After sustaining multiple blows to the receiving corps, the New York Giants will have to be creative with their options come 2019.
For the last five years, the receiver position has been one that New York Giants fans have been able to hang their hats on. With guys like Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Odell Beckham Jr., the Giants have constantly had some of the league’s best pass catchers.
However, the Giants haven’t employed the likes of Nicks since 2015 nor Cruz since 2016. OBJ was assumed to be the successor after their departures. However, the Giants traded away Beckham this offseason. This left the Giants without three of their top-11 all-time receiving leaders.
In terms of the 2019 season, the Giants receiving corps has been hit harder than ever. Big Blue lost its top-three pass catchers in fewer than 72 hours of training camp.
First, Sterling Shepard fractured his thumb in the first few hours of the first full-team practice, rendering him out likely until the start of the regular season.
Next, Corey Coleman and the Giants’ organization received the news that he tore his ACL. This will cause him to miss the entire 2018 season.
And then finally, the Giants suffered another big blow when Golden Tate was suspended for the first four games due to PEDs. Tate is currently appealing, but it’s very possible that the Giants could be without two or three of their top-three receivers come Week 1.
To help the team counteract this, they’ll have to be creative with their choices. The bulk of free agents are signed and most of the top pass catchers are off the market. While signing a top receiver seems out of the question, New York will definitely need all the help they can get. Curbing an aging Eli Manning or nurturing a young Daniel Jones will need a nice offensive arsenal which the Giants don’t currently possess.
In order to obtain quality pass-catchers, the Giants will have to do one or more of the following things:
Sign A Veteran
Even though most of the elite receivers are off the market as of now, there are still a couple of quality veterans left. Such veterans would need to follow a Dave Gettleman-type mold. They would need to come in, cause no problems, work hard, and be a mentor to the younger guys.
This is why they will pass on players like Dez Bryant. The Giants got rid of OBJ due to locker room problems and they’ll likely not want any more. Here are two receivers the Giants could target to help fill the void at the position:
Garçon would come in and offer the most experience out of anyone. The New York native has 148 games of experience along with 7,854 yards and 38 touchdowns. These numbers are hard to come by and could help a young Giants’ personnel group.
While Garçon is three years out from his last 1000-yard season, he still brings a quality starter when healthy. Over the last two years, he has been plagued with knee injuries that have caused him to miss a total of 16 games.
In the 16 games Garçon appeared in, he still managed to catch 64 passes for 786. For the upcoming season, Garçon appears to be healthy and could possibly return to his 2016 form. Nevertheless, even if Garçon is what he was the last 16 games, he may be exactly what the Giants need as wideout No. 3.
Michael Crabtree is another quality veteran on the market. While Crabtree brings a little extra swagger, he has been more productive over the past three years. During that span, he’s totaled 2,228 yards and 19 touchdowns. This also came in 46 games (he missed two), meaning he’s been pretty durable.
Crabtree would also bring something to the Giants offense that they don’t currently possess. He has been a reliable red-zone threat his whole career. Size is something that’s been hard to come by at the receiver position for Big Blue. This is why the Giants have been very inefficient in the red-zone, finishing 28th in the league in that category. Michael Crabtree’s 6-foot-1, 215-pound frame should help that out a lot.
If the Giants don’t go out and get any big names, they’ll have to rely on their current roster. This is where the Giants will have to be creative. While the Giants don’t have amazing talent at receiver, they do have a ton of athletes elsewhere on the offense. Rotation of these players could help relieve some of the pressure on the thin receiving corps.
With the current roster, Evan Engram seems to be the best candidate to see an uptick in targets. To help do this, Engram’s situational transition to receiver may be the option.
Don’t get me wrong, Engram has been a productive tight end over the last two years. He has totaled 1,299 yards (seventh in the NFL) and nine touchdowns in his first two seasons while missing six games. However, Engram is not a traditional tight end. He’s a major liability in the run game as he doesn’t have the size to successfully block NFL defensive ends. Not to mention, he often gets bullied inside at the start of his routes.
Transitioning him to the slot or even outside could help out Engram and the team tremendously. First of all, the Giants get a quality pass catcher that is much bigger than most, if not, all NFL corners. His 6-foot-3, 240-pound frame makes him a nightmare for defensive backs and it’s not like they have speed on Engram either. He runs a 4.42 40-yard-dash and has a 36-inch vertical, making him a deep ball and red-zone threat.
The positive side effect of this would be that the Giants would have to use someone else at tight end. The realistic option would be Rhett Ellison, who’s a great run blocker and a decent pass catcher when targeted.
Engram’s transition would not have to be permanent. It could be a situational option that could be deployed within certain packages. This would allow the Giants run game to improve while getting the extra athletic receiver they need.
The NFL is often called a “space game.” Get your best players the ball in space to let them work. The best player on the Giants roster is undoubtedly Saquon Barkley. He’s not only a tremendous rusher but also a great pass catcher as well.
This is why an occasional move to the slot may be in his best interest. Pro Football Focus looked at the average location where Saquon catches the football and it’s just barely past the line of scrimmage. This is very different from the other elite running backs such as Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey, where they obtain the ball around three-to-four yards down the field. Putting Saquon in the slot—at times—would help the Giants out tremendously.
He’s already shown that he’s a reliable option in the passing game. He hauled in 91 receptions last year and turned them into 721 yards. This production could skyrocket with him catching the ball further down the field.
Rely On Depth
The final option for the Giants is to rely on their current depth. This is by far the worst choice, however, could be the most likely one. The Giants currently have many small names; young receivers all of whom have fewer than 1,000 career receiving yards. However, if the Giants don’t elect to utilize any of the previous options, they’ll have to rely on their current guys.
Latimer is entering his sixth season in the league. He played his first season with the Giants last year where he caught 11 balls for 190 yards and a touchdown. He’s a speedy receiver who also has size with his 6-foot-2 frame. In 2019, Latimer should look to use this to build upon his 2018 season.
Bennie Fowler will also be entering his sixth year and his second with the Giants. Similar to Latimer, Fowler had a quiet year in 2018 with only 16 receptions, 199 yards, and a touchdown. With the Giants thin at receiver, Fowler could have the opportunity to be the No. 3 receiver in 2019.
Russell Shepard caught 10 balls with the Giants last season. Shepard turned these 10 catches into 188 yards and two touchdowns. Shepard is now currently the No. 1 receiver with the top three currently injured or suspended. This is the first time that this is the case for Shepard in his career.
However, Shepard is looking to make the best of this situation. Instead of obtaining the gloomy vibe, he’s trying to turn these injuries into a “Cinderella story.” There’s a good chance that the Giants will see a lot more of Shepard in 2019. With this opportunity, Shepard can hopefully please fans and make this dream a reality.
The rookie out of Auburn is the last option for the Giants this season. He’s a fifth-round selection who’s currently dealing with injuries of his own. However, his injuries appear to be day-to-day. He’ll likely be back soon.
Slayton is a speedy receiver who can become a viable option in the receiving game if he fixes his drop issues. As of now, he’s primarily a deep threat. Though, this hasn’t stopped him from getting first-team reps throughout OTAs. If Slayton can get healthy soon, he could be in serious contention to be the No. 3 receiver.