Daniel Jones, And Who Else?
A Breakdown Of Relevant Skill Players On The Giants’ Offense This Year And What We Can Expect Of Them
Well, well. We’ve reached that awkward stage of the NFL offseason where there really isn’t anything to talk about besides rankings and training camp tidbits. Rather than indulge myself even more in the former, I decided to take the time to write this piece, examining the different pieces of the puzzle that is the Giants’ offense in 2021. In all honesty, 2020 was not pretty for the offense: the Giants only averaged 5.0 yards per play, finished 31st in the league in total yardage, and mightily struggled in the passing game (Pro Football Reference). Obviously, a lot of parts play into one’s offense including receivers, offensive line, and play-calling, none of which the Giants excelled at last year, but at the end of the day, a large part of that responsibility falls on the quarterback. At a quick glance, Daniel Jones really struggled last year. He averaged a mere 6.6 yards per attempt, only threw 12 touchdowns, and could not escape his turnover issues, compiling 10 interceptions and 11 total fumbles (Pro Football Reference). Let’s take a deeper look at the always-important quarterback position for the Giants here.
Daniel Jones is a really weird evaluation for a platitude of reasons. On one side, he’s had constant turnover issues, hasn’t really put up any amazing stats in terms of yards and touchdowns, and still seems to be plagued by processing issues. On the other hand, he’s shown notable signs of improvement in his short career so far. His PFF passing grade jumped from 65.6 his rookie year to 74.4 last year, as did his overall grade, rising from 65.9 to 78.4. Furthermore, his Big Time Throw% (PFF stat measuring “excellent passes”) increased, his Turnover Worthy Play% dropped, and his adjusted completion% increased as well. A large part of these notable changes was his improved deep ball.
Last year, Jones ranked third in the league in PFF passing grade on deep throws (20 yards or more) at 95.6. Some names near him? Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, you know, just some guys. Throws like the following show a clear upside that Jones has, now it’s just a matter of repeating it.
As fun as it would be to become insanely excited about the deep ball, it’s worth noting he only threw deep 43 times last year, a very small sample. Another part of Jones’ game that’s key to note is his need to get the ball out quickly. He experiences much, much more success when he’s throwing the ball sooner rather than later, seen in the tweet below.
Finding a way to get the ball out quick has to be one of the Giants’ goals this year for Jones, especially under a revamped offense with better-skill players than last year. With a poor offensive line at best, the Giants will not be able to find a ton of success on play calls requiring time to develop. Utilizing Jones’ strength should be something we all look for from Jason Garrett and company. Another unexpected strength of his, his running ability, should be implemented a lot more this year.
Jones has an uncanny skill for running hard and fast in a very straight line, very niche but it is what it is. Almost everyone is familiar with the prime example of this when he notably tripped over himself against Philadelphia after breaking away for what looked to be a touchdown. Yet, the eye test tracks here, as his PFF rushing grade increased from 59.0 to 78.8 last year, accumulating 249 yards on designed rushes alone last year, adding another 174 on scrambles. Given more touches in the rushing game, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jones eclipse the 500-yard mark. Expect to see more zone reads and designed carries with Saquon Barkley healthy again, which in theory should create opportunities for Jones to thrive.
A lot of Jones’ success will depend on the play of his offensive line. Last year, 86.5% of total pressures were his line’s fault, which was the 8th worst in the league. His natural tendency to hold onto the ball does not help, however. A model developed by my good friend Tej Seth (@mfbanalytics) showed Jones to be the second-worst quarterback last year in total sacks over expected. Not great, man. Anyways, it’s his make-or-break year, time to find out if he’s the future of the franchise or not. Courtesy of a model developed by me and Justin Dunbar (@talkmvp), here are our projections for his key stats this year.
Daniel Jones: 3,769.4 total passing yards, 26 passing touchdowns, average depth of target of 8.20, 12.6 interceptions, 423.5 rushing yards, and 3 rushing touchdowns.
And if you do care about fantasy, he’s projected for 17.13 ppg, good for QB20 overall, sliding him in as a good back-up quarterback to roster with a very cheap price. Nothing too crazy, but definitely some improvement in store for Jones with a revamped skill group. Surely, his level of success is going to affect the next group, our running backs.
Saquon Barkley. Devontae Booker. Done. Next. (Kidding, Kidding.)
Before I even get into what we have this year, it’s time for some Wayne Gallman appreciation, who I think was the best pure rusher the Giants have had in a while. He did a great job filling in last year, facing 8+ men in the box at an absurd rate and still maintaining positive rushing yards over expected (Next Gen Stats).
Now, let’s take a look at the famed running back we’re getting back from injury, hopefully at full health. No one doubts Saquon’s explosive play ability, as we’ve seen numerous breakaway runs from him over and over. He also has decent ball security, having only fumbled once while running the ball over 2018 and 2019. He’s averaged over 3.2 yards after contact those two years as well, giving evidence to his ability to break free from tackles to gain an extra yard or two. He’s a great receiving back when healthy, having posted an 86.3 PFF receiving grade in 2018 along with 720+ receiving yards. The raw talent, freak athleticism, and receiving upside make him a top-tier running back when healthy.
But that’s just the problem, he’s struggled to stay healthy. And even when he is, he has his weaknesses. He often has struggled in pass protection, having never posted a pass block grade over 63 in his career. His go-big or go-home running style often fails, leading to poor rushing showings, such as his 13 carries for -1 yards against the Jets. This is where I prefer someone like Wayne Gallman as a rusher, someone who will take their 4 yards and move on. The data backs it up too! By rushing yards over expected, another model developed by Tej, Gallman has been better since 2019.
As fun as this is, this doesn’t make Gallman a better running back than Barkley. He truly is one of the best backs in the NFL, not everyone can put up 2,000+ scrimmage yards their rookie year. He’ll get to play with a better run-blocking line than he has in the past as well, which should help his case. Hopefully, Garrett does not over-utilize him, as another injury really is the last thing we need. The addition of Devontae Booker should help here, a running back signed at the onset of free agency by Gettleman.
Booker’s served primarily in a rotational role in his past with Denver and Las Vegas, and more of the same should happen with the Giants. Where he’ll help the most is in pass-blocking, where he’s posted above a 70 PFF pass-blocking grade in three out of five seasons, albeit on minimal snaps. Expect to see him come in on third downs and obvious passing situations, and on occasion, just to give Saquon a breather. Simply said, this is Saquon’s backfield. Here’s what our projections have in store for Barkley and Booker this year.
Barkley: 254.6 carries, 1101.6 rushing yards, 8.2 rushing touchdowns, 3.25 yards after contact per attempt, 56 catches, 696.7 receiving yards, 6 receiving touchdowns.
Booker: 38 carries, 148 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown, 2.63 yards after contact per attempt, 15 catches, 187 receiving yards, 0.7 receiving touchdowns.
Translating this into fantasy projections, Barkley comes in at our RB4 at 18.52 points per game and Booker as RB68 at 2.94 points per game. Barkley is obviously the only back worth rostering here, and if he stays healthy, he’ll be well worth his mid-first-round ADP (average draft position) in most drafts.
Thankfully, the Giants upgraded their wide receiver group this off-season in numerous ways. It starts with the signing of Kenny Golladay, who inked a 4 year, 72 million dollar contract. A quick look at Golladay’s numbers shows a star receiver, having had two seasons over 1,000 yards (2018 and 2019), along with 79+ PFF receiving grades since 2018. When with Detroit, Golladay was known as a deep threat, someone who will win contested opportunities. Data backs this up, as his average depth of target has been over 14.5 yards three out of his four years in the league, and he’s caught 60.2% of contested targets in his career.
He provides a contrast from the type of receivers we’ve become accustomed to, someone physical who strictly plays on the outside. He isn’t a guy who will garner large amounts of yards after the catch, or separation for that matter, but he fits the mold of a wide receiver one in an offense that desperately needs it. This looks even better when realizing that Jones’ best strength last year, the deep ball, is what Golladay excels at. We’ve seen what adding a star receiver can do to young quarterbacks, Stefon Diggs and Josh Allen for example, and hopefully, the former’s connection will be able to replicate some of that success. Golladay’s weakest receiving area, short passes (0–9 yards), is what Jones actually targeted the most last year, but it’s likely that as a result of the personnel. I would definitely expect to see an increase in Jones’ aggressiveness, attacking down the field more often than last year.
The next key addition the Giants made here was the selection of Kadarius Toney with their first-round pick in the draft. I’ve already done an in-depth breakdown on Toney, attached below, but I’ll sum it up as well.
He’s going to make a lot of guys miss in the open field, known for his elusiveness and yards after catch ability. It’s worth noting his skillset largely differs from Golladay’s, something that bodes well for the Giants as they look to play off of each other. He spent most of college in the slot, playing 500+ snaps there last year compared to just around 80 out wide. Many evaluators, such as Matt Harmon and his route running model, have pointed out that Toney isn’t really refined in his route running and has a ways to go there. Expect to see him in a gadget role early on, as he finds his groove with our offense.
The additions of Toney and Golladay make life much, much easier for Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton. Both were thrust into large roles last year, playing as the wide receiver one and two, when in reality they are better suited for lesser roles. Shepard’s known for being more of a possession receiver, seen in his fantastic PFF drop grade of 86.8 last year, and a consistent yards/rec right around 11.3 for his career. He does not offer much in terms of stretching the field and contested catches, seen in his low average depth of target of 9.7 for his career along with a 51.3% conversion of contested opportunities into catches. Also, he’s shifted more towards playing outside as opposed to in the slot over his career, starting off as solely a slot guy his rookie year but playing double the amount of snaps out wide compared to in the slot last year. Whether this was because we did not have anyone else to play outside, or the Giants thought he was better suited for it is up to question. However, especially now that we have Toney, his ability to play out wide will be useful, and he’ll be a consistent second or third option.
Darius Slayton has already outperformed his career expectations as a fifth-round draft pick, having gone over 700 receiving yards in both seasons he’s played. That being said, he regressed last year, struggling with drops (51.4 PFF drop grade) and an overall decrease in efficiency, as his yards per route run fell to 1.37 from 1.57 his rookie year. Part of this can be explained by his contested catch opportunities, as he only won 31.8% compared to 48.0% in his first season.
EPA per catch provides another way of analyzing how efficient a receiver is, and the graph above shows Slayton to be above league average there in both of his years. However, it also shows that he isn’t a heavy producer in terms of yards after the catch. It’s kind of suitable to think of him as a much lesser Golladay, especially if he bounces back and starts winning contested throws again.
The four receivers mentioned should see the majority of snaps for the Giants, and with Slayton and Shepard getting to face second-best and third-best corners instead of elite ones with the addition of Golladay, expect some improvement from them both. Having covered all the receivers, let’s look at their projections for next year.
Golladay: 67 catches, 1,200 receiving yards, 7.8 touchdowns, 2.10 yards per route run, and a PFF grade of 80.3.
Toney: 38 catches, 539 receiving yards, 4 touchdowns, 2.65 yards per route run, and a PFF grade of 71.
Shepard: 76.3 catches, 698.4 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns, 1.63 yards per route run, and a PFF grade of 76.6.
Slayton: 39 catches, 648 receiving yards, 4.4 touchdowns, 1.46 yards per route run, and a PFF grade of 69.
There was one more addition made to the group, John Ross, who signed a cheap, one-year flier deal. Ross hasn’t really been good so far in his career to put it simply, as he’s never posted a PFF grade above 65 in his career and only has 733 total yards so far. But, he’s speedy, known for his astonishing 40-yard dash time of 4.22 seconds. He gives Jones another option to stretch the field, as he owns an average depth of target of 15.2 yards in his career. He won’t be on the field all the time, but he will mix in and should garner some targets.
Fantasy-wise, the earlier projections translate to the following finishes: Golladay at WR23 with 13.79 ppg, Shepard at WR51 with 10.68 ppg, Slayton at WR81 with 7.69 ppg, and Toney at WR89 with 6.77 ppg. Unless you’re in deep leagues, Golladay should be the only guy being drafted, somewhere around the fifth to the sixth round. I’d avoid Toney in redraft, simply due to lack of experience and refinement, and likely the same with Slayton due to minimal targets. Now, let’s dive into the last relevant group, our tight ends.
Evan Engram won’t be alone this year. The Giants added Kyle Rudolph on a two-year deal, who should see a prominent role in the red zone and as a blocker. I’ll be the first to admit Engram was really bad last year, as he seemingly forgot how to catch a football with 8 drops. He was fed targets though, with 102 total, but he was treated like a possession receiver by Jason Garrett, seen in his measly average depth of target of 7.4 yards. Engram’s known for his athleticism, but it hasn’t shown in the NFL on a consistent basis yet. He’ll make plays like this though that keep bringing you back:
I think a lot of Giants fans have given up on Engram, and I understand why. However, I do believe there’s a reason for hope. First, drops aren’t stable year to year, meaning he should experience positive drop regression. Secondly, he won’t get 100+ targets again with the new additions to the offense. His best year by yards per route run (1.83) came in 2018 where he only got 63 targets. All I ask is to give him a year in which Jason Garrett doesn’t treat him like a younger Jason Witten and works to scheme him up in space, especially with defensive attention shifting to Golladay and company now.
On the other hand, we have Kyle Rudolph, who seems to be the exact opposite of Engram as a tight end. He has quite sticky hands, as he hasn’t dropped a ball since 2018 and has a career 4.1 drop percentage. He’s good to move the chains now and then, but don’t expect too much of him as a receiving threat. His role with the Vikings dwindled over the past years; he only saw 35 targets last year and only has a 1.23 yards per route run for his career. Yet, he’ll be useful for the Giants. He takes most of his snaps inline (over 80% the past two years), allowing Engram to move around on the field a bit more. His height (6' 6") and great hands should make him a viable red-zone option for the Giants, where they struggled last year, only scoring a touchdown on 46.34% of their trips. His and Engram’s skill set in theory should complement each other, but in the end, it’s up to Jason Garrett to utilize both properly. Ideally, Rudolph takes more inline snaps and Engram is moved around the field a lot more than he has in the past. Here are their respective projections for this year:
Engram: 52.4 receptions, 793.7 receiving yards, 2.9 touchdowns, 1.44 yards per route run, and a PFF grade of 64.6.
Rudolph: 25 receptions, 387.4 receiving yards, 2.7 touchdowns, 1.22 yards per route run, and a PFF grade of 71.20.
For fantasy, neither should be your ideal tight end targets. Engram pencils in at TE16 at 8.77 ppg and Rudolph comes in at TE34 at 4.72 ppg. There are definitely more suitable options that you should be looking at over either of these two, as I’d only want to start Engram in deep leagues and probably don’t want to roster Rudolph at any point.
So, that’s the offense this year! Obviously, we didn’t cover the offensive line, but in summary, it isn’t good and likely won’t be anything above a bottom 8 unit in the league. This year’s all about Daniel Jones, and the Giants have done enough to find out if he’s the answer. He has his weapons and now it’s on him. Go Giants, and thanks for reading all the way down to my final word.