How Giants' draft picks will upgrade their offense in 2016
Following the end of last season, the Giants had positions to address all over the roster. The team mainly focused on the defensive side of the ball during free agency by handing out big contracts to a few players, while the re-signing of tight end Larry Donnell and addition of running back Bobby Rainey were the only notable moves on the offensive side. Even though New York spent its first-round pick on a cornerback, Eli Apple out of Ohio State, it still came out of the draft with three offensive skill players who can help the team in the coming season.
Arguably the biggest need to address on offense was providing quarterback Eli Manning with more weapons in the passing game beyond Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham’s +22.3 receiving grade was the fifth-highest among wide receivers in the regular season, yet the Giants wide receiver corps as a whole had a slight negative grade due to the seven other receivers combining for a -23.1 receiving grade.
The Giants were lucky to select Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard in the second round, whom we ranked as the third-best receiver in the draft class and 18th overall on our Giants draft board. Shepard is a polished route-runner who excels in the slot. Former Pro Bowler Victor Cruz should be back this season, but at this point no one knows what to realistically expect from him. If Cruz is either still not healthy or just not the same caliber of player he used to be, then Shepard can fill in and thrive in the important slot role in Ben McAdoo’s offense.
If Cruz does make a solid comeback, Shepard exhibited downfield ball skills in college, showing he can work on the outside despite being a bit smaller in stature, even though it is not the ideal position for him (his deep-ball catch rate was 65 percent last season, the third-best rate in the class. Regardless, Shepard gives the offense a legitimate receiving threat for the long-term, and a replacement for Cruz in the slot if the Giants need to part ways anytime soon.
Among their other draft picks was former UCLA running back Paul Perkins, whose potential impact should not be overlooked just because of his fifth-round draft status. Perkins dropped on draft weekend largely due to the perceived value of the position in the current NFL. However, we believe Perkins to be an exceptional runner who was among the top-three running backs in the draft, and had valued him as a potential second-round pick. His +29.0 rush grade and 114.7 elusive rating were the best in the draft class, and his 73 missed tackles forced ranked second to only Derrick Henry’s 76 — which required 160 more carries to reach. Because Perkins excels so well in small spaces and with change of direction, he was able to be highly productive behind an offensive line that struggled throughout the year and that allowed Perkins to get hit behind the line of scrimmage on more than one-quarter of his carries.
Perkins shouldn’t have any trouble surpassing Rainey or Andre Williams on the depth chart, both of whom have graded negatively each of the past two years. Last year’s free-agent addition Shane Vereen continues to be an asset in the passing game and should still be utilized primarily in that role, which complements Perkins’ skill set. Rashad Jennings is coming off his best year as a pro and has been an effective runner when healthy and given the opportunity. However, he has missed time and been less effective due to injuries multiple times in the past, and just turned age 31 last month.
Perkins will certainly see the field initially, even if only as a change-of-pace back. But he does have a legitimate shot to push Jennings as the team’s primary ball-carrier sooner rather than later.
New York’s sixth-round selection Jerell Adams should fit well into the offense, even if he might not be a No. 1-caliber tight end. He was utilized mainly as an in-line tight end in college and was the top run-blocker among tight ends in the Power-5 conferences. Adams has room to improve as a receiver, but he has good athleticism and will add depth to a tight end group that lacks a solid blocker and has its best receiver in Donnell returning from a neck injury.
In all, the Giants found a couple of players this offseason that could be immediate assets in 2016. There are still areas that could use upgrading, particularly along the offensive line which mostly went unaddressed, but the team has taken a small step forward in terms of offensive personnel and should expect to see improvement in 2016.