The Giants have been careful to keep their expectations under wraps, and Joe Judge has made sure his players don’t discuss them. John Mara says he’s looking for progress. Outside the building the feeling is he would be lucky to see even that.
Inside, though, the Giants think they have built just enough to surprise a few people and maybe even make a run at the playoffs. At the very least, they believe that Mara will reach his elusive goal of seeing his team play meaningful games in December – at least at the beginning of the month.
Maybe that’s unrealistic, but not everything about this franchise is bad. In fact, here are 10 bold predictions for the 2020 season – including a few surprising ones about things that will go right:
Saquon Barkley won’t win the MVP, but he will earn the richest RB contract in NFL history
Barkley had 1,000 rushing yards and nearly 1,500 total yards in basically 12 games last season behind a terrible offensive line, including 10 after a serious ankle sprain. Imagine what he can do in 16 games at full strength with better blocking.
It wouldn’t be a shock to see him top 1,500 rushing yards and 2,100 total yards, which would be enough to put him in the MVP conversation. The Giants just aren’t likely to win enough to get him over the top.
What he shows, though, will convince the Giants what they already know: They are going to have to pay him, maybe even this coming offseason. Second contracts maybe risky with running backs, but right now they believe Barkley is worth it. He is going to get at least a four-year, $70 million contract – more, the longer it takes to strike a deal.
The offensive line won’t look “fixed” in the first half
GM Dave Gettleman said the line is “close” to being fixed, but even he knows it’s not there yet. With three new pieces it’s going to take some time. And the truth is, they didn’t look polished in their two scrimmages this summer, which makes for a bit of a concern at the start.
The good news is this is the best line they’ve had under Gettleman. Andrew Thomas looks like a keeper at left tackle. Cam Fleming is a big and solid presence on the right side. It’s hard to know if Nick Gates can make the transition to center, but the Giants obviously believe in him.
It will be better than it was and eventually it will be good. But brace for a few more rocky moments in the first two months.
Lorenzo Carter will emerge as the Giants’ best pass rusher
The Giants’ attempt at finding a pass rush is a study in quantity over quality. They are hopeful they’ll have enough with Markus Golden, Kyler Fackrell, Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines. They know Golden and Fackrell have 10-sack potential, but it’s Carter who they believe can emerge as their most dangerous defensive player.
He looked bigger and faster this summer and was dominant in the Giants’ first scrimmage. He’s flashed potential in his first two seasons, but never consistently. Some of that is the 2018 third-rounder hadn’t gotten a consistent opportunity. With so many edge rushers that might not change at first. But a fast start will get defensive coordinator Patrick Graham to lean on him more and more.
Carter will end up leading the team in sacks. Count on 10-12.
Darius Slayton will be the unquestioned No. 1 receiver by midseason
The Giants have a lot of weapons, but there was very clear chemistry between Slayton and Daniel Jones last season. Slayton has more big-play potential than any receiver on the Giants’ roster and Jones seemed to like that about him.
It won’t happen at first. Sterling Shepard is still the vet and Jones has to keep Golden Tate happy too, So Slayton will start as the No. 3. But Jones’ preference for him is obvious and that will become clear as the season goes along. Pencil him in for 70 catches and 1,000 yards. That may not lead the team in receiving, but there’ll be no question he’ll be their leader in that department for years to come.
Leonard Williams will finally have some sacks … but won’t get that big contract he wants
By now, Williams is what he is, and that will never be good enough for a lot of people. He’s not going to be dominant, he’s not going to load up on sacks, and he probably won’t justify a $16.1 million salary – not to fans or most GMs.
Still, he’s a good player and Graham will find a way to break the ice so Williams doesn’t have to endure another half-sack season. He should be good for five at least, maybe more if things go well.
The Giants will take that, but that won’t be enough for them to give Williams the $100 million contract he wants. No one else will likely give Williams that money either, so maybe he’ll still have a future with the Giants. It’ll just have to be at a discounted price.
Evan Engram will be a Pro Bowler – IF he stays healthy
Yes, it’s a big “if” considering he’s yet to play a full 16-game season. But let’s dream for a moment. Last year, Engram was on pace for 88 catches, 934 yards and six touchdowns before injuring his foot. That’s not necessarily elite, but it’s right on the border. And that was with a rookie quarterback and a lot of injuries around him on offense.
Now he’s got an offensive coordinator (Jason Garrett) who loves to use the tight end, a better offensive line, healthier weapons, and an improving quarterback. The stage is all set for Engram, with his excellent combination of size and speed, to join the ranks of the elite at his position. He’s good enough to do it and he will – again, as long as he can stay on the field.
Daniel Jones’ numbers will be modest – think 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns – not “elite”
After a pretty big rookie season (except for the fumbles) there is going to be an expectation for Jones to improve on his numbers. If all goes right, some think he could approach 4,000 passing yards and 30 touchdown passes.
That’s a bit much, though, because the Giants seem intent on running a run-first offense that revolves around Barkley, not the quarterback. They won’t need Jones to put up those kinds of numbers, even if he’s capable of doing it.
The Giants’ passing defense will be ranked in the bottom five in the league
This is really the perfect storm of bad, because it starts with the premise that the Giants didn’t have a good secondary or pass rush to begin with. Then cornerback DeAndre Baker got arrested. Then corner Sam Beal opted out. Then safety Xavier McKinney broke his foot.
Now Judge is talking about using the “hot hand” at that second cornerback spot, which is probably how they’ll try to figure out a pass rush, too. That’s a recipe for disaster. They do have high hopes for veteran corner James Bradberry and safety Jabrill Peppers and rookie corner Darnay Holmes had a good summer. But other than that there’s just not much there.
So teams are going to throw on the Giants. A lot. And mostly they will be successful. If the Giants win games, they are going to have to win a lot of shootouts. The Giants gave up 264 passing yards per game last season, fifth-worst in the league. They’d be lucky to reach that lofty height again.
There’ll be enough progress to earn Dave Gettleman one more year – if he wants it
If Mara was telling the truth about using progress as a measuring stick, there will be enough from Gettleman’s players to paint a rosier picture of the Giants’ future. It will include significant improvements for Jones, Carter, Ximines, Peppers, defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and even Williams. And that offensive line will look a lot better after Thomas gets settled into his left tackle spot.
The Giants actually know Gettleman has brought in a good young core on offense. But it’ll be the progress on defense that helps save his job. They won’t be great, and they’ll be vulnerable against the pass, but there will be enough bright spots to make it clear the foundation is set.
That’s still no guarantee Gettleman will be back, though. He is 69 years old. He’s chasing a Super Bowl trophy, to be sure, but he’ll feel comfortable walking away when he knows he’s got the Giants on that championship path. Whether that will be after this year is unclear. But he won’t get fired. If he’s gone in 2021, it’ll be Gettleman’s choice.
The Giants will finish 7-9 and miss the playoffs, but they’ll be close enough to be alive with two games to go
There are two truths to the statement above. One is that a 7-9 season would be a huge step forward for a franchise that has won 12 games in the last three seasons. And the second is that it won’t feel like enough to a lot of people. But it will have to be, because these Giants aren’t strong enough to jump from rock bottom into the playoffs.
They may look like they’re making a run, though, possibly even into December. They are definitely good enough to be mediocre and to hang around the fringes of the expanded playoff chase if everything breaks right.
But they still have too many holes to get that elusive playoff berth, especially with what looks like a loaded NFC and a strong NFC East. They are a team on the rise, and they’ll look like it late in the season. But they’re just not quite there yet.