The New York Giants are looking to build on a successful 2016 season in which they made the playoffs for the first time since 2011. The Giants won 11 games, finished second in the NFC East and beat the Dallas Cowboys twice.
To take that next step, the Giants will need some players to step up. Here are three Giants primed for a breakout season in 2017.
Darian Thompson, S
Darian Thompson came into Giants camp as a rookie last year and earned a starting job at free safety. But Thompson’s season came apart because of injuries. First, there was the shoulder injury that kept him out of the final two preseason games, though he likely would have sat one out anyway with the other starters. Then in Week 2 of the regular season, the third-round draft choice suffered a foot injury the Giants initially thought was just a sprain. After he missed six weeks, he suffered a setback in practice where it was discovered he had a Lisfranc injury and would need season-ending surgery.
While he hasn’t been cleared for full activities, Thompson is getting close. When he does return, he would have to unseat Andrew Adams, who started 13 games last year as an undrafted rookie. But Thompson is more talented, smart and was able to pick up the defense fairly well last year. With a year of mental reps, Thompson could use his rookie year as a red shirt year and come out ready to perform in 2017.
Paul Perkins, RB
Running back Paul Perkins must be smiling. There were a lot of good backs available in free agency and the Giants passed on them. There were a few strong backs available in the NFL Draft but the Giants passed on them early, only taking Wayne Gallman out of Clemson on the third day in the fourth round. This means the Giants are all in on Perkins being their main back.
The Giants were also 29th in rushing yards per game (88.2) and were last in rushing touchdowns (six). Perkins will have a chance to change that this season. His lone 100-yard gain in his only start (Week 17 against the Washington Redskins) shows that he has the talent.
Perkins shared the duties last year with Rashad Jennings and was second on the team in carries (112) and rushing yards (456). He didn’t score any touchdowns in his rookie season, however, and his longest carry of the season went for 22 yards.
But the Giants like Perkins, or are at least happy to continue going with their running back by committee. For now, the job is Perkins’ to lose. He averaged 4.1 yards per carry as the team averaged just 3.5 in 2016, which was 29th in the NFL.
Ereck Flowers, LT
When the New York Giants used the ninth overall pick to select Ereck Flowers, the franchise thought it had its left tackle for the foreseeable future. But after two years of adequate at best play, the jury is still out on Flowers.
Though the team brought in D.J. Fluker via free agency, and drafted Adam Bisnowaty, they are not in direct competition for Flowers’ job. Plus, the Giants are cognizant that the tackle is just 23 and still has time to grow into the player they imagined when he was drafted.
Yet, if Flowers doesn’t step up early, the club could do some shuffling on the line because of the depth it has acquired.
Flowers has done his part, coming to off season workouts leaner than in the past and quicker, according to offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. Still, time is running out on Flowers with the Giants. This is a make-or-break year for him.
New York Giants Players Who Could Be On The Decline
Sterling Shepard, WR
Sterling Shepard broke on the scene as a rookie last season with the Giants and quickly became the team’s No. 2 receiver. He finished the year with 65 catches for 683 yards and eight touchdowns. While he was plagued by the occasional drop, Shepard gave the team some speed. Now, with Marshall and Engram, it is likely Shepard’s numbers will drop.
The Giants wanted more options on offense and now can go with a four-wide set, and all four would be a viable option. The good thing for the Giants is that Shepard is returning to a position he is familiar with – slot. While at Oklahoma, Shepard played mainly slot. Also, with him being in his second year, Shepard will be more comfortable with everything, including how defenses are trying to play him.
Will Tye, TE
Will Tye led all Giants tight ends (and was third on the team) with 48 catches to go with his 395 yards receiving and one touchdown last year. He was a pleasant story having started 17 games in the last two seasons after being signed to the practice squad in 2015 coming out of Stony Brook. Still, with the selection of Engram, Tye will have to improve his blocking or have a tough time making the squad.
While Tye has shown the ability to catch the ball, Engram is a faster and more versatile tight end. The Giants also signed free agent Rhett Ellison in the offseason, and still have 2016 draft pick Jerrell Adams who they are invested in and a guy they’ve waited two years to get healthy in Matt LaCosse.
Tye’s days as a starting tight end are surely over with the squad at least for the time being. Will he be able to adapt his game and become productive in other ways? That is a question that only time will tell. He’s going to have to, however, or be prepared to find another place to play.
Bobby Hart, G
Bobby Hart started last season at right tackle and started 13 games. But the one position that the Giants wanted to upgrade was the tackle position. The club signed D.J. Flunker in the offseason and drafted Adam Bisnowaty in the sixth round.
The Giants have already listed Hart as a guard on their roster this season, and while every club loves versatile linemen, the switch likely means the best Hart will be able to do barring injury is be a backup. The site said Hart allowed 46 quarterback pressures last season. The good thing is Hart is still young. He will be entering his third season and came out of a good program at Florida State.