So what if Zeke is a rookie? And they didn't draft him #4 overall, given that he's a prototype 3-down back, to have him in a timeshare with Morris or McFadden. Behind that line, coupled with his skills as a runner, receiver, and pass blocker, there's no way he should fall past the first round.
QB David Carr, WR Marcus Monk, DE Renaldo Wynn, OLB Danny Clark, S Sammy Knight, S Stuart Schweigert.
QB Andre' Woodson, WR Mario Manningham, DE Robert Henderson, OLB Bryan Kehl, ILB Jonathan Goff, CB/S Terrell Thomas, S Kenny Phillips.
QB Jared Lorenzen, FB Jim Finn, TE Jeremy Shockey, DE Michael Strahan, DT Manuel Wright, OLB Kawika Mitchell, OLB Reggie Torbor, S Gibril Wilson.
2008 New York Giants Offense:
When you're wrong, you're wrong. But when everyone is wrong... As you can probably surmise, I'm talking about the Giants' improbable run to a Super Bowl victory. No one saw this coming, especially with Tiki Barber retiring before the season. With a huge chunk of New York's offense going to NBC's studios, everyone (excluding Giants homers, of course) figured Eli Manning would struggle and the team would fail to qualify for the playoffs.
You can't really blame anyone for thinking that way. Prior to the 2007 campaign, Eli appeared as if he was some kid who was dragged into the family business. I often joked that he would be more happy stocking shelves at Wal-Mart. And to be fair, Eli didn't really give us any signs that he had changed until two days before New Years Eve. Up until a 38-35 loss to the 16-0 New England Patriots, Eli had just as many touchdowns (19) as interceptions. He was coming off a two dismal efforts: 18-of-52 for 184 yards against Washington; and 7-of-15, 111 yards, two interceptions and five fumbles at Buffalo. That's right - five fumbles. Like I said, no one saw this coming.
I'm not sure if he went to counselling after that, or if his dad burnt the Wal-Mart smock he had stashed under his bed, but something clicked for Eli after the Buffalo disaster. In the five ensuing contests, which includes a 17-14 victory over the 18-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl, Eli completed 62.3 percent of his passes (as opposed to his season average of 56.2), threw 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions, and fumbled only thrice. He also became the master of converting third downs, which kept Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Tony Romo on the bench during the playoffs.
Eli obviously deserves a ton of credit for one of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl history, but his supporting cast definitely had a say in the 17-14 victory. While David Tyree's absolutely insane helmet coach could eventually be incorrectly remembered as the game-winning touchdown, the player who notched the go-ahead score was Plaxico Burress, one of the top receivers in the NFL. An imposing target a 6-5, 232, it should be no surprise that he has 22 touchdowns the past two seasons, and a pair of 1,000-yard campaigns in two of the previous three years. Burress is currently unhappy with his contract (six years, $25 million; signed in 2005), but he promised he would report to training camp on time.
Vying for the starting receiver slot across from Burress are veteran Amani Toomer and second-year Steve Smith. Toomer was effective in 2007 (59 catches, 760 yards, three touchdowns), but he turns 34 in September, and may have trouble holding off the up-and-coming Smith. The USC product had just eight receptions in the regular season, but exploded in the playoffs, grabbing 14 balls for 152 yards. Meanwhile, third-year Sinorice Moss has looked pedestrian in minicamps, as he's been plagued by drops. Mario Manningham hasn't really done much to leapfrog him, however.
What's even more amazing about the Giants' playoff run was that Jeremy Shockey was out the entire time. There were rumors abound regarding Shockey being traded to the Saints for a second-round pick, but nothing materialized. That's fine, as Eli will be able to use lots of two-tight end sets in 2008. In Shockey's absence, rookie Kevin Boss stepped up and caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown during the team's aforementioned five-game run. Shockey, meanwhile, causes problems in the locker room and drops a good amount of balls. That said, he's still a lethal play-maker who can only help New York's offense.
While the aerial attack did most of the work against the Patriots, Eli had a really deep backfield to work with as well. Despite carrying the ball just 202 times, Brandon Jacobs finished with 1,009 yards, good for five yards per attempt. When Jacobs was hurt early in the year, Derrick Ward took over and registered 602 yards in only eight games, but landed on the IR after Week 13 with a broken leg. Ward will be on the bench, while second-year Ahmad Bradshaw will take some of Jacobs' carries in 2008. Bradshaw is a perfect complement to the plodding Jacobs, as he's extremely quick and a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball. Get this - Bradshaw gained 8.3 yards per carry. That's insane.
New York's rush average was so high (Ward was at 4.8) because of a potent offensive line. The Giants received some criticism last offseason for switching David Diehl from guard to left tackle, but the move worked perfectly. He was rewarded with a 6-year, $31 million contract in May. Meanwhile, right guard Chris Snee, one of the top players at his position, just inked a 6-year, $41.25 million deal of his own. As for the other positions, left guard Rich Seubert is a very serviceable lineman who can play multiple positions. Shaun O'Hara is a premier center. Tackle Kareem McKenzie is a monstrous run-blocker on the right side. While this group could be a bit better in pass protection, they get five stars in my book; they open up huge running lanes and there are no weaknesses here.
Will Eli use the momentum from his postseason run to improve upon New York's 14th offensive ranking, or will he regress and become inconsistent once again? I don't see why he would revert to Old Eli. Old Eli had confidence issues. I really don't see those re-surfacing in the wake of New Eli's Super Bowl MVP.
2008 New York Giants Defense:
The Giants proved one thing during their unbelievable Super Bowl run last winter. If you can protect a mistake-free quarterback and put tons of pressure on the opposing signal caller, you can win a Super Bowl, even with long odds against you.
I've already discussed Eli's heroism, so let's focus on the defensive line. Everyone seems down on the Giants because Michael Strahan looks like he retired for good. Strahan had nine sacks in 2007 and was obviously a key component in New York's championship, but they'll be fine without him. They won't be as deep up front, but the positive is that Justin Tuck will get more playing time. The third-year Tuck had 10 sacks despite limited action. It's scary to think about how many sacks he and Osi Umenyiora will combine for in 2008. Umenyiora, one of the most devastating pass rushers in the NFL, got to the quarterback 13 times last season, giving him a total of 34 sacks since 2005.
Mathias Kiwanuka, expected to take Strahan's place as a rotational end, will remain the starting strongside linebacker. However, Steve Spagnuolo is planning to have Kiwanuka will slide up to the defensive line on passing downs. Also helping the Giants achieve an amazing team total of 53 sacks was under tackle Fred Robbins, who had six of his own.
It was a good thing New York excelled at putting tons of pressure on opposing signal callers, given how banged up its secondary was in January. First-round rookie and No. 1 corner Aaron Ross, who started nine games in the regular season and three playoff contests, was limited against the Packers because of the flu. Sam Madison was out for the postseason because of a sports hernia. Nickel corner Kevin Dockery also missed time. With the help of an incredible front four, mediocre players like Corey Webster and R.W. McQuarters really stepped up. But perhaps the defensive back who made the greatest difference was free safety Gibril Wilson, who was awarded with a 6-year, $39 million deal from the Raiders.
While James Butler, who played strong safety in 2007, figures to replace Wilson right away, the long-term starter at the position will be Kenny Phillips, chosen with the No. 31 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Phillips is obviously raw, but he definitely has more upside than Wilson. Meanwhile, the newly acquired Sammy Knight will start at Butler's former position. I can't say that's any sort of upgrade. Knight, 33 on Sept. 10, struggled with the Jaguars last season.
Given that New York's forte was getting to the quarterback, you'd expect the team to be better against the pass than the run. That's not the case. The Giants were eighth versus opposing ground attacks for a number of reasons. First, nose tackle Barry Cofield did a phenomenal job clogging the line of scrimmage and protecting the back seven. Second, middle linebacker Antonio Pierce is exceptional in run support. Third, Kawika Mitchell was a massive weakside linebacker at 253 pounds. Mitchell is gone, and it remains to be seen if Gerris Wilkinson, a third-round selection in 2006, can fill in adequately. The fact that New York didn't address this position until the fourth round of April's draft (Bryan Kehl) tells me that the coaching staff is confident in Wilkinson's abilities.
Other than Super Bowl-related complacency, I can't see the Giants regressing on defense as long as Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora are in the lineup. Michael Strahan, Kawika Mitchell and Gibril Wilson were key losses, but it's not like New York doesn't have promising replacements ready to take their spots.
2008 New York Giants Schedule and Intangibles:
The Giants won all of their playoff games on the road and boasted about how they were "road warriors." That's great and pretty factual (they were 9-1 as visitors and 3-0 on neutral sites in 2007), but why can't they win at home? The Giants were 2-5 as hosts last season, with four of those defeats coming by double digits. That's a pretty odd statistic from a Super Bowl champion.
I'll admit it. I was never a big fan of Lawrence "New York" Tynes. Can you blame me though? Tynes boasted a career field-goal percentage of 78.1 (including 14-of-24 from 40-49) coming into the 2007 campaign. Tynes finished the year 23-of-27 overall and 8-of-8 from 40-plus. Most importantly, Tynes hit a Super Bowl-clinching 47-yarder in overtime in the NFC Championship at frigid Lambeau. The Giants rewarded him with a 5-year, $7 million deal.
Despite being 6,000 years old, Jeff "Philadelphia" Feagles is still getting the job done. His punt average stinks at 40.4, but he nailed 25-of-71 attempts inside the opposing 20.
R.W. McQuarters struggled in punt return duties, but Ahmad Bradshaw fared pretty well taking back kickoffs. He didn't score a touchdown, but his 24.2 average was pretty impressive. Unfortunately, the Giants yielded a touchdown on special teams and allowed a blocked punt.
The Giants play in the extremely tough NFC East, so that's six tough contests right there. They also have Seattle, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Minnesota on the slate. Easy games include St. Louis, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Arizona and Carolina.
2008 New York Giants Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2008 New York Giants Analysis: When I tell people I have the Giants No. 1 in my power rankings, everyone rolls their eyes and says, "Nah, man, that was a fluke." I couldn't disagree more. New York has a devastating defensive line that puts pressure on quarterbacks like no other team in the league. Eli Manning, meanwhile, finally gained some confidence and stopped turning over the football. It's not like Eli was some bum the Giants signed off the street. He was the No. 1 overall pick a few years ago. He was supposed to lead his team to the Promised Land.
Actually, the fact that everyone is doubting New York makes the squad extremely underrated and possibly a great bet the first few weeks of the season. It actually reminds me of how the Patriots were underdogs in their first two games after they beat the Rams in the Super Bowl.
So, can the Giants repeat as champions? While complacency could play a factor, I think they definitely can. The NFC's wide open, and once you get to the Super Bowl, anything can happen. New York proved that in February.
Projection: 13-3 (TBA in NFC East)
2008 Fantasy Football Rankings:
Eli Manning: Despite having a Super Bowl season, Eli Manning didn't exactly light up the stat sheet. He eclipsed 250 yards five times, and managed more than two touchdowns just twice. In the playoffs, Manning never had more than 255 yards and two scores. He was effective at taking care of the football, converting third downs and making clutch throws. That doesn't mean much in fantasy football.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 3,500 passing yards. 24 passing TDs. 60 rushing yards. 1 rushing TD.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 331.
Brandon Jacobs: Despite playing in just 10 full games, Brandon Jacobs totaled 1,011 yards, gaining five yards per carry. His touchdowns were curiously low for a power back (4), but that was because Reuben Droughns vultured all the goal-line rushes. While Jacobs will continue to share attempts with Ahmad Bradshaw, he'll see more work in the red zone after scoring thrice in the postseason.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,150 rushing yards. 175 receiving yards. 9 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 186.
Ahmad Bradshaw: Ahmad Bradshaw will share carries with Brandon Jacobs, but don't get too excited; if Jacobs goes down, Derrick Ward will get the bulk of the work. Unless your league counts return yardage, Bradshaw's not worth drafting until late.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 525 rushing yards. 150 receiving yards. 3 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 85.
Derrick Ward: Unless Brandon Jacobs gets hurt, Derrick Ward won't see much action. He's not worth drafting, but if you see Jacobs is questionable or worse, consider picking him up.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 350 rushing yards. 100 receiving yards. 2 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 57.
Jeremy Shockey: Jeremy Shockey is a problem in the locker room and he drops a lot of balls, but you won't get penalized for either in fantasy football. What you will suffer if you think Shockey will match his 2004-2007 production is Eli Manning taking a few targets away from him and giving them to Kevin Boss. I say he's overrated in the fantasy world.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 550 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 73.
Plaxico Burress: Plaxico Burress' 6-5, 230-pound frame makes him an easy touchdown target. He has 22 scores the past two seasons, not including his game-winner in the Super Bowl. Burress is looking for a new contract, so he's definitely motivated.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,050 receiving yards. 11 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 171.
Amani Toomer: Amani Toomer's receiving yardage since garnering 1,057 in 2003: 747, 684, 360 (8 games). He rebounded with 59 receptions for 760 yards, but at 34, it's safe to expect more regression. Steve Smith, who has much more upside, could be a better bet.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 650 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 83.
Steve Smith: Steve Smith's production matched Eli Manning's. Smith essentially did nothing in Weeks 1-16, registering five catches for 34 yards during that time span. However, when Eli picked it up, from Week 17 to the Super Bowl, Smith also improved, snagging 17 balls for 181 yards in those five contests. I'd take Smith before Amani Toomer because of the obvious upside.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 625 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 74.
Lawrence Tynes: Lawrence Tynes took his career average of 78.1 percent (going into 2007) and turned it into a 23-of-27 effort, which including 8-of-8 from beyond 40 yards.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 24-29 FG (1-2 50+). 45 XP.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 126.
Giants Defense: Steve Spagnuolo's defense registered 53 sacks last season. Now that every defender is entering his second season in Spagnuolo's scheme, the Giants' stop unit could be even more potent.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Top 10 Defense.
2008 NFL Draft Grade:
No surprise that Jerry Reese had another Jerry Reese draft. He managed to acquire the top safety prospect at the bottom of the first round, which was a position of need in the wake of Gibril Wilson leaving for Oakland ... Something else New York had to address was its lacking cornerback depth, and they did that with Terrell Thomas ... Reese found two mid-round linebackers who were major steals; Bryan Kehl and Jonathan Goff wil make a serious case for playing time ... Andre' Woodson, ranked as the No. 1 quarterback prospect in October, was a major steal in the sixth round ... And speaking of steals, how about Mario Manningham at No. 95? I'm not a fan of Mannningham's, but getting him that late was a gift.
Grade give on 4/28/08: A+
2008 NFL Draft Picks:
31. Kenny Phillips, FS, Miami
I've had Kenny Phillips going to the Giants for a while. It makes sense - the only significant loss they suffered this offseason was Gibril Wilson. (Pick Grade: A)
63. Terrell Thomas, CB/FS, USC
Giants fans wanted Dan Connor, but Terrell Thomas is a really solid player at a position of need. Another solid draft by Jerry Reese. (Pick Grade: A)
95. Mario Manningham, WR, Michigan
I don't like Mario Manningham as a player or an individual, but there's no argument that he's somewhat of a steal at the bottom of Round 3. (Pick Grade: B)
123. Bryan Kehl, OLB, BYU
A solid strongide linebacker. The Giants don't really need one, but they didn't have many needs to begin with. I guess Mathias Kiwanuka is moving to end? (Pick Grade: A)
165. Jonathan Goff, ILB, Vanderbilt
Inside linebacker isn't a need, but Jonathan Goff is a steal because he was a third-round prospect going into the draft. (Pick Grade: A)
198. Andre' Woodson, QB, Kentucky
It's amazing that the Giants may have landed the best quarterback in this class at pick No. 198. Give Jerry Reese a ton of credit. (Pick Grade: A)
199. Robert Henderson, DE, Southern Miss
Robert Henderson is another prospect whose height is listed at 0'0". I guess Jerry Reese used up all his energy on pick No. 198. (Pick Grade: D)
Like the rest of the country, I didn't give the Giants much of a chance going into the 2007 season. Tiki Barber was gone, Tom Coughlin's job was in jeopardy and Eli Manning's habit of fading down the stretch was a huge concern. They started 0-2 and were trailing the Redskins at halftime during the third week of the season. They deserve all of the credit in the world for regrouping, playing all of their starters in Week 17 (when the Buccaneers and Colts foolishly rested theirs, resulting in an instantaneous playoff loss) and knocking off the first team to ever achieve an 18-0 record. Eli's now the man; Steve Spagnuolo the highest-paid coordinator in the NFL; and Michael Strahan a Super Bowl champion.
Giants signed WR Marcus Monk
Giants cut WR Craphonso Thorpe
Giants cut OT Shane Olivea
Giants sign S Stuart Schweigert
Giants trade TE Jeremy Shockey to the Saints for second- and fifth-round picks
Giants sign OT Shane Olivea
Giants cut QB Jared Lorenzen
Giants sign WR Craphonso Thorpe
Giants announce retirement of DE Michael Strahan
Giants sign DE Renaldo Wynn
Giants re-sign SS James Butler
Giants cut DT Manuel Wright
Giants re-sign Derrick Ward
Giants sign OLB Danny Clark
Giants sign QB David Carr
Giants sign SS Sammy Knight
Giants cut FB Jim Finn
Giants re-sign K Lawrence Tynes
Giants re-sign P Jeff Feagles
Re-Sign Gibril Wilson: Gibril Wilson improved so much to the point that he is now considered one of the top free safeties in the game. He's the elite free agent at his position this offseason. New York's top priority is to re-sign him. Drafted Kenny Phillips
Strong Safety: While Wilson improved tremendously, the Giants' weak link in the secondary was James Butler, a restricted free agent. I'd simply let him go and pursue someone like Tom Zbikowski at the bottom of the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Re-signed James Butler; signed Sammy Knight
Strongside Linebacker: In the wake of winning his first Lombardi trophy, Michael Strahan is likely to retire. He'll probably be signed as a TV analyst. I just hope he doesn't replace Emmitt Smith on ESPN. If Strahan leaves, Mathias Kiwanuka will slide back into the defensive end position, leaving a hole at strongside linebacker, especially if Reggie Torbor signs with someone else via the free-agent market. Dan Connor could be available at No. 31. Drafted Bryan Kehl; signed Danny Clark
Cornerback Depth: Aaron Ross and Corey Webster played extremely well during New York's remarkable postseason run. Unfortunately, R.W. McQuarters and Sam Madison are both old and will not be around much longer. The Giants could grab one of the corners in the third round of this deep draft class. Drafted Terrell Thomas
Wide Receiver Depth: Amani Toomer won't be around much longer. Steve Smith, who caught 14 passes in the postseason, will be able to replace him in the starting lineup. Depth will be an issue, however. The Giants should utilize a mid-round selection on a wide out. Drafted Mario Manningham; signed Craphonso Thorpe
Interior Line Depth: The Giants were lucky they didn't sustain any major injuries to their offensive line this year. I'm not sure they'll be as fortunate in 2008. They need depth at guard.
Running Back Depth: With Derrick Ward leaving via free agency and Reuben Droughns all but cut, the Giants will need depth behind Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. This draft class is so deep at running back, New York can take one in the fourth or fifth round.
New York Giants Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 11): $24.47 million
Gibril Wilson, FS. Age: 26. Signed with Raiders (6 years, $39 million)
Gibril Wilson is coming off the best season of his career, notching 92 tackles and four interceptions. The Giants will likely sign him to a huge deal.
Kawika Mitchell, OLB. Age: 28. Signed with Bills (5 years, $17.5 million)
Kawika Mitchell had a great season in New York, and will likely be re-signed.
Lawrence Tynes, K. Age: 30.
I was never a big fan of Lawrence Tynes' until he nailed the decisive field goal in the NFC Championship Game. The Giants have to keep him.
Derrick Ward was averaging 4.8 yards per carry prior to his season-ending injury (fractured fibula). In eight games, he gained 781 total yards, caught 26 passes and scored four touchdowns, while fumbling only once.
Reggie Torbor, OLB. Age: 27. Signed with Dolphins
Reggie Torbor started at strongside linebacker late in the year, but only because Mathias Kiwanuka fractured his leg.
Shane Olivea, OT. Age: 26.
Shane Olivea was a solid right tackle for a few years until last season. He experienced some back problems and was consequently cut. I'd definitely sign him.
James Butler (RFA), SS. Age: 26. Re-signed with Giants (1 year, $1.417 million)
While free safety Gibril Wilson has really stepped up, strong safety James Butler has been a liability in New York's secondary.
Jared Lorenzen, QB. Age: 27. Signed with Colts
It's too bad for the Hefty Lefty (or the Pillsbury Throwboy, or J-Load) that eating cheeseburgers doesn't count toward the NFL's passer rating. If it did, Jared Lorenzen would be the best quarterback of all time.
Jim Finn, FB. Age: 31.
Craphonso Thorpe, WR. Age: 25.
Manuel Wright, DT. Age: 24.
Safe to say that Manuel Wright cried after he was cut by the Giants.
Divisional Rival History: Dallas Cowboys: Peyton Manning couldn't get past the New England Patriots for years, and it looked like Eli would have similar problems with the Cowboys. Dallas swept the Giants in the regular season, but the latter claimed revenge in the playoffs en route to a Super Bowl victory. Philadelphia Eagles: The Giants swept the Eagles last season, probably because their defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, used to work with Philadelphia and was very familiar with its offensive and defensive schemes. Washington Redskins: The visitor won in the two meetings last season. That's not surprising, given how much better the Giants play on the road.