For a team coming off of an improbable Super Bowl run, the Giants sure are loaded with volatility on offense. Even with steady Eli Manning and his ever-improving production, there are a lot of question marks around Big Blue headed into 2012.
The run game got younger and faster after the team let go of running back Brandon Jacobs and drafted David Wilson out of Virginia Tech. But without the big-bodied Jacobs to pick up the tough inside yardage, can the Giants continue to succeed in short yardage and goal line situations? And with Ahmad Bradshaw effective but injury prone, can the Giants count on Wilson to do well if he's forced to take on a large workload? Or, will the Giants use more than Bradshaw and Wilson, utilizing bench players like D.J. Ware and Da'Rel Scott?
It doesn't get easier at wide receiver, where Hakeem Nicks suffered a fractured foot running a route during an offseason drill, costing him offseason practice time and potentially part of his training camp and preseason. Not only must Fantasy owners worry about what kind of shape he'll be in for the start of the season, but the injury is a stark reminder of his history of getting hurt. Whether Nicks is ready or not, there's a big spotlight on Victor Cruz and whether or not he can be a strong contributor again. Adding to the mayhem at receiver is the addition or Rueben Randle, the team's second-round pick. At first it was believed he'd fill in for the departed Mario Manningham, who like Jacobs left for greener pastures in San Francisco. But Randle might have to step up if Nicks is unavailable or if Cruz is double-covered play after play.
The tight end crop is an even bigger blur: The only healthy returning option left after last season is Bear Pascoe; the Giants added Martellus Bennett via free agency and Adrien Robinson via the draft but the unit as a whole is unproven. Jake Ballard, who tore his ACL in Super Bowl XLVI, was placed on waivers and claimed by the Patriots.
At least the Giants have Manning, who has not only been stable for the Giants offense but also a guy whose numbers have improved year after year. Manning posted career-highs in pass completions, passing yards, yards per attempt and completions of 20- and 40-plus yards last season, falling just shy of 5,000 yards. He also toned down his turnovers from a year earlier and won that second Super Bowl ring. So while there's tumult across the board for the Giants' other skill-position players, at least they can count on Manning to stand tall.
|Player||Draft Day value||Estimated round|
|ND - not expected to get drafted|
Impact rookie ... Rueben Randle, wide receiver
Opportunity should knock for Randle early on in training camp. With Nicks banged up and fellow backup Giants receivers like Ramses Barden and Domenik Hixon unable to make a dent when given a chance previously, the big rookie out of Louisiana State should find a way to contribute right away. Randle has good size (6-foot-3 and 210 pounds) and a solid track record coming out of school that lacked a capable passer (53 catches this past season for 917 yards and eight touchdowns). Manning and the Giants have always been at their best when they have a dangerous three-receiver set. When Nicks heals, Randle should be that third man to drive defenses crazy. And even if Nicks isn't healed, Randle could be in line to replace him and put up decent totals in his place.
Keeper-league target ... David Wilson, running back
Wilson could get fast-tracked to the field like Randle, but his impact might not be as huge. For starters, he's clearly the backup to Bradshaw, who will enter camp as healthy as he's been in years thanks to some clean-up work on his foot this offseason. And even when Bradshaw's been hurt, he's never missed more than four games. Bradshaw will make way for Wilson from time to time, but other backs like Ware and Scott will also vie for some snaps throughout the season. Moreover, Wilson won't replace Jacobs in the least; Wilson is more of a speedy outside runner. So the goal-line reps that might have gone to Jacobs in the past will probably head toward Bradshaw. Look for Wilson's impact in the future, not in 2012.
Don't reach ... Victor Cruz, wide receiver
Perhaps the most "fun" part of watching Cruz last season was his knack for making big plays and beating defenses deep. But as the Giants went into the postseason, Cruz's production diminished. After totaling 82 catches for 1,536 yards (18.7 avg.) and nine touchdowns over 15 games (that's slightly over 100 yards per game on average), Cruz cooled as postseason opponents did more to take him out of being a gamebreaker. He had 21 catches for 269 yards (12.8 avg.) and one touchdown through four games (less than 70 yards per game). Most people believe Cruz will take a step back in receptions and receiving yards this season but not completely fall off the map, especially in a contract year. When you consider drafting him, make sure you're not leaving a reliable receiver on the board.
New York should get off to a very good start and potentially be 4-1 before a rematch at San Francisco. They also should be involved in a lot of high scoring games down the stretch. Playing at Baltimore in Week 16 is gross but a Week 11 bye week helps. It's not an easy schedule, but rematches with three non-division opponents from last season help.
Training camp topics
|Ahmad Bradshaw||234 carries, 50 catches|
|Brandon Jacobs||189 carries, 19 catches|
|Victor Cruz||103 catches, 1 carry|
|Hakeem Nicks||104 catches|
|D.J. Ware||50 carries, 29 catches|
Obviously the health of Nicks will be at the forefront of all things at Giants camp. The sooner he can get back on the field and renew his rhythm with Manning, the better. Nicks should be on pace to be ready for the start of the season but it's always better if a player spends time ramping up for the season by practicing in camp and playing in the preseason. We'd like to see him back on the field by Friday, August 17, a week before the team's third preseason game and just over two weeks before their season opener against the Cowboys. That should give him enough time to get into game shape.
In the meantime, expect the Giants to spend a chunk of camp working on finding ways to get Cruz open without Nicks taking some coverage away. Bunch formations and putting Cruz in motion before the snap could be in our future. The Giants will also experiment with Randle, Barden and Hixon, seeing just how much they can take on with Nicks out. Randle has the most potential of the three and it isn't even close.
The Giants also have an interesting situation at tight end. Bennett was an early offseason sleeper until it was disclosed that he weighed in at 291 pounds (good weight, but the kind of weight for a blocking tight end and not a receiving threat). Many will keep an eye on Adrien Robinson, the Giants' rookie tight end out of Cincinnati. The former hoopster has lots of potential but needs a great camp to make an impact this season. At 6-foot-5 and 267 pounds, many think he could develop into a poor man's Jimmy Graham someday.
There might be some questions about how the Giants' linebackers will shake out or whether or not Prince Amukamara will be able to handle the load at nickelback, but all of those issues aren't as serious because of the incredible depth along the Giants' defensive line. The unit -- led by pass rushers Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul -- is literally the straw that stirs the defensive drink in New York. Their work along with Jerrel Jernigan improving as a returner in his second season should make the Giants DST worth a pick in drafts.
Hakeem Nicks (foot; questionable for the start of training camp) ... Ahmad Bradshaw (foot; probable for the start of training camp) ... Domenik Hixon (knee; probable for the start of training camp) ... Justin Tuck (shoulder; probable for the start of training camp) ... Terrell Thomas (knee; questionable for the start of training camp).