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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 13: New York Giants

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If the NFL seeded every team one through 32 last January and had a playoff tourney, the Giants would have been a chic sleeper pick to win it all. Everyone knows New York is a serious threat no matter its seed.

Of course, there is no such 32-team tournament. Only six teams per conference make the playoffs. And in three of the last four seasons, the postseason has begun with the Giants at home.

The NFL isn’t about to open the postseason to everyone and thus devalue the regular season in the process, so it’s up to the Giants to rack up the wins necessary to get a playoff bid.

The question is, are the up to the task?

Here’s a look at the Giants as training camp approaches:

Strengths.

In Eli Manning, the Giants have a skilled, experienced, playoff-tested, durable quarterback. Think of all the teams that don’t have such stability at this key position. The Giants do, and it’s a primary reason they can’t be discounted.

Manning is surrounded by talented skill-position players. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are an elite wide receiving tandem. The depth beyond Nicks and Cruz is strong, too, with Rueben Randle, Louis Murphy and Ramses Barden also useful players.

The Giants also appear in good shape at running back, where David Wilson and Andre Brown comprise a capable tandem. New York also did well to add pass-catching tight end Brandon Myers (ex-Oakland) to replace Martellus Bennett, who signed with Chicago.

The strength of the defense is a deep defensive line led by ends Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, though the latter is recovering from back surgery.

Finally, the bulk of this club’s core has at least one Super Bowl ring. The Giants have won big, and they have thrived in one of the world’s biggest media markets for close to a decade under coach Tom Coughlin. GM Jerry Reese also deserves credit — the Giants annually have a deep, talented roster.

Weaknesses.

Whether the Giants make the postseason could well come down to the play of their defense, which has been below-par of late. The Giants have ranked in the bottom half of the league in yards per game and yards per play in each of the last two seasons. In 2012, only New Orleans was worse in both categories. The Giants struggled against the run (28th in yards per carry allowed) and pass (31st in opponents’ yards per pass play) a season ago.

While the Giants are strong in the front four, their back seven isn’t as imposing. Their linebacking corps lacks a standout, and the depth is questionable, too. The Giants have a similar situation at cornerback, where Prince Amukamara and Corey Webster are the starters with Aaron Ross (back after a forgettable one-year stint in Jacksonville), Jayron Hosley and Terrell Thomas other options. Thomas is coming off his third right ACL tear, and his ability to contribute remains to be seen.

Changes.

The Giants bid adieu to the tough tailback Ahmad Bradshaw, a key part of two Super Bowl teams, leaving Wilson (5-9, 205) and Brown (6-0, 227) to carry the load in the backfield.

Wilson, the club’s 2012 first-round pick, has exceptional speed. If he continues to round out his game, he could give an already potent offense yet another boost.

“He still makes mistakes, but there has certainly been . . . some significant growth,” offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said of Wilson in June, according to the club. “Now until you get the pads on — and he has to show that he, as a smaller guy, can do the things necessary that other small backs in this league have done — you are still kind of holding your breath when you see him.”

Brown, who scored eight TDs in just 73 carries in 2012, would figure to be the Giants’ short-yardage, red-zone and between-the-tackles specialist.

Two notable additions on offense are Myers, who caught 79 passes for 806 yards and four TDs for Oakland in 2012; and rookie right tackle Justin Pugh, who will compete to start right off the bat.

There are numerous changes on defense. Defensive Osi Umenyiora departed for Atlanta. Mathias Kiwanuka, who started six games at strong-side linebacker for New York in 2012, could see more time at end with Umenyiora gone and Pierre-Paul coming off back surgery. The Giants also added rookie pass-rush prospect Damontre Moore in Round Three.

Two former Eagles — Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson — were added to bolster New York’s defensive tackle ranks. The Giants also added Ohio State tackle Johnathan Hankins in Round Two.

Middle linebacker Dan Connor (ex-Dallas) was added in March, effectively replacing Chase Blackburn, who signed with Carolina. The Giants also parted ways with Michael Boley, who logged multiple starts at strong- and weak-side linebacker in 2012.

Talented-but-injury-prone safety Kenny Phillips signed with the Eagles. Ryan Mundy (ex-Pittsburgh) figures to be the third safety behind starters Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown.

The Giants replaced longtime kicker Lawrence Tynes with Josh Brown, who connected on 11-of-12 field goals for Cincinnati in the 2012 regular season. In his prime, the 34-year-old Brown was regarded as one of the NFL’s best kickers, and he was sharp in his stint with the Bengals a season ago.

Position battles.

With Blackburn departing in free agency, the Giants will have a new starter at middle linebacker. Mark Herzlich, primarily a reserve in his first two NFL seasons, held the job in offseason workouts.

“He’s taken a leadership role out there and I think he has some good respect from his teammates in some of the things he’s done in the OTAs,” defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said in June, according to a transcript from the team. “Obviously, we want to find out what happens when the pads come on.”

Connor, who has 27 starts, is another option in the middle.

There may be greater uncertainty at outside linebacker, with Keith Rivers, Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger among the competitors for playing time. Per ESPNNewYork.com, Rivers and Paysinger were the starters outside in the offseason, though Williams was dealing with a knee injury. For the record, Rivers made three starts on the strong side and three on the weak side in 2012, with Williams starting two games on the strong side and one on the weak side. All three of Paysinger’s 2012 starts came at weak-side linebacker.

On offense, Pugh and veteran David Diehl will compete at right tackle. Both could potentially play guard, too. Also, how the Giants divide carries between Wilson and Brown will be closely watched by fans and fantasy-football players alike.

Prospects

The Giants lost their final four road games of 2012. Similar struggles away from home to begin this season would be very problematic for New York, which starts the 2013 campaign with three-of-four on the road, including the season-opener at Dallas. Overall, five of the Giants’ first eight contests before their Week Nine bye are away from MetLife Stadium.

After the bye, the Giants have three straight home games, with the Nov. 17 prime-time meeting vs. Green Bay perhaps the biggest challenge.

Nevertheless, all of that home cooking presents a big opportunity for Coughlin’s club. The Giants — like every other team in the competitive East — need to get their wins when they can. The division hasn’t produced multiple playoff teams since 2009.

Should the Giants get back to the postseason, there will be no doubting their readiness for the rigors of January. The NFC East is tough. And it will also take its toll, too, as the Giants, 9-9 in division play the last three seasons, too well know. To get to January, New York needs to slog through the schedule that encompasses the kids going back to school, the leaves turning colors and all of that holiday music on the radio.

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Bill O’Brien, Rick Smith say Tom Savage is the starter

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The Texans made a big move up the draft board on Thursday night when they sent their 2018 first-round pick to the Browns for the chance to use the 12th overall pick on quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Houston had already sent their 2018 second-round pick to Cleveland as a way to erase Brock Osweiler from their roster, so one might think that mortgaging the future in that manner would give Watson the inside track on a starting job this year. Both Texans coach Bill O’Brien and General Manager Rick Smith say that isn’t the case.

O’Brien called Savage the starter after the Watson pick was announced and Smith said he was “comfortable” with Savage as the starter, whcih was what he said in his pre-draft press conference as well. Watson didn’t upset the apple cart when discussing his immediate future.

“All I need to do is put my head down, don’t say anything, learn from all the veterans, learn from Tom Savage, learn from Brandon Weeden and just play my role,” Watson said, via the Houston Chronicle. “Whatever my role is help the team win.”

It’s April, which means there’s a lot of time for Watson to learn the offense and make people with the team less comfortable with leaving him on the bench. Until and unless that happens, it will be Savage at the helm in Houston.

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Both Cleveland and Washington deny Kirk Cousins trade talks

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One of the cannonballs into the pool on a busy news night for the NFL was a report from its own network that the Browns were trying to trade for Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins.

By the end of the night, one-sixteenth of the network’s ownership had denied it, with both teams poo-poohing it.

Via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Browns executive Sashi Brown dismissed it, calling it “bad reporting.”

Meanwhile in Washington, via John Keim of ESPN.com, coach Jay Gruden said they didn’t “receive one call” about Cousins.

The Browns used three picks Thursday night, none on quarterbacks, which means their depth chart still consists of Cody Kessler and Brock Osweiler.

And until Cousins has a long-term deal somewhere, the speculation about him will continue, in Cleveland and elsewhere. But the time being, both teams are shooting this one down.

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Malik McDowell, Dalvin Cook among big names left after first round

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The NFL announced earlier this month that 22 players would be attending this year’s draft in Philadelphia, although that number dropped by one when cornerback Gareon Conley changed his plans this week.

Conley wound up going in the first round despite the sexual assault allegations that led him to pass on the trip, but a few of the other invitees remained on the board through all 32 picks. Michigan State defensive lineman Malik McDowell, Alabama tackle Cam Robinson, Washington cornerback Kevin King and Colorado cornerback Chidobe Awuzie all remain available heading into Round Two on Friday night.

They have company among recognizable names from outside of Philadelphia. Florida State running back Dalvin Cook didn’t join Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey as a first-round pick and joins Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara and Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon at the top of the list of available backs.

Western Kentucky offensive lineman Forrest Lamp, Washington safety Budda Baker and Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham are others that sometimes appeared as first-round picks in mock drafts before going unselected on Thursday. Quarterbacks Davis Webb and DeShone Kizer also figure to be among the names coming off the board when the draft resumes with the Packers on the clock at No. 33.

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49ers end Reuben Foster’s slide

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Reuben Foster’s loss was San Francisco’s gain.

The Alabama linebacker, one of the top talents in the draft, slid after being sent home from the Scouting Combine and, more recently, generating a positive drug test via a dilute sample.

It caused him to plunge, but the 49ers decided to trade up to get him, doing a deal with the Seahawks for the 31st pick in the draft.

The 49ers gave up their second-round pick and a fourth-round pick to make the move up and grab Foster, who possibly would have been nabbed by the Saints.

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Saints close first round by taking Ryan Ramczyk

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The first round of the 2017 NFL Draft is in the books.

The Saints closed out the night’s activities in Philadelphia by taking Wisconsin tackle Ryan Ramczyk with the 32nd overall pick. The pick was one they acquired from the Patriots in the trade that sent wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the Patriots.

Ramczyk is the latest of many strong blockers to come out of Madison in recent years and was widely projected to be a first-round pick this season. He had hip surgery after the end of the Badgers’ season, which may have pushed him down a bit but he ended the night making good on those projections.

They had previously taken cornerback Marshon Lattimore with the 11th pick of the round, so they were able to address both sides of the ball before the night was out.

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Tak McKinley arrives with a flourish, with an “F”

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Pass rusher Takkarist McKinley brings a great story to the NFL. He also brings a colorful vocabulary.

During a live interview with Deion Sanders of NFL Network, McKinley spoke about the influence of his  late grandmother, and the promise he made to her to become a Division I athlete.

“I completed my promise,” McKinley said. “It means every f–king thing to me. Excuse my language. Man, fine me later. Fine me later, man.”

It will be interesting to see whether the NFL does, given that he made the statement during a broadcast on the league-owned network.

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Steelers grab T.J. Watt with 30th overall pick

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The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Wisconsin outside linebacker T.J. Watt with the 30th overall pick in the draft.

The brother of Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, T.J. made a name for himself at Wisconsin last season.

He started just one season for the Badgers after converting to the defensive side of the ball. Watt posted a team-best 15.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks to earn First Team All-Big Ten and multiple All-American honors for Wisconsin last season.

Outside linebacker was a big need for the Steelers as James Harrison isn’t getting any younger.

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Browns move up to No. 29, take David Njoku

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The Browns are the busiest team in the NFL tonight.

With the 29th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns selected David Njoku, the athletic tight end from the University of Miami.

The Browns moved up to No. 29 in a trade with the Packers, packaging the 33rd and 108th overall picks to get the 29th pick.

Thanks to their many trades, the Browns had three first-round picks: They took Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett first overall, took Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers 25th overall and then took Njoku. That’s two talented players on defense and a talented player on offense.

No team in the NFL added the kind of talent the Browns added tonight. Cleveland still hasn’t identified its franchise quarterback, but the Browns are starting to put a team in place that looks like it can compete, something that hasn’t been the case recently in Cleveland.

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Cowboys scarf down Taco Charlton with the 28th pick

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With a run of pass-rushers late in the first round, the Cowboys got their Taco to go.

With the 28th pick, Dallas added Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton.

He had 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss last year for the Wolverines, and has the kind of size and speed which make him a good option for the Cowboys.

While it’s hard to find the kind of “war daddy” pass-rusher Jerry Jones was hoping for at the end of the first round, Charlton’s a good option for a team which needs all the help they can find opposite Demarcus Lawrence.

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Bills take Tre’Davious White after trading down to No. 27

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The Bills were originally scheduled to pick much earlier on Thursday night, but the Chiefs’ desire to get quarterback Patrick Mahomes helped change that.

The Chiefs sent the Bills their first-round pick next year, a third-round pick this year and the No. 27 pick in exchange for the 10th pick and that haul was too much for Buffalo to pass up. They used that No. 27 pick to add LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White to their roster.

White started for most of his time in Baton Rouge and gives new Bills coach Sean McDermott an option to help build a cornerback corps that’s said goodbye to Stephon Gilmore and Nickell Robey-Coleman since the end of last season. Their departures should help White’s bid to play early for the Bills.

White is the third LSU player and fifth cornerback to come off the board on Thursday night. He’s also a punt returner, so his contributions to the Bills may go beyond defense.

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Falcons trade up for Tak McKinley

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The Seahawks held the 26th pick in the draft. Until the Falcons acquired it from them.

Atlanta moved up from No. 31 to select pass rusher Takkarist McKinley from UCLA.

He gives the Falcons a bookend to Vic Beasley, on a defense that quickly has become one of the best in the NFL under Dan Quinn.

The Seaahwks will now slide into the No. 31 spot, and possibly could slide down even farther.

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Browns select Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers

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The Cleveland Browns could have had Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson with the 12th overall pick if they wanted him to fill a pressing need at the quarterback position.

Instead, the Browns traded back and ended up with Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers.

Peppers could play several different positions in the NFL, but was primarily a linebacker/safety at Michigan.

Peppers finished third in both tackles (72) and all-purpose yardage (an average of 62.6 yards per game) for the Wolverines in 2016, while leading the team with 16 tackles for loss and four sacks.

He’s also a capable special teams performer as well.

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At 24, Raiders take a chance on Gareon Conley

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In perhaps the biggest surprise of the first round of the NFL draft, the Raiders have selected Gareon Conley, the Ohio State cornerback who came under intense scrutiny this week when he was named as a suspect in a sexual assault investigation.

Until his name surfaced in the police investigation, Conley was expected to be a high first-round pick. As it turned out, Conley wasn’t a high first-round pick, but he was a first-round pick, with the Raiders taking him at No. 24.

Obviously, the Raiders have to be confident that Conley will be cleared. Conley has professed his innocence and insisted that he has multiple witnesses who can testify that he was never alone with his accuser on the night in question.

Conley is an undeniably talented football player. The Raiders also believe they can trust him to be clean off the field.

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Giants take Evan Engram with the 23rd pick

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The Giants found the tight end they needed, adding a pass-catching threat.

With the 23rd pick, they took Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram.

Engram had 65 catches for 926 yards and eight touchdowns last year, and is practically a slot receiver.

His 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the combine was the fastest at his position, and he gives fellow Ole Miss man Eli Manning another attractive option downfield.

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Lions take Jarrad Davis at No. 21

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The Lions needed a linebacker. They got on in Jarrad Davis.

The former Florida defender became the 21st pick in the first round of the draft on Thursday night. Davis likely fills the void created by the departure of DeAndre Levy.

Davis exits the board while Reuben Foster’s free-fall continues. He’s regarded as the best linebacker left on the board.

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