The 2021 NFL offseason has all but nearly concluded. Both free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft have come and gone, with their respective winners and losers around the league. What all of that means is that the main part of the campaign, the one that sees the 32 teams battle it out on the gridiron, is rapidly approaching. A crucial highlight of the preparations is the anticipated training camp, which will witness a plethora of releases during the preseason. In G-Men country, their roster is no exception, with Giants position battles looming and undecided starting jobs at multiple positions still to be filled.
The Giants are coming off a campaign where they were on the brink of making the playoff despite a losing 6-10 record. Yet, New York GM Dave Gettleman was able to identify the partial potential that this team has quietly contained. Despite the departure of offensive tackle Kevin Zeitler, the Giants addressed key areas such as receiving, offensive line, and secondary. As a result, the New York Giants are entering the 2021 season with noticeably more depth and balance. Nevertheless, the internal competition within the squad is still significant and there are some vital decisions left to be made between now and the Giants’ kickoff visit to Denver on September 12th.
2021 NY Giants Position Battles To Watch: Offense
RT│Matt Peart vs Andrew Thomas
Last year, New York’s starter at left tackle, former Patriot Nate Solder, opted out of the season due to COVID-19 precautions. That positioned 2020 first-round selection Andrew Thomas and Cameron Fleming as the starting exterior linemen. However, the situation heading into 2021 is sharply contrasting.
After restructuring his Giants deal, which has two years remaining, Solder is set to be back in full force. Meanwhile, Fleming’s exit, and his eventual arrival in Denver, made for an opening at right tackle with two clear favorites. Both of the front-running candidates were 2020 NFL Draft picks – Matt Peart, selected in the third round, and Thomas, the fourth overall pick last year.
Furthermore, these two second-year players are very different, and this doesn’t just apply to their skill sets. Firstly, Peart is naturally a right tackle and even started there in his only appearance for the team in 2020. On the contrary, Thomas’s fifteen starts all came on the left side. Moreover, the former Georgia prospect hasn’t played as a right tackle since his freshman campaign in Athens. That makes this one of the hardest Giants position battles to judge, as multiple players can go to multiple spots still.
That could be a setback and a catalyst for some problems before Andrew Thomas and the post as a whole in 2020. However, there is no doubt who the better option is on either side of the line. Across his rookie season, Thomas turned in a satisfying Pro Football Focus grade of 62.2 whilst committing just three penalties. That makes Andrew Thomas an overwhelming favorite to win, although it is not his main position. Also, this makes this one of the most important Giants position battles because the team needs to see what they can get from Daniel Jones. If they can’t protect him, it clouds their view of his progress or lack thereof.
WR4│Kadarius Toney vs John Ross
After a steady offseason, many units within the Giants roster could contend for the title of “the most improved” in their respective departments. The receiving corps is no exception to this trend. Behind Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, and the new signing Kenny Golladay, New York also boasts a decent set of depth assets. First-row witnesses to the actions of the primary duo are former Cincinnati Bengal John Ross and second-round pick Kadarius Toney.
One of them will have to rise to the occasion and be amongst Daniel Jones‘s most trusted weapons. At the same time, there is no clear favorite to find himself in one position higher than the other entering training camp.What’s more, they are likely to adopt different roles on this Giants offense. Kadarius Toney, selected out of Florida, was one of the most reliable pass-catchers in the Southeastern Conference last year. His 70 receptions wound up as the seventh-most at the end of the 2020 NCAA season. All of this came at an average distance gained per reception of 14.1 yards, establishing Toney’s identity as an intermediate-game target. Furthermore, nothing promises to change when he debuts for NY.
The Giants will need to keep him as efficient as possible amid the rooky transition to the professional game every collegiate prospect goes through.Meanwhile, John Ross‘s best campaigns saw him get targeted around 56-58 times a year. Interestingly enough, he had a worse catch percentage in a short-game role – 38% in 2018 against 50% in 2019. With 18.1 yards per catch in the latter of those years, John Ross’s place on the field is likely as a deep-threat weapon. However, even in such a scenario, a catch percentage figure of merely 50 percent is less than acceptable.
Ross and Toney are entirely different receivers at this moment but one will have to get the nod for a heavier workload. This could very well be Toney with the overabundance of more high-profile long-threat pass-catchers and the proven inefficiency of Ross through the air. Nonetheless, the outcome of these Giants position battles remains to be seen, especially this one.
2021 NY Giants Position Battles To Watch: Defense
ILB│Reggie Ragland vs Tae Crowder
The offensive part of the Giants roster is just around finalized outside of the right tackle post. However, the same certainly cannot be said about the defense, which contains much more competition, whether the topic is a starting job or depth chart position.
That means the most fierce of all of the Giants position battles will probably be for the linebacker spot next to Blake Martinez. With Danny Shelton, Dexter Lawrence, and Leonard Williams available in the pass-rush, New York is bound to begin the 2021 campaign in a 3-4 defensive scheme with two middle linebackers. The former NFL combined tackles leader with the Green Bay Packers is unopposed in his efforts to snatch one of those two berths. The second job, however, will be defined by a lot more drama.
As things stand, Tae Crowder and Reggie Ragland are the two most suitable candidates for the position. The former will be trying to retain his title as a starter alongside Martinez. Meanwhile, the latter was brought in during the offseason after spending four years with the Chiefs and the Lions.
Moreover, Crowder put on a very decent display throughout his inaugural season in the league. The former Georgia Bulldog had 57 combined tackles as well as 34 solo tackles. These numbers are very close to what Ragland showed with Detroit in his fourth year out of Alabama – 52 combined and 30 solo tackles – over a similar workload in the 450-snap range. However, Ragland brings experience and promises for stability and consistency Crowder cannot yet boast. In his first year with Kansas City, he had similar numbers while starting ten games. He even managed to improve upon those figures the following season, which was his best to date with 86 combined tackles and 46 solo tackles across 15 starts.
Yet, Ragland hasn’t been wildly productive so his place on the field could be subject to a closer competition than that between Thomas and Peart.
Nickel CB│Darnay Holmes vs Aaron Robinson
Moving on to the secondary of the 2021 Giants roster, the primary assets are not up to a debate here as well. The club already has its two starting outside cornerbacks locked down in James Bradberry and newcomer Adoree’ Jackson. While the latter was acquired after four seasons in Nashville, Bradberry will be looking to replicate an impressive debut season in East Rutherford.
Their first-choice backup is also known – this will most likely be Issac Yiadom, who occupied Jackson’s post in 2020. Ultimately, however, he would go on to have a disappointing year, conceding a passer rating of 120.1, which would make the Jackson signing a no-brainer for the inconsistent New York secondary. Furthermore, the Giants will have to select a player to lead the charge against slot receivers, the so-called nickel/dime corner. This is set to be determined via a battle between two recent draft picks – Darnay Holmes, selected in the fourth round last April, and Aaron Robinson, a 2021 third-round draft pick. Both are New York Giants draftees and confident candidates for an important starting job.
As long as he saw the field, Holmes proved to show a glance of his solid skills in pass coverage during his rookie campaign in the NFL. The former UCLA Bruin appeared in twelve games, starting five of them, taking a part in a total of 41% of all defensive snaps, and facing 44 targets through the air. Even though the lighter workload discredits that figure, his success against opposing pass-catchers was substantial, seeing him allow an 87.2 passer rating.
When it comes to Robinson, his status as an NFL freshman in 2021 could be a deal-breaker in his race with Holmes. Not only was Holmes satisfying last year but Robinson has no NFL experience to use as leverage. Still, even if he plays fewer meaningful snaps this year, the stats he turned in over his four seasons with Alabama and UCF set the bar high as regards his immediate and long-term NFL future. The 23-year-old had 19 passes defended (PD) across his last two years. Moreover, he displayed particular success on the inside in tasks different than pass coverage. Aaron Robinson had over 40 tackles in each campaign since 2019, posting 6.5 tackles for loss in that span.
Darnay Holmes may have the advantage, as of now, but one of the more intriguing Giants position battles could follow nonetheless.
SS2/FS2│Xavier McKinney vs Julian Love
Last on our list of NY Giants position battles is the backup safety positions. Jabrill Peppers and Logan Ryan are perfectly set as the starting strong and free safety, respectively, of the Giants roster. However, the top spot behind that main duo could observe some tough competition.
Although this might be most lopsided of the five roster battles, Xavier McKinney‘s position as the No.2 choice is under no circumstances won beforehand. The Crimson Tide alum has the advantage of being a 2020 second-rounder who spent much of last year injured and now is worth the gamble.
However, his opponent, Julian Love, is heading with more experience into the battle ahead of his third year in the league. Love had a solid campaign as a rookie in 2019. He surrendered a rating in the 80.0 range – this figure would skyrocket to 109.9 the following year amidst a move from strong safety to a more mixed role between safety and corner. This could be an indication that either his ceiling is quite low but expectedly so for a fourth-rounder or his outcome is much better at SS. Whichever it is, he has the abilities needed to at least compete for the job. Nevertheless, McKinney is the frontrunner and the very likely option to wind up as the second-choice safety come mid-September.
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