By Michael Stewart
Introduction: The New York Giants need to reduce the roster from their current 90 players to 53 by September 1st. There are a lot of players on the bubble and their fate could be determined by their performance in the final pre-season game against the New England Patriots. Since this projected 53 man roster prediction is before the final game and barring any unforeseen performances, here is my projected 53 man roster for the New York Giants entering the 2018 season.
Starter: Eli Manning-Manning was unjustly criticized in 2017 for his lack of production. Having your top 2 wide receivers out for the year with injuries, a poor offensive line in front of him; which translated to a lack of a running game and throw in the fact that Manning led the league is drop passes were the reasons for Manning’s poor performance.
Backups: Davis Webb and Kyle Lauletta. This was fun to watch throughout training camp. Webb might have the edge for having a full year under his belt in the NFL, but both (along with Manning) will be learning a new system under Shurmur and Shula.
Running Back/Fullback (5)
Starter: Saquon Barkley- The Giants brass is totally convinced that Barkley is the real deal and he will get every opportunity to be the starter. Barkley is a 3 down back, however; not sure if the Giants intend to overwork him in his rookie season..
Backups: Jonathan Stewart, Wayne Gallman, Robert Martin & Shane Smith: Historically, Shurmur has utilized a fullback in his offenses and Smith does have some experience lining up at tight end, but will be mainly utilized in the backfield at the traditional fullback position. The Giants and Shurmur would really like to get the Giants back to their glory days of running the football; which will open up the passing game. Martin gets added to the roster not only for his solid performance in pre-season, but also because of the lack of production by Stewart who wins a spot due to his contract.
Tight End (3)
Starter: Evan Engram: Engram is not your prototypical TE and the Giants plan to utilize him in as many ways as possible to create mismatches. New offensive coordinator Mike Shula is going to create plays designed especially for Engram to give him the opportunity to improve upon his numbers in 2017.
Backups: Rhett Ellison and Jerell Adams: I was going to initially go with 4 tight ends here; but decided against as Shane Smith could be utilized at the tight end position if needed. Head Coach Pat Shurmur intends to implement a double TE formation in 2018 in many formations. If so, then Ellison should see more playing time along with the 3rd tight end Jerell Adams. I believe Jerell Adams will benefit greatly with the new regime as Shurmur gave him plenty of playing time in pre-season to showcase his talents. This will probably be in all likelihood Adams last chance for the Giants, but I believe he will show enough to make the team and provide some production this season. In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see 3 tight ends on the field in some offensive plays with two lined up along the line of scrimmage and one in the backfield.
Wide Receiver (5)
Starters: Odell Beckham Jr and Sterling Shepard: Head Coach Pat Shurmur will more than likely use more two wide receivers along with two tight ends in 2018. Beckham appears to be fully recovered from his ankle injury that ended his season in 2017 and with a new contract is primed for a great year. Sterling Shepard could be utilized on the outside more in 2018 and also in the slot.
Backups: Cody Latimer, Russell Shepard, and Hunter Sharp: When the Giants do go to a three wide receiver formation, the front runner is currently Cody Latimer who was signed as a free agent this off season. Russell Shepard and Hunter Sharp have performed well at the wide receiver spots, but can also contribute on special teams as well.
Offensive Line (9)
Starters: Nate Solder, Will Hernandez, , Jon Halapio, Patrick Omameh,Ereck Flowers: The additions of Solder, Omameh and Hernandez will benefit both Eli Manning and Saquon Barkley. Solder is heads and shoulders above Ereck Flowers at left tackle and will give Manning more of a comfort zone in the pocket. Flowers has shown little improvement and if it continues, expect changes. Having Hernandez still on the board in the 2nd round was a shocker as Dave Gettleman handed his card in almost as quickly as he did in round one. Omameh should be an upgrade over Jerry and give the Giants an overall better performance against both the run and pass. Halapio keeps improving each week and should continue to give the Giants that steady presence at the center position.
Backups: Chad Wheeler, John Greco, John Jerry, Nick Becton: This seems like the obvious choices for now, however; it wouldn’t surprise me if GM Dave Gettleman adds a offensive tackle once all the cuts are made from the other teams at the tackle position (especially the right-side) is the team’s weakest link.
Nose Tackle (2)
Starters: Damon Harrison: Arguably the nose tackle in the NFL, especially against the run. Harrison has consistently been the best interior defensive linemen over the past few years and under new Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher 3-4 system; should flourish.
Backup: A. J Francis: Francis gets the nod over Thomas for two reasons: 1) He has out played him in pre-season 2) Francis is more versatile and can play along the defensive line.
Defensive Ends (4) This list does not include Josh Mauro, who is currently serving a 4 game suspension and R. J McIntosh who is on the IR for the first 6 weeks
Starters: Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J Hill: Tomlinson has been solid all pre-season and Hill has emerged as the favorite to start on opening day. are set in stone along the defensive line, but Hill has really made a strong case for himself in training camp and he has continued his strong play in the pre-season.
Backups: Kerry Wynn, Avery Moss: Wynn has been lights out in the pre-season and the Giants like the way Moss is developing.
Inside Linebackers (4)
Starters: Alec Ogletree, B.J Goodson: Ogletree adds a presence on the inside the Giants haven’t had since Antonio Pierce. Along with B. J Goodson (if he can stays healthy) will give the Giants two tackling machines
Backups: Ray-Ray Armstrong & Mark Herzlich: Armstrong is developing into a solid linebacker and seems to be improving each week. He could see a great deal of playing under the Giants new defensive scheme. Herzlich narrowly makes the roster as undrafted rookie Tae Davis had an impressive pre-season; especially on special teams. The final spot could depend on who plays better in the final pre-season game. For now, I’m giving Herzlich a very slight edge.
Outside Linebackers (5)
Starters: Olivier Vernon & Kareem Martin: Martin is very comfortable in the 3-4 defense and with Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher. Martin has had a solid pre-season and become a fan favorite. Vernon should excel in this new system and have the ability to freelance more to utilize his athletic skills.
Backups: Lorenzo Carter, Romero Okwara & Connor Barwin: The Giants are counting on Carter to really make an impact as a rookie and I believe Bettcher will utilize him well. Barwin could be a valuable commodity in certain blitz packages and give the Giants another pass rushing threat. Okwara has had a good pre-season despite learning a new position and could be use in certain packages as well.
Starters: Janoris Jenkins & Eli Apple: Jenkins and Apple have left a dreadful 2017 season behind them and have both looked good in the pre-season.
Backups: William Gay, Leonard Johnson & B. W Webb: All three are solid corners and also add depth on special teams. Gay is an interested player and should see ample playing time in 2018.Look for the Giants to utilized most of their corners during the game to keep players fresh, similar to the defensive line rotation.
Starters: Landon Collins & Curtis Riley: For now this is my two starting safeties as Collins is a proven Pro Bowler and Riley has really taken a strong hold on Free Safety position with exceptional play throughout the preseason.
Backups: Mike Thomas, Darian Thompson & Andrew Adams. Thomas was brought in to compete for the starting spot alongside Collins and he brings skills to the table. Aside from his superb tackling ability, Thomas also is one of the best on special teams as he has the most tackles over the last 4 seasons in that department. Thompson didn’t have a bad pre-season, but it wasn’t enough to keep his starting job. Adams is a steady presence in the secondary and gives the Giants a quality backup who could fill in at anytime without hurting the team.
Special Teams (3)
Aldrick Rosas: Rosas was given an opportunity to keep his job and he has performed well.
Riley Dixon: Dixon was acquired from Denver for a 7th round pick and immediately gives the Giants a better option over Brad Wing. Dixon is more consistent inside the 20 and had a better hang time over Wing as well.
Zak DeOssie: No surprise here as DeOssie will own this position until he retires.
Final Thoughts: We should see many of the familiar names make the 53 man roster once training camp ends. However; don’t be surprised if a few players expected to make it are replaced by a few UDFA signees (undrafted free agents). The Giants have a few UDFA players that could make some noise and replace a few veterans. As I mentioned above, look for Gettleman to continue to search for talent through the waiver wire after September 1st. If a Right Tackle with a strong resume happens to be a casualty victim, it wouldn’t surprise me if Gettleman adds him to the 53 man roster as reports out of Giant camp is that Ereck Flowers is not progressing the way Management had hoped.