Giants. The 33-year-old veteran of the league joined Big Blue last offseason after a long stint with the Green Bay Packers (2004-2010) and a short one with the Philadelphia Eagles (2011-2012).
Don't let Jenkins' size fool you. He weighs in at 305 pounds, but he is agile and light on his feet—a more versatile defender than meets the eye. Due to his supreme pass-rushing ability for a man of his size, Jenkins can bounce outside and be nearly as effective an end as he is a tackle. This makes him tough to take off the field.
Jenkins originally signed a three-year deal valued at $8 million, and he is doing more than enough to live up to the terms of that contract. With five sacks and two forced fumbles in 16 games played last season, Jenkins is showing no signs of slowing down.
8. RT Justin Pugh
Right tackle Justin Pugh cracks this list's top 10 after a stellar rookie campaign in 2013. Many have argued that Pugh's best fit is at guard, but last year Pugh proved that he can hold his own on the edge in the NFL.
I don't foresee a sophomore slump for Pugh, as the 23-year-old will only improve in his second professional season. Listed as 6'4" and 301 pounds, Pugh doesn't fit the mold of a typical mauler. However, he is technically sound as both a run-blocker and a pass-blocker, and he vowed to add 10 pounds of muscle back in April.
After starting all 16 games as a rookie, the 2013 first-rounder turned out to be an excellent short-term investment; now he must showcase his long-term value. That should not be too difficult for Pugh, who is working with a revamped O-line unit this year.
7. DE Jason Pierre-Paul
A No. 7 ranking is criminally low for a star of Jason Pierre-Paul's status, yet it's where he belongs based on his recent production. Trying to push through back and shoulder issues a season ago, Pierre-Paul lasted only 11 games and recorded just two sacks.
Sure, Pierre-Paul had his moments when he would reclaim his stranglehold on the game—like his 24-yard pick-six of Scott Tolzien in Week 11—but those moments were few and far between. Games like his all-around destructive performance versus the Dallas Cowboys in Week 15 of the 2011 season seem like a distant memory now.
You down with JPP? If he gets healthy.
Pierre-Paul needs to be No. 1 or 2 on this list if the Giants want to return to Super Bowl form. In 2014, the Giants need another double-digit-sack season out of their 2010 first-round selection (15th overall). He is hoping a sleeker frame can help make that a reality.
6. CB Prince Amukamara
Cornerback Prince Amukamara, a first-round draft selection in 2011 (19th overall), has risen through the ranks, coming in at No. 6 on this list. After a turbulent rookie season, Amukamara has really settled down into a defensive standout role.
Amukamara struggled with his health early in his career, but the 2013 season saw a refreshing 16 starts for the Nebraska product. Only 24 years old, Amukamara has plenty of time to grow into a shutdown cornerback.
After picking up Amukamara's fifth-year option on May 1, the Giants are clearly pleased with his progression so far. They now have two more seasons to discern whether or not he will be included in the team's long-term plans.
In each of his three seasons, Amukamara has intercepted just one pass. His pass defensed numbers, on the other hand, have jumped from three in 2011, to seven in 2012, to 14 in 2013. To be a game-changing cornerback, he must turn more of these pass defenses into interceptions.
5. G Geoff Schwartz
Opening up the top five is Kansas City transplant Geoff Schwartz, the highest-ranked offensive lineman on this list. Schwartz, who signed with the Giants in March, has yet to play a down in New York but projects to be one of the team's most dominant blockers in 2014.
The 27-year-old is 6'6" and 340 pounds, making him a formidable replacement for Kevin Boothe (now with the Raiders) as the Giants' starting left guard.
Drafted by the Panthers in the seventh round (241st overall) out of Oregon, Schwartz played three seasons in Carolina and then spent 2012 with the Minnesota Vikings. He only started seven games with the Chiefs last season, but that was enough to earn him a four-year, $16.8 million offer from the Giants.
New York is paying Schwartz a considerable sum to hold down a starting job, but I think the Giants will get much more than that from him. Schwartz will be a dominant force along the interior O-line, a player New York can build around for years to come.
4. S Antrel Rolle
Safety Antrel Rolle was selected as a second-team All-Pro last season, a distinction no Giant deserved more in 2014. Rolle has been the heart and soul of New York's defense since the 2011 Super Bowl season, often playing positions, such a slot corner, that are not his primary place on the field. He is a real team player, and for that, he is a distinguished captain.
In 2013, Rolle's statistics finally caught up to his effort. He recorded a career-high six interceptions last season while simultaneously leading the team in total tackles with 98. Rolle also forced a fumble and set a new personal-best mark of 12 passes defensed.
The influx of talent in the secondary should maximize Rolle's time spent where he is most effective, patrolling the deepest part of the field, ball-hawking any particularly ambitious strikes downfield. On running downs, I still expect him to be one of New York's surest tacklers near the line of scrimmage.
3. CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
A newbie, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, comes in at No. 3 on this list. He is also the third defensive back ranked in the top six, which is good news for New York as the league's infatuation with the forward pass progresses.
The signing of Rodgers-Cromartie back in March to a five-year deal worth $35 million in base salary (but it could escalate to $39 million) served as an atypical splash in free agency for the Giants. Doling out that type of money for a free agent is not something New York usually does, but it was worth it to bring in DRC, who will follow the opponent's No. 1 receiving threat in 2014, according to Jordan Raanan of NJ.com.
Sure, the Giants need both Eli Manning and Jason Pierre-Paul to bounce back to championship form, but the next most crucial issue is health in the secondary. Rodgers-Cromartie lined up opposite Prince Amukamara makes for a tantalizing tandem, if they can avoid injury.
2. QB Eli Manning
For the first time in a long time, quarterback Eli Manning is not the best player in New York—at least by my power rankings. Still, a No. 2 ranking isn't so bad for the Giants signal-caller considering the statistically abysmal season he had in 2013.
You're probably sick of hearing this by now, but Manning set career-high marks for interceptions (27) and sacks absorbed (39) a season ago. He also suffered the most significant injury of his NFL career to date in Week 17—an ankle sprain that required surgery in April. He was finally considered elite for a few months after winning Super Bowl XLVI and the corresponding MVP award, but now he's back to regular old Eli.
Manning has two years left on his current contract, but he will want to be extended prior to the 2015 season. The 2014 season will be a huge one for Manning, as it will likely set his salary for the twilight of his career. The 33-year-old quarterback must show a firm command of New York's revitalized offense this fall, leaving no doubt that he gives the franchise its best chance to return to the Super Bowl.
1. WR Victor Cruz
Although his statistics have dipped steadily in each of the past two seasons, wide receiver Victor Cruz—the man I like to call The Sultan of Slot—is the best player on the Giants roster. He is downright dominant when New York's offense is clicking and is still a noteworthy threat when it is not.
Former Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride singled out Cruz as the "one guy playing" for New York's offense last year, per Tom Rock of Newsday.
When you consider the general deterioration of the offensive line and running back units in 2013, coupled with how often Manning misfired when targeting his other pass-catchers, it's nothing short of a miracle that Cruz wound up only two yards shy of his third consecutive 1,000-yard season.
A new-look offense under Ben McAdoo should renew Cruz's spark, setting him up for another swell season working out of the slot. He now has two LSU products in Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham Jr. on either side of him, drawing some of the attention away from the middle of the field, where Cruz is most dangerous.
*All roster information courtesy of Giants.com.
**All statistical information courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.