The recent history of the New York Giants has been very much “all or nothing.” The team’s two Super Bowl victories since 2008 gives them more championships than any other NFL team during that time, but New York has just one playoff appearance and no postseason wins in six of the last seven years.
Last season marked a third straight failed attempt at making the postseason, and the Giants’ 6-10 record was their worst since Eli Manning was a rookie. Tom Coughlin's squad came in third place in the NFC East, suffering a seven-game losing streak that began in Week 6 that spelled their undoing.
The Giants didn’t make any big splashes in the offseason, and the only headlines the team made was the shocking fireworks accident that cost Jason-Pierre Paul his right index finger. New York brought a familiar face back to run the defense, and there is hope their offense could be one of the best in football.
Here’s a breakdown of the Giants’ depth at every position, along with grades for each spot and an overall conclusion to how 2015 could play out.
Eli Manning had his share of struggles in 2014, but he had a bounce-back season despite playing in a new offensive system. After finding it difficult to adjust to offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offense, Manning should be more comfortable in 2015. The two-time Super Bowl MVP is expected to sign a new contract before the start of the season, and should only be focused on putting up big numbers and helping his team return to the playoffs. There isn't much depth behind Manning, though. Backup quarterback Ryan Nassib has only thrown five career passes, but Manning hasn’t missed a start since he was a rookie 11 years ago.
Manning's production has often been a result of his level of pass protection. When given time to throw, he is one of the best in the business. It wouldn't be surprising if the 34-year-old cuts down on his interceptions and throws for over 4,200 yards.
Odell Beckham Jr. has only played 12 games in his NFL career, but he might be the best playmaker in all of football. He continued to get better in each game as a rookie, and that should only continue this season. Beckham has the ability to catch passes most receivers wouldn’t even dream of trying to grab, and that skill set makes him a perfect fit for a quarterback like Manning. Victor Cruz is returning from a ruptured right patellar tendon, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll be the explosive receiver that he once was. But Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara has said Cruz looks faster than ever, and he has a chance to have a big year playing opposite Beckham. Rueben Randle could be a 1,000-yard receiver if he was the No.2 option.
Tight end Larry Donnell gives Manning a big target in the red zone, and he’s a tough cover at 6’6, though there are some concerns that an old Achilles injury that forced him to miss a large portion of OTAs could be an issue. Backup Daniel Fells can also be dangerous in the red zone.
After producing one of the NFL’s worst running games in 2014, one would think the Giants should be improved in 2015. But with only one significant change, there are questions surrounding the unit for the the upcoming season. Shane Vereen joins the backfield, and while he’s a threat to catch passes, the former New England Patriot has never even totaled 400 rushing yards in a year. Andre Williams should be improved in his second season, though he might not have what it takes to be a 1,000-yard back. Rashad Jennings is a good change of pace from Williams, but he’s not good enough to be the top rusher on a team with a strong ground game.
There aren’t enough carries to be split among the three rushers, and Williams and Jennings will likely split time running the ball. An improved offensive line might give them better numbers, but a lack of playmakers in the backfield will force the Giants to rely heavily on Manning’s arm.
Heading into training camp, it’s unknown what the Giants’ offensive line will look like in Week 1. New York selected Ereck Flowers No.9 overall, and they might be forced to start him at left tackle because of an injury that will force Will Beatty to miss at least one month. Flowers has been a pleasant surprise in OTAs, though his limitations coming out of college were likely to put him on the right side of the line during his rookie season before Beatty's injury. Marshall Newhouse, who was expected to start the season as a reserve, might now be slotted as the starting right tackle. Weston Richburg should be improved since he’s back at center after playing at left guard in 2014. Justin Pugh was moved from tackle to guard in May, and Geoff Schwartz could switch positions on the line as well.
With all that movement up front and a lack of depth, New York could have a lot of trouble in the first few weeks, and Manning may have another season without sufficient protection. The Giants' success may rest on whether the offensive line can both avoid more injuries and get strong seasons from not just Flowers and Newhouse, but also veteran John Jerry, first-year center Brett Jones and rookie Bobby Hart.
Jason Pierre-Paul seemed to be poised to have a big year, looking to earn a big contract in 2016. But since the defensive end lost a finger and suffered other injuries to his hand, the Giants can’t expect him to be a top pass rusher. He could be back for Week 1, but the injury will likely prevent him from playing in the preseason and he might even miss time during the regular season. Fortunately for New York, they have a lot of depth up front with a few solid defensive tackles. Robert Ayers and George Selvie will have success under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, and the team could get a breakout season from Damontre Moore, who might approach a double-digit sack total. Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins has a chance to make the Pro Bowl after a strong sophomore campaign, though the team may not have the pieces to be great against the run. General manager Jerry Reese is high on rookie defensive end Owa Odighizuwa, who was drafted in the third round.
The linebacking corps will likely be improved from last season. Devon Kennard is entering his second season, having earned a starting job on the outside with his play in 2014. Jon Beason would be key for New York if he stays healthy, but his recent injury history indicates that the the Giants can’t rely on the middle linebacker. Weakside linebacker J.T. Thomas was impressive in OTAs, and the new addition could be one of the biggest surprises on the team in 2015. Depth looks like a concern for this unit.
New York has an interesting dynamic in the secondary. The team is very strong at cornerback, but a lot of questions need to be answered regarding their safeties. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara will be healthy to start the year, giving the Giants one of the most talented pair of starting cornerbacks in the NFL. At safety, second-round draft pick Landon Collins is no guarantee to be productive in his rookie season, but he should be a more than adequate starter for New York. After Collins, the Giants will be in trouble, relying on Nat Berhe to start.
Depth will be an issue for New York. Not only is the team lacking in reserve talent in the secondary, but the Giants’ backup defensive backs are either in their first year with New York or they barely played for the team last year. Rookie Mykkele Thompson and Chykie Brown, who played under Spagnuolo with the Baltimore Ravens, could be the best of the group.
The Giants could have one of their best special teams units in recent years. One of New York’s biggest additions of the entire offseason was wide receiver Dwayne Harris, who was signed because of his impact in the return game. In addition to being a good return man, Harris is great in coverage, which will help the team immensely.
Both New York’s kicker and punter remain the same, and that’s a good thing for the team. Josh Brown is more than reliable when it comes to making field goals, and punter Steve Weatherford should have a bounce-back year after battling injuries in 2014.
Coughlin has been the team’s head coach for over a decade, but both of the Giants’ coordinators have changed in the last year. McAdoo’s new playbook was highly effective at times last year, and New York fans should understand why he was hired by the end of 2015, as the team could put up big numbers now that the adjustment period is over. Spagnuolo won a Super Bowl with the Giants, but that was eight seasons ago. Much like the team’s offense struggled in the first few games last year, New York’s defense could be shaky to start 2015. But Spagnuolo knows how to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and he should help the Giants dominate the trenches once again.
Coughlin is a borderline Hall of Fame coach, but another six-win season could be the end of his run with New York. Luckily for the Giants, the head coach knows how to deal with the pressure, having led them to a Super Bowl championship when he was seemingly on the hot seat just a few years ago.
The Giants certainly aren’t among the elite teams in the NFC, but a playoff berth is not out of the question. They have a chance to be an explosive offensive team with a veteran quarterback and a top wide receiving corps. New York’s secondary could struggle, especially if they suffer any significant injuries. But the team’s ultimate success could be determined by what has made them successful in the past: a strong passing game and an effective defensive line. The Giants will have trouble topping the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East, but a wild-card spot could be theirs for the taking.