The New York Giants will look different at the wide receiver position entering 2019.
Obviously, the main difference will be the absence of Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham was traded to the Cleveland Browns in March. No one in their right mind would ever question his skills on the field. As a Giant, OBJ had 390 receptions (fourth in franchise history) for 5,476 yards (second in franchise history) and 44 touchdowns (second in franchise history). He was a threat to take it to the house with each reception.
Despite his skill set, Beckham’s tenure as a Giant was controversial. His behavior (both on and off-the-field) sometimes brought embarrassment to the team. There were also incidents where he threw his quarterback (and the coaching staff) under the bus. His health has also been an issue. Beckham missed a total of 16 games in the past two seasons. In fact, Beckham has only played all 16 games in a regular season just once in his career.
Nevertheless, the Giants made him the NFL’s highest paid wide receiver. General manager Dave Gettleman repeatedly said the team did not sign a long-term extension to trade him. This was before shipping him off to the Dawg Pound for 2019 draft picks and safety Jabrill Peppers.
Immediately after Beckham was traded, the Giants signed free agent Golden Tate. The move was greeted was skepticism because of the belief Tate is most successful from the slot position, where Sterling Shepard has mostly made his living since the Giants drafted him. Both Tate and Shepard shrugged off the criticism, saying they can both play multiple positions.
In Tate, the Giants have an experienced player with more than 100 regular season starts and 11 postseason games on his resume. One of those postseason games is the Seattle Seahawks’ victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII played at MetLife Stadium. In January, Tate caught the go-ahead touchdown for the Philadelphia Eagles to advance past the Chicago Bears in a Wild Card matchup at Soldier Field.
He is the seventh wide receiver in NFL history to record four consecutive seasons (2014-17) with at least 90 receptions. In 2018, he had 74 receptions for 795 yards and four touchdowns while splitting games with the Eagles (eight) and Detroit Lions (seven). His reception total and receiving yards would have been third on the Giants.
Perhaps the greatest attribute Tate brings to the table is health. He has played at least 15 regular season games in seven of his eight NFL seasons. The Giants are counting on him to complement Shepard.
Speaking of No. 87, his future with the Giants looked to be in jeopardy after they traded his good friend OBJ. Instead, he signed a four-year, $41 million extension. Now the Giants are building their receiving corps around him. Shepard has been a beast in the slot but his production hasn’t been limited there. He took just 58 percent of slot snaps for the Giants in ’18. Tate, by comparison, saw between 70 and 78 percent of slot snaps with the Lions and Eagles. Shepard can make defenders pay on intermediate routes as well but the biggest surprise, one that is not talked about, is Shepard’s success without Beckham in the field.
Shepard became the Giants’ go-to receiver after Beckham was placed on season-ending IR in 2017. He was second on the team in receptions (59) and his 731 receiving yards led the team. His production was obscured because the Giants set a record for futility with 13 losses.
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Cody Latimer was supposed to give the Giants a solid No. 3 receiver option when the Giants signed him last season. He was limited to six games because of injury, amassing 11 receptions for 190 yards and a touchdown. The Giants brought Latimer back because showed flashes of potential when he was on the field. However, the team has a large number of wideouts fighting for a spot. He is also currently the Giants’ tallest wideout, standing at six feet, two inches.
The expectations coming out of college were high for Corey Coleman, a 2016 first-round (15th overall) draft pick of the Browns. He has struggled a find a home in the NFL, being cut from the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots practice squads in ’18 before signing with the Giants. His season was unspectacular, just five receptions for 71 yards in eight games. Coleman has the ability to stretch the field and has value as a return specialist. He believes his familiarity with the offense will be an asset in training camp.
Russell Shepard has been overlooked throughout his time with the Giants. In 2018, he had 10 receptions for 188 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games. He doesn’t have eye-popping stats but Shepard has quietly and efficiently accepted his role in the offense. He will have more of an opportunity to show what he can do now that Beckham is in Cleveland. Shepard is capable of playing on the inside or out. This versatility will make him an attractive option for the Giants coaching staff.
Darius Slayton, a 2019 fifth-round (171st overall) pick, looked like a deer in headlights at times during rookie minicamp. Instead of folding, he studied hard and returned for organized team activities with a new focus. Head coach Pat Shurmur called Slayton the “most improved” player throughout the spring. He is not a particularly strong back but his speed is his greatest attribute. He consistently left defenders in the dust, garnering positive attention from his teammates and coaching staff. Slayton was originally tagged as a practice squad player but now has a legitimate shot at making the 53-man roster.
The other players trying to secure a roster spot include Bennie Fowler, Brittan Golden, Alonzo Russell, Alex Wesley, and Reggie White Jr. Fowler and Russell have primarily been reserves while Golden is an eight-year veteran who has mostly played on special teams. Wesley, an undrafted free agent out of Northern Colorado, is an undersized former track star.
Then there’s White Jr. He signed with the Giants as an undrafted free agent out of Monmouth. He had some flashes of brilliance throughout the spring but eventually cooled off. His chances of making the 53-man roster are slim at best. It is of note that White Jr. was assigned Beckham’s former No. 13.
There is no replication for the level of talent lost when Beckham was traded. However, the Giants are hoping for addition by subtraction when it comes to their receiving corps. They will be counted on to act as more of a unit than they have in recent years. Players will be asked to do more to compensate for Beckham’s absence. If successful, the Giants could have one of the most potent receiving corps in the NFL.