By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson (with Contributions from Joe Zollo and Chris Tyler)
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What’s Murphy’s Law again? Anything that can go wrong will go wrong? That about sums up the New York Giants 2017 season. Just one season after going 11-5 and making the playoffs, the Giants found themselves picking 2nd in the 2018 NFL Draft – and not because they traded up. The struggles began with an opening week loss to the rival Dallas Cowboys. Then in Week 3, they suffered a 3-point loss to another rival, the Philadelphia Eagles, on a game-winning-as-time-expired 61-yard field goal from rookie kicker Jake Elliott. And the wheels officially came off when the Giants star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. suffered a season-ending ankle injury. They also lost nominal number two WR and free agent acquisition Brandon Marshall for the season and slot receiver Sterling Shepard for a few weeks, all in the same game.
Throughout the season the offense was a disaster, scoring the second fewest points in the league and producing the 7th worst rushing attack. Paul Perkins, the former UCLA star, was supposed to seize the lead back role but fell flat on his face, appearing in only seven games on offense and generating a whopping 90 yards rushing. For the sake of context, that’s an average of 12.86 yards per game. Rookie RB Wayne Gallman filled in down the stretch last season and showed promise, but without a strong offensive line, he was limited to only 476 rushing yards. The aforementioned offensive line finished as seventh worst according to Pro Football Focus, with Ereck Flowers having a particularly deplorable campaign. Behind that O-line, sans OBJ, Eli Manning finished as QB22 and threw only 19 TD passes. And oh by the way, he was benched in favor of Geno Smith for a game, causing his consecutive games started streak to end. All of this subsequently led to the dismissal of head coach Ben McAdoo.
Losing their star WR hurt, but the Giants’ issues ran deeper than that. Their defense, which ranked 10th in total defense in 2016 (good for a DST7 ranking in fantasy) finished 31st in 2017. Landon Collins, their star safety, made another Pro Bowl but the rest of the defense did little to resemble the fearsome unit of 2016. They had the 3rd-fewest sack total in the league with 27, only picked off 13 passes, and allowed a league-leading 32 passing TDs, more than double their 2016 total (15). The 2017 New York Giants would’ve struggled to beat the Little Giants. That’s how bad their season went.
|(Projected Starting Lineup)|
|QB3||(R) Kyle Lauletta||N/A||N/A|
|RB1||(R) Saquon Barkley||N/A||N/A|
|WR1||Odell Beckham Jr.||74.00||WR81|
|WR4||Cody Lattimer (w/ DEN)||61.70||WR93|
Rookies and Undrafted Free Agents to watch: RB Saquon Barkley
What do we make of Eli Manning as he enters his 15th season? New GM Dave Gettleman has said Eli is his QB and that he believes he has 2-3 more good years left. That’s some good ish that Gettleman is smoking if he truly believes that. In 2017, Manning ranked 22nd in completion percentage (61.6), 15th in passing yards (3,468), 35th in yards per attempt (6.1), 18th in TDs (19), and 7th in INTs (13). If you’re an Eli defender, you’ll likely look to his league-leading 43 dropped passes, but come on, don’t kid yourself. His fantasy finishes from 2015 to 2017 are QB8, QB20, and QB22. In other words, he’s been trending down for two years and everyone but his GM seems to realize it.
With the Giants sitting at number 2 in the 2018 NFL Draft, there was some speculation they may look to draft a QB of the future since they rarely pick that high. Well, they didn’t, instead taking a RB with the 2nd overall pick. I guess Gettleman really does believe in Manning. He did however take a developmental QB in Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta in the 4th round to compete with last year’s 3rd round pick Davis Webb. Basically, Manning gets to start his streak over and hope that with healthy weapons around him and an improved offensive line — they did select UTEP’s Will Hernandez in the second round to bolster the interior of the line — he can get the Giants offense to at least the middle of the pack. I think Manning can squeeze out 3,700 passing yards and 22 TDs, but I won’t be shocked if he throws 15 INTs either. Lauletta likely wins the back up job — I wasn’t impressed with Webb in college or during last year’s preseason — and gets first crack in the event Manning gets hurt or is ineffective to the point of yet another benching. Lauletta should be a Dynasty investment, if anything because of the offensive pieces in place on the team, but it’s hard to project if he’ll be a viable starter in the NFL without seeing him during preseason and in regular season games. Draft and stash, folks.
Giants RBs combined to score 316.2 fantasy points last year. If that had been one running back, they would have finished as RB3. Alas, you should only be starting one RB from each team — unless you have Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, in which case you won’t see me criticize your lineup decisions — and when the best Giants’ RB finished as RB41, well, it’s safe to say you have a problem. New GM Dave Gettleman seems to agree with me, which is why he went out and signed RB Jonathan Stewart in free agency to be their new lead back. The 30-year old Stewart is —
Oh what the hell. None of you care about Stewart. He’s old, washed up, and hasn’t had a 1,000 yard rushing season since Trump was just a billionaire telling people “you’re fired!” I mean, he’s still doing that but you get the point. There’s a connection with Stewart as he played for the Panthers, whom Gettleman was once the GM. But that was before the NFL Draft. Basically, Stewart is waiver wire fodder moving forward. See, the Giants went and drafted a RB this year. And he’s expected to do some BIG things for Big Blue.
Penn State RB Saquon Barkley is a stud. In three years for the Nittany Lions, Barkley never rushed for less than 1,000 yards or averaged less than 5.5 yards per carry. He also totaled more than 1,000 yards receiving over those three seasons. He’s great on 3rd downs but needs to clean up his pass protection. Barkley is expected to start the season as the Giants’ number one running back and produce quickly. The Giants still have last year’s 4th round pick Wayne Gallman, who was their best RB at the end of the season and should serve as a solid compliment to Barkley when Stewart gets benched/released at some point this season. (Don’t kid yourself. It’s happening folks.) It’s also safe to assume Paul Perkins won’t have much of a role in this offense going forward. If you were hanging on to him in Dynasty, you have my permission to cut ties and hope you have the number one pick to steal Barkley from the rest of your league.
The Giants worked to improve their offensive line this offseason, signing LT Nate Solder away from the Patriots and drafting UTEP G Will Hernandez. Hernandez is a better pass blocker than run blocker, but hey, Barkley in space is something special to watch. The dude is 230 pounds and runs a 4.4 40. I would look for Barkley to eclipse 1,100 rushing yards this year with 8 TDs, adding another 45 catches for 500 yards and 3 TDs. The sad part? I think those are conservative numbers. He’s a top 10 RB in 2018 and will hold considerable value as he gains more experience. Gallman is the real handcuff — you’re not drafting Stewart unless Gallman suffers an injury — in the event of a Barkley injury. I doubt Gallman picks up anything more than 50 carries this year, gaining around 225 yards and a score. All told, this is a drastically different Giants backfield from a year ago, one that fantasy owners will actually want something to do with.
At one point last year, the Giants were trotting out guys from their practice squad to catch passes from Eli Manning. Have I mentioned their season was a disaster? They had exactly one WR last year top 100 fantasy points. Sterling Shepard was the Giants’ saving grace as he was the only competent WR on the roster. Super-duper-star WR Odell Beckham Jr. was lost during Week 5 — as was recently released Brandon Marshall — so it was all up to Shepard. He made due, en route to a WR37 finish. In a world of weird coincidences, last year marked two straight years Shepard has finished as WR37, albeit scoring 29 fewer fantasy points in 2017.
But let’s get to what matters. OBJ is healed from his ankle injury and playing for a lucrative extension. Before his injury, OBJ was averaging 18.5 fantasy points per contest. Extrapolate that over a full season and OBJ finishes right where we had him ranked heading into the season, as WR3 overall. The only statistical decline OBJ will see is the result of injury. Add TE Evan Engram to the offense? Cool. Bring in the electric rookie RB Barkley? Whatever. OBJ is still what makes the offense tick and who Manning will look for early and often because he knows what OBJ is capable of doing with the football in his hands. Before last year’s injury, OBJ never had a season with less than 1,300 yards and 10 TDs. I don’t care how many more weapons you put around him, he’s still going to put up those types of numbers, making him a top 5 option at WR for 2018 and beyond. Look for another 90 catches, 1,300 yards and 11 TDs to keep OBJ in the conversation of most dynamic WR in all of football.
Shepard plays primarily out of the slot (83.8% of his routes) and if he can play a full season after missing five games in 2017, I expect him to be the team’s second leading receiver. Shepard should set career highs in receiving yards, eclipsing last year’s 731, with a slight increase in TDs, likely around 5. He’ll have competition for targets, as Barkley is a skilled pass catcher out of the backfield and 2nd-year TE Engram is a mismatch for defenses in the middle of the field. In an under the radar signing, the Giants also brought in former Broncos WR Cody Latimer this offseason. By season’s end, he could be their number three option at WR, overtaking Roger Lewis. Lewis was their number two option with all the injuries a year ago. Manning will have no shortage of pass catchers this year. Well, barring injury of course.
I have to say, I wasn’t sold on Evan Engram last year. My colleague Joe pegged him as one of his sleepers entering 2017 and boy did he look a lot smarter than me on that one. (You may stop gloating now, Joe.) Engram finished as TE4 in 2017, telling everyone it doesn’t matter how little you block because fantasy points aren’t earned by blocking. Of course, with the rash of injuries to the Giants’ WR corps, Engram was forced to take on a bigger role than likely anticipated. The biggest outlier to an otherwise sensational debut was his drop rate. Out of 75 catchable passes, Engram dropped 11. That’s a drop rate of 14.67%, easily the worst among TEs. What will Engram do for an encore? Hopefully drop less passes, but he has separated himself as one of the elite options in fantasy at the TE position, behind Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, and Zach Ertz. I would expect around 57 receptions for close to 680 yards and 6 TDs this year, accounting for a fully healthy OBJ and the insertion of Barkley into the offense. That will keep him in top 5 territory going off last year’s total scores. Fantasy owners just want more consistency from him as he delivered six games under 10 points, with two of those contests during the fantasy playoffs. That may be difficult with all the additions, but I have faith. I’m in on Engram this year.
Rookie to Watch
Will Hernandez may not directly impact your fantasy team, but he certainly will leave his mark. The reason Barkley is going to be talked about is because of Hernandez’s ability to create running lanes. The UTEP guard is an intense run-blocker and his film proves it. Hernandez is going to help improve that offensive line which will help not only Barkley in the backfield but also protect Manning when he drops back to pass.
Cody Latimer played his first four seasons as a Denver Bronco and now joins Big Blue as their number three WR. He has played behind Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in Denver and will continue to play behind bigger names, like OBJ and Sterling Shepard. Last year was Latimer’s career high in every single category and he should be a WR to look at with his 6’2 frame and athletic ability to create separation, especially against smaller defenders.
2018 Loose Ends
With all those lofty projections for offensive playmakers I just outlined, it sounds like Manning will be a top 15 option at QB in 2018. If only you could hear the laughing in my head. Stay far away from Manning, not even as a QB2. Hell, I’m not sure I’d roster him in a 2 QB league. OBJ and Barkley will likely be chosen in the first two rounds, Engram will be one of five TEs taken between rounds three and six, and Shepard will likely be drafted between round seven and eleven. No other Giants should be drafted unless you’re looking to handcuff Barkley with Gallman or you want to take a flier on Latimer in deep leagues. He has the size to be a difference-maker, especially in the red zone. What about the Giants D/ST unit? A year after finishing as the worst defense in fantasy and two years after a top 10 finish and a few months after trading their leading sack artist, I think they could finish in the top 25. That enough confidence for you? Here’s a few other tidbits I found interesting about players you’re likely to target come draft day:
- Evan Engram ran only 25.4% of his routes from the slot.
- Former Giants RB Orleans Darkwa had 10 rushes exceed 15 yards. No current Giants RB had more than 6 (Jonathan Stewart).
- Saquon Barkley had more than 56% of his total yards gained on rushes of more than 15 yards, 3rd among incoming rookies.
- Odell Beckham Jr. had six drops last year, for a 19.35% drop rate.
- Eli Manning had the worst accuracy in the NFL on deep passes (26.7%) and worst QB rating (38.8). Of his 60 passes that eclipsed 20 yards, 8 went in the direction of OBJ, who caught 2 for 90 yards and 1 TD. Manning completed only 12 more deep passes the rest of the season.
- For comparison’s sake, in 2016 with a healthy OBJ, Manning had 78 attempts, leading to 23 completions. 30 went in the direction of OBJ, who caught 8 for 286 yards and 1 TD.
|New York Giants|
|6||10/11 (Thurs)||vs PHI|
|7||10/22 (Mon)||@ ATL|
|9||** BYE WEEK **|
|10||11/12 (Mon)||@ SF|