After finishing sixth in the NFL in total yardage last season, the Giants saw little reason to alter their base offensive weapons. However, they did address their ability to turn those yards into points with a couple of key signings.
From a fantasy standpoint, the signing of free agent running back Dorsey Levens is easily the biggest addition. Feature back Tiki Barber had more touches inside the 10-yard line than any other back in the NFL last season, but Levens has already been tabbed for short-yardage and goal-line duties. Head coach Jim Fassel’s use of the two backs will be an important fantasy situation to watch.
The Giants also cleared out their defunct kicking unit – bringing in Mike Hollis to compete with Matt Bryant, sending long-snapper Trey Junkin back to whatever retirement home they dug him out of, and replacing punter Matt Allen with Jeff Feagles. Fantasy owners relied on Hollis in Buffalo last season, and they should be able to do so again in New York.
New York also signed return specialist Brian Mitchell from the Eagles. Mitchell holds most of kick, punt, or combined return records that the NFL sees fit to track, and his addition should more often put the Giants in better position to score.
Although it only holds weight in the gossip column, tight end Jeremy Shockey made a notable move to introduce himself to Britney Spears during the offseason. Britney apparently was not as impressed with Shockey as he is with himself, and she blew him off. We knew that Jeremy had trouble scoring on the field in 2002, and it sounds like that trend also crept into his social life. However, Shockey may have shaken that tendency, as he was seen this summer cozying up to actress Tara Reid.
Position Battles: Simply by existing, running back Ron Dayne seems to create some question marks in the backfield. Despite Dayne’s past ineptitude, the Giants have always found some touches for their former first-round pick. As such, Dayne still offers a threat to Levens for the backup role to Barber and possibly for short-yardage touches.
Both Hollis and Bryant will enter camp with the Giants, but only Hollis will be with the team when they face the 49ers in week one. Technically the two will battle in training camp, but New York did not sign the consistent veteran to a five-year deal to have him lose out to Bryant.
Wide receivers Ron Dixon and Tim Carter will compete for the third spot on the depth chart. We like Carter for the job, but it may not matter much to fantasy owners. Barber, Amani Toomer, Ike Hilliard, and Jeremy Shockey command nearly all of Kerry Collins’ attention, and it would take an injury (or two) for Dixon or Carter to enter the fantasy landscape.
Keep an Eye On: We need to see Levens’ role in action before determining just how high (or low) his fantasy value should be in 2003. If Levens and Barber are used as, for instance, Michael Bennett and Moe Williams in Minnesota, fantasy owners need to be very aware of how their roles affect their league rankings. In such a scenario, Levens would be tagged as a viable touchdown-league back, while Barber would be very hard pressed to reach double-digit scores again.
The passing distribution will also be a main focus of the preseason. Shockey and Toomer posted huge reception numbers when the Giants lacked a viable second receiver over the second half of last season. Hilliard now returns after his season-ending shoulder/chest injury, and if healthy, Ike will command 50-60 catches. That total will subtract touches from Shockey, Toomer, and Barber, and fantasy owners will want to check out whom Collins is throwing it to in the preseason.
Speaking of Collins and his weapons, this looks like a passing game that could potentially eclipse the 4,000-yard mark for the second straight season. If Collins looks sharp in the preseason, yardage-based leagues should not look at 2002 as an aberration.
Finally, we’re hoping to see more balls thrown at Shockey in the end zone. His two touchdowns in 2002 left fantasy owners a little flat, and we expect much more this season. Or maybe we should say that we hope for more touchdowns – as every Shockey score potentially brings us a shot of Reid cheering. Hey, someone has to replace Angie Harmon in the stands, right?