Jordan RaananESPN staff writer6 minute reading
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — Tight end Darren Waller hauled in a pass deep down the right sideline on the first play of OTAs open to the media this spring. Then Darius Slayton hit a deep seam on the first day of minicamp, and newly signed wide receiver Parris Campbell used his speed for a play on a crosser moments later.
This is what the Giants envisioned when they went to work this offseason to improve the roster. They picked up speed — both in free agency and the draft — in an effort to make their offense more explosive.
It was easy to see this spring that this new group of receivers at quarterback Daniel Jones’ disposal is exponentially more dynamic. Waller, Campbell, third-round pick Jalin Hyatt and even free-agent acquisition Jeff Smith have an abundance of speed.
“Yeah, this is probably the fastest overall group I’ve played with in my career,” Campbell said. “I mean we have speed across the board.
“It’s speed that can do many different things. It’s not just guys running fast in a straight line, it’s fast with the ball in their hands, fast on their routes. We complement each other. I’m excited for what’s to come.”
General manager Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll acknowledged this was a priority after their first year in charge. The Giants finished dead last with 28 passes of 20-plus yards last season. Slayton had 14 of those 28, mostly deep down the sideline.
Jones was 0-for-5 on passes of 20-plus yards inside the hashes, according to NextGen Stats. That was perhaps the biggest noticeable difference this spring. Jones used the deep middle of the field much more often at OTAs and minicamp than at any point last year, his first with Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka.
Some of this was clearly the Waller effect. But Jones also looked more confident. He also hit Slayton and fellow wide receivers Isaiah Hodgins and David Sills V on deep seams.
“The name of the game for those guys to get open is to use their speed,” quarterbacks coach Shea Tierney said. “You see that with Parris. You see that with Waller, Jalin, Jeff Smith. All the guys we added can roll. It helps the risk/reward, the faster those guys run down the field, the easier it is to make the decision because it happens so much faster for us. They’ve been great additions.”
It will make a difference in how the Giants offense looks this season, but it’s still a work in progress.
“Yeah, a lot of new guys,” Daboll said. “We’re still trying to figure things out. We’re moving guys around; we’re mixing them in and out. Obviously, there’s some faster guys we’ve got out here. But we’re still working through it.”
The WR mix
It was mostly Campbell working out wide, Slayton and Hodgins out wide and Waller all over the field with the first team attack. That’s partly because Sterling Shepard (knee) and Wan’Dale Robinson (knee) worked on the side as part of their rehabs from torn ACLs.
Shepard appeared further along in his rehab, though both are progressing well.
Campbell, who was signed this offseason as a free agent, is destined for a significant role regardless. The Giants believe he can more than be the 68-catch player he was with the Indianapolis Colts last season if he’s healthy in this offense. This spring only validated what they thought they could get.
“Parris has done a great job [developing chemistry with Jones] too,” Daboll said.
Maybe it’s because Robinson and Shepard aren’t practicing yet, but it just seems like Campbell will be a big part of this offense. It’s possible he ends up being the wide receiver with the most catches for the Giants this season. Remember, Richie James led all Giants WRs in catches last year.
Leonard Williams’ cap hit this season for the Giants is outlandish. (Thanks, Dave Gettleman!) He’s currently slated to count $32.3 million against the cap for 2023. That’s the third-largest cap hit of any player, trailing only quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Ryan Tannehill.
The Giants have shown no interest in tweaking that this year, at least so far, with a restructure or an extension.
“There haven’t been a lot of conversations about it this offseason,” Williams said. “I am of course open to staying here. I think I have a good camaraderie with my teammates. I would love to keep playing along [Dexter Lawrence]. I would love to continue playing with these coaches that I have gotten to know.
“I’m also not one of those types of players who want to jump around from team to team. I want to be able to be here. Been through the grind and the struggle of being with the Giants since I’ve been here, coming out on the good end and finally getting a ring with them.”
It’s possible (albeit unlikely) that the Giants come to Williams this summer and try to get something done, whether it’s an extension or salary reduction. It would only make sense if they need more cap space, even though they are currently $4.14 million under the cap.
The Giants may need to create more cap space to get through the season if they do not reach a long-term extension with running back Saquon Barkley, who was absent from offseason workouts as he has not signed the franchise tag in hopes of a new deal. Adjusting Williams’ contract in some capacity is one of the possible solutions.
Cornerback Nick McCloud works at safety. This comes after he performed well in some dime coverages last season handling slot receivers. The other starting safety spot opposite Xavier McKinney is wide open. McCloud has a chance to win that job along with Jason Pinnock, Dane Belton, Bobby McCain and others.
First-round pick Deonte Banks and second-rounder John Michael Schmitz are already working with their respective first-team units.
Hyatt is coming along slowly and works primarily with the third-team offense. He will have to work his way up the depth chart at a crowded position. He could rise this summer as the roster thins.
Rookie Eric Gray appears to be among the frontrunners to win a job as a returner. He returned some punts and kicks at Oklahoma and Tennessee, though not with any frequency and without much success.
The Giants’ defense looks so much different with free agent addition Bobby Okereke as a three-down lock after starting Jaylon Smith and Jarrad Davis in the playoffs last season. Okereke has already hit it off with defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, who has said “it’s fun to watch him play.” Okereke seems to thrive in this defense.