Cap Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

Putting the pieces together for a Super Bowl run in 2017

New York had a busy mock off-season, parting ways with a few long time Giants, and then adding players on offense and defense through free agency and the draft. The final story in this five part series looks at where the team stands, and whether enough has been done to build a team that can make a run for the franchise’s fifth ring.

The Offensive Line (8)

OT: Ty Nsekhe, Ereck Flowers, Julie’n Davenport, Bobby Hart
G: Justin Pugh, Jordan Morgan, Brett Jones
C: Weston Richburg

The most discussed area of need on the team, this mock-offseason adds several players that should dramatically increase the performance of the line, while also not breaking the bank. We expect center and left guard to be manned by Weston Richburg and Justin Pugh, but the rest of the line will be an open competition for the best fits. That means the biggest source of Giants’ fans frustrations, Ereck Flowers, is not guaranteed to be starting at the left tackle position, and perhaps not starting at all.

Ty Nsekhe is the player to watch here. If he shows the dominant form he played with when substituting for Trent Williams, the Giants will have one of the best starting left tackles in football. He would allow Ereck Flowers to move over to right tackle, the position the Giants wanted to develop him at when he was drafted in 2015. With rookie Julie’n Davenport and Bobby Hart to back-up both tackles position, the Giants’ will be well positioned beyond this year to develop both their future left and right tackles.

Right guard is another open position for the Giants, and they could fill it with a few options. Bobby Hart and Brett Jones have played reasonably well in that role in the past, and rookie Jordan Morgan could work his way into a starting gig. Best of all, the Giants would have a young, deep, inexpensive bench to step in anywhere when injuries occur, and provide insurance in case Pugh or Richburg walk away from the team in the 2018 free agent market.

Wide Receivers (6) and Tight Ends (3)

WR: Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, Kamar Aiken, Tavarres King, Roger Lewis, Dwayne Harris
TE: Gerald Everett, Jerell Adams, Gavin Escobar

There’s not much that needs to be said about Odell Beckham Jr. He can change the game on a five yard slant. However, despite his incredible talent, he’s been asked to do too much, and has often run out of gas at the end of games. With the additional of big bodied Kamar Aiken to play opposite of him, and Sterling Sheppard in the slot, the Giants’ now have an 11 package that can beat defenders with quickness and with length. Rounding out the wide receiving corps are returning backups Tavarres King and Roger Lewis, who the Giants’ expect to see continued improvement, and special teams extraordinaire Dwyane Harris.

At tight end, Gerald Everett was drafted to be the reliable, seam busting receiving threat that the Giants’ haven’t had since Jeremy Shockey. Everett is not the same style player as Shockey was, but in the modern NFL, Everett is your prototypical pass catching safety valve that can exploit the middle of the field. In double tight end sets, Jerell Adams and Gavin Escobar are both huge jump ball targets while being effective run blockers. That will put defenses in the uncomfortable position of committing to defend either the pass or the run, a play action callers dream scenario.

The Backfield (6) and Signal Callers (2)

RB: Christian McCaffrey, LaGarrett Blount, Paul Perkins, Shane Vereen, Donnell Pumphrey
FB: Will Johnson
QB: Eli Manning, Christian Ponder

Christian McCaffrey is a playmaker the Giants’ have been missing out of the running back position. He’s not a traditional option, however his patience as a runner should allow him to capitalize on better run blocking. What sets him apart is his ability as a receiver, as his versatility to line up anywhere on the field should force the defense to react to unconventional looks. He gives New York another viable home run threat, this time out of the backfield, to relieve some of the offensive burden placed on Eli and Beckham Jr.

LaGarrett Blount provides a great change of pace to the rest of the Giants’ more elusive running backs. He is a powerful runner, perfect for short yardage and goal line situations, and is player who can step in to be the lead back role if needed. Paul Perkins showed promise last year, and could continue to develop into a lesser utilized version of Derrick Ward’s role in the new Earth, Wind, and Fire. Add in third down specialist Shane Vereen, potential kick returner Donnell Pumphrey, and hybrid fullback/tight end Will Johnson and the Giants’ backfield is suddenly as dangerous as their passing attack.

Eli Manning will continue to lead the Giants’ at the quarterback position, and with the infusion of talent around him, he is well positioned to build off of his best statistical three year stint as an NFL pro. There were times in the 2016 season where his accuracy and arm strength were being questioned, however in NFC Wildcard game, he showed that when it counts, he can still make all of the reads and throws with ease. Christian Ponder will back him up, and while it’s unlikely he’ll ever play given Eli’s iron man status, he does bring a history of creating wins as much more of a dual threat quarterback that defenses would have to prepare for.

The Defensive Ends (5) and Tackles (4)

DE: Olivier Verson, Jason Pierre-Paul, Mario Addison, Romeo Okwara, Owa Odighizuwa
DT: Damon Harrison, Caleb Brantley, Jay Bromley, Robert Thomas

Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, and rookie Caleb Brantley give the Giants’ a formidable front four that will be difficult to run on, and can create pressure from both the inside and edges without additional help from the linebackers or secondary. In obvious passing situations, Mario Addison can play the role of sack specialist, creating the newest version of the Nascar package, with either Pierre-Paul or Vernon sliding inside to play next to Brantley. In the event of an injury at the edge position, Romeo Okwara could fill in, as he did last year when JPP was hurt.

The depth of the defensive line is a question mark. Beyond Okwara, the Giants have not seen much from Jay Bromley, Owa Odighizuwa, or Robert Thomas to say definitively they are safe. They will need to take a step forward, especially Jay Bromley who was drafted as a project and is now in his third year in the NFL, to make contributions to this team. Considering how much the starters were used last year, it would be a tremendous benefit if these guys can step up and play effective downs to keep the starting unit fresh and healthy throughout the entire season.

Linebackers (6)

ILB: Jonathan Casillas, B. J. Goodson
OLB: Keenan Robinson, Devon Kennard, Barkevious Mingo, Mark Herzlich

In the Jerry Reese era, the Giants’ have never invested heavily in linebackers, focusing more of finding value to play behind the front four. The same situations arises with this unit, where any one of them can rotate in and play that support role. The two wildcards who could potentially alter the traditional role of the 4–3 linebackers are Devon Kennard and Barkevious Mingo. Kennard has shown ability to be a disruptive force in the backfield and Mingo’s athleticism could allow him to play a DE/LB hybrid much like Mathias Kiwanuka did for the Giants’ during his career.

The Corners (5) and Safeties (5)

CB: Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Leon Hall, Michael Hunter
SS: Landon Collins, Nate Behre
FS: Darian Thompson, Rahim Moore, Andrew Adams

A healthy Darian Thompson slides into the starting free safety position next to All-Pro strong safety Landon Collins giving the Giants’ one of the most dominant secondaries in the NFL. Shutdown cornerback Janoris Jenkins and developing first round pick Eli Apple will man the outside corner positions, while Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie continues to play the “do it all’ defensive back primarily tasked to defend the opponents slot receiver. This unit has a chance to be one of the best of all-time, and along with the defensive line can lead the team to the Super Bowl.

Secondary depth will also be important with teams passing more than ever. Electing for an extra defensive back over a linebacker is a response to that, especially since Collins was the only member of the Giants’ starting secondary to make it through the season and post season without an injury. Slot corner/free safety Leon Hall and the tall, athletic Michael Hunter make the roster over undersized Donte Deayon as New York’s backup cornerbacks. Nate Behre gets his last chance with the Giants’ to show he can stay on the field and contribute, and Rahim Moore and Andrew Adams both make the roster based on their above highly graded play in the recent past.

Special Teams (3)

K: Zane Gonzalez
P: Brad Wing
LS: Zack DeOssie

Brad Wing and Zack DeOssie return in their roles as punter and long snapper. While it might be expensive to pay a long snapper over $1M a year, DeOssie does play pretty well on coverage so it’s not a terrible move to bring him back. The same can be said for linebacker Mark Herzlich, who routinely makes the roster as a special teams contributor, but is set to make $1M as the veterans minimum in 2017. Zane Gonzalez takes over all kicking duties, giving New York a powerful leg for years to come, and in the return game New York can look to a healthy Dwayne Harris or Donnell Pumphrey to handle kick and punt return responsibilities.