Giants writers answer 30 questions in 30 days leading up to the start of Training Camp:
1. What will be the toughest decision for the front office in filling out the 53-man roster?
JOHN SCHMEELK: I do not envy the front office in figuring out the fifth and sixth cornerbacks and wide receivers. There are a lot of players in the mix at both positions that are close in talent level. There will be some really tough decisions they are going to have to make. Tavarres King, or Roger Lewis or Travis Rudolph? The cornerback group is a complete mess after Jenkins, DRC, Apple, and Blake.
DAN SALOMONE: The depth at corner will be the toughest decision because it will be one of the most important decisions. Yes, the position is loaded with Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Eli Apple, but we all saw what happened when one is taken out of the equation because of an injury. It's not the same defense without all three, so the Giants need to find a reliable fourth option. We'll see who separates in training camp, and more importantly, the preseason.
LANCE MEDOW: One of the deepest positions on the roster is tight end, and I think the front office is going to have a tough time deciding who to keep and who to let go. First-round pick Evan Engram and free-agent signee Rhett Ellison are essentially locks to make the 53-man roster, but after that, let the games begin. Jerell Adams, Matt LaCosse, Colin Thompson and Will Tye will be competing for one or two spots. There's certainly value in keeping at least two of those four players. Adams is still developing given he's entering just his second season in the league, LaCosse has a great deal of upside and is often overlooked because he's struggled to stay healthy, Tye has starting experience in the system and Thompson is a sleeper. This won't be an easy decision.
2. Which is the most impressive milestone coming up for Eli Manning?
JOHN SCHMEELK: I'll go with his 200th consecutive start. Nothing defines Eli Manning like his durability. He is always there under center every week to be the Giants quarterback. Staying healthy is a skill and Manning possesses it. He is always there.
DAN SALOMONE: I know it's a quarterback-friendly era, but it's just amazing to see some of the names Manning has passed and will be passing in the record books. Last year, he moved ahead of John Elway in touchdowns. The year before that, it was Johnny Unitas. Next up is Fran Tarkenton, who currently sits ahead of Manning at No. 6. In terms of yards, he is 3,262 away from moving ahead of Elway and Warren Moon into sixth all-time behind Dan Marino. This is rarefied air that Manning is approaching.
LANCE MEDOW: Given the physicality of the sport, the rate of injury in the NFL is incomparable. That's why I've always said Eli Manning's durability is his most underrated trait. When you take into consideration how many quarterbacks have started for the three other NFC East teams since Eli Manning took over under center in 2004, it's remarkable he hasn't missed a game. Manning currently has 199 consecutive regular season starts. To put that in perspective, only his brother, Peyton (208), and Brett Favre (297) have more. Reaching 200 will be by far his most impressive milestone.
3. In celebration of the 10-year anniversary of Super Bowl XLII, what is your favorite moment from the 2007 run?
JOHN SCHMEELK: I like the Antonio Pierce play on the Brandon Jackson screen pass in the Packers NFC Championship Game. He split two blockers and made a tackle with nothing but green behind him. If he gets caught up on those blockers the play might go for a touchdown. It was a perfect example of his smarts, instincts, and tackling ability that made him such a great player.
DAN SALOMONE: It doesn't get much better than the voice mail John Madden left for Tom Coughlin following the Giants' regular-season finale against the history-chasing Patriots. The Giants had "nothing" to play for in terms of playoff berths, but Coughlin believed that you play every game to win and play as hard as you can. "That's what sports are all about," he said. The Giants didn't win, but there's no doubt it gave them confidence to get the job done a month later in one of the greatest Super Bowls of all time.
Here's a transcript of Madden's voice mail to Coughlin: "Just called to congratulate you and your team for a great effort last night. Not good, but great. I think it's one of the best things to happen in the NFL in the last 10 years, and I don't know if they all know it, but they should be very grateful to you and your team for what you did. I believe so firmly in this: that there is only one way to play the game, and it is a regular-season game and you go out and win the darn game. I was just so proud being a part of the NFL and of what your guys did and the way you did it. You proved that it's a game and there's only one way to play the game and you did it. The NFL needed it. We've gotten too much of, 'Well, they're going to rest their players and don't need to win, therefore they won't win.' Well, that's not sports and that's not competition. I'm a little emotional about it. I'm just so proud. It's something we all need to thank you for, and I believe the NFL needed that."
LANCE MEDOW: Aside from knocking off the Patriots in the Super Bowl, the most notable game in the 2007 run was the NFC Championship Game in frigid Green Bay. There were so many twists and turns in that contest leading up to Lawrence Tynes' game-winning 47-yard field goal in overtime. That game showcased a little bit of everything: big plays (Donald Driver 90-yard touchdown), hard hits, special teams' mishaps (two missed Tynes field goals), and game-changing plays (Corey Webster's interception in OT). Throw in the cold weather and that game was an instant classic.
4. What will be the toughest non-divisional game this season?
JOHN SCHMEELK: I'm going to go with the Chiefs on November 19th. Why the Chiefs at home? It's simple. Andy Reid is 18-2 in games following his team's bye week. He is nearly impossible to beat in those circumstances, but the Giants will try to overcome those odds when they play the Chiefs coming off Kansas City's bye.
DAN SALOMONE: Week 7 vs. Seattle. The Giants have the benefit of playing the Seahawks away from CenturyLink Field this time, but they haven't been able to solve the most consistent powerhouse in the NFC. The Giants lost their last three meetings by an average of 18.3 points, including a 23-point shutout in their most recent game at MetLife Stadium in 2013. Seattle may not be the same team – the Giants aren't either – but this will be a tough contest, especially coming off a Sunday night game in Denver the week before. The Giants then go on what will be a much-needed bye week following the Seattle game.
LANCE MEDOW: Circle your calendars for Week 13. That's when the Giants will travel to the Bay Area to collide with the Raiders. Last season, Jack Del Rio's team posted its first winning campaign since 2002 and if it weren't for Derek Carr's broken leg in Week 16, who knows how far Oakland could have gone in the playoffs. At 12-4, the Raiders were in the conversation about not just the best teams in the AFC but the league as a whole. This season, Oakland essentially returns intact with some additional weapons. The Raiders added veteran running back Marshawn Lynch, who with a solid offensive line, has a very strong chance to pick up where he left off with the Seahawks prior to retirement.
Carr is one of the best young quarterbacks in the league and while he has three versatile wide receivers in Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Seth Roberts, he also now has an experienced tight end in Jared Cook. Throw in last year's NFL Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack, who accounted for nearly half of the team's sacks in 2016, along with some intriguing weapons in the secondary and the Raiders are one of the most balanced teams the Giants will see in 2017. This game is also in Oakland, one of the toughest environments to play for opposing players.
5. Which team presents the biggest threat to the Giants winning the NFC East?
JOHN SCHMEELK: I still have to go with the Dallas Cowboys. They didn't win 13 games by accident last year. Even though they lost two offensive linemen, La'el Collins should be fine to replace one of them. Who the fifth starter will be remains a question. I do not see sophomore slumps for Dak Prescott or Zee Elliott. The big question is in the secondary on defense where they will play Orlando Scandrick, Byron Jones, Nolan Carrol, Jeff Heath and a bunch of rookies. This could be their achilles heel if youngsters Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods do not improve quickly. They are all talented and their performance could determine the Cowboys season.
DAN SALOMONE: The Dallas Cowboys have the crown until someone takes it away from them. The Giants got close by sweeping the season series last year, but it wasn't enough as they settled for a wild-card spot. Now Dallas tries to become the first team to repeat as NFC East champs in over a decade. People can point out the concerns on the defensive side of the ball, but that offensive line is the Cowboys' best defense. They can still dominate the time of possession as long as they have three All-Pros on the line.
LANCE MEDOW:Based on paper, of the three other NFC East teams, the most balanced squad is the Washington Redskins. They also have the most experienced quarterback in Kirk Cousins, who is coming off his second straight impressive campaign since taking over as the starter. Even though the Redskins lost DeSean Jackson, they still have a talented trio of receivers in Terrelle Pryor, Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson along with tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis. Although it's unclear how the running game will pan out, Washington still has a nice mix of veterans and rookies to pair with a strong offensive line. It's also important to note that the Redskins ranked third in the NFL in total offense and 12th in points per game in 2016. On defense, the Redskins have a new coordinator in Greg Manusky and tweaked their secondary as well as their front three. But they still have a number of weapons, including corners Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland and outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. There are certainly plenty of question marks, with respect to their defense, but the same can be said for the Cowboys and Eagles.
6. When was the last time the Giants' roster had this much talent?
JOHN SCHMEELK:2008. The Giants team in 2011 wasn't immensely talented on both sides of the ball, but they played their best football at the right time. The Eli Manning – Victor Cruz – Hakeem Nicks combination was one of the best in the league and carried the team at times. But don't forget the Giants defense and rushing attack were ranked near the bottom of the league at the end of the regular season. The Giants this year are extremely balanced with talent on both sides of the ball. I believe it is the best roster I have seen since the Giants dominant 2008 team. We'll see if that translates to results.
DAN SALOMONE:You can't go further back than a team that won the Super Bowl, so I'll go with 2011. That roster had one of the best receiving corps (Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham) in the league and one of the best defensive lines (Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul) with playmakers behind them in the secondary (Antrel Rolle, Corey Webster, Aaron Ross, Deon Grant, Kenny Phillips). Sound familiar?
LANCE MEDOW: The main theme of this year's roster is depth across the board, and the last time the Giants showcased this much talent was 2008. That team had Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw at running back, a strong offensive line and several wide receivers, including Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon as well as tight end Kevin Boss. The Super Bowl XLII defense was also pretty much still intact with the exception of Michael Strahan, who retired. There were plenty of playmakers on the defensive line highlighted by Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, Dave Tollefson, Jay Alford, Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins, and the same can be said for the secondary, including Corey Webster, Aaron Ross, Terrell Thomas, James Butler, Michael Johnson and Kenny Phillips.
7. Which undrafted rookies should people keep an eye on?
JOHN SCHMEELK: Travis Rudolph. He showed good speed, quicks and hands over the course of spring practice. He also caught more punts than any other player. He has a real chance to make the roster if he can prove to the coaches he understands the playbook.
DAN SALOMONE: The competition for the backend of the wide receiver corps will likely go down to the wire, and Travis Rudolph could be the latest in a string of undrafted receivers to make the team. He's no stranger to the big stage after leading Florida State in receiving the last two seasons. He also set the stage for training camp with an impressive spring. During rookie minicamp, OTAs, and mandatory minicamp, everyone took notice of No. 19.
LANCE MEDOW: Undrafted rookies have a great track record of making the Giants final 53-man roster in recent history so there's a few to keep close tabs on during training camp. At wide receiver, Florida State's Travis Rudolph has a chance to compete for a spot on the back end of the depth chart. I'd also watch running back/fullback Shane Smith out of San Jose State. Depending on how the Giants use free agent signee Rhett Ellison, there could be another opening for a fullback. Two other names to keep on your radar: USC offensive tackle Chad Wheeler, who has a strong frame at 6-6, 310 and on defense, safety Jadar Johnson out of Clemson.
8. Who is the most underrated player heading into training camp?
JOHN SCHMEELK: I'm going to go with Keenan Robinson. No one ever talks about him, but he is the de facto middle linebacker in nickel situations as well as the safety net in case B.J. Goodson isn't ready to be the starter in standard personnel. He was solid last year in coverage and is often lost in the shuffle amongst the very talented Giants defense.
DAN SALOMONE: I think Eli Apple is flying under the radar a little bit. This defense is just not the same without three solid cornerbacks on the field. Everything changes when one is taken out of the equation. I think Apple being banged up early last season – as well as the natural growing pains of a rookie – factored into the slow start for the defense. Look for him to make more plays in his sophomore campaign.
LANCE MEDOW: I'm going to go with tight end Matt LaCosse, who has been slowed by injuries over the last two seasons. The former Illinois standout originally joined the Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2015 but was released after suffering a hamstring injury very early in training camp. He then rejoined the Giants in early November of 2015 on the practice squad before being promoted to the 53-man roster in late December when he played in two games. Last year, LaCosse spent the entire season on injured reserve because of a knee issue, but the fact that the Giants put him on IR is perhaps a sign they believe he has promise. Given his modest NFL resume, it's easy to overlook LaCosse but he's shown some flashes during OTAs and minicamp as a red zone target, has the ability to block and can stretch the field as a receiver. There are several new faces at tight end this offseason and the competition at the back end of the depth chart will be fun to watch. LaCosse has a great opportunity to showcase his skillset and prove to the coaching staff he can stay on the field.
9. What is the most important statistic the Giants need to improve on defense?
JOHN SCHMEELK: There aren't many, but I am going to go in the same direction I went on offense: BIG PLAYS. The Giants had the 10th ranked pass defense in the league last year, yet also allowed the second-most pass plays of over 20 yards: 59. That's nearly four per game, a number that's way too high for a secondary with the talent the Giants have. If they can cut down on big plays, the Giants defense can go from very good to great.
DAN SALOMONE: They allowed the fewest offensive touchdowns in 2016, had the No. 1 red-zone defense, and were No. 3 on third down. So we're kind of nitpicking here. But I think the Giants need to get home more in sacking the quarterback. They finished in the middle of the pack with 35 sacks, but there were plenty of opportunities for more. The Giants got a ton of pressure but couldn't quite close the deal sometimes, which led to the big plays that John and Lance talked about. If they can get the QB down, they can get off the field quicker and get the ball back into the hands of Eli Manning.
LANCE MEDOW: The defense overall made huge strides from 2015 to 2016. Entering this season, it's a matter of picking up where it left off, but with that being said, there are still a few areas the defense can improve on specifically in defending the pass. Last season, the Giants surrendered 59 pass plays of 20 or more yards, tied for second most in the NFL. Limiting big plays or explosive plays through the air is the one stat the Giants should focus on cleaning up in 2017.
10. What is the most important statistic the Giants need to improve on offense?
JOHN SCHMEELK: The Giants had only 53 plays of 20 or more yards last year, placing them in the bottom half of the league. Given all the immensely explosive players now on offense (Beckham, Shepard, Marshall, Engram, Perkins) that number has to go up. You need to make big plays in the NFL to win these days and the Giants have to get more of them. They only had seven runs of 20-plus yards, which Paul Perkins should improve. Even in the passing game, they were only ranked 19th. I would like to see them in the top 10 in this category. First-down rush offense is the second one here. Only 30 percent of the Giants' first-down rushes went for four or more yards last year, the lowest percentage in the league. That also needs to improve.
DAN SALOMONE: You can pick any rushing stat you want, but it won't matter if the Giants are turning the ball over like they did last year. They gave it away 27 times, tied for eighth-most in the NFL. It's no surprise that the teams with more did not make the playoffs while New England and Atlanta, the two Super Bowl participants, had the fewest. Sure, other metrics like first-down production and yards per carry would be great, but they need to protect the Duke.
LANCE MEDOW: When you look at last season's offensive production the one stat that jumps out is points per game (19.4). The Giants ranked 26th in the NFL in that category and a big reason why: struggles in the red zone. New York scored touchdowns just 51 percent of the time (22nd in the NFL). In comparison, in 2015, the Giants averaged 26.2 points per contest. That put them tied for sixth in the league, so the Giants scored nearly one less touchdown per game in 2016 compared to 2015. There are a number of factors that can help in producing more points especially the run game, but another key is limiting turnovers. New York coughed up the ball 27 times in 2016, tied for eighth-most in the NFL. You lose the ball, you lose possessions.
11. What numbers should we expect from running back Paul Perkins?
JOHN SCHMEELK: As unofficial president of the Paul Perkins fan club, I have high expectations for Perkins this year. I think his elusiveness will help him avoid some of the free runners in the backfield, reducing some of the rushes for loss. I'm expecting between 1,100 and 1,200 yards, five or more touchdowns, and twenty catches.
DAN SALOMONE: I'd caution everyone predicting four-digit rushing totals to pump the brakes a little bit and give Perkins some time. The Giants have not boasted a 1,000-yard rusher since Ahmad Bradshaw in 2012. And keep in mind, the 2017 Giants now have Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram. This is a passing team in a passing league.
LANCE MEDOW: Last season, in limited action, Paul Perkins ran the ball 112 times for 456 yards and also had 15 receptions for 162 yards. With the return of Shane Vereen, I wouldn't expect Perkins' receiving totals to skyrocket. I think he'll slightly surpass his numbers from 2016 through the air, but the most significant jump will come on the ground. I believe Perkins will be the No. 1 back, and I don't think it's going to be a committee on first and second downs. Barring health, that should give him an opportunity to have just under 200 carries for about 800 to 825 yards.
12. Who are you most excited to see with the pads on for the first time?
JOHN SCHMEELK: I think I have to go with Ereck Flowers. The Giants are hoping to see improvement from their third-year left tackle this season. He worked hard in the offseason at getting into better shape. It won't be until the pads come on and guys are going close to full speed that we'll know if that work will pay off with improved technique and better results. A sleeper No. 2 for me is tight end Rhett Ellison, who thrives in the physical parts of the game.
DAN SALOMONE: I'll go with second-year linebacker B.J. Goodson. He's in line to start in the middle, which means he is in charge of making the calls on the field. That's a major responsibility, and he got some help from Super Bowl XLII champion Antonio Pierce, who spent a few weeks as a coaching intern in the spring. No one was smarter than Pierce on the field, and Goodson soaked up all he could from him. It paid off during OTAs and minicamp, where defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo saw veterans gain confidence and trust in the fourth-round draft pick who played only 13 defensive snaps as a rookie. But everything is faster when the pads come on and people start flying around. We'll see how he keeps up.
LANCE MEDOW: It's very difficult to evaluate most positions in the NFL without the pads on but the one position that tops the list is offensive lineman. That's why I'm most excited to see Ereck Flowers, once training camp gets started. Flowers took up boxing this offseason and also stayed at the team facility, with Bobby Hart, to work out. Those two pushed one another to improve and now it's a matter of how that hard work will translate to the field. Flowers is entering his third season in the league, which is a critical year for all players. And it goes without saying that his play at left tackle will dictate how the offensive line performs in 2017.
13. Which late-round draft pick will play the most?
JOHN SCHMEELK: I'll consider all Day 3 picks as "late-round" picks. I'll go with defensive end Avery Moss. I think his size, strength and versatility will push him into Steve Spagnuolo's defensive line rotation by the bye week. He has been working at both ends and at three-technique in the spring. The Giants love defensive linemen who have the physical profile to move around and play in different spots, and Avery Moss fits that profile.
DAN SALOMONE: Defensive end Avery Moss was the most intriguing pick to me. The Giants have been looking for a solid No. 3 in the rotation to give Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon a breather once in a while. Moss could be that guy down the road. I don't know if it will happen right away. He has some veterans to challenge in front of him, but Moss did make some plays during OTAs and minicamp. He showed a knack for knocking down balls at the line of scrimmage, and he'll need to make more plays like that at training camp and in the preseason.
LANCE MEDOW: Special teams will ultimately decide this duel. Running back Wayne Gallman plays a position where I think Paul Perkins and Shane Vereen will receive the bulk of the workload, and Avery Moss will look to carve out a role as a situational player behind starters Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon. Barring injuries to players ahead of them on the depth chart, it's highly unlikely Gallman or Moss will start any games in 2017. That's why special teams will be the deciding factor and I'd give the early edge to Moss. As Clemson's starting running back, given his workload, Gallman wasn't asked to do much on special teams. With that being said, neither was Paul Perkins at UCLA and yet the Giants developed him into one of the team's most productive special teams players in 2016.
14. What are the Giants' plans for rookie quarterback Davis Webb?
JOHN SCHMEELK: Webb will likely be the third quarterback this season with hopes to groom him to be ready to be a backup next season. Coming from the spread "air-raid" offense in college he needs time to adjust to what the Giants do here and they'll give it to him.
DAN SALOMONE: Like general manager Jerry Reese said right after drafting Webb, you never know when a quarterback is going to help. But the plan for him right now is to hold the clipboard and learn from a two-time Super Bowl MVP in Eli Manning. The Giants think Webb has a high ceiling, but in the meantime, he'll create some competition in the QB room.
LANCE MEDOW: As I noted in my answer to "Who is going to be the primary backup for Eli Manning?" I think Davis Webb will be the third-string quarterback in his rookie year. With Manning still playing at a high level, the Giants are in no hurry to have Webb ready by a specific date this season so they can take their time with respect to his development. He'll have an opportunity to showcase his skills during the preseason, but over the next few seasons his main priority will be adjusting to life in the NFL and learning the ins and outs of Ben McAdoo's offense from Manning. It's way too early to speculate as to whether he'll definitely be Eli's successor.
15. Who is going to be the primary backup for Eli Manning?
JOHN SCHMEELK: I am going to roll the dice here and go with Geno Smith. The Giants want their backup to be someone that understands the offense and can come in and run it the way the coaches want in case of an Eli Manning injury. Due to his experience last year, Josh Johnson checks all those boxes. I believe that Geno Smith can catch up to Johnson as he gets more reps in the summer when his knee heals. He was only able to work in seven on seven in the spring but those restrictions could be gone in training camp. Smith has the tools, and if he can figure out the mental part, I think he can win the job. Preseason games will be huge for those two guys.
DAN SALOMONE: This spring, Josh Johnson benefitted from his first full offseason with the Giants. He was signed six days before the 2016 regular season began and had to learn the offense on the fly. Now that he is settled in, Johnson looked impressive during spring practices. On top of that, Geno Smith, his veteran competitor, was limited while coming back from a knee injury. So Johnson is in the driver's seat heading into training camp. We'll see if he stays there when the preseason games begin in less than a month.
LANCE MEDOW: I'd be very surprised if the Giants don't keep three quarterbacks, which they've done in recent history. I expect this year's third-round pick, Davis Webb, to assume the third spot on the depth chart. That means Geno Smith and Josh Johnson are competing for the backup role. Johnson was with the team last season so he has an edge in terms of fully understanding the system. Smith, however, has made some nice progress since tearing his ACL last October, and the fact that he's just 26 years old keeps him in the conversation to be a potential successor down the road. The latter is what makes Smith a slightly more intriguing choice to be Eli Manning's backup.
16. If you had to pick one, would you rather have the Giants' secondary, receiving corps, or defensive line?
JOHN SCHMEELK: This is a really tough one, but I think in the end I will go with the wide receivers. As good as Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins and Landon Collins are, they aren't Odell Beckham Jr. His super-human talent puts the receiving corps over the top. Combine his skills with a veteran like Brandon Marshall and youngsters Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram and you have a group that can be effective together for a very long time.
DAN SALOMONE: Once the Giants solidified the secondary, we all saw the results: an 11-win season and the first postseason appearance since 2011. Landon Collins is a first-team All-Pro who is just scratching the surface. Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are just as savvy as they are talented at corner. Eli Apple is looking to pull a "Landon" this year as he enters his second season. Darian Thompson and Andrew Adams provide solid depth and options as the free safety. I'll take that group any day of the week. http://www.giants.com/news-and-blogs/article-1/Giants-have-options-at-safety-next-to-Landon-Collins/5f73e761-7c03-45bd-8d05-b09d116fb17b
LANCE MEDOW: On the surface it's a tough question to answer but when you really think it through what facet of a team has the biggest impact on the functionality of the rest of the squad? To me it's simple: the trenches. That's why I'll take the defensive line without hesitation. Give me a unit that can get to the quarterback consistently and stop the run and I'll make the secondary's job easier as well as the entire offense which is what happened for the Giants in 2016. If you don't set the tone in the trenches, on both sides, it's very difficult to make up for that even with an extremely talented receiving corps or secondary.
17. What impact will Dalvin Tomlinson have as a rookie?
JOHN SCHMEELK: I think he will eventually be the starter next to Damon Harrison. It might not happen right away with veterans Robert Thomas and Jay Bromley also in the mix. An underrated spot I can see him being a real weapon is on third downs sliding into Damon Harrison's role at nose tackle. Snacks can't be on the field every play, and Tomlinson might be able to provide some pass pressure from that spot on third downs while he rests.
DAN SALOMONE: As per tradition, the Giants drafted a defensive tackle in the second round to replace a starter who left in free agency. But the common thread between Linval Joseph and Johnathan Hankins is they spent their rookie seasons learning behind veterans before becoming full-time starters in Year 2. We'll see if that's the case with Tomlinson, but the Alabama product might just be too good to wait. Training camp and preseason games will tell us.
LANCE MEDOW: I don't think Dalvin Tomlinson is a lock to claim the starting job next to Damon Harrison. When Steve Spagnuolo addressed the media during minicamp he noted he's been pleased with the progress of Robert Thomas and Jay Bromley and I think both of those players are very much in the mix to win the starting job. With that being said, whether Tomlinson starts or not, I think he can still carve out a role as a rotational lineman in helping to stop the run but his biggest impact will likely come on special teams especially on field goal attempts as Johnathan Hankins was used. Remember, Hankins didn't play much on defense as a rookie in 2013. He had 191 snaps (17%).
18. Who will be the third defensive end in the rotation?
JOHN SCHMEELK: From what I have seen during spring practice, I'll go with a little bit of a sleeper: Devin Taylor. A late acquisition from the Lions, Taylor looked like someone that started 16 games last year. He had his way with the young offensive lineman, and used his 6-foot-7, 266-pound frame very effectively. He has always been good against the run, and hopes to improve his pass rush this season.
DAN SALOMONE: It probably won't be right away, but Avery Moss, the Giants' fifth-round draft pick, is an intriguing prospect. He made some plays in non-contact spring practices, showing a knack for batting down balls at the line of scrimmage. But in the short term, there are a handful of guys like Devin Taylor, Romeo Okwara, and Kerry Wynn, who have NFL experience. The Giants need one of them to step up to give Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon a breather once in a while.
LANCE MEDOW: The frontrunner has to be second year player Romeo Okwara, who flashed late last season when he filled in for Jason Pierre-Paul. As an undrafted free agent last year, Okwara was a long shot to make the roster but he caught the coaches' attention thanks to his production in the preseason and during training camp to earn a spot on the final 53. The playing time he earned as a rookie puts him in a great position entering this year's training camp to further prove to Steve Spagnuolo he deserves a bigger role in his second season with the team. This year's fifth-round pick Avery Moss is just getting acclimated to the system as is veteran Devin Taylor. Kerry Wynn is still very much in the mix but I think Okwara made more of an impact last season.
19. What is the most improved position on the roster?
JOHN SCHMEELK: Tight end. This one was easy. The Giants added a first-round pick in Evan Engram that has more receiving skills than anyone that was on the roster last year. They also added Rhett Ellison in free agency, who is a better blocker than anyone that was on the roster last year. Jerell Adams is improving and Matt LaCosse looks healthy and ready to challenge for a roster spot. Oh, and I didn't even mention the incumbent starter from last year: Will Tye.
DAN SALOMONE: I was trying to think of something to outsmart Schmeelk and Medow on this one, but we're all in agreement. It's tight end. The Giants used one of the most important resources a team has, a first-round draft pick, on the position with Evan Engram. They also signed a proven veteran in Rhett Ellison to bring more physicality. They will only up the competition this summer between Will Tye, Jerell Adams, and a healthy Matt LaCosse.
LANCE MEDOW: Compared to other positions on the roster, it's fair to say the most additions this offseason came at tight end. The Giants drafted Evan Engram in the first round and signed veteran Rhett Ellison, who spent his first five seasons in the league with the Vikings. You also can't overlook the return of Matt LaCosse, who spent all of last season on injured reserve; Will Tye entering his third season in the league; and the development of last year's sixth round pick, Jerell Adams. There's a lot more versatility at tight end entering 2017 given Engram's play making ability, Ellison's blocking and LaCosse's red zone presence. The more options, the more competition during training camp, and that's never a bad thing.
20. Who is the most improved player on the roster?
JOHN SCHMEELK: I'll go with Jerell Adams here. He has the size and straight ahead speed to be a good tight end in this league. He flashed the tools in his rookie here but he seems to be moving much faster and with more confidence in his second season. He will have a sharp competition at a crowded tight end position, but if his improvements become more consistent he can carve out a nice role for himself.
DAN SALOMONE: I'll have a better answer once we get into training camp, but Ereck Flowers has to be mentioned here. His coaches and teammates all noticed how much time the left tackle spent at the facility after the season ended, and the results showed up in the spring. He's leaner and in better condition, which will help him keep his fundamentals throughout the course of a game. We won't really know anything until the season begins, but Flowers has made the improvements to this point.
LANCE MEDOW: Keep in mind we have yet to see anyone in pads this offseason so the sample size to make judgements is extremely small. With that being said, as I've mentioned in previous responses within this series, I think B.J. Goodson has made the biggest strides especially when it comes to learning the playbook and becoming more of a vocal leader. He's been a sponge when it comes to listening to his veteran teammates as well as former Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce. It says an awful lot about a player that only had 13 defensive snaps as a rookie to have a very strong shot at winning the starting middle linebacker job. That fact alone means he's shown the coaching staff he's capable of taking on a bigger role in his second year in the league.
21. What changes has Ben McAdoo made from Year 1 to Year 2 as head coach?
JOHN SCHMEELK: The schedule has changed a little bit as he learned what he liked and didn't like from his rookie season. The team has added a full time nutritionist to help on Aaron Wellman's strength and conditioning staff. Other than that, it's hard to really detect any big changes from the outside looking in. He certainly seems more confident in the job, and is continuing to mold the team in his image.
DAN SALOMONE: I think the important thing is what changes weren't made. Early in the offseason, coach Ben McAdoo made that a point, and it stuck out to me all offseason. For the first time in a few years, there were no major changes to coaching staff. In 2014, McAdoo overhauled the offense. In 2015, Steve Spagnuolo returned as defensive coordinator. In 2016, McAdoo took over as head coach, and on top of that, the team had new players in key roles. Now everyone is settled in, from the starters to their position coaches.
LANCE MEDOW: Early in the offseason, Ben McAdoo had hinted to reporters he would be making some subtle changes to the schedule in terms of how they structure workouts and time management. Those were the two main tweaks this offseason as he looked to find better balance between work on the field and time in the weight room with the strength coaches. McAdoo also added to the staff in that department by hiring a director of performance nutrition/assistant strength and condition coach under Aaron Wellman.
22. Who will be the new starter at middle linebacker?
JOHN SCHMEELK: BJ Goodson will be the Giants middle linebacker when they are in their base defense. He is a smart young player that has the skills to play there. Some games they will start in that alignment (likely week 1 vs Dallas) but other times they will start in their nickel defense. In those situations, Keenan Robinson will likely be the starter on the field with the earpiece in the helmet.
DAN SALOMONE: Just like Paul Perkins at running back, B.J. Goodson steps up to a starting role after the team did not bring back the incumbent at their respective positions. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo saw his players gain more and more confidence in Goodson throughout OTAs and minicamp, which is the most important aspect for a middle linebacker. Goodson also benefitted from Antonio Pierce being around for a few weeks as a coaching intern. No one was smarter than him on the field.
LANCE MEDOW: Earlier in this series, I said B.J. Goodson has the most to gain during training camp because the starting middle linebacker job is clearly up for grabs and I think when it's all said and done he'll claim that job. Goodson has made huge strides in the mental part of the game this offseason as he's become more comfortable with Steve Spagnuolo's scheme and more of a vocal leader in the huddle. For a player that tallied just 13 defensive snaps as a rookie, you can tell his confidence is at a completely different level entering 2017. That should translate to the field during camp once the pads are on and help position himself to win the job.
23. Who is the frontrunner to start opposite Landon Collins?
JOHN SCHMEELK: Darian Thompson. He won first team reps in the offseason last year for a reason. Thompson is a student of the game, is athletic enough to play centerfield, and is improving closer to the line of scrimmage. He was a third down draft pick for a reason. By all accounts he used his time hurt last year to get mental reps and further understand the defense. If he isn't the starter I would be very surprised.
DAN SALOMONE: Safeties coach David Merritt was asked this question during OTAs. He said, "I'm going to be honest with you, you can sit here right now and say yes [it's Darian Thompson], but I can't sit here and take away from what Andrew Adams has done." This is an underrated competition to watch heading into training camp, and we'll see how it plays out. Merritt, however, stressed that the secondary needs not just three, but four solid players back there. They will all contribute meaningful snaps.
LANCE MEDOW: Entering the 2016 season, Darian Thompson was in line to be the main starter opposite Landon Collins but, unfortunately, a foot injury limited him to just two games in his rookie campaign. Now healthy, Thompson is in position to reclaim his starting job and pick up where he left off at Boise State as a ball hawk. When safeties coach Dave Merritt addressed the media during OTAs, he said it's fair to say Thompson is the frontrunner but at the same time Andrew Adams is still very much in the mix. In Thompson's absence last season, Adams appeared in 14 games with 13 starts and built chemistry with Collins. He'll certainly push Thompson during training camp.
24. Which player returning from injury will have the biggest impact?
JOHN SCHMEELK: I think I have to go with Jason Pierre-Paul. Of the three Giants with serious injuries last year (Darian Thompson and Shane Vereen being the other two) he has the best chance to make the Pro Bowl and be a weapon other teams really have to gameplan for. If he can stay healthy the entire year, there's potential for double digit sacks and his typically excellent run defense.
DAN SALOMONE: In the two games before going on injured reserve, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul had 5.5 sacks with two forced fumbles and scored a touchdown. He was just heating up at the most important time of the season, but he didn't play past Week 13. While the defense didn't drop off in the final four weeks of the regular season, they could have used his disruptiveness and playoff experience against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the first round. A healthy JPP could push the team over the top.
LANCE MEDOW: Shane Vereen was limited to just five games in 2016 due to a triceps injury. He's by far the best receiving back on the roster and his versatility always keeps the defense guessing because when Vereen is on the field it could be a run play or he could be involved in the passing attack. The six-year veteran is also effective in pass protection so he isn't a liability on the field and can play all three downs. Easily overlooked, in Vereen's first season with the team, in 2015, he collected a career-high 59 receptions, good for second on the team behind Odell Beckham. Vereen's presence on the field can help the offense in so many ways and don't forget he's also a dangerous return man on punts and kickoffs.
25. Who is the next player to make the Pro Bowl for the first time?
JOHN SCHMEELK: This one is easy for me: Damon Harrison. He was a first-team All-Pro selection last year, which is actually tougher to get and more prodigious than making the Pro Bowl. I have to think the Pro Bowl voters will catch up and realize he is the premier run defender in the NFL. He is a true difference maker on defense and sets the stage for the great play in the secondary by putting teams in second and third and long.
DAN SALOMONE: Don't overthink this one. It's Damon Harrison. He's part of the fraternity of first-team All-Pros who did not make the Pro Bowl. To call it a glitch is an understatement. It's simply baffling. It was baffling with Richard Sherman in 2012. It was baffling last year with Harrison.
LANCE MEDOW: Just think about this for a second. Damon Harrison was named first-team All-Pro in 2016 but didn't make the Pro Bowl. He's clearly due an invite to the latter and if his performance last season is any indication of what's yet to come (career-highs in tackles and sacks), I don't see why he'll have trouble securing a trip to the All-Star Game. Snacks is one of the best run stoppers in the game and consistently draws double teams because of his ability to collapse the pocket. Olivier Vernon also deserves to be mentioned in this conversation, given he was named second-team All-Pro in 2016, but I'd still give the edge to Snacks.
26. Where does Brandon Marshall stack up with the biggest free-agent signings in franchise history?
JOHN SCHMEELK: I think we have to wait and see. Free agent signings like Plaxico Burress, Antonio Pierce, Kareem McKenzie, Antrel Rolle, and Chris Canty helped the Giants win Super Bowls. Until we see how the Marshall signing turns into victories making any bold statements would be imprudent. On paper he should be a great addition to the offense.
DAN SALOMONE: From sheer star power and previous production, it's up there. I've said this a few times now, and it was a bad job out of me. I didn't truly appreciate how historic Marshall's numbers were until I wrote up his bio when he signed with the team. I won't waste your time with listing all of his records again, but we're talking about a player who is 59 receptions away from becoming the 15th member of the 1,000-reception club. Randy Moss isn't even a member (he finished with 982), and he played in 51 more games than Marshall at this point. LANCE MEDOW
: On paper, Brandon Marshall is a top five signing in franchise history but given he has yet to play one snap with the team, it would be extremely premature to put him ahead of several impactful signings that we already have results to go by. Kerry Collins joined the Giants in 1999 and helped lead the team to the Super Bowl the following season providing stability under center after several up and down years following the Phil Simms' era. He tops my list followed by Plaxico Burress, who arrived in 2005 and helped lead the team to a win in Super Bowl 42. Antonio Pierce (2005) and Antrel Rolle (2010) would be three and four respectively given their production and leadership on defense along with helping the team claim some hardware. Depending on Marshall's performance he certainly has a chance to break into the top five.
27. How will the catches be split up in such a deep receiving corps?
JOHN SCHMEELK: As evenly as possible. Odell Beckham should still get his 95-105 catches, but I would like to see it on 140-145 targets rather than the 169 he got last year. I would expect Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard to be between 55-70 each with Evan Engram around 40-55. Don't forget Shane Vereen, who should wind up in the 40s as well. Variety and balance are good things and I think the Giants will embrace them.
DAN SALOMONE: Numero uno is Odell Beckham Jr., and after that, I have no idea. And that should excite Giants fans. There are so many options for Eli Manning that it's tough to know how it will all play out. I think the numbers for the rest of the corps will vary week to week, depending on game plan and who's got the right matchup. Brandon Marshall is a threat in the red zone. Sterling Shepard has the clutch gene on third and even fourth down. The fact that this is the biggest question about the receivers is a good problem to have.
: Odell Beckham has led the Giants in receptions in each of his first three seasons in the NFL and, despite some additional weapons in the receiving corps this season, I don't see that trend ending. In each campaign, he's been responsible for an average of about 25% (96) of Eli Manning's completions (381). Last season, Sterling Shepard (65) finished second on the team in receptions followed by Will Tye (48) and Victor Cruz (39). This season, I think Brandon Marshall will surpass Shepard and finish second behind Beckham followed by Shepard with Evan Engram and Shane Vereen neck and neck for fourth and fifth respectively.
28. What are realistic expectations for Evan Engram as a rookie?
JOHN SCHMEELK: With so many weapons on offense, there are only so many footballs to go around. Odell Beckham will get 130-160 targets. Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall will get tons of looks, and the Giants certainly hope to run the ball better in a more balanced offense. What does that leave for Evan Engram? I think Giants fans should be happy with a 45-55 catch season, 600-750 yards, and 3-5 touchdowns. He should improve as the season goes along and be a real weapon to keep defenses honest in the middle of the field.
DAN SALOMONE: Players selected in the first round are brought in to produce right away, so it's safe to say he'll lead the tight ends, a group that accounted for 113 targets on Eli Manning's 598 passes (18.9 percent) last season. But projecting numbers for a rookie is tricky, especially for a tight end whose full impact won't show up in the box score. He was drafted to stretch the seam and take some of the coverage off Odell Beckham Jr. and company. If the offense as a whole opens up, you'll know Engram did his job.
: If Evan Engram can help open up the middle of the field and take some attention away from the rest of the receiving corps along with contributing on special teams, I think that would be considered a successful rookie campaign. Last season, starting tight end Will Tye collected 48 receptions for 395 receiving yards in 16 games. I don't think it's a stretch to say Engram could get between 40 to 50 receptions and between 400 and 500 receiving yards but keep in mind he'll be competing for targets with Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard as well as the running backs.
29. Who has the most to gain in traning camp?
JOHN SCHMEELK: There aren't many jobs available in training camp to be won. There will be a hot competition at tight end for playing time and roster spots. Starting spots at the defensive tackle next to Damon Harrison and at middle linebacker will be on the line. The depth battles at WR and CB will be fun to watch. When you ask who has the "most" to gain I take that as someone going from not making the team to making a potential impact. I believe if Matt LaCosse is able to stay healthy and perform in games and practice, he can carve out a role on this team. If he doesn't, he may be on the street. No one has more to gain than he does. I think he can do it.
DAN SALOMONE: I think it's Darian Thompson. He's in the driver's seat to start opposite All-Pro safety Landon Collins, but Andrew Adams isn't going anywhere. He started in place of an injured Thompson last year, and the Giants finished as the No. 2 scoring defense. The winner of that competition will start on one of the best secondaries in the NFL and get all the notoriety that comes with it. There's a lot to gain at that position.
: The starting middle linebacker spot is for B.J. Goodson's taking, so how can he not top the list? Last season, Goodson was mainly a special teams player (only received 13 defensive snaps), but with the help of his veteran teammates and former Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce, the former Clemson standout has made strides this offseason and has emerged as a vocal leader in the huddle. He'll have a great opportunity to separate himself from the rest of the pack once he puts the pads on during training camp.
30. Who could be this season's Landon Collins?
JOHN SCHMEELK: The answer here has to be running back Paul Perkins. He will be afforded the chance to start this year, giving him the opportunities to make the types of big plays Collins made in his second season. He also has the same type of rookie experiences and lumps that Landon Collins had after his initial season. There should be a huge jump in production. I would be surprised if Perkins didn't rush for 1,000 yards and score five or more touchdowns.
DAN SALOMONE: Let's look at the ingredients that went into Landon Collins' breakout season. First, he gained invaluable experience from starting 16 games as a rookie. Second, the Giants added help around him. Third, he had a year under his belt with the same coaching staff. Who has all of those going for him in Year 2? Wide receiver Sterling Shepard. Odell Beckham Jr. set the bar incredibly high, but Shepard had a top-five rookie season for a receiver in Giants history. The additions of Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram will free everyone up and lead to big numbers. Shepard is also focusing on increasing his yards after catch this season.
LANCE MEDOW: Landon Collins made a huge jump from his rookie year to his sophomore campaign, and I can see Paul Perkins doing the same in 2017. At the end of last season when Perkins was given more carries, his production increased and, with the team parting ways with Rashad Jennings, I think this season, Perkins will be the team's No. 1 back and receive the bulk of the workload. It also doesn't hurt he's dangerous as a receiver, so he won't be limited based on the down. I wouldn't be surprised if Perkins finishes second on the team in total yards from scrimmage.