Updated 53-Man Roster Projections for New York Giants Post-Preseason Week 3
The calendar page is about to turn from August to September, and that means one thing.
Yup, the New York Giants' summer training camp and preseason is fast coming to a close and the start of the 2015 season is just days—not months or weeks but days—away from commencing.
As the preseason begins to wrap up, obviously some tough decisions need to be made regarding the makeup of the 53-man rosters.
It’s not going to be easy—it never is. Injuries oftentimes dictate the number of players kept at certain units, which means other units have to give up some depth.
Then there are some battles that are so close that, ultimately, there could be an upset to where a beloved player ends up on the outside looking in for whatever reason.
With all that said, here is my best attempt at forecasting the Giants’ 53-man roster.
Starter: Eli Manning
Backup: Ryan Nassib
Nothing to see here, unless starter Eli Manning suffers a season-ending injury.
Ryan Nassib, as has been the case in the past, will serve as the backup.
For those wondering, no, the absence of a new contract for Manning won’t affect the depth chart at this position.
Starter: Rashad Jennings
Backups: Shane Vereen, Andre Williams, Orleans Darkwa; Henry Hynoski (fullback)
Orleans Darkwa, the Giants’ leading rusher this preseason, has made it rather difficult for the Giants to cut him. That’s not a bad thing either considering Rashad Jennings, the projected starter, has yet to get through a 16-game season.
Speaking of Jennings, while he will likely start the year as the Giants’ starter, it wouldn’t be a system shock if at some point, Shane Vereen passes him on the depth chart.
Vereen, who was acquired via free agency this year, is probably the most complete running back the Giants have, and is someone whose presence could yield huge benefits once the regular season begins.
While Jennings is a solid running back, Vereen is probably the better option out of the backfield. When he is on the field, opposing defenses will probably have to resist cheating toward the line of scrimmage as he’s not only capable of making the catch and picking up yards, he is quick enough to get to the second level and beyond.
One other thing to potentially watch with this unit is Hynoski and the role he ends up taking on.
If the Giants end up going with two tight ends—I’ll explain why that might be in a moment—Hynoski, who has taken some snaps as the H-back, could potentially see an increase in snaps this year in an expanded role.
Starter: Larry Donnell
Backup: Jerome Cunningham
Because of the injury situation at other positions (cough, cough, linebackers, cough, cough), the Giants are probably going to have to "steal" from another roster spot in order to ensure they have enough bodies to get through the year.
One possible spot they might “steal” from is tight end.
Larry Donnell, whose blocking has improved (albeit slightly), will be the starter.
Jerome Cunningham, who has impressed as a receiver, will probably edge out Adrien Robinson, the disappointing fourth-round draft pick from 2012, and veteran Daniel Fells, who has done everything asked of him but who, at 31 years old, is likely not the future.
The Giants will also probably try to keep rookie Will Tye out of Stony Brook on their practice squad if he clears waivers.
As noted on the running backs slide, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Giants use fullback Henry Hynoski as more of an H-back this year given his versatility.
If that is the case, then it’s possible the Giants can get by with two tight ends in the beginning, at least until they gain clarity on the injuries at other spots.
Starters: Victor Cruz, Odell Beckham Jr.
Backups: Rueben Randle, Dwayne Harris, James Jones, Geremy Davis, Corey Washington
Here is another position where the Giants might keep an extra body because of injuries.
In this case, there are question marks concerning Rueben Randle, who has been battling knee tendinitis for the better part of training camp.
Although Randle was able to practice and play against the New York Jets, he looks as though he has been struggling with running and cutting. Last week in practice, for instance, he ran a pattern and was not where quarterback Eli Manning was expecting him to be.
The other injury worth noting is Victor Cruz’s ailing calf. While Cruz told reporters he remains optimistic that his ailment, which head coach Tom Coughlin originally attributed to dehydration, will clear up, Coughlin told reporters that Cruz has not yet received the green light to return to practice in this, the preseason's final week.
If Cruz isn't ready to go, the Giants will more than likely carry an extra receiver, and that extra receiver could very well be fan favorite Corey Washington.
Washington hasn’t been consistent this summer, not just in the passing game but also on special teams. Still, it might behoove the Giants to hang onto him if Randle and/or Cruz aren’t 100 percent by Week 1.
Assuming Cruz and Randle do get over their respect humps, the Giants could always try to trade Washington to a receiver-needy team such as Carolina, for a seventh-round draft pick.
Remember, the Giants made a rare in-season trade with the Panthers once before, that being in October 2013 to get linebacker Jon Beason, who cost them a seventh-round pick.
The Panthers, who lost receiver Kelvin Benjamin for the year, will no doubt be looking to add help at the position, and Washington, who has talent, would certainly bring something in a trade.
Starters: LT Ereck Flowers, LG Justin Pugh, C Weston Richburg, RG Geoff Schwartz, RT Marshall Newhouse
Backups: G/T John Jerry, G/T Bobby Hart, G/C Brett Jones, G/C Dallas Reynolds
Despite the fact the Giants are still rotating Geoff Schwartz in and out of the starting lineup at right guard, Schwartz does appear to be the better option if the Giants want to get their running game going anytime soon.
The reason for the rotation is probably to allow Schwartz to build up toward handling a 60-plus snap weekly showing, something he hasn’t done since November of last year.
Rookie Bobby Hart, who had to be helped off the field on Saturday night after suffering what initially looked like a knee injury, is believed to be fine, according to Jordan Raanan of NJ Advance Media, who reported Hart’s injury was actually to his ankle and it was a minor one at that.
Regarding Marshall Newhouse, who has been a constant target for fan and media criticism this summer, Newhouse actually has stepped up to the plate in game situations.
He’s far from being in the same league right now as far as consistency and performance as Ereck Flowers on the other side, but Newhouse has done what he has had to do in order to survive.
With that said, there is still a very real possibility the Giants look to upgrade that spot, especially considering that right now their running game has had zero success going to the right side, which puts them at a significant disadvantage if they don’t address that issue.
Starters: DE Robert Ayers, Jr., DE Cullen Jenkins, DT Johnathan Hankins, DT Kenrick Ellis
Backups: DE Kerry Wynn, DE George Selvie, DE Damontre Moore, DE Owa Odighizuwa, DT Jay Bromley
The defensive line is another tricky position to forecast because of injuries. George Selvie (knee) has not been on the field in two weeks, and now the Giants are dealing with what head coach Tom Coughlin said was an ankle and Achilles injury Robert Ayers suffered during pregame warm-ups.
Let’s assume Selvie and Ayers are going to be ready to go by Week 1—and that assumption is based on the fact I saw Ayers not only stand on the sideline during the first half of the Giants-Jets game, but also walk out of the locker room (albeit gingerly) without the aid of a brace or crutch.
At some point, the Giants and Jason Pierre-Paul are going to reunite. If Pierre-Paul desires to collect every penny promised under the franchise tag, it is realistic to think he might show up during Week 1, as NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport claimed last week could be the case.
In addition, as Rapoport noted, the timing would put Pierre-Paul at about nine weeks out from the date of his July 4 accident in which he suffered serious burns and had his right index finger amputated.
Until then, the Giants will probably carry nine defensive linemen, with Cullen Jenkins being the swingman at defensive end and defensive tackle. In an ideal scenario, Jenkins is not a starting defensive end, as he doesn’t quite look as comfortable at that spot.
That could still change if Damontre Moore, who has looked very promising this summer, continues to show improvement against the run. Absent of that, however, Jenkins could remain at defensive end, at least in the beginning.
Starters: SLB Devon Kennard, MLB Jameel McClain, WLB J.T. Thomas
Backups: Ashlee Palmer, Uani’ Unga, Jon Beason, Mark Herzlich
This is yet another position where the Giants might be forced to keep extra bodies because of injury.
By now, unfortunately, Giants fans know the story. Jon Beason, the projected starting middle linebacker, is once again injured.
This time around, it’s his knee, an injury that he told reporters he suffered when he went to break up a pass attempt in the end zone against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Beason, whom head coach Tom Coughlin has described as being “week to week,” vowed on a conference call with reporters to be ready for Week 1 against Dallas, but that might be wishful thinking on the 30-year-old linebacker’s part.
Let’s look at some history regarding sprained knees on this team.
Besides the fact that Coughlin, who when last asked about Beason didn’t have an update regarding when the defensive leader might be back at practice, he has maintained Beason is “week to week.”
The last time a player suffering from a knee injury was described as being "week to week"? Recent examples include cornerback Chykie Brown, who appears on his way to missing the entire preseason.
During the regular season, it was running back Rashad Jennings, who last year missed a month’s worth of games with a sprained knee.
While it’s admirable that Beason is trying to be ready to practice for Week 1, by trying to rush his progress, you can’t help but wonder if he’s really helping himself.
The last time Beason tried to rush back for opening day from an injury was last year when he dealt with a toe issue.
Unfortunately, he was nowhere near as effective as he was in 2013 when he came over in a trade from Carolina, so it might just behoove him and the Giants to make sure he's closer to 100 percent than to run the risk of a greater setback by putting him out there at 60 percent.
That is why Jameel McClain, who has been the starter during Beason’s absence, is projected as the starter for Week 1.
Beason isn’t the only question mark at this position. Jonathan Casillas, who practiced on a limited basis and in a controlled environment that stressed a lack of contact, continues to be bothered by a neck problem, one that kept him out of the preseason game against the Jets and one that might keep him out of action against the New England Patriots.
With Uani' Unga having made a strong case for a roster spot and the signing of Ashlee Palmer, one of Casillas or Mark Herzlich could very well end up on injured reserve. That someone could end up being Casillas.
Speaking of neck issues, Jameel McClain, Beason’s backup, might have been cleared to return to the field, but after having a spinal scare earlier this summer, can the Giants really rest assured he’s not one hit away from being knocked out of action again?
Starters: Brandon Meriweather, Landon Collins
Backups: Jeromy Miles, Cooper Taylor
The depth chart at this position comes with an asterisk because given the injury situation and the high likelihood that the Giants will add to this unit, the depth projected here is 99.9 percent certain to change.
Head coach Tom Coughlin did confirm to reporters during his Sunday conference call that Stevie Brown was in to take a team physical. Usually when the Giants send a player for a physical, that means the next step is a contract is coming.
Backing up a bit, let’s look at who isn’t projected to make the roster, starting with Nat Berhe.
Despite the fact that Berhe, who on Friday confirmed via Twitter that he had surgery to remove a blood clot from his calf, said he expected to be able to play this season; Coughlin didn’t sound quite as certain.
“I think there is more information trying to be gathered; there [are] decisions that have to be made, and of course there is a very short amount of time to make them in,” Coughlin said.
“I appreciate very much Nat’s optimism. I wish it had a bigger factor on the healing process because he has been in a good frame of mind ever since last spring, but for whatever is going on down there, it wasn’t to be. Now that he has had some further work done, I hope that we can rectify that situation.”
The biggest thing working against Berhe, other than the lack of a timetable on his return, is that the Giants have injuries at other positions where they will need to carry extra bodies.
As previously noted, receiver and linebacker are two such positions where they might carry extra people; if this is the case, it’s highly unlikely they’ll carry an extra person at a third position.
Berhe, remember, has missed all of the spring and the bulk of the summer. Coughlin is very big on practice, so at this point, the Giants might just decide to shut the young man down for the year, let him heal up and then let him compete for a job in 2016 when some of the projected older veterans (Brandon Meriweather, Jeromy Miles, and, if he signs, Stevie Brown) will likely move on.
Speaking of Brown, assuming he does sign, Cooper Taylor is probably the odd man out in the equation.
Starters: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Prince Amukamara
Backups: Trumaine McBride, Trevin Wade, Chykie Brown
The starters at this position are the easy part of the forecast. The depth, however, not so much because there is a possibility the Giants might tweak the depth somewhere in the first month of the season.
Since that’s an unknown variable, let’s stick with who they have on the roster. At the start of camp, Jayron Hosley had been having a solid showing, even working his way up to the first-team defense when Prince Amukamara was sidelined with a groin problem.
However, when it comes to the games, which is a better litmus test, Hosley just hasn’t been as effective. Per Pro Football Focus, Hosley’s NFL rating is 121.7.
So why go with Chykie Brown over Mike Harris and over Hosley? Typically, the Giants like to have a swingman at cornerback and safety, and Brown, assuming he is ready to go after missing the last couple of weeks with a knee injury, would be an ideal fit for that role.
K Josh Brown, P Steve Weatherford, LS Zak DeOssie
KR/PR Dwayne Harris
Despite trying multiple options at both kickoff and punt returner, Dwayne Harris should be the guy at both spots.
Harris, remember, is likely projected as the fifth receiver behind Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, and James Jones.
With New York having given Harris a five-year contract worth $17.5 million (with $7.1 million fully guaranteed, per Over the Cap), Harris is going to have to earn that money.
What better place for him to do so than as a return specialist to help the Giants win the starting field-position battle on a more consistent basis?
Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced.