Grading the 2017 “New” York Giants: Free Agency

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The New York Giants had much more of a quiet free agency approach this year due to their lack of cap space. While last year they were throwing money around to land top-tier players like it was nothing, this year they mainly focused on retaining their own guys and shopping for bargain-bin free agents. This doesn’t mean the Giants didn’t make some quality moves, however. They made moves that can definitely improve their team this season and get them closer to being Super Bowl contenders. Lets check out my grades and analysis for the 2017 New York Giants:

WR Brandon Marshall

Before free agency officially began, the Giants wasted no time and inked super star wide out Brandon Marshall to a 2-year, $11 million deal. After being released, the former Jets receiver had the Giants as his number one destination. He didn’t want to leave the New York/New Jersey area and he wanted to play for a contender. In the end, this deal worked out perfectly for both Marshall and the Giants.

Marshall fills a huge need in the Giants offense and provides much more of an upgrade than what Victor Cruz brought to the table last year. Not only does Marshall give the Giants that big, tall target they desperately needed, but he also brings an element of physicality and leadership that will pay huge dividends. Odell Beckham Jr. may be one of the best players in the NFL, but he also can be one of the biggest headaches in the NFL. Having a guy who’s been where Odell is right now will be monumental for Odell’s growth and maturity.

Marshall, being only one year removed from a monster season where he racked up 14 touchdowns and over 1,500 yards receiving, gives Eli a legitimate security blanket who would take a huge load off of Odell. Now the Giants possess arguably the NFL’s most dangerous reviving core with the three-headed monster of Marshall, Odell, and second-year man Sterling Shepard. Marshall will be a leader on and off the field, a great locker-room presence, and a big success with Big Blue. This was a match made in heaven that can really put this Giants team over the top.

Grade: A+

TE/FB Rhett Ellison

Blocking in general, whether it was at the offensive line or the skill positions, was a big problem last season. The Giants knew this, so they signed Rhett Ellison, the 6th year TE/FB who will add a much-needed dimension to the offense that was nonexistent last year after Will Johnson got hurt. Ellison, a tough and physical pounder, is a very underrated but smart signing by Jerry Reese and Co.

When I say Ellison is tough and physical, I mean tough and physical. Check out this video of him absolutely destroying Von Miller if you want some proof: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VehxtjQmIHQ

Yeah….that is what he will bring to this Giants offense. I don’t know about you, but seeing that gets me really excited. And aside from tearing his patellar tendon in the Vikings 2015 regular-season finale, Ellison hasn’t suffered any major injuries and has remained relatively healthy. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t that the same injury Victor Cruz had?” Yes it is, but the difference between the two is that Ellison had a much easier road to recovery than Cruz. Also, Cruz’s position required lots of speed and shiftiness, while Ellison’s position really requires none of that. Ellison also made a relatively quick recovery, and he was back for the start of the 2016 season, which is remarkable. That goes to show the kind of effort and determination Ellison has.

This guy will be a nice fit in the Giants offense and he will end up being a valuable piece in terms of helping out the offensive line in run-blocking and pass-protection, and in terms of depth at the tight end position.

Grade: B+

OG/OT DJ Fluker

Finally turning at least a little bit of their attention to the offensive line, Jerry Reese went out and snatched 2013 first-round pick DJ Fluker. In four seasons with the Chargers, Fluker was an average player but mostly considered a disappointment since he never blossomed into the legitimate lineman he was expected to become. Despite his disappointing career up to this point, Fluker is eager and hungry to prove his value in this league and silence all his critics, which is why I think this was a smart signing by the Giants.

By inking Fluker to a one year, $3 million prove-it deal, the Giants are risking close to nothing. If Fluker blossoms into a good player with the Giants, then he’ll play out the deal and try to earn a nice paycheck next offseason. If he remains a disappointment, the Giants can just let him go after this season and they only would have paid him a minimal amount of money. This is a low-risk, high-reward type signing that could make Jerry Reese look like a genius if it works out.

Grade: B+

QB Geno Smith

The Giants shocked and confused many people around the league by signing troubled quarterback Geno Smith to compete for the backup role behind Eli Manning. In four seasons with the New York Jets that were filled with injuries and off-the-field problems, it remains to be seen why the Giants chose to sign Smith after being known to stay away from guys with his kind of history. And coming off a torn ACL last season, Smith is still recovering and probably won’t be fully healthy until training camp.

With all that being said, maybe a change of scenery is what Smith needs. There is no doubt he’s a talented player, possessing great athleticism, arm strength, and a quick release. Ben McAdoo even went the distance to say that Smith could very well be Eli’s successor. While I don’t see that happening at all, if Smith comes back healthy and shows drastic improvement both on-and-off the field, then I guess it’s a possibility. And with a very cheap deal, the Giants have barely any money at all tied into Smith. The most likely scenario, though, is that Smith will either play out his one-year deal as the backup to Eli, or he won’t even make the 53-man roster.

Grade: C

CB Valentino Blake

After losing some depth at the cornerback position when Coty Sensabaugh signed with the Steelers, the Giants quickly took care of that by scooping up 6th-year defensive back Valentino Blake. There isn’t really much to make of this signing. Blake has been a solid role player throughout his time in the NFL while also being a nice special teams contributor. With the top three cornerback spots locked in barring any injuries, Blake probably won’t see a whole lot of time with the defense and will most likely see the majority of his snaps on special teams. Blake will provide veteran depth, though, which is always a valuable asset to have just in case someone does get hurt.

Grade: C+

QB Josh Johnson (re-signed)

What was even more surprising about the Geno Smith signing is that the Giants signed him right after they re-signed backup quarterback Josh Johnson. While it’s clear that they want Johnson and Smith to battle it out for the backup quarterback position in training camp, I still don’t like the Smith signing. Anyway, getting back to Johnson, I like that the Giants brought him back. He is a veteran option who knows the system and will only improve in understanding the playbook this season.

The hope and likely scenario is that neither Johnson nor Smith will ever see the field once the regular season begins. In the one-in-a-billion chance that Eli does get injured, I would feel much more comfortable with Johnson taking over then I would with Smith.

Grade: B

OG John Jerry (re-signed)

The Giants once again turned back their attention to the offensive line by bringing back a familiar face in guard John Jerry, who has started 40 out of 48 games for the Giants while never missing a single game. Jerry, while he isn’t perfect, was a real solid lineman for the Giants last season. He worked extremely hard last offseason and his improvement showed. He earned a Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade of 77 and an 84.1 grade in pass blocking. Those are pretty good numbers.

Jerry, Fluker, and third-year linemen Bobby Hart will provide nice competition on that right side of the line. My prediction is that Jerry will maintain the right guard position, Fluker becomes the starting right tackle, and Hart becomes the main backup at both positions. Jerry was signed to a nice, affordable deal (3 years, $10 million) and can become a leader to the guys he is competing with. The offensive line may not be perfect, but bringing back a guy like Jerry is big because you most likely wouldn’t find anyone better at that spot and Jerry will continue to grow in a system he is now familiar with.

Grade: B+

LB Mark Herzlich (re-signed)

Before the Giants made an effort to retain some of the centerpieces of their defense, they went and brought back some valuable role players as well. That’s exactly what they did when they re-signed 7th-year linebacker Mark Herzlich to a 1-year deal for $855K. Herzlich may not be a starting linebacker, but he is definitely a valuable role player and special teams guy. Herzlich has also been a great leader to this Giants team ever since he was unsigned as an UDFA back in 2011. This is a guy who has overcome a lot and he deserves to be back with the Giants for at least one more year.

Grade: C+

 

DE Jason Pierre-Paul (re-signed)

The number one goal for the Giants this offseason has been to keep their defense together, with bringing back Jason Pierre-Paul being the most prominent move. Well, a couple of months after slapping him with the franchise tag, the Giants and JPP were able to come to terms on a fresh four-year deal. This was huge for a number of reasons. If the Giants would have lost JPP, that would have been a colossal blow to their elite-ranked defense. With all that time and money spent by Jerry Reese last offseason to improve the unit, it would seem like almost a waste if you lose one of the main centerpieces the following year. The Giants then would have had to desperately try and find guys to make up for JPP’s absence and it would have just turned into one big mess.

While JPP did miss a good part of last season with a groin injury, including their playoff game against Green Bay, when he was healthy he showed that he was just as dominant as before he suffered his infamous July 4th fireworks incident. Besides, JPP is one of those guys who needs to be a Giant for life. It would just look too strange seeing him playing for any other team. Kudos to the Giants for accomplishing their number one goal and retaining their most important free agent for at least the next four years.

Grade: A

LB Keenan Robinson

The Giants most recent transaction was the re-signing of linebacker Keenan Robinson. I, for one, am really happy the Giants and Robinson were able to come to terms on a contract. Robinson was an under-valued piece on this Giants defense, and while his ratings (78th out of 87 qualifiers on PFF) may not be so good, he was definitely our best coverage linebacker. He racked up 86 tackles last season, and he also played his first full 16-game season. Robinson will only continue to grow in the system during year two and should improve in the areas where he wasn’t as strong in.

Grade: B

 

Super Bowl 51 recap: Brady is the GOAT

Tom Brady

As a Giants fan, I never thought there would ever be a Super Bowl better than Super Bowl 42. I can now say that I was wrong. What happened on February 5 was the greatest football game I have ever seen period. It was everything you love about sports wrapped into 60 minutes of breath-taking football. I’m not the biggest Patriots fan, I’m also not the biggest Tom Brady fan. But after seeing what I saw in Houston, all I can do is accept the fact that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback football has ever seen and New England is arguably the greatest dynasty in sports history. Just don’t forget that the Giants will always be their kryptonite.

Only the Patriots would have been able to pull off an epic second-half like they did, being down by 25-points. Just when you think they’re done and there’s no possible way they can win the game, they prove everyone wrong. They made it look shockingly easy while the Falcons just completely fell apart right before our eyes. It was a pretty wild thing to witness.

Aside from Belichick’s play-calling genius and Brady, who was on fire with 466 yards and 2 touchdowns, New England had a lot of contributors that they couldn’t have won the game without. They got very crucial production from guys like their number one receiver Julian Edelman, who had 87 receiving yards including an unbelievable catch that nobody will ever really understand, receiver Danny Amendola, who had a touchdown and a very important 2-point conversion to tie the game at 28, and most notably running back James White, who had a 2-point conversion and 3 total touchdowns including the one that won the Patriots the game. On the defensive side of the ball guys like defensive end Trey Flowers (2.5 sacks) and star linebacker D’Onta Hightower (1 sack and a forced fumble) came up huge in crucial moments of the game. It was beautiful to see a team come together the way New England did, show no signs of panic or defeat, and fuel a comeback for the ages.

For Atlanta, the blame for the loss can be passed around to a number of different people. People have blamed Dan Quinn for not coaching well enough in the second half, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan for making some costly play calls late in the game that didn’t work out, quarterback Matt Ryan for losing control of the offense, Devonta Freeman for blowing his block that resulted in Ryan fumbling the ball, etc. There’s a litany of candidates, and I think the blame should be placed on all of them. Each one of the candidates had something to do with the loss. It wasn’t any one person’s fault more than it was another person’s fault. They all share the blame. Quinn should’ve done a better job coaching his team in the second half, especially the defense since he is a defensive-minded coach. Shanahan should’ve called more running plays late in the game when they were in field goal range so they could have sealed the game and taken time off the clock. Ryan should’ve done a better job of keeping his guys together as the Patriots were fueling their comeback. Freeman should’ve actually blocked Hightower instead of letting him run right past him.

No matter who there is to blame, this is going to be a loss that will sting for the Falcons for the rest of their lives. Not many people can say they were beating the New England Patriots 28-3 in the Super Bowl. That’s pretty remarkable. However, not many people can say that they blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. The Falcons can say both. While they certainly don’t mind the first one, the second one is their worst nightmare.

Despite the Atlanta’s historic crash-and-burn, a number of guys played fantastic football for them. Matt Ryan, even with his late game woes, had a pretty solid game with almost 300 yards and 2 touchdowns. Both running backs were effective, as Freeman had 75 yards rushing and a touchdown plus 46 yards receiving, and Tevin Coleman had 30 yards rushing plus a 6-yard receiving touchdown. Superstar wide out Julio Jones was phenomenal. He had 87 yards receiving and despite only having 4 receptions, Jones made a number of insane catches that most people will forget about now due to Edelman’s catch and them losing the game. Rookie tight end Austin Hooper had a nice touchdown early in the game to extend Atlanta’s lead to 14-0. On defense, there was one man who was wreaking havoc all night long, and he isn’t named Vic Beasley. Grady Jarrett, the second year man from Clemson, racked up 3 sacks as the Patriots o-line couldn’t really contain him. Cornerback Robert Alford also had a highlight play when he intercepted Brady and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown, putting Atlanta up 21-0. But, despite all the valuable contributions, the Falcons ultimately couldn’t finish what they started.

This was quite the year in the world of sports, with choking going on in the country’s top three sports. The Golden State Warriors kicked it all off by blowing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, then the Cleveland Indians continued the trend by blowing a 3-1 lead in the World Series, and now the Falcons topped it all off by blowing a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. Despite all this choking, the Warriors and Indians will be fine. As for the Falcons, the jury is still out on them. They’re offense was one of the most dynamic units we’ve seen in years, but they really should strengthen all three levels of their defense if they want another chance at the Lombardi trophy next season and beyond. They also have to get themselves together emotionally and do their best to forget about the loss.

This Super Bowl was pretty fantastic to watch, and I was rooting for Atlanta. The Patriots put on the kind of show that silenced all the doubters forever and cemented themselves as the greatest dynasty in NFL history. Tom Brady can play as long as he wants, and with the way he looked on February 5th, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if he’s still playing 20 years from now. With New England going through a tough season like this, where Brady served a 4-game suspension from Deflategate to start the year, this ends up being more than just another championship. If a report ends up coming out in the future that Belichick was only so great because he installed cameras in other teams practices then so be it. Until that happens, it’s time to appreciate the Patriots’ greatness in the world of sports no matter how you feel about them. In the end, all I can say is I hope Roger Goodell has some tight security around him for the next couple of years.

Building the Giants Perfect Offseason Plan

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Despite the crash-and-burn that was Wild Card Weekend, the Giants put together a successful season in which they returned to the postseason for the first time since winning the Super Bowl in 2011. Sure there were the ups and downs, the surprises and disappointments, but in the end there is definitely a lot to be excited about for Giants fans going forward. The Giants have a very important offseason coming up. It’s crucial for them to have success both in free agency and the draft like last year in order to seriously contend for a championship while Eli Manning is still under center, which isn’t much longer.

Last season was a fantastic offseason for the Giants. They spent a truckload of money on durable defensive stars to turn the league’s worst unit in 2015 to one of the league’s best in 2016. They also had a very productive draft class where even a number of undrafted free agents became quality contributors for this team. It was exactly what they needed, but they’re going to need it again.

It’s going to be harder for the Giants to add quality pieces this offseason with a number of players becoming free agents, less cap space, and a lower draft pick. But they can do it. If they follow my guide to another successful offseason, the Giants will win the franchise’s 5th Super Bowl next season for sure. The cheat sheet is right here, all Jerry Reese needs to do is read this article. You’re welcome Jerry. With that, let’s dive in:

Bring back Jason Pierre-Paul

The Giants have a number of their own free agents who they would like to re-sign, but at the top of the list should be Jason Pierre-Paul. JPP has been cornerstone for this team ever since getting drafted 15th overall in 2010. He is one of the NFL’s most explosive pass rushers and he proved this season that he can still be elite even with 7 1/2 fingers due to his July 4th fireworks accident.

JPP isn’t coming cheap, he’s reportedly only signing a long-term deal for around what the Giants paid Olivier Vernon last year. That’s going to be a lot of money invested into the defensive line, but it’s worth it. When healthy the triple threat of JPP and Vernon along with Snacks in the middle was absolutely dynamic. Jonathan Hankins is another key guy becoming a free agent. He is a very good player but his game is too similar to Snacks. They need more of a pass rushing presence to pair with Snacks on the inside rather then two run-stuffers.

The Giants know what they have in JPP. He may have trouble staying on the field at times, but they can’t risk losing a proven talent like him. If JPP goes somewhere else the defensive line will have a big hole and the Giants will be forced to go with a bunch of unproven options. The Giants need JPP and need to do everything in their power to keep him.

Keep DRC, cut Cruz and Jennings

Cutting players is never easy, and the Giants are going to be faced with a number of tough decisions this offseason. Players like cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, wide receiver Victor Cruz, and running back Rashad Jennings are veterans who are getting paid a good amount of money and might need to be let go in order to clear up cap space. What the Giants should do is keep DRC and cut Cruz and Jennings, and there are a number of reasons for this.

In the beginning of the season I understand why DRC would be on the hot seat, especially with the selection of Eli Apple in the first round of last year’s draft, but now the Giants would be insane to let him go. DRC had arguably the best season of his career this season, racking up 49 tackles and 6 interceptions while splitting time on the outside and in the slot. He was named a Second Team All-Pro and proved he’s still a top corner in the NFL. He also serves as a quality leader for the younger guys in the secondary like Apple. The Giants need to keep him around.

When it comes to Cruz, this one breaks my heart. Ever since coming into the league Cruz has been my absolute favorite player and I adore both him and his story. But he just isn’t the same player that he was before his two major leg injuries. This season he managed 39 receptions for 586 yards and only 1 salsa dance which came all the way back in Week 1. He was moved to the outside a lot of the time with rookie Sterling Shepard playing the slot, and you could tell he didn’t look as comfortable there. Cruz is slated to make around $10 million in 2017, and the Giants can save a large amount of money by cutting him. It just makes too much sense. That is simply too much money tied into your third wide receiver who is now a shell of his former self. We all love you Vic, none of us want this to happen, but unfortunately it’s time to move on.

With Jennings, this is another fan favorite amongst Giants fans. Since being signed by the Giants in 2014, Jennings has become a leader and valuable role model for younger players. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to him, but his production and salary just don’t add up. Last season especially, Jennings struggled to do much at all when he had the ball in his hands. Too often he produced a series of 1-yard runs and didn’t make it past the line of scrimmage a whole lot. He only put together 794 all-purpose yards, scoring 4 total touchdowns in the process. He is also 31, so his game is on the decline. The Giants want to build their ground game around promising rookie Paul Perkins and add another back via the draft most likely. They can save around $3 million by cutting Jennings, and even though it will be difficult to see such a loyal and popular player go, the Giants need to make this move.

 

Find a legit left tackle already

Just writing about this pisses me off. The Giants have overlooked the most important position on the offensive line for long enough now, and it needs to stop in order for this team to be successful. The right guard and right tackle positions along with the overall depth of the line could use some strengthening as well, but left tackle is the most important need. Especially with a 36-year-old Eli Manning at quarterback who is on the decline, the already huge need for an adequate blindside protector becomes even bigger.

Ereck Flowers isn’t going to cut it. I know Reese and Ben McAdoo are going to continue to try and defend the 2015 1st-round pick all they can, but it’s time to recognize the mistake that’s been made and move him to the right side. I mean Flowers has just been awful. When he isn’t getting flagged for holding he’s actually shoving edge rushers into Eli. I’m pretty sure you aren’t supposed to do that. Flowers is the perfect example of why technique is more important than physical abilities. Hopefully by moving him to the right side it will save Reese from yet another wasted draft pick.

It would be best for the Giants to go out and grab an established veteran through free agency. They don’t have the time to put another rookie or unproven player in there and wait for him to develop. They need someone who can step in and contribute right away. Andrew Whitworth, the 11-year man from the Cincinnati Bengals, would be the perfect signing. At 35, Whitworth is a proven veteran who knows how to get the job done. He made the Pro Bowl each of the last two seasons (including this season) and made First Team All-Pro in 2015, which proves he’s still playing at an elite level despite his age. He may not be a long-term solution, but he is the perfect win-now option. Eli will feel very comfortable having a left tackle close to his age. Sign him to a two-year deal, add an experienced leader to that line like Whitworth and it will go a long way next season.

Draft OJ Howard

The Giants need another tight end. Larry Donnell should be cut immediately. What was once a guy who looked like a hidden gem has become a turnover waiting to happen whenever he catches a pass. Will Tye is a reliable chain-mover, and rookie Jerell Adams is raw but he showed flashes this season. I expect Adams to take a big step next season, but the Giants still need to add another tight end to the mix. That guy should be Alabama star OJ Howard. Yes there will be good options in free agency and some might think it makes more sense to focus on a tight end later in the draft since this draft class is the deepest we’ve seen in years, but taking Howard with your first round pick is definitely the best option.

When you look at Howard’s game, he is as well-rounded as they come. Like everybody there are some things in his game that he could touch up on, but there aren’t any major weaknesses. He has great size and strength at 6’6″ and 250 lbs. He has great hands, route running ability, and breakaway speed. He’s also proven to be a very strong blocker in the running and passing game. He’s an intelligent guy and a team player, and you can tell he’s serious about maximizing his full potential by staying at Alabama an extra year. While it is uncertain, even to Howard, as to why he got relatively low usage at Alabama, Howard has played well enough to prove he’s the best tight end prospect in this stacked class. He balled out this past week at the Senior Bowl, which will only help his draft stock even more.

Howard is the kind of player who can step right in immediately and help the Giants offense. He would give Eli a much-needed security blanket and take pressure off guys like Odell and Shepard. With the way his stock is rising it may be more unlikely that he’s available when the Giants pick, but this team needs Howard and they should do whatever they can to make sure he’s on the roster next season.

Start to focus on Eli’s successor, but don’t rush it

That time all Giants fans have been avoiding for years has unfortunately arrived. Eli Manning may still have a few more seasons left in the NFL, but it’s time to start thinking about who will take over once he retires. However, while this season is a good time to start looking at quarterbacks who can be potential replacements, that doesn’t mean you go out of your way to draft one and call the offseason a failure if you don’t find anybody you like. The last thing anybody wants is Jerry Reese making a panic move for a guy the Giants aren’t even sure they want.

Since it would make the most sense for the Giants to draft and develop Eli’s replacement, this offseason should be the time where the Giants start looking at quarterbacks beyond this draft class. Unless Deshaun Watson or Deshone Kizer fall to them, which probably won’t happen, the Giants shouldn’t be banking on this draft class to be the one where they find their man. The 2016 class isn’t a particularly strong one for quarterbacks, with even the top guys plagued with question marks. Now that might not matter as much with the Giants cause they won’t need a guy to step in right away, but it’s still definitely something to consider. Patrick Mahomes II out of Texas Tech is the only guy I could see being a nice mid-round pick if he lasts that long, but the Giants might want to focus on more immediate needs.

Maybe the Giants will pull together a blockbuster trade for a quarterback already in the NFL. We don’t know, but you have to admit it would be pretty cool to see Jerry Reese do something like that. However they choose to land Eli’s successor is up to them, but even Jerry Reese knows it’s time to start looking. Ryan Nassib isn’t the answer. Josh Johnson definitely isn’t the answer. It’s time to start getting your feet wet and taking a look at the options you have going forward.

Don’t forget about linebacker, running back, etc.

Lastly, the Giants could really use some upgrading in multiple positions. Linebacker is the most glaring one, but they also need to add another running back and receiver. These aren’t as major as the needs in the offensive line or at tight end, but they should be strengthened to make the team more well-rounded.

The one weakness of the Giants stellar defense this season was the linebacking group. Steve Spagnuolo lacked a big-time playmaker at the linebacker position and it would have been really useful to have one. Jonathan Casillas proved to be a true leader for the defense and had a good year all around, racking up almost 100 tackles. Devon Kennard shredded the injury-prone label this season and had a solid year overall, while free agent signees Keenan Robinson and Kelvin Sheppard were solid contributors who I think should be brought back. You also got rookie 4th-round pick B.J. Goodson who was really good on special teams and should get a lot more playing time with the defense going forward. But the Giants really need to add a dynamic linebacker to take the defense to the next level. There are a number of ways Reese can attack this. The draft offers some promising options, and maybe Reese will break his trend of not drafting linebackers in the first round by drafting a guy like Zach Cunningham from Vanderbilt or Tim Williams from Alabama. They could also try and sign a linebacker via free agency like Melvin Ingram or Nick Perry. Whatever they do they should definitely try and add a legit playmaker to this group.

When it comes to running back the Giants already have a guy who can be a feature back in this league with rookie 5th-round pick Paul Perkins. Perkins showed great vision, speed, and shiftiness when given a chance and a lot of people are excited about him. However, just cause they have something with Perkins doesn’t mean the Giants couldn’t use a big and powerful runner to pair up with Perkins. The really could and they really should get one. They could look to free agency at guys like Eddie Lacy or LeGarrette Blount, but I think they should try and draft D’Onta Foreman from Texas instead. Foreman rushed for over 2,000 yards this year and has the ideal blend of size, speed, and strength to excel in the NFL. when it comes to adding another receiver the Giants need to bring in a big-bodied guy. Odell and Sheppard are fantastic players but they stand at 5’11” and 5’10” respectively. Throw in a guy with size and this can be the most dynamic receiving core in the game. Think guys like Alshon Jeffery or Terrelle Pryor in free agency, assuming they hit the market.

As I mentioned before, this is going to be an extremely important offseason. It might even be more important than last year. Jerry Reese is once again going to be put under the ultimate general manager test following an 11-5 season. We’ll see if he can keep at least the majority of the defense together while improving major needs on the offense under a limited cap and a draft pick in the early 20’s. If he does, then the Giants very well might be holding up that 5th Lombardi at this time next year.

 

There is Nobody Better than Le’Veon Bell

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers

I hope everybody has had a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holidays. After watching the Steelers-Ravens nail-biter Sunday, there was one thing that pointed itself out time and time again. That is that Le’Veon Bell is the best running back in the NFL. He may be the most electrifying running back in the past decade not named Adrian Peterson. He’s that good.

The Steelers possess the most dangerous offensive triple threat in the NFL. With Bell, a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, and arguably the best receiver in the league in Antonio Brown, this unit is feared by everyone. But yesterday Bell proved to be the most important piece out of the three. He ultimately makes or breaks the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he will serve as a crucial piece to their postseason success.

Bell has a well-rounded game, we all know that. He can run, catch, and block as well as anyone. But the main thing that pops out at you right away when watching Bell is the patience he has with the ball in his hands. It’s what makes Bell so lethal and unique. He has this unreal ability to process what the defense is giving him and wait for holes to open up in a matter of seconds. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s the main reason why nobody can make something out of nothing as often and effortlessly as Bell, and it’s beautiful to watch.

Another thing that’s impressive about Bell is his ability to overcome injuries. Bell has had a lengthy injury history throughout his career, but has come back from each one of them with determination and confidence. As a result, Bell’s injuries haven’t negatively affected his play one bit, and he’s had some serious ones too. Bell’s past two injuries were both to his right knee, with the most recent one being the most severe. In 2014 Bell hyper-extended his knee, causing him to miss the playoffs. The Steelers realtncould have used him, as they got eliminated in the Wild Card round. Then in week 9 of 2015 Bell suffered a torn MCL, which requires serious surgery, placing him on injured reserve. Bell has come back this season better than ever, proving that the past injuries he’s suffered have given his ability on the field no problems at all.

It’s this season where Bell has emerged as the best at his position. He’s proven that there is nobody better in the game right now. Not the legendary Adrian Peterson. Not rookie phenom Ezekiel Elliott. Not sophomore superstar David Johnson. Nobody. Bell has all the tools that a team looks for in a running back and continued to prove that this past Christmas Day. He has had arguably the best season of his young career considering the numbers he’s produced despite missing the first 3 games of the season due to suspension. He’s put up 1,268 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns, with 616 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns.

Bell has been the main reason why the  Steelers have a 10-5 record and are AFC North champions. Big Ben has had a subpar year compared to his other seasons, and when he’s not producing  Antonio Brown doesn’t either. Bell is the heart and soul of the Steelers offense and their team as a whole. He further proved that this past Sunday, as he was animal. He put up 137 all-purpose yards and scored two crucial touchdowns in a game that came down to the final possession. He’s performed so well that I think you can even go the distance and say that he is a legitimate MVP candidate.

When talking about the complete package Bell is just that. He does everything asked of him and more, and the Steelers wouldn’t be anywhere close to where they are now without him.

Expect the Steelers to make a nice run in the postseason at the very least, and expect Le’Veon Bell to be leading the charge. He will continue to light up defenses and dance all over the football field. And nobody does it better.

Dak & Zeke: The Ultimate Dynamic Duo

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Cleveland Browns

Seems like Giants fan just can’t catch a break eh?

At the mid-way point of yet another very entertaining NFL season, as always there have been many surprises. Some are good, some are bad. There are many to choose from, like the Panthers 3-5 record, the amazing play of guys like Matt Ryan and Derek Carr that are thrusting them into the MVP conversation, and the smooth transition of Terrelle Pryor Sr. from quarterback to wide receiver. The most surprising of them all, though, has been the Dallas Cowboys and the phenomenal football they’ve been playing. Even more surprising is the fact that the reason the Cowboys have been playing so well isn’t due to the usual suspects like Tony Romo or Dez Bryant. It’s because of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott; two rookies who have been playing some of the best football we’ve seen in a while.

Looking at the two of them, it is much easier to see why Elliott is so successful. This guy was the top running back in last year’s draft and the fourth overall pick, for good reason too. After rushing for nearly 4,000 yards and 43 touchdowns in 3 seasons at Ohio State to go along with about 450 receiving yards, this guy had every NFL team drooling at his tape. He’s also living every running backs dream situation in Dallas, where he gets to play behind the best offensive line in football every week. But even with all the hype surrounding Elliott, I think it’s safe to say that he has surpassed expectations by a longshot.

When it comes to Dak, it’s not as easy to see that he has been playing as well as he has. After having an up-and-down draft process, Dak fell all the way to the fourth round and was taken by Dallas with the 135th pick overall back in May. Through 4 seasons at Mississippi State, Dak put up some impressive numbers. He threw for 9,376 yards and 70 touchdowns, earning a total passer rating of 146.0. He also proved to be productive with his feet, rushing for 2,521 yards and 41 touchdowns. Many people will forget that this is the same guy who led Mississippi State to a 9-0 start (10-3 overall) in 2014 where they were ranked the best team in the country for five consecutive weeks. After seeing all this you may be asking yourself why Dak wasn’t the first quarterback taken in the draft. The main reason is because in the 2015 season, Dak’s production dipped a bit, but that was mainly due to the fact that he was constantly getting beat up every play since the Bulldogs had poor protection. Going into the draft I personally was very high on Dak even though lots of people had doubts and weren’t sure about how he would fit into the game’s highest level of competition. I always enjoyed watching him play in college and I thought he would be a good NFL quarterback at the very least. So far through his first 8 weeks in the NFL, he’s proven that he isn’t just a good quarterback, he’s an excellent quarterback.

For those of you who don’t know, let’s take a look at just how well these two are playing. Elliott has been lighting up the football field on a weekly basis, totaling up about 900 yards and 7 touchdowns so far. If he keeps up this pace, he should be nearing 1800 yards and 14 touchdowns by the end of the season, but it’s not likely that will happen. Nevertheless, this guy has been the best back in the league and leads the NFL in rushing. He’s averaging 5.0 yards per carry and putting up a strong MVP case, even though I would cool down the hype on him actually winning it this year.

Dak, proving draft scouts are very overrated, has been near-perfect so far in the beginning of his NFL career. He’s thrown for 2,020 yards and 12 touchdowns, with a passer rating of 104.2 and completion percentage of 66.45%. He’s also done a nice job rushing the football with 125 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns. The most impressive stat, though, has been the tremendous job he’s been doing in regards to taking care of the football. Not only has he only thrown 2 interceptions on 248 passing attempts, which is remarkable for anybody let alone a rookie, but he didn’t throw his first interception until Week 6. Dak has already broken Tom Brady’s 162 passes without an interception to start a career, an NFL record, with 163 passes. If he keeps up this kind of play this will be the beginning of a long list of records Dak can break throughout his career, barring any major setbacks.

These two have been angels sent from above for this Cowboys team. With a below-average defense where promising players like Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence are suffering suspensions for violating the NFL’s drug policies, Dez still dealing with some lingering injuries, and the ever-so-fragile Tony Romo suffering yet another injury after messing up his back in the preseason, this team was expected to their second disappointing season in a row. But thanks to Dak and Zeke, they have been arguably the best team in football. As a Giants fan I’m very scared as long as these two are healthy. Thankfully were doing pretty well too *knocks on wood*, but the Cowboys have cushioned themselves a nice lead in the NFC East. How about the NFC East by the way, going from the worst division in football to the best in just one season. Dak and Zeke are two big reasons for that. But anyway, I’m getting off topic.

The sky is the limit for these two. They’ve been really fun to watch and show no signs of slowing down their red-hot play. The fact that they’re rookies makes it all the more exciting not just for the Cowboys, but the NFL as a whole. They are prime examples of the fact that more players have recently seemed to be seeing smoother transitions into the NFL from college, and that colleges are doing a fine job of preparing their players for life in the pros. They represent the future of football and they’re making it look pretty darn great.

The 31 other NFL teams better watch out because Dak and Zeke aren’t some phonies or pleasant surprises that will eventually burn out. They are the real deal.

 

 

The Odell Crisis

NFL: New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings

Alright, this is getting out of hand.

This past couple of weeks have been complete hell for Odell Beckham, the Giants, and Giants fan. To go along with the teams 2-game losing streak after starting the season 2-0, they’re in a really tough position with their best player. Odell is a very emotional and passionate player, we all know that. A lot of athletes are. What holds Odell back is the inability to control those emotions, and lately it’s really been hurting both him and his team. Look I love Odell, and as we’ve seen when he isn’t emotionally distracted, he is the best receiver in the game. But Odell needs to stop the constant crying and fighting with kicking nets, period. What also needs to stop, though, is the unfair treatment Odell is receiving from the officials and the NFL as a whole.

Odell is his own worst enemy, and if he doesn’t do his part to control his emotions and not get distracted by opposing players, then this problem will forever prevent Odell from reaching his peak. But the NFL needs to do their part too. It seems as if any official in a Giants game has now just become somebody who watches Odell Beckham’s every move and gets ready to throw a flag after every play. The most recent proof is Monday night’s game against Minnesota. There was no reason why Odell deserved to get an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. No reason at all. Yes, Odell was complaining, but he had every right to in that situation. Anybody would have done the same exact thing if they got hit like that. Beckham was obviously hit late out of bounds by Xavier Rhodes. Anybody with fairly good eyesight could see that. Then a couple of plays later he gets hit late AGAIN, and no flag on Rhodes.

Then, going back two weeks ago against the Redskins, Odell squared up against Josh Norman for the second time. Odell clearly won the battle when it came to who the better player was, as he flat-out exposed Norman time and time again. But Norman overall got the advantage because of the fact that he got into Odell’s head once again. This is where Beckham has dug himself into a big hole.

If he hadn’t gotten into so many temper tantrums and hadn’t put himself in such a bad position, then he wouldn’t be such a targeted player around the NFL. He wouldn’t have to worry about saying something and then seeing a yellow flag hit the ground seconds later. He wouldn’t have to worry about every corner defending him taking cheap shots at him to try and get him off his game. He would still be having fun playing the game he loves and would be able to go out and dominate without any other distractions.

But, Odell isn’t in that position. He has some crucial fixing to do to repair his image. If he is serious about his team and his career, he will do whatever it takes to fix this situation. After coming out with recent comments this past week where he apologized for his actions and said how he is tired of setting bad examples for young children who look up to him, I think Odell has finally received the wake-up call he needed. I hope from this point on Odell can re-ignite his fun-loving ways where he wasn’t constantly bothered and just played the game. We all do.

This will prove to be a crucial learning point for Odell. Maybe the biggest of his career. He now hopefully realizes that he can have all the talent in the world, but that won’t mean anything if he can’t control his emotions and keep himself in-check. Now that this has apparently appeared to click for Beckham, watch out. Let’s see if he proves true to his words and matures, moving on from his previous antics. If he won’t let opposing players or the media get to him anymore, he has the opportunity to unleash his full potential since there’s nothing holding him back anymore. Once he reaches that full potential, it can be something we haven’t seen since Jerry Rice or Randy Moss.

Now, even with his eye-rolling antics, Beckham hasn’t been the reason the Giants are losing in recent weeks. He definitely hasn’t helped, but he isn’t the lone reason that’s holding his team back from winning games. The whole Giants team is a mess right now. From the, dare I say it, awful play of Eli Manning, to the struggling development of Ereck Flowers, to the banged up secondary, there are a bunch of reasons why this team isn’t producing like they did the first two weeks. Their revamped defensive line hasn’t proven to be much help at all, as they’ve only managed 4 sacks and seem to let quarterbacks have day and night to throw the ball. It is really painful and frustrating to watch, but Odell isn’t the reason. That doesn’t mean he can keep doing what he’s been doing, but don’t think if he fixes himself the Giants will miraculously start winning games. It would certainly help, but this team is too damaged for that to happen.

Despite all this, Odell needs to just chill out. I love the guy, but he is only making things worse with his antics. Odell, if you’re reading this, first of all thank you so much. Second, can I have an autograph? Third, please do not think I am bashing you or hating on you, that isn’t the case at all. I just want to see the Odell Beckham Jr. that makes fools out of opposing defensive backs on a weekly basis and has fun playing the game of football, not the one who destroys innocent kicking nets on the sidelines. I want to see the Odell that lights up the stat sheet every Sunday and shows off his Dancing With the Stars-worthy moves in the end zone, not the one who gets flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. We all just want to see the real Odell Beckham Jr., cause when your on your game you are the most dominant receiver in the league. Fact.

 

Victor Cruz: The Unbreakable Soul

FILE: Victor Cruz Close to Deal With Giants

I think it’s safe to say Victor Cruz has been through a lot. Nothing has ever come easy for him since his days growing up in Paterson, New Jersey. He has had to fight for everything even when he was at the top. It seems there is always another obstacle that plants itself in front of Cruz, but he always finds away to get past it. This is why Cruz is my absolute favorite player in the NFL. I have simply adored his fairytale story and his determination to be the best no matter what bump he hits on his road to greatness. And even though he hasn’t played every single game like his quarterback Eli Manning, if Cruz can rebound from his injuries this season he will prove to be the ultimate iron man. Not because of his ability to play every game, something he definitely hasn’t done, but because of his unbreakable soul.

Like I mentioned earlier there has just been a long list of obstacle after obstacle for Victor Cruz. Despite all these obstacles, he has managed to attack every single one with the same determination and hunger to overcome it. The attitude has resulted in nothing but positives, as it has made Cruz both a better player and a better person. This guy has never let his fame and stardom get to him. He has always stayed humble and been thankful for his blessings time and time again. Let’s take a look at some of these obstacles Vic’s been able to overcome and why his most recent one will become just another book on the shelf.

It started all the way back in high school. Vic attended Paterson Catholic High School and even though he put up some very productive numbers and earned All-State Honors in his senior year while his team went undefeated, he had a hard time getting offers from top-level colleges. Although he did land a smaller division one school, the University of Massachusetts, Cruz struggled to combine his football with his academics, resulting in him getting sent home multiple times throughout his collegiate career. He was able to turn himself around, though, and go on to finish fourth all-time in receptions at UMass with 131.

When it came to draft day, Cruz unfortunately didn’t get the call that every NFL hopeful dreams of, but that once again didn’t stop him. Due to his impressive pro day, he got a signed by the New York Giants the very next day after the draft had ended. Cruz may have gone undrafted and had a very tough hill to climb if he wanted to make the Giants 53-man roster, but he was ready for the challenge. The first time the world started to notice Cruz was August 16, 2010 during the Giants annual Snoopy Bowl against their hometown rival New York Jets. Cruz exploded on the scene with 6 catches for 145 yards and 3 touchdowns. He went on to finish the preseason first in the league in receiving yards and tied for first in touchdowns. He was able to climb the hill and make the Giants 53-man roster. Despite Vic’s preseason stardom, the 2010 season unfortunately was not a continuation of that. He only played three games before being placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. But next season is an entirely different story.

Entering the 2011 season Cruz had his best chance ever of getting significant playing time, with wide receiver Steve Smith signing elsewhere in free agency and wide receiver Domenik Hixon getting injured, and he jumped all over that chance. His NFL stardom kicked off week 3 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Cruz was huge, racking up his first two NFL touchdowns and 110 receiving yards to go along with it. But that was just the beginning. Cruz was the savior the Giants needed all season long, becoming one of the NFL’s most dangerous wide receivers and helping the Giants win their fourth Super Bowl. He racked up 1,536 receiving yards, which is a Giants single-season record, and 9 touchdowns on 82 catches. Despite being snubbed from the Pro Bowl, Cruz got second-team All-Pro honors. He finally made it big time.

The 2012 season would prove to be more of the same, as Cruz showed the world that he was no one-hit wonder. He totaled 1,092 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns on 86 receptions. He earned a trip to the Pro Bowl and signed a very nice 5-year, $46 million extension with the Giants in the offseason. Cruz was becoming one of the premiere players in the NFL. And then the unthinkable happened.

On week 6 of the 2014 NFL season, Cruz went down with no contact while trying to make an easy touchdown catch. Watching the play it looks like a regular dropped pass. Cruz didn’t land on anything in an awkward position, he didn’t suffer any contact, so the initial though of everyone was that it wasn’t anything serious. But then you saw Cruz just lying on the ground, not moving at all and screaming in pain. Oh no. I remember watching this play and just feeling my heart drop to the floor and shatter into a million pieces. There he was, my NFL idol, not being able to move and having to get placed on the stretcher by medical staff. I was crushed and frantically trying to find out any information I could. Later on I found out the news nobody was hoping to hear; Cruz tore his patellar tendon. His season was over and his career was even called into question since that injury is so severe. Every time I see that play even to this day I still get chills all over my body.

Now, almost two full years after that horrific day, Cruz is finally back. I couldn’t be any happier. I’m sure he and the rest of his Giants family feel the same way. The time is now for Victor to really prove the haters and doubters wrong for good.

It pains me to see such a humble and unselfish man have to go through so much. I desperately hope Cruz comes back and is able to overcome yet another road block that stands in his path. We all do. But if you ask him how he feels about possibly never being the same I’m almost positive he wouldn’t be worried at all. Why? Because it’s just more of the same for Vic when it’s all said-and-done. Yes he’s never had an injury like this before and isn’t used to not playing for so long, but he’s very used to being doubted and having to get past obstacles. Nothing new here folks.

So this Sunday I will be as excited as anybody to watch my NFL hero back out there salsa-dancing in the end zone. I have no doubt that Cruz will come back better than ever and pick up right where he left off. Hopefully Vic is done having to overcome obstacles. Hasn’t he had enough already? But if another one ever does hit him on his way to glory I know he will be able to break free of the tackle like he always has done. The reason for this? His unbreakable soul.