The Giants were a tale of two teams in 2009. After starting the season 5-0, New York looked poised to win the NFC East. They stumbled badly, however, dropping the next four contests on the way to a 3-8 run over the team’s final 11 games.
The question in 2010 is which team was the real Giants? The offensive and defensive juggernaut of their first five games? Or the unit that couldn’t run the ball or stop anybody on defense over the balance of the season?
The Giants morphed into more of a passing team in 2009, relying on the arm of Eli Manning more than in previous seasons. Manning responded with a career year. Despite their passing prowess, the Giants need the running game to get back to the production it established in the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
Brandon Jacobs suffered through an injury-marred 2009 season. While injuries clearly played a part in his poor performance, he also changed his style, trying to make tacklers miss more often than in prior seasons. In 2010, look for the Giants coaching staff to get him to spend more time running over tacklers than running around them.
Ahmad Bradshaw figures to give Jacobs a stiff challenge for the team’s starting running back position. Bradshaw has shown plenty of playmaking ability as a backup in the past, but the team has been reluctant to move him into the starter’s role. If Jacobs doesn’t rebound, look for Bradshaw to get his first chance as a starter.
Steve Smith unexpectedly developed into a 1000-yard receiver and became Manning’s security blanket. Despite lacking elite skills, Smith caught 107 passes for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns—production that no one foresaw as the season started.
Despite Smith’s excellent season, second year player Hakeem Nicks may have even more upside. Once given consistent targets, he began making big plays, although his hands were inconsistent at times. Mario Manningham also displayed excellent ability to gain separation but was inconsistent and dropped too many balls.
Tight end Kevin Boss is a serviceable receiver and a solid blocker in the run game. He has been a good red zone target when called upon, but he is too often ignored in the game plan. At this point, he seems to have reached his ceiling.
The Giants aren’t a team lacking in talent, but they may struggle to make the playoffs in a tough NFC East division. They are going to need a rebound performance from the team’s rushing attack and a more consistent pass rush if they hope to challenge the Cowboys for the division crown.
QB Eli Manning
With the team’s running game struggling through much of 2009, the Giants turned to Manning more in the passing game than in previous seasons, and the veteran signal caller responded with his finest season as a pro. He finished the year with career highs in passing yards (4,021), touchdowns (27), and completion percentage (62.3). Unlike some other teams that went pass heavy in 2009, there are a few rumblings coming out of New York indicating that the team wants to move to a more balanced approach on offense. Couple that with the fact there were no additions to the depth chart at running back, and there is reason to think they will run significantly more in 2010, meaning Manning has little chance to match or surpass his 2009 production in 2010. While there were no fancy additions to the team’s receiving corps in the draft, the Giants feature one of the league’s top trios of young receivers in Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks, and Mario Manningham. Manning enters 2010 as a lower tier fantasy starter but as one with upside given the team’s reliance on the pass and the weapons he has at wide receiver.
RB Brandon Jacobs
Jacobs enters 2010 with something to prove considering his lack of production last season. While he managed to stay healthy for most of the year (missing only one game), he was a huge letdown, courtesy of a lingering knee injury that wasn’t disclosed until after the season ended. It seems that Jacobs is always either out with an injury or having to play through one. The knee injury from last season clearly slowed him down, as his touchdown production dropped from 15 to 5 and his yards per carry dropped from 5.0 to 3.7. Backup Ahmad Bradshaw is a talented player who could steal Jacobs’ starting job, but the coaching staff seems reluctant to give him a chance as a starter because of his off-the-field issues. Bradshaw has just one start during his three years in the league. With the Giants expected to have a solid offense, there is a good chance that Jacobs will be a great value pick in 2010 fantasy drafts and auctions. However, he should be drafted as no better than an RB3 with upside.
RB Ahmad Bradshaw
Bradshaw put up solid numbers with his increased workload in 2009, posting career highs in all significant rushing categories. He finished the year with 985 total yards to go along with seven touchdowns—not quite producing on the same level as former backup Derrick Ward. The key question is whether that workload was the result of Jacobs’ injury or Bradshaw’s effectiveness. With Jacobs at full health, does Bradshaw’s role get reduced? Or does the coaching staff finally give Bradshaw a legitimate chance as the team’s starter? Bradshaw is equally effective as a runner and receiver and has proven to be a solid short-yardage runner. He has excellent upside provided he can overtake Jacobs on the depth chart. There’s a good chance that will happen in 2010, with the Giants having morphed into more of a passing team over the past year.
WR Hakeem Nicks
Simply put, as a rookie in 2009, Nicks played like a younger, faster version of Anquan Boldin. With 47 receptions for 790 yards and six touchdowns last season, he totaled 115 fantasy points on only 74 targets, ranking him 5th in the league in fantasy points per target (minimum 45 targets). That key statistic indicates how explosive he is and ensures that the Giants will have him more involved in 2010. While Steve Smith will get the lion’s share of the work on intermediate patterns, look for Nicks to steal opportunities from Mario Manningham on the deep patterns. Of the Giants top three receivers, Nicks has the most upside but, in only his second year in the league, he may not surpass Smith’s fantasy production. Draft him as a low-end WR2 with upside.
WR Steve Smith
Smith came out of nowhere to become the 12th-ranked fantasy wide receiver in 2009. He developed chemistry with quarterback Eli Manning on short and intermediate patterns and also displayed some run-after-the-catch ability that wasn’t prevalent during his first two years in the league. He finished the year with 107 receptions (the most in team history) for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns. Here’s the question: Do you believe? With talented youngsters Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham on board, there is a risk that Smith could see a reduced number of targets in 2010. Clearly more valuable in PPR leagues, Smith is nonetheless solid enough to be drafted as a WR2 in both standard and PPR formats.
WR Mario Manningham
Although he was an afterthought during his 2008 rookie season, Manningham had a solid second year in the league with 822 yards and five touchdowns. He did drop his fair share of balls, missing out on at least 200 yards and two or three touchdowns worth of production in the process. Despite his positive development, Manningham could be in line for a reduced workload in 2010. If Steve Smith is the real deal (which is more likely than not), then Manningham has limited upside given that Hakeem Nicks is all but guaranteed a starting spot. Manningham is definitely worth taking a flier on in the lower rounds of most fantasy drafts, but don’t take him on the assumption that his production will continue to increase during his third year in the league.
TE Kevin Boss
Somewhat surprisingly, the Giants failed to pick a tight end in this year’s draft, so Boss will almost certainly be the team’s starter at the position once again in 2010. While Boss has increased his yardage totals every year and has been a reasonably solid receiver given his number of opportunities, the team ignored him in the red zone for the first half of 2009. He did finish the year with five touchdowns over his last nine games, so it’s up to you to decide whether that was a mirage or whether it foreshadows fantasy glory in 2010. There are plenty of solid pass-catching tight ends in the league. If the Giants tend to ignore Boss for long stretches, maybe you should too.