Why it is so hard to figure out the 2018 Giants?
It's Sunday October 18, 2016. The Baltimore Ravens come into East Rutherford, New Jersey to face off the New York Football Giants. After starting the season off 2-0, the Giants have just come off an unconvincing loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football to drop to 2-3 on the season. The Giants find themselves down 23-20 on 4th and 1 with 1:36 left in the fourth quarter. It took an Odell Beckham Jr. 66 yard touchdown on that play to propel the Giants to a win and save their season. New York went on the win six straight after that, and finish with an 11-5 record before being bounced out of the first round of the playoffs at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
After the Giants went out and signed Brandon Marshall and drafted Evan Engram that offseason, it would be expected they can build off a playoff appearance and be contenders in 2017. Then everything (and literally everything) went wrong. After starting off the season 0-4 with losses to three non 2017 playoff teams, and one super bowl champion (Dallas, Detroit, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay). A week five home matchup against the 0-5 Los Angeles Chargers, the Giants found themselves with a lead in the fourth quarter. Things looked promising for once, until by the end of the game, they would lose that lead, and the game 27-22 along their their top four receivers, Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Sheppard, and Dwayne Harris for almost the entire season (Shepard played 11 games in 2017). Former head coach Ben Macadoo lost the team and the locker room went into shambles. Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie were both suspended for insufficient reasons. 2016 first round draft choice Eli Apple slammed his teammates after being on and off the field all season and Landon Collins shot back calling him a "cancer" for it. What else? Oh yeah, Ben Macadoo benched Eli Manning, ruining his streak of starting 210 straight games, for Geno Smith in week 13 and that following Monday Ben Macadoo and General Manager Jerry Reese were out of a job. The G-Men finished the 2017 season 3-13.
So here we are today. The 2018 offseason was a interesting one for the Giants as newly hired General Manager Dave Gettleman is trying to change the culture in the locker room. Former Cleveland Browns head coach Pat Shurmer is at the helm this year after spending 2017 in Minnesota, and he brought along Mike Shula and Dave Bettcher, formerly of the Panthers and Cardinals, to take over as offensive and defensive coordinator. Dave Gettleman is selling the Giants fanbase that despite the 3-13 disaster last year, this is a win now team.
The biggest splash of the offseason was Saquon Barkley. The number two overall pick in this years draft. The running back out of Penn State was praised by Dave Gettleman as "blessed by god". The Giants acted on this because they believe he can carry this offensive along with Odell Beckham Jr. to bring them back to the playoffs. There is no doubt that Barkley can be a future all-pro. However, after going 3-13 last year how far do they think a running back is going to take them? The Dallas Cowboys took Eziekl Elliot in 2016 which resulted in a 13-3 season, and last year the Jacksonville Jaguars took Lenard Fornette resulting in an AFC championship lost. However, the Cowboys had one of the best offensive lines ever and the Jaguars had the NFL's top defense. Eli Manning is 37 years old, and he had a carer low year last year. Quarterback is the most important position in football, and with a very strong Quarterback class in this past draft, it would have made sense to draft Eli's successor and start looking towards the future. They decided to take Barkley instead to extend Eli's carer and try to make 2018 a winning season.
In the fifth round of the 2018 NFL draft the Giants took Quarterback Kyle Lauletta out of Richmond. In 2017 New York took Davis Webb in the third round out of California. It would be expected that they both would develop behind Eli Manning until a decision was made who is better to fit under center. Last week the Giants waived Webb, which caused confusion as many people believe that the Giants passed on a quarterback in this draft because they like Webb. If Webb isn't the answer than there had to be knowledge in the Giants organization the entire time that he would not be Eli Manning's successor. The Giants believe that Eli Manning will bring them back to where they were in 2018, the playoffs.
The Big Blue offensive can be potent. Saquon Barkley is second in the NFL.com top rookie rankings. Odell Beckham Jr, the new 95 million dollar man, is back healthy. Sterling Shepard is ready is ready for a strong third season. Evan Engram is set to break out as one of the NFL's top tight ends. Finally the offensive line looks better with the signing of former Patriot Nate Solder for 62 million dollars, the largest ever for a offensive lineman. Gettleman also added Patrick Omameh from Jacksonville, and second round pick Will Hernandez out of UTEP, on the o-line. That will allow disaster former first round pick Erik Flowers back to the right side of the line, his more natural position.
The problem for this team is the defense. This offseason the Giants traded away Jason-Pierre Paul to save cap room, but now there is a huge gap on end of the defensive line besides Olivier Vernon and Damion Harrison. The Giants never had a gap on the d-line since before the super bowl winning glory days of Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Michael Strahan, but now they will scramble together free agent signing Josh Mauro, who is suspended for the first four games, Dalvin Tomlinson, Kerry Wynn, and third round draft choice B.J. Hill out of North Carolina State. The linebacker core was not a position that Jerry Reese ever prioritized. That is why to strengthen that part of the defense, Dave Gettleman went out and got former Los Angeles Rams captain Alec Ogeltree. There are still many question marks regarding that core. New defensive coordinator James Bettcher thinks more work with Kareem Martin from back in their Arizona days together can mold him into a star. There is also third round rookie Lorenzo Carter out of Georgia, and former Eagle Connor Barwin who had five sacks last year with the Rams. Nothing to get head over heels over for this linebacker core, but nonetheless improved from 2017.
The secondary is the biggest question regarding this defense. Landon Collins, the former all-pro and two time pro bowl safety should only get better in his fourth season. However, you have to hold your breath on who will start next to Collins. Former third round pick Darian Thompson played all 16 games last season after an injuries plagued him early in his career. He recorded 74 tackles , and one interception in 2017. Former UCONN prodigy Andrew Adams is at free safety. Adams played 14 games his rookie season and all 16 contests last year. Adams recorded 34 total tackles in 2017 with a pair of passes defended, so there still room for improvement. 2016 pro bowler Janoris Jenkins is a true number one corner when healthy. However, after the release of Dominique-Rogers Cromartie, there is no clear number two option at cornerback. All eyes point to Eli Apple. The former first round pick out of Ohio State has had a number of off field issues, and has yet to find a grove on the field as well. The good news is he is 23-years-old and only entering his third season. If he can be the first round talent New York took him 10th overall to be, it could make all the difference for this Giants season.
It is hard to figure where this Giants team is going to go this year. There are some strongpoints on this team, but also many weaknesses as well. Can a team that only won three games last year really return back to the playoffs in one season? Maybe the locker room was in such disarray last season that with a new coaching staff the Giants can return to the playoffs just like in 2016. With the first seven games against the Jaguars, Cowboys, Texans, Saints, Panthers, and Eagles, it can potentially be an 0-7 start. However, maybe this offensive pull out some shootouts to crank out some wins. John Mara and Dave Gettleman have built a team this year behind 37 year old Eli Manning to make the playoffs. Even if it does not seem like this team can pull it off, the Giants are not rebuilding, so Giants fans should have faith that they are still playing in January.