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Opinion: 2020 is the start of the potential Future of the New York Giants

MjaMes1408 | Flickr

With everyone staying safe at home and the conclusion of the 2020 NFL Draft, let the evaluations begin. This piece, focusing solely on the New York Giants, will briefly go through three key aspects of the Giants offseason: hiring Joe Judge, free-agency and the NFL Draft, and how they will impact the future of the New York Football Giants.

Joe Judge Hiring

Joe Judge busted on the scene during his introductory press conference after many questioned who he even was. The Giants have practically been the laughingstock of the league for the past three seasons and the former New England Patriots’ special teams coordinator emphatically addressed the locker room culture he expects. Judge wants to implement an “old-school mentality” with a winning culture. He expects his team to be fundamentally and situationally sound on both sides of the ball that will give them a hard-nose attitude.

He wants this old-school mentality to roll over into other aspects of the team, mainly in the use of his coordinators and assistant coaches. He specifically mentioned “I want teachers, not professors,” and he wants the type of coaches that will demonstrate their work ethic to become successful and not just someone who can “get fancy in front of a screen.” He included how he will be a hands-off type of head coach that will not specifically take over one coordinator role but will oversee all three systems. His philosophy going forward is “to be about putting pressure on our opponents to prepare for multiple things.”

Judge’s initial press conference fired up Giants fans and put him on the good side of many. He seemed to check all the right boxes and showed that he has a stern ability to not lay down to the strong New York media. Some compared him to former head coach Tom Coughlin with his ability to command attention.

Free Agency

The Giants needed serious help at all three levels of the defense going into free agency. They had over $70 million to spend on free agents, but the front office chose to use it a way some did not expect. Instead of going after big names like Jadeveon Clowney, Byron Jones and Cory Littleton, they went after mid-tier starters and backups.

The $70 million was spread out across the entirety of the team and there was no focus on one position. The Giants signed cornerback James Bradberry and middle linebacker Blake Martinez to take over as starters. Other signings, like outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell, tight end Levine Toilolo and running back Dion Lewis are thought to be used in rotation/backup roles.

Defensive lineman Leonard Williams was the biggest question coming into the offseason. It was a surprise during the 2019-20 season when General Manager Dave Gettleman traded a 2020 third-round and a 2021 fifth-round pick for him before the deadline. Williams became a free agent after the season and the Giants put the franchise tag on him after declining career stats since entering the league in 2015. The Williams trade and franchise tag are universally opposed by nearly all fans and now the upcoming season will dictate his future with the Giants, if there is no long-term deal reached.

NFL Draft

The NFL Draft is a make-or-break event for a team’s general manager and Dave Gettleman had the lights on him for this year. With the Giants being in a clear rebuild mode, it was time for Gettleman to show everyone what the true direction of the team was. There was an ability to revamp and establish the identity of the team with their 10 picks.

With the fourth overall pick in the draft, the New York Giants selected Andrew Thomas, offensive tackle from the University of Georgia. The 6’5”, 315-pounder was the first tackle taken out of about four or five tackles that could go anywhere in the first round. He has been a starting tackle since his first day on campus and only allowed nine total pressures across his 41 career starts, with an overall Pro Football Focus grade of 92.5 in 2019.

In the second round, the Giants took the University of Alabama’s safety Xavier McKinney. McKinney was thought to be a mid-first round pick and the best safety but fell into the Giants’ lap at 36 as no safeties were taken off the board. The Giants did not have a glaring hole at safety, but McKinney is seen as more than just a safety. He has the ability to play in the box, slot or deep. He was the only safety in college football to total 450 in all three positions while producing a PFF grade above 79.0.

The Giants finished day two of the draft by taking tackle Matt Peart from the University of Connecticut. Peart finished the 2019-2020 season with a PFF grade of 90.2, which was good for 7th in the FBS. He is a monster of a man, standing at 6’7” with 36 5/8-inch arms. As a late third-round pick, Peart is seen as a developmental tackle with a lot of upside but can become a starter role after about a year or so in the league.

On day three the Giants made a total of seven draft picks, who will slide in as backups and special teams’ players. The most intriguing picks were cornerback Darnay Holmes and linebacker Cam Brown. Head coach Joe Judge emphasized finding usable traits in players and their ability to be versatile. Holmes is seen as having upside and producing in the slot-corner role. Brown plays to Judge’s style with his length and speed. Brown is a 6’5”, 233-pound linebacker that can disrupt pass coverage and use his athleticism to help in the run game. With the Giants’ outside linebacker situation being stingy, Brown can make an early positive impression.

Positivity has been tough for Giants fans to achieve since the Super Bowl 46 win. It has been nearly 10 years of repeated losing seasons, and with many on-and-off-field issues, fans have had a tough time looking forward to whatever was next. This offseason has seemed like a slight change to that.

The hiring of Joe Judge was refreshing to many fans. The Giants needed someone to lead the ship in the locker room and take control of his players. Judge’s first impressions showed that this is his plan and his sternness, along with his early approach with the New York media brought a sense of trust to fans, so far. His presence seems to be made in the decision making of Dave Gettleman.

The influence Judge has had on Gettleman’s decision-making since the hiring has been significant, to say the least. Judge mentioned that he wants to use a player’s greatest strength to their advantage and put them in the best position to achieve. This gives the Giants’ a specific direction to build the team but there are still pros and cons. A positive from this is the ability to help players get better at what they are already strong at, but this could diminish a player’s ability to grow their game in other areas. A strong tackling linebacker who struggles in pass coverage may not have the ability to improve his pass defense.

Judge’s influence can be seen in the signing of guys like Blake Martinez, Levine Tiololo and Dion Lewis. Martinez is seen as an every-down linebacker who is a tackling machine. Since entering the league, Martinez has totaled 512 tackles which is second to Bobby Wagner’s 597. The issue is his pass coverage. In 2019, he gave up 59 of 64 passes, or 84.1%, with only two pass breakups. This was a questionable signing because after moving on from Alec Ogletree this offseason, it seems like they signed a better tackle Ogletree. That money could have been invested into an inside linebacker that has much better pass coverage ability.

Tiololo was signed to use his 6’8”, 268-pound frame to be essentially a fifth offensive lineman, as he has only caught 97 passes in his seven-year career. Tiololo will take over Rhett Ellison’s job, who recently retired, and seems to be a good compliment to Evan Engram. Lewis is most notably known as a pass-catching running back. This put into question what role Wayne Gallman will be used in. Will they use him to primarily split some carries with Saquon or in case of an injury?

Question marks are also seen surrounding the edge rusher situation. Markus Golden was the Giants’ best sack producer in 2019-20 with 10.0 sacks, but he is still on the market even after expressing interest in returning. The Giants seem to be relying on Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines to produce outside pressure, but both have yet to prove themselves. Kyler Fackrell is an interesting signing because prior to being put on the back burner, due to the “Smith Brothers” signings in Green Bay, he had a 10.5 sack season in 2018. He seems to be this year’s Golden, but the extra help at a cheap price would not cause harm. On the other hand, a signing that may prove harmful is Leonard Williams.

Gettleman made an insane move to trade a third and 2021 fifth-round pick in the middle of the season for an underachieving and potentially expensive defensive tackle. The third-round pick traded, or the 68th pick, was used to take a safety by the New York Jets, but there were still some high upside edge rushers that the Giants’ desperately need help with. To go along with this, the Giants would not have to waste upwards of $16 million on the franchise tag for Williams. This could have left them with a much better opportunity to sign someone like Jadeveon Clowney or Dante Fowler Jr.

The direction the Giants’ took in the draft was a good one, seemingly beefing up the offensive line to protect Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley. Gettleman drafted his “hog mollies” and now the only hope is that they pan out. The addition of offensive line coach Marc Colombo might the best hire, outside of Judge. Colombo was previously the Dallas Cowboys’ assistant offensive line coach from 2016-2018 and offensive line coach from 2018-2020. The Cowboys have consistently had arguably the league’s best offensive line and it is a huge addition for the Giants to bring in Colombo to help with their most glaring issue over the years.

A favorite pick of the draft amongst fans was Xavier McKinney. Many have compared him to when the Giants’ took Landon Collins in 2015, both out of Alabama and both early second round picks. The difference is that McKinney seems to already have better all-around skills than Collins. Drafting the versatile safety in the second round somewhat justifies for passing up on Isaiah Simmons with the fourth pick. Although Simmons, now an Arizona Cardinal, is already considered a superstar, McKinney possesses a similar skillset that could translate well while lined up with Jabrill Peppers. This addition paired with Peppers, Julian Love, and even fourth-round pick Darnay Holmes gives defensive coordinator Patrick Graham the potential to mix and match different defensive looks for opponents to deal with.

After the draft, Gettleman addressed his day three draftees and said his goal was to increase the overall speed of the defense. He tried to accomplish this by taking athletic safeties and linebackers with six of the seven picks. This is another positive for fans to look towards. Gettleman is telling us what he is planning for the team and he seems to be making a true effort to be getting that done. Not all of his decisions will be favorable ones, but so far, the 2020 offseason has been a step in the right direction from my standpoint.

The key going forward is to look at the positives for the Giants. Most of the roster includes players younger than 25 and players will need some time to get accustomed to the NFL and grow. In the 2020-21 season, fans should expect to see the Giants’ second and third-year players to continue to grow and get better. We should expect that Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, Darius Slayton, Deandre Baker, and many others only get better and create a young core to build around. I think the addition of some veterans will benefit the growth of these young players.

As a member of the NFC East, there is always a chance to make the playoffs. This goal seems unachievable but is really not, however, fans should not get overly outraged if this is not achieved. The main goal of the following seasons is to see all of these under-25 players improve their game. No rebuild is fully achieved in one year. It takes several seasons to truly turn an organization around and for players to reach their true potential. There is nothing fans would want more than for the Giants to be back on the biggest stage of them all. For now, the groundwork that the coaching staff, front office, and now the players are laying down, is one that fans should start to feel good about and rally behind.

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