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Scouting the 2019 Giants

Giants head coach Pat Shurmur looks on from

Giants head coach Pat Shurmur looks on from the sideline during the second half at MetLife Stadium on Aug. 16. Photo Credit: Daniel De Mato

OFFENSE

Quarterbacks: We know who’ll start: Manning. The question is, who will finish? Jones, the sixth overall selection in the draft, is there as the heir apparent. Less apparent, though, is when he’ll get to heir. He looks and feels ready. The only thing that will keep him from playing, it seems, is Manning. He needs to win early and often – and play well -- to forestall the pressure to hand the franchise over to Jones. The last time the Giants were in such a situation was 2004, when the Kurt Warner-led Giants were 5-4 and Tom Coughlin inserted the rookie Manning as the starter. The Giants should have a fairly good idea of where this season is heading by the time they get nine weeks into it, plus they have their bye in Week 11. Keep an eye on that stretch of the season for the Giants to decide who finishes as their starter.

Running backs: He runs, he catches, he blocks, he leads. If there is anything Barkley can’t do, the Giants have yet to find it. And chances are they won’t this season, either. After an exhilarating debut that earned him Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, Barkley is back to add on to his already impressive resume. The potential for his numbers is staggering. Could he run for 2,000 yards? His position coach said this summer he wouldn’t be surprised. Can he become just the second running back with 1,000 yards running and receiving in the same season? It’s certainly within reach. Can he go a second full season without a fumble? That may be the most unbelievable stat from his rookie campaign in which he also led the league in unbelievable. Barkley is the centerpiece of the Giants offense – really the entire organization at this point – and his production will determine whether the Giants have a successful season in 2019 or not.

Receivers/Tight ends: You-know-who is long gone, which leaves the Giants with this group of steady but hardly star-worthy targets. The most accomplished of them all, Golden Tate, acquired as a free agent this offseason, will miss the first four games of the season suspended for violating the league’s PED policy. Shepard has an opportunity to step up and become a true No. 1, something he could never accomplish in the shadows of Odell Beckham Jr. during the first few years of his Giants career. He’s spent the preseason practicing with a fractured thumb that should be watched closely now that he’s in live action. The trio of veterans -- Latimer, Fowler and Russell Shepard – have never been go-to guys in their careers but will need to produce.  Watch to see what rookie Slayton can do once he gets more integrated in the offense. He’s the fastest of the receivers and could become one of Daniel Jones’ favorite downfield targets for years to come. Engram, the tight end, feels like a player ready to pop, but after two seasons talking about his potential he needs to deliver.

Line: It took less than two years for the Giants to completely overhaul this all-important group, with Zeitler and Remmers being the finishing touches. Zeitler, who arrived in the big Odell Beckham Jr. trade, has quickly become a leader of the unit both in terms of play and mindset. He’s a throwback to the days when Snee, O’Hara and Seubert manned the middle of the line. Remmers is back at tackle, his natural position, after a season struggling at guard. Hernandez figures to blossom in his second season, which should help Solder regain the championship form he showed in his eight seasons with the Patriots. The loss of Halapio to an ankle injury in Week 2 last year was often bemoaned by the Giants as one dramatically weakened the line. But he has just a handful of NFL starts, so if he stays healthy this season we’ll see what they were missing.

DEFENSE

Line: What the Giants like the most about a front of Hill, Tomlinson and the rookie Lawrence is that they can line up in any permutation. All of them can play anywhere from directly over center as a nose tackle to outside over a tackle as a pass-rusher. Lawrence, a first-round pick, has especially intrigued the Giants with his ability to rush into the pocket. He may look like former Giants DT Damon “Snacks” Harrison on paper (or, more accurately, on a scale), but he can create much more forward movement than the laterally dominant Harrison. McIntosh missed a ton of time early in his rookie year and will provide some depth along with Pierre, who will likely play on passing downs.

Linebackers: The Giants haven’t had a player with double-digit sacks in a season since 2014 and finished next-to-last in the league in that category last season. They’re hoping Golden, a free agent acquisition, can regain the form he had in 2016 when he posted 12.5 of them for the Cardinals before an ACL injury in 2017 slowed his career. They also have high expectations for Carter in his second season along with the rookie Ximines. As for the interior, second-year player Davis is a converted college safety so the Giants like his ability to cover running backs and tight ends. Ogletree was last year’s captain and main signal-caller for the defense, but if he doesn’t produce he may find himself replaced by rookie Connelly who has shown a sharp ability to be in the right place at the right time this preseason.

Defensive backs: The Giants like Peppers so much they got rid of TWO Pro Bowlers to bring him in, acquiring him in part of the Odell Beckham Jr. trade and letting Landon Collins walk away in free agency. Those are big cleats to fill, but Peppers seems poised to have a breakout year after two pedestrian ones in Cleveland. He and the veteran Bethea will be manning the deep secondary and coming up to the line to make plays. Jenkins is the only starter returning to the same spot in the secondary from a year ago, and he’s one of the few veterans among a very young crew of cornerbacks. Baker, a first-round pick, should develop into a physical, lock-down player. Love gives the Giants versatility and can play corner or safety. Haley and Chandler played significant roles as rookies toward the end of last season and are the “next men up” if the Giants need them.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Rosas went from a question mark to an exclamation point last year, emerging as a Pro Bowler in his second season. The Giants need his punctuation to remain unchanged in 2019. He can still have moments that baffle the coaches, but his strong accurate leg gives them a chance to score from nearly anywhere across midfield. Bold prediction: Rosas hits a 60-yarder in a game this season. Riley Dixon returns as the punter. Having veterans such as Michael Thomas, Cody Latimer, Russell Shepard and DeOssie gives the Giants more stability on their special units than most other teams that typically stack them with green rookies getting adjusted to such roles. Although he did not do it in preseason games, look for Jabrill Peppers to add a spark to the punt returns.

COACHING STAFF

Shurmur will call the offensive plays again this season, but perhaps most importantly, he’ll make the call on if and when to make the change from Manning to Jones. Balancing that internal battle with a feel for the locker room and the desires of the front office will be a challenge. His first year with the Giants saw him juggling a roster in transition due to everything from injury to absurdity. Now things look to have settled down in terms of personnel and Shurmur needs to start producing victories. He’s never had a winning season as a head coach. Bettcher has players many believe are better suited to his schemes than last year’s roster, including several he brought in from Arizona like Markus Golden and Antonie Bethea. If the Giants’ defense is a top-10 unit, this could be Bettcher’s last year with the Giants as he is seen as a potential head coach in the relatively near future.

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