Tue, 14 Jul 2020

Fact or Fiction: Most underrated offseason move

Giants
31 May 2020, 05:12 GMT+10

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The Giants' most underrated offseason addition is RB Dion Lewis.

Schmeelk: Fiction -- I'm not sure how Dion Lewis is going to be used this year. Saquon Barkley is such a weapon on third down as a receiver, I can't imagine he will be taken off the field on those plays. Does that mean Lewis will be a first and second down runner? Will he beat out Wayne Gallman for that role?

Given those questions, I think Darnay Holmes is the most underrated addition. If he plays to his potential and cleans up some of his technique issues from college, he has the chance to be a starter Week One at nickel cornerback. No one else has much of a track record playing that position in the NFL. It is a vital position with so many teams putting their best receivers in the slot to take care of the middle of the field. Much like Julian Love last season, I think the Giants' fourth round pick might be one of the best values in the draft class.

Salomone: Fact -- The start of free agency seems like a lifetime ago, but you can't forget about the veteran running back. Originally a fifth-round selection by the Eagles in 2011, Lewis has played in 86 regular-season games with 27 starts for Philadelphia (2011-12), New England (2015-17) and Tennessee (2018-19). His career numbers include 538 rushes for 2,310 yards and 11 touchdowns, and 172 receptions for 1,281 yards and seven scores. He has averaged 22.9 yards on 57 career kickoff returns, including a 103-yard touchdown with the Patriots in 2017, when Joe Judge was the special teams coordinator.

His familiarity with Judge's culture isn't the main reason the Giants signed him. They think he can produce at a high level. Judge has made it clear he doesn't like the idea of signing veterans just to bring along the younger players; that's the job of coaches. At 5-foot-8 and 195 pounds, he adds another element to the backfield to take some of the load off Barkley. While we're on the subject of underrated signings, don't overlook Colt McCoy. He has coaching aspirations, and he is going to be an asset in the quarterbacks room.

Medow: Fiction -- Dion Lewis will add depth to the backfield, but Saquon Barkley is still the workhorse. It remains to be seen how many opportunities Lewis receives each game. Case in point, Ezekiel Elliott is the Cowboys' main back and in 2019, he had 301 carries. The next closest player was Tony Pollard at 86. Barkley is clearly the most dangerous weapon, and just as he did with Elliott, I believe Jason Garrett will look for every opportunity to keep Barkley on the field. That's why I'm going with Nate Ebner. The Giants lost a valuable piece to their special teams unit, and a captain of the team, in Michael Thomas, who joined the Texans in free agency. That is a loss that should not be overlooked. Ebner's strength is special teams and he has familiarity with Joe Judge after spending the last eight seasons together in New England. Ebner's presence in the locker room and contributions on special teams will be an asset that doesn't always show up in the box score.

The Giants will be a run-heavy offense with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.

John Schmeelk: Fact -- Based on everything Joe Judge has said, I think the Giants will prefer to be a run-heavy offense. By that, I mean they will be in the top half of the league in run play percentage. Under Garrett, the Cowboys made great efforts to get the ball to Ezekiel EIliott with great frequency. I don't see why Garrett won't do the same with Saquon Barkley. In seasons Elliott has played at least 15 games, he has had no fewer than 300 carries and led the league in carries in two of those years.

It is important to remember that even if the coaching staff desires to be run heavy, it isn't necessarily going to happen. Game flow often determines how much a team is able to run the ball. If the Giants have leads in a lot of games, they will be able to stay committed to the run. If the team is in a lot of comeback situations, they might have to rely on the pass more than they desire.

Dan Salomone: Fiction -- I think "clock-heavy" might be the better term. New England (Joe Judge) and Dallas (Jason Garrett) consistently rank near the top of the league in time of possession, and obviously that comes with a balanced offense, which these days is regarded as "run-heavy." I've said this many times and I'll say it again: I think the Giants are going to run it 50 times one week and throw it 50 times the next if that's what they think is the best course of attack. The constant goal, however, will be an emphasis on making every play and every possession count. It won't end in points every time, but there is also the game within the game in terms of field position, time of possession, and hidden yards.

Lance Medow: Fiction -- The Giants will be a balanced offense under Garrett. If you look at his tenure in Dallas, the Cowboys didn't take the ball out of the hands of Tony Romo or Dak Prescott. And I don't see that approach changing with a young signal caller coming off an impressive rookie season in Daniel Jones. Garrett's offense is aggressive and one way to be just that is to allow your quarterback to make plays. Prescott attempted a career-high 596 passes in 2019 and wide receiver Randall Cobb had one. So that's 597 pass attempts to 449 runs. In 2018, the Cowboys had 527 pass attempts to 439 rushes, and in 2017, they threw the ball 493 times with 480 run plays. Prescott's pass attempts went up each of his four seasons, and the run totals, for the most part, remained in the same ballpark. Keep in mind, Prescott had a new offensive coordinator in 2019 in Kellen Moore, yet his pass attempts still went up. Moore, of course, had already been on staff as the quarterbacks coach in 2018, so there was familiarity with the offense on both ends. The reason I bring that up is even though Daniel Jones is learning a new offense and working with a new coordinator, that doesn't necessarily mean Garrett will pull the reins back.

Darius Slayton will lead the Giants in touchdown catches this season.

Schmeelk: Fiction -- I go to this well every year and I pay the price because of injuries. I'm going to go one more time, and pick Evan Engram. He is the Giants' biggest receiver and has the best chance of winning on contested catches in the red zone. We saw how often Jason Witten was used in that part of the field for the Cowboys under Jason Garrett, and Engram has more speed than Witten ever did. The wide receivers on the roster -- Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard and Slayton -- will get near equal looks in the offense. If Engram can stay on the field, I think he will lead the Giants in touchdown receptions this year.

Salomone: Fact -- Slayton and Daniel Jones developed something special as rookies in 2019. Slayton was tied for first in touchdown catches among all NFL rookies, and Jones led the way in touchdown passes for first-year pros. I think their chemistry only progresses in 2020. It's an unusual offseason, yes. It's a new offense, yes. But these two have the makeup to do some real damage.

Medow: Fact -- If you go back to 2011, a wide receiver led the Cowboys in receiving touchdowns every season through 2019, and in seven of those nine seasons, it was either Dez Bryant or Amari Cooper. Slayton led the way in 2019 with eight touchdowns and has already built a nice rapport with Daniel Jones. I see that chemistry getting stronger moving forward. Given Slayton is one of the most dangerous vertical threats on the roster, that improves his chances of topping the list in that category once again in 2020. I think Slayton's main competition will be Evan Engram.

The Giants' biggest threat in the NFC East this season is Dallas.

Schmeelk: Fiction -- The Eagles are the defending champions, and until they are defeated, they have to be the team to beat. The Cowboys may have the better offense, but the Eagles are more balanced on both sides of the ball. The Eagles still have a dominant offensive line and Carson Wentz at quarterback. On defense, they still have an excellent front with Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and an array of other good players. They also added Darius Slay in the defensive backfield. Their defense sets them apart and gives them the edge over Dallas. If the Cowboys can figure out their pass rush and secondary to slow down opposing passing attacks, the equation may change.

Salomone: Fiction -- I don't know why people leave Washington out of the conversation. This is a whacky division even in normal circumstances, so I don't think you can overlook anyone. Teams rise and fall dramatically in the NFC East, and there sits Washington waiting in the wings. Ron Rivera took over the team this year with a proven track record and a defensive front that only got better with the addition of Chase Young. Those two elements can take you into the postseason.

Medow: Fiction -- I think Philadelphia and Dallas both are legitimate threats to win the division. If you put stock in the fact that no team has won back to back NFC East titles since the Eagles won four in a row from 2001 to 2004, then the Cowboys are a bigger threat. But when you take into consideration the continuity of the coaching staff and roster, the Eagles deserve to be treated as a bigger threat. With no on-field work this offseason, the team that is dealing with the least amount of change should have the best chance to do damage this season. The Cowboys, Giants and Redskins all have new coaching staffs, while the Eagles basically stayed put. On top of that, Philadelphia bolstered its secondary by acquiring corner Darius Slay from the Lions, added more depth to the defensive line by signing Javon Hargrave, and sprinkled in more speed and versatility to the receiving corps. The Cowboys also added another weapon to their receiving group with rookie Cee Dee Lamb and beefed up the defensive line with veterans Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe. I think it's very close, but I'll give the Eagles the edge due to the unknown of the offseason and the fact that Philadelphia has beaten the Giants in 11 of their last 12 meetings.

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