2017 Giants Preview: The Wide Receivers

Odell Beckham Jr. and friends

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For all intents and purposes, the 2016 New York Giants wide receiving corps can be summed up in three words: Odell Beckham Jr. The sensationally gifted receiver was the only consistent playmaker on the offense — despite what some conspiracy theorists may think.

This year things should be severely different, as the Giants improved their wide receiving corps.

This is the continuation of my preseason look at all the position groups. If you missed the preview on the quarterbacks and running backs, check them out.


What’s Known

Odell the Superstar

Literally, what else do I need to say about the blonde-haired sensation? I’ve said so much about Beckham, that I’m at the point where I feel like anything I say is redundant.

So I’ll keep it short. Beckham is still a top-end wide receiver who is the (at worst) the third-best in the NFL. It’s absolutely insane that the norm for Beckham is 1,200 yards and at least 10 touchdowns. That’s simply how good and how transcendent of a talent he has been since he entered the league.

Expect the same Beckham — if not better — in 2017, as well as the same media coverage.

Shepard in the Slot

A year after showing real promise as a rookie, the time is now for Sterling Shepard to truly emerge as a weapon for the Giants in the slot. Whether it was Steve Smith or Victor Cruz, Eli Manning has typically found a way to get an ample amount of production out of his slot receivers.

Shepard was incredibly productive last year, finding the end zone a total of eight times. Still, there’s room for improvement, especially in terms of yards after the catch. The second-year pro is aware of this, and it’s a good thing he’s cognizant of where he needs to improve.

With the Giants now boasting a relative wealth of pass-catchers, Shepard will find himself facing a lot more one-on-one coverage in 2017. That’s a great thing, too. Last year Shepard was a problem for defenders in single coverage. He beat All-Pro safety Malcolm Jenkins for two touchdowns, making the incredibly talented defensive back look like a rookie.

If last year was indicative of things to come, then Giants fans can expect another productive year from Shepard.

Harris’ Well-Rounded Contributions

Harris was the Giants’ most efficient wide receiver a year ago. Well, if you want to base efficiency on touchdown percentage only. Harris caught one pass all year, and scored one touchdown.

Special teamer of the year.

All jokes aside, Harris’ main contributions for the Giants come on special teams. In 2017, Harris once again served as the team’s main return man — even if his production took a dip. However, Harris once again earned his paycheck in coverage, doing a fantastic job as a gunner. His efforts earned him Pro Bowl honors.

While Harris’ role may be limited in terms of offensive production, his value to the team is significant.

The Unknown

Marshall Law

At this point, fans know what kind of player is Brandon Marshall is on the field. He’s garnered a reputation of being a strong wide receiver with the ability to rip balls out of the air. Marshall has tremendous body control, and has an invaluable catch radius. Marshall gives Eli Manning the first legitimate big receiver he’s had since Plaxico Burress. What that means is there’s a good chance the end-zone fade will return. He’ll be replacing Victor Cruz on the outside, which gives the Giants a much-needed big presence on the outside.

We know all of that.

What we don’t know, however, is exactly how Marshall will fit into the offense. We also aren’t entirely sure what kind of production Marshall will have in 2017.

Additionally, while Marshall has expressed his content with being the second option with the Giants, he’s still a prideful player who wants to catch the ball. It will be completely unknown how Marshall will react to a diluted role on offense until the regular season actually begins.

While Marshall is certainly a completely different person than he was five years ago, it will be interesting to see how his personality meshes with his new teammates’, especially the one with blonde hair.

King Me?

In the now-infamous NFC Wild Card game from a year ago, Tavarres King was the lone Giants receiver who caught a touchdown. However, it took King until week 17 to make a serious contribution.

King certainly has the speed to make things happen on the field. That fact was evident last preseason, when King scored three touchdowns in three games.

Kings do king things.

The only question is whether he can be consistent. Among the receivers not named Beckham, Marshall, Shepard and Harris, King likely has the best chance of making the final roster.

I personally like King a lot. Whereas Shepard is incredibly quick in-and-out of his cuts and Marshall is a big, strong receiver, King has straight-away speed that can assist the offense in taking the top off the defense.

Roger That

Roger Lewis Jr. had a 2016 filled with some ups, but mostly downs. He caught Eli Manning’s 300th touchdown pass, as well as another touchdown later in the season. But drops and overall inconsistent play plagued the Bowling Green product.

Eli’s 300th TD, Roger’s 1st.

He had an opportunity to step up in a primetime spot when Victor Cruz missed a Monday Night Football game. Instead, Lewis compiled a bad game that featured bad hands, as the un-drafted player literally and figuratively dropped the ball.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, he was arrested and charged with OVI during the offseason, according to ESPN’s Jordan Raanan. Despite his mild production in 2016, Lewis was far from guaranteed a roster spot. Now, he faces in immense uphill battle to prove to the coaches he can stay out of trouble, as well as contribute.

He needs to earn the coaches trust back, otherwise his chances of making the roster are painfully thin.

Powe, Right in the Kisser!

To me, Powe is the biggest paradox at the wide receiver position. At 6–3, 220 pounds, Powe has the physical tools to contribute — at least in theory. He’s been compared to Dez Bryant by some outlets, so that’s worth noting.

I can’t really figure him out, mostly because he’s never appeared in a regular-season game for the Giants. Still, Powe remains on the roster and remains unproven. I think the Bryant comparisons are, uhm, extreme. But he does possess at least a relatively similar skill set. He can go up and make tough grabs, and he doesn’t shy away from contact when he has the ball in his hands.

His skill set could help him find a permanent roster spot on the team.

Kevin Norwood

The third-year pro out of Alabama has spent time with Carolina and Seattle, but didn’t catch on with either team. Norwood will likely struggle to emerge in what’s now a very crowded receiving corps. Norwood doesn’t have a whole lot of pro tape to analyze. But during his time at Alabama, he displayed an impressive leaping ability, as well as body control. Those are certainly his best attributes.

Keep an eye on Norwood during the preseason, if only because he may have a Corey Washington-like four games.


The Rookies

Travis Rudolph

Rudolph is this year’s feel-good preseason story. He, of course, gained national coverage when he chose to sit with Bo Paske, a boy with autism, during lunch. Rudolph has since developed a close relationship with the boy.

The dude’s got moves.

The good news is that Rudolph is more than just a good story. The dude can contribute, and has a play-making ability the offense could use. While not the fastest guy on the field, Rudolph consistently plays at a high gear. He could be an asset in the return game.

Out of all the rookies on the roster, Rudolph certainly has the best chance of making the final 53. If Rudolph can indeed make an impact on special teams, he should be able to — at the very, very least — earn a spot on the practice squad.

Kevin Snead

Known as “The Fastest Man in College Football,” Snead certainly has wheels. That speed will unquestionably translate to the professional level. His 4.22 speed is blazing, and it’s what gained him attention during the pre-draft process.

The obvious concern with Snead is largely the fact that he was a big (fast) fish in an exceptionally small pond. Playing at Carson-Newman University, Snead axiomatically wasn’t facing elite level talents. The other concern that is perhaps less known is the fact that Snead only recorded five receptions during his time at CNU.

Snead also saw time at defensive back during his collegiate career. The bottom line is that Snead is athletic, but his athleticism may not make him adept at a certain position. It’s like in the old NCAA video games when you had players whose positions were simply “ATH.”

Keeon Johnson

Despite being listed at 6–3 by the University of Virginia’s athletics page, Giants.com lists Johnson at 6–2. Not a lot of film on Johnson exists, so I can’t make a fair opinion on him.

Jerome Lane

The ex-Akron Zip is the second tallest receiver on the team at 6–3. In his final year at Akron, Lane posted 1,018 yards to go along with 62 receptions and six touchdowns.

Talk Giants with Ryan on Twitter: @DisdierSports