Team Giants


Special Report

Sent: 03-31-22

Dave Klein was the Giants' beat writer for The Star-Ledger from 1961 to 1995.
He is the author of 26 books and he was one of only three sportswriters to have covered all the Super Bowls up until last year. Dave has allowed TEAM GIANTS to reprint some of his articles.

In this episode, our Scott Landstrom delves deeply into positional areas that must be improved - and ones he feels have been, or will be, improved. Overall, he paints an optimistic picture of a team beginning to right itself, and roots for clear and level-headed decisions that will further the growth.

By Scott Landstrom
Well, Giants Nation, the utterly mismanaged salary cap situation that Dave Gettleman left the team with reminds me of a famous picture of an exhausted firefighter standing next to a totally burned down home with only the stone fireplace still standing. In other words, the only thing saved from the inferno was something that can't burn anyway. Gettleman managed the "daily double" of not only putting a woeful 4-13 team on the field that was even worse than that in the final six games, but he did it while running up a "bill" that left the team significantly OVER the Salary Cap at the same time for the 2022 season.

He put together a horrible "product" on the field, and then signed ridiculous contracts to grossly overpay too many players going forward. So because of that, new GM Joe Schoen has had to go "bargain shopping" when it comes to adding new free agents. But given such ridiculously tight constraints bequeathed him by his bumbling predecessor, I think it is reasonable to expect the Giants to be tangibly better than their woeful 2021 state at several positions - some due to free agents signed, some due to players returning from a disastrous injury year, and some due to 2022 draft choices likely to be added.

Thus, I identified NINE positions where I expect the 2022 team to be significantly improved over their 2021 level at that position. Let's review my logic, shall we, and then you can decide whether I am "whistling past the graveyard" and deluding myself, or if, in fact, I make a cogent case for each? Positions where I am forecasting improvement in the coming season are as follows:

1) Right Guard: Mark Glowinski replacing Will Hernandez: This one is a "no-brainer." Hernandez was the 43rd rated guard out of 53 "qualified" guards with at least 700 snaps. His 33 "QB pressures" allowed was top-15 for most, and his 7.0 sacks allowed were exceeded by only four guards in the league.
His overall season grade of 55.9 included scores in the 50's in BOTH run and pass blocking, so Will was poor at both phases of playing the position. Glowinski's season performance grade in Pro Football Focus was a healthy 70.1. Only 16 guards in the NFL graded higher with at least 700 snaps played. Moreover, "the light came on" for him after his sixth game played, because in his final 10 games, constituting 239 pass blocking sets, he allowed 1.0 QB hit, and 1.0 QB sack, and that's all.
In 10 games. Oh, and if you are reading this, Mr. Saquon Barkley, his run-blocking grade of 70.6 was some 14 points higher than last year's starter Hernandez, so pop some champagne if you wish

2) Center: Some combination of Nick Gates and John Feliciano replaces Billy Price: Billy Price was obtained from the Bengals in a straight-up trade for defensive tackle B.J. Hill, yet another idiotic trade by Mr. Gettleman in a long and storied line of them. Hill did so well his team made the Super Bowl, and he was rewarded with a three-year, $30 M extension after last season.
Price, after rating 19th out of 26 "qualified" centers in overall season grade (62.3), and 23rd out of 26 in pass blocking grade (52.5) - is currently a free agent. Pretty much tells you how one-sided that trade was. Meanwhile, Gates, who was lost for the season early in Week Two to a dual-bone broken lower leg (having had that exact injury, I can attest that it is a full year rehab) but was a converted tackle who seemed to "figure it out" in his final four games of 2020, earning a stellar average pass-blocking grade during those games of 76.5.
But he probably won't be ready for Week One, which means Feliciano will be hiking the ball, a position he has always wanted to play and the Giants coaches (three of whom were with Feliciano's team last season, the Bills) believe he has some potential playing there. But I still hold out hope that "mauler" Gates, elected as a team captain last season by teammates for his physicality and leadership, can return to play again before too long.

3) Right Tackle: One of the top four rookie tackles in the draft replacing Nate Solder: I mean this one is even more of a slam-dunk than the upgrade at right guard. Solder was a classic case of a player who was once elite and then hung around about three years too many. Out of 54 qualified offensive tackles, Solder's season grade was 47th, better than only seven players in the league with "qualified" snaps played (60.3).
Oh, and his pass-blocking specific grade was even lower than that (52.7) which placed him 49th out of all tackles, better than only four of them. If the Giants don't take an elite tackle, and this draft is "rich" with four of them in this draft (Evan Neal, Alabama; Charles Cross, Mississippi State; Ikem Ekwonu, North Carolina State; and Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa), there should be an FBI investigation. Having one of these thoroughbred, top-of-the-draft tackles step over the embarrassingly "low bar" that Solder set last season should be an absolute piece of cake.

4) Running Back: "Healthy Saquon" replaces "Coming off major knee surgery" Saquon: If you really look at it, Barkley came back after both ACL and MCL surgeries and slowly began to gain confidence and bravado in the first three games of last season. Then came the Saints' game, and he was finally "back," it seemed, with 126 yards of total offense and both a rushing and receiving touchdown. Then, the very next week, he stepped on a Dallas defender's foot and rolled his ankle so badly that I had to look away when they panned to the trainers working on it, and it appeared someone had surgically implanted a baseball in the side of his ankle, under the skin.
"Grotesquely swollen" is the proper descriptor, and the high ankle sprain stayed with him throughout the rest of the 12 games last season. As long as Schoen doesn't make his first galling error and give up on the young man from Penn State before he can show us that he is indeed back to being the "Sa-Quads" we remember from two seasons ago.

5) Quarterback: Daniel Jones finally gets some HELP: As Giants' co-owner John Mara said at one point this off-season "We have basically done just about everything to ruin him thus far!" As described above, Jones has a MUCH upgraded line in front of him, a healthy Barkley to hand off to, and THREE absolute "QB Gurus" to help him unlock all that athletic ability in Head Coach Brian Daboll (Josh Allen), Offensive Coordinator Mike Kafka (Patrick Mahomes), and QB Coach Shea Tierney (Josh Allen).
Additionally, the M*A*S*H Unit that was his receivers group CANNOT possibly be as devastated as it was last season, and the thought here is much less emphasis on "padded practices" (a Joe Judge favorite) will help make that happen.
Color me fascinated to see what uber-talented first round draft choice last season Kadarius Toney can do if he plays the great majority of games, rather than the eight in which he got more than five snaps to his rash of injuries and problems. There were times last season when Toney flashed glimpses of a guy who was simply "uncoverable" (see: Dallas game, setting a rookie franchise record of 189 yards receiving), and the team hasn't had a receiver like that since the heyday of OBJ. Add all this up, and Jones will be greatly better as the pieces around him are improved and back to health, and the three coaches who are mentoring are collectively - in my opinion - the most savvy group coaching any quarterback anywhere in the league in Daboll, Kafka, and Tierney.

6) Tight End: The "Evan Engram Saga" draws to a merciful end, replaced by Ricky Seals-Jones: At one point last season, I can't recall which game it was, during a home contest at MetLife Stadium, Evan Engram fumbled away the very first ball he touched, and that was all this crowd could tolerate - after a career seemingly highlighted by batted balls for interceptions, lost fumbles and just pure "drops." From that point forward, he was booed mercilessly by his home crowd every time he touched the ball and cheered every time he left the game.
A national analyst at the game called the relationship "mutually toxic" and I think he was absolutely correct. Engram was sick of being booed, and the fans were sick of his turnover-prone performance as a first round draft pick. Think they were being unfair to the kid?
Guess where PFF ranked Engram for his entire body of work for the 2021 season among 35 qualified tight ends with at least 50 targets? How about 35th - and that would be DFL, folks. Dead last. Seals-Jones, while no one's idea as the second coming of John Mackey, is an upgrade in every phase of the game except running speed. He is taller (6-5), bigger (247 pounds), is a better run blocker by 7.0 points rating, is a better pass blocker by 12.5 points rating, and had a better overall grade by 9.0 full points.
And God knows he has better "hands" than Engram when it comes to catching passes - how could he not? But for the record, Engram dropped five passes, Seals-Jones dropped two. And Ricky is not nearly as prone to fumbling once in possession of the ball (ditto - Engram fumbled three times, Seals-Jones not a solitary time).
Yes, he is not going to rival Travis Kelce or George Kittle for league dominance at the position, but he is not going to LOSE games the way that Engram so often did. When the guy you are replacing was rated the worst starting TE in the NFL, the chance you will be an improvement certainly seems like a "slam dunk" to me.

7) Punter: Riley Dixon is released, replaced by Jamie Gillan: As a fellow Syracuse alum, it pains me to admit that former Orange football player Dixon, who not long ago was a top-10 punter, has dropped consistently in each of the last three seasons. His 51.2 season grade was good enough for 26th out of 30 qualified punters, and there has to be a number of free agents and kids coming out of college who can be an upgrade over that poor performance.
Not only was Dixon bad, but he was bad at all the worst times in close games, it seems. Meanwhile, the current "successor" on the depth chart is Gillan, known by the awesome nickname of "The Scottish Hammer." He has a powerful leg from his training in rugby, so that loud "thumping noise" you hear at summer camp this year will likely be "The Hammer" testing his technique and forcefully compressing the football with his instep.
And yes, he is really from Scotland, heavy brogue accent and all. And at 6-1, 207 pounds, one of the largest punters in the league, and with a rough-and-tumble rugby background, he just might be surprisingly helpful now and then on "punt coverage" as a bonus.

8) "Mike" Linebacker: Blake Martinez returns from injury to send Tae Crowder to the bench: In fact, upon consideration, I vote for Crowder to be "sent packing" and waived from the team. The previous season, the superlative Martinez was the third highest rated MLB in the entire league, behind only Bobby Wagner of Seattle (now the L.A. Rams), and Fred Warner of the Niners.
When Blake was lost for the season early in New York's Week Two game with Washington on a "no contact" ACL tear in which no player touched him, Tae Crowder was elevated to starting middle linebacker. To say he FAILED this test is an understatement, as among 58 qualified linebackers (PFF does not distinguish between middle, weak-side and strong-side linebackers, but merges them all together) Crowder - incredibly - finished in the bottom four of all 58 players in overall grade (his 29.7 was DFL), run defense (his 28.4 was third worst) and pass coverage (his 34.8 tied for fourth worst).
Oh, and he had a season total of ZERO QB sacks. So other than stopping the run, covering the pass, and rushing the passer, Crowder was a real dynamo! If Martinez returns to anything close his previous elite form, the team may see over 45 points of performance grade improvement at this vital position for a 4-3 defense, and that is like going from your first baseman hitting three home runs to 35.

9) "Free" Safety Xavier McKinney will be improved after his first full season: Remember, McKinney had to sit out the first 10 games of his rookie season due to a broken foot in training camp. By the time he returned, Jabrill Peppers and Logan Ryan were "entrenched" as the starting defensive safeties, relegating McKinney to a "part time" role.
Last season, he started from game one, and his 1,134 snaps played was more than all but four safeties in the NFL. And as the season went on, the game seemed to be "slowing down" for McKinney - as he had not one but two games in which he recorded multiple interceptions.
His ability to read the quarterback's eyes and track the ball in the air all seemed to take a quantum leap in effectiveness, and his interception levels reflected that. In fact, his five total "picks" tied for the NFL lead among safeties with four other players. Count me as one analyst who thinks that the "education" McKinney got playing his first full season as a starter in the NFL will prepare him to flourish even more in the 2022 season in a "ball-hawking" Wink Martindale defensive system.

So there you have it. Nine positions where I expect the 2022 Giants to see significant improvements in performance. Six on offense (and let's face it, they damned well better be improved in many areas on that side of the ball), one on special teams, and two on defense. When you break it down, if we include both kickers, there are 24 total positions on the combined offense/defense/special teams, and I am saying that over one third of them are going to be markedly improved.
Given all the high draft choices the team has next month (I am only counting on one in this analysis: right tackle), that number of nine improved positions could easily go to 10 or 11 if they get a stud edge-rusher to compliment Azeez Ojulari and his 8.0 QB sacks rookie season, or a top strong safety like Notre Dame star Kyle Hamilton.
And let's face facts - after losing every one of their final six games by double-digits, it says here they can certainly profit and finally be more competitive after many years of competitive "darkness" if these quantum leaps of playing levels can be realized at so many different positions on the field in 2022.

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