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Resetting Giants’ Depth Chart, Competition Battles Post-draft

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The last major part of the roster rebuilding season is over, of course, the NFL draft. Between now and the end of training camp, tweaks will be made due to performance or injuries. Oh, and there will be competition across the board; at least, that is what the coaches are planning. 

So, let’s look at how the Giants post-draft depth chart stacks up. (Note: some of the undrafted free agents linked to the Giants may not have signed just yet, and are not included with the various position groups at this time.)

Quarterback

Projected Starter: Daniel Jones ||  Depth: Drew Lock, Tommy DeVito

Giants general manager Joe Schoen said that Daniel Jones will be the team’s starter if he’s medically cleared from his torn ACL. If not, Drew Lock would get the call.

And with the Giants having passed on selecting a quarterback in the draft after their reported target of Drake Maye went to the New England Patriots, this coming year is Jones’s last chance to finally silence his critics and prove that he was indeed worthy of the four-year, $160 million contract he received last off-season.

If he doesn’t, keep an eye on Lock, who, if he develops further under the watchful eye of head coach/quarterbacks whisper Brian Daboll, could become the stop-gap solution after this year.

There is already some speculation among NFL insiders that, despite what the Giants have said, Lock will get a chance to compete for the starting job from the start which is why it will be interesting to keep an eye on Lock’s development. Daboll and the staff worked wonders with Tyrod Taylor, a seasoned veteran, and in getting Tommy DeVito ready to step in.

If the staff can work the same magic with getting Jones to resemble the quarterback he was in 2022 and getting Lock, a former No. 1 draft pick, up to speed, they might just have something there if they have to pivot away from Jones after this season.

Running Backs

Projected Starter: Devin Singletary ||  Depth: Eric Gray,  Gary Brightwell, Deon Jackson, Jashaun Corbin, Tyrone Tracy (R), Dante Miller (R)

The Giants drafted a running back for the third time in the last four years, including back-to-back picks in Eric Gray and Tyrone Tracy (both fifth-rounders). With the team going to a committee approach, which will be headed by free-agent signee Devin Singletary, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the committee takes shape. 

The Giants were rumored to be in the market for a power back earlier in the year, but nothing ever materialized. Might they still want a veteran for that role as teams continue to tweak rosters and with the all-important June 1 date coming up on the calendar, when teams can unload high-priced players and gain larger savings?

Tracy is a candidate for the team’s kickoff returner role, given his experience and production in that capacity while in college. At this point, Brightwell, who has been mostly a special teams player than a regular contributor on offense, could be an early candidate for the bubble.

Brightwell landed on injured reserve last year (as did Gray), the former with a hamstring strain. Brightwell did have his 21-day window opened last year, but the team opted to leave him on IR.   

Wide Receivers

Projected Starters: Malik Nabers (R), Darius Slayton, Wan’Dale Robinson || Depth: Jalin Hyatt, Isaiah Hodgins, Isaiah McKenzie, Gunner Olszewski, Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Miles Boykin, Dennis Houston, Chase Cota, Dylan Drummond (R), John Jiles (R), Ayir Asante (R) 

Nabers automatically moves to the top of the depth chart as the team’s No. 1 receiver. Slayton and Robinson figure to round out the receivers in the 11-personnel package, though it will be interesting to see if Jalin Hyatt might start to siphon snaps away from Slayton as the year goes by. 

Behind those three is another collection of receivers representing different shapes and sizes. Olszewski, the punt returner, is probably the only lock for the roster at this spot, outside of Nabers, Slayton, Robinson, and Hyatt. McKenzie also has special team values as a returner, and it’s expected that he’ll compete with Tyrone Tracy for the kickoff returner. 

The Giants will probably look to keep another receiver, and they have some intriguing options. The competition between Bryce Ford-Wheaton, recovering from a season-ending injury, and undrafted free agents John Jiles and Ayir Asante should be a good one, as one of those three should, at the very least, end up with a spot on the practice squad. 

We’re also curious to see what happens to Isaiah Hodgins, who saw his pass targets drop off a cliff last year. We were surprised that the Giants brought him back, but his presence should make for good competition in what’s shaping up to be a very stacked receiver room.

Tight Ends

Projected Starters: Darren Waller, Daniel Bellinger || Depth: Jack Stoll, Theo Johnson (R), Chris Manhertz, Lawrence Cager, Tyree Jackson

If Waller returns—and there are growing signs he will retire—he will be a starter, along with third-year pro Daniel Bellinger. If Waller calls it a career, the starters will likely be Bellinger and probably one of Stoll or MAnhertz, with Johnson, the rookie, being the third tight end.

Bellinger’s talents as a pass catcher were sort of overlooked last year with the arrival of Waller, who is more athletic than the former when he is healthy. But while Bellinger might not be as athletic as Waller, he showed as a rookie that he was no slouch in the passing game.

Johnson, the fourth-round draft pick, is raw, but he’s got what to work with. It should be interesting to see how much progress he makes between rookie minicamp and the start of the season and whether he can become a regular contributor in the passing game.

The third tight end spot will come down to blocking. Manhertz is slightly more versatile with his offerings, but Stoll is thought to be the better blocker.  Cager, who re-signed this off-season, would appear to be a longshot to stick, as would Jackson. But that’s why you put the pads on and compete.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Andrew Thomas, LG Jon Runyan, C John Michael Schmitz, RG Jermaine Eluemunor, RT Evan Neal || Depth: G Aaron Stinnie, G Josh Ezeudu, C Austin Schlottmann, G/T Marcus McKethan, T Matt Nelson, G Jalen Mayfield, T Yodny Cajuste, T Joshua Miles, C Jimmy Morrissey

All eyes will be on this unit in the spring and summer to see if the Giants did enough to fix what was a historically bad unit last season (85 sacks, the second-most allowed in league history since sacks became a trackable stat). 

A healthy Andrew Thomas will certainly help—Thomas revealed that he didn’t need off-season surgery for any injury issues last year. The development of Evan Neal at right tackle will also go a long way toward helping fix this line.  

But as big of a question as to whether Neal will finally blossom into the player the Giants hope he can be if the interior offensive line is finally solidified.

Last year, according to a study that compiled data from Pro Football Focus, the biggest problem for the offensive line was along the interior, the group allowing a league-leading 27 sacks. Not surprisingly, the Giants had a lot of injuries along the interior that necessitated different lineups every week. 

Right now, the projection is for Jon Runyan Jr. to play left guard and Jermaine Eluemunor to play right guard. If Neal struggles again, Eluemunor will kick outside to right tackle, and we could see either Runyan move to the right guard with one of Joshua Ezeudu or Marcus McKethan moving in at left guard, or perhaps Austin Schlottmann, who offers position flex at guard and center, steps in.

Those are just a few of the questions the Giants will need to answer, that and who their swing tackle is going to be. Matt Nelson appears to be the top option, but could they have found a diamond in the rough in Missouri’s Marcellus Johnson?  

We’ll find out when the pads go on in the summer. 

Defensive Line

Starters: Dexter Lawrence, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Jordan Phillips || Depth: Jordon Riley, DJ Davidson, Ryder Anderson, Timmy Horne

This unit was the top group in terms of depth and production not too long ago. But with the departures of Leonard Williams (via trade) and A’Shawn Robinson (free agency), the Giants are left with veteran run-stopper Rakeem Nunez-Roches, and a bunch of young but intriguing-looking talent in Jordon Riley, D.J. Davidson, Ryder Anderson, and Timmy Horne. 

Riley, the second-year player out of Oregon, flashed last year in limited snaps, holding his own at backup nose tackle.  He held up against the constant double-teaming inside, staying on his feet and taking up lots of space, even showing some ability to shed blocks and make tackles, though he needs to find the ball better and quicker to develop. 

His pass rush game, however, is non-existent, but the hope is that with another year in the system, that too will start to come on.

Davidson lost the backup nose tackle job to Riley around mid-season but was moved outside to defensive end, where he managed to keep his head above water. That said, the defensive end isn’t his best fit. Davidson knows how to bull rush the front of the pocket. We also liked what we saw from Davidson’s pursuit game when he wasn’t taking up space between the tackles.  

In short, the Giants appear to have depth at the nose tackle position. Brian Burns, listed as an outside linebacker, can play down on the line, having played 3,662 snaps outside. We’ll see how new defensive coordinator Shane Bowen plans to deploy him.  

Outside Linebacker

Projected Starters: Brian Burns, Kayvon Thibodeaux || Depth: Azeez Ojulari, Boogie Basham, Tomon Fox, Benton Whitley, Jeremiah Martin

The Giants upgraded the other pass rusher spot across from Kayvon Thibodeaux with the addition of Burns, who will push Azeez Ojulari into a situational pass-rushing role. 

But the Giants can probably use a little more firepower at this spot. Will they get it from Boogie Basham, for whom they traded last year at the end of training camp? Or will Tomon Fox, who made the roster his first season but then spent last year mostly on the practice squad, get the nod? 

Basham is similar in size to Ward, but he’s even less effective in space and lacks Ward’s aggressiveness, taking on more of a read-and-react approach. His edge contain was average while his pass rush game was non-existent.

As the year went on, he became a part of the inactive list, having never really found his niche on the defense.  

Fox is a guy we’ll be watching this summer. In his one game played last year, he did not embarrass himself, putting forth a handful of disciplined, power edge rushes and contain on 19 snaps. He has a legitimate bull rush move that we’re not sure the others he’ll be competing with have.  We’ll see what kind of opportunities he gets in this defense.

Inside Linebacker

Projected Starters: Bobby Okereke, Micah McFadden || Depth: Isaiah Simmons, Matthew Adams, Darius Muasau (R), Carter Coughlin, Darrian Beavers, Dyontae Johnson

Okereke and McFadden should both be set as the starters. McFadden took a nice jump forward in his second season with the team. Most of his 101 tackles last year came between the tackles, where his smart reads and solid physicality often got him to the ball carrier. 

McFadden doesn’t have ideal length, and his short wingspan was a big reason he was near the top of the league in missed tackles. He’s a liability in zone coverage since it’s so easy to throw over him, and he is not open field fast. Still, he is a good downhill linebacker who anticipates well and puts himself into position to make a play. 

The competition to watch is Beavers, Muasau, and Coughlin. It was initially thought the Giants would move on from Coughlin, their special teams leader in tackles last season. But after a change of heart, Coughlin is back to compete and defend his place on the roster in what will come down to special teams.

Cornerback

Projected Starters: Deonte Banks, Nick McCloud, Andru Phillips (R) || Depth: David Long, Andru Phillips (R), Cor’Dale Flott, Tre Hawkins, Darnay Holmes, Aaron Robinson, Kaleb Hayes, Stantley Thomas-Oliver

After the draft, the Giants added Long, a six-year veteran, when veteran signings don’t count toward the compensatory pick formula. Long had a solid four-year career for the Rams but bounced between to three teams last season. Long will get to compete for a starting job, but his signing may have been more for experienced depth than for a starting role.

That likely means veteran Nick McCloud, one of the Giants’ core special teams players last year, will enter camp as the projected starter opposite Deonte Banks. McCloud always plays a tough, physical game every time he steps on the field. 

Primarily a match-up zone-style cornerback (zone being something new defensive coordinator Shane Bowen plays a great deal of), McCloud lacks the feet and agility to play press. Still, he can run deep with almost any wideout. HE does a good job of keeping the ball in front of him, he comes up and forces hard, and he matches up well against big receivers. 

Rookie draft pick Andru Phillips from Kentucky will spend his initial snaps working as part of the slot cornerback rotation, but will also be coached to take on outside snaps as the year progresses. 

Safety

Projected Starters: Jason Pinnock, Tyler Nubin (R) || Depth: Dane Belton, Jalen Mills, Gervarrius Owens

Nubin’s arrival likely means third-year man Dane Belton might end up as more of a sub-package type than as a starter, though he will certainly get the chance to compete for the starting job. The Giants need playmakers on the defense’s back end, and Belton and Nubin have shown themselves capable of producing in college. Nubin may be a little sturdier though

Even if that’s how the scenario plays out, that doesn’t mean Belton, who played well in place of Jason Pinnock last year when he was injured, will fade from the picture. Belton could find himself in a nice role in various defensive packages, where his instincts and nose for the football will serve him well.  

We’re curious to see what comes of Gervarrius Owens, one of the 2023 draft picks. Owens rarely saw the field last year; when he did, it was mostly for special teams. With veteran Jalen Mills on the roster to provide some depth, Owens could be a candidate for the practice squad this year if he shows enough improvement from a year ago.

Special Teams

Projected Starters: K Graham Gano, P Jamie Gillan, LS Casey Kreiter || Depth: K Jude McAtameny

Gano is expected to be ready to roll come Week 1 after his season-ending knee surgery last year. Meanwhile, the Giants will have Irish-born Jude McAtameny, a former soccer midfielder who played two years of football for Rutgers, handle some of the workload so as not to wear Gano out. 

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