NFC East: New York Giants
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."
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."
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.
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.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants have been watching Sterling Shepard for a long time now. A four-year player and three-year starter at Oklahoma, Shepard is a playmaking wide receiver who's been on their minds for longer than just the past few months worth of pre-draft poking and prodding. They entered this process believing he was among the best -- if not the best -- wide receiver in this draft class. And on Friday night, with the ninth pick of the second round, they selected him.
My take: I'm a sucker for dudes with piles and piles of really good college tape. Shepard had combined totals of 137 catches for 2,258 yards and 16 touchdowns over his final two seasons at Oklahoma. He got better every year. Giants scouting director Marc Ross said he was a guy who'd been making an impression for years -- that he always came away from Oklahoma games impressed, and not just during Shepard's senior year when they were looking at him for this year's draft. Yes, he's 5-foot-10, 194 pounds, but wide receivers can play bigger than their size, and everything about Shepard says he does. You can argue an offensive tackle or a safety would have been a better "need" pick here, and you may be right. But they also needed a wide receiver, and Shepard is just a heck of a football player. Love this pick.
What's it mean for Victor?: You're going to see a lot of forced narratives about Shepard as a similar player to Victor Cruz. I think that's unfair. Shepard is a more accomplished college player than Cruz was and deserves the chance to make his own name. But I can't really control that. I can tell you the Giants still aren't sure Cruz will ever be fully recovered from his knee injury and return to his former levels, and that it's unlikely he's on the team beyond 2016. GM Jerry Reese described Shepard as a slot receiver. Coach Ben McAdoo said he could move around to different spots. He'll be who he'll be, but the hope is that he'll be even better (and last longer) than Cruz.
Bloodlines: Shepard is the son of the late Derrick Shepard, who played wide receiver at Oklahoma from 1983-86 and had a five-year NFL career with Washington, New Orleans and Dallas from 1987-91. Sterling wore No. 3 in college because it was the same number his father wore while there. Derrick Shepard died of a heart attack in 1999 at the age of 35, when Sterling was 6 years old.
What's next: The Giants hold the eighth pick of the third round (No. 71 overall) later Friday night. They would like to come out of that round having augmented their offensive line.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Just because they spent more than $100 million in guaranteed money and their top-10 pick on defense, don't assume the New York Giants are targeting offensive players in Friday night's second and third rounds of the NFL draft.
It's true there are needs still on the offensive side of the ball. They could reasonably address offensive line, wide receiver or tight end on Friday night and believe they've filled a key need.
But if the best players on the board play defense, don't be shocked if they use that No. 40 overall pick to continue to beef up a unit that ranked last in the NFL with 420.3 yards per game allowed in 2015.
A lot of good players remain on the board with the Giants holding the ninth pick of the second round and the eighth pick of the third. Here's a look at some potential options:
Linebacker: Reggie Ragland (Alabama), Myles Jack (UCLA). It's not a stretch to think that Ragland immediately would be the best linebacker on the Giants' roster -- an all-around player with run-stopping ability and a better pass-rusher than some think. The Giants like him; the question is whether they think he's better than what they have at the position (Keenan Robinson, Jasper Brinkley, etc.) to justify a pick as high as No. 40 overall. As for Jack, we know the issue -- a top-five talent who fell out of the first round because of concerns about his knee. The Giants decided days ago not to use the No. 10 overall pick on him, and I'd be surprised if they used the No. 40, but you can't rule it out completely.
Defensive end: Noah Spence (Eastern Kentucky), Kevin Dodd (Clemson). Spence is the super-talented pass-rusher who got kicked out of Ohio State for failed drug tests. Makes you wonder, given what happened Thursday with Laremy Tunsil, whether the Giants would give him a look. I doubt Dodd will be the highest player on their board at 40, but should he slip into the third round, he'd be great value there.
Defensive tackle: Jarran Reed (Alabama), Andrew Billings (Baylor). Johnathan Hankins is entering the final year of his contract, but in the meantime, adding a stud interior defensive lineman to a rotation that already includes Hankins, Damon Harrison and Jay Bromley could really solidify the Giants at a critical spot for a long time to come.
Safety: Vonn Bell (Ohio State). Coverage skills could make him the natural free safety the Giants didn't have last year and might not have on the roster now, no matter how high their hopes for Nat Berhe and Mykkele Thompson.
If they go offense: OT Jason Spriggs (Indiana), OL Cody Whitehair (Kansas State), TE Hunter Henry (Arkansas), WR Braxton Miller (Ohio State), WR Sterling Shepard (Oklahoma). This is only a partial list, of course. But Spriggs could be an immediate starting at right tackle and Whitehair could play tackle or guard. They like Henry as a versatile tight end who can block and run routes. And there's a ton of wide receiver talent available in both rounds. I expect them to address offense (most likely the line) with at least one of Friday's picks. And if the board falls a certain way, they could come out with two new offensive players.
The first hour of the draft didn't go very well for the New York Giants. Their top choice at tackle got caught in a weird Twitter controversy right before the draft started. The Tennessee Titans traded up to take the Giants' No. 2 tackle two picks in front of them. The Chicago Bears traded up to take the Giants' top defensive target one pick in front of them. Unable to trade down, the Giants stayed put and took their highest-ranked remaining cornerback, Ohio State's Eli Apple.
My take: The Giants aren't the most nimble team in the draft, so I'm not surprised they got outmaneuvered for Jack Conklin and Leonard Floyd. As for trading down ... meh. Takes two to tango. And the way the draft is right now (look at Keanu Neal at 17 and Ryan Kelly at 18), most teams believe that, if you like a guy, you don't wait around and hope he'll be there later. Apple is a big corner who's just 20 years old and makes sense for the Giants. GM Jerry Reese said, "Absolutely, it's a need pick. Look out there at our corner depth, and you can see that." I agree with him. You can argue the Giants should have been able to maneuver to get the guys they wanted, but I can't fault them for taking this player if they felt stuck in that spot.
The kid was surprised: Apple said he spoke to the Giants only once during the draft process -- at the combine -- and that when he saw a New Jersey area code pop up on his phone, the New Jersey native thought one of his friends was prank-calling him. It took him a few seconds after answering before he realized it really was Giants head coach Ben McAdoo. "It was kind of crazy to see my name up on the screen at No. 10," he said.
Wild pre-draft process: Apple was the prospect who was asked by a Falcons coach at the combine whether he "liked men" -- a controversy that resulted in public apologies from the Falcons. He was also the prospect who was reported by an anonymous scout in a report earlier this week to struggle with life skills, such as cooking. "Ridiculous," Giants scouting director Marc Ross said. "This guy came from a good family. Went to college. And we're asking about cooking? I mean, come on. The guy plays football, shows up to practice, goes to class, has great parents ... and we're talking about cooking. It's not a factor at all. It's if he does things that are football-oriented that work out."
Who they passed on: Reese said Apple was the Giants' "highest-rated player on our board, beyond the guys with issues." He did not address specific guys or issues, but I know the Giants liked Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil as of a few days ago, and you have to think the video that posted on his Twitter account just before the draft of him apparently smoking marijuana in a gas mask gave the Giants (and other teams) pause. We also found out a few days ago that the Giants had decided not to use this pick on UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, in large part due to concerns about his knee.
What’s next: The Giants hold the ninth pick of the second round (No. 40 overall) and the eighth pick of the third round (No. 71 overall) on Friday night. They could look to add an offensive lineman, a wide receiver or a safety -- all positions of need -- depending on the way the rest of the first round shakes out Thursday night.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Almost incomprehensibly, the day is finally here.
Yes, after months of combine workouts and pro days and medical rechecks and anonymous scouts and mock draft after mock draft after mock draft, the NFL draft begins tonight. The first round that unfolds starting at 8 p.m. ET is no mock. It's the real deal. And it will answer all of your questions much better than any of us have been able to.
This is a dicey time of year for those of us charged with finding out what's going on behind the scenes and relaying it to you. As you have heard many times, there's a lot of lying, smoke-screening and misdirection going on from teams that don't want their competitors to know what they're up to. This is why I try to be very careful with what I report and how I report it. Before going with information, I think it's important to ask how reliable the sources are, why they're telling me what they're telling me and whether the news value of the information justifies reporting it when it could be a detriment to one of the people involved.
So with all of that in mind, I want to spend this draft-morning post filling you in on the latest I'm hearing on the New York Giants' first-round draft plans. This information is the result of many conversations I've had in recent days and weeks with people familiar with the Giants' plans. Some of it differs from information I had earlier in the process, because I've endeavored to learn more and because the Giants' plans have been fluid as the people in the building have worked to find consensus. In the past three days, for example, I've had people with direct knowledge of the situation tell me they're sure the Giants will draft a defensive player in the first round and another such person tell me they were sure they were taking an offensive player. That's what we're dealing with here. There are no definites. A year ago at this time, I was nearly 100 percent sure the pick was going to be Ereck Flowers. This year, it's a bit murkier.
Here's what I have for you at this point:
- I still think the most likely pick is Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd. The Giants haven't taken a linebacker in the first round since Carl Banks in 1984, but all the things I wrote seven weeks ago about why Floyd could buck that trend hold up. He's a player the Giants' scouts and front office have loved for months, and there are people high up in the brain trust who believe he will and should be the pick.
- That said, Floyd is a hot name recently, and I've heard him connected with Tampa Bay at No. 9, Cleveland at No. 8, San Francisco at No. 7 and even Jacksonville at No. 5. So there's a chance the Giants might not be able to get him at No. 10.
- If Floyd is gone -- and possibly even if he's not -- the Giants could take an offensive player. Some in the brain trust have expressed the opinion that, after spending more than $100 million in guaranteed money on defensive free agents, it would be unwise for the Giants to also spend their top-10 pick on that side of the ball. Those people would prefer to take an offensive lineman in the top 10 for the second year in a row. The Giants' top-rated offensive lineman is Mississippi's Laremy Tunsil, but the odds are not good that he'll last until No. 10. I have been told their No. 2 offensive lineman is Michigan State's Jack Conklin, who could potentially start as a rookie at right tackle and allow the coaching staff to keep Flowers on the left side, where they believe he has elite upside.
- Multiple people have told me the Giants will not select UCLA linebacker Myles Jack at No. 10. Concerns about the condition of Jack's knee, combined with the Giants' generally lukewarm feelings about first-round linebackers (remember, they view Floyd as a pass-rusher who happens to play linebacker), have slid him far enough down their board that they think No. 10 is too high. The most-injured team in the league the past three years, the Giants aren't up for a first-round injury risk.
- I also don't expect them to take Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, mainly because they think No. 10 is too high to take a running back when that's one of the few positions on their roster that has any depth and they have so many needs elsewhere. I can't get Elliott ruled out completely by people in the know, but I think a lot of weird things would have to happen in the top nine for him to be the pick at 10.
- They liked Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves at one point in this process, and could still take him. But I have not heard a lot of serious buzz about him and the Giants in the past week.
- If the Giants take an offensive player in the first round, a second-round name to keep an eye on could be Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence -- the former five-star pass-rusher who got kicked out of Ohio State for multiple failed drug tests. Spence could get taken in the first round, but if he doesn't, he could be there for the Giants at No. 40 overall, and he brings the kind of high-end upside they crave in their young pass-rushers.
- I don't see them taking a receiver in the first round unless they trade down, which would be unprecedented in the Jerry Reese era. If you're looking for second- or third-round names to watch at wide receiver, think about Ohio State's Braxton Miller or Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Sifting through New York Giants GM Jerry Reese's news conference for interesting information was like trying to find golf balls in a snowbank. Reese obfuscates intentionally, as do most NFL executives at this time of year, and obviously he wasn't going to give away anything about the Giants' strategy in advance of next week's draft.
But I did find his comments about prospects with injury concerns interesting. Reese said the Giants had "a medical meeting" Wednesday night and discussed some of the draft prospects who present injury risks. He didn't name names, but he did talk about how the Giants handle such players.
"We listen to our doctors," Reese said. "If our doctors say the risk is too high, we don't take them. It's like school. F is bad and A is good. If it's a C, there's some risk. If there's a D, there's a lot of risk, and if it's an F, we're not going to take them. It's hard for us to take a D. We rarely take a D."
In Todd McShay's most recent mock draft, he's dropped UCLA linebacker Myles Jack all the way down to the No. 17 pick because of the thought that some teams will downgrade Jack due to his knee injury. Jack is a player the Giants like a lot. But what we don't know is what kind of injury grade they give him, and therefore whether they'd take him if the draft fell the way it does in McShay's mock and he were available to them with the No. 10 pick.
But if the Giants are one of the teams worried about Jack's knee, it sounds as though they might pass.
"You're not going to take a risk on your first-round pick if the guy is a D," Reese said, again, speaking generally and not about a certain player. "You're not going to take a risk like that with your first-round pick. If you're in the sixth round and you've got an extra pick, or if you're in the seventh round and have an extra pick, you can take more risks in those later rounds because the value is not the same."
The Giants have been the NFL's most injured team three years running. It wouldn't surprise me much if they were picking between Jack and a player they had ranked similarly and passed on Jack due to injury concerns. Again, the Giants may not be worried about Jack's knee. There are such teams. But if their doctors don't like what last week's medical re-check showed, then yes, they could let him go by when it's their turn to pick next Thursday night.
The New York Giants are going to have to pack their hats and gloves when they hit the road in 2016. Playing the AFC North means post-Thanksgiving road trips to Pittsburgh and Cleveland, and they wrap the season with frigid road games outdoors in Philadelphia and Washington. Even their road game against the Los Angeles Rams is in chilly London in late October. Here’s a way-too-early game-by-game prediction breakdown of the coming season. Please pair with an appropriately sized grain of salt.
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 11, at Dallas Cowboys, 4:25 p.m. ET
The Giants open in Dallas for the third time in the past four years. They lost there in the 2013 and 2015 openers and also lost the 2012 opener to Dallas at home. The Giants are 1-6 against Tony Romo the past four years. He haunts their nightmares. In this one, the old formula repeats, as the Giants play what they believe is a pretty good game but leave Romo too much time at the end (say, 1:57) and he leads the Cowboys down the field to beat the Giants in another heartbreaker. Record: 0-1
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 18, vs. New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m. ET
The much-anticipated rematch of one of the weirdest, wildest games of the 2015 season happens in New Jersey this time. Last year in New Orleans, Eli Manning threw six touchdown passes but lost 52-49 to Drew Brees, who threw seven. The Saints aren’t the same on the road, and this time Manning gets the better end of the matchup to avoid a fourth straight 0-2 start. Record: 1-1
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 25, vs. Washington, 1 ET
Washington may be the defending division champ, and Kirk Cousins may have established himself as a legitimate starting NFL quarterback, but the Giants remain unimpressed. They’re convinced they know how to beat Cousins, and their post-Thanksgiving loss in Washington stung them as badly as any they had all year. They get their revenge at MetLife. Record: 2-1
Week 4: Monday, Oct. 3, at Minnesota Vikings, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Giants didn’t have a suspended Odell Beckham Jr. when they lost a frigid late-December game in Minneapolis last season. The game’s indoors this year, and the Giants have big Damon Harrison to help them contain Adrian Peterson. But the Vikings’ defense is still a good bit better than the Giants’ defense, even with all of the improvements. Minnesota takes a low-scoring affair. Record: 2-2
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 9, at Green Bay Packers, 8:30 p.m. ET
Ben McAdoo’s return to Green Bay! The Giants’ new head coach spent eight years as a Packers assistant from 2006-13 until joining the Giants as offensive coordinator, and Packers coach Mike McCarthy is his mentor. But McAdoo learns quickly that it’s not as much fun when Aaron Rodgers is playing for the other team, even though the Giants get a break here with the Green Bay trip relatively early in the season -- before it's too cold there. Packers win. Record: 2-3
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 16, vs. Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. ET
The Ravens are picking sixth in the draft two weeks from now, which is just weird. We’re not used to the Ravens being a bad team, and neither are the Ravens. The expected return to health by its key players on offense and defense returns Baltimore to playoff-contender status, and Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs & Co. are too much for the Giants in this Super Bowl XXXV rematch. Record: 2-4
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 23, at Los Angeles Rams (in London), 9:30 a.m. ET
My thing with way-too-early schedule analysis is that we can’t know which teams are going to be good or bad at this point, so the only thing on which we can focus is the travel issue. The London game is a travel challenge for any team that goes, but it’s twice as long a flight for the Rams, who now look as if they’ll also be starting a rookie quarterback. Record: 3-4
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 6, vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. ET
No team is happier to see Chip Kelly in San Francisco than the Giants, who were 1-5 against the Eagles in Kelly’s three seasons as their coach. Beckham finds things easy against that Eagles' secondary, and the Giants come off the bye to beat Philly for the first time since 2013. Record: 4-4
Week 10: Monday, Nov. 14, vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 8:30 p.m. ET
This isn’t a playoff game, right? No, can’t be, unless it’s the Super Bowl. Which it’s not. The Bengals have made the playoffs five years in a row. The Giants haven’t made it since 2011. These are teams at very different places in their franchise history, and the Bengals’ roster depth is on display to make the Giants and their fans envious. Bengals win this one. Record: 4-5
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 20, vs. Chicago Bears, 1 p.m. ET
The last time the Bears played the Giants in New Jersey, Jay Cutler was sacked nine times in the first half and couldn’t answer the bell for the second. Bad memories surface for Cutler, who has a rough day against Olivier Vernon, Jason Pierre-Paul and the ghosts of Giants pass-rush past. Giants win. Record: 5-5
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 27, at Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET
Our man Pat McManamon has a fun exercise every year at this time when he looks at the game-by-game predictions of the beat writers whose teams are scheduled to play the Browns and adds up the wins and losses. Usually the Browns come out something like 2-14. Which is something they could totally be. Who would pick a team, at this point, to lose to whatever's left of the Browns? This is a Giants road win. Record: 6-5
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 4, at Pittsburgh Steelers, 4:25 p.m. ET
The only sack Pierre-Paul had last year was of Cam Newton, who’s nearly Pierre-Paul’s size. I kidded him about it the following week, asking if he’d been waiting for the biggest quarterback he could find for his first sack. He laughed and said no, he’d rather sack a little guy. So I asked if Newton was the hardest guy to sack and Pierre-Paul said, “No -- Roethlisberger.” Giants don’t win this game. Record: 6-6
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 11, vs. Dallas Cowboys, 8:30 p.m. ET
Back home after two weeks away in the AFC North, the Giants find a way to squeak out a win against their division rivals and get themselves back over .500 as they head into the final stretch. A truly meaningful December for the first time in four years. Record: 7-6
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 18, vs. Detroit Lions, 1 p.m. ET
Well, they won’t have to worry about covering Calvin Johnson anymore. Not that they did much of that that the last time they saw him -- hey-O! Ba-dump-bump! Honestly, there’s no way to credibly guess whether the 2016 Lions will be a good team, but a second straight home game before the in-division finish feels comfy enough from here. Give the Giants a win at home and another week in the race. Record: 8-6
Week 16: Thursday, Dec. 22, at Philadelphia Eagles, 8:25 p.m. ET
The Giants have been outscored 54-7 the past two years in Philadelphia, and things aren’t getting a lot better this time on a short week. Victor Cruz scores a touchdown in the place where he tore up his knee, which makes for a good story. But the Giants suffer another tough division road loss. Record: 8-7
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 1, at Washington, 1 p.m. ET
The NFC East is just too mediocre these days for us to know which teams should beat which other teams. So even though it hasn’t been working out this way for the Giants, I’m sticking to my tradition of giving them wins in their home division games and losses in the road ones. If you have a better idea for how to pick a game like this nine months out, I’m all ears. But my April prediction formula says the Giants lose a big division road game to wrap the season and miss the playoffs for the fifth year in a row. Record: 8-8
Three of the New York Giants' projected four starting defensive linemen are players they signed in free agency. The other is defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who tore a pectoral muscle in November and missed the final seven games of his third NFL season.
"I'm pretty much fully healthy and full go," Hankins said on a conference call Monday. "I'll be in there fully."
Now, rule No. 1 of NFL coverage is to remember that players aren't doctors. The first day of the Giants' offseason workout program was Monday, and the first two weeks are limited to strength and conditioning work, so it remains to be seen whether Hankins will "be in there fully" when the on-field work begins. But the 24-year-old defensive tackle the Giants took in the second round of the 2013 draft is a big part of the team's plans. They signed Damon Harrison to play next to him and, ideally, form a formidable defensive tackle combination in the Giants' 4-3 front.
"I was excited that they brought him in," Hankins said of Harrison. "He's well known around the league as a dominant run-stopper, and also pushing the pocket. I'm excited to play with him."
Hankins is entering the final year of his rookie deal. Because he was picked in the second round and not the first, the Giants don't hold a fifth-year option on him as they do with 2013 first-rounder Justin Pugh. So Hankins will be eligible for unrestricted free agency at the end of this season. He says he's not worrying about it.
"Just really focused on the season," Hankins said.
If he gets through it healthy and hits free agency next year before his 25th birthday, the rest will all take care of itself.
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Asked Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings to evaluate his running back depth chart, New York Giants coach Ben McAdoo paused and said, "It looks a lot, at this point, like we left it last year," which is totally accurate.
The Giants' current running backs are Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams, Orleans Darkwa and Shane Vereen -- the same four-headed monster that confounded observers last year until the final weeks, when they finally started giving Jennings the ball as the primary runner and he averaged 108 yards over the final four games.
But that didn't really solve anything, right? The reason they didn't want Jennings to be the primary bell cow from Week 1 was because his history suggests he'd break down physically. That hasn't changed, which means the Giants either have to add a new starter to their current group (which doesn't seem likely) or find some way to get production out of the committee. The good thing is the Giants like all four of their backs.
"Rashad took the bull by the horns, and that was great to see at the end of the year," McAdoo said. "Shane was a great addition -- second on the team in receiving and played about 38 percent of the snaps. That was encouraging. And a lot of guys are giving up on Andre. Don't give up on Andre. He's going into his third year and he'll continue to grow. No one's going to outwork him. And Orleans is a guy who is a natural runner, a good special-teams player for us, and he's going to be in the mix as well."
But no matter who gets the carries, the issues with a Giants run game that ranked 19th in the NFL last year go deeper than just the running back depth chart. The offensive line still needs work too.
McAdoo lauded the effort of John Jerry and Marshall Newhouse, who played right guard and right tackle last year, but it's clear they need to upgrade at one or both of those spots. McAdoo said he wants to leave Justin Pugh at left guard, and he and center Weston Richburg form a strong combo. But with the right side unsettled and left tackle Ereck Flowers still developing, the run game will be a question mark no matter who's carrying the ball.
Add in the lack of a blocking tight end and a question mark at fullback, and the Giants still have a way to go before putting together a 2016 running game on which they can rely.
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Front and center for a group photo of every coach in the NFL. Sitting in meetings as those who run the league chart the course of its future. Scoping out the jumbo shrimp on a 40-foot waterfront raw bar at a lavish cocktail party at the Boca Raton Beach Club. This is the first NFL owners meeting for the New York Giants' new head coach, Ben McAdoo, and it's a tough event to do justice until you've seen it with your own eyes.
"Just soaking it all in," McAdoo said Monday.
McAdoo will address the media Wednesday, when the NFC coaches have their media breakfast. Tuesday was the AFC coaches' breakfast, and I asked a couple of them their thoughts on making the transition from coordinator to head coach, as the 38-year-old McAdoo is doing.
"The second year is a lot easier than the first," said the Cincinnati Bengals' Marvin Lewis, wide-eyed at the 13-year-old memory. "Because that first year, everything comes at you so fast. Things are constantly churning, every day. Everything is constantly changing around you, and there are so many things that now fall on your plate."
McAdoo isn't the only first-time head coach here. The Miami Dolphins' Adam Gase is even younger and is a head coach for the first time. One of the things Gase says has helped so far is seeing players around the facility and finding things to discuss with them that aren't football. The CBA's rules prohibit coaches from interacting with players on football topics this time of year.
"You can't talk football with them, so just getting to know the guys as people, what they're into, what they think about, what they like to do with their time, that's been great for me," Gase said. "One of the great things about being in Miami is that so many guys are here, they live here. When you see guys in the hall, you can just talk to them about their lives."
Hue Jackson is the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns, but his path has been a bit unorthodox. When he became head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2011, his background had been purely in offense. But after he lost that job, the Bengals hired him to coach their defensive backs and special teams. He eventually went back to offense once the Bengals had an opening on that side of the ball, but Jackson said the diversity of his time in between head-coaching jobs helps him.
"I remember, there were times I didn't know what I was looking at," Jackson said. "You know how to attack a defense, but I didn't know what that coach was trying to get that defense or that defensive player to do. Now, having been on that side of the ball, I know how to see it from that other perspective. I'm not going to say everybody should go through the same thing I did, but I would challenge every coach to experience it."