"I think our offense is broken right now," said John Mara, Giants co-owner, at the conclusion of his team's miserable 2013 campaign.
Soon after, longtime offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride stepped down. Within two weeks, he was replaced by former Green Bay assistant Ben McAdoo. Free agent receiver Hakeem Nicks left for Indianapolis, signing a low-dollar one-year deal following a remarkably poor final season in New York. Running back Andre Brown moved on, as did tight end Brandon Myers. The Giants are also rebuilding an offensive line that did nothing well a year ago — the new line is still a big question mark, but at least it's not the old line.
One fixture that remains, of course, is quarterback Eli Manning, an accomplished player coming off the worst season of his career. In fact, Eli's 2013 would have been the worst season of almost any quarterback's career — it was a turnover-filled disaster. He threw three or more interceptions in five different games, ultimately finishing with 27 picks. That was the league's highest interception total since 2005. Manning also fumbled seven times, absorbed 39 sacks, completed just 57.5 percent of his passes and delivered a career-low passer rating of 69.4.
[Smack talk season is back at Yahoo Sports: Sign up and play free Fantasy Football!]
Obviously not all of the negative plays were Eli's fault, but, well ... c'mon. Twenty-seven interceptions is a silly total. Manning has always had a reckless streak. He's never finished a full season with single-digit INTs, and he's thrown 20 or more picks three times. Of course when he's at his best, Eli is very, very good — like, 4,900-yards-and-a-Super-Bowl good. This dude reaches the extremes of performance like few players in the history of the NFL.
Eli will come cheap on draft day (ADP 130.8), and he's certainly capable of re-emerging as a useful piece of a fantasy platoon. Honestly, you never know if you're going to catch Manning on a day when he feels like lobbing left-handed passes into coverage. He's a dice roll in any matchup. But when Eli is protected and in sync with his receivers, he's a friend to the fantasy community.
McAdoo's offense is expected to play up-tempo, emphasizing short drops and quick-hitting passes, creating yards-after-catch opportunities for a talented group of receivers. That sort of scheme should benefit the O-line in no small way. We'll get our first look at the vanilla version of McAdoo's playbook in the Hall of Fame game on August 3; this is clearly one of those situations in which preseason play will help shape our fantasy decisions.
Victor Cruz is the unrivaled No. 1 wideout in this team's receiving hierarchy, and he seems to have fully endorsed the new offense — going so far as to set ludicrously high statistical goals. He's talking 100, 1,500 and 10.
This from the NY Daily News:
“If there is any offense to [catch 100] in, it’s definitely this one. It’s definitely a little bit more pass happy than the offense we’ve had in the past,” he said.
“It enhances my skills,” he said. “Anytime a receiver can get the ball in his hands quicker, it’s beneficial. It’s always helpful to get it early so you can see what defenders are coming and make different moves.”
Never make the mistake of confusing a player's lofty goals with a reasonable forecast. But still, you have to appreciate a guy who believes in his skills, his system and his QB. Cruz is coming off a good-not-great season that ended in a knee scope. He's now healthy and clearly anticipating a bounce-back to elite status. If you're the sort of fantasy manager who likes to go RB-RB in the opening rounds, then Cruz is a guy to target as your WR1. He has top-5 potential at a second/third-tier receiver price.
Rueben Randle had a nice sophomore season for New York, except when he was making game-changing mistakes. He made a few route-running missteps in 2013, though he also made a few highlight plays. Randle has good size (6-foot-2), strong hands and the ability to separate from NFL DBs. He's still just 23 years old, entering camp as the team's presumptive No. 2 receiver. Assuming McAdoo's offense produces 4,000 passing yards, Randle seems like a very good bet for 900-plus in a healthy season. I'm interested, and the current price is phenomenal (ADP 124.3). To me, it seems crazy that Randle is drafted later than Riley Cooper and Miles Austin in Yahoo leagues.
First-round rookie Odell Beckham is a buzzy player with good speed (though not elite) and terrific leaping ability (38.5-inch vert), and he'll see the field constantly. New York will be in three-receiver sets all day. I don't yet view Beckham as a must-draft player in standard fantasy formats, but I also won't dismiss the possibility of a camp/preseason surge. He's unquestionably a rookie of interest, and it's not as if this team is stacked with stars at his position. Beckham is coming off a strong season for LSU (59-1152-8), though it would have been nice to see bigger numbers in the big matchups (Alabama, Florida, Auburn). For now, he's on the watch list.
Beyond Beckham, the rest of this receiving corps is full of uninteresting fantasy commodities. Jerrel Jernigan could make some noise if injuries clear a path, but you're not drafting him. Mario Manningham is back in the mix but limited in camp, still working his way back from a 2012 ACL injury. (That, by the way, is how ACL recoveries often go. You've been warned, Gronk lovers.) The Giants are rolling with a committee of tight ends this season, so look elsewhere for help at that spot.
New York's backfield has a committee-ish vibe as well, with Rashad Jennings in line for the biggest role. Here's the current order of importance...
The depth chart at RB: 1. Rashad Jennings, 2. David Wilson, 3. Peyton Hillis, 4. Andre Williams.
— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoNYDN) July 24, 2014
...and I don't expect a change at the top before September. Williams should leapfrog Hillis, if it hasn't happened already. He's a rookie from Boston College, coming of a massive year (2,177 yards, 6.1 YPC), a 230-pound power back. He seems like a natural for a short-yardage/goal-line role, if he earns the trust of the coaching staff.
As for Jennings, I'm mostly on board with Brad's forecast for 2014, assuming a healthy season. I wouldn't pencil in Jennings for 11 touchdowns, as Evans did, but 280-300 touches and 1,200-1,400 scrimmage yards could be achievable. He's a do-everything back, even if he's not exceptional in any one area. Wilson is of course a gifted athlete, but his ball-security issues are well-documented, plus he's returning from neck surgery. It's tough to imagine him seeing more than a rotational role. Draft him as a lottery ticket or a handcuff or some other decoration for your fantasy bench. Ideally, you won't draft him as a player who needs to occupy a starting role for your fake team in Week 1.
New York's D/ST was a relatively low-scoring fantasy entity last season, delivering only two defensive TDs and 34.0 sacks. But it certainly wasn't a terrible real-life group. The Giants held opponents to 332.3 total yards per game, eighth lowest in the league. Jon Beason is back in the fold, though injured (foot), and Jason Pierre-Paul is full of sunshine these days. This team also re-made its secondary, adding Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Quintin Demps and Walter Thurmond.
If JPP is indeed fully operational this season, this defense could be something more than respectable. In a division that reeks of 8-8, a solid D and mediocre offense might just be enough to take the Giants back to the postseason.
2013 team stats: 18.4 PPG (NFL rank 28), 224.3 pass YPG (19), 18 pass TDs (27), 83.3 rush YPG (29), 23.8 rush attempts per game (27), 35.4 pass attempts per game (19)