Predicting the Last 5 In, Last 5 Out for NY Giants' Final 53-Man Roster
This year, New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin will have some very difficult decisions to make regarding a roster where there is legitimate competition across the board at several key positions.
What follows is a list of 10 players who based on any number of factors either have an advantage or a disadvantage in making the 53-man roster.
I’ve broken the list down to the five who I think will be in and the five who I think will be out, based on the information gathered to date as well as projected numbers at each position on the roster (I've left out the fullbacks from this list on purpose, as I'm planning to write a more detailed analysis on that competition next week).
As the preseason progress, I’ll be better able to forecast who potentially stays and who potentially goes.
In: Running Back Michael Cox
At running back, my guess is New York will keep Rashad Jennings, Peyton Hillis and Andre Williams as three of the projected four they’ll carry at the position.
The fourth spot goes to David Wilson if he finally receives clearance to return to contact drills.
While there is optimism on the part of the Giants that Wilson will be cleared to resume contact, I think a more realistic scenario is that Wilson will start out on the PUP list.
Further, when you look at NFL players who have tried to come back from cervical fusion surgery, the more well-known cases have taken longer than the six months it will be for Wilson, who told reporters that he'll be re-evaluated by doctors on July 21.
The longer Wilson is out, the better the chances of Michael Cox becoming the team's fourth running back.
Cox isn’t necessarily a bad option. As a rookie, he played only 38 snaps on offense, running 22 times for 43 yards.
While that doesn’t sound like much—and it's not—the thing to take away from his performance is that he has elusive speed that allows him to make the first tackler miss, as evidenced by his three missed tackles on rushes, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
According to PFF’s signature stats, Cox’s overall elusive rating of 20.4 was higher than Andre Brown’s, and that's despite Brown running the ball 139 times.
As an added bonus, Cox can return kickoffs in a pinch. He averaged 21.8 yards per kickoff return last year, tying him for 20th of 20 in the NFL among kickoff returners who had at least 20 returns.
In: Quarterback Curtis Painter
It’s no secret the Giants have been trying to give Ryan Nassib every opportunity to convince them that they don't need to keep three quarterbacks.
The problem is that Nassib, while showing an understanding of the offense and showing that he can get guys lined up, just hasn’t looked good throwing the ball.
His short passes have lacked touch and have often times hit receivers in the hands and bounced to the ground while his deep passes have lacked any consistent accuracy.
“He’s just got to keep working on executing, whether it’s a throw or timing with the receivers, he’s just got to continue to work with those guys,” said quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf of Nassib, adding, “but he’s been very good to this point in terms of studying and learning.
While the thinking is that Nassib will continue to get a chance to make his case, it wouldn't be surprising if Eli Manning takes a few more reps than usual what with a new offense being installed.
As for Nassib, unless he has a strong preseason, I don’t see how the Giants can go into 2014 with just two signal-callers, which is why it wouldn't surprise me if Curtis Painter makes the 53-man roster, at least until Nassib finally shows that he can make the throws he needs to in this offense.
In: Linebacker Dan Fox
A defensive rookie that kept catching my eye this spring was former Notre Dame linebacker Dan Fox.
The highly energetic Fox seemed to always find himself around the ball, coming up with several nice plays. He didn’t seem to get caught out of position much and was often the recipient of pats on the back from his teammates as well as his coaches.
With Jon Beason’s status for opening day uncertain, it would not surprise me at all if the Giants keep an extra linebacker for a week or two until Beason is ready to go.
If they take that approach. it makes sense to keep a rookie who they can ultimately return to the practice squad if he clears waivers, such as Fox.
In: Tight End Larry Donnell
Although no one has taken a lead in the tight end race, at least one player from the five currently on the Giants roster is bound to make the final cut.
A candidate I really like is Larry Donnell, the second-year player who, if he can become a better route-runner, might just be one of the best kept secrets on the current 90-man roster.
People forget he missed last spring because of a broken foot. That practice time lost ultimately affected Donnell in the spring practices—he told me that he never did catch up after not being able to apply what he learned in the classroom on the field.
This year thanks to a healthy offseason that’s allowed him to train and an offensive system that by all accounts seems to be a better fit for the tight ends skill set, the 6’6”, 265-pound Donnell has a very good chance of sticking on the roster if he has a solid training camp and preseason.
Another thing Donnell has in his favor, besides the ideal size for the position, is experience with performing the roles that Ben McAdoo’s system asks from the tight end, such as lining up as the H-back and fullback, playing in-line and going in motion.
With a solid training camp and preseason, Donnell could very well open a few eyes.
In: Safety Nat Berhe
Assuming the Giants keep four safeties, the last spot will come down to either rookie draft pick Nat Berhe or second-year man Cooper Taylor.
This battle is an interesting one. Taylor, at 6’4” 228 pounds, has a distinct size advantage over Berhe, listed as 6’0", 194 pounds by the Giants.
Because most of Taylor’s rookie season was wiped out due to hamstring issues, he’s in essence starting from scratch again this year in his quest for a roster spot.
While the expectation is that every draft pick should make the roster, sometimes that doesn’t work out that way. Sometimes it makes more sense to try to slide a guy to the practice squad, especially if you’re stacked with numbers.
I don't think the Giants will try to do that with Berhe, whose, per B/R’s Ian Wharton, positives far outweigh his negatives.
Wharton wrote that one of Berhe's biggest positives is his quickness and alert play. While not a ball hawk, Berhe has that ability to read the quarterback’s eyes and at least get himself into a position to break up a pass play.
Another thing to like about Berhe, according to Wharton, is that the rookie safety gets a lot of his tackles near the line of scrimmage as opposed to several yards down the field.
It’s still early in this battle, but if Berhe can carry over the success he had at the college level playing that hybrid linebacker role that former safety Deon Grant played so well in Perry Fewell’s defense, he could very well end up pushing Taylor off the roster.
Out: Linebacker Mark Herzlich
In 2011, linebacker Mark Herzlich captured the imaginations of both cancer survivors and people everywhere by showing that it was very much possible to kick the deadly disease to the curb and take back your life.
Unfortunately for Herzlich, his quest to become a starting NFL linebacker appears to have bottomed out.
After showing flashes as a rookie in 2011, the undrafted free agent broke into the starting lineup after Chase Blackburn was injured.
Herzlich, who per Pro Football Focus (subscription required) played in 75 snaps on defense that year, suffered a broken ankle in his second start. While he was never placed on injured reserve, he didn’t play again the rest of that year.
In 2012, he competed with Blackburn, who wasn’t exactly fleet afoot. Blackburn held onto the job, largely due to his intelligence and feel for the position.
When Blackburn left the team in 2013 via free agency, Herzlich seemed to have the inside track on finally landing the starting job. However, he lost it in training camp to Dan Connor, a free agent signed by the Giants that offseason.
When Connor landed on injured reserve after the first week of the 2013 season, the door was again open for Herzlich to make the starting job his.
It was not meant to be for the former Boston College standout, who per PFF, earned negative grades in three of the four games in which he received significant snaps on defense.
That performance resulted in the Giants making a rare in-season trade to acquire Jon Beason from the Carolina Panthers in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick.
Herzlich, meanwhile, was reduced to special teams and goal-line duties, receiving no more than 10 snaps per game with the defense.
To his credit, Herzlich took his demotion well, becoming a force on special teams. However, when you’re limited in what you can bring to the party, all it takes is for someone who can do more than you can and your roster chance shrinks.
That’s what could happen with Herzlich if rookies Devon Kennard, the team’s fifth-round draft pick, and Dan Fox, an undrafted free agent, both have strong camps.
Kennard, who has worked both at outside and inside linebacker, has already drawn praise from the coaches, as has Fox.
It’s also a very telling sign that following the broken foot suffered by Beason during OTAs, Herzlich’s name hasn’t come up in discussions about how the coaches will address the middle linebacker position.
Rather than turn to Herzlich, who’s been in defensive coordinator Perry Fewell’s system since 2011, they’ll be looking at Jameel McClain, who signed as a free agent this winter to fill in for Beason.
Herzlich can still make this team, but like everyone else who’s on the bubble, it’s probably going to take injuries to those in front of him on the depth chart for it to happen.
Out: Cornerback Charles James
The Giants really placed an emphasis on loading up at cornerback. That’s not necessarily a good thing for guys like second-year man Charles James.
James, who last year told me about how he overcame tremendous odds to recognize his dream of landing on an NFL roster, could potentially help his chances if he was able to serve as a return specialist. However, he didn’t appear to be in the equation for that role, at least during the spring.
While he did contribute on special teams last year, he finished with a minus-4.6 overall rating from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) for his work on punt coverage.
James did have a solid spring showing on defense and could still have a way onto the roster if Trumaine McBride has any lingering issues with last year’s groin injury.
If McBride is healthy, then there just might not be any room for the energetic and inspiring James on the 53-man roster.
Out: Offensive Lineman James Brewer
When a player is given a chance to nail down a starting job during the season and doesn’t do so, that’s never a good thing for his prospects the following year.
That’s what happened to four-year offensive lineman James Brewer.
Thanks to injuries to David Diehl, Chris Snee and David Baas last year that necessitated the shuffling of the offensive line, Brewer was handed the opportunity to show that he belonged in an NFL starting lineup.
After playing seven games at left guard and four at right guard, Brewer put to rest any question about whether he belonged. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he finished with a minus-9.1 overall grade in 406 total snaps.
With those results, it’s little wonder that the team decided to upgrade the left guard position in the offseason. It did so by adding Geoff Schwartz.
Over at right guard, if Snee can’t go, Brandon Mosley, who only allowed three pressures in his 40 snaps last season and whose 94.4 pass blocking efficiency was the third best on the team, will probably compete with John Jerry (assuming he's healthy) for the position, while second-year man Eric Herman also has some upside.
Based on his body of work to date, Brewer's odds of hanging onto a roster spot aren't exactly promising.
Out: Receiver Jerrel Jernigan
Despite showing some intriguing ability as a member of the offense at the end of last season, receiver Jerrel Jernigan is facing an uphill battle to make this roster if the Giants end up keeping four tight ends and five receivers.
First let’s look back at what he did during Victor Cruz’s absence for Week 16 and 17.
In that two-week span, Jernigan played in 111 of his 221 season snaps on offense, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
He finished with 29 (out of 42) receptions for the year, with 12 (out of 17) of those catches coming in the final two games.
Of his 329 receiving yards, 170 came in those final two games as did both of touchdowns.
In Week 12 and 15, Jernigan was targeted 15 times, catching nine of those passes for 91 yards. He finished the season with one drop and was the target on one of quarterback Eli Manning’s interceptions.
With stats like those, why do I have Jernigan on the bubble?
Assuming every receiver is healthy, the difference is going to be on special teams. Ever since Jernigan, a third-round selection in 2011, came into the league, the Giants had been hoping he’d catch on as a return specialist.
That has not been the case. Despite a decent 23.4 kickoff return average, Jernigan also has two fumbles to go along with those totalsand just two career returns of 40 or more yards.
It was very telling in the spring that the coaches had Trindon Holliday, who’s also a return specialist, working ahead of Jernigan both on offense and on special teams.
Assuming the Giants keep five receivers, those will be Cruz, Rueben Randle, Odell Beckham, Jr., Mario Manningham and Holliday.
Of course, if Manningham’s knee isn’t ready by camp, that probably improves Jernigan’s chances of making the final roster.
So yes, there’s still a chance for Jernigan, but only if the dominoes fall in his favor.
Out: Cornerback Bennett Jackson
In the perfect world, every member of a team's draft class makes the 53-man roster.
However, the lower the overall pick, the less chance he has of making the roster, especially if the numbers are packed at his position.
That’s the predicament that cornerback Bennett Jackson, the Giants’ sixth-round pick this year, finds himself in.
Jackson, who had 64 tackles, two interceptions, a sack and a forced fumble for Notre Dame last season, is playing a position where he might just need an injury or two to make the roster.
Ahead of him are projected starters Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara; slot cornerback Walter Thurmond; and veterans Trumaine McBride, Zack Bowman and Charles James.
With the Giants likely to keep five corners, for Jackson to land on the final 53 instead of the practice squad (his likely destination), he’ll need to dominate his competition on defense and special teams, win his battle against James and see if McBride, who had a nagging groin issue last year, is fully healthy.
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