Giants might count on rookies Evan Engram, Dalvin Tomlinson to start

The New York Giants could have as many as 19 returning starters when the NFL season opens, but there are two rookies and two second-year players trying to earn their spots this summer.

Here’s a starting-lineup projection entering training camp:


Quarterback (Eli Manning): His job isn’t in jeopardy, even though the Giants drafted a quarterback in the third round. Manning had a down year in 2016 (26 touchdowns, 23 turnovers). But with improved weapons, there is hope this will be a bounce-back season.

Running back (Paul Perkins): The second-year back already has been anointed the starter. The elusiveness and versatility he showed during a rookie campaign when he averaged 4.1 yards per carry earned him the opportunity to be the lead back.

Wide receiver (Odell Beckham Jr.): The 24-year-old is one of the NFL’s biggest stars. He has had at least 90 catches, 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of his first three professional seasons -- the only player in NFL history to accomplish the feat. Now he needs to show that productivity in the postseason while playing for a new contract.

Wide receiver (Brandon Marshall): The tall, powerful receiver was signed this offseason as a complement to Beckham. The Giants hope they’re getting the five-time Pro Bowler, not the 2016 version of Marshall who struggled with injuries and inconsistency.

Wide receiver (Sterling Shepard): He’s looking to build off a strong maiden season during which he was second among rookies with eight touchdowns. Shepard had a strong spring, and his goal is to be more dynamic this season after the catch.

Tight end (Evan Engram): The first-round pick adds a new dimension to the offense with his speed and ability to open up the middle of the field. But Engram’s blocking will ultimately determine just how often he’s on the field and whether he immediately earns a starting spot. Rhett Ellison could end up starting due to his blocking ability.

Left tackle (Ereck Flowers): The Giants went all-in on Flowers this offseason after they didn’t add a true veteran offensive tackle in free agency. They were impressed that he remained at the facility and reworked his body. Flowers, 23, allowed the second-most pressures (59) among all offensive tackles last season, according to Pro Football Focus. So there is plenty of room to improve.

Left guard (Justin Pugh): Perhaps the Giants’ best offensive lineman, Pugh is entering his contract year. He needs to remain healthy after missing nine games over the past three seasons.

Center (Weston Richburg): The fourth-year center also is entering his contract year. Richburg is hoping to bounce back after playing with a hand injury for most of 2016.

Right guard (John Jerry): The Giants re-signed Jerry this offseason to a three-year, $10 million contract with the intention of him being their starting right guard. Coming off one of the best seasons of his career, he will face some competition from free-agent acquisition D.J. Fluker. But Jerry is the favorite to start entering camp.

Right tackle (Bobby Hart): The Giants' inactivity regarding the tackle slot this offseason again puts Hart in position to start, after he was benched late last year. Hart showed flashes of his potential last season.


Defensive end (Jason Pierre-Paul): He returns healthy and with a new four-year, $62 million deal. Pierre-Paul proved last season -- with 53 tackles and seven sacks in 12 games -- that he can still be a difference-maker.

Defensive tackle (Damon Harrison): He’s arguably the league’s best run-stuffing tackle. Pro Football Focus had him with a 15.8 percent run-stop percentage, tops in the NFL. Harrison might well be the most important player on the Giants' defense.

Defensive tackle (Dalvin Tomlinson): Robert Thomas spent most of the spring working with the first-team defense. But when all is said and done, Tomlinson, a second-round pick out of Alabama, seems to have the best chance to start alongside Harrison on running downs.

Defensive end (Olivier Vernon): He came to the Giants with a massive contract and didn’t disappoint in his first season with the team. Vernon tied for the NFL lead with 17 tackles for loss and played the most snaps of any defensive lineman. They’re expecting much of the same in Year 2.

Weakside linebacker (Jonathan Casillas): The well-respected defensive captain was the team’s only three-down linebacker last season. He finished with a career-best 96 tackles and eight passes defended. He has a chance to fill the same role in 2017.

Middle linebacker (B.J. Goodson): The second-year linebacker had a strong spring, during which he impressed the coaching staff and teammates. With last year’s starter Kelvin Sheppard still unsigned and unlikely to return, Goodson appears primed to start and become the signal-caller on this defense.

Strongside linebacker (Devon Kennard): The reliable Kennard does an excellent job setting the edge and playing with power. He’s entrenched as the starter on the strong side, in large part because of his run-stuffing ability.

Cornerback (Janoris Jenkins): He took his game to a new level with the Giants last season and earned his first Pro Bowl selection. He shut down Dallas Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant (twice) and proved to be a shutdown corner even against No. 1 receivers.

Cornerback (Eli Apple): With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie having made the smooth transition to the slot, Apple is the clear-cut starter on the outside. After an up-and-down rookie season, he should make a significant jump, if he can remain healthy.

Strong safety (Landon Collins): He blossomed into an All-Pro safety in his second season. Collins had 125 tackles, five interceptions, 4.0 sacks and 13 passes defended while becoming a fixture in the Giants' secondary. He’ll be there for a long time.

Free safety (Darian Thompson): This is one of the few defensive positions up for grabs. Safeties coach David Merritt said as much last month. Thompson missed all but two games last season, and undrafted rookie Andrew Adams filled in admirably. The two will compete for the starting spot this summer, but Thompson enters as the favorite with his foot healthy. He blew away the team last spring/summer with his smarts and instincts.

Special teams

Kicker (Aldrick Rosas): He’s the only kicker on the roster, and the Giants were impressed by what they saw this spring. It’s Rosas’ job to lose at training camp and in the preseason.

Punter (Brad Wing): He established himself as a weapon last season. Wing’s average of 46.2 yards per punt was the best of his career.

Long-snapper (Zak DeOssie): The veteran is back for another season. The special-teams captain is well-respected and considered a leader in the locker room.