In Year 1 with head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, the New York Giants made huge strides on offense, finishing 15th in the league in scoring after ranking 31st in 2021.
Can the Giants continue to take steps forward on offense? Let’s take a look at where things stand now that the offseason program has concluded.
Current list — Daniel Jones, Tyrod Taylor, Tommy DeVito
The big question
Will Daniel Jones continue to rise?
The Giants are betting on it. They gave him $81 million guaranteed over the next two seasons to find out if Jones’ impressive 2022 season was the best he can be or if it suggested he can play even better and take the Giants even further .
Jones had the best and most efficient season of his career in 2022. However, he still only had 3,205 yards passing and only threw 15 touchdown passes in 16 games. The Giants were 15th in the league in scoring. Those numbers need to go up if the Giants are going to have a chance to be a top-flight team.
Darren Waller gives Jones the best receiver he’s ever had. If the 31-year-old is healthy and still the player he was a few seasons ago, he changes the calculus of the Giants’ passing attack. So does the speed of newcomers Parris Campbell, Jalin Hyatt, Jeff Smith and perhaps Bryce Ford-Wheaton.
Assuming reasonably good health at the skill positions and the presence of Saquon Barkley, this should be the best group of playmakers Jones has worked with. Combine that with his second season in this offense and it’s fair to expect a significant jump in his passing numbers.
The roster question
Two quarterbacks or three? And who is QB3?
The Giants kept two a season ago, with Davis Webb on the practice squad for most of the season. Webb, of course, is now the one Denver Broncos‘ quarterbacks coach.
Let’s start with the ‘Who is QB3’ question.
I haven’t answered. After watching four spring practices, though, I’m pretty sure DeVito, an undrafted free agent, isn’t the answer. Journeyman Jacob Eason was at the mandatory minicamp as a tryout player. So far he has not been signed. So the giants probably don’t think he is either.
How the Giants approach figuring out who will be the third quarterback could depend on whether they plan to keep a third quarterback on the 53-man roster to potentially take advantage of the new ’emergency quarterback rule’. That means a third quarterback must be activated and play if the other two QBs are ruled out, assuming he’s on the 53-man roster.
Will the Giants go with two quarterbacks and stash a young, developing player on the practice squad? Or will they try to find a journeyman who will at least have the benefit of previous NFL playing experience should he be needed?
Or would they do both?
Current list – Saquon Barkley (when and if he signs), Matt Breida, Gary Brightwell, Eric Gray, Jashaun Corbin
The big question
What will happen to Saquon Barkley?
We’ve been over it…and over it…and over it. Will he get a long-term deal? Will he sign the franchise tag if he doesn’t? We’ve covered that enough. Here are a few of the latest links:
The roster issue
Can Gary Brightwell keep his roster spot?
Barkly (assuming he plays), Breida and Gray all appear to be locks to make the 53-man roster. The Giants kept just three running backs a year ago, and if they do that again, that could leave Brightwell — who’s more of a special teams player than a running back — on the outside looking in.
Brightwell was the team’s primary kickoff returner a year ago, and the league’s new kickoff fair catch rule, which was supposed to further limit such returns, may also limit Brightwell’s opportunity. Jashaun Corbin, who spent last year on the practice squad and is back to compete again, may also have something to say about Brightwell’s future on the 53-man roster.
Current list — Darren Waller, Daniel Bellinger, Lawrence Cager, Chris Myarick, Tommy Sweeney, Ryan Jones
The big question
Can Darren Waller stay healthy?
Waller is different. He looks, moves and plays differently than a normal tight end. The fact that he practiced almost exclusively with wide receivers during the spring and spent most of his time lining up in the slot or on the solo side of 3×1 formations tells you the Giants plan to use him differently.
Waller, as we said above, could change the calculus of the Giants’ passing attack. If he can stay on the field. After back-to-back seasons with more than 1.00 yards receiving, Waller played in just 11 games in 2021 and nine in 2022.
“I see this season as an opportunity to get back to having fun and just being available to my teammates every single week. That’s something I haven’t been able to do the last couple of years and I’m fully aware,” Waller said recently. “I’m doing everything in my control to be able to be out there and be responsible, be reliable just being out there every day. I’m excited for that challenge. I’ve done it before and I’m ready to do it again.”
If he can, and he still has anything approaching the ability he showed a few seasons ago, the Giants will have a unique and game-changing player at their disposal.
The roster issue
Who will join Waller and Bellinger?
Lawrence Cager probably has an inside track on a roster spot. He’s a receiver-first tight end like Waller, and given Waller’s injury history, having someone else who could do at least some of the same things is probably advisable. Plus, Cager teased an eight-catch game in the 2022 season finale vs Philadelphia Eagles.
Given that the Giants really can’t or shouldn’t rely on Waller or Cager to handle the inline blocking responsibilities, it would be required for them to find a way to hold an inline tight other than to help Bellinger do it.
They have Chris Myarick, former Buffalo Bill Tommy Sweeney and undrafted free agent Ryan Jones to choose from. I’d guess Sweeney if the Giants give a fourth tight end simply because of his connection to Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll of the Bills.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images
Current list — Parris Campbell, Jamison Crowder, Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Isaiah Hodgins, Jalin Hyatt, Collin Johnson, Jaydon Mickens, Kalil Pimpleton, Makai Polk, Wan’Dale Robinson, Sterling Shepard, David Sills V, Darius Slayton, Jeff Smith
The big question
How much will Jalin Hyatt produce in year 1?
I could have gone with ‘Who’s No. 1?’ question, but I think it doesn’t matter as much as it might have because Waller is the No. 1 receiver.
Hyatt, the third round pick out of Tennessee, has exciting speed and playmaking potential. However, he also has a lot to learn. He comes from a unique college offense that doesn’t look like what he’ll be asked to do in the NFL. Hyatt was also solely a slot receiver for the Volunteers and is expected to transition to a more external role going forward.
Hyatt worked mostly with the third team during offseason practices and didn’t catch many passes.
“Jalin does a great job. He is right on time. He works. He’s growing,” offensive coordinator Mike Kafka said during OTAs. “That’s one thing you’ve seen from him from the first day of rookie camp to the next day and then working through this Phase III part of it is his growth and his familiarity and comfort with the offense.”
The Giants traded up to draft Hyatt and figure they will find ways to add the threat of his speed to their offense. I’m just not sure Hyatt should be expected to play a high percentage of snaps — at least not early in his rookie season. Especially since the Giants seem to have enough depth that they won’t have to force feed him.
The roster issue
Who will be left out?
There are more capable NFL-caliber receivers on the 90-man roster than the Giants can keep on the Week 1 53-man roster. That remains the case if Wan’Dale Robinson and Sterling Shepard, both rehabbing from torn ACLs, are not part of the season-opening roster.
If healthy, Hyatt, Hodgins, Campbell and Slayton are rostered. Beyond that, how many receivers the Giants keep and who they will be is anyone’s guess.
Current list — Jack Anderson, Ben Bredeson, Wyatt Davis, Mark Glowinski, Shane Lemieux, Marcus McKethan, Josh Ezeudu, Devery Hamilton, JC Hassenauer, John Michael Schmitz, Korey Cunningham, Evan Neal, Matt Peart, Tire Phillips, Andrew Thomas
The big questions
Can Evan Neal improve in Year 2?
Neal had a rocky rookie season, anyone who follows the Giants knows that. A midseason knee injury cost him several games, and he never seemed to be truly healthy the rest of the season.
Regardless of the reasons, Neal’s rookie season was not what anyone had hoped for.
Maybe it’s unfair to expect a massive Andrew Thomas-like jump in Year 2, but the Giants drafted Neal No. 7 overall a year ago, and he needs to start showing them why this season.
“Evan is a worker,” offensive line coach Bobby Johnson said at minicamp. “I have no reason to believe that with the work ethic put in, the attention to detail and the pressure to be a really good player that [we won’t] see better results.”
Of course, Neal spent time in the offseason working with former All-Pro right tackle Willie Anderson to find a more comfortable stance.
“You have to be able to be functional in your stance and be able to move effectively out of your stance,” Neal said. “That’s what we were trying to find, find a place that I’m out of quickly, that’s comfortable for me, a position that I can get in and repeat repetition after repetition after repetition.”
Johnson said the changes Neal made with Anderson were things he and Neal had previously discussed.
“These are all things that we had communicated, whether it’s after the season or in the offseason, where he kept me informed,” Johnson said. “My big thing about it all is you’ve got a guy who’s a young guy who’s a talented player who’s working to get better at his craft. I have no problem with that. I’ll never have a problem with that with. So what he did in the offseason, what he’s working on right now. I give the kid all the credit in the world because he’s a worker.”
Can John Michael Schmitz handle the center job?
The second-round pick did much, but not all, of the work as a first-team center through the spring. The Giants hedged their bet on Schmitz’s readiness by having Ben Bredeson take some first-team reps — with Joshua Ezeudu at left guard.
Starting at center and being in control of protection calls is a big responsibility for a rookie. Not everyone is ready for it. Will Schmitz be?
“For him, from a mental standpoint, the learning curve is minimal. He’s a very intelligent kid. He’s a quick study. He works really hard at it,” Johnson said.
Johnson is more concerned right now about the physical aspects of the job, something the Giants haven’t been able to test in non-contact practice without pads on.
“There’s going to be a physical learning curve that we don’t know until we’re in training camp,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t seem like there’s going to be a giant learning curve from a physical standpoint. But you never know.
“We’ll find out when we’re in training camp and we put pads on. It’s going to be an eye opener the first day he has to block Dex [Dexter Lawrence]. It is an eye opener for one [Garrett] Bradbury in Minnesota who had to block Dex.”
Who is left guard?
That could depend on whether the Giants believe Schmitz is ready to handle center. Left guard looks to belong to Bredeson heading into training camp. Ezeudu, a 2022 third-round pick, appears to be next in line.
The roster question
Is there a roster spot for reserve center JC Hassanauer? Who emerges as the backup guard out of the group of Lemieux, Anderson, Davis and McKethan? Tire Phillips did an adequate job as a backup tackle last season. Can Matt Peart or Korey Cunningham also earn roster spots?