In this edition of “Cover 3” on Giants.com, the crew picks breakout candidates for 2019. Players report April 15 for the start of the voluntary offseason workout program.
JOHN SCHMEELK: The obvious answer for me is Evan Engram, but since I already covered him in Friday’s edition of “Fact or Fiction” -- and you can argue he already broke out in his rookie year -- I’m going to go with Lorenzo Carter instead. Carter played as an off-the-ball linebacker for the majority of his career at Georgia, and not coincidentally, that is also where he played his best football as a member of the Giants as a rookie. The Giants, however, want to see him develop as a pass rusher from either a standup position or with his hand in the dirt in nickel and dime situations. At the combine last year, Carter posted one of the best Relative Athletic Scores (RAS), a composite of all his times and measurements.
He has the explosive athleticism, quickness and length that fits the profile of an edge rusher to a tee. With a year of experience under his belt, an offseason of training, and another offseason program of NFL coaching, he has the potential to establish himself as one of the up-and-coming edge rushers in the NFL. As just a third-round choice, he could end up being a great value pick and terrific find for the Giants if he can make that jump. It would also help fill the void after trading Olivier Vernon this offseason.
DAN SALOMONE: You would like the answer to be the sixth and 17th overall selections, whoever they turn out to be, but let’s not deal in hypotheticals. Left guard Will Hernandez is the guy to me. He and AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Saquon Barkley started all 16 games, marking just the second time since the 1970 merger that the team had multiple rookies start every contest. Lawrence Taylor and Bill Neill were the others in 1981.
More important than volume – Hernandez played every snap – is who he played alongside, left tackle Nate Solder, who showed him the ropes as a four-time Super Bowl participant and two-time champion. As Hernandez got better, so did Solder. As Hernandez got more comfortable and didn’t have to think as much, he let his tenacity take over. The Giants have made strides in securing the right side of the offensive line. They brought back centers Jon Halapio and Spencer Pulley and acquired veteran right guard Kevin Zeitler in the blockbuster trade with the Browns. The stability will only help Hernandez grow in the rebuilt trenches.
LANCE MEDOW: Evan Engram will be entering his third season in the league in 2019, and I can’t think of a better candidate to have a breakout campaign given the significant changes on offense this offseason. Engram put together a very nice rookie season in 2016 when he caught 64 balls for 722 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games. But that was under a completely different coaching staff. Unfortunately, in his first season in Pat Shurmur’s system, Engram was slowed by injuries and limited to 11 games.
Despite those issues, he still managed to record 45 receptions, 577 yards and three touchdowns. Keep in mind, 22 of his 45 catches and 320 of his 577 receiving yards came in the final four games combined. I think Engram provided some flashes late last season as to what he can accomplish in 2019. Engram has already built chemistry with Eli Manning, and the veteran quarterback hasn’t shied away from targeting the 2017 first-round pick in some crucial spots. I can see Eli leaning on Engram even more in 2019.