Daniel Jones must make that second-year leap, and Saquon Barkley needs to stay healthy and be Saquon Barkley. But for this to be a team Giants fans can be proud of again, they will need help.
Here are the five other Giants who must make a difference for Joe Judge, starting Monday night against the Steelers at MetLifeless Stadium.
OLB Lorenzo Carter
The Giants have a problem at cornerback opposite James Bradberry. Corey Ballentine (two career starts) is the starter with Isaac Yiadom behind him. Yiadom (nine career starts) has one interception. Bradberry might fall asleep as his counterpart will be repeatedly targeted.
It means a pass rush is critical, and this needs to be Carter’s time. He has filled out into a 6-foot-5, 255-pounder, and there are no excuses for him not to enjoy a breakout/breakthrough season. Carter registered four sacks as a rookie and 4.5 a year ago. He is a rare athlete who should be motivated enough to be a double-digit sacker. Case closed.
LT Andrew Thomas
The fourth-overall pick of the 2020 draft steps right into the deep end of the pool following Nate Solder’s decision to opt out. Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree emerged last season (11.5 sacks) as a bookend predatory threat opposite T.J. Watt (14.5 sacks), and Thomas’ rookie jitters won’t help Jones’ obsessive mission to cut down on his fumbles. “If you overplay T.J. Watt, you have Bud Dupree on the other edge and he’s just as fierce,” Judge said.
Jets LT Mekhi Becton has drawn rave reviews, but the Giants made Thomas the first tackle off the board in part because of his level of competition at Georgia.
“We are a more veteran team than probably some of the teams around the league and that is to our benefit, especially on the defensive side,” Steelers GM Kevin Colbert told The Ringer. “That group has pretty much played together for at least one year and, in some instances, three, four, five years. So I think there’s benefit there.”
Good luck, kid!
TE Evan Engram
The affable tight end is entering his fourth season and he has played just 19 games over the past two seasons, (89 catches, six TDs). In Jones’ Week 3 debut in Tampa, Engram (eight catches for 113 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown) was instrumental in the Giants’ 32-31 comeback win. In his eight games with Jones and Eli Manning, Engram was targeted 68 times. He looked fast and explosive and completely recovered following offseason foot surgery.
It is time for him to be more than a tantalizing tease. Jones will fearlessly attack down the seam more than Manning, and Engram can take pressure off the rest of the weapons, including Barkley. And at 6-3, he is Jones’ tallest target in the starting lineup.
C Nick Gates
There will be hiccups with Jones’ new, inexperienced center. Gates is 6-5, 307 and the idea is for him and guards Will Hernandez and Kevin Zeitler to be road graders to clear paths for Barkley. In a way, Gates is fortunate to have veteran Spencer Pulley around, and it would behoove him to be the kind of sponge that Jones was with Manning. He has started three NFL games — two at right tackle and one at right guard.
“[The Steelers] defense is very talented, they’re experienced, they play together, they’re tough, they’re opportunistic. They make plays up front and take advantage in the back end on the mistakes you make,” Judge said.
Good luck, kid!
S Jabrill Peppers
GM Dave Gettleman insisted Peppers be included in the Odell Beckham Jr. deal with the Browns following the departure of Landon Collins. Peppers is a pepper pot whose energy, enthusiasm, versatility and leadership earned him a captaincy.
Peppers’ first season as a Giant was cut short (back) after 11 games. At the time, he had registered a team-leading 76 tackles, with three forced fumbles, five PDs and a pick-six. The signing of Logan Ryan will allow defensive coordinator Patrick Graham to deploy Peppers as a Swiss Army knife, possibly as a moneybacker closer to the action, which is right in his wheelhouse. His training camp duels with Engram were iron sharpening iron. A champion Jersey guy from Don Bosco Prep and Paramus Catholic who loves being a Giant.
“[The Steelers are] a tough team from a tough city. They have a blue-collar mentality,” Judge said.
They are the team that Judge wants his Giants to one day be.