Golden Tate will lead the team in receptions this season.
JOHN SCHMEELK - Fiction: This could go one of several ways. Tate could lead the team in receptions. So could Sterling Shepard. So could Saquon Barkley or Evan Engram. A big advantage the Giants offense will have this year is balance and this question shows exactly how much the Giants are going to allow scheme and matchups to determine who gets the ball. All of the above players can win one-on-one matchups, with perhaps only a traditional bigger deep threat with elite straight ahead speed missing from the equation. It is possible Darius Slayton, Cody Latimer or Corey Coleman can fill that role. In an offense designed like the Giants will have in 2019, bet on the field in this situation.
LANCE MEDOW- Fiction: If you remove last season because Golden Tate played for two different teams (Lions, Eagles), in each of his previous five seasons, when he’s suited up for just one team, he’s led that squad in receptions, including four straight campaigns with at least 90 catches. Keep in mind, that stretch included several seasons in Detroit where he lined up alongside Calvin Johnson. Last season, Saquon Barkley led the team in receptions with 91 and when offensive coordinator Mike Shula addressed the media this week, he indicated they’re now looking for even more ways to utilize Barkley as a receiver. Given his versatility and heavy usage in the offense, I think Barkley will once again top the charts in receptions but I wouldn’t be surprised if Tate finishes second and Sterling Shepard third.
PAUL DOTTINO - Fiction. It's highly unlikely anybody other than running back Saquon Barkley will lead the Giants in receptions this season. Consider that he caught 91 passes as a rookie last season - and then take into account that he will become more of a focal point of the offense, now that Odell Beckham Jr. is no longer on the team. Add in offensive coordinator Mike Shula's plans for Barkley: "We will continue to work on the route running because we want to build him where he can pretty much line up anywhere and do some of the things wide receivers are doing." Golden Tate may wind up leading the Giants' wide receivers in catches, but he will be very hard pressed to overtake Barkley.
Signing edge rusher Markus Golden was the Giants’ most underrated offseason move.
JOHN SCHMEELK - Fiction: I think the addition of Kevin Zeitler has been extremely underrated. Last offseason, if the Giants would have signed Andrew Norwell there would have been huge fanfare. Zeitler is just as good of a player, but since the acquisition happened in conjunction with the Odell Beckham Jr. trade it wasn’t talked about much. Zeitler is a pro’s pro that will not only immensely help whomever ends up being the starting right tackle, but also teach Will Hernandez everything he needs to know about playing guard. He might be the best player on the entire offensive line and should help immensely in pass protection and the run game.
LANCE MEDOW - Fiction: I’d certainly put Markus Golden in the conversation given his familiarity with James Bettcher’s scheme and resume, prior to the ACL injury he suffered in 2017, but I think a transaction that fell way under the radar is re-signing wide receiver Russell Shepard. Let’s face it, unless you’re a big time returner, special teams’ players don’t get much notoriety but Shepard was an extremely valuable asset for the Giants because of his contributions to the coverage units, ability to step in as a productive receiver, when injuries struck, and his leadership. Shepard collected just ten receptions in 2018 but two of them were touchdowns and they each came in victories over the Bears and Redskins, in consecutive weeks, in December. When Dave Gettleman took over as GM, he emphasized the importance of creating a strong culture in the locker room. Shepard was brought in for that very reason.
PAUL DOTTINO - Fiction. Although defensive coordinator James Bettcher reminds everyone that Markus Golden was a fierce pass rusher who notched 12.5 sacks with the Cardinals in 2016, it's very difficult to put those expectations on him - especially since he only registered four sacks in 15 games last season. Sure, it was Golden's first year back after undergoing ACL surgery - and players usually don't max out again until their second season following that operation. But it would be an impressive achievement for Golden to come close to exhibiting that form again.
Perhaps the team's most underrated move was the re-signing of center Spencer Pulley, who played very well after he was inserted as a starter for the second half of last season. Yet he went virtually unnoticed by the fans and media - and that's actually a good trait for an offensive lineman. He's put on at least 10 pounds of strength as he entertains a training camp battle with Jon Halapio for the job.
New Giants running back Rod Smith will get the goal-line carries this season.
JOHN SCHMEELK - Fiction: I thought Saquon Barkley would be taken out of games in short yardage situations last year but it never came to pass. I don’t see why it would change this year, especially since the Giants were the best team in football on 3rd and 4th and 1 in 2018. It’s essential to score in the red zone and in goal to go situations and the Giants will have their best players on the field. Barkley will be one of them.
LANCE MEDOW - Fiction: I think we may be getting a bit ahead of ourselves with this statement and that’s the biggest reason why I’m going with fiction. Smith first has to beat out the competition to solidify a roster spot before we start speculating about his role. I also don’t think any back is going to steal too many carries from Saquon Barkley this season, regardless of where the Giants are on the field. Let’s not overlook the fact that Barkley had 261 of the team’s 354 rushes in 2018 (74%). The Giants will look to keep their strongest weapon, out of the backfield, on the field, especially when they’re knocking on the door of the end zone.
PAUL DOTTINO - Fiction. The Giants have too many weapons on offense for me to identify a newly-signed veteran who will have to fight to make the 53-man roster as their goalline back. Consider that Smith likely will have to battle Paul Perkins, who spent last season on the IR list (pectoral injury), for the third-string running back job behind Barkley and Wayne Gallman. Perkins showed flashes as a rookie two years ago and is hungry to get back on the field after being sidelined, so figure he ought to have an advantage going into training camp.
The NFC East is stronger than it was at this time last year.
JOHN SCHMEELK - Fact: The Cowboys are undoubtedly a better team than they were at this time this year, which was before they acquired Amari Cooper and both Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith emerged as Pro Bowl caliber players. The Eagles will have Carson Wentz healthy to start the season, which on its own makes the Eagles a better team. The Redskins have taken a step back with Alex Smith’s career threatening injury at the end of last season, and rookie Dwayne Hasksins likely taking his place under center. The Redskins have an impressive defense, but might struggle scoring points with a run oriented offense.
LANCE MEDOW - Fact: At this time last season, the Giants were just installing their new schemes. That’s not the case this season as there’s a lot more familiarity across the board for both coaches and players. That fact alone puts New York in a much better position and when you look at the NFC East overall, all four head coaches are returning so there’s a great deal of continuity within the division. The Eagles are expected to have a fully healthy Carson Wentz back in the mix, following his recovery from a torn ACL and several other injuries, and added some more depth to the defensive line and secondary, the Cowboys will have wide receiver Amari Cooper for a full offseason and brought back tight end Jason Witten and while the Redskins still don’t know what’s going to happen with Alex Smith, they still have several options in Case Keenum, Colt McCoy and Dwayne Haskins and added some options to the receiving corps, including rookie Terry McLaurin as well as the secondary with Landon Collins. It’s not a stretch to say the division is in better shape across the board.
PAUL DOTTINO - Fact. Each of the four teams in the NFC East did well in the draft - adding potential starters and fortifying their depth charts. But isn't that the way it's supposed to be, anyway? A more important question is which of the clubs did the MOST to improve and, therefore, is primed to add the largest number of victories to their won-lost record - only time will tell.