After signing one of the top wide receivers on the market in Kenny Golladay and drafting Kadarius Toney in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft, it’s a refreshing change after watching this offense last season when, at times, it seemed Jones had nobody to throw to. Among the wide receivers, Sterling Shepard was injured, Darius Slayton was limited by an apparent foot injury and Golden Tate was slowing down. Tight end Evan Engram was wilting and running back Saquon Barkley (torn ACL) wasn’t even around as an option out of the backfield.
The situation was grim. The results were something more grotesque as New York’s offense ranked 31st in yards per game (299.6) and points per game (17.5).
It shouldn’t happen this season. Not with this group of weapons. The bigger question seems to be how Jones will feed all the hungry mouths now that Golladay, Toney, John Ross and tight end Kyle Rudolph have been added to the mix.
Here is the expected target-share breakdown heading into training camp:
The top options
Golladay: The Giants didn’t pay all that money ($18 million per year) for him to be a decoy. Golladay, if healthy, is going to get the ball. Expect something similar to his 2018-19 levels with the Detroit Lions — about a 20% target share. Golladay is Jones’ top target and the Giants will be designing plays to get him the ball. That kind of workload seems a lock considering Jones’ top target last season (out of desperation) was Engram, coming in at 21%.
It is possible Golladay’s target share dips a bit — instead of averaging 7.5 targets per game, maybe it dips to about 7.0 — because Jones will be spreading the ball around to these improved pass-catchers.
Not that you’re likely to hear Golladay complain. He says the stats and targets don’t matter.
“To be honest if I go out there and have a monster game, 300 receiving yards and we lost, it really doesn’t mean anything,” Golladay said during minicamp. “It’s definitely team first.”
Shepard: Jones likes throwing in his direction. Shepard has averaged 8.1 targets per game in the 17 games he has played over two seasons with the third-year quarterback. That’s a hefty number done mostly without a true No. 1 wide receiver. It’s fair to think with Golladay around, that number will shrink, but don’t expect it to decrease much. Shepard and Jones are especially tight, on and off the field. Working more out of the slot (Shepard’s best position) with Tate no longer clogging that area of the field will position Shepard to be Jones’ security blanket.
The second tier
Engram: He was shoehorned into the top receiver role last season, and the Giants even tried to build the offense around him once Barkley was lost for the season in Week 2. We saw how that worked. Engram’s 5.9 yards per target was fourth worst in the NFL.
There is little doubt Engram’s usage will decrease with more options around him. That’s not to say he will become invisible to Jones. Engram is still a player who has averaged 7.1 targets per game in his career, and the Giants wholeheartedly believe in him.
“He’s a fun guy having in a program, he’s a fun guy in the locker room, he’s a leader on our team and he’s a very productive player for us,” Giants coach Joe Judge said of Engram. “I enjoy coaching him every single day.”
Engram will likely be a third or fourth option. About five to six targets per game seems more reasonable, with the production being comparable because of increased efficiency.
Slayton: One might have thought the limited options at Jones’ disposal in Year 2 would have led to a bigger role for Slayton, but he averaged 6.0 targets as a rookie in 2019 and exactly 6.0 targets last season.
Maybe Slayton is just a complementary piece. Not that there is anything wrong with that, especially for a fifth-round pick (2019 draft). Expect Slayton’s snaps to decrease slightly this season with the Giants using Golladay and Shepard (whom they love for his blocking) in most sets that involve two tight ends.
Toney: The Giants are motivated to get the ball in his hands, whether it’s out of the backfield, on jet sweeps, screen passes or maybe in the Wildcat formation. They drafted Toney to be a factor, and they believe the best way to make that happen is to tap into his versatility.
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That seems to be the plan for Year 1, before his role increases as he becomes more comfortable with the Giants’ offense and the NFL game.
“He brings a lot to the table,” Jones said. “He’s a real twitchy and explosive athlete.”
It might be hard to predict Toney’s usage on a week-by-week basis. It probably depends more on matchup for him than for anybody else on the roster.
Rudolph: He’s a declining player, now 31, coming off offseason foot surgery, and he isn’t going to be a featured pass-catching option at this point of his career.
He can still be productive in spurts. His 11.9 yards per reception last season was the best of his career, and his 75.7% catch rate was strong.
The Giants signed Rudolph in large part because of his red zone prowess, an area where they struggled last season with one touchdown reception from their tight ends. Rudolph is fourth among all tight ends since the start of 2016 with 69 red zone targets. He converted 21 of those into touchdowns. That could make him a viable option for Jones and a spot starter in the right matchup for fantasy owners.
Barkley: He’s coming off a serious knee injury and his usage will be limited early on. There is also a possibility Devontae Booker takes some of the load on obvious passing downs and becomes an enticing pass-catching option. Remember, it’s not as if Barkley was excelling as a pass-blocker even before the injury.
Booker’s presence will limit Barkley’s production out of the backfield. Barkley is too talented not to be involved sporadically in the passing game, but the 91 catches for 721 yards from his rookie season probably isn’t realistic anymore as Jones is more likely to throw the ball downfield.