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Fact or Fiction: Predictions for Giants vs. Browns

Saquon Barkley will lead all Giants in yards from scrimmage Thursday night.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - I just don't think Saquon Barkley will play enough snaps to accomplish this feat. He might see at most 15 plays, which could equate to maybe a half dozen or so touches. Of course, there is always a chance he busts a 40+ yard play on one of those touches, but I'm not willing to place that wager. I think it is more likely that a second or third string player that gets twice the number of snaps than Barkley ends up leading the team in yards from scrimmage.

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - If there's any player on the roster who will simultaneously contribute the most to the run game and passing game it's Saquon Barkley, but that doesn't mean his workload will be immense Thursday night against the Browns. Starters rarely do the most damage in the first preseason game because they may only play a series or two and given the Giants have been monitoring Barkley's workload during practice, I don't think they'll keep him out there for very long against Cleveland, making it difficult for him to top the team in yards from scrimmage. I'd lean more toward Wayne Gallman or one of the receivers battling for the fourth and fifth spots on the roster.

PAUL DOTTINO: Fiction - It would be very hard to imagine - unless Saquon Barkley rips off a gigantic run - for him to lead the Giants in yards from scrimmage in the preseason opener. Head coach Pat Shurmur hasn't revealed how many snaps he intends on giving to his players, so it's possible the first-round pick may only touch the ball five or six times and then come out for the night. Besides, the coach will need to learn more about the reserves on the running back and wide receiver depth charts than he does the top of those positions. So you can expect the backups to get a heavy dose of touches as they attempt to earn roster spots.

The most important position battle to watch tonight is at safety.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - I had answered "fact" here and gotten halfway through my answer when I realized I was wrong. Safety is certainly important, as the player next to Landon Collins will often be the deep centerfielder and last line of defense. You will also get a bunch of different players at safety for all four quarters that have a legitimate shot at winning a starting job. With that being said, I am going to go with cornerback.

The most important cornerback battle is for the nickel or slot position with the first team, but much more than that is at stake. Does anyone really know who the rest of the cornerbacks on the roster are going to be after Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple? There will be chances for players throughout the game to show the coaches why they deserve a roster spot. Donte Deayon, despite a strong first week of camp, is hurt and won't play. BW Webb and Leonard Johnson will get a bunch of playing time inside. Chris Lewis-Harris has been making plays on the ball throughout camp and is worth keeping an eye on too. You need depth at cornerback in the NFL and the Giants need to find it.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - Landon Collins is penciled in at strong safety but who will line up opposite him, at free safety, is completely up in the air. The Giants have been rotating four different players (Darian Thompson, Curtis Riley, Michael Thomas, Andrew Adams) next to Collins on the first team, and when James Bettcher addressed reporters earlier this week he said no one in particular had separated himself from that group. That means an impressive performance by one player in a preseason game could do the trick. Thompson has battled injuries in his young career, Riley is making the transition from corner to safety, Thomas has been known more for his special teams' accolades and Adams filled in for Thompson when the latter suffered a season-ending injury as a rookie in 2016. All four players come with question marks making the free safety position the one to watch Thursday night against the Browns.

PAUL DOTTINO: Fiction - Although the Giants have rotated four free safeties throughout camp, the primary subject of the microscope for the entire preseason (and at least into the first month of the regular season) will be on the restructured offensive line. It's understood the line has been rebuilt and the talent level has been upgraded, but it will only be as good as the sum of its parts. And let's not forget there is a tug-o-war going on in the heart of the line, where the signals are called, between Jon Halapio and incumbent Brett Jones.

Moreover, the five guys in the offensive trenches share a monumental responsibility on every snap they take -- as Bill Parcells used to repeat like a broken record: "You're only as good as your weakest link." There's much less likelihood that a safety's misplayed snap will result in the defense's failure to make a play.

Photos of the Giants' complete 90-man roster as it currently stands.

B.J. Goodson is the Giants defensive player (non-rookie) with the best chance to break out this year.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - BJ Goodson could be a breakout performer, but I am going to go with Eli Apple instead. Apple is an immensely talented player and has all the tools to be an excellent cornerback in the league. I have seen those tools in short flashes throughout his time with the Giants, but he has never transferred it to the field with any type of consistency over a long period of time. This could be the year he does it, and the team needs him to. (I also believe Sterling Shepard will have a career best year but I don't think it would be fair to label him a "breakout" performer given his numbers as a rookie)

LANCE MEDOW: Fact Last season, B.J. Goodson flashed in the regular season opener against the Cowboys with 18 tackles but, unfortunately, couldn't build off that impressive performance due to injuries, which limited him to just seven games in his second year in the league. If Goodson can stay healthy, this could certainly be his breakout campaign and a perfect comparison is current Cardinals inside linebacker Deone Bucannon. After playing safety, his first year with Arizona in 2015, he was moved to linebacker and flourished at that position in James Bettcher's first season as defensive coordinator. That year, Bucannon posted career-highs in tackles, sacks, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, interceptions, touchdowns and stuffs.

PAUL DOTTINO: Fact - The statistics likely will not be a true indicator of how well B.J. Goodson plays at inside linebacker. Of course, we will assume that he remains healthy and lives up to the type of play he exhibited against Dallas last year before he was injured. He is not a turnover specialist and it's highly probable that tackle machines Alex Ogletree and Landon Collins will have many more stops than Goodson. It would appear Goodson will be asked to do more of the non-statistical work - such as taking on blockers or plugging a hole to force a ball carrier into an area where the offense does not want to go. No matter how well Goodson handles those tasks, it will not be reflected in Goodson's numbers, rather it would show up in the team's overall defensive rankings and on the coaches' grading sheets.

Other than Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr. is the most important player on the Giants offense.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - SLAM! (And I'm the one that came up with the statements this week. Go figure. I'm being a contrarian to myself.) I will not doubt for one second the importance of Odell Beckham Jr. to the Giants offense. He is extremely explosive and a game changer that makes teams adjust how they play defense. I think the Giants, however, could survive his absence far better this season than they did last year. The presence of an improved offensive line, Saquon Barkley and the improving Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram could allow the offense to survive without Beckham.

I'm not so sure the offense could survive the loss of Nate Solder. The Giants invested in him the way they did this offseason for a reason. They were in desperate need of a reliable pass blocking blindside left tackle and Solder is exactly that. Players like that do not grow on trees and replacing him would be exceedingly difficult. It would mean either moving Ereck Flowers back to left tackle, or sliding unproven Chad Wheeler into the starting lineup. Solder's absence and the subsequent problems could render playmakers like Beckham far less useful. Solder is the answer here.

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - When most read this statement, I'm sure without hesitation, they would say it's an easy fact especially when you look at the team's offensive production last season following Beckham's injury. In fairness, Odell wasn't the only notable injury that impacted the offense in 2017 but it's well documented Beckham is a dynamic player, who can change the tone of a game with one play. With that being said, I would argue no matter how many talented players you have on offense, it makes no difference if you don't receive solid play from the offensive line, especially left tackle. This past offseason, the Giants invested in Nate Solder for a reason. Protecting Eli Manning's blindside and the presence of a consistent run game will mean much more to this team than Beckham's game-changing plays. Yes, there's four other players on the line but Solder is the anchor and he'll set the tone for the rest of the group making him the second most important player on offense behind Manning.

PAUL DOTTINO: Fact - We've seen the numbers posted many times over: Eli Manning's stats with Odell Beckham Jr. on the field not only dwarf the quarterback's stats sans Beckham, but the Giants averaged nearly double-digit points less per game without his Pro Bowl target available. Sure, there are always other factors that come into play, although a case can even be made - and a rare one for a wide receiver - that Beckham is among the most important impact players on any unit in the league. Beckham's return to the lineup this season after rehabbing his injured ankle will allow more evidence to be compiled on either side of that opinion.

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