New York Giants Depth-Chart Predictions Ahead of Training Camp

Patricia Traina@Patricia_TrainaFeatured Columnist IVJuly 11, 2017

New York Giants Depth-Chart Predictions Ahead of Training Camp

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    In a little more than two weeks, the New York Giants will begin their annual summer training camp with a roster promising a lot of competition across the board.

    That's how head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese like things, both men believing that competition brings out the best in the players and the team.

    So, as we wait for these final two weeks of downtime to evaporate, let's try to put together a preliminary training camp depth chart at each unit ahead of that July 27 reporting date.

    We'll also look at some of the key competitions, especially toward the bottom of the unit depth charts, and try to arrive at a preliminary guess as to how things will play out, assuming there are no injuries by the time the 53-man roster needs to be set.

    And for fun, we'll look at the one thing that could occur that not too many people right now probably see happening.

Quarterbacks

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Current Projected Depth Chart

    Eli Manning (starter), Josh Johnson, Geno Smith, Davis Webb 

    Josh Johnson gets placed ahead of Geno Smith for the start of camp based on where things left off in the spring.

    Johnson, fully healthy and with a year in the Giants system, took all his scheduled reps whereas Smith, the newcomer still rehabbing from a torn ACL, did not.

             

    Battle to Watch

    Geno Smith vs. Josh Johnson

    Smith and Johnson will duel for the No. 2 quarterback spot behind Manning. (McAdoo said shortly after the draft concluded that rookie Webb will begin the 2017 season as the No. 3 quarterback.)

    Smith has more experience as a NFL quarterback despite being in the league fewer years than Johnson.

    Also worth noting is that before his career started to veer off the rails in 2015, Smith started to show flashes of promise, completing 88 of 134 pass attempts (65.7 percent) for 1,155 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions toward the end of the 2014 season.

    If the Giants coaching staff can help Smith find that mojo again, he should have little trouble beating out Johnson for the backup job.  

               

    Don't Be Surprised If…

    Webb ends up as the No. 2 quarterback by the season's end. He said he planned to spend the six weeks before the start of training camp with his face buried in his playbook, per Paul Schwarz of the New York Post.

    "I plan on studying that script and the playbook just about every day. This is important to me," he said, also revealing that he intended to stick around New Jersey

    That has to be music to McAdoo's ears. "He is a guy that jumps into it with two feet," the head coach said. "He loves to play, he loves the reps, he works at it hard and that it important. You can't get laid back, you can't relax and he doesn't seem to be the type of guy that is going to relax."

Running Backs

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Current Projected Depth Chart

    Running Backs: Paul Perkins (starter), Shane Vereen, Orleans Darkwa, Shaun Draughn, Wayne Gallman, Khalid Abdullah

    Fullbacks: Shane Smith, Jacob Huesman

               

    Battles to Watch

    Orleans Darkwa vs. Shaun Draughn

    The Giants are unlikely to keep both veterans on the roster if they end up going with four running backs.

    Darkwa would appear to have the edge going into camp even though he's been bothered the last couple of years with a broken leg, mainly because of his special teams play—he was a core member of special teams prior to his injury woes.

    Darkwa is also graded higher as a pass-blocker than Draughn, per Pro Football Focus, who has the former with a 76.4 pass-protection grade and Draughn with a 40.7 pass-blocking grade.

    Rushing skills aside, usually the player who can pass protect more consistently is going to come out on top.

                   

    Shane Smith vs. Jacob Huesman vs. the Tight Ends

    Last year the Giants went without a pure fullback on their roster, a decision that was in part prompted by season-ending injuries to Nikita Whitlock and Will Johnson.

    McAdoo hasn't offered any hint as to whether he'll keep a pure fullback on the roster this year, but it's probably a safe bet to think he won't if the tight ends show they can run block this summer.

    The Giants are also continuing an experiment with Mark Herzlich at a tight end, an experiment that has now reached the point where Herzlich changed his uniform number so he could be an eligible receiver if he has to report on offense.

    While it would be surprising to see him take on that role full-time, he does provide the coaching staff with another option should they want to pass on carrying a pure fullback on the 53-man roster.

                 

    Don’t Be Surprised If…

    Wayne Gallman gives the Giants the closest thing to having a true power runner since the days of Brandon Jacobs.

    While Gallman isn't quite as physically intimidating as Jacobs, he still runs with power, especially between the tackles, where, per Pro Football Focus' Draft Pass, 2,034 of Gallman's 3,424 yards over the last three seasons came initial after contact. 

    Despite being a power runner, Gallman is also elusive. Per Pro Football Focus, the former Clemson rusher has a 72.1 elusive rating, just a few points shy of former Stanford and now-Carolina rookie running back Christian McCaffrey's 73.8 elusive rating.

    If Gallman can learn to pass block, he should be the No. 2 running back behind Paul Perkins in no time.

Tight Ends

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Current Projected Depth Chart

    Will Tye, Rhett Ellison (projected starter), Jerell Adams, Matt LaCosse, Evan Engram (projected starter), Colin Thompson

    Usually at the start of training camp, the rookies get placed at the bottom of the depth chart. However, the one above shows the obvious; Rhett Ellison and Evan Engram are likely to be the starters this year.  

                 

    Battle to Watch

    Matt LaCosse vs. Will Tye

    If the Giants keep four tight ends—and I believe that's what they would like to do given the flexibility the position affords the offense—the final spot will come down to Will Tye, the incumbent starter, and Matt LaCosse, who had such a stellar spring that he received reps with the first team.

    The problem with LaCosse has been his inability to stay healthy. In his first two years, he has failed to make it through training camp. While the Giants might have given up on such a player of lesser talent by now, they've hung in there with LaCosse and even retained him after the drafting of Engram this spring.

    That LaCosse has also been pegged as a more-than-willing blocker (albeit someone whose technique needed work, at least when he was coming out of college), could give him an edge over Tye, whose blocking last year was the worst of the Giants tight ends, according to Pro Football Focus.  

               

    Don't Be Surprised If…

    The Giants use their "blocking" tight ends—Jerell Adams and Ellison—as receivers.

    Ellison, if healthy, if flexible enough to line up at several positions, as Pro Football Focus indicates in this graphic. McAdoo is a big proponent of versatility, especially among his skill players.

    The more options the Giants have as far as where guys can line up, the more difficult (and less predictable) the offense is going to be to defend.

Receivers

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Current Projected Depth Chart

    Odell Beckham Jr. (starter), Brandon Marshall (starter), Sterling Shepard (slot), Tavarres King, Darius Powe, Dwayne Harris, Roger Lewis, Travis Rudolph, Kevin Snead, Jerome Lane

    The Giants' top three receivers, as indicated on the above depth chart, have been earning lots of preseason accolades from NFL analysts who have dubbed the unit one of, if not the best in all of football.

    Former NFL receiver Reggie Wayne, now with NFL.com, said that the one-two punch of Beckham and Marshall is the league's top duo entering the 2017 season.

    ESPN's John Keim acknowledged that it "would be hard to top this group" of receivers.

    Then again, last year there was similar enthusiasm and high expectations from a group that included Beckham, Shepard and Victor Cruz, a group that never did live up to the preseason expectations.  

                   

    Battles to Watch

    Dwayne Harris vs. Travis Rudolph

    Travis Rudolph is the latest feel-good story to hit East Rutherford. While he already has a growing number of people rooting for him, having such a story shouldn't be the main criteria for a player making the roster.

    Then again, neither should having guaranteed money in your contract, as Dwayne Harris has in 2017.  After taking a $500,000 pay cut, he now has $1.1 million guaranteed this year and is believed to have already collected a $25,000 workout bonus.

    Typically, the Giants hang on to players who have a sizeable amount of guaranteed money coming to them. Apparently, as part of Harris' pay cut, he has an opportunity to make back the money if he maintains a 10.0 punt return average, as he did in his first season with the team.

    But if Rudolph, who was spotted returning punts during the spring, should outplay Harris on specials—a big "if" at this point since the Giants didn't do much in the way of coverage work, where Harris delivered the goods last year—the Giants would be looking at a $2.175 million savings if they terminated Harris' contract.

    With several key contracts coming up for renewal and, at this rate, not much in the way of potential cap carryover from 2017 to 2018, every little extra bit of money helps.

                  

    Roger Lewis vs. Darius Powe

    Last year, Roger Lewis made the final 53-man cut ahead of Darius Powe, who, like Lewis, had a strong summer showing.

    The difference? Special teams.

    This year, Powe has done everything he can to carve out a roster spot, even doing some work at tight end during the spring to help his chances.

    Lewis, meanwhile, had a disappointing rookie season on offense. While a strong enough performer on special teams, he saw his snaps on offense give way to Tavarres King late in the season, with good reason.

    Per NFL Savant, Lewis caught just 36.84 percent of his pass targets, the lowest of the Giants receivers. He also had two dropped passes.

    Add to the mix Lewis' offseason arrest for a OVI charge in Ohio that could see him subject to further discipline under the NFL's personal conduct policy, and he is going to need unbreakable concentration this summer if he's to hang on to his roster spot.

                 

    Don't Be Surprised If…

    Odell Beckham Jr.'s reception total drops.

    Last season, Beckham, who for all intents and purposes was the Giants passing game, posted a career-high 101 receptions for 1,367 yards.

    Now that the Giants have added some more potential firepower to the offense's passing attack, Beckham doesn't have to do it all by himself. If the Giants manage to have more of a balance between run and pass than they have in the past, that means fewer passing opportunities.

    Of those passing opportunities that are there, expect Marshall, Shepard and tight end Evan Engram to cut into Beckham's targets.

Offensive Line

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Current Projected Depth Chart

    LT Ereck Flowers (starter), LG Justin Pugh (starter), C Weston Richburg (starter), RG John Jerry (starter), RT Bobby Hart (starter), Brett Jones (C/G), D.J. Fluker (G/T), Adam Gettis (C/G), Adam Bisnowaty (OT), Chad Wheeler (OT), Michael Bowie (OT), Jon Halapio (G), Jessamen Dunker (OT)

                 

    Battles to Watch

    Adam Gettis vs. Brett Jones

    The coaching staff seems to really like both Brett Jones, the former CFL offensive lineman who has been steadily making progress since losing his rookie year to a season-ending knee injury, and Adam Gettis, who is versatile enough to play just about anywhere on the line.

    Although I have both players making the 53-man roster, my guess is Jones can edge out Gettis for a spot.

             

    Chad Wheeler vs. Jessamen Dunker

    The Giants shelled out a $20,000 signing bonus (the highest signing bonus given to the undrafted free agents this year) and guaranteed an additional $10,000 of salary to undrafted free agent Chad Wheeler out of USC.

    So far, Wheeler has been just another guy among the rookies trying to impress. Again, it needs to be noted that you can't draw definite conclusions on offensive and defensive linemen in the spring, where fully padded practices are prohibited. But what you can tell is how well he's reacting to quickness from the man across from him.

    Some might point to the fact that Wheeler received first-team reps with the Giants at left tackle during the mandatory minicamp as him being ahead in the competition.

    However, that might have been more as a result of Ereck Flowers, the starter, and Justin Pugh the presumed backup, both sitting out due to injury, leaving no one else to play left tackle.

    There probably won't be room for both Dunker and Wheeler on the 53-man roster. It remains to be seen if there is room for both on the practice squad.

                    

    Don't Be Surprised If…

    ...D.J. Fluker isn't in the starting lineup. The Giants brought him in to compete for a starting job on the right side of the line, presumably right guard. Yet, despite the hard work he put in during the offseason, he never once took a snap with the first-team offensive line during the part of practice open to the media.

    That could be due to Fluker's continued indoctrination to the Giants playbook or perhaps even due to an undisclosed injury that may have been bothering the big man.

    Whatever the reason, it sounded as though the coaches are counting on Bobby Hart to tough it out at right tackle, another position Fluker could probably step in to play if need be, and it also looked as though Jerry isn't going to let go of that starting right guard position without a fight.

    If Jerry hangs on, it will be interesting to see if Fluker is the first one off the bench in case of injury or if that honor goes to Adam Bisnowaty or Brett Jones.

Defensive Ends

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    Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

    Current Projected Depth Chart

    Jason Pierre-Paul (starter), Olivier Vernon (starter), Romeo Okwara, Kerry Wynn, Owa Odighizuwa, Devin Taylor, Avery Moss, Evan Schwan, Jordan Williams

    Odighizuwa also comes with a question mark given his uncertain future following his spring-time absence from OTAs and the mandatory minicamp.

    Battle to Watch

    Kerry Wynn vs. Avery Moss vs. Romeo Okwara

    Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon and Devin Taylor should be set as the first three defensive ends the Giants keep.

    Taylor can play snaps inside at defensive tackle, snaps he took during the spring on some pass-rushing packages. In fact, he could end up being the third defensive end the Giants have been missing in that position's rotation for some time.

    "He's a proven veteran in this league," defensive line coach Patrick Graham said last month of Taylor. "He has to prove himself again but I think as a defensive end, he's shown some great flexibility in the past. It's a good piece to have."

    That leaves two spots (assuming the Giants keep five defensive ends) for three potential players to fight over: Romeo Okwara, who started for Pierre-Paul last year when he was sidelined; Kerry Wynn, an undrafted free agent who has slowly dropped off since impressing as a rookie; and Avery Moss, the team's fifth-round draft pick this year.

    Moss drew some early praise from defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who called the rookie "explosive," comparing him to a former successful pass rusher he once coached with the Eagles, Hugh Douglas.

    "Avery is not quite as thick as that, but I thought of him when I watched Avery on tape and he has played that 4-3 defensive end position, which we do a lot of," Spagnuolo said during the rookie minicamp.

    "We still play some under where they have to move down and he looks comfortable doing it, so hopefully put him in the mix with the other guys that we have."

    It's still early in the competition, but the odd man out in this competition could end up being Wynn, who last year played in 14 games with no starts and recorded just 12 tackles and half a sack with no passes defensed in 116 snaps, all reductions from past years’ totals.

                  

    Don't Be Surprised If…

    ...Owa Odighizuwa doesn't return to the Giants this year. The team's third-round draft pick in 2015 was passed over on the depth chart last year by rookie Romeo Okwara, who got the starting nod when Pierre-Paul went down with his injury.

    The reason for that was Okwara's rapid development into a potential every-down defensive end, something the team was hoping to get from Odighizuwa.

    And let's forget about the fact that the OTAs Odighizuwa had to miss to deal with his personal issue are voluntary: the fact remains he still missed a large chunk of critical offseason work that maybe a veteran like Vernon can get away with missing but a guy who hasn't done much to date in his career can't. 

    The first concern has always been for Odighizuwa's well-being and that of his loved ones. At this point, though, it would make sense to put him on the shelf for the upcoming season so that even if he's ready to return, he's not left putting more pressure on himself to catch up on what he missed.

Defensive Tackles

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Current Projected Depth Chart

    Damon Harrison (starter), Jay Bromley, Robert Thomas, Dalvin Tomlinson, Corbin Bryant, Jarron Jones

    Jarron Jones, an undrafted rookie free agent, did some work with the offensive line during the spring. It's currently unknown if he'll be making the switch to the offensive side of the ball permanently or if he'll split his time between both units.

                         

    Battle to Watch

    Bryant vs. Bromley vs. Thomas

    It's probably safe to say that Harrison and Tomlinson are locks for two of the four projected defensive tackle positions. That leaves two spots open for candidates such as Jay Bromley, Robert Thomas and Corbin Bryant, who was added to the roster June 8.

    Are any of these candidates capable of being a serviceable 3-technique defensive tackle? Bromley, a 2014 third-round pick by the team, last year started working toward being able to play either of the two defensive tackle spots in this defense. Yet, he ended up sharing snaps with Robert Thomas for most of the year, a good indication that no one really pulled away from the other in the competition.

    This spring, Thomas, a player picked up after the start of the regular season last year, received quite a few snaps with the starters alongside of Harrison.

    Like the other positions in the pit, this battle won't be resolved until the pads go on. 

                 

    Don't Be Surprised If…

    Again, it's early in the process, but it wouldn't be a surprise if defensive coordinator Spagnuolo goes with a rotation to start the season to fill Johnathan Hankins' vacated defensive tackle spot.

    Not to be confused with the traditional rotation where guys come in to give the starters a breather, it sounds as though the plan for now is to have different guys get their chances depending on the game plan and the opponent. 

    "It is probably no different than the MIKE linebacker position," Spagnuolo said during the May minicamp, referring to how they alternated different starters at the middle linebacker spot last year.

    "Somebody is going to line up there next to Snacks. Between now and the time that we play Dallas, we will figure it out."

Linebackers

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Current Projected Depth Chart

    Devon Kennard (starter), B.J. Goodson (starter), Jonathan Casillas (starter), Mark Herzlich, Eric Pinkins, J.T. Thomas, Deontae Skinner, Calvin Munson, Curtis Grant, Stansly Maponga

    Maponga, initially signed as a defensive end, worked as an outside linebacker during the spring. Herzlich, also a backup long snapper, worked at tight end during the spring, but I'm listing him with the linebackers. as I'm not convinced right now that he's going to get any significant snaps at tight end once the regular season starts.

                

    Battle to Watch

    Eric Pinkins vs. J.T. Thomas vs. Deontae Skinner

    Assuming the Giants keep six linebackers on the 53-man roster, one of Pinkins, Thomas or Skinner—all of whom have been on the 53-man roster before—is out.

    Logic would dictate Thomas is the one most likely to be sent packing given his injury history. When he wasn't among those initially trimmed in February for salary-cap purposes, many fans wondered why.

    The likely answer is Thomas has yet to be able to pass a physical; hence cutting him before he is able to do so would mean the Giants would have to reach an injury settlement with him which could cost upwards of $1 million.

    If Thomas is no longer in the plans, it makes more sense for the Giants to wait until he can pass a physical and then cut him, which would maximize their cap savings on the transaction. 

    Getting back to the battle for the remaining roster spots, special teams will be the deciding factor.

    Skinner finished third on the Giants last season with six special teams tackles, all solo. But Pinkins, who had an assisted special teams tackle, also brings versatility to the table in that he can play strong safety, perhaps as a backup to Landon Collins.

                 

    Don't Be Surprised If…

    If healthy, J.T. Thomas can not only contribute on special teams, he can also serve as a backup weakside and inside linebacker. So, don't be shocked if he's on the 53-man roster if he makes it through the summer.

    The backup inside linebacker spot is particularly of interest. The starting job appears to be B.J. Goodson's to lose, but if he were to go down or flop in the role, there is some question as to whether Keenan Robinson, who was also thought to be competing for the job, would be the logical backup.

    Per Pro Football Focus, Robinson was the lowest graded of the Giants linebackers in run defense. Where he excelled though was in coverage, where he had the highest grade of the Giants linebackers.

    Thomas has played in the middle before—it was there back in 2014 when, as a member of the Jaguars, he had his best game that year against the Giants, recording 18 tackles (12 solo).

    With the Giants having already tried Herzlich in the middle, a healthy Thomas could provide insurance if Goodson struggles.

    It's a big if, but not all that far-fetched considering the Giants didn't seek to lower Thomas' base salary for this year as they had done with running back Shane Vereen, who was also coming off a season-ending injury. 

Cornerbacks

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    Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

    Current Projected Depth Chart

    Eli Apple (starter), Janoris Jenkins (starter), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (slot), Valentino Blake, Michael Hunter, Donte Deayon, Mykkele Thompson, Nigel Tribune, DaShaun Amos

                

    Battle to Watch

    Donte Deayon vs. Valentino Blake vs. Mykkele Thompson

    If last year's playoff loss to Green Bay taught the Giants anything, it's that they need to find themselves a backup slot cornerback to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

    That battle could come down to Donte Deayon, who spent last year on the injured reserve list as a member of the practice squad; Michael Hunter, who was called up to the 53-man roster when early-season injuries hit Eli Apple and Rodgers-Cromartie; newcomer Valentino Blake; and Mykkele Thompson, who has spent his first two pro seasons dealing with injuries.

    This battle is still too close to call based on the spring practices, but it's an important one that the coaches will be watching carefully.

                

    Don't Be Surprised If…

    Undrafted free agent cornerback Nigel Tribune had a weird start to his NFL career, but he seemed to have bounced back nicely.

    After signing with the Giants on May 11, he was waived on May 13, after the rookie minicamp.

    The Giants brought him back in June 1, waiving SaQwan Edwards, whom they had initially signed to take Tribune's spot. Since then, Tribune has flashed on several occasions, playing the receivers tight and doing a nice job of playing his angles to break up passes. 

    When the Giants' cornerback depth became a bit thin this spring, Tribune saw an increase in his workload as well as an uptick in the competition he faced, and he didn't embarrass himself.

    He showed he has decent-enough speed to stay with a receiver on deep balls and did a nice job of looking back for the ball when it was in flight.

    Right now, the projected numbers work against Tribune. However, if the Giants decide to keep one less safety, keeping in mind Mykkele Thompson can step into that role as can Eric Pinkins (if he makes the roster), Tribune could sneak through to the 53-man roster. 

Safeties

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Current Projected Depth Chart

    Landon Collins (starter), Andrew Adams, Darian Thompson, Nat Berhe, Duke Ihenacho, Trey Robinson, Jadar Johnson, Ryan Murphy

                    

    Battle to Watch

    Andrew Adams vs. Darian Thompson

    Despite playing well enough last season to earn recognition as Pro Football Focus' Giants "Secret Superstar," safety Andrew Adams is far from being a lock to line up alongside Landon Collins.

    Adams, remember, stepped in for Thompson, whose rookie season was cut short due to a lingering foot injury. Adams, undrafted out of UConn, led all rookie safeties last year in coverage, allowing just eight of 16 pass targets thrown against him to be complete.

    So why not just stick with Adams? He isn't as widely regarded as the ball hawk Thompson is, a factor which might give Thompson a leg up in that competition.

    Going back to their respective college days, Adams recorded nine career interceptions while Boise State's Thompson, in the same number of seasons, recorded 19.

    Early in the spring, Thompson didn't look any worse for the wear moving around out there, but the fact he missed the final OTA and all of the minicamp—his absence from the minicamp was due to an illness—is concerning.

                   

    Don’t Be Surprised If…

    The Giants have historically had some bad luck with injuries at this position. The good news is if the unthinkable should again happen and a spot on this unit becomes available, undrafted free agent Jadar Johnson could be the next man up.

    Johnson probably won't make the 53-man roster if the Giants stick with four safeties (remember Mykkele Thompson can serve as a swing guy at corner and safety).

    If Johnson continues to perform as well as he did in the spring, he's going to give the coaches something to think about when they draw up the 53-man roster.

Specialists

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Kicker: Aldrick Rosas

    Punter: Brad Wing

    Long Snapper: Zak DeOssie

    Unless the Giants add another kicker to the mix—something that probably won't happen until training camp gets underway—the three specialists listed above should be the ones they go into the regular season with as their "starters."

                 

    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.