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Fact or Fiction: Breakout candidates for 2021 season


In this series, the crew is presented with four statements, and they must decide whether they are fact or fiction.

Safety Xavier McKinney is your breakout candidate for 2021.

John Schmeelk: Fiction - McKinney is a fine choice, but let's go with Andrew Thomas. It can take players, especially offensive linemen, a couple of years to figure out things in the NFL. We already saw how much better Thomas played after the bye last year and there is no reason to think there won't be a larger uptick in his play during his second season. Thomas allowed only four sacks and thirteen total pressures in his final six games (including a rough one vs. the Cards' Hassan Reddick) after allowing six sacks and 47 pressures in his first 10.

If you look at Thomas' measurables, they line up favorably with the other top offensive tackles from the last two drafts. He has every tool in the box he needs to be an excellent starting left tackle in the NFL. With new offensive line coach Rob Sale and a year of NFL experience under his belt, there should be expectations he can take another leap in his sophomore season and become a quality starting NFL tackle.

Dan Salomone: Fact - Clinching the Week 17 victory over the rival Cowboys with an interception was a good way to springboard McKinney into his sophomore campaign. While a fractured foot delayed his rookie debut until Week 12 last year, teammates and coaches still knew how special McKinney could be in the NFL. He started to show that as he got his legs under him, and his game should only improve with Pro Bowl-caliber players (and leaders) around him at every level of the defense.

Lance Medow: Fiction - It comes down to McKinney and Lorenzo Carter. The latter will be entering his fourth season in the league and was limited to just five games in 2020 due to a torn Achilles, so you can still make a case that he's due for a breakout campaign. Carter had at least four sacks in each of his first two seasons and collected 23 total quarterback hits. He's shown flashes and is in line for a bigger role in 2021 as the Giants look for a consistent complement to Leonard Williams. Like Carter, McKinney only played in six games last season due to injur,y so he's barely scratched the surface. McKinney will also be moving around in the scheme, given the Giants already showcase Logan Ryan and Jabrill Peppers at safety. The former Alabama standout is the easy choice because he has yet to play a full season, but Carter is more intriguing.

Kyle Rudolph will lead the Giants in touchdown receptions this season.

John Schmeelk: Fiction - Since he entered the NFL in 2011, there are only seven players with more red zone receiving touchdowns than Rudolph (40); but you have to give the advantage to Kenny Golladay. Not only can Golladay make plays with his wingspan and excellent hands in the short areas in the red zone, he can also make big plays that go for touchdowns. Rudolph will also have to split tight end red zone targets with Evan Engram. It will be close, but I'll go with Golladay, who should get around eight.

Dan Salomone: Fact - The Giants had only 41 red zone drives and 19 red zone touchdowns last season, both the second-fewest in the NFL. A healthy Saquon Barkley and the arrival of Golladay will increase the first number, and Rudolph can help finish the deal on the latter statistic. Daniel Jones will love throwing alley-oops to him.

Lance Medow: Fiction - Rudolph has been a consistent red zone target throughout his career but his numbers dipped last season due to him taking on more of a blocking role and missing four games because of a foot injury. In 10 seasons with the Vikings, Rudolph led or tied for the team lead in touchdowns five times and, in fairness, he did that during seasons when Minnesota also showcased the likes of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Between Barkley, Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton and Evan Engram, there are a lot of targets for Daniel Jones and Golladay is more than capable of posting double digit touchdowns when fully healthy. The Giants will likely use Rudolph as a receiver more than the Vikings did, but it would be surprising if he was the leader in the end zone.

View photos of the New York Giants' active 53-man roster as it currently stands.

Darius Slayton's and Sterling Shepard's numbers will increase with Kenny Golladay in the fold.

John Schmeelk: Fiction - Slayton and Shepard were second and third on the team in targets last year with 97 and 96, respectively, and behind only Evan Engram (111). With Golladay likely to draw at least 120 targets, the overall production for Slayton and Shepard is bound to decrease. Their efficiency should be better and they might have more chances at big plays with Golladay on the field drawing the defense's attention, but there would be a decrease in volume. It is possible the Giants throw it more this year, which could negate that impact, but Kyle Rudolph is likely to poach some targets, too.

Dan Salomone: Fact - A rising tide lifts all boats. In 2019, the Giants finished in the bottom 10 in completions, completion percentage, passing yards, yards per pass attempt, passer rating, and passing touchdowns. The arrivals of Golladay, Rudolph, John Ross, and others will help lift everyone out of those numbers. Defenses can't focus on everyone at once.

Lance Medow: Fiction - Slayton's numbers could be impacted more than Shepard's and that's mainly because Slayton has been used as a deep threat and Golladay will contribute in that area. With Shepard taking on a completely different role, he probably has the best chance to increase his numbers because he'll be running other routes, lines up in the slot and works the middle of the field.

Dexter Lawrence will have at least five sacks after increasing his total in his first two years.

John Schmeelk: Fact - This is going to be EXTREMELY close, mostly because the Giants signed veteran nose tackle Danny Shelton, which should keep Lawrence in a more advantageous rush position when the Giants are in an odd-man front. With that said, expect Lawrence will be lined up closer to the center than someone like Leonard Williams on third down, when there are four players on the line of scrimmage. It will make it a little tougher to get to the quarterback, but can he get to 6.5? Why not, especially since he may get some more pass rushing snaps with Dalvin Tomlinson no longer on the roster.

Dan Salomone: Fact - Lawrence also needs to be in the conversation as a breakout candidate. With Tomlinson leaving for Minnesota in free agency, even more will be put on the plate of the 6-foot-4, 342-pound Lawrence. Keep in mind that the Giants' defense accomplished everything last year with an entirely new staff and were never on the field together until training camp. Patrick Graham's group only scratched the surface in 2020.

Lance Medow: Fiction - Lawrence went from 2.5 sacks as a rookie to four in 2020, so it's natural to think his numbers will continue to increase; but Lawrence could also be asked to help fill the void left behind by Tomlinson. The Giants also have Austin Johnson and added Danny Shelton, so those two players will assist at nose tackle, but Lawrence will be moved around to create opportunities for other players. You also have Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines returning from injury, which will impact how the sacks are spread around.

With training camp here, view photos of every move made by the Giants this offseason.


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