1. If you had to pick one player to follow at training camp, it would be running back Saquon Barkley.
John Schmeelk - Fiction: If Barkley played any other position I would vote Fact, but simply due to the rules of engagement at camp with no live hitting or tackling, it is hard to get a real appreciation for a great running back. When no one is looking to put you on the ground, you don't see a running back try to avoid those defenders, which is what makes Barkley special. Sure, he will be fun to see in space and when he is used as a receiver, but the rules blunt the impact.
Dan Salomone: Fact – David Wilson had a good run as the most athletic player I had seen since I’ve been with the team (2010) -- until Saquon Barkley came along. You would think at this level everyone is the close to being the same physically, but Barkley is a generational talent. While you can watch all the highlights you want of him on Sundays, you should watch him up close at practice if you have the chance. On top of the physical gifts, you will also see the leader he has become in the span of a year. He’s one of the most vocal guys out there, along with the two Shepards, who are usually giving it to the defense.
Lance Medow: Fiction -- I’d choose a new player on the team so you can get a better feel for that player’s personality and what he’ll bring to the team. That’s why I’m going with Jabrill Peppers. One of the things Peppers has already shown in OTAs and minicamp is he doesn’t back down from any challenge and also doesn’t shy away from talking a little trash as Sterling Shepard and Saquon Barkley can both attest to given some of the back-and-forths that have already taken place. Peppers is a versatile player, who is already being moved around in James Bettcher’s defense, and he’s also the frontrunner to serve as the team’s kickoff and punt returners. When you take into consideration his personality and how much he moves around within the defense and on special teams, you’d be hard pressed to find another player who provides as much entertainment value.
2. The Giants will have more Pro Bowlers than they had last season (five).
Schmeelk: Fiction - Five pro bowlers last season were a lot, and two of those guys (Olivier Vernon, Landon Collins) are no longer on the roster. Kickers can be volatile from year to year, so despite Aldrick Rosas' impressive year there's no guarantee he will be back. Michael Thomas, as a special teamer was the other invitee. Odell Beckham Jr. was an alternate. In my opinion, the Giants most likely to get Pro Bowl consideration this year are Saquon Barkley, Janoris Jenkins, and my sleeper is Evan Engram. Other younger players like Jabrill Peppers or Will Hernandez could take a jump, but I'll make a bet and say the team won't surpass five.
Salomone: Fact – Why not? They had one for each win, and I expect both will increase in 2019. You can pencil in Barkley right away. Kicker Aldrick Rosas isn’t going anywhere; neither is special teamer Michael Thomas. Quarterback Eli Manning, wide receiver Golden Tate, and cornerback Janoris Jenkins have been to the Pro Bowl before, and then you could have first-timers like guard Will Hernandez, safety Jabrill Peppers, and wide receiver Sterling Shepard. Meanwhile, the offensive line is the strongest it has been in years after the team added Nate Solder last season and Kevin Zeitler and Mike Remmers this offseason. Keep in mind, with all the reserves, a lot of people get Pro Bowl nods. I don’t think more than five is a stretch.
Medow: Fiction -- Last season, three players were named as starters: Saquon Barkley, Landon Collins and Aldrick Rosas and then two others (Olivier Vernon, Michael Thomas) ultimately took part in the game after they were named first alternatives. There’s certainly potential across the board on this roster but, keep in mind, five is a pretty high number of representatives from one team. To put things in perspective, following the 2017 season, just one player (Landon Collins) was chosen for the Pro Bowl. When you also take into consideration how young the defense is overall, I think expecting six players to make the Pro Bowl may be a bit on the high side.
3. Left guard Will Hernandez will be the most improved Giant in 2019.
Schmeelk: Fiction - Hernandez was already pretty good last year, and I do expect him to become a better player and perhaps garner Pro Bowl consideration. With that said, I'm going to go with Jabrill Peppers. He was used all over the place in Cleveland but played nowhere near all the snaps he should have given his level of play. I think James Battcher will have him on the field every down, and maximize his playmaking ability in coverage and near the line of scrimmage. I think he will take the biggest jump of all the Giants this season. My other player to keep an eye on is Evan Engram, who if he stays healthy, could become one of the most dangerous tight end targets in the league, and garner Pro Bowl consideration. It is all about health for him.
Salomone: Fact – Some players get to sit and learn behind veterans. Some players are thrown in the deep end. Hernandez was in the latter category. After going 0-12 in his final college season at UTEP, Hernandez went straight to starting and playing every single offensive snap in his first NFL season. The good thing is he had a life preserver next to him in left tackle Nate Solder, a four-time Super Bowl participant and two-time champion. The volume of his reps, along with having Solder show him the ropes, will prove to be invaluable for Hernandez.
Medow: Fact -- Will Hernandez made quite the transition in 2018 as he went from playing in Conference-USA to the NFL, had to learn a completely new offense and adjust to new teammates around him including Nate Solder as well as two different centers in Jon Halapio and Spencer Pulley. Despite all of that, Hernandez still put together a solid rookie campaign but just think about the potential strides he can make in 2019 with more familiarity with the system, a better feel for the speed of the NFL and much more comfort with his teammates as well as Eli Manning. When you combine all those factors, Hernandez is a very strong candidate to be the most improved player. Another player I wouldn’t overlook is Corey Coleman given he’ll have an entire offseason with the team, which he didn’t have in 2018.
4. Out of all the major sports leagues, the draft is the most important in the NFL.
Schmeelk: Fact - It is either the NBA or the NFL. It is so important for the NBA because for more than half the markets in the sport, the only way they are finding a star player is through the draft. With the smaller rosters, finding star players is essential to any success in the NBA, making drafting well the only possible path to contention for more than half the league. The NBA Draft, however, is shallow and only two rounds. There are so many busts every season. It is not an easy endeavor. The teams in the big markets, like the Lakers, can also attract stars in free agency far easier than you can in the NFL.
I do think it is more important in the NFL for a few reasons. With seven rounds, a team can fill up to 15% of its roster every year with draft picks. It is how a team gets their depth and the all important star impact players under cheaper rookie contracts. Finding those types of players in free agency is possible but it is often prohibitive from a price standpoint. If you don't draft well in the NFL it is hard to put a consistently competitive team together, let alone a championship contender. Drafting well in the NFL isn't an option, it is a necessity for every franchise, no matter the market.
Salomone: Fact – It’s the lifeblood of rosters in the NFL. We all know that’s not the case in the NBA, where the landscape shifts so drastically based on free agency – not the draft. You can’t exactly buy a championship in baseball, but spending money can push you over the top. The NHL is probably the most similar to the NFL in terms of the significance of the draft. Look at players like Alex Ovechkin, Nikita Kucherov, Patrick Kane and Jordan Binnington. They all went on to have tremendous personal and team success for the organization that drafted them. But the NFL is still the most clear-cut. If you don’t draft well, you will not have any success on a consistent basis. That’s a fact.
Medow: Fact -- The NFL has a hard cap meaning there’s no flexibility when it comes to players’ salaries. Unlike some other sports leagues, once you reach the cap in the NFL, there’s no luxury tax that you can pay to give yourself some financial freedom, especially if your owner has deep pockets. That’s why the draft is so important in the NFL. Those players don’t eat up a ton of cap space because they’re on reasonable deals so when you strike gold in the draft, it provides you with so much more leeway in how you build the rest of your roster and not just for one season but for three or four. With 53 players on a roster in the NFL, it’s impossible to rely on free agency to construct the bulk of your roster. Therefore, the draft is not a complementary piece, it’s a necessity.
View the best images from all of 2019 rookie minicamp, OTAs, and minicamp