Fitz on Fantasy: 2019 New York Giants Buying Guide
With the preseason nearing, TFG fantasy expert Pat Fitzmaurice is breaking down the prospects for all 32 teams. Click here for a running list of teams, and check back often as teams are added on almost daily basis.
Saquon Barkley is awesome, his supporting cast is less than awesome, and his quarterback is as far from awesome as you are from the rings of Saturn at this moment. Perhaps we need to reconcile these three commonly held assessments.
Todd Gurley was a bear trap in 2016. David Johnson was a bear trap in 2018. No, wait. Calling them bear traps wouldn’t adequately describe the ruinous effect those players had on the fantasy teams they were supposed to lead as early-first-round picks in those years. They were more like actual bears, mauling fantasy seasons in the same way the grizzly ragdolled Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in “The Revenant.”
Except Leo’s character lived. If you rostered Gurley in 2016 or D.J. in 2018, your wounds were almost surely fatal.
But back to Saquon …
Barkley laid waste to the Big Ten during his college career at Penn State, broke the NFL Scouting Combine, then finished RB1 in PPR scoring as a rookie, with 2,028 yards from scrimmage, 15 touchdowns and 91 receptions. At present he is the consensus RB1 and top overall pick in 2019 fantasy drafts.
The obstacles impeding Barkley’s path to a repeat are an over-the-hill quarterback with a linguine arm (backed up by a rookie widely believed to have been a reach with the No. 6 overall pick in the draft) and an offensive line that ranked 29th last season in Football Outsiders’ primary run-blocking metric, adjusted line yards. But Barkley had the deck stacked against him last year, too, and was still a stallion.
This echoes the argument many people made for Gurley as the RB1 going into the 2016 season: that his supporting cast had been bad in 2015 and yet he still thrived. Things didn’t turn out well for the people who used that logic as a justification for taking Gurley early. He finished RB15 in PPR scoring, RB20 in standard. The Rams got abysmal quarterbacking from Case Keenum and Jared Goff that year, and Football Outsiders ranked them 29th in adjusted line yards.
David Johnson hadn’t previously defied a poor supporting cast the way Gurley had, but when D.J. was saddled with poor quarterback play, an inept offensive line and half a season of Mike McCoy’s play calling, he produced disappointing numbers. (In defense of the Giants’ play calling, head coach Pat Shurmur is generally well-regarded as an offensive tactician, and offensive coordinator Mike Shula isn’t as bad as McCoy, though Shula won’t ever be elected mayor of Tuscaloosa.)
Barkley’s magnificence is a formidable counterbalance to all of this negativity, of course. But I just can’t take him No. 1 overall when the headwinds are less fierce with Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliott.
NFL Network was showing a replay of a Giants game from the early 2000s the other day, and it was jarring to see Kerry Collins quarterbacking the G-Men. Eli Manning has been around for so long that you’d swear he had taken the torch from Y.A. Tittle, not Kurt Warner.
Eli is a frequent target of ridicule these days and almost worthless for fantasy purposes unless you need bye-week filler in a 2QB or superflex league. But at the height of his powers, Eli finished in the QB1 range eight times over an 11-year stretch and won two Super Bowls. He also gave us the Eli Manning face.
Does Eli deserve to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame? I’ll let those with stronger opinions make passionate cases for or against. But Eli has certainly had a memorable career.
If the Giants decide to make a QB change at some point, rookie Daniel Jones will warrant fantasy attention simply because of his mobility. Bigger QBs usually don’t run all that well, but the 6-5, 221-pound Jones ran for 1,323 yards and 17 TDs in three college seasons at Duke. There are questions about how good a passer he’s capable of becoming, and it’s a good bet that Jones would struggle if given early exposure to NFL defenses. Still, he offers more upside than Eli even as a rookie.
The Giants’ passing game may not be a lush forest of fantasy goodness, but at least the usage tree has few branches. Barkley will dominate backfield touches, while three pass catchers figure to claim the vast majority of non-RB targets.
TE Evan Engram became a more attractive asset with WR Odell Beckham Jr.’s offseason transfer to Cleveland. In the 11 games Engram played with Beckham over the last two years, the young tight end was targeted 5.6 times per game and had 38 catches for 413 yards and three TDs. In 15 games with Beckham inactive, Engram was targeted 7.8 times a game and had 71 catches for 886 yards and six TDs.
Engram is one of the fastest and most athletic tight ends in the league, and with the target spigot now fully open, he has a good chance to be a top-five performer at the position.
During his four full seasons with the Lions, Golden Tate was one of the most consistent fantasy assets available. You could pencil him in for about 90 catches, 1,000 yards and five TDs before the season, and he’d usually end up pretty close to those projections. Ace fantasy analyst Pat Thorman (@Pat_Thorman) recently noted that since Tate first joined the Lions in 2014, Matthew Stafford has averaged 21.9 fantasy points with Tate in the lineup, 13.5 points without him.
The consensus seems to be that Sterling Shepard will post slightly better numbers than Tate this year. Shepard is 25; Tate turns 31 in August. Shepard is more familiar with the Shurmur/Shula offense and more familiar with Eli, and there’s something to be said for incumbency. But when the Eagles made an ill-conceived trade for Tate last season and he quickly disappeared because there was no real plan for his usage, it seemed to undo some of the goodwill Tate had built with fantasy owners over the years.
Tate and Shepard have mostly been used as slot receivers in recent years. It’s unclear how the Giants will divvy up the slot work in 2019. Shepard lined up outside on 42% of his snaps last year and spent a great deal of time there when Beckham was sidelined for the final month of the season. Tate was primarily an outside receiver during his years with the Seahawks but has lined up in the slot on 57% of his snaps over the last five years.
It’s hard to see much of a talent gap between Tate and Shepard, and roles will be critical. With Eli’s waning arm strength giving him only slightly more range than a shot-putter, I’d rather invest in whoever’s lining up in the slot regularly and getting more short-range targets than in whoever’s lining up wide and relying on Eli to make accurate throws outside the numbers. (Ask Beckham how well that usually works out.) At their current prices, I’d rather buy the less expensive Tate and hope he’s anointed as the primary slot guy.
The rest of the Giants’ WR corps is an amalgam of end-of-the-roster types: Cody Latimer, Corey Coleman, Russell Shepard, Bennie Fowler, et al. There was a time when Latimer and Coleman intrigued fantasy owners, but the mystique is gone, and Eli isn’t exactly the right guy to coax unfulfilled potential out of backup receivers.
|Eli Manning||QB29||QB30||QB31||Makes Eli face|
|Saquon Barkley||RB3||RB1||RB1||Take CMC|
|Sterling Shepard||WR37||WR37||WR36||Don’t overpay|
|Golden Tate||WR41||WR38||WR36||Check role|
|Evan Engram||TE4||TE6||TE5||Wheels up|
ADP = Average Draft Position ECR = Expert Consensus Ranking (based on half-PPR scoring)