1. The new playing rules, particularly the expansion of reviewable plays, will have a major impact on the game.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact -- I will focus on offensive and defensive pass interference penalties, both called and uncalled, becoming eligible for challenges because I think it will have a tremendous impact on the game. Here are some aspects of the change that I don’t think people realize quite yet. If pass interference is now reviewable, does that mean the judgment call of whether a ball is catchable, which impacts whether pass interference can be called, is also eligible for review? Offensive pass interference in the form of rub routes/pick plays can now be challenged, including plays away from the ball that are often overlooked live on the field. There is always excessive contact on Hail Mary plays. How are these going to be officiated in reviews?
The meaning of rulebook language that determines whether pass interference is called, like judging whether contact “restricts a player’s ability to make a catch,” will be a constant topic. “Incidental contact by an opponent’s hands, arms, or body when both players are competing for the ball” is not supposed to be called, but now judging whether contact is “incidental” will be up for review and will be parsed endlessly. “Inadvertent tangling of feet when both players are playing the ball or neither player is playing the ball” also isn’t a penalty, but now it is up to the booth to determine what is “inadvertent.” It gets very sticky.
Coaches might play things differently too. You might have more “what the heck” third-and-long deep passes into coverage with greater hopes for a defensive pass interference with review in place. You will also have teams flying to the line of scrimmage on plays to prevent a potential booth review for pass interference. The biggest impact will be on how fans can enjoy the final few minutes of games. With every pass now under automatic review, fans will have to wait to celebrate nearly every big play at the end of games to see if there is a challenge or review from the booth. The benefit, obviously, is that egregious calls will be corrected, but a lot of baggage comes with it. It is a on- year rule change and everyone will see if it’s worth it.
DAN SALOMONE: Fact – Sometimes we make too big a deal out of rule changes at this time of the year, but this was a big one. It opens a huge can of worms, but at the end of the day, it’s all about getting it right. Fifteen yards and automatic fist downs change games. I was interested to hear what an old-school general manager like Dave Gettleman thought about the new rule. “It’s really great for the game, it really is,” he said this week on “Good Morning Football” on NFL Network as the annual league meeting wrapped up in Phoenix. “Everybody saw what happened – it was a great football game between the Saints and the Rams (in the 2018 NFC Championship), and all everybody’s talking about is the missed call. So let’s keep our game as right as we can. [It] was a great step. ... You have to evolve, and the bottom line is it’s a game played by humans, officiated by humans, coached by humans. We’re all going to make mistakes, but this a great thing that we now know we can fix it.”
LANCE MEDOW: Fact -- It will absolutely have a major impact on the game, especially in the final two minutes of each half when judgement call reviews can be initiated by New York. These are now additional plays, throughout the game and in crunch time, that can be put under the microscope. Another reason why I think the expansion of replay will have a major impact on the game is because I can see coaches taking some chances early in a contest when they’ll challenge a call, especially a non-call, lose the challenge and then run out of challenges when they really need them in the fourth quarter. The expansion of replay will only put more pressure on coaches to determine when and where they want to challenge plays. Remember, replay may be expanding but the number of challenges are staying the same.
2. The returning Giant you are most intrigued by in 2019 is tight end Evan Engram.
SCHMEELK: Fact -- The way Evan Engram was able to flourish with Odell Beckham Jr. off the field in the final four games last season was obvious. He averaged just under eight targets and six receptions per game in the final quarter of the season. He averaged under four catches and under five targets per game in the season prior to that. He will be a weapon to stretch the field down the seam and should be a huge part of the Giants’ offensive attack as a mismatch against opposing linebackers and safeties.
SALOMONE: Fiction – I’m interested to see where Will Hernandez goes in his second year. As a rookie second-round pick, he played every single snap of the season and did so next to a two-time Super Bowl champion left tackle in Nate Solder, who also never missed a play. As Hernandez got better, so did Solder because he didn’t have to compensate. Coach Pat Shurmur, a former standout center in college, said a light will click on in Hernandez this offseason and he will realize everything he didn’t know he didn’t know. And now he knows it.
MEDOW: Fact -- Evan Engram missed five games in 2018 but really started to hit his stride in the final four contests of the season and had a very productive month of December. The Giants’ 2017 first-round pick recorded at least 75 receiving yards in each of those games and hauled in 22 catches out of 31 targets. When healthy, Engram proved he can be a dangerous and consistent weapon within the offense, but the reason those stats carry even more weight is the fact that Beckham wasn’t on the field for all four of those games. The Giants already got a small taste of what life will be like for Engram without Beckham. Now, the question remains: can the young tight end build off that production?
3. The new Giant you are most intrigued by in 2019 is safety Jabrill Peppers.
SCHMEELK: Fact -- I’m excited about Kevin Zeitler, but Peppers is an ascending player and I think his best football is ahead of him. By Peppers own admission, he still has a lot of improving to do with his man to man coverage, but his elite athleticism and mental approach to the game leaves him great room for growth in that area. He can run with anyone (4.46 40 yard dash at the combine), can change direction and has been used all over the field (cornerback, box, single high deep, slot, etc) which gives him valuable experience in different roles. It could be a Pro Bowl year for him.
SALOMONE: Fiction -- Well, the Giants have to fill the void of Odell Beckham Jr., who had already climbed to second on the franchise’s all-time receiving yards list. So Golden Tate is my choice here. I’m particularly interested to see how Shurmur and the staff uses him with Sterling Shepard and Engram. Gettleman and Shurmur talked “at length” about how Tate and Shepard could complement each other despite both spending most of their time in the slot. With the way Shurmur moves his receivers around, they’re not concerned. According to Pro Football Focus, Shepard played 517 snaps in the slot last season, 393 outside and 24 inline. Tate, who played seven games in Detroit and eight with Philadelphia, spent 482 in the slot, 180 wide, six inline, and two in the backfield.
MEDOW: Fact -- The two players who primarily started at safety last season are no longer with the team. Landon Collins is now with the Redskins and Curtis Riley joined the Raiders. That means the Giants will showcase two new faces in those spots in 2019 and one of them will be Jabrill Peppers. The 2017 first round-pick will provide defensive coordinator James Bettcher with the versatility he’s tapped into with numerous other players he’s coached, going back to his days with the Cardinals. What intrigues me even more about Peppers is his special teams upside. The New Jersey native returned both kickoffs and punts during his two seasons with the Browns and has an opportunity to make a significant impact on that facet of the game for New York.
4. We will see a trade in the top 10 before draft day.
SCHMEELK: Fiction -- I started to write down fact for this, but then I changed my mind. My common refrain since the combine has been that I wouldn’t be surprised if another team traded up ahead of the Giants to take a quarterback if Kyler Murray goes first overall. This still wouldn’t surprise me, and I reserve the right to change my mind, but my gut is starting to tell me it won’t happen. Dwayne Haskins would be an obvious target but as Peter Schrager said on our new “Giants Huddle” podcast (https://www.giants.com/podcasts/), Drew Lock’s arm talent and four years of college experience might be placing him higher on teams draft boards than many expect. I’m going to guess that teams between 10 and 20 are going to be willing to take a chance that Lock might fall to them, rather than trade up for Haskins. If there isn’t a trade up for a quarterback, I bet all teams stay put because after the top three non-quarterback prospects (Nick Bosa, Quinnen Williams and Josh Allen) there might not be anyone worth moving up for.
SALOMONE: Fact – You can’t win without a quarterback, and general managers will bet the house to get one. It’s as simple as that. Now it’s just a matter of which team and for whom.
MEDOW: Fact -- It’s a clean “fact” sweep for me this week. I think it’s pretty safe to say that at least one team will make a move in the top 10. I know the statement says “before draft day,” but last year the Jets and Colts swapped picks before the draft, and in 2016 the Rams-Titans and Eagles-Browns did the same. It’s been a common occurrence in recent years, so why bet against the trend?