How will the New York Giants 2021 season play out? Hopefully, with the team fulfilling team president John Mara’s wish of achieving more than the six wins it notched last year.
But along the way, there will be twists and turns that will test Joe Judge’s young roster. How will they respond? We’ll find out soon enough, but ahead of the start of the 2021 season, here are a few bold predictions.
Top Candidate to Get First Pro Bowl Nod
Logan Ryan. Ryan just barely missed out on a Pro Bowl berth last year, which is a shame because he’s one of those guys who does so many things well to help a defense.
Now that he’s in Year 2 of the same system, perhaps that will be just the push he needs to get him over the hump in earning the recognition from his peers that just barely eluded him last year.
Most Underrated Story Line
Sterling Shepard’s Return to the Slot. Technically, Shepard never left the slot over the last two seasons, but his snaps from the position where he earned his second NFL contract declined after the team added Golden Tate in free agency in 2019.
Tate was sent packing this past off-season. Even though the Giants drafted Kadarius Toney to be their future slot receiver in the first round, that shouldn’t get in the way of Shepard seeing more snaps inside than the 322 in from that spot over the last two seasons.
After two seasons of working primarily as an outside receiver, Sterling Shepard is projected to see the bulk of his snaps in the slot, the position where he initially found success as an NFL receiver.
Per data culled from Pro Football Focus, Shepard has caught 200 of 288 slot snap targets (69.4 percent) for 2,215 yards and 18 (out of his career 20) touchdowns.
Flying Under the Radar
Dexter Lawrence II. All eyes are likely to be watching Leonard Williams on the defensive front to see if he comes anywhere close to matching (or topping) last year’s 11.5 sack season. But don’t sleep on Dexter Lawrence, Williams’s linemate. Lawrence, currently best known for his run-stopping ability, has been flashing some pass-rush potential that, if he can start finishing off more of his pressures by turning them into sacks, would give that Giants defensive front a boost.
Among defensive linemen drafted in 2019, Lawrence finished third in total quarterback pressures with 29 last year, behind Jeffrey Simmons of Tennessee (41) and Quinnen Williams of the Jets (29), but leads both of those guys in total pressures since 2019 with 59. Again, if Lawrence can turn some more of those pressures into sacks as he did this summer when his lone pressure was a sack, that will be a bonus weapon in defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s arsenal.
Most Indispensable Backup
Azeez Ojulari. He’s listed as a backup on the Giants’ first unofficial depth chart release, but I have to believe that by the midway part of the season, that changes. The Giants will be looking for a pass-rushing edge setter who can hold his own in setting the edge.
If Ojulari’s college production is any hint of what’s to come from him in the NFL–per PFF, he recorded 45 stops in three seasons at Georgia and notched a 72.8 run-defense grade last year–for whatever time he’s considered a ‘backup” (which might not be too be long) his production potential as a run stuffer and pass rusher is intriguing.
Player Most Likely to Step Back
Darius Slayton. During his rookie season, some wondered if, in Slayton, the Giants’ fifth-round pick in 2019, New York had its future No. 1 receiver. The problem is he hasn’t been able to capture his rookie season magic where he caught 60 percent of his pass targets for 740 yards and a team-leading eight touchdowns.
Part of the problem last year was Slayton dealt with some injuries that, while not keeping him out of the games, did affect his speed. He also saw his reception rate drop to 53.3 percent, and with that, his touchdown production fell to three despite his pass targets increasing from 80 in his rookie season to 94 in Year 2.
Slayton still can be a solid contributor in the offense. Still, with Kyle Rudolph, Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, and Kenny Golladay ahead of him in the pecking order for pass targets, would anyone be surprised if Slayton’s targets decline this year?
Midseason Storyline to Watch
Dave Gettleman’s future. If the Giants get off to another slow start, expect the chatter about Gettleman’s future with the team, currently at a loud whisper, to ratchet up to a roar.
Already people are grumbling about the offensive line, a unit where the Giants were all set to let the kids take their lumps by playing. But things change, and now it looks like Nate Solder is going to start ahead of Matt Peart at the right tackle spot.
Offensive line issues aside, if the Giants underachieve after all that money they spent in the off-season to plug holes, won’t be a very good look for a team whose ownership is expecting better results than last year’s six-win season.
The Giants Will Be Successful If…
Daniel Jones steps up. You probably think that the offensive line should be the primary focus here. But the elite quarterbacks in the league have ways they can help the rest of the offense. That starts with making fundamentally sound decisions, not trying to force things that aren’t there, and making lightning-fast decisions post-snap–all things Jones needs to show he can do consistently.
The Giants Will Disappoint If…
The defense isn’t as good as it was last year. Again, we can probably point to the offensive line as a legitimate reason, but that would also be too easy. So in thinking outside the box, let’s take a look at last season, the majority of the teams that made the playoffs averaged at least 25 points per game.
The Giants defense held opponents to an average of 22.3 points per game, the ninth-lowest total in the league. If the Giants’ defense can’t continue with being stingy against opposing scoring offenses to keep things close, Giants fans could be in for a long year.
Final Season Prediction
It sure would be nice if the Giants, who have started 0-2 in each of the last four seasons, got off to a fast start for a change. That said, the season is a marathon, not a sprint, and if this team can go 2-2 in the first four games but show enough progress, they could put themselves in a good position to finish with their first winning record since 2016. 9-8
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This article first appeared on FanNation Giants Country and was syndicated with permission.
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