Coming off one of the best seasons in recent memory, special teams-wise, the New York Giants will look to improve their unit.
One of the only bright spots for the New York Giants last year was the special teams. As the most underappreciated third of football, this unit did not garner much publicity. However, without the improvement in this department, the Giants may have been worse than their 5-11 record.
Entering 2018, the Giants came in as the worst special teams unit on many platforms. The Giants entered ranked last in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus, Football Outsiders and Rick Gosselin’s well-respected rankings. This was due to underperformance in all aspects of the unit.
For the punting game, Brad Wing had a net punting average of just 37.5 yards. This was well below the league average and constantly put the Giants in bad field position. To heighten the problem, the punt coverage was absolutely abysmal. Big Blue surrendered an average of 10.4 yards per return. This made it almost impossible for the Giants to consistently flip the field.
The special teams’ woes did not stop in the punting game. In 2017, the Giants featured rookie kicker Aldrick Rosas. The first year player out of Southern Oregon University underperformed from the get-go. In his debut season, Rosas did not showcase his true ability. He made just 27% of his field goals. To complement this mark, he also was below average on extra points (82%).
The Giants also saw minimal production in the return game. New York came away with no great returns to show their fans in 2017. In fact, the Giants had only 609 kick return yards and 148 punt return yards.
Overall, these were unacceptable numbers and the Giants had to do something to change them. Special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey consistently stressed his goals to improve the unit and it seemed like it worked out for him. Coming off of a season being ranked last in all networks, New York saw an upgrade on all the rankings. The Giants placed third on Football Outsiders rankings. They were also ranked 12th on Pro Football Focus’ rankings and 15th on Rick Gosselin’s rankings. This unexpected spike can be attributed to the development of a few key players and the additions of others.
In the punting game, the Giants acquired Riley Dixon from the Broncos in the offseason. He came to the Giants and instantly improved the unit. Dixon saw a net punting average of 41.8 yards, much better than Brad Wing‘s mark. The Giants also covered his punts well by allowing only 177 punt return yards on the year.
Big Blue also made a huge development in kickoff coverage by only allowing 570 return yards. The decrease in yardage allowed may be due to the addition of a few notable signings. The Giants added Michael Thomas to help out their special teams and he did just that. Thomas even earned himself a trip to the Pro Bowl—not the only Giants special teamer there—for his remarkable effort. Other significant difference makers acquired were Nathan Stupar, Antonio Hamilton and Tony Lippett. All three of which helped the Giants finish with the second-best kickoff coverage (20.2 yards per return) in the NFL.
For Aldrick Rosas, he saw a huge unforeseen improvement during the offseason. After coming off a season that may have gotten him cut, Rosas became the fourth Giants’ kicker ever to make the Pro Bowl. The Pro Football Focus first teamer put up astounding numbers in 2018. He made about 97% of his field goals and extra points, missing one of each. He also saw a career-long 57-yard field goal last season.
In the return game, New York also made some key acquisitions. The Giants signed undrafted free agent Jawill Davis and signed former first-round pick Corey Coleman in the middle of the season. Davis totaled 171 kick return yards and 89 punt return yards.
Davis was good for the Giants, but when Big Blue could get their hands on Corey Coleman, his playing time went to the wayside. Over just nine games with the Giants, Coleman had 598 kick return yards while averaging 26 yards per return. Coleman ranked 10th in the NFL in kick return yards while only playing a little more than half the season. Coleman, Davis, and others helped the Giants tally over 1,000 kick return yards and over 200 punt return yards.
Reasons to believe
In 2018, the Giants special teams improved by leaps and bounds. There is no reason that this should slow down in 2019.
New York’s punting game will only look to build upon their strong showing last year. Recently, the Giants added former first-team all-Big Ten punter Ryan Anderson. The Rutgers product will give Riley Dixon a run for his money. Competition never hurts a team and this punter competition will be something to watch this offseason.
For the coverage game, the Giants have continued to add assets to help. The Giants drafted Ryan Connelly, Darius Slayton and Corey Ballentine. Connelly is a hard worker who has had many challenges throughout his playing career. He will likely carve out a role for himself on a special teams unit that is predicated on effort. In addition, Slayton—if not used as a premier receiving threat—can use his 4.39 40-yard dash speed to zip down the field and tackle returners. Finally, Ballentine is a very talented player who comes from a small school. The special teams unit might be the perfect place to introduce him to NFL life.
In the kicking game, Aldrick Rosas will be rolling into 2019 with all of the confidence in the world. Rosas is coming off one of the best seasons by any kicker in Giants history. The team was eager to re-sign the restricted free agent. If Rosas wants to get an even bigger payday next year, he will need to have a season similar to the illustrious one he had last year.
All eyes are on the return game in New York this year. The Giants traded for Jabrill Peppers this offseason. Peppers was used as a swiss army knife during his college career. The Michigan alumn was all over the field and this versatility has translated to his NFL career. Last year, Peppers totaled 627 return yards for the Browns. Now Peppers will join a returning core consisting of Corey Coleman. The two can make for a dangerous duo.
Even if special teams is often overlooked, it is a central part of the game. Lack of success in this area can turn a team to disaster. The Giants look like they will continue to improve in this department. This will help to subsidize the losses experienced (Odell Beckham Jr., Landon Collins, Olivier Vernon, etc.) on other fronts.