New York Giants 5 Players Poised for a Breakout Campaign in 2014
One of the more exciting aspects of any new NFL season is finding out which players will significantly improve their performance from the year before. The New York Giants happen to have a lot of candidates capable of breaking out in 2014 due to their level of player movement this offseason.
Through an active free-agency period, the draft and undrafted free-agency signings, Big Blue has seen roughly a third of their roster turnover since the end of last season. This has created opportunity for part-time players to become impactful starters. In addition, one starter will find their job easier with the addition of a marquee player on his unit.
Before we take a look at the five players ready for a breakout season in 2014, let’s take care of some housecleaning. First, note that the slides are ordered from least likely to breakout to most likely. In addition, there are no rookies included in this list.
One of the definitions of breakout is “being or relating to a sudden or smashing success especially in comparison to previous efforts.” Since rookies don’t have any previous efforts in the NFL, they can’t be considered a breakout player.
Let’s begin with who will prosper in the wide-open race to be the Giants starting tight end.
Larry Donnell, TE
The problem is that there is little evidence to suggest that he will—either this year or ever. Robinson has had issues staying healthy and refining his game in his two years with the Giants. This has led to a whopping total of three offensive snaps and no catches.
He wasn’t productive in college, either. In his four years at Cincinnati, Robinson had only 434 yards receiving and five touchdowns—despite playing in 39 games.
This is not to say Larry Donnell is far more experienced or accomplished than Robinson. However, he certainly has a better pro and college resume.
The 25-year-old did log 107 offensive snaps last season, his second in the league, and caught three passes for 31 yards. He also had a solid stint in college at Grambling, amassing 432 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns in only 20 games played—according to Giants.com.
Tom Coughlin certainly isn’t handing the job to Robinson, either. He lumped Donnell and Robinson together as two players that can shine this upcoming season in an interview earlier this month with WFAN’s Mike Francesa, (h/t Dan Benton of Giants 101) .
Expect the 6’6” Donnell to become a dependable red-zone target for Eli Manning in 2014. He has the best chance to lead all tight ends on the team in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns.
Donnell is the least likely to breakout of the five players in this slideshow due to his inexperience. He also comes with low expectations as a 2012 undrafted free-agent signing by New York.
Robert Ayers, DE
Robert Ayers' situation couldn’t be any more different than Donnell’s.
The defensive end, who was signed by the Giants late in free agency, has extensive NFL experience. He’s logged at least 350 defensive snaps in each of his five NFL seasons, including over 600 three times.
The 28-year-old also entered the league with plenty of expectations as the 18th overall pick by the Denver Broncos in the 2009 draft.
While Donnell’s competition includes Robinson, rookie undrafted free agent Xavier Grimble and two players with limited pass-catching abilities in Daniel Fells and Kellen Davis, Ayers must navigate a landmine of talented, experienced players to gain a starting role.
If healthy, Jason Pierre-Paul is assured to start at one of the defensive end spots. The other spot could be manned by Ayers, incumbent Mathias Kiwanuka—who logged 892 snaps last season—or 2013 third-round pick Damontre Moore.
Based on his experience and 2013 performance, Ayers appears primed to beat out Kiwanuka and Moore as the starter opposite JPP.
The 31-year-old Kiwanuka looked all but done in 2013, posting a minus-28.1 Pro Football Focus rating (subscription required)—which was the third-worst mark among defensive ends in the 4-3 scheme.
Moore only logged 136 defensive snaps in his rookie season and probably needs another year of NFL seasoning before he’s truly ready to become an impact player.
Ayers was quietly excellent in 2013, posting a 11.1 PFF rating, playoffs included, over 616 snaps. He was particularly impressive against the run, with an 11.5 rating, but his ability to rush the passer was apparent as well.
Ayers had a modest five sacks, but hurried the quarterback 40 times. The latter number would be solid for a starter logging 900-1,000 snaps. The fact that Ayers managed 40 hurries in a little over 600 snaps is a tremendous achievement.
Ayers’ ability as a two-way player will make the Big Blue faithful forget the loss of Justin Tuck in free agency. With more snaps, he should amass nine to 11 sacks in 2014 while continuing to effectively seal the edge and prevent cutbacks against the run.
Prince Amukamara, CB
Prince Amukamara is more likely to breakout than Donnell and Ayers because he not only has experience and pedigree (2011 first-round pick by New York), but he is also virtually assured of a starting job at cornerback opposite newcomer Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Rodgers-Cromartie should also be a catalyst in Amukamara’s bid to take a significant step up in performance this upcoming season.
The 24-year old has shown modest improvements in each of his first three NFL seasons. Last year saw him record his first 16-game season and a 4.0 PFF rating, the highest of his short career. Particularly impressive was Amukamara’s work stopping the run. His 5.2 rating in this area was the best of any cornerback in the NFL.
However, his coverage skills still need work. He allowed a 64.9 percent completion rate against in 2013 and only managed eight pass defenses and one interception. These subpar numbers were a big reason he posted a minus-3.7 coverage rating.
Amukamara, though, will get some much-needed help from Rodgers-Cromartie in 2014. Tom Coughlin has already admitted that the latter will mark the opponent’s top wide receiver. This will let Amukamara face lesser competition most weeks, which in turn should allow him to be stingier and display better ball skills.
While Amukamara hasn’t had more than one interception in a season since his junior year at Nebraska, 2014 will see him post at least three interceptions and a complete season, where he is effective against both the run and pass.
Rueben Randle, WR
Like Donnell and Ayers, Rueben Randle would appear to have competition for snaps and targets with first-round draft pick Odell Beckham Jr. in the fold. However, as I noted back on May 16, rookie wide receivers haven’t exactly flourished with the Giants in the Coughlin/Manning era.
Also, the Giants' passing game figures to be wide receiver-centric with the question marks at the tight end position. Therefore, Randle should see plenty of throws come his way in 2014.
His first two NFL seasons suggest that he’ll be able to take advantage of the opportunity. While Randle received a lot of attention and flack for communication issues with Manning last season, he also dramatically improved his production from his rookie season.
The 23-year-old had 41 receptions for 611 yards and six touchdowns in 2013. This compares to only 19 catches, 298 yards receiving and three touchdowns in 2012.
In regards to syncing up better with Manning, new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s system should help. Unlike his predecessor Kevin Gilbride, early returns are that McAdoo puts the onus on Manning to make decisions and read routes, not the receivers.
With less to think about, Randle should be able to play freely and get the most out of his physical 6’2”, 208-pound frame.
Expect the former LSU product to register his first 1,000-yard season and flirt with double-digit touchdowns this upcoming season.
Johnathan Hankins, DT
Johnathan Hankins has the best chance of any Giant to breakout in 2014 for a few reasons.
With third-round pick Jay Bromley and undrafted free agent Kelcy Quarles better fits at the 3-technique position, Hankins' only competition for a starting spot is 30-year-old Mike Patterson. While Patterson was solid in 2013, with a 2.1 PFF rating in 413 snaps, he is better served at his age as a backup, rotational player.
Hankins is also a good bet to step up in 2014 because he displayed the ability to be an elite run-stopper during his rookie season but did so in limited playing time. The 22-year-old had a 9.5 PFF run defense rating in 195 snaps in 2013.
With the opportunity to get around 600 snaps as a starter in his second year, Hankins may see his effectiveness wane slightly due to wear-and-tear. However, he should still clog running lanes at a high-rate while also improving modestly as a pass-rusher (he only had two quarterback hits and one hurry in 2013).
Since Joseph wasn’t much of a pass-rusher in his time in New York—with only nine sacks in four seasons—Hankins should make the Giants look smart for letting Joseph walk.