Eli Manning currently has the best group of weapons in his career.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact – The 2006 group of Plaxico Burress, Jeremy Shockey, Amani Toomer and Tiki Barber are in consideration here, but the team didn’t have a significant third wide receiver, so they lose out. The 2011 group is next but after Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs/Ahmad Bradshaw, the team didn’t have a good enough tight end. Manning has never had three wide receivers as good as Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard. I think Paul Perkins has the ability to be just as good as any of Manning’s running backs not named Tiki Barber. Even though he is just a rookie, Evan Engram should be his best receiving weapon at tight end since Jeremy Shockey.
DAN SALOMONE: Fiction – In 2011, Eli Manning came 67 yards short of the hallowed 5,000-yard season. He still set the franchise’s single-season record that year with a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Victor Cruz (set the franchise record with 1,536 receiving yards) and Hakeem Nicks. Cruz propelled them to the playoffs, and Nicks took over from there. Nicks’ 444 yards are the second-most in a single postseason in NFL history. And then who can forget Mario Manningham’s sideline grab late in Super Bowl XLVI? Or what about tight end Jake Ballard finishing third on the team with 604 receiving yards and four touchdowns, including one with 15 seconds remaining in Foxborough to end Tom Brady’s 31-game winning streak at home in the regular season. That group got it done, and that’s what matters the most.
LANCE MEDOW: Fiction – It’s hard for me to say this is Eli Manning’s best group of weapons when they have yet to play one game. On paper, it looks great with three dynamic receivers (Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard), a versatile rookie tight end in Evan Engram, and a young running back who showed some flashes late last season in Paul Perkins, but paper doesn’t always translate to the field. I think Eli’s best group of weapons was in the 2011 season when he had a trio of wideouts in Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham; Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs in the backfield; and a young tight end in Jake Ballard who, despite not being a household name, posted respectable numbers. The 2007 team had more “names” but they all weren’t in the prime of their careers (Amani Toomer, Plaxico Burress) and a few were sidelined due to injury for stretches, including Steve Smith and Jeremy Shockey. And like Smith, Bradshaw was just a rookie.
The division with the best wide receivers/tight ends is the NFC East.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact –The AFC North is in the mix here with AJ Green and Antonio Brown, but the Ravens’ and Browns’ weak rosters at that position takes them out of the mix. The NFC North and West aren’t even close, nor is the AFC East. The NFC South has Julio Jones, Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Kelvin Benjamin and Michael Thomas, but the loss of Brandin Cooks has them falling just short of the NFC East. The AFC South has some good wide receivers in DeAndre Hopkins, T.Y. Hilton, Allen Robinson, and now Corey Davis, but the group isn’t deep enough. The AFC West has Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Tyreek Hill, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Keenan Allen. It’s strong but still doesn’t match up to the group of Odell Beckham Jr, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, Alshon Jeffery, Terrelle Pryor, Jameson Crowder and Jordan Matthews. That doesn’t even count the NFC East tight ends, which are the best in the league with Jason Witten, Zach Ertz, Jordan Reed and now Evan Engram.
DAN SALOMONE: Fact – All four teams have a headliner, if not two or even three. The Giants added the No. 2 active receiver in the league in Brandon Marshall to Odell Beckham Jr., who’s off to one of the best three-year starts in the history of the game. The Eagles now have Alshon Jeffery. The Redskins signed Terrelle Pryor and have a Pro Bowler at tight end in Jordan Reed. Meanwhile, the Cowboys boast one of the best tight ends ever to suit up in Jason Witten to go along with three-time Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant.
LANCE MEDOW: Fact – The only other division that comes close to challenging the NFC East is the NFC North where each team has a solid threat at tight end with Zach Miller (Bears), Eric Ebron (Lions), Martellus Bennett (Packers) and Kyle Rudolph (Vikings). However, while the Packers and Vikings boast formidable receiving corps, the Bears have question marks and the Lions don’t have a great deal of depth behind Golden Tate and Marvin Jones. All four NFC East teams go at least three deep at wide receiver: Giants (Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard); Cowboys (Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley); Eagles (Alshon Jeffery, Jordan Matthews, Torrey Smith); Redskins (Terrelle Pryor, Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson). With the exception of the Giants, who will be leaning on this year’s first round pick Evan Engram at tight end, the three other division rivals have polished vets in Jason Witten (Cowboys), Zach Ertz (Eagles) and Jordan Reed (Redskins).
The Giants will finish with the No. 1 rushing defense in 2017.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction –I’m not arguing the Giants don’t have one of the best or the best rushing defense in the league, because they do. Predicting they will finish tops in the league is just too tough to do. So many things can affect the way a team finishes in rush defense, like game situations. Other teams may not have opponents run against them nearly as much because there are more blowouts. There are just too many unknown variables to predict they will be number one. I am confident they will be top three. Last year, the Giants finished tied for third in yards per game with the Patriots, and third in yards per carry. There’s no reason that shouldn’t continue this year. Given the team’s high-powered offense, which might put opposing teams in catch-up mode a lot more, it might end up even better.
DAN SALOMONE: Fact – In Steve Spagnuolo’s first year back as defensive coordinator in 2015, the system was new to all of the players. In 2016, the system wasn’t new, but a lot of the core players were. In 2017, the defense finally has continuity. With the exception of defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, whom the Giants found a likely successor for in second-round pick Dalvin Tomlinson, the defense returns all of its starters from a year ago when it finished tied for third in fewest rushing yards allowed. Spags is putting an emphasis on a faster start for the defense this season, and if his guys can do so, there’s no reason they can’t be No. 1.
LANCE MEDOW: Fiction – Last season, the Giants finished tied for the third in the NFL against the run by surrendering just 88.6 yards per game, so it’s certainly not a stretch to say they have a shot at being the top rushing defense this coming season. With that being said, while the heart of last season’s defense is still intact, you can’t overlook the loss of Johnathan Hankins in free agency. He was one of the team’s top run stoppers, and although this year’s second round pick Dalvin Tomlinson has potential to fill that void, expecting a rookie to step in immediately and perform at the same level as Hankins may be putting expectations a bit too high. The Giants will be showcasing a new middle linebacker on early downs, so that change needs to be taken into consideration as well.
Out of the Giants’ Day 3 draft picks, running back Wayne Gallman will play the most.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction – I think Gallman will play a bit, but I think Avery Moss will get a few more snaps on the defensive line. Steve Spagnuolo likes to rotate his guys and Moss has the size to be a run-stuffer at end on early downs and rush the passer from the three technique on third downs. I think he will be a big part of the rotation by the second half of the season.
DAN SALOMONE: Fiction – Ben McAdoo named Paul Perkins as the starting running back for first and second downs, and Shane Vereen is one of the league’s best weapons on third down and in the two-minute drill. So that doesn’t leave too many snaps for the rest of the backs. So the pick that really interested me on Day 3 was defensive end Avery Moss from Youngstown State. Olivier Vernon played the most snaps of any NFL defensive lineman last year, and Jason Pierre-Paul played at a similar rate until suffering an injury. The Giants will look to take some of the burden off if they can find a reliable third option in the rotation. Let’s see if Moss can be that player.
LANCE MEDOW: Fact – I don’t think Wayne Gallman is going to have a major role right from the start, given the other running backs on the roster, especially Paul Perkins and Shane Vereen. But compared to defensive end Avery Moss and offensive tackle Adam Bisnowaty, I think Gallman is in position to receive more playing time, even when it comes to special teams. Last season, before Perkins took over as the starting running back, his biggest contribution was as a coverage man on special teams. I think Gallman can take on a similar role, especially with Perkins now in line to be the starting back. Moss will have to compete with a variety of other linemen to carve out a role, while Bisnowaty is likely to serve as a backup.