21st in a series.
Big Blue has another championship under its belt, but also some free agent and financial issues at running back and tight end to deal with. Super Bowl-winning teams often lose a few free agents because other teams will overpay for them. That could happen here.
Can QB Eli Manning remain an elite player?
Manning showed the world in 2011 that he can play at an elite level, as a lack of a consistent rushing attack forced the team to rely on him. He responded for the Giants and fantasy owners as well. Throwing for 308.3 yards, 1.8 TDs with one interception per game might not be fantasy elite but it's better than most, making him a clear-cut No. 1 entering the offseason. However, he's not worthy of a high draft pick yet.
Will there be a new backfield?
RB Ahmad Bradshaw missed four games and was ineffective as a pass receiver for most of the season, a talent fantasy owners count on for extra fantasy points. Bradshaw produced 171-659-9 rushing and 34-267-2 receiving on 44 targets, averaging 17.1 utilizations for 77.2 yards from scrimmage and 0.9 TDs in 12 games. When he's on the field, he's a legitimate threat to score with 11 total TDs in 2011, but in five seasons, he has played 16 games only once. That was in 2010, making health a question. If free agent Brandon Jacobs isn't brought back, the team will find a complementary back. View Bradshaw as a keeper in dynasty leagues and a potentially undervalued player on draft day if owners don't want to risk his potential for injury.
Jacobs restructured his contract last season, but early this offseason stated he would play elsewhere if the team cut him; the assumption being he won't restructure again. His opinion has turned 180 degrees and he is now willing to redo his deal to stay with the team. With a $4.4 million salary, Jacobs has never lived up to fantasy expectations and the Giants will not pay him that much money to be a backup. He ended the season with 152-571-7 rushing and 15-128-1 receiving on 23 targets with a 40-yard TD catch in Week Three providing unexpected points. Inactive for two games with a knee injury, he averaged 49.9 yards from scrimmage and 0.6 TDs in 14 games. If he remains a Giant, he will be a late-round fantasy pick. If he leaves, his value is unknown until he signs.
Which wide receivers are staying and which are going?
Hakeem Nicks is the No. 1 receiver and is not going anywhere. He dealt with nagging injuries and was inactive one week but finished with 76-1192-7 on 133 targets. With his average of 5.1 catches for 79.5 yards and 0.5 TDs in 15 games, Nicks was a bit of a disappointment, but he will enter the season with low-end No. 1 fantasy value.
Mario Manningham is a free agent and will take advantage of his highlight-reel Super Bowl catch and postseason numbers (13-189-3 on 22 targets) to get a big contract. There's a great chance another team will overpay him, with a few teams looking for a quality second-tier vertical threat. Manningham is only entering his fifth season and might have upside but fantasy owners won't ignore four seasons of so-so production. In 2011, he missed four games with injury and was supplanted by Victor Cruz, ending with 29-523-4 on 77 targets. Manningham had an average of 3.25 catches for 43.6 yards and 0.3 TDs on 6.4 targets in 12 games. I don't expect him to return, as he's not a guaranteed starter in 2012 and he can start elsewhere. If he walks, we won't know his value until he signs elsewhere.
The team almost cut Cruz last summer and it's doubtful that the Giants would have made it to the postseason without him. Regardless, the Giants need to address his $490,000 contract because they can't afford a hold out. No one can argue he outplayed his contract, but he needs a full camp. Here's why:
Cruz ended the season with 82-1,536-9 on 131 targets, an average of 5.1 catches for 96 yards and 0.6 TDs on 8.2 targets in 16 games — elite numbers. I believe the Giants will give him a fair pay raise, as he has had only one elite season, but it probably will cost them Manningham. Keep Cruz in all keeper leagues but come draft day, remember Bucs WR Mike Williams' sophomore slump and don't overvalue Cruz too much based on one standout season.
Is there any fantasy value at the TE position?
Kevin Gilbride has been the Giants' offensive coordinator since 2007, hails from the run-and-shoot mentality when he was with the Houston Oilers and has never used the TE position enough for fantasy owners. Jake Ballard (38-604-4 on 61 targets), Travis Beckum (5-93-1 on 10 targets) and Bear Pascoe (12-136-0 on 16 targets) are all subpar fantasy tight ends and both Ballard and Beckum tore an ACL in the Super Bowl. They probably will start the season on the PUP list. There is no fantasy value here.
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