Bad news, Giants fans: We’re still about three weeks away from the start of training camp. That’s still a long way out for those of you who have been revved up about 2014 since last year’s campaign came to a sad conclusion.
There are some reasons to be happy, though. For one, the Giants added a lot of talent through free agency and the draft that will hopefully help them to get back into the playoffs in 2014. For another, the proven stars that return to anchor the team are as hungry as ever to get the Giants back to the top of the NFL.
It makes sense, then that Big Blue’s best players are a mix of long-tenured veterans and fresh acquisitions. Here are the top five Giants heading into training camp.
5. Eli Manning
If this was a list of most important players on the Giants, Manning would likely be at the top of the list, but he showed last season that he can be a mediocre quarterback when not surrounded by a solid offensive line or a reliable backfield. After five straight seasons with a QBR rating between 60 and 70, Manning tanked down to 36.5 in 2013, and a big part of that was his career-high 27 interceptions. If the two-time Super Bowl MVP can trim those picks down to just one per game, (and maybe get back above 60 percent completions) the Giants’ offense will be in much better shape this fall.
Manning’s extraordinarily lousy campaign was in part due to offensive line problems that plagued the Giants all season long. Although Justin Pugh looks like a solid long-term building block for the unit, the guard spots needed to be bolstered after the team lost Kevin Boothe to free agency and saw Chris Snee struggle with injuries in 2013. That’s where Schwartz comes in. He only started two of Kansas City’s first 10 games last season, but he quickly developed into one of the Chiefs’ most reliable lineman and started five of six games down the stretch. The solid season convinced the Giants to give him a four-year deal, and he instantly becomes the best player on New York’s offensive line.
3. Victor Cruz
Cruz’s drop in production from 86 catches and 1,092 yards in 2012 to 73 catches and 998 yards in 2013 was probably due to struggles in other parts of the passing game. When you consider how poorly Manning played, Cruz’s numbers don’t look half bad, and it’s hard to imagine how the offense would have functioned without him last year. Even though he was banged up towards the end of the season and only played in 14 games, Cruz still had 21 more targets than any other Giants receiver. Manning looks for him about as often as a quarterback can look for a receiver, and Cruz will continue to be counted on to catch a high volume of passes while opening things up for some of the younger guys.
2. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
With at least three interceptions in five of six NFL seasons, the cornerback out of Tennessee State doesn’t just settle for shutting down the wide receiver he’s lined up against. Rodgers-Cromartie gets after the ball and is not afraid to take chances. His career hit a lull three years ago when he was traded for by Philadelphia, but other than his first season with the Eagles, Rodgers-Cromartie has been a consistently excellent corner. He should help transform the Giants’ secondary into a top unit in the NFC if he’s able to continue making plays in New York.
1. Antrel Rolle
After Justin Tuck left the Giants to become an Oakland Raider, Tom Coughlin didn’t need to look around very much to find out who the next leader of the defense will be. That will unquestionably be Rolle, who last year at age 30 had his best season as a Giant. He’s always been great in run defense, so it wasn’t surprising to see the nine-year veteran top 90 tackles for a third straight season. However, in 2013, Rolle improved his pass defense, picking off a career-high six passes and recording 12 passes defensed. Add in a pair of sacks, and Rolle was a defensive dynamo last season who will be valuable on a tangible and intangible basis in 2014.