New York Giants' Biggest Remaining Offseason Question Marks
If the New York Giants had their druthers, they would head into the upcoming summer break with all their roster questions answered, so that when they return for training camp, they can be off and running with a clear picture as to where things stand.
That isn't the case, though—it never is. The Giants, who will continue working through June 15, the final day of their mandatory minicamp, will carry a bunch of questions into the downtime that with a little luck they'll have firm answers for by the time the regular season begins in September.
The questions are many, but here are six that are probably up at the top of the list.
Who Will Play Right Guard and Right Tackle?
Head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese have both said the team will experiment with different offensive line configurations.
More specifically, the team will try to find the right combination on the right side of the line to complement left tackle Ereck Flowers, left guard Justin Pugh and center Weston Richburg.
However, the Giants didn't go crazy during free agency to add talent, with their only veteran addition being former Charger D.J. Fluker, who signed to a one-yer "prove it" deal. Fluker is projected to be a right guard for the Giants, but he'll have to beat out incumbent John Jerry, who was re-signed in the offseason.
At right tackle, Bobby Hart, the incumbent, joined Flowers in East Rutherford for the bulk of his offseason training, the results of which have led to him looking slimmer and quicker on his feet.
Although no concrete opinions can be formed after just one OTA that was open to the media—there is no contact in the spring, so absent seeing the offensive linemen in pads, even the coaches are going to be wondering just what they have—there is optimism.
Hart, like Flowers, looks to have a better command of the fundamentals done in blocking sled drills as far as leverage, footwork and hand punch.
That the Giants didn't devote more resources to the unit—besides Fluker, they drafted Adam Bisnowaty in the sixth round—would suggest they have reason to believe that the offensive line is going to be just fine moving forward, which, unlike last year, includes more options if everyone is healthy.
Will the Giants Be More Diverse on Offense?
If Giants fans weren't familiar with what 11-personnel was before, they sure do now.
That's because last year, the Giants, through their constant use of that formation (one running back and one tight end) drove the lesson home.
The problem is the Giants relied a little too much on 11-personnel, a package that is supposed to give an offense options, but which ended up having the opposite effect.
Part of the problem for McAdoo, who served as the team's play caller, was the deficiencies he had in his personnel.
The receiving trio of Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard never came close to forcing opposing defenses to pick their poison, as was the hope at the start of the season.
Rashad Jennings, the starting running back, was unable to build on his career-best 2015 season, both in terms of production and in saying on the field.
The offensive line was inconsistent, particularly in run blocking, but the biggest disappointment on the offense was the tight end position, a group that failed both as run blockers and receivers up the seam.
These shortcomings made it mandatory to prioritize upgrading the offense. Brandon Marshall replaced Cruz at receiver; Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison will probably see a lot more playing time than Larry Donnell and Will Tye did; and new starting running back Paul Perkins and rookie Wayne Gallman present potential in becoming the one-two punch this ground has lacked for years.
Currently, McAdoo and the coaching staff have been experimenting with some different formations during the OTAs, among them 12-personnel (one back, two tight ends).
Whether the different looks continue remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain: The Giants now have some choices in terms of their personnel if they want to mix things up.
Will the Running Game Finally Carry Its Weight?
When it comes to the struggles of the Giants running game the last few years, you can certainly point to the poor blocking done by the offensive line and tight ends.
However, you also have to point to the failures by the running backs to take advantage of the opportunities.
Per Pro Football Focus, former starter Jennings' yards-after-contact average of 2.01 put him 24th out of 25 NFL running backs with at least 50 percent of their team's rushing attempts. Jennings was also near the bottom for missed tackles forced (11 total).
With McAdoo having named Perkins as the starter, he's putting a guy who averaged 2.24 yards after contact per rushing attempt and who had one less broken tackle than Jennings at the forefront of the team's rushing attack.
Meanwhile, the Giants have some options regarding who will round out what is expected to be a committee.
Shane Vereen, who missed most of last year due to a triceps injury, figures to be in the mix as a third-down back, where he has shown himself to more effective in space.
The Giants drafted Gallman in the fourth round to compete with Orleans Darkwa and Shaun Draughn for a spot in the pecking order. Gallman forced 56 broken tackles last season and averaged 3.0 yards after contact per attempt, per Pro Football Focus.
Darkwa, who spent part of last season on injured reserve with a fractured tibia—that per Dan Duggan of NJ Advance Media had bothered him for two seasons—hasn't had many chances to carry the rock, but when he has, he's been intriguing as a runner. Of his 287 career rushing yards, 200 have come after contact, with his 2.7 yards after contact per attempt a solid average.
The pieces appear to be in place for the running game to rise from its 29th ranking last year. How far it ascends remains to be seen depending on the other factors (offensive line and tight-end blocking), but it looks as though this collection of backs have the skills to get it done.
Who Will Be the Starting Inside Linebacker?
Per Pro Football Reference, the last time the Giants had the same starter at middle linebacker for multiple seasons was from 2005 through 2009 (Antonio Pierce).
Since then, the Giants have had a long list of starters at that position (determined based on who played most of the snaps), including Jonathan Goff (2010), Michael Boley (2011), Chase Blackburn (2012), Jon Beason (2013), Jameel McClain (2014), Jasper Brinkley (2015) and Kelvin Sheppard (2016).
This year, second-year man B.J. Goodson and Keenan Robinson will compete for the job in the base defense.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has said this will be a wide-open competition.
"Everybody is going to get reps," he said. "In practice, some days you will probably see B.J. out there first, some days you will see Keenan out there first—you might see Mark (Herzlich) and a bunch of other guys."
Thus far, Goodson seems to be having a solid spring. Dan Salomone of Giants.com named the second-year linebacker as one of his three players of the day in the May 31 OTA practice that was closed to the independent media.
Salomone noted that Goodson took a healthy dose of snaps in the middle, barking out the orders and making the adjustments for the defense.
Will Darian Thompson Regain the Starting Free Safety Job?
Last year, Darian Thompson, then a rookie drafted in the third round, made such a strong impression in the spring that the competition for the vacant free safety starting job was over before it ever had a chance to begin.
Unfortunately for Thompson, he developed a sprained foot that limited him to just 88 defensive snaps over the first two weeks of the season. He tried to heal his injury through rest, but ultimately he needed season-ending surgery.
With Thompson sidelined, and with Mykkele Thompson (knee) on injured reserve and Nat Berhe dealing with concussions, the Giants turned to Andrew Adams, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Connecticut, to be their starter.
Per Pro Football Focus, Adams finished 13th overall (out of 52) in NFL rating (69.3) among all safeties with at least 60 percent of their team's snaps.
Adams allowed exactly 50 percent of the pass targets thrown at him (eight of 16) to be completed for 118 yards, allowing one touchdown and breaking up two passes while also picking off one.
While a season-ending injury isn't necessarily enough to take away a guy's job, given how well Adams played, it would be surprising if he doesn't get the chance to defend his place as the starting free safety this summer against Thompson.
What Can We Expect from the 2017 Draft Class?
Expectations are that the Giants' first two draft picks, tight end Engram and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, will be Day 1 starters at their respective positions.
Also likely to see a fair amount of snaps are running back Gallman (fourth round pick) and defensive end Avery Moss (fifth round pick), while quarterback Davis Webb (third round) and offensive lineman Bisnowaty (sixth round) are likely going to be developmental prospects as rookies.
Let's look at what Engram, Tomlinson, Gallman and Moss stand to bring to the table as rookies.
The Giants have not had a tight end capable of exploiting the seam since Martellus Bennett in 2012.
When an offense doesn't have a threat at tight end, it hurts, and Giants fans saw just how much it hurts last year after witnessing the trio of Donnell, Tye and Jerell Adams struggle to find consistency in the passing game.
In Engram, who is probably more of a receiver than a traditional tight end, they have someone who not only brings speed to the table, but who can break things open in the middle of the field.
This becomes even more important because with a legitimate tight end threat, teams will no longer be able to freely deploy Cover-2 against the Giants, which made life difficult for Odell Beckham Jr.
Per Pro Football Focus, Engram's 2016 NFL Rating on balls targeted to him in the middle of the field got better as the receptions got deeper. His 2016 breakdown numbers were 79.2 on passes behind the line of scrimmage, 80.6 on balls 0-9 yards, 106.4 on passes 10-19 yards and 141.4 on deep balls of 20 or more yards.
Even if Engram isn't the pass target, Joseph Ferraiola of Inside the Pylon noted that the 6'3" rookie will not only create size mismatches against linebackers and safeties, his presence will help force more one-on-one matchups for Beckham, Marshall and Sterling Shepard.
The Giants say there will be a competition for the starting defensive tackle spot once held by Johnathan Hankins, but it would be a shocking development if Tomlinson, 6'3", 310 pounds, isn't the opening-day starter.
Although there are those who see Tomlinson as a younger, less experienced version of Damon Harrison, Tomlinson would give that defensive front additional reinforcement against the run, as well as a big physical body capable of collapsing the pocket, particularly on stunts and twists which, per NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, Tomlinson took part in at Alabama.
Gallman, 6'0", 215 pounds, will be a part of the Giants running back rotation once he shows he can pass protect. Once that happens, look for Gallman to bring a powerful and physical downhill running style to a rushing offense that really hasn't had it since Brandon Jacobs.
Gallman's power rushing style has resulted in him breaking 153 tackles over the last three seasons. As the coaches continue to find his role on the offense, a good place to start could be as the short-yardage and goal-line back.
Last year, the Giants finished 21st in the league on goal-to-go situations, per official league stats. Gallman's burst and refusal to go down upon initial contact could very well help improve those numbers.
The Giants have been searching for a third defensive end who can spell starters Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul without too much of a drop-off.
Moss, who will compete with Devin Taylor, Romeo Okwara, Kerry Wynn and Owa Odighizuwa for playing time in the rotation, is raw, having played in just 152 snaps over the last two seasons for Youngstown State.
But he has the desired length (34.5-inch arm length) and just enough explosiveness to work himself free from blocks to at the very least be disruptive, according to Zierlein.
Unlike Okwara, Wynn and Odighizuwa, whose respective games so far seem to be more advanced in one aspect (either the run or the pass rush) than the other, Moss appears to be more of a complete prospect who just needs some snaps and a bit of coaching to smooth out some of the rough edges in his game.
He might not be ready to step right in as the third defensive end on Day 1, but as he gains experience in sub packages, he could find himself moving up the depth chart as the year progresses if he performs.
Unless otherwise noted, all advanced statistics are from Pro Football Focus.
Patricia Traina covers the New York Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced.