The competition to watch this offseason will be for the third wide receiver spot.
John Schmeelk: Fiction – Given that we don’t know what players are going to be on the roster at what positions, this is a little premature. But I’ll have to go with the offensive line. Jerry Reese made a point about Ereck Flowers in his postseason press conference that is key to all this: “It is time for him to show us the fruits of being a first round draft pick, and I still think he has a chance to do that. We will evaluate that. Is he the left tackle? Should he be in a different position? We will evaluate that. But I do think that he is a big, strong kid who has a chance to be a really good player, so I still believe he has a chance to be a good player.”
After reading that I would have to assume there will be some level of competition at one of the offensive line positions. Given the team’s struggles protecting the quarterback on longer drop-backs and the inconsistency running the ball, I will have to go with the offensive line. Whatever happens there will have a much bigger impact on how the team plays this year than the third wide receiver spot.
Dan Salomone: Fact. A new chapter begins without Victor Cruz. Now the Giants move ahead with Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard as the primary targets, but who will be No. 3? Roger Lewis and Tavarres King flashed at times last season, and the Giants will need someone to step up to bring the passing game’s numbers back to 2014 and 2015 levels. That was the most surprising setback of 2016 for the Giants. The third wide receiver will be key in making sure it was just a blip and not a trend.
Lance Medow: Fact – As the roster stands right now, this is by far the competition to watch. In the wake of the team releasing Victor Cruz, the opportunity to claim more reps next season is there for players such as Tavarres King and Roger Lewis. Those two combined for just nine receptions, 147 receiving yards and two touchdowns in 2016, but King had three catches for 73 yards, highlighted by a 41-yard touchdown reception, in the wild card playoff game against the Packers. It’s easy to overlook the third receiver spot given how teams utilize running backs and tight ends, but even though Cruz’s numbers didn’t jump off the page this past season, he made many critical catches that changed the momentum of the game. Competition on the offensive line and at tight end will also be battles to watch, but given the transactions thus far, the third receiver spot is atop the list.
Paul Perkins will lead the Giants’ backfield in touches this season.
John Schmeelk: Fact – If you haven’t noticed, I am officially on the Paul Perkins bandwagon. He makes people miss with the ball in his hands. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He improved his pass protection as the season went along. He is sharp mentally. Shane Vereen will still be a factor on third downs as a receiver, but I see no reason Perkins can’t be the team’s primary running back on first and second downs. If you want to compliment him with a power back for short yardage, that’s fine, but I would be surprised if he didn’t win a big role during the spring or summer.
Dan Salomone: Fact. Even before the release of Rashad Jennings, the Giants turned to rookie Paul Perkins, who led the team in carries for the final month of the season. Things could change with the draft and free agency but, as of now, it looks to be his show on the ground. Perkins proved to be more effective as his number of touches increased down the stretch, culminating in his first 100-yard game in the regular season finale against a desperate Washington team.
Lance Medow: Fact – Paul Perkins flashed late in 2016, but it’s important to note that in each of the last four games of the regular season, he received double-digit carries. In two of those contests, he had more touches than Rashad Jennings, and in another contest, it was an equal timeshare. Based on his workload and production down the stretch of the season, Perkins has been groomed to take on a much bigger role in 2017. Although some question whether he can be a workhorse, let’s not forget he averaged nearly 20 carries a game in each of his last two seasons at UCLA. Perkins also has the versatility to catch the ball out of the backfield, so he can be a three-down back and won’t lose touches because he can’t be on the field for specific plays or downs. He only had 15 receptions in 2016, but there’s plenty of room for that number to go up next season.
Shane Vereen returning from injury is the key factor for the offense in 2017.
John Schmeelk: Fiction – Shane Vereen is an important factor, sure, but not the key factor. Putting the offensive line aside since I wrote about that earlier, I’ll point out two other factors I think are more important. The first is the running game. The easiest way to beat the two-safety deep coverages the Giants saw last season is to run the football and force an additional safety into the box. The Giants were one of the worst first down running teams in the league, which creates a domino effect resulting in other issues. That’s the most important thing to get on track this season. The second most important thing is to develop a deep passing game down the middle of the field. The Giants need a consistent target who can catch the ball down the seams and between the hash marks. A weapon in that area of the field makes it harder for safeties to get outside to help deep on the wide receivers. It can be a tight end or a big wide receiver, but it needs to happen.
Dan Salomone: Fact. In 2015, his first year with the Giants, Vereen was second to only Odell Beckham Jr. in receptions. Vereen is especially dangerous on third down and in the two-minute drill, two areas where the Giants felt his absence in 2016. Aside from his play on the field, Vereen is the ultimate professional. The Giants will lean on his veteran presence with the departure of Victor Cruz.
Lance Medow: Fiction – If you want to focus on a player returning from injury who can give the offense a boost, then it starts with fullback Will Johnson, who was injured last preseason and placed on injured reserve. Johnson was signed last offseason after serving as a fullback/tight end in Pittsburgh for four seasons. His versatility as a blocker and receiver could be a key factor in helping the run game become much more consistent in 2017. Vereen’s absence last season should not be minimized, but both Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins were capable of catching the ball out of the backfield. I think a blocker, like Johnson, could have a much bigger impact on the offense in 2017.
The Giants will draft a wide receiver or tight end in the first three rounds.
John Schmeelk: Fact – With the departure of Victor Cruz and a lack of consistent production at tight end last year, I think the Giants will target a wide receiver in the first three rounds of the draft. It is a particularly deep draft at the tight end position, and there will likely be at least two taken in the first round. The NFL has evolved into a league where it’s important to have a tight end who can punish teams for putting a linebacker on him. If the Giants can procure a weapon like that on the first two days of the draft, it could be a real difference-maker in the offense. In the past, Jerry Reese has also put premium value on outside weapons. Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, Rueben Randle, Jerrel Jernigan, Steve Smith, Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks were all picked in the first three rounds. Since 2007, there have only been three drafts where the Giants haven’t picked a wide receiver in the first three rounds of the draft. Why not again?
Dan Salomone: Fact. They have done so in four of the last six drafts, but there is always room for more. You need all the weapons you can get in this league, and we have seen the immediate impact that can come from these positions with Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard. The offense never fully clicked last season, and another infusion of talent at wide receiver or tight end could help that moving forward.
Lance Medow: Fact – Last year, the Giants took Sterling Shepard in the second round and received a nice return on their investment. When you take that into consideration, plus the departure of Victor Cruz, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Giants grab a wide receiver in the first three rounds. As for tight end, keep in mind, the Giants have not taken a player at that position in the first three rounds since they selected Visanthe Shiancoe in the third round in 2003. Based on the team’s track record and the fact that there is some depth at tight end in this year’s draft, I think there’s a greater chance they draft a wide receiver rather than a tight end in the first three rounds.