|Giants GM Jerry Reese has proved to be right most of the time with his personnel decisions. (Getty Images)|
A year ago, the New York Giants were criticized for not making significant free-agent roster moves. Now, they're hailed for their less-is-more approach, and that happens when you win your second Super Bowl in five years.
It wasn't easy, with the Giants splitting their first 14 games and coach Tom Coughlin's future in jeopardy. But they persevered as they did in 2007, making a frantic run through the playoffs that saw them pull a string of upsets and check quarterbacks Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady to 37 points in offense -- or just over 12 a game.
The last time the Giants won a Super Bowl, they followed with a 12-4 season, good enough for first seed in the NFC playoffs. That's the good news. The bad: They didn't win a playoff game, beaten by Philadelphia. Look for the Eagles to be an obstacle again, only this time in the NFC East.
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QB: There's been a lot of talk lately about the value of Peyton Manning, but how about little brother Eli? He has been to as many Super Bowls (two) as his brother and not only hasn't lost but has two MVP awards. Plus, he's 8-3 in playoff games where Peyton is 9-10. Question: Isn't it about time we call Eli Manning an elite quarterback? I think we just answered that one. Not only is the guy successful, but he's durable, too -- not missing a start in his pro career. Plus, he's coming off the best season of his pro career, throwing for 29 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 yards. David Carr is suitable as a backup, though he rarely plays.
RB: Nobody had a worse running game last season than the Giants, but the numbers are misleading. While they did little during the season, their running game perked up down the stretch, with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw making them effective again. But Jacobs is gone, leaving Bradshaw as the primary back -- and he's coming off surgery for a fractured foot. Bradshaw's productivity was limited by his injury, but one significant step he did make was with fumbling -- he lost none where he dropped seven the year before. Bradshaw is the primary back again, with D.J. Ware, Da'Rel Scott and Andre Brown behind him, and while that's a competent group, it could be an area of interest in the draft.
WR: Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham is gone, but the team's top two receivers -- Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz -- aren't. Each had more than 1,000 yards in receptions, with Cruz producing more than everyone but Calvin Johnson and Wes Welker. Domenik Hixon, Jerrel Jernigan and Ramses Barden are the logical candidates to replace Manningham, but Barden can't stay healthy, and Hixon, a popular locker-room presence, is coming off a torn ACL for the second consecutive season. That leaves Jernigan, and while the Giants have high hopes for the guy, he looked anything but reliable last season. Jernigan is a talent who could be effective in the slot -- provided he catches the ball with more consistency than in his rookie year.
TE:The Super Bowl created an immediate need at this position, basically because the Giants lost their two tight ends -- not only for the game but for part, if not all, of this season. Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum each bowed out with torn ACLs, leaving Bear Pascoe and Christian Hopkins alone at the position -- until the Giants signed Martellus Bennett away from Dallas. Bennett, a solid run-blocking tight end, goes immediately to the head of the class here.
OL: The release of right tackle Kareem McKenzie leaves a hole at the position, but the Giants always seem to be able to plug leaks on their offensive line -- either through the draft, free agency or moving people around. They lost left tackle Will Beatty in the middle of last season and recovered thanks to the flexibility of David Diehl, who shifted back to his left-tackle position, and the play of left guard Kevin Boothe. Diehl is experienced at tackle, but he's a better suited as a guard -- though he could be a candidate as McKenzie's replacement. Of course, so could Beatty and James Brewer, last year's fourth-round draft pick. Right guard Chris Snee is the best in a better-than-average group that could use depth.
DL: There might be no better front four than these guys. There are premier players. There is depth. And there is a ferocious pass rush that flustered quarterbacks down the stretch. In only his second season, end Jason Pierre-Paul emerged as one of the game's most promising impact players -- producing a team-high 16.5 sacks, six pass deflections and two forced fumbles. He and a healthy Justin Tuck are one of the best pair of bookend pass-rushers anywhere. Now add Osi Umenyiora off the bench, defensive tackles Chris Canty and Linval Joseph, and you have a defensive line that is rock solid even if, as expected, they lose pass-rusher Dave Tollefson to free agency.
LB:This was an area of concern throughout 2011, and it still should be. Free agent Jonathan Goff is unsigned and comes off a serious knee injury that sidelined him last season. Goff knows the defense and seemed on the verge of a breakout year before hurting himself before the opener. The Giants want to re-sign him but may not succeed. That means the middle could be wide open again, with Mark Herzlich and Greg Jones in the mix. Mathias Kiwanuka has made the transition from defensive end nicely, but he's still at his best rushing the passer. Michael Boley is solid on the other side, with Clint Sintim the first outside linebacker off the bench. It's not a bad group, but it's one that could use an upgrade inside.
DBThe return of cornerback Terrell Thomas signaled the end of Aaron Ross, who left for Jacksonville. Re-signing Thomas was a priority. The guy was the team's top defensive back in 2010, when he led the team in interceptions, and many thought he was on track for a Pro Bowl season -- that is, until he bowed out in preseason with a torn ACL. Thomas should reclaim his starting job opposite Corey Webster, with Prince Amukamara holding down the third spot. Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips are solid as safeties, with free-agent addition Chris Horton off the bench. While the Giants appear in good shape here, they were 29th vs. the pass, and that must change. Nevertheless, look at the secondary's performances in New York's last six games -- all victories -- and you know why appearances are deceiving.