5 New York Giants Whose Reputations Are Bound to Change in 2014
You think you know these 2014 New York Giants, but you don't.
Well, not all of them at least. Several players on this year's roster have built up a reputation—either good or bad—through their play during their respective NFL careers. The players selected for this article are bound to flip those reputations on their heads.
The five players on this list include two wide receivers headed in different directions, a safety attempting a comeback, a long-time veteran and a fresh-faced free-agent acquisition. Each player listed will change the reputation fans have of them—for better or worse—by the end of the 2014 season.
Read on to find out which Giants are due for an updated rep this season.
*All statistics are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.
For Better: WR Rueben Randle
Many of Eli Manning's 2013 miscues were blamed on then-second-year wide receiver Rueben Randle.
Several of Manning's intercepted passes were intended for Randle, and poor communication was often to blame for the ball ending up in the wrong hands. Since Randle was so often found at the center of these turnovers, a negative perception of the receiver began to grow.
It should be noted that, during Randle's rookie season, NBC commentator Cris Collinsworth called out the young receiver's work ethic on air during a Sunday night game vs. the Philadelphia Eagles. Perhaps poor preparation led to Randle's many mistakes in 2013.
Regardless of the reason for his 2013 woes, this season is bound to be different than the last.
Randle's positive plays outnumbered his negative ones. He led the team last season with six touchdown receptions and averaged a gain of nearly 15 yards every time he caught the ball. The knock on Randle was never his ability to get open and make the catch; it was his ability to get on the same page with Eli Manning under a complicated offensive system devised by since-retired coordinator Kevin Gilbride.
Now, under new coordinator Ben McAdoo—whose offense Randle described as "black and white, simple" (via Jordan Raanan of NJ.com)—the 23-year-old pass-catcher may actually thrive as a top target of Manning's.
Reports from spring workouts claimed Randle was more focused than ever. New York's drafting of LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. with the 12th-overall pick led many to believe Randle's offensive impact was on the decline, when the exact opposite may be the truth. Not only is Randle favored to start on the outside over Beckham, but the Giants may also experiment with Randle's 6'2" frame in the slot.
A simplified offense and an extra year of maturity will help remedy Randle's bruised reputation.
For Worse: WR Mario Manningham
Giants fans remember Mario Manningham most for his heroic role in Super Bowl XLVI, but he was a serviceable No. 2 wide receiver before he made that famous sideline catch. Manningham scored nine touchdowns and approached 1,000 receiving yards in 2010.
New York spent a third-round draft pick on Manningham in 2008. It took one year for the Michigan product to become a productive member of the Giants' offense. His fourth-quarter catch was integral to the Giants' Super Bowl win in 2011, his fourth and final season in New York.
By the time Manningham had signed a new deal with the San Francisco 49ers—a two-year contract worth $7.375 million—the following offseason, the memory of his catch was still fresh in the minds of all Giants fans. Manningham's first stint with the Giants went out on such a high note that he retains an unrealistically favorable reputation among the fanbase to this day.
Manningham has more NFL experience than any of the camp bodies New York currently has on its roster at wide receiver, but that doesn't make him any more likely to make the team. He may even be a step behind some of those inexperienced receivers after sitting out all spring.
Through the first three quarters of his first season with the 49ers, Manningham was a lukewarm receiving threat, scoring just one touchdown and averaging just over 10 yards per catch. He then blew out his knee at the end of the 2012 season, returning for just six unproductive games in 2013.
The Giants brought Manningham back this offseason on a one-year, $795,000 deal—a testament to the team's faith in his knee.
Even if he is healthy, Manningham is no lock to make the 53-man roster. Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and 2014 first-rounder Odell Beckham Jr. will take up the top three slots. Jerrel Jernigan figures to be the next man in after an explosive end to last season. Julian Talley has been waiting in the wings on the practice squad, Trindon Holliday presents a unique special teams advantage and undrafted rookie Corey Washington has great size (6'4", 200 lbs).
Things are looking a little crowded for the former Super Bowl standout.
For Better: DE Robert Ayers
Most Giants fans don't have a preconceived notion of Robert Ayers, and that's a good thing for the defensive end New York acquired in free agency this offseason.
The Denver Broncos drafted Ayers in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft, 18th overall. Through five seasons with the Broncos, Ayers recorded only 12 sacks. He blames that embarrassing total on misuse.
Now in New York, Ayers will attempt to repair his reputation as a draft bust.
Ayers comes to the Giants as a 28-year-old veteran with a capable frame to hold the edge on the strong side (6'3", 275 lbs). He is in line to replace former team captain Justin Tuck, who, before the end of last season, was a washed up pass-rusher. Mathias Kiwanuka will compete with Ayers for those duties.
If Jason Pierre-Paul returns to form and Damontre Moore develops into the player New York drafted him to be, Ayers won't need to be a sack-master. Through strong run defense and relentless pursuit, he can become a serviceable left defensive end.
Defensive end might be New York's shakiest positional unit on defense. Ayers doesn't need to be the anchor of this unit—that duty falls on Pierre-Paul's shoulders—but, if he can become a viable contributor, it will go a long way toward solidifying this group.
A second chance in a new locale with lower expectations will play a large part in Ayers' reputation reparation.
For Worse: S Stevie Brown
Giants fans remember Stevie Brown as a ball-hawking safety with a nose for the big play. The last time they saw him on the field, he was returning a picked-off Geno Smith pass in a 2013 preseason contest against the New York Jets.
Brown intercepted eight passes as a surprise starter in the Giants' 2012 secondary. He was filling in for Kenny Phillips at the time, and his supreme performance as a sub allowed New York to part ways with their injury-prone first-round selection from 2008 the following offseason. The Giants offered Brown a second-round tender worth $2.02 million to replace Phillips full time in 2013.
The sudden rise to stardom boosted Brown's rep at a rapid pace.
Brown is less than a year removed from the ACL injury that ended his 2013 season before it even began. Although he missed all spring rehabbing his knee, Brown expects to be full strength for training camp, via Ebenezer Samuel of NYDailyNews. Even if he is healthy, the lost time is bound to affect both his game and the game of those around him.
Even at his best, Brown is a downgrade from Will Hill, whom the Giants parted with this offseason after repeat suspensions. Hill's influence in the defensive backfield allowed Antrel Rolle to have a career-best season with six interceptions en route to a second-team All-Pro bid. Brown is a good player, but the Giants are not guaranteed the same level of success replacing Hill with a safety who has missed so much time.
Brown, a seventh-round selection in 2010, failed to catch on with the Oakland Raiders and Indianapolis Colts before he ever became a Giant. When looking at the big picture, it's quite possible the 27-year-old's 2012 production was just a flash in the pan.
Even if Brown returns to have an average season in 2014, his reputation as a shutdown center fielder will be all but shot.
For Better: QB Eli Manning
Quarterback Eli Manning's reputation seems to change by the year, therefore he is a safe bet to include on this list.
Not that long ago, Manning had seemingly solidified himself among the league's elite passers. It took a career-high 27 interceptions and a total bomb of a season for Manning to completely tarnish a reputation that took two Super Bowl MVP awards to build.
Several factors will lead to Manning's possible resurgence in 2014.
The first of which is the talent New York added on offense this past offseason. In free agency, the Giants picked up offensive linemen Geoff Schwartz (projected starter at left guard), J.D. Walton (projected starter at center), John Jerry and Charles James (both capable reserves); as well as expected workhorse running back Rashad Jennings. In the draft, they added punctilious pass-catcher Odell Beckham Jr. in the first round; Weston Richburg, the draft class' best center, in the second round; and running back Andre Williams, a 2013 Heisman Finalist, in the fourth round.
Secondly, the Giants' offense is headed in a new direction. New York hired Ben McAdoo, former Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach, to be the team's new offensive coordinator. In addition to the Giants' recommitment to the power running game, McAdoo is expected to feature a new-look passing attack with a West Coast flare.
Lastly, the criticism Manning faced last year will motivate him to exceed all expectations in 2014. Team co-owner and CEO John Mara said in a Q&A with Steve Serby of the New York Post the heat Manning faced in 2013 probably got to him more than he lets on to the media. He then predicted a "big year" out of Manning.
Manning said he is "reenergized" by McAdoo's offense and all the new faces that now comprise it (via Kevin Armstrong of the New York Daily News). That new-found energy will likely propel Manning to an improved reputation in 2014.