2005 Giants: A roster analysis

Will New York's busy offseason translate into more victories?

The Giants sure look to have a better team than they did when they opened the 2004 campaign. But we all know that the games aren't played on paper. Will the Giants indeed be better? Only time – and the 16-game schedule – will tell.

Here follows a unit-by-unit look at Big Blue's roster, ranked in order of value from strongest to weakest, and our rating of each unit on a scale of 1 to 10.

Special teams

Key developments: Adding kicker Jay Feely as a free agent this offseason was huge, both for his accuracy on FGs and leg strength on kickoffs. Signing Chad Morton right before the season should also shore up the punt return game, which has been a nagging problem for Big Blue. New York also added a couple strong cover guys in rookie free agents Chase Blackburn and James Butler to join with future Pro Bowl STs ace David Tyree.

Outlook for 2005: The special teams should be strong, with Feely and dependable vets like punter Jeff Feagles and snapper Ryan Kuehl in place. The Giants return the league's top kickoff returner in Willie Ponder and now have monster-back Brandon Jacobs deep to lead-block for him. The coverage units should excel as well. The usual trouble area – punt returns – is still worth keeping an eye on.

Rating: 9.1

Wide receivers

Key developments: Perhaps by now you've heard that New York signed Plaxico Burress this offseason. There's no telling how much his addition can help the offense, as not only will he make a ton of big plays, but he'll open things up for others. Tom Coughlin finally got tired of waiting for Tim Carter to come around so David Tyree, coming off a huge preseason, is the third receiver. A healthy Jamaar Taylor could be a big contributor as a sub receiver as well.

Outlook for 2005: Expect a tremendous season out of Amani Toomer. With him likely better suited for his new flanker position and all the coverages being rolled toward Burress, a healthy Toomer is likely to explode back onto the NFL scene. While a lot is expected of Burress, he's perfectly capable of delivering. Keep an eye on Tyree – he's nothing special but just continues to get the job done. Coughlin loves him.

Rating: 8.5

Defensive backs

Key developments: The drafting of Corey Webster has everyone around the Giants excited about the possible star capacity of the speedy, sure-handed youngster. Webster proved right off the bat capable of making the plays that have been so sorely lacking in past seasons. Throw in a healthy Gibril Wilson and Will Allen – both who are primed for big seasons – and you have the makings of a successful secondary.

Outlook for 2005: The confident secondary is excited about its potential – as is TGI. If they all can stay on the field, having players like Webster and Shaun Williams in reserve shows the depth this unit boasts. Will Peterson, who will be given the toughest assignments, will be the key. Also look for a lot of contributions from Williams in the sub defenses, especially if Brent Alexander struggles at all. Webster is a star in the making, with Curtis Deloatch more than adequate as a fourth corner.

Rating: 8.3

Linebackers

Key developments: Probably New York's biggest offseason move was adding Antonio Pierce to the defense. He's as smart a middle linebacker as you're ever going to see, and he should be able to greatly upgrade Big Blue's defense, especially the troubled run defense. Reggie Torbor moves into the lineup on the strong side, which frees Carlos Emmons up to run around on the weak side. If Barrett Green regains his health, look out NFC East – the Giants backers will be back.

Outlook for 2005: Our rating below is based on not much coming from Green. However, if he continues to beat the odds and can contribute early on, the Giants will have basically five starting-caliber backers to man three spots. Needless to say, that's not a bad spot to be in. For some reason – even though he was their best linebacker down the stretch last season – Nick Greisen remains out of the loop. Our thoughts are that Torbor should be manning the weak side with Emmons at strong, but what do we know?

Rating: 7.4

Running backs

Key developments: Brandon Jacobs. Brandon Jacobs. Brandon Jacobs. Get used to hearing that name. It's going to happen often in the coming weeks and years. Jacobs is the real deal. Sure he needs work on blocking and picking up blitzes. But when you can consistently move the chains like he can and can both run over and around defenders, who, besides Coughlin, really cares? Derrick Ward, the third back, had a strong summer and won a spot. Incoming punt returner Chad Morton also could be used on third downs and in single-back sets.

Outlook for 2005: Tiki Barber is one of the league's top backs and we don't expect any kind of letup from Barber even though he reached the big 3-0 in April. He works harder during the offseason than anyone we've seen and it will continue to translate on the field. Of course, he's probably the player the Giants could least afford to lose to injury with a lot of inexperience behind him. If he plays all 16 again, look for more than last year's record 1,518 yards and another Pro Bowl berth.

Rating: 7.2

Offensive line

Key developments: The signing of Kareem McKenzie must have brought a huge smile to Barber's face. McKenzie is a stud in the run game, and a more than adequate pass blocker. His experience and discipline will help the line out immeasurably. As will the move of David Diehl back to guard, where he belongs. Rich Seubert's return to health gives the Giants OL more depth than they've had in quite some time. Veteran Bob Whitfield's addition to push Luke Petitgout at left tackle was another strong move.

Outlook for 2005: While there are still questions to be answered, Big Blue's front line looks to have the potential to be pretty good. Chris Snee at right guard and Shaun O'Hara at center give the Giants a couple of real solid run-blockers and the depth provided by not only Seubert and Whitfield but former starter Jason Whittle, who can back up both guard spots and center, will be key. It might take a while for the unit to build chemistry and cohesion, but it looks like it might be worth the wait.

Rating: 6.8

Tight ends

Key developments: Jeremy Shockey is back – in a big way. He's coming off the best preseason he's ever had. He's healthy and rejuvenated by his new role, where he blocks much less and receives much more. Visanthe Shiancoe comes back following a tremendous offseason and appears to be improved. How consistent he can be will go a long way towards determining whether or not this offense can really be explosive.

Outlook for 2005: The Giants failed miserably in their attempt to land a blocking tight end. Perhaps they never should have let Dan Campbell get away years ago. First they tried Chris Luzar, then rookie Darius Williams. Both received pink slips and now it's Sean Berton's chance to give it a shot. Don't hold your breath. Hey, at least Shockey and Shiancoe are excellent receivers.

Rating: 5.8

Quarterbacks

Key developments: Eli Manning enters the season as the clear-cut number one. The only problem is he does so coming off a season where he went 1-6 and a preseason that he missed about half the time with an injured elbow. While the upside for Manning is tremendous, there are still plenty of questions to be answered. The other key development is that it took the Giants quite a while to end up with Tim Hasselbeck as the backup. They wanted Vinny Testaverde and Doug Flutie but were turned down by both – Testaverde for money, Flutie for the Pats. Then Jim Miller got injured and Tim Couch didn't impress enough during a workout. So it's basically sink or swim with Hasselbeck should Manning get hurt.

Outlook for 2005: Unfortunately, everything's riding on Manning's golden right arm. The backup situation is what it is. Believe us, they can do a lot worse than Hasselbeck, but a lot better as well. And Jared Lorenzen is a project as the third QB. It's pretty simple, if Manning stays healthy and continues to progress, they'll be fine. If not, it could get pretty ugly.

Rating: 5.0

Defensive line

Key developments: The return of Michael Strahan, who lost 20 pounds and is now down to about 255, is enormous. He's ready to go after missing the second half of last season with the first serious injury of his career. He knows his loss was the key factor in New York allowing opponents to run on them at will last year and he plans to rectify the problem. Inside, there are two new starters as Kendrick Clancy was signed from Pittsburgh and won a spot and William Joseph showed enough to warrant Fred Robbins being replaced.

Outlook for 2005: This was the hardest unit to grade. If we broke it into just ends – Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, who's primed for a really big year, and Justin Tuck – these guys would get darn near a perfect 10. However, the DT spot was a big problem at the end of last season and it still appears to be, despite what the coaches would have you believe. Joseph, Clancy, Robbins, Damane Duckett and Kenderick Allen all have plenty to prove before opponents will take them seriously. If the DTs are ineffective, it's only going to hurt the play of Antonio Pierce.

Rating: 4.6

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