Three Giants writers debate the top reasons to be optimistic heading into next season:
And then there were four.
While the New York Giants won't be one of the teams playing this Sunday for a berth in Super Bowl LI, they have a lot to build on after an 11-5 season under first-year coach Ben McAdoo. In this week's "Cover 3" on Giants.com, we asked our staffers to discuss why Giants fans should be optimistic for 2017 and beyond.
Here is what they had to say:
EXPECT A TOP DEFENSE AGAIN
By John Schmeelk
Even though the Giants' season ended a lot sooner than coaches, players and fans would have liked, there is still plenty of reason to be optimistic for the future. For me, it starts with the defense. In only their first year together, this defense was one of the best units in the league by the end of the season. Before their playoff loss to the Packers, the Giants had not allowed more than 24 points in a game since their Week 3 loss to the Washington Redskins. They played some impressive offensive teams (Steelers and Cowboys) during that stretch of games and held their own.
The defense has a lot of young veterans in players like Damon "Snacks" Harrison, Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Landon Collins and Devon Kennard who are either playing the best football of their career or will be heading into their prime. The group got better as the year went along, and there's no reason to think they won't be a dominant unit in 2017.
It reminds me of the Giants as they closed out the 2007 season. For the first 12 games or so that year, that Giants team was downright mediocre, but they came into their own as the season ended and carried it into a Super Bowl victory. They brought that great play into their most dominant regular season in recent memory in 2008. It's something the defense should be able to do next year.
Given how the season closed, there's no reason to think the Giants can't be one of the top defensive units again. There are tough decisions to make in the offseason with Jason Pierre-Paul and Johnathan Hankins as free agents, and that could affect the group. At the end of the season, the defense played well despite Pierre-Paul's absence, so there is room for optimism. They should also get back Darian Thompson, who could be an impact free safety. It's also important to note that every season brings unexpected challenges. No one thought the offense would struggle this season, but I would be surprised to see similar struggles with the defense next year. Next year's group should once again be one of the top units in the league, and that means the Giants should be in almost every game they play.
YOUNG VETS LEAD THE WAY
By Dan Salomone
The term "young veteran" is an oxymoron, but that's what the Giants have up and down the roster with their playmakers. And no NFL team can have enough of those. The seven Giants who received Pro Bowl and/or All-Pro honors this year have an average age of 27, with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie being the only one older than 30 (he turns 31 in April). In addition to Landon Collins (23) and Odell Beckham Jr. (24), who were both drafted by the Giants, Olivier Vernon (26), Janoris Jenkins (28) and Damon Harrison (29) signed as free agents last year not just as talented players, but talented players entering their prime.
Meanwhile, the Giants added another strong draft class in 2016 with Eli Apple and Sterling Shepard becoming immediate starters. Paul Perkins took over in the backfield by the end of the season, while B.J. Goodson, Jerell Adams and Darian Thompson, who was a starter until suffering a season-ending injury, have plenty of potential. Even undrafted rookies like Romeo Okwara, Roger Lewis and Andrew Adams stepped up in 2016. The Giants have a core group of "young veterans" who just scratched the surface together this season.
MCADOO BACK AT THE HELM
By Lance Medow
Two first-year head coaches helped guide their teams to the playoffs this season: Ben McAdoo and Miami's Adam Gase. Given the parity in the NFL and how difficult it is to get to the postseason, that shouldn't be overlooked. This was a transition year for McAdoo. In Green Bay, he thrived as a tight ends and quarterbacks coach and, in his first two seasons here, as offensive coordinator, but serving as a head coach is a different animal with a lot more responsibility. In 2014 and 2015, he worked solely with the offense, so half the team didn't have an opportunity to get to know him and observe him as a coach as closely as Eli Manning and company. That changed this season as McAdoo got the defense to buy in and the players commended him for his open door policy.
As we've seen throughout the course of NFL history, stability at the top usually translates to the field and that's promising for the Giants moving forward. Being a coach in the No. 1 media market is a challenge. When you consider his inexperience as the head man and his background as primarily an offensive coach, it was essentially baptism by fire for McAdoo this season. But just like young players need reps early in their careers to aid their development, the same can be said for coaches. The Giants were 8-3 in games decided by seven points or less this season. While those results are due in large part to execution and talent, they also have much to do with game management on the part of the coach.
McAdoo and his staff helped develop several young players in Season One, which is also promising for the future. With the exception of Darian Thompson, who was injured for much of the season, the Giants' five other picks from 2016 all played and three contributed as starters: Eli Apple, Sterling Shepard and Paul Perkins. Two undrafted rookies, Andrew Adams and Romeo Okwara, also contributed, and Landon Collins made a huge leap from his rookie year to his sophomore campaign. When you take all these factors into consideration and an 11-5 record in his first season, McAdoo has clearly laid a nice foundation to build upon.