The Giants kick off their 2022 campaign against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville this Sunday.
After going 2-1 in the preseason under Brian Daboll and the new coaching staff, the Giants will take the field at Nissan Stadium for their first real test of the season. The Titans, led by head coach Mike Vrabel, lost to the Baltimore Ravens in their preseason opener before defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals.
Here are five players to watch in the opener, all of whom were voted captains by their teammates last week.
QB Daniel Jones
Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka were brought in to transform an offensive unit that struggled last season. Although it was only a limited sample size, the offense put up a good performance during the preseason. The Giants finished the three-game slate ranked first in the NFL in total yards (382.7) and passing yards (279.0) per game. They also finished at the top of the NFC in passing attempts (143), completion percentage (71.3 percent) and fewest sacks allowed (three).
Daniel Jones saw limited action in the preseason. He played in the first two games (vs. Patriots & Bengals) and completed 20 of 26 passes (76.9 percent) for 185 yards and added two rushes for 11 yards. He earned a solid overall grade of 72.2 from Pro Football Focus for his preseason performance. Playing well in the preseason is great, but it's when the games actually count that individual performances matter. After a long summer of hard work installing the offense, Jones is excited to finally prepare for a specific opponent.
"It's been fun this week," Jones said on Tuesday. "You kind of switch into gameplan mode, you're preparing for certain looks, scheming up our offense to put us in the best position to make plays and succeed. It's about us, it's about us executing our plays and doing what we need to do as a unit and an offense. We're preparing for them, but we're really focused on us this week."
View photos from practice as the Giants prepare for the season opener against the Titans.
RB Saquon Barkley
Barkley enters the season fully healthy and has received rave reviews from the coaching staff throughout the summer. Although the talented back saw his first preseason action since 2018 in the opener against the Patriots, it was only for a couple of series. The Week 1 matchup against the Tennessee Titans will serve as the first time we see Barkley fully unleashed in the new offense. The fifth-year running back has made a strong impression on the coaching staff, front office and his teammates with everything he has done this year leading up to the start of the season.
"Good, he's looked really good since the spring," GM Joe Schoen told the media last week. "He's quick, he's fast, good hands, I mean he's been impressive, and leadership wise he's been really good too, so I've been really impressed with Saquon."
T Andrew Thomas
Thomas is the lone incumbent starter among the team's offensive linemen after he took a big step in his development last season. He played 800 total offensive snaps in 2021 and allowed just two sacks on 517 pass block snaps. Thomas earned an 82.1 pass block grade from PFF, which ranked 12th among all offensive tackles, while his 78.9 overall grade ranked 19th.
His success carried over to the 2022 preseason, when Thomas earned an 80.8 pass block grade after he did not allow any pressure on 21 snaps. Overall, Thomas received an 85.7 overall grade and 88.9 run block grade from PFF, both of which are elite marks, for his performance in two preseason games. In addition to his strong play, Thomas was voted a team co-captain for the first time in his three-year career. He has already displayed great leadership this year with his tutelage of rookie offensive tackle Evan Neal.
"I love Andrew," Neal said earlier this week. "Andrew is a great guy, a great mentor for sure. He just told me to focus on what's inside, what's going on inside. Don't really dwell or focus on what's going on outside. Just focus on getting better. Regardless of what type of product is put out there on Sunday, the goal is to get better the next week – just flip the page and then focus on getting better the next week, and just continue to make positive growth as a player."
View rare photos of the all-time history between the New York Giants and Tennessee Titans.
DL Leonard Williams
Williams has been one of the most consistent interior defensive linemen since he entered the league in 2015. In each of the last seven seasons, he has registered at least 700 defensive snaps and 45 quarterback pressures. His 44 quarterback hits since the start of 2020 are tied for the seventh-most among D-linemen, and his 18.0 sacks are tied for fifth in that same span. Williams was recently named to the NFL Top 100 Players of 2022.
After he recorded 11.5 sacks and 62 total pressures in 2020, the defensive lineman picked up 6.5 sacks and 47 pressures last season. How will his numbers change with defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and defensive line coach Andre Patterson handling things?
"It's hard to pinpoint one thing that goes into sack numbers or pass rushing numbers," said the 28-year-old lineman. "Sometimes if you're in the second half and you're down by a few scores, you know the team's going to run the ball. You're not going to have many opportunities in the second half if you're down. If there's no third-and-long situations, there's a lot that I can probably look at from last year and see why. Overall, I'm confident that Coach 'Dre has taught me a lot this year and I'm confident with Coach Wink's defensive scheme and I'm confident in myself that I'm going to execute it. I think those numbers are going to go up."
S Xavier McKinney
McKinney was a bright spot on the defense last season. His five interceptions were the most on the team, while his 10 pass breakups and 93 combined tackles ranked second and third, respectively. Additionally, McKinney had the Giants' only defensive touchdown of the season with his 41-yard interception return for a score against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 9. He picked up a 78.4 coverage grade, which ranked 12th among the 113 qualified safeties.
The third-year safety picked up an important responsibility this year, as he will don the green dot and communicate the plays to the rest of the defense. Additionally, he was voted a co-captain by his teammates, an honor he is truly grateful for.
"It means a lot. It's obviously an honor to be voted by my teammates, the guys that I go to work for every day, the guys that I grind with every day," McKinney told reporters last week. "It's always meant a lot to me to become a captain. It says a lot about what my teammates think about me as a person and as a player. It's honoring, I'm happy, but I've got to keep going and keep getting better each day."
View photos of the projected Week 1 starters for the Tennessee Titans based on their unofficial depth chart.