The most important competition this summer will be at center.
John Schmeelk: Fiction — Close call. It is either center or cornerback. I decided to go with cornerback for a couple of different reasons. There are two "starting" cornerback positions up for grabs; the second outside corner opposite James Bradberry and nickel corner. If you can't cover in the NFL, it is hard to get opposing offenses off the field, and it becomes difficult to win. If the Giants don't get strong play from those two positions, who the starting center is won't matter all that much.
I do not mean to understate the importance of the center. The player there helps the quarterback call out protections and is responsible along with the two guards for slowing down the interior pass rush. No quarterback is going to be successful with pressure consistently in his face, nor can a running back succeed with inside penetration. Poor play from a team's center can be debilitating, but not at the same level as poor play at cornerback.
Dan Salomone: Fact — The offensive line sets the tone for the team, and the center sets the tone for the offensive line. Last year, Jon Halapio started 15 games at the position. However, he tore his Achilles at the end of the season and remains a free agent. General manager Dave Gettleman said earlier this offseason they are monitoring his status. In the meantime, Spencer Pulley has played a lot of football, and the team will cross-train rookie Shane Lemieux at guard and center. Nick Gates is also an X-factor who gained the trust of the organization last year. This is the position to watch.
Lance Medow: Fiction — Yes, the center position is extremely important. That player needs to be on the same page as the quarterback and sets the tone for the line, but Daniel Jones has already worked with Spencer Pulley, as well as Jon Halapio (if he returns). Nick Gates and this year's fifth-round pick, Shane Lemieux, are also options. If either one of them wins the job, that's where chemistry with the quarterback will become a factor. Although Lemieux didn't play center in college, he prepared for that position during practice. As it stands, especially with no on-field work, Pulley is the front runner for the job and until that changes and a real competition emerges, I wouldn't put the center position at the top of the list. Instead, the nickel cornerback competition is the most important one to watch this summer. Defenses often have three corners or safeties on the field because of how much offenses rely on three wide receivers. That's why you need a reliable third corner. Julian Love, Grant Haley, rookie Darnay Holmes and Corey Ballentine are all options. Whoever wins the job will be integral to the defense.
View photos of the Giants' 90-man roster as it currently stands.
Linebacker Ryan Connelly is the most intriguing player returning from injury this year.
Schmeelk: Fact — The other argument is for Jabrill Peppers, who is coming back from a fracture in his back. Peppers' injury, however, has a fairly long history of strong recoveries in the NFL. A torn ACL can be far more serious, and recoveries can vary from player to player. The Giants do not know who their second interior linebacker is going to be, nor do they know who their second nickel linebacker is going to be. It may be Ryan Connelly if he can return to 100 percent off his injured knee. He flashed strong play against the run and pass early in the season last year. If he is healthy and continues to get better, he could be a big factor in 2020.
Salomone: Fact — It was tough to see him go down with an ACL last year, and that's not just because I grew up 20 miles from him (and rookie Carter Coughlin, for that matter) in Minnesota. He had just recorded his second interception in as many games with a quarterback sack to boot. Joe Judge has said that the Giants are going to use a lot of linebackers in Patrick Graham's defense. It will be fun to see where Connelly plugs into the much-improved unit.
Medow: Fiction — I think Ryan Connelly fits this label very well and showed some nice flashes in just four games as a rookie before tearing his ACL. Despite being limited to just a quarter of the season, he still finished second on the team in interceptions with two. I think Connelly and Blake Martinez will provide some nice options in the middle of the defense, so his upside and role make him intriguing. But I am going to put Corey Coleman slightly ahead of Connelly. Coleman tore his ACL on the very first day of training camp in 2019. Unfortunately, he's been plagued by injuries throughout his career, but if he can stay healthy, he can solidify the fourth receiver spot and become an intriguing option within the offense. In his first two seasons in the league with the Browns, Coleman showed he's capable of making plays and stretching the defense. Now it's a matter of putting it all together and taking advantage of this opportunity.
At least three undrafted rookies will make the opening roster.
Schmeelk: Fiction — I would be shocked if more than two undrafted rookies make the final roster. Why? The Giants had four seventh round picks. Those players are often selected from the same pool of players as undrafted free agents. There will be a lot of competition for those final spots on the roster between rookies and players drafted in the later rounds in 2018 and 2019. It doesn't mean this year's undrafted class won't have a chance to stick, just that it will be very difficult. It's important to remember that the NFL expanded the practice squad this season, so undrafted rookies could be signed to it and get activated later in the season. I find that a more likely scenario than three being on the opening day roster.
Salomone: Fact — We'll see how the numbers game plays out, but I went "fact" here because of something Joe Judge said at the NFL Scouting Combine. He said having a young team is an advantage for a new coaching staff because the players can be molded. I think that's a big reason why the Giants held on to all 10 picks in the draft and didn't mortgage the future.
Medow: Fiction — With no in-person, on-field work this offseason, I think it's going to be challenging for undrafted players to make the roster. You are judged by what you do on the field, and that facet of the offseason was non-existent. When training camp starts, the coaching staff is going to need to evaluate the veterans and established players on the team. They have not worked with those players, either. That will limit opportunities for undrafted rookies, and if the preseason is impacted, that will further hurt the chances of that group.
View photos of every undrafted free agent signed by the Giants.
Defensive back Julian Love has the most to gain this season.
Schmeelk: Fact — I don't want to put any rookies on this list because I think so many of them are easy answers. Any of the rookies in this year's class could earn starting jobs this year, which would be a huge gain for them. Darnay Holmes sticks out for me as a fourth round pick with a real chance to start as a nickel corner. If Shane Lemieux can win the starting center job, he would have gained a lot for a player that never played the position in a game before.
Discounting the rookie class, I think Love is the best choice. He is a player without a defined position or role. If he can find a niche for his skillset, he could become a vital member of the secondary and secure a place in the NFL for a long time. Is he a safety? Is he a cornerback? Is he strictly a sub-package nickelback? Is he some kind of hybrid player? He has a chance to mold his role by the way he plays.
The other player on my list would be Lorenzo Carter. He was not an edge rusher in college. He has not generated a consistent rush in his first two years. If he can do so in 2020, Carter will be a difference maker for the Giants. Maybe new defensive coordinator will apply Carter's skillset in another way. It's why the season is so valuable for Carter.
Salomone: Fiction — I think it's Daniel Jones. The second season is when quarterbacks can separate themselves from the one-hit wonders and become bona fide superstars. We're in the middle of a massive changing of the guard at the most prominent position in sports – not just within the Giants organization but around the NFL. There is a major opportunity here for Jones on both a local and national level.
Medow: Fiction — Clean fiction sweep this week. Julian Love is certainly one of a few players who has an opportunity because of his potential role within the defense, but Love is also only entering his second season in the league. That's why I think Leonard Williams, Evan Engram and Lorenzo Carter all have much more to gain. Williams could play this season out under the franchise tag, so he has much to gain based on his performance. The Giants picked up the fifth-year option on Engram's contract, but he's still looking to put the injury bug behind him and prove he can be a durable playmaker. Carter is entering his third year with a chance to emerge as an x-factor in the pass rush. Carter was a third-round pick, so that means in 2021, he'll be entering the final year of his rookie contract. I can't think of a better chance to prove your worth than Year Three.