EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants have a whole lot of skill at their skill positions this year, with wide receiver being the deepest group on their offensive depth chart, and also a question mark around the league.
Their wide receivers room might not have the top-end talent that running back and tight end do for this team, but the Giants have far more depth at wide receiver than almost any position on their roster. That’s a great situation to be in on the whole, but exactly how this room shakes out will be interesting to track.
Figuring out why the Giants have stockpiled wide receiver talent isn’t complex. They didn’t have much production from that position last season. Running back Saquon Barkley led the team in receptions and targets, Richie James was the only wide receiver with more than 50 receptions and Sterling Shepard and Wan’Dale Robinson both suffered season-ending injuries in 2022.
Robinson is still on the physically unable to perform list, but outside of that, the Giants' wideouts, which also include the re-signed Darius Slayton and Isaiah Hodgins, free agent signings Jamison Crowder, Parris Campbell and Cole Beasley, and third-round draft pick Jalin Hyatt, are largely available. Shepard is moving well coming off the torn ACL that ended his 2022 season in Week 3, winning a handful of one-on-ones Tuesday against a Giants secondary that features heavy investment between the draft and free agency.
Shepard, who is easily the longest-tenured Giant of the bunch, has a chance to play a big role on this team as they sort out the types of receivers they want to employ in their offense. Shepard will likely stick in the slot, where he’s played for the majority of his NFL career.
“Shep’s continuing to put together really good days of work,” said Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka. “He’s growing within the system; he’s doing a good job with his rehab and prehab and running around.”
Kafka is entering his second year with the Giants and he’s going to be as important as anyone in terms of getting this receiving corps moving in the right direction. Kafka and the Giants have an intriguing challenge regarding the development of Hyatt, who they selected out of Tennessee. The Volunteers' offense is one of the more spread-out attacks in college football — an offense that doesn’t really exist in the NFL. Hyatt’s big-play ability down the field gives the team another deep threat to pair with Slayton, but it might take him some time to develop into that player.
“When we went through the scouting process with him and identifying things that we think he does well,” Kafka said about his speedy rookie. “So, just putting him in those positions rather it’s inside, outside — all the different various areas of the offense that we can insert him into so he’s one of those players, again, just growing, developing a role for himself and trying to make the best for him.”
Any breakdown of the Giants’ pass catchers that doesn’t feature Pro Bowl-caliber tight end Darren Waller is incomplete. Waller won’t spend all of his time split out wide, but he is a movable chess piece that starts and completes the Giants’ potentially revamped receivers room. Waller is the anomaly in this group — none of the other receivers can match his mixture of size, speed and separation ability at this point. Having Waller around as a gravitational force creates a buffer where the rest of the Giants’ wide receivers can focus on doing what they do best.
Waller is the do-it-all weapon, guys like Slayton and Hyatt are more vertical threats, Hodgins is a physical receiver who is not afraid of contact, and Shepard and Beasley are prototypical slot receivers. Quarterback Daniel Jones isn’t just a big fan of the diverse talent that the team has acquired, but he thinks it’s important to have different skills to round out what’s possible for the Giants’ offense.
“I think we’ve got a variety of guys who do different things,” Jones said, “and I think [head coach Brian Daboll and Kafka] and our whole offensive staff do a really good job kind of building what we're doing to our guys’ skill set and what they're good at. We did that last year and we've done that this year as well so far.”
A few players on the Giants’ roster are locked into wide receiver spots, but for those who aren’t, special teams might boost their chances of actually playing for the team.
“You’d like to think [special teams] is very important, especially when it comes to that fifth and sixth guy,” special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said. “You’re only getting 46 guys on game days. Everybody has to contribute in some form or fashion.”
McGaughey noted that certain body types are conducive to certain spots on special teams.
“They’re all different,” McGaughey said. “Depending on the position, the body type, you know sometimes you have a big 6-5, 230-pound guy that’s physical that can play like a safety or a linebacker. Then you have a real fast guy that might be smallish with some return skills. Maybe he can play as a core guy or a gunner — it just depends on the guy and the body type.”
McGaughey joked fans shouldn't expect to see Waller on special teams, but Hyatt is in play for a returner spot as preseason progresses.
It’s a crowded wide receivers room for the Giants that lacks star power, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing — and the coaching staff will have plenty of opportunities to feature the group's wide array of skills and accomplishments as New York tries to make it back to the playoffs.