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Special Report

Sent: 05-25-18

Dave Klein was the Giants' beat writer for The Star-Ledger from 1961 to 1995.
He is the author of 26 books and he is one of only three sportswriters to have covered all the Super Bowls. Dave has allowed TEAM GIANTS to reprint some of his articles.


(Our resident analyst and statistics guru, Scott Landstrom, has come up with an idea to rank the offenses by skill position in the NFC East. Guess what? The Giants earned a slight edge.

By Scott Landstrom

So, with the selection of the best running back prospect in many a draft class, Saquon Barkley, it has been written that Eli Manning has not had a group of "skill position players" in his entire career as he does now.

And it certainly has been an emphasis in recent Giants drafts, as Odell Beckham Jr. was a No. 1 choice, Sterling Shepard was a No. 2 and Evan Engram was a No. 1 pick. As, obviously, was Barkley. That's three No. 1's and a No. 2 filling out these critical running back, wide receiver, and tight end positions for the Giants, and that is called "pedigree."

But how does New York stack up in skill position players in the NFC East going into the 2018-2019 season? I decided to analyze this issue and came up with a point scale system to help me do that. The RB, WR and TE positions will all be judged on a 10-point scale, but because QB is arguably the most important and highly leveraged position in all of team sports, we will use a 20-point scale for them.

Because the receiver unit has two, and sometimes more, players on the field, we will allot 15 points to the overall receiver unit. Running backs will get 12 points potential, since they are the only players who can add diversity to a modern attack in terms of the running game. Finally, we will allot 10 points to the tight end position.

So here is one man's take on the NFC East skill position players:

QUARTERBACK: 20 Points maximum

Philadelphia: Carson Wentz - 19 points. Wentz was on his way to being MVP of the league when he went down with the ACL injury that ended his season after 13 games. He is big, strong, fast, has a rocket arm and excellent touch. With 33 TD passes and just seven interceptions, with a 101.9 rating - he is "the entire package."

Washington: Alex Smith - 17 points. Smith merely led the NFL in passer rating last season with a 104.7 metric and was the sixth most prolific rushing QB at 355 yards, and only threw only five interceptions in 341 passing attempts. He has been called a "game manager" in the past, but among "qualified" attempts level QBs, only Drew Brees exceeded Smith's 8.0 yards per passing attempt, so he clearly was going downfield, and doing so with an exceptionally high completion rate (67.5 percent, third in the NFL).

Dallas: Dak Prescott - 15 points. Prescott suffered a "sophomore slump" of sorts after his epic rookie 2016 season, in which he posted a 104.6 passer rating. In 2017, he saw his interceptions more than triple, from 4 to 13, and his passer rating dropped to 86.6. That said, he is still infinitely more mobile than Eli Manning, was the fifth-leading rusher among QBs, and even in his "slump" year still exceeded Manning's 80.4 rating by over 6.0 points.

New York: Eli Manning: 13 points. Gosh, even rating him this high has to put emphasis on his "pedigree" and historical post-season performances. His 80.2 passer rating was good for 30th among 32 starting QBs in the league, and his QBR was 22nd. When you consider that all three NFC East competitors above rushed for 350 yards or so (Wentz on track to do so with 291 through 13 games when hurt), Eli's total rushing yards of 26 is really put into perspective. Now, all that said, and in Eli's defense, his offensive line was generally horrific in pass blocking, he had ZERO running game (26th in the NFL), and he lost his ENTIRE RECEIVING UNIT (or the top three players, anyway) to injury in Week 4 (only Shepard returned to play again), the guy was given almost no help.

Add this tidbit - with the backup receivers playing, the Giants led the league by leaps and bounds in "dropped passes" with 45, with no other team having more than 38. So other than not blocking for Eli, not running to provide diversity, and not holding on to the passes he threw that WERE "catchable" they really gave him a ton of support (not!).

PRIMARY RUNNING BACK: 12 Points maximum

Dallas: Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris - 11 points. Elliott led the NFL in rushing his rookie season but was suspended for 4 games last year due to domestic violence incidents. Despite missing those games, Elliott still posted 983 yards on 242 carries, averaging over 20 carries per game. The difference between his 1,631-yard rookie campaign and last year was found in average gain per rush (AGR). In 2016, he averaged 5.1 yards per carry, and dropped a full yard to a pedestrian 4.1 yards per carry last season. Morris is a former 1,000-yard rusher for the Redskins who adds depth to the position for Dallas, but Elliott is clearly the "workhorse."

New York: Saquon Barkley, Jonathan Stewart, Wayne Gallman - 10 points. Some might accuse me of "jumping the gun" on rating a guy who has zero NFL carries so highly, and I get that. But when a kid has the kind of production Saquon had at Penn State, both carrying the ball and catching it out of the backfield, and his measurables are the best since Bo Jackson at the Combine I just believe he is going to do great things for the Giants, especially with the additions to the offensive line -- Nate Solder, Will Hernandez, Patrick Omameh). Add in role contributions from Stewart and Gallman and I think the Giants have a well above-average talent level at RB.

Philadelphia: Chris Clement, Darren Sproles: 4 points. Neither of these guys rushed for even 300 yards, as leading rusher LeGarrette Blount (766 yards rushing in 2017) was allowed to go to Detroit via free agency. This leaves the Eagles significantly outgunned at this position, at least on paper. The only reason I give even four points is how good Sproles can be as receiver out of the backfield, or else they would have scored even lower. Washington: Chris Thompson, Derrius Guice: 3 points. Thompson is just a mediocre back, and Guice is a rookie out of LSU who was ranked clearly below Barkley by talent scouts. Like Philadelphia, the Redskins have not invested much in the RB position.

WIDE RECEIVERS: 15 points maximum

New York: Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, Cody Latimer: 14 points. The range of talent on this star-studded unit ranges from "otherworldly" (OBJ), to "star in the making" (Shepard), to "above average talent" (Latimer). If they can stay healthy, and if his new offensive line can give him a bit more time in the pocket, Manning will be like a child in a candy store.

Philadelphia: Alshon Jeffery, Mike Wallace, Nelson Agholor: 10 points. By signing Wallace from the Dolphins, the Eagles have the distinction of having all three of their top receivers responsible for between 700 and 800 yards in receptions last year. Remarkable that all three are so identical in production. Their styles compliment one another -- Jefferey is a big-body "possession" receiver, Wallace is a speedster, and Agholor is a quick-cutting slasher.

Dallas: Terrence Williams, Cole Beasley, Tavon Austin: 8 points. This unit would have scored 3-4 more points if it still had Dez Bryant, but his personality quirks got to be more than the team could stomach, and they cut him. Williams and Beasley are both very quick "slashers" and Austin has world class straight-away speed (4.31 in the forty at the Combine), but disappeared on the Rams' depth chart last season, and averaged less than seven yards per catch when he did get a rare opportunity.

Washington: Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson. 6 points. Well, now that I mention it, two of the three top receivers for the Redskins are ALSO in that 700-800 yards of production class in Crowder and Richardson (signed from Seattle). Doctson was a 500-yard guy - but nobody on this unit scares me in terms of explosiveness or speed.

TIGHT ENDS: Maximum points: 10

Philadelphia: Zach Ertz, Billy Brown: 9 points. Ertz is one of the elite tight ends in the game, finishing with the third most receiving yards (824) and tying for the second most TD receptions (8) among all NFL tight ends. He is big, fast and athletic, and is the standard for the position within the NFC East at this point.

New York: Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison: 8 points: Engram is by far the fastest and most explosive tight end in the division, finishing fifth in the NFL in yards receiving at his position as a rookie. The feeling is that Engram could ascend to Ertz' level this season after having a year under his belt, and with Eli (supposedly) on track to have more time in the pocket than last year's "jailbreak" protection level.

Washington: Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis: 7 points. The Redskins would score higher at this position based purely on talent, but Reed has been hurt and missed games every single year he has been in the NFL, and Davis is now 34 years old and near the end of his career. Reed is very talented - but apparently very fragile as well. Dallas: Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers: 2 points. Well, how the "worm turns" in the NFL. If we had done this rating last year, with certain Hall of Famer Jason Witten still playing, they would have rated near the top of the division, but now they are playing two kids I haven't heard of before, so this is a whole new world for Dallas.

So - without further ado, let's total up the "skill position" ratings by team:

First: New York Giants: 45 points
Second: Philadelphia Eagles: 42 points
Third: Dallas Cowboys: 36 points
Fourth: Washington Redskins: 33 points

If we just look at the non-quarterback skill positions, we get New York with 32, the Eagles with 23, the Cowboys with 21 and the Redskins with 18 points - so the "argument" that Eli has a tremendous set of weapons AROUND him makes total sense. Now imagine if the Giants had Eli in his prime! Or if Davis Webb or Kyle Lauletta can develop into a young star at the position? It would be something special - or even more so than it already is.

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