Three Giants.com writers give a bold prediction for the 2019 season, which begins this Sunday against the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.
John Schmeelk: Evan Engram will set Giants records for most receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in a single season by a tight end. This is not going to be easy, but this is supposed to be bold, right?
Mark Bavaro holds the mark for receiving yards with 1,001 in 1986. Aaron Thomas (1967) and Joe Walton (1962) are tied at nine for the most receiving touchdowns. Jeremy Shockey’s 74 catches in 2002 is the record for most receptions.
I contend that Engram will break all three of those records this season. The number Engram is most likely to surpass is Bavaro’s 1,001 yards. If Engram plays in all 16 games, he needs to average 63 yards per game to surpass Bavaro. In order to pass Shockey’s 74 catches, Engram needs to average just under five catches. After the Odell Beckham Jr.’s injury at the end of last season, Engram averaged 5.5 catches per game.
Getting to 10 touchdowns might be the toughest feat of all. Engram’s size and athleticism should make him a frequent red zone target, but Saquon Barkley will see many red zone touches and touchdowns. It will be important for Engram to score from outside the red zone if he wants to get to 10.
Aside from individual records, Engram will be key to the Giants’ overall success on offense. Every offense in the league needs players who can create mismatches game in and game out, and Engram has the physical attributes to be one of those players. If he can get one-on-one with linebackers or safeties, his speed and size should make him a mismatch target for Eli Manning.
The Giants’ receiving corps is solid from top to bottom, but it lacks the superstar power of other rosters. Barkley is a mismatch as a receiver, but there will be only so many plays in which he will be positioned as a wide receiver. Especially with Golden Tate suspended the first four weeks, Engram might end up becoming Manning’s go-to player, especially in the biggest game situations on third down and in the red zone.
The Giants selected Engram in the first round in 2017, and this will be his opportunity to prove he can have that type of impact on a football game. He has it in him, but he still has to prove he can do it consistently. If he does, the Giants’ tight end record book is his to destroy.
Dan Salomone: Jabrill Peppers will score a touchdown in two phases of the game. I’ll start with the most obvious one and work my way down to the least likely – but not impossible – scenario. First up is the defensive side of the ball. This makee the most sense for a safety who plays all over the field. He has just two interceptions in his career, one in each of his first two seasons, but the Giants hope he is only getting started. Making plays is in Peppers’ DNA, and James Bettcher will tap into that. The defensive coordinator has a history of maximizing versatile defensive backs.
Next up is special teams, where Peppers is the primary punt returner. The Giants now have the 2016 and 2017 winners of the Paul Hornung Award, given to the most versatile player in college football, in Peppers and running back Saquon Barkley. In his final season at Michigan, Peppers played 15 different defensive, offensive and special teams positions. At the NFL level, Peppers averaged 8.8 yards per punt return last season in Cleveland, slightly above the NFL average of 8.5. He is still waiting to break that big one, and this could be the year. Thomas McGaughey is building a formidable special teams outfit in every aspect, and the return game showed life in the preseason. The Giants were second in kickoff return average (28.4) and tied for fifth on punts (11.7), including a 68-yard touchdown and two more of at least 20 yards.
Lastly, an offensive score isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility. He has no touches as a professional, but he is now playing for a new coaching staff and front office that thought highly enough of his trajectory to trade for him. Maybe they can find a use there for the Swiss Army knife.
Lance Medow: I can go in so many different directions with this response, but I’m going to focus on the defensive side of the ball because there are several more questions with that facet of the team with new personnel and a lot of youth. That’s why I think Antoine Bethea will be the x-factor and he’s going to lead the team in tackles and opportunistic plays. Overshadowed by all the new arrivals, especially the draft class, the Giants will be relying on a polished pro at one of the safety positions. So much has been made about Bethea’s age and years in the NFL this offseason, yet he has been one of the most consistent defensive players in the league over his decade-plus of service.
Last season with the Cardinals, Bethea recorded a team-high 121 tackles, including five for a loss. He also had four passes defensed, one forced fumble, three sacks and six quarterback hits, essentially doing a little bit of everything as a 34-year-old player in his 13th NFL season. You can’t overlook the fact that Bethea has played in all 16 games in nine of the last 11 seasons and has a strong feel for James Bettcher’s system since they were together in Arizona in 2017. I think Bethea’s impact on defense will be as significant as another veteran, Michael Thomas, did for the special teams’ units last season. It wouldn’t surprise me if Bethea emerges as the MVP of the 2019 defense.