Tight end Darren Waller and Adoree Jackson at New York...

Tight end Darren Waller and Adoree Jackson at New York Giants practice at their practice facility in East Rutherford on Tuesday, August 15, 2023. Credit: Ed Murray/Ed Murray


As the Giants cleaned out their lockers a day after their 2022 season ended, Xavier McKinney surveyed his team’s future. 

“I think we got a lot to look forward to,” the safety said after a38-7 loss at Philadelphia in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. “I thought we had a great year. I thought we improved a lot, especially just thinking back from where we came from the last two years, last three years. It’s been a major improvement.” 

McKinney was right, of course. Books have been written about lesser achievements. 

“I think we got a lot of things to be happy about,” McKinney continued. “We shouldn’t be complacent; I don’t think we are. We still are going to be hungry for more, a lot hungrier. Now we just got to look to continue to build off what we’ve already built. We just got to continue to try to improve so we can be back in this situation next year.” 

Next year is now.

The Giants had a productive offseason, continuing  to build on what they’d already developed  in the first year of the coach Brian Daboll/general manager Joe Schoen regime.  

The Giants open the 2023 NFL season on Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys. NewsdayTV's Kim Jones reports on some of the important parts of the team to help drive success. Credit: Ed Murray

The trade for Darren Waller was proof of that. 

And it seemed to set the tone for the rest of an active offseason. 

To land Waller, Schoen traded the No. 100 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, which was acquired in the Kadarius Toney trade to Kansas City. 

Fresh off his honeymoon with his wife Kelsey Plum, a star in the WNBA, Waller was dealt to the Giants on March 15. So far, it’s been a beautiful union. 

Since the day he entered the Giants' building, coaches and teammates have raved about Waller’s professionalism. And since the Giants got on the practice field this spring and summer, the 6-6 tight end who plays like a wide receiver has dominated. There were times Daniel Jones and Waller appeared to be playing catch. And that was with the Giants' defense on the field. 

Waller forged an early connection with Jones. 

“I just like his even-keeled nature,” Waller said of his new quarterback. “First and foremost, he just has a calm spirit about him. It's not too high or too low, it’s staying in the middle. You can tell by the way that he’s navigated so many adversities in the noise of his career, that that's something he's focused on, and it's paying dividends for him now.” 

At training camp, it was newsworthy whenever a completion to Waller wasn’t made.  

The enormous reaction to the spectacular interception by the up-and-coming safety Jason Pinnock in late July  — on a ball bound for Waller — spoke volumes. Even Daboll, not prone to exaggeration, called it “pretty impressive” and said he watched it back on tape multiple times. 

This summer, it was much more common to see Waller making every play that came his way. And there were a lot of them. 

“He pretty much can do everything," McKinney said. “Being as big as he is, you don't see guys that big that can move like that. So, it makes him real special. It makes him a tough cover every time.” 

Said receiver Darius Slayton: “Darren's a locomotive rolling real fast. Ain’t nobody tackling that.” 

“It’s crazy,” said receiver Parris Campbell, also entering his first year with the Giants. “Teams are going to try to double-team him. He’s just a freak of an athlete. He can line up anywhere. He’s going to be able to open things up for everyone.” 

That, of course, was the Giants’ goal when they acquired Waller. 

In the category of explosive plays, defined as pass plays of at least 20 yards, the Giants finished last in the league in 2022. Waller will be a big part of why that will almost certainly change. 

Waller, 30, played in just nine games last season after appearing in 11 in 2021. The two seasons before that is where he became a star, producing back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons in 2019 and 2020, the latter including nine touchdowns. He played in all 16 games both those seasons, catching 90 and 107 passes, respectively. 

He's a big focal point of the Giants' offense now, but he won’t have to go it alone. The roster, top to bottom, is certainly better and deeper than last year’s, which won a playoff game for the first time since the Super Bowl XLVI victory in 2012. 

After exceeding expectations last season, the Giants are setting their sights higher. 

In the second year of the partnership between former Buffalo colleagues Schoen and Daboll, almost anything seems possible. 

Is this a playoff team again? Giants fans will be disappointed if it is not. And for good reason.

Since the 2022 Giants played their last game, there’s been a considerable makeover in East Rutherford. 

Jones was rewarded for his strong 2022 season. The quarterback not only received a new contract but he was surrounded by a plethora of weapons. Then Dexter Lawrence and Andrew Thomas got their big-money extensions. 

That Saquon Barkley had an “epiphany,” as he described it, that led him to report on time for training camp, was a bonus after the running back hinted that he might not play on the franchise tag. 

On defense, the Giants signed linebacker Bobby Okereke. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is fond of saying that if you have a slow middle linebacker, you have a slow defense. Okereke is not slow.  

The former Colt will also be supported by a defensive line that is led by Lawrence and Leonard Williams and will benefit from Azeez Ojulari being healthy and Kayvon Thibodeaux not being a rookie anymore. 

On paper, these Giants are better than last year’s team. 

Giants fans can dream again. Of winning big games. Of a return trip to the playoffs.

A significant question: Can they catch the Eagles? That might be the hardest part. 

But as this season begins for these Giants, truly anything seems possible. 

Beat writer prediction for the Giants in 2023

Record: 10-7; playoffs: lose in the divisional round to the Eagles.

To be true contenders, the Giants have to close the gap with the Eagles. If they can’t, there is still a path,  which would include sweeping the Commanders — no more ties —  and winning at least once against Dallas. That Week 1 matchup could prove crucial.   The Giants face the  Eagles in Weeks 16 and 18. The biggest question about those matchups: Will the results matter? And what will be at stake?  

This is Kimberly Jones’ second season covering the Giants for Newsday, and 23rd year overall covering the NFL. 

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