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Here’s the Giants’ path to actually being competitive this season

Ralph Vacchiano | Facebook | Twitter | Archive

The Giants were 5-11 last year and missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons, and now the consensus seems to be that things will only get worse. There’s little hope outside the Meadowlands after GM Dave Gettleman tossed Odell Beckham Jr., Landon Collins and Olivier Vernon away.

Yet Gettleman still thinks he can build a winner this season. Even new receiver Golden Tate insisted “I don’t think we’re as far off as people may think.” Pat Shurmur has pointed to the 12 games the Giants played last season which were decided by a touchdown or less, including eight they lost, as a sign that it’s a short leap to competitive football.

Are they all delusional? Or is there really a chance the Giants could be … good?

Everyone knows turnarounds can be quick in a league driven by parity, and that a .500 team can be a playoff contender, at least. But for the Giants to actually realize their vision and calm their fans’ anger in 2019 … well, let’s just say a lot of things have to go their way, and they still have a lot of work to do:

They need one last hurrah from Eli Manning – The Giants are adamant that the 38-year-old Manning can still be good behind a rebuilt offensive line, and that’s what they’re betting this entire season on right now. For all his detractors, Manning completed a career-high 66 percent of his passes last season and threw for 4,299 yards behind a mostly terrible line and without his top receiver for four games. Sorry, but that’s not a sign that he’s done. So the decline can’t start now. They need another season like it, only with a few more than his 21 touchdowns. He needs the kind of season that makes the Giants wonder if getting rid of him for 2020 is really a good idea.

The offensive line rebuilding project has to come together, quickly – This has been the biggest reason for the Giants’ decline over the last seven years, and Gettleman and Shurmur know it. They believe they have four-fifths of their line in place – LT Nate Solder, LG Will Hernandez, C Spencer Pulley (or Jon Halapio) and RG Kevin Zeitler. They need a right tackle. Then they need this unit to stay healthy because continuity is everything for an offensive line. They need to become the best unit on the team.

Golden Tate has to show he wasn’t declining last year – He had been remarkably consistent in the previous four years as a 90-catch, 1,000-yard, five-touchdown guy in Detroit. Then last year his numbers dipped to 74-795-4 in 15 games. Scouts who watched him said he looked off after his midseason trade to Philadelphia, and that the Eagles struggled to figure out how to use him with Alshon Jeffrey and all their other weapons. He’ll be back to being a No. 1 in New York, so he needs to get back to his 90-1,000-5 ways at age 31.

Saquon Barkley has to stay healthy – It’s his team now. If he gets hurt, the season’s over.

The defense needs … well … a lot of work – Right now Gettleman seems to banking a lot on ex-Cardinals (edge rusher Markus Golden, defensive tackle Olsen Pierre, safety Antoine Bethea) who played under defensive coordinator James Bettcher out in Arizona. OK, fine, but that didn’t work when they signed linebacker Kareem Martin last year. They lost a leader in Collins and their best pass-rusher in Vernon, plus they got rid of cornerback Eli Apple and defensive tackle Damon Harrison last year and it’s hard to say any of them except Collins – whose shoes will be filled by Jabrill Peppers, who came from Cleveland in the Beckham trade – has been adequately replaced. Gettleman’s draft almost certainly needs to be defense-heavy. Good thing he has 12 picks, including four in the top 95.

They better take a pass rusher in the first round – Scouts and GMs say this draft is loaded with them and there’s no excuse for the Giants not to take one with one of their two first-round picks. Yes, they are shopping for a Quarterback of the Future, but they need an edge-rusher for the now. It’s going to be very tempting for them to take one at No. 6. That actually might end up being the more responsible call, too.

Markus Golden needs to be healthy – Right now, he’s their big pass-rushing hope. He had 12 ½ sacks playing for Bettcher in Arizona in 2016. Then in October of 2017 he tore his ACL and he didn’t look like himself at all last season (2 ½ sacks in 11 games). He’s 28 years old so this is his last chance to prove he’s still got it. The Giants are betting that another year removed from his surgery, he’ll be back to his old form.

They need to be right about CB Sam Beal – The Giants used a third-round pick in the supplemental draft on Beal last year, and then he missed his rookie season with a shoulder injury. The Giants think they got a steal here. In fact, they insist he’d be a second-rounder in this year’s draft. He better be that good because this is still a passing league and their cornerback ranks are thin. They still have Janoris Jenkins, but his production can be up and down. They need Beal to develop very, very fast.

They need a little bit of luck … OK, a lot of luck — Think of all the things they’re counting on: No decline by Manning at 38. Tate catching 90 passes at 31. Golden rediscovering his old form. The offensive line staying healthy because there’s no depth. Barkley looking even better than he did last year. A bunch of rookies, and the rookies from last year, growing up fast. And even if all those things happen, the ceiling is, what? Nine wins? There isn’t a lot of room for error here. Everything has to go exactly as planned.

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