Quarterback: Eli Manning
Manning is coming off a season where he threw a career-best 35 touchdowns. With improved weapons and another year of experience in new coach Ben McAdoo’s system, there is hope he can continue to trend upward. The Giants are counting on Manning and the offensive scheme to mask some of the deficiencies on the offensive line. A lot will be on his shoulders this season. A potential Hall of Fame quarterback in this pass-friendly era can’t miss the playoffs five straight years.
Running back: Rashad Jennings
Jennings is labeled the starter, even though he will likely split a majority of the playing time with Shane Vereen. They could be considered co-starters, if you please. After finishing last season strong, Jennings should receive the opportunity to be the Giants’ primary ball carrier. He also appears in line for more goal-line carries after the release of Andre Williams and should easily eclipse the three touchdown runs from last year if he remains healthy. Vereen’s role will be similar to last season, when he caught a career-best 59 passes. Expect his workload to be quite similar.
The Giants played three wide receivers or more 83 percent of the snaps last season, according to Football Outsiders. That was the second most in the NFL. It’s clear three wide receiver is the Giants’ primary formation. Beckham and Shepard have been running with the first team since the start of the summer. Cruz joined them the second he returned to the field from a groin injury. They are going to log a large majority of the snaps.
The Giants played a ton of two-tight end sets this summer, in part because they had their tight ends lined up as fullbacks, H-backs and even out wide as receivers. Since they don’t have a natural fullback on the roster, Donnell and Tye are both going to be on the field plenty, likely even from the start. Jerell Adams is the only other tight end on the roster.
It’s the same starting offensive line as they had late last year with Newhouse projected at right tackle. Will Beatty's presence likely won’t be felt Week 1. Beatty, who re-signed last week after being cut earlier this year, hasn’t played since the 2014 season finale. He missed all of training camp and the entire preseason. Until he experiences some contact and live action, it’s unlikely he’ll enter the starting lineup. Beatty may eventually take over for Newhouse, but it's unlikely to be before the Giants plays the Cowboys.
They’ve been the first-team tandem since they arrived for the start of the offseason program. Vernon and Pierre-Paul are healthy and primed for big seasons.
The Giants haven’t had a top 10 rushing defense since 2010. They were 24th last season in part because Hankins was hurt. Now he’s back and joined by Harrison, who is widely considered among the league’s best run defenders. This duo should be one of the toughest to run against in the NFL this season. It's behind them where there are concerns.
The surprise release of Jasper Brinkley on Monday appears to have signaled that Sheppard won the starting middle linebacker job. He’ll play alongside Casillas and Kennard in the Giants' base defense. Casillas is expected to be the only three-down player in the group, if his ribs are healthy enough (which they should be) to handle a full workload. The Giants were 31st last year defending tight ends and running backs against the pass. They’ll need better from their linebackers to improve.
First-round pick Eli Apple is going to play. He’s just not going to be part of their starting base defense. Rodgers-Cromartie and Jenkins are a formidable duo on the outside. Rodgers-Cromartie could move to the slot in nickel situations. Leon Hall will be used all over the defense (in the slot, as a third safety, etc.). Expect a lot of three and four-cornerback formations. The Giants used five or more defensive backs on 63 percent of their defensive snaps last season.
If Thompson is healthy, he’s going to start. He’s been dealing with a shoulder injury and wore a harness while being limited at practice Monday. If they deem him unable to start, Nat Berhe will take his place. At this point, I'm leaning toward Thompson being ready. His presence is key. It allowed Collins to spend most of the summer closer to the line of scrimmage, where he’s an ideal fit and can consistently make plays.