The “Cover 3” crew hands out superlatives to put a bow on 2018.
Best Saquon Barkley play
John Schmeelk: There are so many plays to choose from. I like the play against the Bears at the end of the first half because, according to Pat Shumur, the Giants gave Barkley the ball simply to run out the clock. He made what seemed like a dozen defenders miss to help set up Aldrick Rosas’ 57-yard field goal attempt. He made the kick to close out the half, and without those three points, there’s a good chance the Giants don’t win that game. Barkley is so good, there is no such thing as a give-up play.
Dan Salomone: This guy is just special. In his first regular-season game, he broke a 68-yard touchdown against a Jacksonville defense that returned a half-dozen Pro Bowlers and was less than four minutes away from a Super Bowl appearance. There was no adjustment period for Barkley, whose first touch as a Giant was a 39-yard run against Cleveland in the preseason.
Lance Medow: Week 6 vs the Eagles. Yes, it was a lopsided game in favor of Philadelphia, but Saquon Barkley didn’t disappoint as he collected 229 total yards with 55 coming off a screen pass in the second quarter. Barkley turned a short pass into a huge gain while moving all the way from the right side of the field to the left side and shedding at least three tackles in the process.
Best non-Saquon play
Schmeelk: This is really tough. I’ll go with Alec Ogletree’s unbelievable one-handed interception against the Bears that prevented a touchdown on a pass down the seam to Tarik Cohen. Cohen was open and Chase Daniel threw a nice pass, but Ogletree got underneath the route and leapt to make a Beckham-esque one-handed catch that kept the Giants in the game in the first half. They would eventually win, their best victory of the season.
Salomone: I’m looking to the Giants’ best win of the year: Week 13 vs. Chicago. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins capped a great individual game by leaping to break up a pass intended for Taylor Gabriel, who had nothing but green turf between him and the end zone on the fourth-and-eight play in overtime. The Giants allowed fourth-down conversions on 82.4 percent of attempts this season (NFL average was 55.7), but not that time. The result was a victory over the NFC North champions.
Medow: Week 13 vs the Bears. Odell Beckham threw two touchdown passes in 2018. I could have easily chosen the first, but Saquon Barkley was on the receiving end of that one in Week 5. Instead, I’ll go with his other strike to his former LSU teammate, Russell Shepard, who could have not been more wide open on the play after running right through the heart of the Chicago defense.
Most improved player
Schmeelk: This is really hard since the Giants returned so few players from last year’s roster. I liked what I saw from Dalvin Tomlinson when he had to replace Damon Harrison at nose tackle. He played well taking on more responsibility in the middle of the defense. He got good penetration and was stout at the point of attack. His arrow is pointing up as a run stuffer. Becoming a better pass rusher is the next step in his development.
Salomone: It has to be Aldrick Rosas. You didn’t even know if he would be on the roster coming into the season. Among the kicker’s misses in 2017 were two blocked field goal attempts and two blocked extra points. In 2018, he was one-tenth of a percent away from being the league’s most accurate kicker and also handled the pressure test in the overtime win over the Bears, a game in which he kicked the longest field goal (57 yards) in the history of the franchise.
Medow: In 2017 as a rookie, Aldrick Rosas had his fair share of ups and downs with seven missed field goals.Well, what a difference a year makes. Rosas made 32 of his 33 field goal attempts in 2018 en route to his first Pro Bowl invite and emerged as one of the Giants’ most dangerous weapons. Quite a turnaround.
Most underrated player
Schmeelk: I want to give this to three people because they all helped the offense play the way it wanted to in the second half of the season: Rhett Ellison, Scott Simonson and Elijah Penny. The Giants used more 21 and 12 personnel in November and December because these guys blocked well enough to open up the run game to successfully move the ball. None were perfect, but they all helped transform the Giants offense to one that averaged more than 27 points per game the second half of the season.
Salomone: He played only eight games for the Giants, but the impact Corey Coleman had as a kick returner in the second half of the season can’t be overlooked. In his first three games, he had returns of 51, 40 and 46 yards. His returns sparked some key touchdown drives and got the Giants off to fast starts.
Medow: I always feel special teams players get overlooked, which is why Russell Shepard tops my list. Not only did he make a handful of plays to help the Giants in field position, but he also filled in admirably as a receiver, hauling in 10 catches, including two touchdowns. Before being sidelined due to an ankle injury at the tail end of the season, Shepard’s versatility proved extremely valuable.
Schmeelk: Grant Haley flashed in the spring but then struggled in training camp, which led to him starting the year on the practice squad. When he was signed to the 53-man roster in mid-October to replace Donte Deayon, he performed well and continued to improve throughout the season. By the end of the year, he looked like a reliable slot cornerback. To go from the practice squad to that in the same season is surprising and impressive.
Salomone: How about the NFC East not only sending two teams to the postseason, but both of them winning on Wild Card Weekend? The only division to boast four teams with Super Bowl titles was a punching bag for the better part of the year. While this is the opposite of a consolation prize for Giants fans because they have to watch Dallas and Philadelphia enjoy another week at minimum, there is a path to an All-NFC East conference championship game.
Medow: It’s been an issue over the last few seasons, but given the addition of Saquon Barkley, I would have thought the Giants would have had a much better success rate in the red zone in 2018. They scored touchdowns just 50 percent of the time, which tied for 27th in the NFL. By comparison, they finished tied for 25th at 49% in 2017. Virtually, the same results in both seasons.