I’m going to start a new method of preparing for the 2009 fantasy season. I will look at each team individually before making any kind of ranking. It makes sense to see how the team as a whole looks before going to individual projections or rankings.
Today will be the New York Giants. They, like the Titans, earned home-field advantage and lost in the divisional round of the playoffs. Unlike the Titans, they won a championship the year before. There are some major changes for G-Men.
The loss of Derrick Ward represents 41% of the team’s rushing yardage and 14% of the team’s receptions. Ward had 41 receptions and the rest of the team’s running backs/fullbacks totaled 19 catches. That’s an opportunity. No NFL team is as prepared to fill the gap. Ahmad Bradshaw will get the first crack and is likely to get 200 touches. In case anything happens to Brandon Jacobs, he of 15 touchdowns last year, Danny Ware will be next in line. Ware is a third-year pro who was an undrafted free agent out of Georgia. This year’s fourth-round pick, Andre Brown, will fill out the roster and could be a game-day inactive until he learns the ropes.
Jacobs should be the man. He set a career high with 219 carries last season. In 2007 the Giants gave him more than 20 touches seven times. He only played in 11 games. In 2008 he exceeded the 20-touch mark four times and missed a mere three games, and one of those was a Week 17 holdout when the team had clinched the number one spot in the playoffs. I expect him to stay in the 18-20 carry range. Jacobs may be a bigger part of the passing game. He caught 23 balls in 2007 and only 6 in 2008.
Other than a 17-carry performance in Week 16 of the 2007 season, we haven’t seen enough of Bradshaw to know how he’ll perform with double-digit touches. Derrick Ward had ten or more carries in ten of the final 12 2008 games. Bradshaw is close to a must-handcuff for Jacobs owners. Ware will be a waiver-wire guy if either Bradshaw or Jacobs gets hurt. Ware has ideal RB size (6’1, 225 pounds) while Bradshaw’s more of a change-of-pace guy.
Andre Brown could be this year’s Chris Henry. Brown was a workout warrior who put up OK but not spectacular college stats. Some experts think he will be a major player in the backfield while others think that 2009 will be a quasi-redshirt year. Considering that Jacobs misses games every year and that the rest of the backs are talented but unproven, you should keep an eye on Brown.
One thing we’re sure about is Eli Manning. He’s going to start 16 games, as he has for the past four seasons. It’s hard to beat the consistency of his 24, 24, 23, and 21 touchdown passes in those four years. He cut his interceptions in half last year, which is good because he led the league in that category in his Super Bowl MVP season. He’s not a fantasy stud like his brother. His rank of 10, 13, and 13 over the past three years lets you know that he’s a great backup and an OK starter.
A reason not to be bullish about Manning having an outlier 30-touchdown season in 2009 is his receiving corps. With the departure of Ward, Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer, Manning loses 124 of his 289 completions. Who’s going to step up?
Domenik Hixon took over at flanker when Burress, um, put himself out of the running. He’s come a long way in a year, from a part-time special teams guy to a starter. He caught 30 passes in the last seven games. The one touchdown in that stretch doesn’t make you feel too warm and fuzzy inside. If anyone’s taking the WR1 role on the team, it’s Hixon.
Steve Smith led the Giants in receptions last year. While he’s a rare wideout who went to USC and has produced in the pros, do not mistake him for his namesake in Carolina. Mr. Smith increased his catch production from 8 to 57. I’m guessing that was the best percentage growth in the league. He won’t make that kind of leap again, and let me tell you why.
Hakeem Nicks might be the most productive rookie receiver in the NFL. His opportunity is higher than guys like Michael Crabtree, Percy Harvin, Jeremy Maclin, and Darrius Heyward-Bey . He also can catch the ball like this. One reason why Plaxico Burress was so good with the Giants was that he had the size to catch the balls that Eli threw somewhat off target. Nicks can do that. I think he’ll be the starter by the end of the year.
Other contenders include Mario Manningham (needs to step up in his second year), Ramses Barden (big body but played at lower level in college), Sinorice Moss (pretty much a bust), David Tyree (as good as released), Derek Hagan, Taye Biddle, and Dirk Diggler, Shaun Bodiford. One of the last four players is made up.
Kevin Boss finished as the #13 tight end in his first year as a starter. Can the Giants draft or what? Boss’s 33 catches aren’t impressive but the six touchdowns means that Eli looks for him in the red zone. He’s a good backup TE. Travis Beckum is the hot-shot draft pick who’s in the Dallas Clark mold. As a rookie, he probably won’t help in fantasy terms.
Lawrence Tynes is a kicker. He’s a shoo-in to not lead the team in touchdowns. He’s from Scotland if you like the international flavor.
If you play with team defenses, my apologies. They will be one of the top defenses taken and therefore poor value. Bradshaw was the top kick returner and Hixon was the top punt returner. The team finished with 17 interceptions, 18 fumbles, 42 sacks, and two defensive touchdowns.
On paper, the defense should be super. Osi Umenyiora missed the entire season and is back. He will be the Tom Brady of defensive ends, draft-position wise. Justin Tuck (12 sacks, 52 tackles) is a top-five defensive end. Mathias Kiwanuka (8 sacks, 35 tackles) will rotate in a lot. The team added Chris Canty, who can play end and tackle, along with Rocky Bernard, a tackle. Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo left to possibly ruin his career as the St. Louis Rams’ head coach. The new guy is Bill Sheridan, who was already with the staff.
Antonio Pierce is the linebacker to own. He has been at or near 100 tackles for five straight years. He’ll get a sack or two a year as well. Michael Boley moves over from the Falcons and is the weakside linebacker. Danny Clark is the other starter.
Last year’s final first-round draft pick, Kenny Phillips, will start at free safety and is the IDP play. Michael Johnson is the probable starter at strong safety. He could use a more memorable name.
The Giant run game is something to keep an eye on. If your draft is close to the season, you’ll get a better handle on how the pecking order will turn out. Brandon Jacobs will be a top five running back if he can avoid the injuries that have slowed him down in his first two seasons as a starter. Eli is Eli. If this team doesn’t make the playoffs, I will be very surprised.