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Team Previews: New York Giants

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

THE SKINNY
The Giants are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball but are somewhat weak in two key areas: QB and coach. Eli Manning has been average at best since 2011, and Ben McAdoo did a poor job running the offense (24th in yards per play last year), understanding game situations and managing the clock.

THREE THINGS TO KNOW

DEFENSIVE RESURGENCE
The 31st defense in yards per play allowed in 2015, the Giants vaulted all the way to seventh last year thanks to the emergence of Landon Collins as one of the league's elite safeties, and the arrival via free agency of pass rusher Olivier Vernon, top run stuffer Damon Harrison and star corner Janoris Jenkins. Getting 12 games from an approximation of vintage Jason Pierre-Paul also helped. Competent defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo returns to coach this largely intact group, and there's no reason to expect a major drop-off. The unit did lose defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins to free agency but promptly replaced him by drafting DT Dalvin Tomlinson in the second round. Eli Apple, the Giants' 2016 first-round pick, came on late in the year, and he, Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie form one of the NFL's top cornerback trios. The linebacking corps -- staffed by the likes of Devon Kennard, J.T. Thomas, B.J. Goodson, Jonathan Casillas, Mark Herzlich and possibly a few other castoffs -- is the team's weakest link, but that was the case last season, too and they were able to overcome it. Keeping Pierre-Paul and Rodgers-Cromartie, both of whom have had extensive injury histories, healthy will be key. Pierre-Paul in particular is returning from two surgeries and is questionable for the start of training camp.

DOES ELI HAVE ANYTHING LEFT?
Eli Manning seemed to slip a bit last season, posting his lowest yards per attempt (6.7) and third-worst passer rating (86.0) since 2008, despite having arguably the league's most talented receiver (Odell Beckham Jr.) on his side. Moreover, Manning provided nothing with his legs, rushing 21 times for minus-nine yards. Part of the problem was coach Ben McAdoo's often mindless game plans, forcing an abysmal running game and putting Manning in unfavorable down-and-distance more often than necessary. Manning, however, was neither consistent nor accurate, often sailing balls over the heads of open receivers and forcing them to slow down and adjust even when making catches. The Giants brought in Geno Smith as a backup and plucked Davis Webb in the third round of the 2017 draft, but the 36-year-old Manning's job isn't in immediate danger. Manning has extra weapons with which to work after the team added wideout Brandon Marshall and drafted speedy tight end Evan Engram in the first round. Plus, pass-catching back Shane Vereen is expected to return from a triceps injury that forced 11 DNPs last fall. Nonetheless, Manning will have to make the throws and is still saddled with McAdoo running the show. With another season like 2016, the team could be looking at a new signal-caller this time next year.

CAN THE RUNNING GAME GET GOING?
The Giants had the third-leanest rushing attack last year, reeling off 3.5 yards per carry and scoring the fewest touchdowns on the ground (six) by a wide margin. Mercifully, the 32-year-old Rashad Jennings and his 3.3-YPC average are gone, and the quicker and more explosive Paul Perkins is slated to replace him after managing 4.1 YPC as a rookie. Shane Vereen, who had 4.8 YPC in five games, should serve as a change-of-pace option to the extent he stays healthy. However, the Giants offensive line is merely mediocre, and coach Ben McAdoo's predictable play calling is also a liability. Running into the teeth of the defense on 1st-and-10 might work for the Cowboys, but a more creative and deceptive approach is necessary when you don't have three Pro Bowlers on the line and Ezekiel Elliott toting the rock. Having said that, Perkins has some upside, both as a ballcarrier and a pass catcher. In the latter role, Perkins compiled a whopping 10.8 yards per catch and hauled in 62.5 percent of his targets (15 of 24) last season. Behind Perkins and Vereen is versatile but unexciting journeyman Shaun Draughn (on the seventh organization of his career) and three-year pro Orleans Darkwa. The Giants also drafted Wayne Gallman, who could get some short-yardage work, in the fourth round of this year's draft.

PIVOTAL PLAYER: Odell Beckham Jr.
While the Giants have brought in plenty of complementary talent the last two years – Sterling Shepard and Paul Perkins in 2016, Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram this year – Beckham Jr. is still the sun around which this offense orbits. In three NFL seasons, Beckham has never failed to crack 90 catches, 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns.

BAROMETER

RISING: Eli Manning
Manning is past his prime and provides nothing on the ground, but the team is so loaded in the passing game this year, and Ben McAdoo's play calling has nowhere to go but up. There's 30-touchdown potential here.

FALLING: Brandon Marshall
Marshall might have something left in the tank, but at 33 years old and playing a complementary role opposite Odell Beckham Jr. (with Sterling Shepard in the slot and Evan Engram at tight end), it's tough to see the upside.

SLEEPER: Giants Defense
The Giants defense trots out two top pass rushers, three strong cornerbacks, an elite run stopper and arguably the best safety in the game. In addition, Steve Spagnuolo has proven himself a quality defensive coordinator.

KEY JOB BATTLE – BACKUP RUNNING BACK
There’s no question about Paul Perkins’ standing as the Giants’ top option out of the backfield, but the breakdown of reps thereafter is undetermined as camp opens. While Perkins was adept as a receiver in limited work last season, reeling in 15 of 24 targets, Shane Vereen has history on his side as a pass catcher, with at least 47 catches each year between 2013 and 2015. Considering a triceps injury is behind him, Vereen will likely be contained to some obvious passing downs in the fall, leaving versatile offseason pickup Shaun Draughn, traditional back Orleans Darkwa and rookie Wayne Gallman as the candidates to handle the rock if Perkins disappoints or sustains an ailment. Due to his three years in coach Ben McAdoo’s system, Darkwa could be the favorite for the gig in one of those scenarios.

KEY ACQUISITIONS:
Brandon Marshall – WR (from Jets)
Big, physical red-zone target, though past his prime.

Evan Engram – TE (Rd. 1, No. 23 – Mississippi)
Has a chance for regular snaps right away.

Dalvin Tomlinson – DT (Rd. 2, No. 55 – Alabama)
Should replace the departed Johnathan Hankins in the middle.

Wayne Gallman – RB (Rd. 4, No. 140 – Clemson)
Will vie for carries behind Paul Perkins.

KEY LOSSES:
Johnathan Hankins – DT (to Colts)
Solid run stuffer, likely succeeded by Dalvin Tomlinson.

Rashad Jennings – RB (FA)
Aging, no-longer-effective back.

Victor Cruz – WR (to Bears)
One-time star has been given another chance in Chicago.

Robbie Gould – K (to 49ers)
Aldrick Rosas sits atop the depth chart for now.

THE INJURY FRONT
Shane Vereen, RB – Vereen was unable to fulfill his promise as a pass-catching back in 2016, missing nine contests initially due to a torn triceps and eventually landing on IR after Week 15 due to an aggravation of the injury. Now fully recovered, he’ll be contained to clear passing downs with Paul Perkins embedded as the No. 1 RB.

Geno Smith, QB – A second-round pick in 2013, Smith’s fourth season with the Jets fizzled out when he suffered an ACL tear last October. He was gifted another chance in New York after the Giants inked him in March to serve as Eli Manning’s backup. However, Manning has made 211 consecutive starts, including postseason action, so Smith will be hard-pressed to see the field in the upcoming campaign.

Jason Pierre-Paul, DE – Pierre-Paul has adapted to pass-rushing life with a deformed right hand, accruing seven sacks in 12 games last season before sports hernia surgery sent him to the sideline for good. He underwent a second procedure in the offseason, leaving his status somewhat up in the air entering training camp.