This article is part of our Team Previews series.
The Giants are sticking with the 37-year-old Eli Manning despite five straight subpar seasons. Maybe new coach Pat Shurmur's system, a revamped offensive line and No. 2 pick Saquon Barkley can rejuvenate Manning, but a tough schedule and defense that lost key players make playoff contention a long shot.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
NEW MANAGEMENT IN THE BIG APPLE
The Giants cleaned house after last year's debacle, replacing coach Ben McAdoo and GM Jerry Reese with Pat Shurmur and Dave Gettleman, respectively. The duo responded by committing to quarterback Eli Manning for 2018, retooling the entire offensive line and drafting mega running back prospect Saquon Barkley over three eventual top-10 signal-callers. It's clear the Giants are not treating this as a rebuild, and Barkley figures to be the centerpiece of the offense even with high-end playmakers like Odell Beckham and Evan Engram in the fold. In fact, Shurmur ran the fifth run-heaviest offense in the NFL in 2017 in Minnesota despite losing Dalvin Cook in Week 4, and the Giants followed the Barkley pick with run-blocking guard Will Hernandez. This is in stark contrast to McAdoo's West-Coast-style scheme that threw at the fourth-highest rate in the league. If the Giants can sustain drives, their defense, which fell apart last fall, should be better rested. Speaking of which, Gettleman also dealt Jason Pierre-Paul, let Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie walk and signed inside linebacker Alec Ogletree, changing the base defense to a 3-4 alignment in the process. For better or worse – and it could hardly be worse – the team will be significantly modified on both sides of the ball, even with Manning's familiar face under center.
IS MANNING DONE?
Despite playing with one of the best young wideouts in NFL history, Eli Manning has cracked 7.0 yards per attempt only twice in five seasons, bottoming out at 6.1 in 2017 (24th among the 25 400-attempt quarterbacks). He also has routinely been among the league leaders in interceptions throughout his career. In his defense, both Brandon Marshall and Odell Beckham missed most of last year, Sterling Shepard had five DNPs, the offensive line play was poor, and Manning was in a shoddy system under Ben McAdoo as head coach or coordinator for four campaigns. The landscape has improved quite a bit this offseason. Simply getting Beckham back is huge, but with a healthy Shepard, second-year tight end Evan Engram and presumably an elite receiving back in Saquon Barkley, Manning may have the best weapons in the game. Equally important is Pat Shurmur's scheme that salvaged Case Keenum's career and developed Adam Thielen into a borderline star, while leaving room for Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph to be productive. It's possible Manning is so far gone he'll fail regardless, which could spur the Giants to turn to second-year signal-caller Davis Webb or 2018 fourth-rounder Kyle Lauletta at some point. However, there's no issue with Manning's health or arm strength, and under these circumstances, we'd bet on a bounce back.
IS BARKLEY A TOP-FIVE BACK?
The Giants obviously think so as they took him No. 2 overall in April with three quarterbacks still on the board who were drafted in the top 10 and a 37-year-old starter that hasn't been good since 2011. Probably the biggest running back prospect since Adrian Peterson, Saquon Barkley is a much better pass catcher and reportedly a competent pass blocker, a rarity for a runner coming out of college. In a post-draft press conference, coach Pat Shurmur repeatedly referred to Barkley as a "three-down back" and praised his blocking, so there should be no concern about workload even with the curious Jonathan Stewart signing. The team also invested heavily in its offensive line, signing Nate Solder and Patrick Omameh and drafting Will Hernandez with the 34th overall pick. All told, we'd expect a top-five workload – roughly 250 carries and 60-plus catches – and there's no reason to doubt the talent. (In case you've been living under a rock, Barkley is 5-11, 233 pounds and ran a 4.41 40 at the combine. He also had 21 touchdowns and 54 catches in 13 games last year.) If Eli Manning were to prove washed-up despite the upgrades, perhaps it could cost Barkley some red-zone trips, but in that case he likely would be an even larger focal point for the offense. The healthy floor is high, and the sky's the ceiling. So, the short answer is yes.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Odell Beckham
A left ankle sprain delayed the start to Beckham's season, and he suited up only four times before breaking that ankle Week 5. He was on his usual 100-catch, 12-TD pace when it happened, and at 25 he's still in his prime. Trade rumors surfaced in April, but at press time he's still the Giants' top dog, albeit one looking for a new contract.
RISING: Odell Beckham
While Saquon Barkley will power the offense, Beckham should roam free following his recovery from a fractured left ankle. Remember, Vikings wideout Adam Thielen had 1,276 yards under Pat Shurmur in 2017.
FALLING: Giants Defense
The new scheme might be effective under defensive coordinator James Bettcher, but losing Jason Pierre-Paul is a big blow to the pass rush, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was their best cornerback last season.
SLEEPER: Eli Manning
Manning has been bad, but physically he's more or less the same guy he was five years ago, and he's in a good system with absurd talent around him. He could sleepwalk his way into 25 TDs, with upside beyond that.
KEY JOB BATTLE – BACKUP RUNNING BACK
The backup running back position is up for grabs as second-year man Wayne Gallman was more than passable as a rookie, but former Carolina GM Dave Gettleman, who took over the Giants this winter, brought in ex-Panther Jonathan Stewart via free agency. Stewart could push Gallman for the No. 2 job and even cut in front of 2018 second overall pick Saquon Barkley for goal-line looks. Nevertheless, neither Gallman or Stewart will be relevant so long as Barkley stays healthy.
Saquon Barkley – RB (Rd. 1, No. 2 – Penn State)
Generational running back prospect will handle three-down role.
Jonathan Stewart – RB (from Panthers)
Serves as veteran backfield influence.
Will Hernandez – G (Rd. 2, No. 34 – UTEP)
Will be a bulldozing blocker for Barkley.
Alec Ogletree – LB (from Rams)
Great candidate to lead team in tackles.
Brandon Marshall – WR (to Seahawks)
Cut loose after one injury-plagued and ineffective season.
Jason Pierre-Paul – DE (to Buccaneers)
Pass rusher and run stopper supreme.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – CB (FA)
Quality cover corner but looking for work as 32-year-old.
THE INJURY FRONT
Odell Beckham, WR – Beckham is rehabbing from a broken ankle suffered last September. During mandatory minicamp in particular, he was mostly confined to individual drills, but he's looked good running and cutting and is expected to be ready for training camp. Still, coach Pat Shurmur may introduce safeguards to ensure Beckham reaches the regular season in tip-top shape.
Landon Collins, S – Collins had surgery to repair a broken forearm in December, but it wasn't healing well and required a second operation in April. He was limited to individual drills during the offseason program, but is expected to be 100 percent for the start of training camp. Collins projects as one of the team's leading tacklers and NFL's best IDPs.
B.J. Goodson, LB – Opening the regular season with a whopping 18 tackles Week 1, Goodson proceeded to suffer through ankle trouble and make just six more appearances the rest of the way. Despite the limitations, he accrued 53 tackles (37 solo) on 33.8 percent of the defensive snaps, which equates to nearly 157 stops over the course of a full campaign. While there may be fewer opportunities as the Giants switch to a 3-4 formation, Goodson is seemingly a lock for triple-digit tackles, assuming he avoids the injury bug.