The NFL Draft is just over a month away. The predictions, prognostications and smokescreens are in full effect. While many of the usual suspects like the Browns and Jets are near the top of the draft board, a few teams are in an unfamiliar spot picking so early. This group includes the New York Giants.
With Eli Manning now 37 years old, New York is looking at quarterbacks with the second overall pick, and rightfully so. UCLA’s Josh Rosen is the signal caller who has been most linked to the Giants.
However, assuming Cleveland takes a quarterback with the first pick, there will be a player available to the Giants that they almost have to take. That player is Penn State running back Saquon Barkley.
The Giants were awful last year, not Eli
Last year, the Giants lost their two biggest pass catching threats for the bulk of the season due to injury. Also, second-year head coach Ben McAdoo was clearly in way over his head. Once the losses started piling up, he was literally at a loss for words during postgame press conferences and was fired before the season ended. Throw in cornerback Eli Apple being suspended for conduct detrimental to the team and the league’s 26th ranked rushing offense, and you get a 3-13 record.
Eli Manning was also bizarrely benched for a game, marking the first time he did not start a game for the Giants since 2004. With all of this going on, you would think Manning had a dreadful year. That is not true. All things considered, 19 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions is pretty impressive. Manning may not have much of his playing career left, but he can still play well.
Everything is slowly coming together
Every quarterback has two best friends: a good offensive line and a solid running game.
One of these things helps create the other. The Giants offensive line was not terrible in terms of pass blocking last year. They ranked 12th in sacks allowed. However, getting the running game going has been a long-standing issue for the Giants.
The Giants have not finished above 18th in the league in rushing since 2012. Now, guys like Paul Perkins, Rashad Jennings and Orleans Darkwa are not exactly future Hall of Famers, but the offensive line is not blameless either.
Thus, New York wisely went out and spent big money on former Patriots left tackle Nate Solder in free agency. Solder has been protecting Tom Brady since 2011. The fact that he was given that responsibility that long tells you a lot. He immediately brings consistency to a unit that has been hit or miss in recent years. He should help a great deal in both the running and passing games.
This is where Barkley comes in. As noted above, the running back talent for the Giants has not been great as of late. There is no such thing as a can’t miss prospect in the NFL, but Barkley is without question a great talent. The Big Ten is one of the strongest defensive conferences in college football. Yet, Barkley never rushed for less than 1,076 yards in a season at Penn State. The two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year has also proven to be a decent receiver out of the backfield. He could be the star running back that the Giants have not had in a very long time.
Then, there is new head coach, Pat Shurmur. He failed as a head coach in Cleveland a few years back, but that should no longer be held against anyone. Shurmur was the offensive coordinator in Minnesota last year. His scheme helped the team reach the NFC Championship and turned Case Keenum into a hot free-agent commodity. After what he was able to do with Keenum, think of what Shurmur could do to revitalize the career of a borderline Hall of Famer like Manning.
Even without a new face in the offensive backfield, the supporting cast around Manning and whoever may wind up succeeding him in New York has gotten much better this offseason. Manning is certainly better qualified than Rosen or any other incoming rookie to take advantage of these improvements.
The New York factor
It may be overblown at times, but the New York media is different than most other places. The media firestorm around last year’s dumpster fire of a team was insane. The Giants cannot afford another three-win campaign. Drafting a rookie quarterback in the first round could be disastrous.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume the Giants draft Rosen. The second Manning has a bad game, fans and media calling for Rosen to step in would be all anyone talked about. That is damaging to any football team.
Manning is not getting any younger. Thus, the wise thing for the Giants would be to draft and develop a quarterback in the middle rounds without much fanfare and see if he can replace Manning in a couple years. They already have a decent defense. Put Barkley in the backfield behind a revamped offensive line, have Manning throwing to Evan Engram and a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. and you are suddenly looking at a team that could compete in 2018. That is exactly what the Giants have to do.
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