Giants among three NFL teams need to invest in offseason help, but could contend in 2018
With the 2017 season in the books, all anyone cares about now is if their team will be good again in 2018. We saw the Philadelphia Eagles rebuild themselves from a below-.500 team to a Super Bowl champion on the backs of one incredibly strong offseason. The additions of Torrey Smith, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement, Derek Barnett, Timmy Jernigan, Patrick Robinson and Ronald Darby (and the in-season acquisition of Jay Ajayi) all played a crucial part in their championship run. Here are the three teams most poised to make a similar return to contender status with one strong offseason.
New York Giants
In terms of personnel, the 2017 Giants defense were nearly identical to the dominant 2016 version. In terms of results, they couldn’t be more different. There are a handful of reasons for that, not the least of which was the turmoil that surrounded the cornerback group all season long. Both Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (whose Pro Football Focus grade dropped from 89.9 to 77.2) and Janoris Jenkins (88.0 to 79.0) saw precipitous falls from 2016 to 2017. Both were also suspended by the club at different times throughout the season. The talent is still there — it simply didn’t want to play for the previous coaching staff any longer.
On the other side of the ball, the reasons for regression were far more obvious. Odell Beckham Jr. managed only 214 snaps before being lost for the season, while Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall barely managed a full season’s worth of snaps combined. Combine that with the fact the Giants employed one of PFF’s lowest-graded offensive lines on the season and you have a recipe for disaster.
Getting the receiving corps back healthy will be a huge boost for the offense, but all of that is moot if they can’t effectively address the quarterback position. Eli Manning is a shell of his former self, and finished as PFF’s 28th-highest-graded quarterback in 2017. If they can’t upgrade there either through the draft or via free agency, any improvements to the roster will be meaningless.
While the Bengals had a disappointing 2017 season, they quietly enjoyed breakout seasons from a handful of young, talented players. William Jackson (89.2 overall grade), Darqueze Dennard (82.8), Joe Mixon (82.1) and Carl Lawson (80.6) all proved themselves to be quality contributors this past season. Add in the return of last year’s top-10 pick in John Ross — who only played 17 snaps as a rookie — and one would think that young core is only going to get better in the coming years.
The blueprint to fix the Bengals this offseason is obvious: revamp the offensive line. That might be easier said than done though, as left guard Clint Boling (75.6 overall grade) was the only one to grade out as a competent starter in 2017. Having to address four positions in one offseason is going to be a struggle, and it’s likely going to take either Cedric Ogbuehi (41.0) or Jake Fisher (45.3) taking a leap forward at tackle. If they can add two quality starters on the interior though free agency, and a tackle in the draft, they could be right back in contention for the AFC North.
For as much as their defense took a step back in 2017, they were still one of the best in the NFL. They were still second in yards allowed per drive, but they were put behind the 8-ball far too often in terms of field position by their offense. One could even chalk up the down years from Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr., and Aqib Talib to simply being demoralized from three straight seasons now without any sort of offense to speak of.
This is also a roster that doesn’t have a single impact starter set to be an unrestricted free agent. Center Matt Paradis and edge defender Shaquil Barrett are restricted free agents, but it shouldn’t take too much to hold on to both. That means they won’t need to eat into their cap space much to keep their roster intact, and allows them enough room to make a play at one of the handful of starting quarterbacks set to hit free agency. And they certainly have the weapons in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders that could attract a top quarterback to Denver. If the Broncos can sign a quarterback before the draft, they can utilize their top-five pick to acquire a position player, and be right back in contention for the AFC.
Mike Renner is a writer for Pro Football Focus and a contributor to The Washington Post’s NFL coverage.