It's always interesting to look at the training camp invitees and try to project where the most competition will be, to guess who might make the final roster, to pick out the one or two players that are surprise roster cuts and to pick out which unheralded player might come out of nowhere to make the roster unexpectedly. The surprise players are the most interesting to guess at and the Giants always have a few that come out of nowhere and make the team. In the last few years, Gibril Wilson, Chase Blackburn and James Butler come to mind as players that were undrafted (or drafted late in case of Wilson) and not only made the team but rose to the level of starter, or at least got significant playing time. Michael Johnson and Ahmad Bradshaw were also late round picks that have risen to positions of significant playing time. It's also interesting to pick out the players that are at risk, that are on the bubble and need to step up and show some significant improvement in order to kick start their career or, in the worst case just to make the team.
It's really difficult to look at this in the abstract and try to evaluate a particular player to see if he is NFL ready. You can't judge a player in a vacuum but have to look at him in the context of who else is on the team and who else is competing with him at his position. Perhaps adding the most complexity are a few other factors: how many players are required at his position group; how many players drafted in high rounds and therefore relatively assured to make the team are in each position group; what is the team's philosophy for configuring the team; how many players on the team are flexible players that can play multiple positions and can also play special teams. Although the structure is relatively fixed from team to team, there is some flexibility around how many players to take at each position and therefore add an extra player here or there. One example is from the Giants last year: usually teams carry three qbs but the Giants last year carried only two qbs on the roster: Manning and Carr. That gave them a little more room to carry an extra player. Giants also carried 2 PK's last year, Tynes was inactive most of the year and Carney kicked, but Tynes was officially on the team taking up a roster spot. Of course, this cost them roster flexibility.
With that background, I would like to examine the roster by position group last year and discover the Giants philosophy on team configuration. Then we can look at the changes that have occurred by players being released, look at the new acquisitions and try to guess where the big competition will be for roster spots. In this post we will examine three positions: WR, QB and RB. We will preview other position in future posts.
Last year the Giants carried 6 WRs: Burress, Toomer, Smith, Manningham, Hixon and Moss. This year, as you know, Burress and Toomer are off the team and the Giants added draftees Nicks and Barden. Theoretically the two new draftees will replace Burress and Toomer and the Giants can enter the season with the same full compliment of 6 WRs. But of course that leaves a tricky question: does Super Bowl LXII hero David Tyree make the team or does he get unceremoniously released? Actually, I think the Giants were prepared to cut him last year. Or, more accurately I should say that Tyree was the seventh WR in a unit that required 6. The Giants would have released him last year but probably realized what a public relations disaster it would have been to do so, so they IR'ed him. That took them out of the uncomfortable position of cutting him; it allowed them to feel magnanimous by paying his salary for the year and he did not take a roster spot of a more deserving player. I really thought the Giants showed great class by first putting Tyree on the PUP list (physically unable to perform) and then graduating him to IR last year. He is not a great WR and was drafted out of Syracuse because he was a top ST player. But as his speed has slightly diminished as he ages he has become merely a very good ST player, not a difference maker on that unit. Perhaps the Giants keep a player or two who only play ST and are not good at a particular position, which might open an opportunity for Tyree to make the team. But if the Giants demand that each player have a position in addition to playing ST, Tyree might not make it. If Tyree does not make the team, perhaps the Giants will offer him an injury settlement and hope that he retires.
The interesting thing among this group of WRs is not really which ones will make the team, but rather who gets the playing time. In this regard, Moss has to be considered on the bubble. He's been on the team for 3 years, drafted originally in the second round. The first year he was injured and hardly dressed. The last two years he had trouble getting on the field. I don't exactly understand why, because whenever he did play, he looked very good to me. This is probably his last chance. Mannigham also had an invisible rookie year last year and should be expected to show a bit more this year. We heard that both Moss and Mannigham had very productive off-seasons, where they showed a lot of progress. Let's see if they are able to step forward.
Last year the Giants carried two qb's, Manning and Carr, but most teams carry 3 qb's. Last year, rookie Andre Woodson did not show enough in preseason to merit making the team. The fact that he showed so little in the preseason also made it safe for the the Giants to put him on their practice squad, and not be concerned that some other team would sign him and steal him away from the Giants. They also felt confident that Carr was a good enough qb that carrying just one extra qb was sufficient and probably had a good inkling that Carr would re-sign with the Giants for 2009, which he did. This year the situation is quite different, probably on all of these points. Carr will probably not be satisfied to sit on the bench for yet another year after this one, behind a qb that is established as starter and for a position where there is no competition for the job. The Giants, therefore, knowing that this is likely Carr's last year with the team, have to prepare themselves to find a legitmate backup to replace Carr in 2011. They will therefore want to keep a third qb on the team who can get reps in practice and maybe even take a few mop up snaps in a game that is well decided. They drafted a qb, Bomar, again this year and will probably have a spirited competition in camp between Bomar and Woodson. My guess is that the winner stays and the Giants carry 3 qbs this year. But the important point is that this additional qb takes an additional roster compared to last year's team and will make it harder for some other player on the bubble to make the team.
The Giants actually may pick up some roster flexibility at the RB position. Last year the Giants had 7 players at the RB/FB position. Two of them have departed: Reuben Droughns and FA Derrick Ward. They drafted Andre Brown who has impressed the Giants early in the off season conditioning program. They did sign some other RBs, Patrick Allen and Dwayne Wright both young veterans originally from Oklahoa and Fresno State respectively, but I don't expect they have a great chance to make the team. Realistically, Droughns was listed as RB last year but was a ST player. If the Giants carry only 6 RB/FBs it could give an opening for them to carry Tyree as an extra WR to play ST.
LB and DL are units that may be ready for a big change in its makeup and we will preview that in our next post. OL could be interesting as well. Stay tuned.