By Jason Keidel
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Perhaps no American team sport has better built an elevator for bad teams to soar to the upper rungs of their league than the NFL. The last 20 years are littered with worst-to-first division, conference, and, occasionally, Super Bowl champs.
Look at the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team that went 3-13 in 2016, yet were 12 minutes from representing the AFC in the Super Bowl this season. Look at the San Francisco 49ers, who seemed to have two seasons in one, 0-9 doormats turned into a 6-1 behemoth.
And we have the New York Giants, who went 11-5 two seasons ago, with a robust defense that yielded just 284 points, second in the NFL. But that all changed in 2017, with a historically horrific season that featured just 246 points scored while surrendering 388. Their minus-142 point differential was surpassed only by the historically wretched, 0-16 Cleveland Browns.
The Giants were so bad the biblically patient Mara family booted coach Ben McAdoo during his sophomore season.
Big Blue has now hired McAdoo’s replacement, former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who, like many football lifers, has a family history. His uncle, Fritz Shurmur, was a defensive shot-caller for 40 years, 25 of them in the NFL.
Now it’s on Pat to bring the swagger back to Big Blue. And it starts on offense, which is his wheelhouse and the biggest eyesore on this/his football team.
The problems in 2017 were endless and not all due to misfortune. Sure, star wideouts Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall were lost for the season In Week 5 due to leg injuries, but the Giants played a shell game at running back, had an aging quarterback and a woeful offensive line.
The only card that came up an ace was rookie tight end Evan Engram, who proved to be marvel — not to mention waiver wire gold for fantasy owners — and too big for a corner, and too fast for linebackers and most safeties to cover.
The Giants had imperfections, defections, and downright mutinous players between and outside the sidelines. It was so antithetical to the buttoned-down, old-world ethos of this proud franchise, the club had no choice but to can the man under the headset before the season even ended. It got that bad, that quickly, that publicly.
Shurmur’s timing isn’t perfect. In light of the emaciated offensive output we saw from his Vikings in the NFC Championship game, one has to wonder what made him so coveted. But consider Minnesota finished the regular season 13-3, with third-string QB Case Keenum under center since Week 2. Maybe the aberration was Keenum’s showing against the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday, not his sublime season up to that point, which all happened under the tutelage of Shurmur.
The Giants’ defense that dominated in 2016 is still largely intact, with star safety Landon Collins entering his prime, and free agent stalwarts Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins and Damon “Snacks” Harrison still under contract. Eli Apple’s future isn’t so rosy, but he was never a cog in Big Blue’s machinery.
No, the real makeover needs to come on offense, which, presumably, is a main reason the brass hired Shurmur. He has already spoken with Eli Manning, assuring the two-time Super Bowl MVP that he’s in the plans for 2018, while also cautioning him that the club will likely draft his successor in a couple months.
If Beckham can return to his eclectic and electric self, that will go a long way toward making Manning a much better passer. And it would be a bonus if Marshall can channel one more 90-catch season before he dives head-first into broadcasting, his ancillary income the last few years.
Then the Giants need to plug the leaks on their line, which couldn’t protect the passer, or crowbar open the proper holes for their running backs. (It’s a shame Big Blue can’t bag Josh Rosen and Saquan Barkley in the same draft.) Various mock drafts have the G-men doing a bit of everything, from trading their No. 2 overall pick to picking anyone from Rosen to Barkley to offensive tackle Orlando Brown from Oklahoma. (CBSSports.com has them plucking Rosen, for those keeping score at home)
The first round is fertile with blue-chip beasts who can slide into an NFL club now and make the next five Pro Bowls. But who? The line between beast and bust has been toed for decades, with the same clubs historically flubbing their picks. That’s one of the main reasons you mostly see the same teams at the top of every draft. The Giants were 6-10 the year before McAdoo’s maiden 11-5 season. Likewise, there’s no reason they can’t jump from 3-13 to 10-6.
But this is just the second time in 40 years Big Blue has had the second pick in the draft. The last time they were in this exact slot (in 1981) they grabbed some guy named Lawrence Taylor, who is easily the best player in team history and arguably the best defensive player in NFL history. The Giants would like to make this the last time they take the second pick for some time.
And it’s Shurmur’s time to take the Giants on that elevator from the outhouse to the penthouse.
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