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21 Questions in 21 Days

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21 Questions: Toughest competition in NFC East


With the calendar flipped to July, asks 21 important questions heading into the team's 2021 training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

For 21 days, a member of the crew will answer one question about the roster, coaching staff, schedule, and much more.

No. 10: Who will be the toughest competition in the NFC East?

John Schmeelk: It's either the Dallas Cowboys or the Washington Football Team. Washington has what could be a Top 5 defense, but they have a journeyman at quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick and young players at their skill positions. When in doubt, go with the team with the best quarterback and that's Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys. 

The Cowboys ranked 14th in the NFL in yards per game last year (371.8) without Dak Prescott for 11 games, their starting left (Tyron Smith) and right tackle (La'el Collins) missing a combined 30 games, All-Pro guard Zack Martin missing six games, and starting tight end Blake Jarwin missing 15 games. With Ceedee Lamb entering his second season and joining forces with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup outside, the Cowboys' offense should be a Top 5 unit this year.

On defense, Dallas allowed the fifth-most points in the NFL (29.6 points). In eight of their 16 games last season, Dallas allowed 33 or more points. They drafted exclusively on the defensive side of the ball and hired a new defensive coordinator in Dan Quinn. Despite the poor defense and injuries on offense last season, Dallas still finished tied with the Giants at six wins.

If Dallas can keep Dak Prescott on the field, keep their offensive tackles healthy and approach mediocrity on defense, they should be able to win somewhere around 10 games. If that's the case, they will be the Giants' biggest competition in the NFC East.

Lance Medow: The Giants were very aggressive this offseason, adding several players through free agency and the draft at various positions. That's why it's very easy to overlook former Vikings edge rusher Ifeadi Odenigbo, who proved to be a nice complement to Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffin in Minnesota over the last two seasons.

The Giants need someone to assume a similar role opposite pass rusher Leonard Williams. They also lost Kyler Fackrell to the Chargers after he finished tied for second on the team with four sacks in 2020. Odenigbo had seven sacks in 2019 and although his total dipped to 3.5 last season, he also recorded 15 quarterback hits, three tackles for loss and a safety. He's capable of being a disruptive player. It's all about opportunity within the Giants' scheme.

Dan Salomone: For starters, they're getting a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award (which goes annually to the nation's top defensive player in college football) and the 2020 SEC leader in sacks and tackles for loss. The Giants' familiarity with the linebacker, however, went deeper than the numbers. Kevin Sherrer, who will be his position coach in the NFL, originally recruited Ojulari at the University of Georgia. Additionally, the Giants have a host of former college coaches on staff who also coached against Ojulari and "he's always a guy that stood out to them on the field as someone they had to account for," coach Joe Judge pointed out after the draft.

After trading back from No. 42 overall to No. 50, the Giants had a "bunch of guys" they liked in that range, but director of college scouting Chris Pettit said what set Ojulari apart was his pro-ready hands, instincts, and the "ability to make big plays in big spots." The Giants' top offseason priority was adding offensive playmakers for Daniel Jones, but pass rush help was not far below it.

John Schmeelk: You could look at this receiving corps like a basketball team – they have different players with complimentary skill sets. Toney is electric with the ball in his hands and can turn a 3-yard pass into a 50-yard gain because of his elusiveness, strength, speed, quickness and creativity.

Toney was not the most polished route runner in college, but there's no reason to think he cannot become more adept running the route tree with more reps in the NFL. He will probably open primarily in the slot with plays designed for him to take advantage of his freakish abilities. Expect a lot of screen passes, slants, end-arounds, shovel passes and jet sweeps to start the season. And don't forget about his return abilities, either.

Catch up on all the action with must-see photos from minicamp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

Lance Medow: Many would say the main storyline is the development and production of the offensive line and I would put that very high on the list but slightly behind the player they need to protect - Daniel Jones. He's entering Year 3 and the Giants added some weapons at wide receiver and tight end to provide him with even more firepower. Now, it's a matter of whether they can all put it together with Jones at the reins. The Giants had just 12 total passing touchdowns and averaged 17.5 points per game in 2020. Regardless of how good your defense is, it's very hard to remain competitive let alone win games with that level of offensive production.

Daniel Jones had a solid rookie campaign with 24 touchdowns against 12 interceptions in 12 starts. If he can duplicate his 2019 numbers and then some, I think the Giants offense will be in much better shape when it comes to its average points per game and will take some pressure off the defense. While an offense is dependent on many facets in addition to the quarterback, the signal caller's decision making can go a long way in determining the outlook of that unit. With Jones running the same scheme for the second straight year for the first time in his pro career, we'll also see whether that familiarity and comfort will prove to be a benefit that can help both him and the surrounding talent.

Dan Salomone: The front office was given the green light this offseason. They received the go-ahead to spend in free agency – which assistant general manager Kevin Abrams said was "probably uncommon this year" among NFL owners given the pandemic-related financial losses – and the aggressive approach carried over to the draft in the form of well-publicized trades.

"I think it did," general manager Dave Gettleman said after the Giants filled out their six-man draft class, which began with trading back to select dynamic wide receiver Kadarius Toney in the first round. "You know, we've had that mindset. And you know we just felt like, it's all about calculated risk. You go to Vegas, go to Atlantic City, and some people are aggressive and some people aren't. It's just sometimes it's instinct. Sometimes it's just looking at the board and seeing where it's going to take you. … We were aggressive in the roster-building season in both free agency and the draft."

Additionally, while every draft is about the future, the decision-makers had an even closer eye on next year. The reason was twofold. Not only is it shaping up to be a strong class, there were too many unknowns this year due to the pandemic-stricken evaluation process. Thus, they made it a priority to stockpile picks, gaining selections in the first, third, and fourth rounds in 2022.

"To be honest with you, it makes it fun knowing that we have all these opportunities to take players next year," director of college scouting Chris Pettit said. "So I'm looking forward to it. With a big class, it's going to be a lot of work for us. Our scouts are going to have to be as thorough as ever and start work earlier with such a big class and guys moving all around. We know that, and we are ready to take on the challenge. But now at least we have the picks to hit it out of the park next year again hopefully."

View photos of the New York Giants 2021 NFL Draft Class.