Projecting New York Giants' 2017 Starting Lineup After NFL Draft
After months of research, pro days, player visits, all-star games and private workouts, the New York Giants have identified those college prospects—four on offense and two on defense—whose contributions will hopefully ensure the team remains competitive in 2017 and beyond.
The annual draft is largely considered by those in NFL circles as the last major piece of the annual roster rebuild. From the class, new starters will emerge.
So let's revisit what the projected 2017 starting lineups might look like at each position while also trying to figure out where the draft picks might fit if it's not in the starting lineup.
Starter: Eli Manning
Although the Giants spent a third-round pick to acquire former Cal quarterback Davis Webb, the rookie is still a good year or two away from ultimately taking control of the offense.
The plan, as told by head coach Ben McAdoo after the draft, is to have Webb begin his NFL career as the third-string quarterback. Meanwhile, veterans Josh Johnson and Geno Smith will duke it out for the No. 2 quarterback spot behind starter Eli Manning.
Johnson figures to have a leg up on Smith because of his familiarity with the offense—he was here all last year—and his health (Smith is rehabbing from a torn ACL).
As for Manning, who returns for his 14th NFL season, unless his iron-man streak ends abruptly, he will be calling the shots in the offensive huddle once again.
Starter: Paul Perkins
In an interview with WFAN's Mike Francesa, Coach McAdoo was uncharacteristically forthcoming about his plans for the running back position.
The second-year head coach revealed that Paul Perkins, who started the final two games of the season last year (including the Wild Card game), will be the starting running back on first and second downs.
The move comes as no surprise. Per Inside Football, Perkins was one of the players who saw his offensive game snaps increase after the team's bye week last year, going from 12.75 snaps per game in the first half of the season to 27.4 snaps per game.
Presumably, Shane Vereen, who missed most of last year while twice dealing with a torn triceps muscle, will be the third-down back, while rookie Wayne Gallman—drafted in the fourth round—will compete with Orleans Darkwa and Shaun Draughn for playing time.
McAdoo also told Francesa that Gallman will be expected to contribute on all the special teams units.
Starter: Evan Engram
The Giants selected tight end Evan Engram 23rd overall in the first round, perhaps with visions of him breaking up the Cover 2 defense that the Giants faced so often last year.
The Giants haven't had a tight end who has shown consistency in running up the seam in a few years.
McAdoo told reporters after the selection of Engram was in the books that the fastest way to the end zone is up the middle of the field, an area where, per Pro Football Focus, quarterback Eli Manning ended up completing just six of 23 pass attempts for 152 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions last year.
"We think this guy can be a dynamic weapon in our offense," general manager Jerry Reese said after Engram was unveiled as the team's first-round pick. "A matchup nightmare for teams trying to cover him with linebackers and safeties."
More recently, Reese, in a radio interview with WFAN's Mike Francesa, described Engram as more of a "new-age" tight end—a guy who isn't going to necessarily be a crushing blocker like Howard Cross once was, but rather more of an H-back who will afford the coaches a great deal of versatility.
Speaking of blocking tight ends, if the Giants—who famously made 11-personnel their base last year—should decide to go with double tight ends more often, Rhett Ellison, acquired as an undrafted free agent earlier in the offseason, will likely get the nod ahead of Jerell Adams, last year's sixth-round draft pick.
Starters: Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall. Slot: Sterling Shepard
The Giants didn't address receiver in the draft—they had no reason to after adding Brandon Marshall to the mix during free agency.
Marshall will presumably become the second receiver, behind Odell Beckham Jr., while Sterling Shepard will reprise his role as the slot receiver.
Marshall takes the place of Victor Cruz, who was let go earlier in the offseason as a salary-cap move.
The Giants hope that the 6'4" Marshall's big, physical game not only gives him a distinct advantage against smaller defensive backs but also translates into some solid downfield blocking in the running game, something that was missing a little too much last year from the outside receivers.
Regarding Shepard, it will be interesting to see if he sees a reduction in snaps with the arrival of tight end Evan Engram, who stands 6'3" to Shepard's 5'10".
Shepard saw his receiving targets tail off just a pinch in the team’s final seven games of the season (including the Wild Card). He averaged seven pass targets in the first 10 games, that number dropping to six in the final seven games, with one game (Week 12) seeing him get zero pass targets.
Starters: LT Ereck Flowers, LG Justin Pugh, C Weston Richburg, RG John Jerry, RT D.J. Fluker
If you didn't believe the Giants brass when they said they weren't ready to give up on Ereck Flowers, their left tackle of the last two seasons whose struggles have been analyzed right down to the minutia, maybe now you'll change your mind.
Not only did the Giants opt against drafting an offensive tackle in the first round, Reese yet again threw his support behind Flowers and Bobby Hart, the latter of whom played right tackle for the team last year when incumbent Marshall Newhouse was dealing with a calf injury.
"It's almost kind of developmental, some ups and downs as young players, but we expect these guys to make a significant jump this season, because they've been in the league already," Reese said during his interview with Francesa.
"Those guys could have been in this draft class," he added.
Reese also echoed the sentiments expressed by many analysts about the offensive line class being one of the weakest in this year's draft.
While he and the Giants did trade up in the sixth round to pluck Adam Bisnowaty out of Pittsburgh, and while they signed a pair of undrafted free-agent offensive tackles (USC's Chad Wheeler and Tennessee State's Jessamen Dunker), it looks like they're going to stand pat and see who of Flowers, D.J. Fluker and Bobby Hart will emerge from the competition.
Fluker, once a first-round draft pick (Chargers) might appear to be the favorite going in at right tackle. Along the interior, Justin Pugh (left guard) and Weston Richburg (center) are etched in stone, barring injury.
At right guard, veteran John Jerry was re-signed and, as of now, presumably has a leg up in the three-way competition with Fluker and Hart.
Starters: LDE Jason Pierre-Paul, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, DT Damon Harrison, RDE Olivier Vernon
The Giants desperately wanted to keep their defensive front four together and in fact might have come close had it not been for the meddling Indianapolis Colts and their deep salary-cap pockets luring defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins away.
What did the Giants do? The spent a second-round draft pick on a prospect, Alabama's Dalvin Tomlinson, whom Pro Football Focus compared to Hankins to potentially step into the starting lineup.
Tomlinson's run defense is probably a bit further ahead than his pass-rushing game, which means he could begin his NFL career as a two-down player.
Ultimately the Giants, who figure to plug Tomlinson in at the 3-technique spot, will see if he can push the pocket on passing downs, but that might not come until later in the 2017 season.
The Giants also spent a fifth-round pick on a defensive end, Youngstown State's Avery Moss, who is expected to step in and compete with Romeo Okwara, Kerry Wynn and Owa Odighizuwa for the third defensive end spot behind Vernon and Pierre-Paul.
McAdoo has said in the past that they have to find a way to lessen the workload on Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon, who last year played in 90.0 percent and 94.1 percent of the defensive snaps, respectively.
Moss, whose downfall at Nebraska began when he allegedly engaged in indecent exposure against a female student at a campus convenience store, finished his career for Bo Pelini, the Cornhuskers head coach who moved on to Youngstown State after being fired.
In the process, he missed a year of college ball while serving a campus ban from Nebraska stemming from that alleged incident.
Starters: SLB Devon Kennard, MLB B.J. Goodson, WLB Jonathan Casillas; Nickel LB: Keenan Robinson
If there was one major shock in the Giants draft, it's that they couldn't add a linebacker to a group that—other than B.J. Goodson—isn't signed beyond this year.
Speaking of Goodson, he will compete with Keenan Robinson for the middle linebacker job, a vacancy that arose when the team elected not to re-sign Kelvin Sheppard. The Giants play a lot of nickel defense as it is so figure if Goodson wins the job, he probably won't be on the field as much.
Devon Kennard's situation is interesting, Last year, he played in a career-low 46.4 percent of the defensive snaps, a decision that likely contributed to him making it through his first 16-game season as a pro.
Toward the end of the season, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo got creative in his use of Kennard, having the one-time college defensive end line up inside with his hand in the dirt on passing downs.
The decision turned out to be a promising one for the future.
Kennard recorded his lone 2016 sack from that defensive tackle spot, the move allowing the coaching staff to take advantage of his pass-rushing capabilities which seemed to regress from his rookie season when he recorded a career-high 4.5 sacks from the stand-up strong-side linebacker spot.
Starters: SS Landon Collins, FS Darian Thompson
After posting a huge, breakout season in his second year, Landon Collins is a lock at strong safety.
At free safety, Darian Thompson, who last year was lost to a season-ending foot injury, isn't quite ready to be "Wally Pipp'ed" out of the starting free safety role.
Undrafted free agent Andrew Adams did an admirable job while Thompson was out of action, but with the 23-year-old on the mend, per ESPN, Thompson will likely regain the starting job if he manages to stay on the field and picks up where he left off before his foot injury.
Starters: RCB Janoris Jenkins, LCB Eli Apple. Slot Cornerback: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Barring injury, don't expect to see any changes in the starting cornerback lineup, where Eli Apple, as a rookie first-rounder last year, teamed with premium free-agency Janoris Jenkins.
Per Pro Football Focus, Apple finished with a 104.9 NFL rating, a season reflecting some ups and downs, most notably a streak of three straight games at the end in which his NFL Rating shot as high as 149 one week.
With a year under his belt, Apple—who had some early-season issues with being "grabby" of receivers—figures to be much improved in terms of consistency.
Jenkins finished with a career-best 65.2 NFL Rating, allowing a career-low 50 percent of the passes against him to be complete, and just three touchdowns, also a career low. Jenkins missed one game last season (Week 16) due a bruised back.
Meanwhile Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a 2015 Pro Bowler for the Giants, delivered on his dual assignment of playing outside and in the slot cornerback role, the latter being where he spent 214 of his 509 pass-coverage snaps last year, finishing with a 97.8 NFL Rating as a slot cornerback.
Rodgers-Cromartie's overall 56.6 NFL Rating was the best of his nine years in the league. His absence in the Wild Card Game against Green Bay—he was injured in the first quarter—literally changed its complexion as the Packers went after Trevin Wade, who was subbing for Rodgers-Cromartie.
The Giants didn't add a cornerback via the draft, but they did add veteran Valentino Blake, who right now projects as the fourth cornerback on the depth chart.
Kicker: Aldrick Rosas. Punter: Brad Wing. Long Snapper: Zak DeOssie. Return Specialist: Dwayne Harris
Except for Brad Wing and Zak DeOssie, the Giants' specialists probably have the highest number of question marks the unit has seen in some time.
New York didn't come to a new agreement with Robbie Gould, who stepped in cold off his couch when the Josh Brown situation came to a head. Gould's departure leaves the Giants with Aldrick Rosas, a young kicker with a big leg but someone who has yet to kick in an NFL game.
Reese, in his radio spot with Francesca, said the team hasn't ruled out adding a veteran kicker to compete with Rosas this summer. If the Giants don't like the options, they could also wait to see who shakes free from teams like Tampa Bay, who are carrying multiple veteran kickers.
The other notable question mark on this unit is return specialist Dwayne Harris. Although he made his first Pro Bowl last season—mainly because of his outstanding coverage skills—Harris' return production took a nosedive.
His kickoff return average fell from 28.7 in 2015 to 24.5 in 2016. His punt return decline was even worse, dropping from 10.0 to 5.4 yards per return.
To be fair, Harris did have assorted injuries that appeared to rob him of his speed. However, it seems likely that his perception of just how bad he was ailing seemed to often cloud his judgement regarding those returns.
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.