In last week's Cover 3, we discussed which returning players to watch this season. Today, we debate which offseason addition, either via free agency or the draft, we're most interested to see in a Giants uniform for the first time.
John Schmeelk: For questions like these, I usually like to pick a younger player I have some questions about or needs to prove something. I decided to go against the grain and pick cornerback James Bradberry. He has a track record of being a good NFL cornerback, and there's no reason that should change now, so my usual criteria do not apply to him. Other than Daniel Jones, Bradberry might be the most important player on the roster.
Last season, the Giants were the fifth worst team in the league in passing yards allowed and second worst in pass defense DVOA (an advanced metric that measures defensive efficiency against the pass). The team faces another gauntlet of excellent quarterbacks this year and the ability to stop the pass must improve if the defense is going to get better and the team is to win more games.
Bradberry is the key to the team getting better against the pass. He traveled with the opposing team's best receiver when he was with Carolina and will probably be asked to do the same in what is likely to be Patrick Graham's heavy man to man defensive scheme. He must play well if teams are going to be slowed on third down and late in games when the passing game is most prevalent and impacts winning and losing the most.
Other than Bradberry, there are a lot of unknowns when it comes to the Giants pass defense. DeAndre Baker, Sam Beal and Corey Ballentine are unproven, and what the team gets out of each this year is impossible to know. The nickel spot is filled with young developing players like Grant Haley, Julian Love and rookie Darnay Holmes. Bradberry is the one cornerback from whom the team should know what to expect.
The Giants did not add a big-ticket pass rusher in free agency or in the first three rounds of the draft. They signed Kyler Fackrell and could bring back Markus Golden, but it will be a pass rush by committee that may rely on a lot of blitzing. If the team does send five or six men after the quarterback regularly, even more pressure will be put on the shoulders of Bradberry.
Practice will give a good read of how well Bradberry will play this year. He has three very good players with different skillsets that he will face every day. Darius Slayton is more of a traditional outside X receiver, while Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate are effective outside and in the slot. It will be fun watching Bradberry try to cover them in practice, whenever that time comes.
View photos of every roster addition made by the Giants this offseason.
Dan Salomone: The offensive line sets the tone for the team. General manager Dave Gettleman and coach Joe Judge are in lockstep in this thinking, so it came as no surprise when they made Andrew Thomas the highest offensive lineman drafted by the organization since Ohio State's John Hicks arrived as the third overall pick in 1974.
"We want to fix this offensive line once and for all," Gettleman said at the top of his opening remarks following the selection.
The offensive line has been a rebuild inside of a rebuild for Gettleman, who invested resources in free agency and the draft on the unit before – but not like what he did last month. His philosophy is to build from the inside. The best way to help Daniel Jones, who set every franchise rookie record last year and did some things no other first-year QB had ever done league-wide, is not to give him more weapons. It's to keep him upright.
Lance Medow: If there's one area on the team that will continue to be a big focus in 2020, it's the pass rush and if there's any player who can help that cause the most, it's outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell because of his previous flashes with the Packers and connection to Patrick Graham. In 2018, the Utah State product collected a career-high 10.5 sacks with Green Bay when Graham was a member of the defensive coaching staff. That was the season before the Packers made a big splash in free agency and signed pass rushers Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith. With those two in the mix in 2019, Fackrell's sack total fell to just one, but he recorded more pressures in 2019 with less snaps than he did in 2018 when he had nine and a half more sacks. That tells us there's potential there to consistently disrupt the quarterback despite not finishing every time.
The Giants are clearly seeking playmakers in the pass rush. Markus Golden led the team in sacks (10) and quarterback hits (27) last season, but he is currently a free agent. If he does not return, someone will have to fill that void and Fackrell has a great opportunity to do some of the heavy lifting. Fackrell is the only player on the roster who has a double-digit sack season on his resume. That's it. The opportunity is there for him to tap into his 2018 production. That's why I'm interested to see how his season unfolds.