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State of the 2021 New York Giants: Pivotal season for Daniel Jones

Where does your franchise stand heading into 2021? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.

Members of the New York Giants organization, Big Blue fans around the world and those who think that Patton Oswalt's performance in the movie Big Fan makes it really kind of an underrated flick:

There is a certain level of uncertainty with the G-Men as we head into the 2021 season. They have a young coach. If you only watched the early part of last season, you would have sworn he was in over his head. They have a third-year quarterback whom we still aren't quite sure about. But the team also has an eye on a potentially bright future. Let's take a look.

How the Giants got here

Let's take a quick look back at the highs and lows of the 2020 season.

The lows:

  • Losing Saquon Barkley to a season-ending ACL tear in Week 2.
  • Starting the season 0-5. Some of those games were winnable. Only a 36-9 loss to the 49ers in Week 3 was a true blowout.
  • And then, of course, there was this play in Week 7:

I do love the text accompanying that video in the tweet: DANIEL JONES. 80-YARD RUN. That's like posting a clip from Star Wars and referring to it as merely a space opera. You're kind of missing the bigger point.

The high:

  • Winning four consecutive games after starting the season 1-7. But then they lost three games in a row. They did beat the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17 to keep their playoff hopes alive heading into the Sunday night game between Washington and Philadelphia. It was the longest of shots, but the Giants were playing in Week 17 for a shot at the postseason. There wasn't too much more you could ask for from that group.

Another low:

  • The Eagles really ruined you in the final week. Or Doug Pederson did by benching Jalen Hurts in the fourth quarter versus Washington. And I understand the hurt and frustration you felt after that decision. But you guys need to realize that your team won just six games. I can sit here and say you should take pride in the fact that the Giants' playoff hopes were still alive in Week 17. Because you should. But the Eagles are under no obligation to help you. It's like being at a wedding with an open bar for two hours. If you wander up five minutes after the open bar ended, you can be hopeful the bartender will slide you one more shot of free Patrón. But you can't be mad if the bartender doesn't. And honestly, if you were tipping all night, you'd likely get that free drink. So really, that was on you.

2021 VIPs

Head coach: Joe Judge. The first-year coach won his introductory press conference and then didn't do a whole lot of winning until the second half of the season. Judge was known as a throwback to the old-school coaches who would made their players run laps for missing assignments and whatnot. And sometimes you have to wonder if that kind of attitude is going to play in the modern NFL. But Giants WR Sterling Shepard, who is now entering his sixth season with the team after being drafted in the second round out of Oklahoma in 2016, recently told The Oklahoma Breakdown with Ikard and Lehman that he loved Judge's approach.

"He's a tough coach, man," Shepard said. "He's a tough coach, but that's what we needed. For the previous two coaches, we didn't do any conditioning or anything like that. But I will say last year was my first year of really having to condition -- it kind of felt like Oklahoma all over again."

And again, I kind of loved Judge's opening press conference. But it always feels like his style only works when your team is winning. Like when Bruce Arians is riding Tom Brady. That's all well and good when you go out and win a Lombardi. But if your team suffers another 6-10 season, that's a different matter.

A somber note: I know the general feel of this State of the Franchise series is pretty lighthearted. But while we're talking about the head coach of this franchise, if you'll allow me to be serious for a moment, I did want to acknowledge the sudden passing of Jim Fassel. Disheartening news to wake up to on Tuesday morning. He is someone I had the pleasure of working with when I started at the NFL. I wouldn't categorize us as friends, but he did light up the first time I told him that I, too, was a proud alumnus of Fullerton College. Go Hornets. And we'd exchange head nods when we'd run into each other periodically at my favorite sushi place in Huntington Beach. We'll get back to the 2021 New York Giants now, but I couldn't let this moment pass without mentioning Coach Fassel, who led this organization to a Super Bowl in the first season of this millennium. He will be missed.

Quarterback: Daniel Jones. I'm still a Danny Dimes guy, but last year was kind of brutal. He passed for fewer than 3,000 yards. Had just 11 touchdown throws. I mean, that almost seems impossible for a guy who started 14 games at quarterback in 2020. I think Taylor Heinicke had more touchdown passes. (Kidding, he didn't. I don't think.) I would like to blame some of this on Jason Garrett, but I kind of like him in an offensive coordinator role. I believe the Giants made the right decision by bringing back Garrett this season. There would be nothing worse than making Danny learn his third different offense in as many NFL seasons. He's getting a chance to give it another go in the same system, and the kid has skills. I really do think he could be a Tony Romo type. But now it's on him to deliver. The team went out and added some offensive playmakers in the offseason to make sure Daniel has every tool to succeed. GM Dave Gettleman even passed on defensive needs to draft a receiver (Kadarius Toney) in Round 1. There are no more excuses. Time to see what the guy is made of.

Projected 2021 MVP: Saquon Barkley, running back. As we mentioned earlier, Barkley's 2021 campaign came to an end in Week 2 last season due to an ACL tear, making for a disappointing follow-up to a relatively uneventful second year in the NFL. Barkley looked like he was going to dominate for a long time back in 2018, when he posted 2,000-plus scrimmage yards and 15 total touchdowns as a rookie. This is clearly a pivotal year for Barkley, but the Giants have put their faith in him, having exercised the fifth-year option on his contract in April. Speaking to the media on Wednesday, the running back declined to provide a timetable for his return, but said he's "doing well" in rehab. New York has a lot of new firepower on offense (and we'll talk more about that in a moment), but for me, it all comes down to Barkley in 2021.

2021 breakout star: Xavier McKinney, safety. McKinney was considered a likely first-round pick leading up to the 2020 draft. It was kind of a surprise that he fell to Round 2, but it made him a great value for the Giants at No. 36 overall. McKinney played in just six games (four starts) during his rookie season after breaking his foot in training camp. Jabrill Peppers and Logan Ryan might be considered the team's top safeties, but McKinney's the kind of player that you won't be able to keep off the field. It's not going to surprise me if he plays a big role in 2021.

New face to know: Kenny Golladay, wide receiver. The former Lions star was one of the biggest prizes in free agency this offseason. There might be some concerns about his health after he missed 11 games due to injury last season, but I can't overlook the situation he was in as a pending free agent for the Lions. I'm not sure how quickly I would have rushed to get back on the field if I were in his shoes. Kind of like an NFL version of Peter Gibbons. I don't know if playing for the Giants will be like the construction job that made Gibbons happy in the end, but given Joe Judge's rah-rah speeches, it just might. Golladay is extremely talented and has the ability to be a top receiver in the league. And the Giants didn't stop with that signing, though. They drafted Kadarius Toney, signed John Ross (he's fast) and also brought in Kyle Rudolph. They were added to a team that already had Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard. The Giants are going for it. As previously noted, Daniel Jones is not going to have a lot of excuses if he can't break 20 touchdown passes this season.

2021 roadmap

The competitive urgency index is: MEDIUM. I'll respectfully say medium, because we are talking about New York City (and the greater New York area). There is always going to be some scrutiny. But most ardent observers know where things stand for the Giants. This could be a breakout year for the team. Or it could be the precursor to another rebuild. The head coach is probably going to get some leeway. The quarterback might not.

Three key dates:

Will the Giants be able to …

Have no regrets about drafting a receiver instead of a pass rusher in Round 1? You know what I mean. The Giants actually had a lot of different directions they could have gone in with their first selection (No. 11 overall). But getting that 2022 first-round pick from the Bears shows that GM Dave Gettleman is setting New York up for success down the road. Although, that pick from the Bears is going to be pick No. 32 overall in 2022 (hey, I'm a Bears fan, which means I'm delusional by nature), but it was a good move, even though it was out of character for Gettleman, who had never traded down in his eight previous drafts as a GM. After the Eagles picked DeVonta Smith 10th overall, moving down from the 11th overall pick made a lot of sense for the Giants. I like the player they did select in the first round -- WR Kadarius Toney -- and believe he will be a nice addition. But the one Giants draft pick I really like is second-round edge rusher Azeez Ojulari. The Georgia product is a first-round talent who slid, reportedly because of medical concerns. If he plays to his potential, you have to look at what Gettleman did as a masterstroke. He added additional help for his quarterback in Round 1, got the pass rusher the team needed in Round 2 and added an extra first-round pick for next year. Honestly, even as a Bears fan, I know that next year's first-rounder could land anywhere from No. 8 to No. 32 overall, so to answer the question that started this section, there should be no regrets.

Not regret letting go of Kevin Zeitler? The offensive line is one area Gettleman didn't address in the draft. A mild surprise considering the team let go of Zeitler in March after he started all but one game in the two seasons since being sent to New York as part of the Odell Beckham Jr. trade. The Giants could roll with 2020 fifth-round pick Shane Lemieux to replace Zeitler. He started nine games as a rookie. It must be weird for New York sports fans to be rooting for a Lemieux after rooting against both Mario (who played for the Pittsburgh Penguins) and Claude (who played for the hated New Jersey Devils) in hockey. The Giants could always look for a veteran free agent at guard if they don't want to stand pat, though it should be noted the team did sign Zach Fulton, who played guard for Houston during the last few seasons. Which is kind of like your band hiring the former bassist of Chumbawamba.

Get a true Pro Bowl performance from Evan Engram? Did you know that Evan Engram was selected to the Pro Bowl last season? It goes to show just how shallow the pool was at tight end in the NFC in 2020. And that's not meant as a shot at Engram. He did have 63 receptions last season, the most since his rookie campaign. But he had just two touchdowns (one receiving, one rushing). And the team has added WR-turned-TE Kelvin Benjamin to the mix, as well. So don't get mad at me for bringing it up. Oh, and the Giants also signed Kyle Rudolph, which I mentioned earlier. That seems like a lot of movement at a position that should be strong.

One storyline …

... people are overlooking: How great this secondary could be. I've already raved about Xavier McKinney, but let's take a moment to acknowledge James Bradberry, who has emerged as a true shutdown corner. He's the kind of guy us fantasy dorks like to avoid when we are setting our weekly lineups. The most-overlooked move of the offseason might be the signing of Adoree' Jackson. I know he was disappointing for the Titans last year. But what are you doing, Tennessee? You can't just throw away defensive talent like that. Anyway, with Bradberry, Jackson, Logan Ryan, Jabrill Peppers (another player acquired in the OBJ trade) and McKinney, the secondary is the strength of the Giants' defense. And it should help the aforementioned pass rush.

... people are overthinking: The Giants have too many receivers. Again, this might be something that us fantasy dorks like talking about because we're worried about target distribution. I understand a lot of you just want to see the Giants score points, no matter which player is doing the scoring. It could even be John Ross. But Darius Slayton is one player I'm kind of excited to see in 2021. He's been pretty nice over the last couple of seasons, gaining at least 740 yards in each year. And he's scored 11 touchdowns total in two years, which is a nice way to spin it because he had eight in his rookie season. But Danny Dimes throwing, like, four touchdown passes last season contributed to that lopsided split for Slayton. However, the additions of Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney might actually open things up for Slayton to get past defenses. This could be a breakout season for the third-year wideout.

For 2021 to be a success, the Giants MUST:

  • Figure out whether they have their quarterback of the future. Making the playoffs would be amazing. But the most important thing for this club is to know whether or not Daniel Jones is the answer by the end of the season. And if he wins the Super Bowl, then yes, I would say he's your QB of the future.

In closing

I kind of like where the Giants are at right now. They've done everything possible this offseason to make sure their quarterback is surrounded by more talent. And I know there's an opportunity for a dig at the Packers right there, but I'm too mature to take that shot. Back to the Giants. They've put themselves in a good position to win in the future. And with the NFC East being what it is, they even have a chance to win in 2021.

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