NFC East: New York Giants

The New York Giants wrapped up their offseason program Thursday and open training camp on July 28 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Here’s a 53-man roster projection.

Quarterbacks (2): Eli Manning, Ryan Nassib. Same as it ever was, though this is the last year of Nassib's contract so that spot could change in 2017.

Running backs (4): Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams, Shane Vereen, Paul Perkins. Tough break for Orleans Darkwa, but as much as fans may want to move on from Williams, it's tough to see the Giants giving up on a draft pick after two years.

Fullback (1): Will Johnson. This would mean no more Nikita Whitlock, who played defensive tackle in addition to fullback last year. But Johnson can play tight end and move all over the formation. His versatility earns him the job.

William Hauser/USA TODAY SportsVictor Cruz's health could play a role in how many wide receivers the Giants keep.

Wide receivers (6): Odell Beckham Jr., Dwayne Harris, Sterling Shepard, Victor Cruz, Myles White, Geremy Davis. Lots of cutting going on here, as the Giants currently have 13 wideouts on their roster. Undrafted Roger Lewis could steal a spot from White or Davis in camp, and Cruz's health also could open up another spot.

Tight ends (3): Larry Donnell, Will Tye, Jerrel Adams. Will Johnson's presence enables them to go with only three -- possibly even two -- if they need a spot elsewhere.

Offensive line (9): Weston Richburg, Ereck Flowers, Justin Pugh, John Jerry, Marshall Newhouse, Bobby Hart, Ryan Seymour, Byron Stingily, Shane McDermott. Obviously, if they add Eugene Monroe in free agency, that's bad news for Stingily, who's on this list for now as one potential swing tackle from the current roster.

Defensive line (9): Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, Johnathan Hankins, Jay Bromley, Owa Odighizuwa, Ishaq Williams, Kerry Wynn, Louis Nix. The last backup defensive tackle spot could go to Montori Hughes instead of Nix. Williams has been impressing coaches during spring workouts.

Linebackers (7): Keenan Robinson, Jasper Brinkley, Jonathan Casillas, J.T. Thomas, Devon Kennard, Mark Herzlich, B.J. Goodson. Kennard's or Thomas' health could open a spot elsewhere on the roster, and Brinkley could be in jeopardy if Robinson seizes the middle linebacker job. But everyone else here is safe.

Cornerbacks (5): Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, Trevin Wade, Donte Deayon. Don't be surprised to see the Giants add a body or two here as they need to find someone to handle the slot.

Safety (4): Landon Collins, Darian Thompson, Bennett Jackson, Cooper Taylor. The problem here continues to be health and inexperience. Nat Berhe and Mykkele Thompson are already hurt, as is Taylor, who gets this last spot by default. If all three are hurt again, Justin Currie could make the roster and they could add from the outside as they did year ago.

Kicker (1): Josh Brown. No brainer.

Punter (1): Brad Wing. Sure thing.

Long-snapper (1): Zak DeOssie. They do like Tyler Ott, who will go to camp to compete for this job. But as there must always be a Stark in Winterfell, there must always be a DeOssie in East Rutherford.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- At New York Giants' minicamp on Tuesday, second-round pick Sterling Shepard operated as a first-team wide receiver and third-round pick Darian Thompson worked as a first-team safety.

First-round pick Eli Apple? His role is a bit less clear at this time.

Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsFirst-round cornerback Eli Apple's progress will be one of the more interesting stories of New York's training camp.

Apple spent Tuesday's practice more or less rotating in and out of the lineup with starting cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Both of them worked some on the outside and some in the slot. (The other starter, Janoris Jenkins, seemed to work almost exclusively on the outside.) When people ask how Apple looks, the appropriate answer right now is, "Like a 20-year-old rookie," which is what he is. He's swimming a bit as he gets acclimated to the NFL game, and he's making mistakes as you would expect.

But Apple's progress will be one of the more interesting stories of training camp. Remember, the Giants didn't set out to take a cornerback with the No. 10 pick. They took Apple because two of their top three choices went No. 8 and No. 9, the other one scared off the entire top 12 with an ill-timed gas mask video, and Apple was the top choice left on their board. So while first-round picks are generally expected to play right away, the Giants don't really have an open spot for Apple.

They could use him in the slot, where they don't have a clear answer right now. Trevin Wade gets the slot corner work when it's not Apple or Rodgers-Cromartie. But Apple isn't experienced in the slot, and it might be a bit unfair to ask him to learn the intricacies of that new spot while also getting up to speed on pro football. That's why the Giants are trying different combinations.

"We want to train a variety of the guys inside," Giants coach Ben McAdoo said. "I think it helps with versatility, and it also helps to teach them the complete picture of the defense. If they can play outside and inside, it helps them understand what the other positions are going through. We have a variety of guys who can do both."

That remains to be seen. Obviously, if Apple is a quick study as a slot corner, that solves a lot of problems and keeps the Giants versatile in their secondary. If he doesn't look good in the slot but looks like he can help on the outside, who knows? Maybe they make a move with Rodgers-Cromartie, who's not in the 2017 plans anyway.

Drafting Apple gave the Giants depth and, ideally, flexibility at a very important position. The details of his first-year role remain to be seen, and depend on what he shows them in the months ahead.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants begin a three-day mandatory minicamp Tuesday -- the last time the team will practice together before training camp opens July 28. Here are three things we will be watching closely over the next three days:

Sterling ShepardWilliam Hauser/USA TODAY SportsRookie WR Sterling Shepard is expected to get plenty of starter's reps opposite Odell Beckham Jr.

Hey, rookie: There's an unusual number of players in the Giants' rookie class who could press for significant playing time in 2016. The one everyone's talking about is second-round wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who should get plenty of reps as a starter this week alongside Odell Beckham Jr. while Victor Cruz continues to take his recovery slowly. Undrafted free-agent Roger Lewis is another rookie to watch in the receiver group. On defense, third-round pick Darian Thompson is in the muddled mix for starter's reps at free safety along with Nat Berhe, Bennett Jackson and Mykkele Thompson, and fourth-rounder B.J. Goodson could work his way into the mix at middle linebacker. But of greater intrigue may be the role of first-round pick Eli Apple. With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins locked in as starters on the outside and Apple's experience as a nickel corner limited, this week could help determine what kind of role they have in mind for Apple in training camp and beyond. The Giants also get their first long look at fifth-round running back Paul Perkins, who was unable to attend earlier workouts because his UCLA spring semester had not yet ended.

Lining up the 'backers: The four projected (and very expensive) starters on the defensive line are set, but who will line up as starters at the three linebacker spots? The Giants signed Keenan Robinson hoping he could man the middle, but Jasper Brinkley is the incumbent there and rookie Goodson could move quickly. Jonathan Casillas looks like the favorite on the weak side, though J.T. Thomas is obviously in the mix along with others. And will they be able to count on Devon Kennard at the strong side, or have his injuries done damage to his ability to function as a full-time starter and a helper in the pass rush?

Game simulation: New coach Ben McAdoo is trying to make practices feel as much like games as possible in terms of tempo and rhythm, so he builds in "TV timeouts" and other breaks, and the team tailors its musical selection around those breaks. The coaches also will run two-minute drills and end-of-game scenarios in intricate detail. The Giants lost six games last year in the final two minutes of regulation or overtime, and being better in critical late-game situations is a point of emphasis this spring and summer.

PHILADELPHIA -- It would be a mistake to write off Rueben Randle. The former New York Giants second-round pick just turned 25 last month. Very few healthy players are washed up at 25, even in the unforgiving NFL.

But the Giants were done with Randle. They let him leave as a free agent after four frustrating, up-and-down seasons, and he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, who opened their mandatory minicamp here Tuesday. Randle, who had missed a chunk of the offseason program after having his gallbladder removed, is making a strong impression.

"Rueben has been a pleasant surprise," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "He's a guy that's a big, tall, smooth receiver that understands what we're asking him to do. He knows his role."

Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsAfter four seasons with the Giants, Rueben Randle signed a one-year deal with the Eagles as a free agent.

That's the impression Randle struggled to create with Giants coaches, with whom he often clashed during his time in New York. Randle was benched for parts of two games in 2014 for being late to meetings, and the coaches grew frustrated with his laid-back demeanor and his struggles to consistently remember and execute his assignments. There were moments, and whole games, where he was brilliant. And there were long stretches where he disappeared from the offense.

"There was some miscommunication going on," Randle said Tuesday. "I guess they didn't like some things about my demeanor and things like that. I was judged wrong and read wrong, and I've got to be better about that. I've got to learn from my mistakes in the past and try to move forward here."

Randle never struck me as a lazy player, but he definitely has a laconic personality and doesn't play or interact with people with the same kind of energy that more successful ex-teammates such as Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz exude. He believes that's one of the key lessons he has to learn from his time with the Giants.

"I'm not going to change my personality or who I am," Randle said. "But just little things like body language, facial expressions, make sure they know I'm excited to be here."

That would help, sure. But to be fair to the Giants, not all of Randle's issues were body language-related. There were too many times in games when he ran the wrong route or he and Eli Manning weren't on the same page and the result was a critical interception or incomplete pass.

Randle has a great opportunity with the Eagles. Their best receiver, Jordan Matthews, plays in the slot and they're basically holding an open competition for the two outside receiver spots. But in order to succeed in Philadelphia, he has to do a better job than he did in New York of consistently remembering and executing his assignments on Sundays. Randle always looked great this time of year with the Giants, but he never carried his offseason work into the season with the kind of consistency they needed from him.

"Different path, new opportunity for me, and I just have to learn from the past," Randle said. "I think I can do it all."

Nikita Whitlock Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesNikita Whitlock hopes that his weight gain will lead to more playing time on the defensive line in 2016.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For the record, the 25 pounds Nikita Whitlock has put on since last year is not an effort to convince the New York Giants to use him at defensive tackle -- though he wouldn't exactly mind if it had that effect.

"I'm praying every night," Whitlock said after Giants' OTA practice Monday.

You might remember Whitlock as the fullback who got into a few games as a defensive tackle for the Giants in 2015. He played nose tackle in college at Wake Forest and always hoped to play that position in the NFL, but when he went to camp as an undrafted rookie in 2014, the Bengals told him they wanted to use him as a fullback.

That's how he got down to 240 pounds, which was his weight this time last year, when he appeared to be the No. 2 fullback on the Giants' roster behind Henry Hynoski. He weighed 265 in college and had to work to keep the weight off -- cutting out carbs, red meat and the like. So getting back up to the 260-265 range was actually kind of fun.

"That's my natural weight, 260," Whitlock said. "Cincinnati wanted a smaller guy to run routes and stuff, but then I'm here last year and I'm looking around. Henry was like 270 at one point. I can play fullback at the higher weight."

Whitlock says he was up to 255 last season before a knee injury ended his season in December. At that time, the Giants' run game had begun to click. His final game was the Week 15 loss to Carolina in which the Giants rushed for 161 yards on 27 carries. Ben McAdoo and the coaching staff have said multiple times that Whitlock's development as a fullback was one of the keys to the improvement, and Whitlock agrees.

"I would say between Weeks 5 and 6, I really started to understand a lot more things," Whitlock said. "Angles, gap entries, when to throw a hard block instead of a finesse block. Just a lot more comfortable in the offense and understanding what the expectations were for the fullback on every play."

So Whitlock knows fullback is his position and his ticket to playing time in the NFL. He put on the weight because he knew he could do it responsibly, because he's more comfortable at the higher weight and because he believed it would help him be a better fullback.

But that doesn't mean he's not hoping for more work on the defensive line. To this point, he's worked exclusively on offense in the offseason program. And the Giants went out and spent big on new defensive line starters Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon, which you'd think would make it tougher for Whitlock to see the field on that side of the ball. But he holds out hope.

"Last year, they used me in a very specific situation," Whitlock said. "Second half, third-and-long, not in the red zone. No one ever came out and said that, but that's where they used me. So I hope that I could do more. They haven't said anything, but they didn't say anything last year either. It just happened."

Whitlock is still a defensive tackle at heart, but he honestly just wants to find any way he can to get on the field and help the Giants win.

"I just look at myself as a tool," Whitlock said. "On offense, I've got the hammerhead, and on defense, I've got the nail remover. So whatever job they need done, I'll do it."

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Jason Pierre-Paul was ready for the question. Started answering it before it reached its end. After New York Giants OTA practice on Monday, someone asked Pierre-Paul what he was doing this year for Fourth of July.

"I'll be gone," he said. "I won't even be in the United States. Where I'm going, they don't even celebrate the Fourth of July."

New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-PaulKim Klement-USA TODAY SportsJason Pierre-Paul says he'll be out of the country next month, somewhere where "they don't even celebrate the Fourth of July."

Pierre-Paul declined to say where he'd be going. But it's hard to blame the guy for wanting a clean break with the holiday that changed his life last summer. July 4 will be the one-year anniversary of the fireworks accident that cost Pierre-Paul his right index finger and severely damaged the rest of his right hand. As has been the case since his midseason return from the accident, he's not hiding from it.

"It'll be a year," he said. "I've overcome a lot of things in my life, and that's something I overcame and put behind me. It hasn't even been a year. It seems like longer."

Of course, this time last year, Pierre-Paul was not at Giants offseason practices. Even before the fireworks accident, he was opting out of the voluntary portion of the offseason and missing the June minicamp because he had not signed his franchise player tender and was still hoping for a long-term contract. As a result, even if he'd returned whole, he'd have been behind in learning and practicing defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's defense. This year, he has been present since the start of the offseason program.

"He's able to hit the weight room and he's able to go out and practice the fundamentals, so he's ahead of the game that way," Giants coach Ben McAdoo said. "You can tell he's definitely improved his fundamentals. He's always been a very disruptive player, and we expect that to continue."

Pierre-Paul has lined up predominantly on the left side of the defensive line during OTAs, which makes sense given that he can play there with his uninjured left hand on the ground and since they spent so much on free-agent defensive end Olivier Vernon to play right defensive end. Giants right tackle Marshall Newhouse, who lines up against Pierre-Paul in practice, raved about how good he looked on the field.

"He has bulked back up and you can see he's getting more accustomed to using the hand in the state that it is in," Newhouse said. "He's still quick, still long-limbed, just still a really instinctive defensive end and I feel like he's making me better," Newhouse said. "I hope I'm making him better."

The main thing that's likely to make Pierre-Paul better this year is that he won't have to play with that heavy club wrap on his right arm. Pierre-Paul said the surgery he had on his hand immediately after the season will allow him to play with a four-fingered glove on his hand instead of the club, and he believes the club was a big reason he wasn't more productive as a pass-rusher when he returned last year.

"Playing with a closed fist, you're not going to be able to do anything like that," Pierre-Paul said.

Pierre-Paul agreed with McAdoo's assessment that being at practice this time of year will benefit him, his understanding and his performance in Spagnuolo's defense. He seems completely at ease and comfortable with his new defensive line teammates. He is in shape, and in a positive frame of mind, and appears ready to live up to the Giants' hopes that he plays like his old self again.

"I will never be completely back to normal," he said. "But I'm doing everything they ask me to do."

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- We spend a lot of time here assessing the numerous question marks dotting the New York Giants' roster. And there are plenty of them. But seeing the team on the field the past couple of weeks, I've been struck with one very positive impression.

The Giants' defensive line should be really good.

Jason Pierre-PaulAP Photo/Mel EvansJason Pierre-Paul is seen as the elder statesman on a defensive line that, on paper, could be the strength of the Giants' defense.

"We are going to make the line what we make it," newcomer Olivier Vernon said Wednesday. "Whatever we put in is what's going to come out of it. So I can't tell you right now what we're going to be. That is something you're going to have to wait and see on game day. Everybody has potential, but I see that we have a lot of good young guys as well. So we have a lot of talent, we just have to make it work."

Vernon is right, of course. Until we see the newly configured Giants defensive line play together, we shouldn't assume. Vernon is being paid like a top-flight pass-rusher but has to prove he is. Jason Pierre-Paul, projected to start at the other defensive-end spot, has to show he can play better with his damaged hand than he did last season. Defensive tackle Damon Harrison has to continue to be the best run-stuffing lineman in the league in order to justify his own monster free-agent deal. Fellow defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins is coming off an injury.

But the signs indicate strong hope that all of those things can and will happen. And if there's a position group that looks, on paper, like the strength of this team, it's that defensive line.

As any Giants fan or recent Super Bowl historian knows, this is what defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo needs to make his defense work at its best. A dominant defensive line that can collapse the pocket from all angles and pressure the passer without having to blitz. The Giants have young reserve linemen, such as Owa Odighizuwa and Kerry Wynn, who they believe can help on passing downs when Harrison comes off the field and someone -- likely Pierre-Paul -- moves inside. They think they might have found an undrafted gem in Ishaq Williams. The Giants feel extremely good about their line, and the vibe around the starting four is very positive.

Last week, they all ganged up on Harrison to try to get him to run a lap after he made a mistake in practice. The starting four do a lot of work as their own group throughout practice. And they're all looking up to Pierre-Paul, who has somehow become the line's elder statesman.

"He's a great guy," Vernon said of Pierre-Paul. "I can see why he's been good for a long period of time. He's very talented and is a good leader as well. He makes everyone feel comfortable. He's been here the longest. A lot of guys look up to him, and I see why. He's been to the big show, he's been to a couple of Pro Bowls and he's done a lot for this organization."

Pierre-Paul, back on a one-year contract a year after losing his right index finger in a July 4 fireworks accident, is on a mission to show he can still be a dominant pass-rusher and earn the long-term free-agent contract he craves. Looking at the group projected to play around him on the defensive line this year, you can talk yourself into liking his chances.

Quick: Name the New York Giants' projected three starting linebackers for 2016.

Yeah, neither can I.

Middle linebacker could be Jasper Brinkley, Keenan Robinson or even rookie B.J. Goodson. The starter on the weak side could be J.T. Thomas, Jonathan Casillas or Kelvin Sheppard, the last of whom also could be a candidate to start in the middle.

Devon KennardTom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesThere is legitimate concern in the Giants' braintrust about Devon Kennard's ability to stay healthy,

On the strong side, the picture seems clearer, with third-year linebacker Devon Kennard the clear projected starter ... as long as he stays healthy. But that last part is critical and uncertain enough to throw even that part of the Giants' linebacker plan into question.

Kennard has missed 11 games over his first two NFL seasons due to a variety of foot and leg injuries. There is legitimate concern in the Giants' braintrust about Kennard's ability to stay healthy, and some concern that the injuries he's already had may have deprived him of the explosive ability he showed in his 2014 rookie season. And if that's the case, they have a problem, because Kennard at his best offers something the Giants don't have anywhere else in their linebacker corps.

When healthy, Kennard represents an additional pass-rusher who can get after the quarterback from the defense's second level and can move up to the line on obvious passing downs. This is an important position in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's defense. It is the position they had in mind for Georgia's Leonard Floyd when they were considering using their first-round pick on him last month. And one of the reasons they had their eye on Floyd, who went to the Bears one pick before their first-round selection, was their concern about Kennard and his ability to stay on the field.

"I'm really not worried about the past," Kennard said in April. "Everybody wants to put that statement on me. There were some unfortunate deals, some hamstrings, but that's all behind me now and I'm not worried about any of that."

Until Kennard gets on the field and shows he can play the way he did in 12 games in his rookie season, the Giants have one more puzzle to solve at linebacker.

They signed Robinson, who also has an injury history, in the hope that he could start in the middle. But they drafted Goodson in the fourth round because they believe he has the ability to develop into the on-field leader Spagnuolo needs his middle linebacker to be. Goodson might need some time before he's ready to be an NFL starter, but the Giants started Uani Unga there in Week 1 last season because they didn't have any other options. If Robinson isn't healthy, it's not out of the question that Goodson could overtake incumbent Brinkley for the starting role.

Thomas and Casillas both played for the Giants last year, and while Thomas had injury issues himself, he's earned respect in the locker room and could be an on-field leader from his spot if he's out there.

But the best player in the jumbled group of Giants linebackers is Kennard, who has shown the ability to be a difference-maker at a position where the Giants haven't had many in recent years. As much as any player in camp this spring and summer, Kennard is one whose health is worth watching.

Memorial Day weekend mailbag rolls along, with all the appropriate offseason angst:

I understand the temptation to compartmentalize and check off by position. The pass rush looks good, there's depth at running back, they think they have their long-term answers at center, left guard, left tackle, etc. This is how much offseason analysis is done. For some teams, it works.

But I really think the biggest concern with the New York Giants entering training camp will continue to be roster depth. And no, that's not a cop-out answer.

As we have discussed here many, many, many, many times over the past three years, the Giants' problems are the residue of a too-lengthy run of unproductive drafts that left the roster hollowed out because not enough players developed to replace the ones that got old. They are still in the process of rebuilding that roster, and the idea that a team that went 19-29 the past three seasons could fix all of its problems with one big free-agent spending spree is naive. So if I'm the Giants, what I want to see in training camp is not just who my 22 starters are going to be, but how many of the younger players are developing to the point of being reliable backups.

The problem, for example, on the offensive line is not that John Jerry and Marshall Newhouse failed to exceed expectations last year. They didn't. They were signed as backups and forced to be starters because starters got injured and the Giants had to rely on free-agent backups to replace them. This is because the Giants haven't filled their offensive-line pipeline with homegrown replacements. The same can be said at many other positions on the roster, which is why your question could simply be answered by saying "linebacker" or "wide receiver" or "nickel cornerback" just as easily as the two examples you cited.

The Giants have four young candidates for the free safety spot, but none has proved anything. One was in college last year and the other three all missed the whole season (and a season's worth of development) to injury. Yes, 2015 seventh-rounder Bobby Hart could put himself in the mix for a starting spot, but that's a lot to ask of a seventh-rounder who barely played as a rookie. The fact that it's even possible speaks to the state of the Giants' roster. There should be 2012, 2013 and 2014 draft picks ahead of Hart for playing time. Other than the first-rounders and second-rounders on the left side of the line, there aren't.

So while I get where you're coming from, I think the Giants' biggest concerns lie beneath the starting lineup and in their foundation, which still isn't all the way back to where it needs to be. The problems here are long-term ones that are still being worked on.

Odell Beckham Jr. Al Bello/Getty Images Odell Beckham Jr. caught 96 passes for 1,450 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2015. Could he be even better in 2016?

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When you put up the kinds of numbers Odell Beckham Jr. has during his first two seasons, you can make people forget a lot of things. Like, how you missed huge chunks of offseason prep time for both of those seasons due to hamstring injuries.

Beckham was injured around this time each of the past two years. Hamstring injuries in 2014 cost him much of the New York Giants' offseason program, all of training camp and the first four games of his rookie season. Yet, he still managed to catch catch 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Last year, a hamstring injury in organized team activities cost Beckham the entire June minicamp. But he was fine in training camp and ended up catching 96 passes for 1,450 yards and 13 touchdowns to make the Pro Bowl again.

This year? Well, knock on wood or throw salt over your shoulder if that's your thing, but as of now, Beckham is healthy and working with the team in OTA drills. And as great as he has been with limited offseason practice time his first two seasons, imagine what could happen if he has a full offseason of practice.

"It's just good to have him in that third season and healthy and going to all of the OTAs and being able to move him around in different spots," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said Monday. "You kind of have a controlled set of plays, just because you don't want to overload him and you want to make sure that what he does, he does it well, and then you can expand him in that and put him in different spots with matchups.

"I think now he can handle all of that. We put him in different routes and make sure he's doing them correctly. I think there's an understanding of the offense, how things are supposed to go and the timing of things, and I think that third year, he should start really picking up on that."

The notion that the Giants have been somehow limiting Beckham's role in their offense the first two years while he acclimated himself to the league is mind-boggling. In the 15 games Beckham played last year, he was the target of 27 percent of Manning's passes and the recipient of 26 percent of his completions. Only five players in the league had more targets per game than Beckham's 10.5.

But Giants coach Ben McAdoo, who was the team's offensive coordinator the past two years, wants to be able to move Beckham around the formation as much as possible. And Manning's comment indicates they've held back a bit on that the first two years and that they expect to expand the number of roles Beckham can play in the offense in Year 3. If that's the case, and if he stays healthy and it works, then it's entirely possible that Beckham's 2016 numbers could make his 2014 and 2015 numbers look pedestrian in comparison.

Fun to imagine, for sure.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Welcome to the NFL, Eli Apple. The New York Giants' first-round pick found himself thrown right into the fire Monday when the team opened organized team activities. With regular starting cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie absent from the voluntary workout, Apple lined up on the outside covering Giants star wideout Odell Beckham Jr.

"It was interesting, for sure," Apple said after practice Monday. "He runs his routes well. He's a fast guy. It was fun going against him. They didn't throw the ball his way when I was going against him, but you can tell, with his explosiveness and how he gets out of breaks. It's impressive."

Eli Apple with Steve SpagnuoloWilliam Hauser/USA Today SportsEli Apple was put to the test early on by defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

Beckham wasn't Apple's only assignment this week in practice. He worked against Dwayne Harris and Myles White and whomever lined up against him when he was on the outside. For the most part, he held his own, though there were a couple of plays on which he slipped or turned the wrong way, as you'd expect from a 20-year-old rookie in his first NFL practice. It seemed as though quarterback Eli Manning was looking his way a lot, but Manning said that was just coincidence.

"Right now, it's just Day 1 of OTAs," Manning said. "We're not going after matchups or picking on guys. Just working on the basics and going through your progressions."

Apple has seen a variety of work early on. He worked in the slot Monday as well and surely did more of that Tuesday with Rodgers-Cromartie back on the field. Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins are the projected starting outside cornerbacks for the Giants this year, so if Apple wants to get on the field early, he might need to get comfortable covering slot receivers in that nickel corner role.

"It's not going to be an easy adjustment, for sure," Apple said. "I'm going to have to be in my playbook every day, talking to my coaches and trying to pick the brains of other guys and just get more experience out there. Getting more reps is definitely not a bad thing at all."

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Victor Cruz was at New York Giants practice Monday, but he wasn't practicing. He likely won't practice for a while.

As the Giants went through drills during organized team activities, Cruz jogged lightly around the perimeter of the practice fields and worked on the side with a member of the training staff.

"Right now, we're looking for him to get back here, and he's working to get back, for training camp," Giants coach Ben McAdoo said of Cruz. "That's the goal. Small steps."

Cruz has not played since tearing the patellar tendon in his right knee during a Week 6 loss in Philadelphia in 2014. He rehabbed the knee last year but tore a calf muscle in his left leg in training camp and missed the entire 2015 season.

At this point, the Giants have no idea whether Cruz will ever see the field again in an NFL game, and no idea what kind of player he can be following that serious a knee injury. But while everyone seems to agree that his rehab is going well, they believe the best course of action is to take things very slowly with Cruz.

"We've got to get him healthy," quarterback Eli Manning said. "We've got to make sure that everybody is being smart and understanding that he's had several injuries and surgeries. So just make sure you're being smart with his workload and make sure we get him to training camp. When the doctors and everybody say he's cleared and ready to go, then that's a good thing."

The Giants and their fans allowed themselves to get excited last summer about the prospect of Cruz teaming with Odell Beckham Jr. in Manning's wide receiver corps. And the way Cruz performed on the field during training camp practices contributed to that. But the more important memory is that Cruz never made it into a preseason game and hasn't played against an opponent in nearly 20 months.

It would be a great comeback story if Cruz can get back on the field this year. But there's no reason to assume he will, or to believe he can return to his pre-injury superstar ways. The Giants are being ultra-cautious and viewing a possible Cruz return as an unexpected bonus. That's the best way to look at it right now.

As Ferris Bueller once told us, life moves pretty fast. This is especially true in the NFL. One day, you're the hot free-agent pickup. A couple of short years later, it feels like you're yesterday's news.

This is what it feels like, right now, to be New York Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The Giants made a couple of major moves at his position this offseason, signing free agent Janoris Jenkins to a five-year, $62.5 million contract and selecting Ohio State's Eli Apple with the No. 10 pick in the draft. Veterans always say the one thing they hope about the draft is that the team doesn't pick anyone who plays their position. Rodgers-Cromartie is certainly veteran enough to read those kinds of tea leaves.

The chances of Rodgers-Cromartie being on the 2017 Giants are incredibly small. His contract has no guaranteed money left, and he'd be a $4.5 million cap savings for them if released next spring, when he'll be turning 31. His cap number this year is $8 million, same as Jenkins. But Jenkins' cap number jumps to $15 million in 2017, which strongly indicates that Rodgers-Cromartie's 2017 number of $8.5 million isn't in their plans. He's an extremely likely cut if he's still on the roster after this season.

That makes you wonder if it's a sure bet he will be.

Dominique Rodgers-CromartieAP Photo/Seth WenigDominique Rodgers-Cromartie went to the Pro Bowl after last season, but based on the Giants' offseason moves, it doesn't feel like he's in their plans beyond 2016.

If Apple comes quickly this offseason and looks in camp as if he could be a starter right away, it's not a crazy idea for the Giants to think about trading Rodgers-Cromartie. A starting cornerback with his level of experience and a $5.98 million salary would be extremely attractive to teams looking for help at the position (which is a lot of teams). The Giants have needs elsewhere on the roster, most notably the offensive line, and it's not out of the question that they could look to address those needs by dealing a player who's not in their plans beyond this year.

Obviously, the counter-argument to this is that you can't have too many cornerbacks and that, if Rodgers-Cromartie is such a bargain, why not keep him and maintain your depth at a crucial position? That argument makes sense and could carry the day in the end. Dealing Rodgers-Cromartie this summer only makes sense if Apple is going to be able to start right away, and that's a big "if" for a rookie who doesn't turn 21 until the second week of training camp.

But there's no question that Rodgers-Cromartie has frustrated some in the Giants' hierarchy with his tendency to ask off the field for stretches during games due to the physical issues he says keep nagging him. And the Giants' cornerback depth chart doesn't look balanced right now, with Rodgers-Cromartie, Jenkins and Apple all suited for outside duty and no real obvious choice for the nickel spot. They had Leon Hall in for a visit recently, and he could be a candidate for the nickel if team doctors clear him and he signs. Brandon Boykin is a free agent again and could be a candidate as well. Trumaine McBride remains unsigned. They can fix that problem without trying to shoehorn Apple into a role with which he's not comfortable.

The Giants have done a lot to address the cornerback position this offseason, but that doesn't mean they have it exactly the way they want it. If you were betting on it, the best guess is that Rodgers-Cromartie plays for them this year. But it's not a certainty, and it might actually make some sense for them to see what they can get for him.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants spent the final day of the NFL draft adding inventory at positions where they have a lot of options but not a lot of answers. They took a linebacker in the fourth round, a running back in the fifth and South Carolina tight end Jerell Adams in the sixth.

My take: He's a 6-foot-5, 247-pound former basketball player who fits the size profile of the tight ends teams are looking for. He'll have to show he can block in the run game in order to get on the field. But as was the case with fifth-round running back Paul Perkins, he's not staring at any frighteningly immovable obstacles on the Giants' depth chart at his position.

Another workout warrior: The Giants love guys who do great things at the scouting combine, and Adams' 4.64 time in the 40-yard dash was the best this year among tight ends in Indianapolis. He admits he needs to be sharper in and out of his breaks, but he was a reliable pass-catcher for the Gamecocks. The Giants view him as an athletic player who can refine his game at the pro level.

Fills a need? Giants GM Jerry Reese said Adams is a better blocker than a receiver at this point in his career. Obviously, he'll need to contribute on special teams and earn playing time, but the Giants did struggle last season after the loss of blocking tight end Daniel Fells to illness, and if Adams can block, they likely will make room for him.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Death, taxes and the New York Giants drafting a safety. In this world, it's nice to stop and appreciate the few things that are truly reliable.

The selection of Boise State safety Darian Thompson in the third round could finally give the Giants the answer they've been seeking at the free-safety position. Or it could simply add to a cumbersome collection of recently drafted safeties that includes Cooper Taylor (2013), Nat Berhe (2014), Bennett Jackson (2014), Landon Collins (2015) and Mykkele Thompson (2015). Considering it cost them two picks to acquire Collins, the Giants have now used four of their last nine draft picks on this one position.

At some point, they're going to get this figured out.

My take: At least they keep swinging, right? General manager Jerry Reese described Thompson as a "free safety" and a "center fielder" and said he's the kind of guy who makes the calls on the back end of the defense. This is what the Giants didn't have last season and what Steve Spagnuolo's defense needs. If Thompson is all the things they believe him to be, and he can step in and start right away, then this is a good pick. But those feel like big "if"s, and I think the Giants needed to come out of the first two nights of the draft with at least one new player who weighs more than 210 pounds. They went cornerback/receiver/safety and they still have needs on both lines.

Ball hawk: Thompson this past season broke Eric Weddle's Mountain West Conference record for career interceptions with 19. "I have a knack for finding the football," he said. "I feel like an interception is just as good as a touchdown, so that's what I'm going after." The ball skills obviously are a big part of what drew the Giants to Thompson, and they hope they translate at the next level. Giants coach Ben McAdoo said Thompson's "instincts and twitch" are the qualities that enable him to find the ball.

What's next: The Giants only have three more picks as of now -- one each in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds. They traded their seventh-round pick to the Steelers in September for punter Brad Wing. At this point, the players picked are more likely to be long-term projection guys than 2016 contributors, so don't assume they can fix right tackle or right guard with anybody they take Saturday. They could and should look to add at least one offensive lineman, but whoever it is won't be the kind of guy who gets handed a starting job.