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Fact or Fiction: Predictions for Evan Engram

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Evan Engram will lead the Giants in touchdown catches this year.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - I'm not sure if Salomone was looking at my Twitter account earlier this week, but I tweeted this exact sentiment to a fan. In all honesty, I think odds are that Odell Beckham Jr. wins this battle, but Engram has a much better shot than most people may think. Engram has the best size of any receiver likely to be on the roster, and he has the great quickness, body control, hands and vertical leaping ability to be the team's primary passing option in the red zone. He has been a constant target for Eli Manning during OTAs on slants, fades and other routes, and I would expect that to continue once we get to the games that count.

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - It's best not to overthink these things. It's Odell Beckham Jr., the player who is already fifth in franchise history in touchdown catches (38) despite playing in only 48 games in his career. And that's for a team entering its 94th season. This is a good opportunity to look at how gaudy his numbers really are, especially in terms of how quickly he has put them up. He is 16 away from Amani Toomer's franchise record, and it took the Ring of Honor inductee 190 games to get there.

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - Last season, Evan Engram led the Giants with six receiving touchdowns, but Odell Beckham was only on the field for the first five games. Beckham led the team in this category in each of the previous three seasons.  Five of Engram's six touchdowns came after Beckham was injured, which further complicates matters. You would like to have a larger sample size with the both of them on the field at the same time to see the distribution of end zone targets.  When you factor in Beckham's return, a fully healthy Sterling Shepard and Saquon Barkley's arrival, I don't think Engram will lead the team in touchdown catches.  Beckham will top the list with Shepard and Engram battling for second.

Olivier Vernon will have a career-high number of sacks in James Bettcher's defense.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - For the Giants' sake, I think he better. Vernon's career high in sacks is 11.5, and he is the only player on the roster who has ever had more than four sacks in a single season. Landon Collins is next-best (4.0) of all the other players on the roster. Finding a consistent pass rush is the most underrated story line of the Giants' upcoming season. It is very risky to rely on a scheme to generate a pass rush. Last year, only one Cardinals player not named Chandler Jones (Olsen Pierre with 5.5) had three or more sacks. Putting premier pass rushers Calais Campbell and Chandler Jones aside, Markus Golden was the only Cardinals player to have more than four sacks in 2016 (he had 12.5). The Giants need Olivier Vernon to stay healthy and have a monster season. 

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - Chandler Jones was averaging nine sacks in his first four years before arriving in Arizona, where he had 11 in 2016 and 17 in 2017 in James Bettcher's scheme. Vernon is as good as they come in terms of hurrying the quarterback, but the problem has been getting home before the quarterback releases the ball. I think Bettcher's scheme will allow Vernon to seal the deal more with blitzes coming from all over the place. Bettcher isn't afraid to send the house. 

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - If Olivier Vernon is to set a career-high in sacks in 2018, he will have to collect at least 12 because 11.5 in 2013 when he was with the Dolphins is currently his single-season best. Since then, he has posted single-digits in sacks every season with 8.5 in 2016 as his best mark as a Giant.  Last season, Vernon collected seven sacks in 12 contests, the first time he's played in less than 16 games in his career.  In Bettcher's three seasons (2015-2017) as Cardinals' defensive coordinator, three players recorded double-digit sacks. In 2016, Markus Golden had 12.5 and Chandler Jones 11.  Jones posted 17 in 2017.  The latter total is noticeable because Jones led the NFL in sacks, but in his first season in the Cardinals' system, he had six less, which was a sack and a half below his career-high.  Vernon is expected to assume Jones' role in Bettcher's defense, but I think he will fall short of 12. 

I believe the team's sack totals will be spread across the board, as opposed to one particular player accumulating the vast majority.  Earlier this week, Landon Collins mentioned to the media, "Everybody can make plays, literally. It's not to where it's keyed on one person making the play. It's overall, anybody can make the play. And we all can play fast."

The Giants player most likely to make his first Pro Bowl this year is Damon Harrison.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - Damon Harrison has been deserving of a Pro Bowl bid for some time. His play against the run is the best in the league, and it isn't close. I hope this is the year that everyone starts to recognize it. The problem is that players like Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox and Gerald McCoy (not to mention Linval Joseph) also reside in the NFC. There is fierce competition, so I'm not sure he is going to break through. I just don't have faith in the people who make those choices to see past his lack of sacks. I think there is a better chance we see either Evan Engram or maybe even Saquon Barkley making their first-ever Pro Bowl. Both should put up big numbers in an explosive offense that will garner league-wide attention. 

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - In my eyes, tackles are nearly as good as sacks for interior defensive linemen because, by nature, they are made close to the line of scrimmage and not downfield, where linebackers and safeties rack up those numbers. And since he became a full-time starter for the Jets in 2013, Harrison leads all defensive linemen, including ends, in that department. People, send this man to Orlando. It's long overdue.  

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - Snacks has made a case to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons with the Giants, but let's face it, defensive tackles who rack up sacks are much more likely to get the nod as opposed to ones who are known primarily as solid run stoppers.  It's the sack department that winds up hurting Snacks in the end.  Will that change this season?  Highly unlikely, especially since his career-high is just 2.5 and last season's three Pro Bowlers -- Philadelphia's Fletcher Cox, the Rams' Aaron Donald and Gerald McCoy of Tampa Bay -- aren't going anywhere.  I would say it's far more likely Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, Nate Solder or even Alec Ogletree make their first Pro Bowl than Snacks.  That's not a knock on Harrison's game.  It's simply the reality of the Pro Bowl selection process.

The most impressive rookie not named Saquon Barkley has been Will Hernandez.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - I wish I could say that, but with no contact during OTAs, I just don't have a feel for it yet. I love Hernandez's attitude off the field, but this should be about what I have seen at practice. With B.J. Hill and R.J. McIntosh also linemen, albeit on the defensive side, that leaves only a few players to choose from. Kyle Lauletta started slowly but has improved lately. I can't give this to him. The two guys I'm considering are Lorenzo Carter and Grant Haley. Carter has shown nice speed, quickness and get-off at the line of scrimmage, but contact rules limit how much I can judge. Therefore, I'm going to go with Grant Haley. I think he has played well. Haley is my undrafted free agent to make the team, despite standing just 5-9. He has been solid in coverage and has played bigger than his size. 

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - Back in his opening press conference, general manager Dave Gettleman said, "There are guys that play professional football and there are professional football players. And the professional football players are the guys we want." Hernandez, from what we can tell so far, is the latter. You can tell pretty early if a player just gets it, and the second-round pick just seems to get it with his tangibles and intangibles. And he feels almost personal responsibility to protect Eli Manning, which he brought up on the conference call right after the Giants drafted him. As is the case with Barkley, everyone is itching to see Hernandez with the pads on next month. 

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - This is really an unfair statement to respond to because, outside of Barkley, four of the five other rookies are either offensive or defensive linemen and in OTAs, there is no contact, so the evaluation to the naked eye is very limited.  When all is said and done, Hernandez will likely make this a fact, but as of now, there is barely anything to support that claim.  That's why I'm going with Kyle Lauletta.  The rookie quarterback may not be wowing everyone during each practice, but the fact that he's digesting the offense and rotating in with the rest of the signal callers is a positive sign.

Photos from the Giants final OTA practice from June 7th

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