Grading New York Giants' Final 53-Man Roster
After a long summer, the New York Giants cut their roster down to 53 men Saturday.
The team New York currently features will closely resemble the one that takes the field Week 1 and beyond. However, the Giants may still tinker with a few roster spots before all is said and done. As you'll see in this article, many of the team's positional units can afford to be fortified.
For now, I've given 11 different units a letter grade (A-F) based mostly on training camp and preseason performance. Several of the units have the potential to improve (or worsen) as the season progresses. This is particularly true on offense, where the players are still learning a new scheme.
Read on to review the grades for the Giants' entire 53-man roster.
On Final 53: Eli Manning, Ryan Nassib
Cut: Curtis Painter
New York's quarterback situation is not a pretty one. The Giants will feature Manning as their starter once again in 2014, but, throughout the preseason, he hardly resembled the Super Bowl MVP he was in 2011.
After completing six of seven pass attempts in the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 3, Manning completed only 14 of 34 attempts (41 percent) for the remainder of the preseason. He threw one touchdown—a 15-yard strike to Rueben Randle during a two-minute drill before halftime during the New York Jets game (Week 3).
Manning's discomfort in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's new scheme is apparent. A fully smooth transition was never expected, but Manning must gain command of his offense quickly or else the Giants will suffer early in the regular season.
Behind Manning, the Giants kept one backup: second-year man Nassib. New York traded up to select Nassib in the fourth-round of the 2013 draft, so the team's retention of him as the sole backup to Manning marks the completion of a plan that began 16 months ago.
Nassib struggled a bit versus the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2 of the preseason, but he bounced back nicely when the team started giving Curtis Painter backup reps in his place. He is adapting to the new offense well, and he gives the Giants a chance to win if Manning is unable to play a game for some reason this season.
On Final 53: Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams, Peyton Hillis, Henry Hynoski (fullback)
Cut: Kendall Gaskins, Michael Cox, John Conner (fullback)
The Giants have a great group of running backs on the roster to start the season. The unit is easily New York's strongest on offense.
It starts with Jennings, who was acquired during free agency. He will be the team's featured back in 2014, as he can do it all rather effectively. It was impossible to miss Jennings' big-play potential on his 73-yard touchdown burst against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he also showcased exceptional ability in the finer aspects of the running back position: pass-catching and -blocking.
Jennings will be New York's most reliable member of the offense.
Williams will get into the mix, too. The 2014 fourth-rounder has proven himself as a tough-runner and a bruising back to tackle. He lacks Jennings' home run threat, but he will probably score more touchdowns this season. Expect Williams to see the bulk of New York's goal-line touches.
Hillis rounds out the tailbacks, returning for his first full season with the Giants. He is the biggest of New York's backs and a real no-nonsense runner. Since he's a better blocker/catcher than Williams, Hillis will likely start over Williams if Jennings is ever too banged up to play.
At fullback, Hynoski won the job over Conner. Hynoski, originally an undrafted free agent, has been with the team since the 2011 season. Now in his fourth year, he expanded his repertoire to include H-back/tight end duties in order to boost his value in a new offense. It worked.
Cut: Julian Talley, Travis Harvey
Injured Reserve: Mario Manningham, Trindon Holliday, Marcus Harris
The receiving corps in New York is shaky, although it has the potential to be dynamic if the team's passing game ever falls into place.
Cruz will remain the star of the unit, working mostly out of the slot. If the Giants can field two respectable threats on either side of him, Cruz should have no trouble registering his third 1,000-yard season. Last year, he fell two yards shy of that mark.
The jury is still out on Randle. At times, he looks like the next big difference-maker. Other times, he looks lost. A new, supposedly simpler offense was supposed to benefit the natural pass-catcher. However, throughout the preseason, misfires in Randle's direction were abundant. Still, after leading the team in touchdown receptions last season, Randle was the only Giant to catch a touchdown pass from Manning during the 2014 preseason.
We'll likely see a lot of good and bad from Randle this season.
Beckham remains the biggest mystery of the group. Sidelined by a hamstring injury throughout training camp and the preseason, Beckham has watched Jernigan take most of his reps with the first-team offense. Jernigan, for the most part, has not been impressive, and fans eagerly await the day Beckham can make his Giants debut.
Jernigan, only 5'8", has struggled on the outside. As frustrating as he is out there, he is still a valuable commodity to have ready in case Cruz ever needs a replacement in the slot. That's where he shined at the end of the 2013 season.
Parker and Washington landed spots on the team thanks to strong preseason performances. Parker was the Giants top punt returner (a job they expect Beckham to take over when healthy), and Washington, New York's biggest receiver, caught four touchdown passes in five games. Washington is dripping with potential but is likely still too raw to see much time during the 2014 regular season.
On Final 53: Larry Donnell, Daniel Fells, Adrien Robinson
Cut: Kellen Davis, Jerome Cunningham
Waived/Injured: Xavier Grimble
The tight end unit was New York's biggest failure of the summer. Although the position is not pivotal enough to bring down the Giants' offense, the lack of talent at tight end is not doing much to aid Eli Manning's transition into a new scheme.
There was no winner for the starting job, but Donnell looks to be the No. 1 receiving option. Originally an undrafted free agent, Donnell is still a bit raw and struggles as a blocker. His athleticism as a pass-catcher is only so valuable if the Giants must take him off the field whenever they want to run the ball in his direction.
New York will use a tight end by committee approach, which means Fells is likely to see a lot of time. Fells is a seventh-year veteran that was somewhat productive with the St. Louis Rams and Denver Broncos in the past. Even though he has the lowest ceiling of New York's three tight ends, Fells is the most complete player the team has at the position at the moment.
Somehow, Robinson made the team. Apparently not yet ready to give up on their fourth-round investment from 2012, the Giants bumped free-agent acquisition Kellen Davis from the 53-man roster to make room for Robinson. Aside from two big catches late in the Indianapolis Colts game (Week 2), Robinson's summer was not impressive.
Barring a major development, this unit will be New York's worst on offense in 2014.
On Final 53: Will Beatty (LT), Justin Pugh (RT), J.D. Walton (C), Geoff Schwartz (LG), Brandon Mosley (RG), Weston Richburg (C/G), John Jerry (G), Charles Brown (T), James Brewer (G/T), Dallas Reynolds (C/G)
Cut: Jamaal Johnson-Webb (G), Mark Asper (T), Adam Gress (T), John Sullen (G)
Waived/Injured: Rogers Gaines (T)
Reserve/Suspended: Eric Herman (G)
The Giants O-line is already battered and in questionable condition to start the regular season. The Giants might be without both starting guards when they take the field next Monday night.
Starting with the guards, Schwartz, on the left, was New York's big free agency signing to stabilize the line. He looked all right, not stellar, in the preseason until a toe injury against the New York Jets (Week 3) sent him to the sidelines. The possibility of him landing on short-term injured reserve, with a designation to return after eight weeks, has not been ruled out.
The Giants need Mosley to make a leap this season, as he attempts to fill in for now-retired Chris Snee on the right side. A tight back, however, caused him to miss the preseason finale.
With Walton holding down the center position, Richburg, a 2014 second-rounder, will fill in for Schwartz to his immediate left. If Mosley can't go, Jerry will play in his place. Richburg is highly touted, yet inexperienced. Jerry is a veteran but is coming off knee surgery.
The edges are where New York's O-line is at its strongest—but that's not saying much. Beatty is coming off a broken leg and a horrendous season as Eli Manning's blindside protector. Since the Giants paid him like an elite left tackle, he has been anything but. Opposite him, Pugh will try to follow up a solid rookie season on the right side.
Brown and Brewer made the team as backup tackles. Brown started 14 games at left tackle for the New Orleans Saints before he was benched last season, and the behemoth Brewer has been a bust since New York drafted him in the fourth round back in 2011.
Reynolds gives the team some additional interior depth.
On Final 53: Jason Pierre-Paul, Mathias Kiwanuka, Damontre Moore, Robert Ayers, Kerry Wynn
Cut: Israel Idonije, Jordan Stanton
Waived/Injured: Emmanuel Dieke
The Giants are much better off on the defensive side of the ball, starting with their line. Usually a strength of New York's, the team will try to revamp its pass rush after solidifying the run defense a season ago.
Pierre-Paul is still a good defensive end, but he is no longer the elite defender he was in 2011. The back issue that plagued him throughout the 2012 and 2013 seasons seems to have sapped a bit of his strength. If he plays smart, JPP can hold the right edge for New York, but I don't expect him to be the team's biggest difference-maker on the defensive line.
On the opposite edge, Kiwanuka takes over for now-departed Justin Tuck. This will be a good spot for Kiwi, who has played strong-side linebacker in the past. He is a good two-way defender, and the former first-round selection (2006) may actually be an upgrade from Tuck, who struggled in his later years.
Ayers, also a former first-rounder, is getting a new start with the Giants and should be a quality backup.
The biggest difference-maker at defensive end, however, will be Moore. Now in his second season, Moore is the youngest of New York's edge-rushers. He was disruptive often in the preseason, and he will vie for either Kiwanuka's or Pierre-Paul's starting job early in the season. He will start out as a situational rusher, though.
I like that the Giants kept Wynn on the 53-man roster. He was aggressive in the preseason and may have some hidden potential as a five-technique that can also slide inside and play tackle on passing downs.
On Final 53: Cullen Jenkins, Johnathan Hankins, Mike Patterson, Jay Bromley, Markus Kuhn
Cut: Kelcy Quarles, Everett Dawkins
New York's defensive tackle rotation is even stronger than the one it features at end. There is a perfect mix of veteran savvy and young athleticism within this interior unit.
The leader is Jenkins, an 11-year veteran that was the perfect addition to New York's D-line last year. He is a great pass-rushing tackle that is quick off the ball, allowing him to slip between unsuspecting blockers to make a stop in the backfield. Jenkins can also kick outside to play end, giving the Giants' defensive front a different look, if need be.
The starter alongside him is Hankins, an immovable mass from Ohio State. The 2013 second-round pick will be much more involved in his second season now that Linval Joseph is out of his way. Hankins will anchor the Giants' line from a nose tackle-type position, stuffing the run and drawing double teams to keep the edge-rushers free. Forget about him for a play and he is bound to blow it up in the backfield.
Patterson will also get into the mix, as he has become one of the Giants' most pleasant surprises since they signed him as a free agent before the 2013 season. Once thought of as a washed up former first-round selection, Patterson has become a weaseling force in New York's tackle rotation.
Kuhn and Bromley will round out the unit. I predict one of these two players will be inactive for most of the 2014 season. My bet is Bromley, since he is a rookie (third-round selection) and could use some time to develop. Kuhn offers much more as a special-teamer.
On Final 53: Jon Beason (activated from PUP), Jameel McClain, Jacquian Williams, Devon Kennard, Spencer Paysinger, Mark Herzlich
Cut: Dan Fox, Terrell Manning, Spencer Adkins
Waived/Injured: Justin Anderson
The Giants may feature their most dynamic group of linebackers since the team switched to a 4-3 base defense in the early 1990s. This unit is usually one of the the team's biggest weaknesses, but that is bound to change in 2014.
Beason, the starter in the middle, is back from a foot injury that kept him on the physically unable to perform list throughout the summer. When healthy, Beason is New York's most impactful linebacker. If he must be eased back into action, McClain will be more than serviceable in the middle while Beason gets his previously fractured foot wet.
McClain will move to the strong-side when Beason is 100 percent. He's not guaranteed a starting role over there, though—the rookie Kennard has been the talk of the team at SAM. Kennard is the most promising young linebacker New York has fielded in quite some time. He is a downhill, attacking linebacker with pass-rushing potential.
On the weak side, Williams has really come into his own. Originally a sixth-round selection in 2011, Williams has been an oft-injured project since his rookie season. However, the athletic linebacker finally looks prepared to run with the best pass-catching tight ends the league has to offer in 2014.
The backups are Paysinger and Herzlich. Both are experienced members of the defense who joined the team as undrafted free agents in 2011. Paysinger specializes on the weak side, while Herzlich is a better MIKE or SAM.
On Final 53: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Prince Amukamara, Walter Thurmond III, Zack Bowman, Trumaine McBride
Cut: Bennett Jackson, Chandler Fenner, Charles James, Ross Weaver
Reserve/Suspended: Jayron Hosley
The Giants' cornerbacks also get a very high grade. Perhaps out of envy for the Seattle Seahawks' championship-winning secondary, New York made moves to replicate a coverage unit as dominant as the "Legion of Boom."
Rodgers-Cromartie is New York's featured talent at cornerback, although Amukamara is not far behind. Amukamara, a first-round pick in 2011, would be the No. 1 corner on at least half of the NFL's 32 teams. The only reason he is taking a backseat to Rodgers-Cromartie is because the Giants broke the bank so DRC could blanket the opposition's top receiving threat.
Thurmond will make his home in the slot. The Giants actually took Thurmond from Seattle's D-backfield, knowing that he would make a difference against the smaller, speedier receivers on the rise in today's NFL. Between DRC and Prince on the outsides and Thurmond on the inside, New York has a tremendous threesome at corner.
The Giants will likely utilize the nickel package often in order to get all three players on the field at the same time.
Behind those three, the Giants have a couple quality backups in Bowman and McBride. Bowman burst onto the scene this preseason as a ballhawk after spending the last six seasons in Chicago's secondary. Although undersized, McBride was actually a pretty good starter for the Giants last season.
On Final 53: Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, Quintin Demps, Nat Berhe
Cut: Thomas Gordon, C.J. Barnett, Kyle Sebetic
Injured Reserve: Cooper Taylor
The safeties are just a half-step behind the cornerbacks, still a solid group of defenders. Having so much talent in front of them should only make their jobs easier this season.
Rolle is the undoubted focal point of the secondary and perhaps the entire defense. He is a team captain and was named a second-team All-Pro last season—the only Giant to earn such a distinction. At 31 years old and heading into his 10th NFL season, Rolle is just starting to play the best football of his career. In 2013, he set a career-high mark with six interceptions.
Lining up next to Rolle will be Brown, who is making his return from a torn ACL suffered during the 2013 preseason. Brown had a quiet summer but was able to reclaim his starting position in the defense, which is impressive enough for now. He will have a solid year, though I wouldn't expect another eight-interception season like he had in 2012.
Demps was signed during the offseason to bolster the defensive backfield, and it's a good thing, too, since Will Hill was released after his third suspension in as many years. He will also provide the Giants with a viable kick return threat.
The fifth-round rookie, Berhe, flies in from the secondary to make plays near the line of scrimmage. We'll see if the Giants can find ways to incorporate him in the defensive game plan. I think he would be an effective blitzer.
On Final 53: Steve Weatherford (punter), Josh Brown (kicker), Zak DeOssie (long snapper)
Traded: Brandon McManus (kicker, to Denver Broncos for conditional seventh-round pick in 2015)
The Giants' special-teamers look no different than they did a year ago.
Weatherford had to be the Giants' MVP of the preseason, considering how often they requested his services. He has held the punting duties since the 2011 season, and the degree to which he has executed them now has him as a fan favorite.
Brown beat McManus in the kicking battle after a perfect preseason. The Philadelphia Eagles probably had an eye on that competition, but the Giants kept McManus away from their division rivals by sending him to Denver in exchange for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2015.
Talk about a win-win.
Lastly, DeOssie will hold down the long-snapping duties, like he has since 2008, when he was named to his first Pro Bowl.