Breaking Down NY Giants Roster After the 2015 NFL Draft
Certainly injuries and training camp surprises can alter the final picture, but with more than 90 percent of the training roster in place, let’s look at where each position currently stands—who are the projected starters and why?
Where are the concerns? What surprises might be in store? And what does the future hold at some of the positions?
Let's break it all down, position by position.
There’s no mystery here when it comes to one of the most important positions on the team.
Eli Manning will be the starter and Ryan Nassib will be the backup, as the Giants will again go into the 2015 season with two quarterbacks, both hopefully healthy.
As far as Manning and his contract situation—he is entering the final year of his current deal—the last time he was due an extension, it happened right before training camp.
It would not be surprising if now that the draft is completed, the front office turns its attention to working on an extension for Manning with a goal of getting it done before the start of camp so that it doesn’t become a focus by the media moving forward.
Worth watching from Manning this year is how well he progresses in year two in Ben McAdoo’s offense. Last season, his first in a West Coast offense, Manning posted some decent numbers, completing 63.1 percent of his passes for 4,410 yards, 30 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions.
Manning told reporters last month that he hopes to build on those numbers while also reducing the turnovers.
“I think the turnovers from interceptions—I had 14 last year and I would like to get that in single digits,” he said. “Overall completion percentage, you aim for that 70 percent again.”
After adding Shane Vereen via free agency in the offseason, the Giants appeared to have their running back rotation set.
That rotation figured to see Rashad Jennings as the starter, Andre Williams as the changeup and short-yardage/goal-line specialist and Vereen as the third-down back.
A competition to watch, though, is for the fourth running back spot. Orleans Darkwa was impressive in a handful of snaps last year after coming in from the Dolphins’ practice squad, so much so that he is apparently headed to training camp.
However, the Giants will reportedly be adding intriguing rookie running back Akeem Hunt, who tweeted the news that he has been invited to this weekend’s rookie minicamp.
Hunt, out of Purdue, is an interesting prospect. He is an explosive, playmaking running back, as his college stats—371 rushing attempts for 2,035 yards (5.5 avg.) and 11 touchdowns—suggest.
While not possessing ideal size for a NFL running back—Hunt is listed at 5'10" and 183 pounds—it’s possible his role at the NFL level might be similar to what one-time Giants running back David Meggett, listed at 5’7”, 190 pounds during his playing days, held.
Meggett’s role was as a scatback who excelled in space and returned punts. Those roles are very similar to what Hunt excelled in at the college level, where in addition to his production as a rusher, the rookie undrafted hopeful averaged 8.4 yards as a receiver and 23.6 yards per kickoff return.
Given the pounding the running backs take at this level, having Hunt waiting in the wings might not be such a bad idea if he has a productive camp.
At fullback, Henry Hynoski was re-signed to a two-year deal in the offseason. Last year, he saw his offensive snap counts slashed in half—per Pro Football Focus, Hynoski received just 209 snaps in 2014 versus the 428 snaps he received in 2012, his last full 16-game season prior to 2014.
While it’s unlikely that Hynoski’s roster spot is in any danger this year, one can’t help but wonder what might happen if the Giants find a tight end who can play the fullback role, thus presenting the temptation to fill two roster spots with one player.
The Giants have a dozen or so receivers under contract, a number that head coach Tom Coughlin told reporters, “won’t stay that way.”
Figure there will be five receivers kept on the roster, with Victor Cruz, Odell Beckham Jr., Rueben Randle and Dwayne Harris four of those five.
Before discussing the final slot, let’s quickly discuss Cruz, who continues to rehab from a torn patellar tendon in his knee.
General manager Jerry Reese, in an interview with Mike Francesa of WFAN earlier this week, offered a promising update on Cruz:
We think Victor is going to come back at 100 percent. He’s doing really great. We feel really good about Victor—he’s working hard every day. I was down there watching him work out a couple of days before the draft. He’s excited, he’s jumping up on boxes as tall as he is, almost, so he must be doing pretty good for me. We think he’s probably 85, close to 90 percent right now, but they’re taking him at a snail’s pace just so he won’t have any setbacks. We expect him to walk out in Dallas (opening day) and play for us.
That’s a far cry from Reese’s words of caution earlier this year in which he expressed concern about not putting all of his eggs in Cruz's basket.
Now let's discuss the competition for the final projected roster spot.
Preston Parker, who was on the roster last year, probably is going to be one of the odd men out thanks to the Giants’ addition of Dwayne Harris as a return specialist/receiver.
Kevin Ogletree, a solid veteran, probably won’t make the cut either, while Marcus Harris and Julian Talley will have an uphill battle as well.
Corey Washington, who had such a strong preseason only to disappear when Coughlin told reporters that the fourth and fifth receivers on the team need to be contributors on special teams, could end up battling Geremy Davis, the team’s sixth-round draft pick.
Unlike Washington—who, in a chat with Tom Rock of Newsday late last year, expressed frustration over how his rookie season went and avoided any mention of special teams when talking about what he had to do in his second NFL season—Davis told reporters that he welcomes the opportunity to contribute on special teams.
“From a special teams standpoint, I can use my physicality on the front line for kickoff returns or blocking for the punt, running down on the kickoff and making a tackle,” he said. “I am just going to give my all.”
Whether his "all" is enough to beat out the veterans ahead of him remains to be seen.
On paper, the Giants tight end position appears to be set with Larry Donnell returning as a starter, Daniel Fells back to provide depth and Adrien Robinson entering a “make-or-break” season.
Despite having the faces at the position, the Giants added some competition in the form of undrafted free agent Matt LaCosse out of Illinois.
According to Jordan Raanan of NJ Advance Media, the Giants like LaCosse so much that they sweetened their offer to ensure he shows up at the rookie minicamp this weekend and actually signs on the dotted line:
The Giants have had success with undrafted free agents at the tight end turning into solid contributors.
Scott Chandler, who went on to have success with Buffalo, was one such undrafted free agent, as was Jake Ballard and of course, Donnell and Fells, the latter of whom is technically more of a journeyman, but who still doesn’t count as a draft pick.
LaCosse is going to be an interesting prospect to watch. Coming from the Big 10, a division that typically features the power running game, the 6’6”, 249-pound LaCosse helped block for a running game that averaged 3.7 yards per carry (413 rushes on 1,527 yards) and 16 rushing touchdowns.
Although primarily a blocker and a special teams contributor, LaCosse has some receiving experience as well, catching 38 balls for 397 yards (10.4 avg.) and six touchdowns, with his best season as a receiver coming in 2013 when he posted career highs in receptions (20) and receiving yards (237).
If anything, LaCosse makes for an intriguing practice squad addition, though with a solid camp, it’s possible he could end up pushing Fells off the roster if the Giants decide to keep three tight ends.
The Giants picked up the missing piece of their starting offensive line with first-round pick Ereck Flowers, who projects as the new starting right tackle.
Assuming that projection sticks—head coach Tom Coughlin wouldn’t confirm anything after the draft—that likely means Justin Pugh moves inside to left guard, Weston Richburg moves to center, and a healthy Geoff Schwartz returns at right guard to join a healthy Will Beatty at left tackle.
The real competition at this position looks like it will be at the depth spots. John Jerry was brought back to play the swingman role at guard and tackle.
Marshall Newhouse was signed as a free agent to add depth at tackle, and the Giants went heavily after top CFL offensive lineman Brett Jones earlier in the year, perhaps eyeing him as a backup center and guard.
New York also added Bobby Hart, a college right tackle who projects to guard, in the seventh round of the draft.
Hart will compete with Brandon Mosley, Eric Herman, Dallas Reynolds and Jones for that projected final spot on the offensive line.
The Giants are going to have some interesting decisions to make on the defensive line this summer if everyone stays healthy.
At defensive end, the Giants added George Selvie via free agency and Owa Odighizuwa in the third round of the draft to a unit that already had Jason Pierre-Paul, Damontre Moore, Robert Ayers Jr. and Kerry Wynn.
That’s six solid options at defensive end, three of whom—Pierre-Paul, Ayers and Selvie—do not have a contract beyond this coming season.
Let’s look at defensive tackle. Johnathan Hankins is a lock to start. Beside him will be either Cullen Jenkins, Kenrick Ellis, Jay Bromley, Markus Kuhn or Dominique Hamilton.
Of those candidates, Ellis is probably the only true plugger the Giants have on the roster, though Jenkins has played at that spot in the past.
The bottom line, though, comes down to numbers. Will the Giants keep all six defensive ends and four defensive tackles, or will they go with one less defensive tackle since Ayers, Odighizuwa and Pierre-Paul have on occasion been moved inside on passing downs?
If the Giants keep 10 defensive linemen, then from which position do they steal a spot?
Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin will likely say it’s a good problem to have, but given how aggressive the injury bug has been for this team, that might be playing with fire.
Again, it all comes down to who’s healthy as well as who performs, but an early best guess is that the starting defensive line will have Pierre-Paul and Selvie at the ends, and Hankins and Ellis at the tackles.
The Giants didn’t address the linebacker position in the draft, which was surprising when talking about the middle linebacker spot.
Yes, they have talent for this year at that position. Jon Beason, if healthy, will be the starter. If Beason can finally put his injury issues behind him and regain the form he showed when he came over to the Giants in a trade with the Carolina Panthers in 2013, then the linebacker unit is already ahead of the game.
If he can’t give the Giants 16 games, presumably Jameel McClain, who filled in at middle linebacker last year, will do so again if necessary.
Besides being an understudy in the middle, McClain also brings that leadership voice to the locker room; in fact, with McClain having played on a Baltimore defense that had Steve Spagnuolo as one of its assistant coaches, McClain would be an obvious choice to help as one of the on-field generals for the defense.
On the strong side, figure Devon Kennard will enter camp as the likely starter while J.T. Thomas, acquired via free agency, is projected to be the weak-side starter, and Jonathan Casillas should be instrumental in the various sub-packages.
The question now becomes how many linebackers the Giants will carry into the season. If they have to carry an extra defensive lineman, offensive lineman or receiver, can the Giants get by with five linebackers?
It’s possible, though risky, and would depend on that percentage of the time they’re in a nickel package where they can maybe afford to turn one of the starters in the base defense into a two-down linebacker.
It might also depend on how quickly the safeties get up to speed. For example, if Landon Collins and/or Nat Berhe progress as expected, might one of them come down into the box in the sub-package as the pseudo linebacker?
The answers await.
The good news is that the Giants finally added depth to the depleted safety position.
Solid depth, too. Landon Collins slipped to the second round of the draft and the Giants wasted no time trying to move up to make sure he would be playing for them and not against them for years to come.
Collins, who projects as a box safety, will also probably get some coverage assignments in Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, playing a role similar to what Antrel Rolle played for the five years he was there.
The rest of the competition will include Nat Berhe, Cooper Taylor and Josh Gordy, and fifth-round pick Mykkele Thompson. A safety tandem of Berhe and Collins is the early odds-on favorite to be starting on opening day.
Thompson, the surprise pick of the draft, might actually see time in the slot, a role he has played before at Texas.
Speaking of cornerbacks, Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are projected as the starters, while Trumaine McBride is projected as the nickelback.
Beyond those three—and it does need to be pointed out that both Amukamara and McBride are heading into the final year of their respective contracts—the depth is relatively thin in terms of experience and production.
Chykie Brown, who revealed he is going to do some work at safety this year, also had his struggles, finishing with a 91.9 NFL rating in coverage.
Chandler Fenner only saw six snaps on defense, the most notable of which was the big pass play he gave up to Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant last year.
The final cornerback candidate is Bennett Jackson, a sixth-round pick last year who, after landing on the practice squad, ended up needing microfracture surgery.
According to Jordan Raanan of NJ Advance Media, earlier this year, head coach Tom Coughlin mentioned Jackson and Brown as possibilities to move to safety.
However, Coughlin also noted that because Jackson was rehabbing at the time (and presumably still is), they really didn’t know much about him.
The Giants could still add players to their defensive secondary as veterans are cut free during the summer. As of right now, Amukamara and Rodgers-Cromartie are projected as the starting corners, and Collins and Berhe as the projected starting safeties.
The Giants’ kicking battery—punter Steve Weatherford, kicker Josh Brown and long snapper Zak DeOssie—all return for another year together, but each with something to prove in 2015.
Brown had his best season last year, converting a career-high 92.3 percent of his field-goal attempts. The 36-year-old Brown will be entering his 13th NFL season.
The affable Weatherford redefined "grit" last season when he suffered a severe ankle injury in the regular-season opener.
That ultimately led to a back problem, but the punter refused to take a week off to let his body heal.
As a result, his net average of 38.6 was his second-lowest mark in his four years as a Giant. It certainly didn’t help him that his coverage unit was inconsistent—for the first time in his career, he had a punt blocked, and for the second year in a row, the punt coverage unit allowed a return for a touchdown.
The Giants will have new return specialists. Dwayne Harris was signed in free agency from the Cowboys in the offseason, presumably to be the punt returner.
It remains to be seen who the kickoff returner will be, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the coaches limit Harris to just punts this year, especially if the plan is to play him on offense.
Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand for this article unless otherwise sourced.