There are two ways to traditionally work up an assessment of what you are looking at: ‘bottom up’ and ‘top down.’ In the stock market, for example, bottom up means looking at individual stocks and then collectively making a judgment on the market as a whole from the sum of those individual companies. A top down assessment looks at macro measurements, like how the economy, sectors, interest rates and overall valuation are likely to impact returns. We can look at football teams both ways as well. Comparing the Giants to other teams in their division, their schedule and other NFL comparisons is ‘top down.’ Analyzing individual players on a team is ‘bottom up.’ Today, we will look at the individual players for the Giants that are slotted to start this season on Offense to assess the team from a bottom up approach. The next post (Part 2) will be for the Defense.
Let’s preface this discussion with some caveats. This analysis is for the players on the field. (1) It does not encompass injuries, which can and surely will happen. (To what degree is a question for another time, but Wellman has certainly stabilized that issue.) (2) It does not encompass net effects of coaching. As an example, we believe McAdoo needs to give up the playcalling and manage the game. You can have 11 players who are all playing better, but if the coaches are not putting the players in a position to succeed, they will fail. If you believe that is oversimplistic, just realize that Bill Belichick won with the Patriots and would have annihilated his own team if he were coaching the Falcons. Coaching matters. (3) This analysis is a subjective assessment of the starters. The aim is to be as objective as possible. If that is done properly, then we have something which collectively can give us a better sense of where the team is headed into 2017.
PART 1: OFFENSE
A top down approach to the offense would state that the Giants were 25th in the NFL last season in yards/game. Points/game decelerated as the season wore on, putting the Giants near the bottom. Based on that, expectations are for an improvement. But why? Let’s look at the 11 players ‘bottom up’ for reasons which support that. We will give one of three grades to each player for their 2017 projection: Improvement, Sideways, Decline.
QB Eli Manning– IMPROVEMENT. Eli is a contentious subject. Ask 5 people about the Giants QB and you’ll probably get 6 different opinions. We think this NY Giants blog is about as objective in its assessment of this player as any out there. We see his warts (notably his relatively high interception rate, 23rd in the NFL last season) in the context of what truly matter… his ability to win a title. Manning has another gear in the playoffs. He was forced to play behind an Offensive Line that frankly s*cked last year. If he had the Oakland Raiders OL, I would not be bothering to write this blog post, as you’d find me on line at the Sports Book in Vegas betting the Giants to win the Super Bowl. The reason he will improve this year is because he has better toys to play with (see below) and his OL can’t be any worse than it was in 2016. Eli had his lowest QB rating since 2013, a year where his OL (shock of shocks) s*cked just as bad. Eli simply is not the problem with the Offense. He showed that in the playoffs vs GB. He has what it takes. Yes, he had a couple of games last season that were stinkers. If the OL does its job, he will improve and do his. See Brandon Marshall alone for why.
OT Ereck Flowers– IMPROVEMENT. Call me a fool. I’ll swallow and regurgitate what the media & Jerry Reese are telling me. Flowers has worked his tail off in the offseason and trimmed down. This guy is arguably the most important cog in the Giants machine in 2017. He was worst in the NFL last season in pressures allowed. How can he not go up from there? A blind squirrel can find a nut. If his fitness and quickness can translate to an extra 0.25 second for Eli, that can mean the difference between winning and losing. I still am not sold on his technique. But that will get benefits from being leaner and faster off the ball. I am swallowing the party line here, guilty as charged. Mike Solari, I sure hope you are working with his technique, because he needs it.
G Justin Pugh– SIDEWAYS. I am not a big Pugh fan. His inability to make it as a Tackle in the NFL and moving to Guard was 2 strikes against him. He’s a decent player on a weak OL. That is all. He has upside. PFF ranks him 16th in the NFL. Considering that there are 64 starting Guards, that is pretty good. But he is not a road grader. Given the rules with holding inside the shoulder pads, any Guard, let alone a Round 1 pick, should be able to pass protect, which Pugh does. I do not see surge in the run game. I do not think we will see that in 2017. So my expectations are for another acceptable season, but that is all. The bottom line for Giants fans is that this Round 1 draft pick is a disappointment because his upside has been banal. Show me.
C Weston Richburg– IMPROVEMENT. The disclosure this Spring by Richburg that he was playing the entire season with a hand injury (tore ligaments in his finger) was huge for me. He was a very average Center last year (PFF: 16th out of 32), yet if we look a little closer at run blocking, he was 29th in the league, so when he is healthy this season, it is logical to think that this is the area we will see improvement.
G DJ Fluker– IMPROVEMENT. Fluker will be a better Guard than John Jerry. This is an assessment from our analyst, Wonder: “DJ Fluker is a great signing as long as he stays healthy,” says Wonder. “Fluker is not the best pass blocker, but he is more than adequate. A lot of his evaluation must be understood in the way that the Chargers schemed. The entire Chargers OL s*cked. The scheme s*cked. So it is harder to pull Fluker down in that context. He has the raw talent. If he is in the right scheme and is coached up, it is possibly a great signing.”
OT Bobby Hart– IMPROVEMENT. This is based on a simple set of reasoning. He’s entering his second full year of starting (3rd year Pro) and at age 22 is a baby who can get better. He was just awful as a pass blocker, and that is what Tackles get paid for. Only 1 way to go, and that is up. Guys like Hart and Flowers are being compared from such a poor baseline, so that if they are even mediocre in 2017 that would be a huge improvement.
TE Evan Engram– IMPROVEMENT. The Giants have had poor overall play from their TE position for years now. The last time we saw stability and reliability here was with the 1 year signing of Marty Bennett. Since then it has been a hodgepodge committee. When your starter was from Division 3 Stony Brook (where my brother and sister went, so I am still very proud!), c’mon folks, we are back in the NFL with a stud rookie who is going to be a great target for Eli. Lol, he won’t be able to block much (certainly not in his rookie year), but when was the last time we had TE blocking?! That’s why this rookie’s contributions as a receiver will be an easy improvement y/o/y. Do not misunderstand, as TE blocking is still important. See Ellison for when he lines up at the Line of Scrimmage.
WR Odell Beckham Jr.– SIDEWAYS. There is the possibility that you’ll see improvement from OBJ this year, but it will not be because OBJ himself is playing “better.” It will be because of the other 10 guys making his life easier. OBJ was a superstar, is a superstar, and will be a superstar. That is why we will get the same ultra high level of performance from him in 2017. The only way he “improves” and takes it to another level is if he misses OTAs with a different Hall Of Famer, Jerry Rice. That is the example of leadership and maturity I want to see my diva WR follow in terms of seeing personal growth. OBJ is an immature young adult who has been blessed with otherworldly abilities. The only thing limiting OBJ’s success in the NFL is OBJ. Frankly, Jerry Rice is one of the 3 best football players I have seen (limited Jim Brown film at #1, Lawrence Taylor at #2, Rice #3). OBJ has natural physical ability that is better than that of Rice. The difference is that Rice outworked everyone. He and Montana/Young practiced timing over and over, again and again. So Rice didn’t drop many balls and got more YAC. OBJ has more speed and quickness than Rice. He is just not as consistent. And his head gets in the way, be it penalties, personal fouls, fines, sulking, or anything else that causes him to not be at his 100% best. The playoff game vs GB is a reminder of the upside still there. That will come when/if he gets balance from maturity. Maybe Carter helps him mature, in which case there could be improvement. For now, I will assume not. When we see a lunch pail workman’s dedication to his craft with consistency every snap, head down, all business, not getting distracted by the opponent, then we’ll see the kind of improvement we are looking for.
WR Brandon Marshall– IMPROVEMENT. The change from Victor Cruz to Brandon Marshall is night and day. Separation vs lack of separation. From the moment the Giants grabbed him, I have been giddy about the potential for the Offense in 2017. This has the potential to set off huge dominoes everywhere. At the very beginning of 2016, we saw a flash from Cruz, and we assumed Cruz was back. He was not. The “3-headed monster” of OBJ-Cruz-Shepard turned out to be somewhere from 1 to 2 heads, as Shepard progressed but hit the rookie wall while Cruz disappeared. Last week we heard yappings about how the Giants systematically pushed him out of the Offense to enable the team to part ways with him. This is utter nonsense. It is Tiki Barber-esque. Do you really think that Eli Manning would be part of some kind of warped conspiracy to cut down on his touches? It is barely worth discussing. We only bring it up to demonstrate the improvement that Marshall will bring to this team. Marshall’s size (6’4″ 230 lbs) alone is a huge lift for Eli. Eli has not had that big wideout since Plaxico Burress. Marshall is a different kind of WR option which will do wonders for the overall scheme. If opposing Defensive Coordinators choose to single Marshall they will get hurt. So how do you double him while you are also doubling and often tripling Odell? The only answer is to pressure Eli immediately or else face troubling consequences.
WR Sterling Shepard– IMPROVEMENT. This legitimate receiving threat scored 8 TDs as a rookie. The game is going to slow down for this 2nd year player, and that means a whole lotta trouble for opposing Defenses. Opposing teams will have to single this guy in the slot, and the havoc that will ensue rates to be tangible.
RB Paul Perkins– IMPROVEMENT. Once again, another 2nd year player who looks to build significantly off of a successful rookie year. Our draft analyst wasn’t fooling around when he said on Draft Day 3 of 2016 that Round 5 pick Paul Perkins would be starting for the Giants by midseason and would be their best running back. By the end of the season he was indeed a starter. His progression throughout the rookie season was clear: did not dress until Game 3. By Game 8 he got 11 rushing attempts. From Game 10 to Game 16 he steadily gained more yards from scrimmage every single week, finishing the season with 21 carries for 102 yards vs Washington in a game that eliminated the Skins from playoff contention. So we expect Perkins to pick up where he left off. Add that Vereen will be back healthy and the RB position will improve.
H-Back Rhett Ellison– IMPROVEMENT. The Giants had no blocking TE or FB in 2016. Whitlock was lost in preseason due to injury. Ellison will help the team’s schemes in 2017. Imagine some heavy protection schemes with Ellison assisting one of the Tackles, Engram chipping another pass rusher and giving Eli time to find OBJ, Marshall, Shepard or Engram.
If we tally this up, we see 9 spots of improvement (not counting the H-Back) and 2 spots of sideways. From a bottom up analysis, we expect the Giants Offense to be better in a lot of ways. The shakiest assessments are still for Flowers and Hart. Those 2 players will dictate just how much improvement we will see from the team. Considering the players around them, and the continuity (all but 3 are returning starters, with Tye and Jerry likely backups), this is a very good mix of stability with measured injections of talent (Engram and Marshall). Continuity means a lot in the NFL. This league is ravaged by turnover in personnel every year. The average lifespan for any player is 3 years. In a post-Free Agency world, the Giants have a great deal of continuity at many positions (including the coaching staff), which augers well. As poor as the OL was last season, we expect 4 of them to be back this year as Starters, and that should benefit all of them.