StrategyAugust 6, 2009

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Daily Preview: New York Giants

By Jake Sheets

In 2008, the New York Giants were once again a force to be reckoned with. They finished the regular season with a record of 12-4, making the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year. In fact, during that four-year span the Giants have compiled an impressive record of 41-23 (.640), which ties them with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the fourth-best record in the NFL over that time-frame (behind the Colts, Patriots, and Chargers respectively). The 2007 season was without question the defining moment for this group. In Super Bowl XLII, the Giants defeated the heavily-favored (and unbeaten) New England Patriots in one of the most memorable Super Bowl victories in the history of the game. This was their first Super Bowl victory since 1990, which occurred at the tail-end of the Bill Parcels era.

Nevertheless, despite their recent success, the Giants are far from a sure thing to finish the 2009 season among the NFL’s elite once again. Notable 2009 off-season losses include Plaxico Burress (facing jail time for felony gun possession charges), third-down RB Derrick Ward (now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), WR Amani Toomer (with Kansas City), and CB Sam Madison.

How Eli reacts to a heavy turnover at the offensive skill positions, particularly wide receiver, remains to be seen.

QB: Eli Manning, David Carr, Andre Woodson
RB: Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw (third down), Andre Brown, Danny Ware
WR: Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon, Hakeem Hicks, Sinorice Moss, Ramses Barden
TE: Kevin Boss, Travis Beckum (third down)
PK: Lawrence Tynes

Quarterback: As a rookie in 2004, Eli Manning started seven games and won only one of them (a throwaway game in week 17 against the Cowboys). Since then however, the younger Manning has never had a losing season. From a statistical perspective, the 2008 season was clearly his best yet. He finished the season with a career high in completion percent (60.3%), and compiled an impressive 21:10 TD/INT ratio (by far his best yet). Eli has stepped beyond his big brother’s (and father’s) massive shadow and has established himself as a top NFL quarterback with a death grip on the starting gig.

Yet Manning still carries his fair share of question marks. As previously mentioned, the Giants offense will be without several long time players. The loss of Plaxico Burress in particular leaves Manning without an elite option at WR. Also against his favor is the loss of excellent third-down back Derrick Ward. Consequently, these transitions markedly decrease Eli’s fantasy value. He finds himself firmly outside the top 10 fantasy QBs and should essentially only be trusted as a solid backup option this season.

Running Back: Brandon “The Beast” Jacobs sits firmly atop the depth chart at the RB position. Jacobs has put to rest questions regarding his ability to effectively occupy a starting RB position. Few believed he was the answer following the departure of the talented Tiki Barber to early retirement in 2006. We can now be sure that he is more than capable of handling it. He’ll enter the 2009 season building off two straight 1,000-yard seasons and an impressive 15 rushing TDs during the 2008 season. He should be marked down in PPR leagues (he is virtually non-existent in the passing game) and due to injury concerns brought on by his bulldozing, upright running style.

In the face of Jacobs’ lock on the starting role, his lack of receiving skills leaves the third down role up for grabs. The aforementioned Ward’s departure leaves the job open for takeover. The current favorite is 23-year-old Ahmad Bradshaw. At the moment, Bradshaw is the clear backup to Jacobs — “If Jacobs goes down, Bradshaw has to step in,” Giants GM Jerry Reese said — and serves as a necessary handcuff for Jacobs owners. Bradshaw is an excellent mid-round pick in fantasy drafts, as he is only a seemingly likely Jacobs’ injury away from the starting position.

Additionally, fourth-round draft pick Andre Brown is a talented all-around back that the Giants like. He has the ability to cut into Bradshaw’s third down duties and his grasp on the backup position. Yet, it is Bradshaw’s job to lose at this point. Brown has much to prove before he can surpass Bradshaw — though the certainly has the ability to do it. In short, do not forget about Brown in dynasty leagues, as his long-term value is still excellent, but temper your expectations for this year.

Wide Receiver: Oddly enough, the Giants WR with the greatest grip on playing time is going unnoticed by fantasy players. Third-year player Steve Smith, who pulled in 57 catches for 574 yards and one TD, will begin the year occupying the role of possession WR once held by Amani Toomer. Smith doesn’t have the size to haul in many TDs (evident by his one TD last year), but he has the skill-set to build on his receptions from last year. He offers the most value in PPR leagues as a WR3 or WR4 fantasy option.

6′2″ wideout Domenik Hixon is likely to take control of the opposite side of the field. He’s a popular breakout pick among the media and fellow Giants players. When DE Mathias Kiwanuka was asked in an interview about his favorite breakout player among his fellow teammates, he responed, “You want an under-the-radar guy? Is Hixon still under the radar? (Yes.) I’ll go with him because he’s one of the fastest guys you’ll see with the ball in his hands. He can move. You see him when he returns kicks. And his focus this off-season has been greater. You can see he’s understanding things a lot more. He’s ready to go.” Essentially, Hixon will be the deep threat as Smith sees the majority of the short balls.

Beyond these two, Sinorice Moss, Mario Manningham, and rookies Hakeem Nicks (1st round) and Ramses Barden (3rd round) will all do battle for playing time (with Moss as the current favorite). Along with Hixon, Nicks is another player you’ll commonly see on breakout lists. However, WR remains one of the tougher positions for rookies to adjust to. Nicks has the talent to be a long-term asset for the Giants, but is unlikely to see enough playing time to garner a prominent fantasy role. The majority of his value lies in dynasty leagues.

Tight End: Starter Kevin Boss is currently being drafted as a starting TE in rounds 12-14 of fantasy drafts. He filled the void left by Shockey in 2008 with a stellar 33 receptions, 387 yards, and 6 TDs. Unfortunately for fantasy players, those numbers aren’t far from his ceiling. In reality, while Boss is a great red zone threat, he’s a much better blocker than he is a receiving TE. Rookie Travis Beckum figures to steal a fair amount of Boss’s time on receiving downs if he has a strong preseason.

The presence of Beckum limits Boss’s upside. Although Boss is still a good bet to put up good overall numbers due to his TD potential, he’s bound to be inconsistent. There are better options out there for your TE1.

Team Defense/IDP: Bill Sheridan fills the vacancy at defensive coordinator left after Steve Spagnuolo took the head coaching position with the St. Louis Rams. Spagnuolo spent eight years in Philadelphia learning under one of the greatest (and recently deceased, RIP) defensive minds in the history of the game in Jim Johnson. Spagnuolo’s loss is a big one and should not be ignored.

Yet, the Giants still boast one of the most talented defenses in the league. They showcase a surplus of options at defensive end in particular. They welcome back Osi Umenyiora (fully recovered from off-season knee surgery), who figures to start along with Justin Tuck. As such, both Tuck and Umenyiora are borderline top 5 DE options for IDP players. Meanwhile, Mathias Kiwanuka figures to spell time for Umenyiora as the Giants attempt to keep him fresh.

The Giants are considerably weaker at linebacker than on the defensive line. Aging Antonio Pierce has seen his best days come and go, while Michael Boley struggled in 2008. Second year player Clint Sintim, is the favorite at strong side linebacker. None of these players warrant serious attention.

As a unit, the Giants have a very strong defensive backfield, but no one who stands out for fantasy purposes.

To sum up, the Giants are lacking at WR, which will severely limit Eli Manning’s potential. Their strengths are in the trenches, as both their offensive and defensive lines figure to be among the best in the league. Running backs Jacobs and Bradshaw figure to benefit the most from their offensive line, with rookie Andre Brown waiting in the wings.

The offense is wide open for youngsters to establish themselves at the skill positions.

Jake Sheets is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Jake in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of jake_twothousandfive.
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