2015 Fantasy Football Outlook: New York Giants
July 21, 2015 | Chet
The Giants once again disappointed in 2014, finishing 6-10. It was their worst record since 2004 and their third consecutive season of failing to make the postseason. All hope was not lost, however, as rookie supernova Odell Beckham gave New York fans something to be excited about. Will 2015 see another step forward in terms of improvement for the Giants offense?
2015 Giants Schedule
Take early season schedule analysis with a grain of salt, but even with taking a measured approach there’s not much to be too frightened about when it comes to the Giants opponents on paper. After their bye week, the Giants passing game could hit some potential turbulence as they go on the road to Miami and Minnesota during the fantasy playoffs and draw the Jets the week prior, but there are plenty of soft spots as well.
This is an offense you want some fantasy exposure to for fantasy. In year one under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, the Giants made significant strides over a very low bar set by their offensive output in 2013. They dramatically improved their pace as they were fifth in the league in offensive possessions and fourth in plays per game. After finishing near the very bottom in nearly every efficiency category in 2013, they jumped up near the middle to top third of the league in 2014.
A Giant Passing Game
Of course McAdoo doesn’t deserve full credit for the turnaround, especially in the passing game since they nailed their first round draft selection in Odell Beckham. After missing the opening four weeks with a hamstring injury, Beckham was eased into the lineup over the next three weeks, accruing just 15 total targets. He was then thrust into carrying the entire offense after their week 8 bye when Victor Cruz was lost for the season. In just those 12 total games, Beckham produced the second best fantasy season for a rookie receiver ever, trailing just the 1998 season from Randy Moss. On a per game level, Beckham was even more impressive in comparison to that season in spots.
After the Giants bye week, Beckham’s lowest scoring week was 15.3 points and his lowest weekly finish was WR22. He reeled off six games with 20 or more points scored, five of 30 or more and one 40 point game as he averaged 28.3 points per week over those nine games. During that run he led the NFL in targets with 115, seven more than the second place Demaryius Thomas, was first in receptions with 81, 12 more than second place Antonio Brown, and was first in receiving yardage at 1,199 yards, 340 more yards than the next closest receiver, Julio Jones.
It was a run of games almost unprecedented, but all of those points are now water under the bridge. We know it will be hard to replicate those types of numbers, but we can’t just assume massive regression for Beckham until we actually know where his mean truly lies to regress to. As a ballpark layout, we can set a proxy for lateral decline and his bottom line still ends up as a high end performer regardless, unless you’re really reaching deep on a fall off.
Of course that’s just a quick and dirty way of giving us an actual scope of overall production as there will be areas where Beckham sustains production and others in which he won’t. But if you’re accounting for 50 percent regression, that still is placing him in the WR27 range. If that’s where you’re accounting for not even his floor, but his basement to be, then it’s hard to really poke holes in his asking price in context. The real question is, will you be taking him over an Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas or Calvin Johnson, all receivers that have shown us big time consistency multiple times. Throw Julio Jones in there as well, who gave us a glimpse that he’s capable of similar things during his start of 2013. As a more risk averse player early on, I shade towards the options that have proven that worth more than once, but I can’t really throw much shade on his price point even with the possibility of nagging hamstrings because he’s already proven capable to be a week winner for teams when he’s on the field.
While Beckham’s overall line from 2014 is achievable again over a full season, we can account for possible slight volume decline per game from the 200 target, 16 game pace he had over those final games. The Giants will get Victor Cruz back at some point, have added a pass catching asset out of the backfield and also will look to be more balanced. More on the latter two points in a moment, but let’s stick with the return of Cruz, who believes he will be ready for the start of training camp. The dirty secret with Cruz is that even before the injury, he was still on his way in continuing a three year decline in performance.
Cruz had just two top-30 scoring weeks prior to his injury and three games with 60 or fewer receiving yards. Perhaps that sample is too small to judge, but it was in line with a reoccurring trend. Then there’s the actual matter of his injury, a torn patellar tendon, which is a brutal one for skill players. Dr. Jeff Budoff broke down that injury and possible further ramifications in detail while expecting an undoubted loss in explosion, acceleration and top end speed early on. That’s problematic for a player that has also been a declining vertical asset since his big 2011 season. Per Pro Football Focus, here’s how Cruz has been limited on targets 20 or more yard downfield since that breakout.
For 2015, I’m expressing caution on Cruz, especially if his price holds around the WR30-ish price it has right now. The offense is still a good fit for him, but I believe his role and ceiling this season to be that of a possession player that will be limited after the catch. That’s not very appealing. In that case, I’d rather just wait on a Kendall Wright or a Pierre Garcon because at least I know where their true volume and effectiveness lies. Unless Cruz is extremely low hanging fruit, it’s unlikely he’ll find many of my rosters this season.
New York also still has Rueben Randle on board. Only turning 24-years old this season, Randle was a favorite breakout for many, who ultimately let those investors down as he was largely a black hole of target volume for the majority of the season. His final line on the season totals are masked a bit by him closing with 12 catches for 290 yards over his final two games, which accounted for 30.9 percent of his season total yardage. Using the Games Splits App available at RotoViz, here’s how the rest of his looks in comparison.
Prior to then, Randle did still have five top-30 scoring weeks while struggling to find the end zone. Out of all receivers with 20 or more red zone targets, Randle’s 14.3 percent touchdown conversion rate (three for 21) was better than only Steve Smith (2/20), Charles Clay (2/20) and Andre Johnson (3/26). He had converted four of 12 such targets over his first two seasons, so there could be a bounce back in store if he can hold a significant share of the targets in that area.
He was benched at two different points in the season as well, once for being late to a team meeting and another which was undisclosed, showcasing that he still hasn’t found the requisite maturity and discipline that it will take for him to make that jump.
As disappointing as the entirety of his season was, he still took small steps in a positive direction instead of flaming completely. Those final two weeks in which he was WR4 and WR9 shouldn’t just be thrown out of the window completely as he showcased that when he does get it upstairs, he has the ability to be productive. With Beckham surely to draw the majority of the defensive attention and Cruz likely operating on the interior, Randle is still going to be on the field as the primary X receiver in this offense in three wide receiver sets. As someone who chases ceilings as the draft gets deeper I’m still very much interested in Randle at WR5/6 pricing than where Cruz is going in hopes that the soon to be free agent continues to progress or the lights come on and that pricing has most of the risk baked into it. C.D. Carter took a deeper dive on Randle and his potential ceiling at such a cheap price point and I’m on board there. I’d much rather take a shot on Randle in double digit rounds than a player like Michael Floyd in the seventh or eighth.
Of course, with him being a free agent, New York can just scrap his involvement if he continues to showcase all of his shortcomings and see what they have in backup receiver Corey Washington. Justin Bailey has expressed why you should keep Washington in the corner of your mind if that does indeed happen.
Tight End Larry Donnell is still in the fold and we all remember his three touchdown game on Thursday Night against Washington, but over the first two thirds of the season; he was a useful commodity for those who picked him up. He lost time on the field over the final third of season as Daniel Fells was used as the primary run blocking tight end. Over those final five games, Donnell lost all fantasy relevance.
|Games||Snap%||Tgt/Gm||Tgt%||Rec/Gm||Yd/Gm||ReTD||RZ Tgt||RZ Tgt%||PPG||Top12 WK|
Donnell has said that he’s made run blocking a point of emphasis in the offseason and the Giants didn’t add anyone to the position. If he has cleaned up that component of his game, he could be of some value as he was also tied with Martellus Bennett for the most red zone targets out of all tight ends on the season. 23.9 percent of his total targets came in the red zone last season, the second highest percentage of all players after only Julius Thomas (24.2 percent).I would like Donnell much more if they hadn’t added Vereen and I didn’t anticipate Cruz siphoning targets in the same area of the field, but he’s still a solid streaming target since he is virtually free in fantasy.
After having arguably the worst full season of his career in 2013, Manning bounced back to have arguably his best full season in 2014. A huge chunk of Manning’s production will be credited to the surfacing of Beckham and that’s not entirely false. Over the first seven games, Eli had just two top-12 scoring weeks and was averaging just 224.7 passing yards per contest. Once Beckham was leaned on, Manning notched five top-12 scoring games with four top-five weeks.
Those splits above also include a disastrous five interception game at home versus San Francisco, but the thing you’ll notice is that his overall production and passing efficiency stayed relatively neutral, but his volume went bananas. No team ran more pass plays in the league over their final nine games than the Giants did at 43.6 per game. Their play calling splits went off the rails of unbalanced as they tilted to 62.4 percent of their plays as passes after just 53.3 percent through seven games. I do believe they will attempt to be more balanced entering this season, but what they did was also highly effective as were tied for third in the league in scoring over their final six games and won three of those games. Despite a focus on attempting to upgrade their offensive line and getting a healthy backfield in place, this is still a team that is built to run off of what the passing game creates.
Manning is a solid investment and one of my favorite picks to lead a stable of two or three quarterbacks. As C.D. Carter highlights in his Equity Scores, Manning even has weekly starter upside, which is alluring at that cost. He’s currently sitting around the QB12 point in drafts, which should cost you a round nine or lower draft selection. If you can’t pony up for Beckham and aren’t sold on Cruz returning to form or Randle ever clicking on all cylinders, you can always hedge on the group by just acquiring Manning.
Big Blue Ambiguity
The Giants were ineffective on the ground last season despite trying to run as much as they could. New York ranked 23rd in fantasy points per attempt (.52), 23rd in rushing yardage (1,603 yards) while placing 10th overall in rushing attempts (449). Everyone had their hand in the blame for the porous output from the offensive line to the backs as both Rashad Jennings as Andre Williams were subpar runners on the season.
|Player||Team||Att||Yds||2 Yd Or Less||%||5+ Yds||%||10+ Yds||%|
Jennings had four top-10 scoring weeks on the season despite missing five games and averaged a career high 15.2 rushing attempts per game. A lot of his performance overall is skewed by his 176 rushing yards week three versus Houston which accounted for 27.5 percent of his season rushing total. Outside of that game, he reached 70 rushing yards just one other time and it was against Jacksonville. He has a laundry list of hang ups as he’ll now be a 30-year old running back who has never had 200 carries, averaged 60 or more rushing yards per game or even played 16 games in a season entering 2015. Also, his best asset as a player has been his receiving ability as 42 percent of his career fantasy output has come out of the passing game, which is now compromised by the signing of Vereen.
Williams highlighted more of his red flags entering the league than the plusses he was bringing to the table. He runs with a similar style to LaGarrette Blount, a big back who can be explosive given a massive lane, but will create little on his own near the line of scrimmage. Williams forced a missed tackled once every 7.1 touches which ranked 20th out of the 24 backs with 200 or more touches on the season. He did have two 100-yard performances late in the season, but has no real role tied to volume heading into this offseason.
That’s because the Giants signed Vereen to a three-year deal to be at minimum the passing down back and potentially more. Over the past two seasons, he’s fifth in receptions per game (4.1) out of all backs. It’s tough to compare Vereen’s run game usage to the other backs because he faced nickel or dime defense for 89 percent of his rushing attempts last season per Mike Clay. Still, here’s how this mishmash of a backfield stacks up against one another.
Initially, I’d project Jennings to be the early down back and Vereen to occupy an extension of the role he had in New England, serving as an asset in the passing game while peppering in carries here and there. It’s possible Vereen can still be much more as he was an impressive runner in college and Jacob Rickrode points out that the start of his career is ironically comparable to that of ex-Giants stud back Tiki Barber, but I still see Jennings occupying the lion’s share of attempts while upright. The Giants threw to their backs just 15.9 percent of the time last season, which was 29th in the league. We can expect that number to jump this season with Vereen on board and his pass catching ability shaves off some of the shine that Jennings has in turn.
Williams finds himself as potentially the odd man out, but still has the trump card in his pocket that he had the best touchdown conversion rate in the league last season inside of the five-yard line of all backs with double digit attempts, converting six of 11 carries for scores (54.6 percent). Jennings was just three for 11 on the season and only three of those carries came over final 11 games of the season. For their careers, Jennings and Vereen haven’t been very good from that area of the field, either.
There’s potential this could be a big mess week to week with Jennings receiving hallow touches, Vereen being strictly a PPR flex option and Williams being just a short yardage plunger near the paint. The other factor here is that this offensive line still may not be that much better than it was in 2014 now that they have lost starting left tackle Will Beatty for the season to a torn pectoral muscle. The team seems intent on still moving Justin Pugh to left guard and making John Jerry a backup, so that’s an upgrade on the interior. What we see outside from rookie Ereck Flowers and free agent Marshall Newhouse is a question mark heading in still. All in all, this stacks up to be a pass first team on all levels.
In most circumstances I’d suggest to avoid the situation entirely but I actually like the price points of all three players a fair amount. I’d say I like Jennings the least, but at RB28 and possibly your third or fourth back, there’s some upside there if he gets more catches and touchdowns than I predict he will. JJ Zachariason makes a sound case for investing into Jennings at his cost. I find myself unable to take him at his spot more often than not as I’m generally looking at the receiver spot in that area of the draft and I just can’t see taking him over a guy like Jeremy Maclin, Allen Robinson or Vincent Jackson if those prices all hold.
The same goes for Vereen in regards to where I’m usually going at that point, but I think the structure of this offense suits him being active often and if he carves out any larger of a role in the rushing game, he’s a value. I believe he delivers more scoring than his RB31 price tag regardless if he ever adds rushing juice to his totals, but if you’ve ever owned Vereen at any point you know that those points are coming in a staggered fashion. If you’ve gone receiver heavy to start your opening four to five rounds, both backs make for solid options in a stable in which you’re planning on rotating RB2’s or catching the upside from a back.
I’ll probably own the most of Williams despite him not having a ton of standalone value entering the season. At RB60, you’re afforded a deep swing on the youngest, most explosive back of the group that also has touchdown upside. If nothing pans out for him, there’s no harm done. As a potential deep cut, Williams will find the tail end of quite a few of my rosters.
|Odell Beckham Jr.||141.4||91.9||1278.0||9.2|