I know what you are thinking: why the hell would you even want to analyze this? Out of all things! I am with you one hundred percent. But don’t blame me, blame friend of the program, Just A Giants Fan Podcast. I asked last week for blog ideas to work on and this is the one that peaked my interest the most, so here we go!
Last year, my good friend Jimmy Crowell and I completed a study on positional value. One of the reasons why we did not continue that this summer is because we do not want to rely on using PFF grades as the main criteria of evaluating rosters. Hopefully, we will resume that interesting project at some point but the main premise was analyzing positional value and how NFL teams are constructing their rosters. One of the limitations of the project was that the pyramid you see below was from 2015 and a bit outdated. For example, I may bring down the importance of a 5 tech D-lineman and bump up the importance of a nickel corner. However, for the purposes of this blog, we will use the pyramid as a blueprint for positional value.
So what are the positions and players the Giants cannot afford to lose due to injury or any other circumstance this year (besides QB)? Let ’s talk about it!
PRIMARY CORNERBACK (James Bradberry)
You can make an argument that losing our number one corner at any point this year in James Bradberry is more costly than the QB spot right now. The proof is largely when you look at the depth (or lack thereof) of the position. With Julian Love getting the majority of reps at safety and Darnay Holmes getting the majority of his reps at the slot corner spot, it’s safe to assume that the CB2 will be Corey Ballentine, Dravon Askew-Henry or any living breathing man who can play CB who somewhat impresses in camp. That depth chart outside of Bradberry probably makes you just as nauseous as watching Matt Dodge during 2010. I don’t even want to imagine what teams would do to us if we were rolling out a secondary with Corey Ballentine and Askew-Henry starting, oh my. Nevertheless, James Bradberry stands on his own as a good player and it’s not just because we have poor depth that makes his presence valued.
WR (Sterling Shepard)
Am I about to go on another rant about how important Sterling Shepard is and why he is our #1 WR? You bet!
Daniel Jones heavily targeted Sterling Shepard last year and for good reason: Out of the three starting WR’s we have, Shepard was the one who created the most separation (via NFL NextGen) as explained in this video:
Shepard was also extremely reliant on third down as well:
I know everyone is very excited about Darius Slayton’s potential, and Golden Tate’s big plays get fans off their seats, nevertheless, Sterling Shepard’s presence is the most important for the success of Daniel Jones and the offense. Shepard is a smart player who can create separation, reliable with his high catch rate and is a chain mover. He is the oil that allows the engine to run. If Sterling Shepard is the oil in this metaphor, then hopefully Darius Slayton is the supercharger, and Tate is the spark plug (ok thank goodness I’m done with that metaphor).
STRONG SAFETY (Jabrill Peppers)
I know there are some people who are split on the value of a strong safety but I am all in on prioritizing having a good one on a defense. A line I heard when analyzing the Jamal Adams trade was “I can’t believe the Seahawks gave two firsts for a strong safety!” First of all, Jamal Adams on the field changes an entire defense so simply calling him a strong safety does not serve his skillset justice. Additionally, look around the NFL, strong safeties are becoming one of the most versatile and valued parts of a defense. On passing downs, linebackers are coming off the field and being replaced by physical safeties who can blitz, cover crazy athletic tight ends and make plays behind the line of scrimmage in the run game. Strong safeties are being asked to do more and more in today’s game and it is very exciting to see how the position is evolving. Between being an actual strong safety on the strong side of the field, and also having a safety in the box, the position itself is also multiplying.
The addition and presence of Jabrill Peppers in 2019 was a breath of fresh air. We are hoping that in 2020, Peppers is in a defense that will be a lot simpler and will allow these guys to play backyard ball in the secondary. You can see below just how impressive some of his numbers were: his yards/completion was an entire yard lower than 2018, his average depth of target (DADOT) was nearly two yards less than 2018. His coverage abilities are very underrated and should only get better in Patrick Graham’s system. He was also very much on pace to collect over 100 tackles as well, which would have definitely put him in some Pro Bowl conversations.
While the Giants have Julian Love and Xavier McKinney, one can make an argument that either one of them can slide in for Peppers and do a solid job if he were to go down. However, losing Peppers for any stretch of time would be a major hit for this defense. I do feel that the two most important players for this Giants defense this year are James Bradberry and Jabrill Peppers because of the vital roles they play. Peppers makes the presence of Love and McKinney much more versatile and without him, they lose that versatility because their roles become more defined. And just in case you were wondering, Jabrill Peppers is a safety, not a CB, we need to stop with that nonsense.
Honorable Mention: Left Tackle (Andrew Thomas)
When talking about positional value, left tackle is the second most important position in football behind QB. That being said, I probably haven’t celebrated a Giants first round pick more than I did with Andrew Thomas (sorry Saquon). So why is he getting an honorable mention if the position he plays is so valuable? It’s largely because we haven’t seen Andrew Thomas play an NFL snap yet! We simply do not know yet what Andrew Thomas will give us in 2020 so losing him due to injury may not be the end of the world. I think it’s very fair to expect a rocky start especially considering the first quarter of our schedule this year, he really is going to be thrown into the fire. Is this me predicting that Andrew Thomas will give a Cam Fleming like performance at LT in 2020? No! But there inevitably will be an adjustment period for AT.
Let’s End This Miserable Exercise Please
Overall this was a fun exercise to think about the most important positions and players on this Giants team. However, trying to visualize what would happen if any of them were to miss time due to injury/COVID gave me heartburn. Hopefully I got all the bad ju-ju out by typing this out, let’s play 20 games and end the season in February with everyone healthy. Sound like a plan?