By: Robbie Stratakos
It’s playoffs or bust for the New York Giants in 2021.
Coming off a 6-10 season that included going 4-2 in the NFC East and having a top-10 defense, the Giants have put the finishing touches on an extraordinary offseason.
Last season the Giants had one of the worst offenses in the NFL, which was partially due to star running back Saquon Barkley tearing his ACL in Week 2 of the regular season. Still, finishing 31st in the NFL in points (280) and yards (4,794) was unacceptable for an offense with proven commodities in both the passing and running game.
What did general manager Dave Gettleman get for soon-to-be third-year quarterback Daniel Jones this offseason? He got Jones outside weapons and more outside weapons. In free agency, they added wide receivers Kenny Golladay and John Ross and tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Golladay gives Jones a premier downfield passing threat at 6-foot-4 who finishes in the red zone and boxes out defensive backs. Ross is a speedster in the open field who could make a difference on special teams. The outside threats add to a receiver depth chart that already includes Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton.
Rudolph is a well-rounded, two-way tight end who could allow fellow tight end Evan Engram to be utilized in more creative ways (a la being used as a slot and/or outside receiver).
After making a trade with the Chicago Bears where they moved back nine spots in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft while corralling another first, fourth and fifth-round selection, the Giants selected Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney with the 20th overall pick. The former Gator is a dynamic and elusive receiver who can line up all over the field and be a catalyst in the passing game.
After trading back with the Miami Dolphins in the second round and corralling their third-rounder next season, the Giants took Georgia defensive end Azeez Ojulari, who fills the largest void on defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s defense: a pure pass rusher. Ojulari is a quick, big-bodied player who applies pressure off the edge and gets after the quarterback. The Giants also traded up for UCF cornerback Aaron Robinson on night two of the draft.
Robinson adds to the Giants’ absurd collection of defensive backs. That unit includes the likes of James Bradberry, Jabrill Peppers, Logan Ryan, Xavier McKinney, Darnay Holmes and free agent signee Adoree’ Jackson among others.
As for their front seven, the Giants retained quite possibly their best player in Leonard Williams, who logged 11.5 sacks last season, replaced defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson with Danny Shelton, have the emerging Dexter Lawrence and the middle-of-the-field commander that is linebacker Blake Martinez.
From a talent standpoint, the Giants have one of the elite offensive playmaking cores in the NFL with a quarterback that has flashed a dual-threat skill set and come through with clutch, late-game drives. Meanwhile, they get back one of the NFL’s best running backs in Barkley.
Is head coach Joe Judge’s team perfect? It is not, which is specifically due to Jones’ progression and them relying on a young offensive line that includes three players with just one year in the NFL under their belt (Andrew Thomas, Shane Lemieux and Matt Peart) taking the next step. Plus, Jones is coming off a shaky second season.
All the while, the NFC East projects to be tighter at the top with Washington and the Dallas Cowboys squarely in the mix with the Giants for the division crown.
Washington is coming off winning the division. They have a stout defensive line, a capable running game and added savvy wide receiver Curtis Samuel in free agency and UNC wide receiver Dyami Brown on night two of the draft. The Cowboys get back healthy versions of Dak Prescott, Tyron Smith and La’el Collins and drafted stud Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons with the 12th pick in the draft.
At the end of the day, while the aforementioned situations can’t be overlooked, they’re irrelevant when it comes to where expectations should be in the Giants’ building.
They have talent and in many cases top-tier talent across the board. The offense should be a well-oiled, smooth operation, and their defense should be an elite unit. This team is well-coached and well-equipped to do damage. It’s a matter of execution. That includes Jones lifting the play of others, the O-Line progressing and the defense building on an encouraging 2020 campaign.
Next January the Giants should be hosting a playoff game in North Jersey or at the very least be on the road for the Wild Card Round.
There are no more excuses: it’s time for Big Blue to compete for the NFC.