Juggernaut Index, No. 7: Barkley, Beckham lead Giants fantasy resurgence

If Eli Manning has anything left to give, the Giants could get fun in 2018. This offense has no shortage of weapons. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

You might be wondering how a three-win team that finished next-to-last in the NFL in scoring last year could possibly be slotted seventh in any sort of preseason power ranking. It’s a reasonable question/complaint. The Giants were a comedy last season. Eli Manning averaged just 6.1 yards per pass attempt, the lowest rate he’s posted since his rookie year. New York’s ground game averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and 96.8 per game. We can’t say Ben McAdoo didn’t earn his December firing.

Of course we should note that the Giants were without Odell Beckham for all but four games in 2017. This team addressed its offensive line in the offseason in a substantial way, adding tackle Nate Solder via free agency and mauling guard Will Hernandez in the draft. New York also used the draft’s second overall pick to select Saquon Barkley, one of the most gifted and versatile rushing prospects in recent memory. Without question, things are looking up for this offense.

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We can debate whether a franchise with 37-year-old Eli at QB should have actually taken a running back with a premium pick, but that’s what they did. Barkley is a massive talent. The Giants have a chance to be fun. If you’re an inebriated irrational optimistic fan of this team, you can probably squint and see a path to a division title — neither Washington or Dallas has obviously improved, and the Eagles are dealing with a zillion injuries.

As for New York’s placement in this silly fantasy index, let’s just take a quick look at Yahoo ADPs. The Giants are one of two teams that have a pair of players who are consistently selected within the first round in 10-team drafts. Barkley is generally the seventh player off the board and Beckham is ninth. This team also gives us the No. 5 tight end in terms of positional ADP. It’s really impossible to say this squad isn’t a fantasy power, even if it’s coming off a dreadful, forgettable, no-good season.

Are we really drafting Saquon as an early first rounder?

Without hesitation, yes. Barkley was unrivaled among the running backs in this year’s draft class. He was ridiculous last year, gaining 1903 scrimmage yards on 271 touches, averaging 5.9 yards per carry and 11.7 per catch. Barkley is a thrilling runner, he caught 54 passes last season, he excels in pass protection and he destroyed the pre-draft combine (4.4 speed, 41-inch vertical). He was a monster in big games, rivalry games, bowl games, cupcake games … pretty much all games, with only a few exceptions. You should want him. After the top-four running backs are off the board in the first round of your draft, he’s worth considering with the fifth pick. He’s terrific. Barkley has dealt with a hamstring issue recently, but he just returned to individual practice work.

If you somehow haven’t yet seen Barkley’s highlights, here’s a look at his first NFL carry…

And for those who need a reminder of his mutant-level collegiate performance, check last year’s Iowa game. It was arguably the best performance of his Nittany Lions career, although the 2017 Rose Bowl against USC is a contender, too.

Saquon is great, is what we’re saying. Draft with full confidence. It’s not at all unusual for a first-year running back to deliver an upper-tier season; three of last year’s top-eight fantasy backs were rookies. It happens.

Wayne Gallman and Jonathan Stewart are battling for backup duties in New York. Gallman showed a little something last season, gaining 4.3 YPC and catching 34 balls. But neither he or J-Stew will enter the season as more than a handcuff.

Eli Manning, sketchy quarterback with top-shelf receivers

Manning’s consensus fantasy rank(QB22) is not at all congruent with our ranks on his primary receivers. If Beckham is going to finish as WR3, Sterling Shepard as WR41, Evan Engram as TE5 and Barkley as RB5 (thanks in part to his pass-catching aptitude), then there’s almost no way Eli will finish outside the top-20 fantasy quarterbacks. And yet, well … it feels wrong to rank the guy anywhere near starting-status at this stage of his career. He was a rough watch last year, and the season before. And for extended periods throughout his career, really, unless he’s winning Super Bowls. Weird player. But he’s the guy who gets to lob passes to Odell, so he remains on the fantasy radar, at least as a bye-week seat-filler.

Hilariously, new head coach Pat Shurmur has openly discussed Eli completing 70 percent of his passes, which definitely ain’t happening. We’ve heard this goal before from previous Giants coaches. Manning completed 61.6 percent of his throws last year and he’s at 59.8 percent for his career. The best mark he’s ever produced in any single season is 63.1. Manning is many things, but he never earned his accuracy badge.

Odell Beckham, all smiles . (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Beckham is healthy again, following last season’s ugly ankle fracture. He and the Giants have reportedly made solid progress on what’s expected to be a staggeringly rich deal, so that’s cool. He’s a no-doubt first tier receiver, a player who already has three 90-1300-10 seasons on his resume. If you can land him anywhere near the turn, that’s a huge score.

Beckham’s return to the field creates fantasy problems for the rest of New York’s receiving corps, however. While it’s true that he tilts the defense in his direction, helping everyone else, he’s also guaranteed a huge share of the total targets. So…

Evan Engram won’t see as many chances for Giants

This seems fairly obvious, but Engram’s draft price doesn’t reflect a dip in volume. He actually finished second at his position in total targets as a rookie (115), drawing more chances than everyone but Kelce. Engram finished his first pro season with 64 catches for 722 yards and six spikes. He saw eight targets inside the 10-yard line, which ranked fifth among all tight ends. It was, in a nutshell, a terrific rookie year.

If Engram can simply approach last year’s yardage and TD totals, fantasy owners should be thrilled. You can’t realistically expect improvement on his 2017 numbers. Beckham has averaged 10.6 targets per game over the course of his career, and there’s no reason to think that rate will slip in the season ahead. Engram can still do plenty of damage on, say, 85-95 targets, so he’s still a clear fantasy starter. That’s heavy volume by the standards of his position. He’s in the concussion protocol following a shot on Friday night, so that’s a concern to track over the next two weeks.

Shepard is an excellent supporting receiver who’s facing the same likelihood of a drop in opportunities. He set the bar awfully high in 2016, his first season, hauling in 65 balls for 683 yards and eight TDs on 105 targets. It’s fair to hope for a similar line in 2018, perhaps with fewer touchdowns.

The likelihood of Eli supporting a fourth fantasy-relevant receiving option seems low. Cody Latimer has apparently locked up the team’s third receiver role, with Russell Shepard fourth in the hierarchy. No need to dig deeper into the Giants’ receiving depth chart.

New York has talent at every level of the defense, including notable IDPs Landon Collins, Olivier Vernon and Alec Ogletree. It’s a rankable D/ST, worthy of deep league consideration. Opening matchups with Jacksonville and Dallas aren’t too daunting. This crew might just rank as a starting unit in Week 1, hosting Blake Bortles and friends.

2017 Offensive Stats & Ranks

Points per game – 15.4 (31st in NFL)
Pass YPG – 217.4 (19)
Rush YPG – 96.8 (26)
Yards per play – 4.9 (26)
Plays per game – 64.8 (10)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Buffalo, 31) Miami, 30) NY Jets, 29) Baltimore, 28) Oakland, 27) Cleveland, 26) Indianapolis, 25) Washington, 24) Chicago, 23) Tennessee, 22) Jacksonville, 21) Dallas, 20) Tampa Bay, 19) Cincinnati, 18) Denver, 17) San Francisco, 16) Arizona, 15) Seattle, 14) Detroit, 13) Carolina, 12) Houston, 11) Philadelphia, 10) Green Bay, 9) Atlanta, 8) Kansas City, 7) NY Giants

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