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Evan Engram
Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com / USA TODAY NETWORK
NFL Player Profile

Which Giants receiver is best for fantasy?

by Ian Hartitz
Updated On: May 16, 2020, 2:28 pm ET

We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2020 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.

Pretty much everyone mocked the Giants for selecting Daniel Jones with the No. 6 overall pick of the 2019 draft. Sure, the 6-foot-5 and 215-pound QB literally looked the part, but Jones largely posted underwhelming numbers while facing meh competition at Duke.

Jones undoubtedly exceeded expectations as a rookie, parlaying a dominant preseason campaign into a regular season that consisted of 3,027 yards, 24 TDs and just 12 INTs. It was particularly entertaining and fruitful from a fantasy perspective, as only Lamar Jackson (7) had more games with at least 30 fantasy points than Jones (3) at the QB position.

Suddenly the 2020 Giants have a similar feel to them as the 2019 Buccaneers: talented young QB prone to both creating big plays as well as suffering back-breaking turnovers, unproven defense expected to give up plenty of points, and plenty of skill-position talent to go around.

The problem is that the Giants boast five players in Saquon Barkley, Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton and Evan Engram that should be considered at minimum above-average receivers at their respective positions. What follows is a breakdown on what to expect from the Giants' passing game in 2020.

All of these receivers *deserve* featured pass-game roles

There's talent everywhere in this offense; it's just a bit of a mystery as to who will rise to the top of Jones' pecking order.

Engram was dominating target share to start the season and is one of the league's most-talented TEs. And yet, he's been the subject of trade rumors and just hasn't been able to consistently stay healthy. Overall, Engram has played in 15, 11 and 8 games since entering the league, suffering two concussions, a bruised rib, multiple sprained knees, two hamstring injuries and an IR-worthy foot injury along the way. The ceiling *if* he can stay healthy is huge; only Travis Kelce (77), George Kittle (65), Rob Gronkowski (65), Zach Ertz (64) and Darren Waller (61) have averaged more receiving yards per game than Engram (52) among all TEs since 2017.

The man can absolutely ball.

Tate saw at least eight targets in 6-of-11 games during his debut season with the Giants, serving as a reliable slot WR with big-play potential after the catch. The soon to be 32-year-old WR didn't look like he lost a step, averaging more yards per reception (13.8) than he had since his last season with the Seahawks back in 2013. This is mostly due to an elevated average target depth of 10.8 yards; Tate never posted a mark above even nine yards while with the Lions. Impressively, Tate still averaged a robust 5.94 yards after the catch per reception. Jones quietly looked Tate's direction (1.54 deep-ball targets per game) more often than Slayton (1.43) downfield. The perceived one-trick pony responded with the same amount of receptions (7) and drops (1) while topping the talented Giants' rookie WR in deep-ball scores (4-to-3). Tate also led the Giants with 1.6 yards per route run.

Shepard had 27 targets over the last three weeks of the season in potentially our most-actionable sample. He's the veteran of the WR room at this point and led the team's receivers with 14.2 PPR per game in 2019. The most-concerning takeaway from the season was how the presence of Tate caused Shepard's once-robust slot rate to dwindle. Shepard was the sixth-most sensitive WR to non-slot usage when taking the difference in yards per route run from the slot vs. elsewhere (PFF). The Giants' long-time WR deserves credit for creating more average separation (3.1 yards) than either Tate (2.2) or Slayton (2.2), but that could also just be more of a result from his low-aDOT role. 

Slayton sure looked a lot like the best WR of the group at various points during last season, becoming just the 14th rookie WR to score at least eight TDs since 2010. He achieved this milestone with a mix of contested-catch goodness and underrated route-running ability. Slayton showed that his worst-case scenario is as a boom-or-bust field-stretching WR with blowup 5-154-2 and 10-121-2 performances against the Eagles and Jets, respectively. Only A.J. Brown (12.5 yards per target), Deebo Samuel (9.9), Terry McLaurin (9.9) and D.K. Metcalf (9) were more efficient than Slayton (8.8) among 10 rookie WRs with at least 50 targets in 2019. There's a high ceiling here.

Barkley is expected to be the engine of the 2020 Giants Offense. Obviously this will consist of plenty of rushing attempts, but the pass-game floor here has also been huge. Only Christian McCaffrey (8.3 targets per game), James White (8) and Alvin Kamara (7) have been more involved in their team's passing game than Barkley (6.7) over the past two seasons. This is perhaps a bit inflated by his ridiculous 121 targets from 2018, but even his 73 pass-game opportunities in 2019 ranked eighth among all RBs despite the 2018 No. 2 overall pick missing three games. The Giants haven't made a habit of deploying Barkley as a true receiver in the slot or out wide. Still, it'd be shocking if he doesn't continue to see more than a handful of targets per game in 2020.

Every starting skill-position player on the Giants has proven to be a talented pass-catcher. The problem is we don't have too great of an idea of how this target share will shake out.

There's pretty much no sample size here

We essentially have three things to consider when trying to predict Jones' pecking order ahead of next season due to the sad reality that this entire group didn't play a single game together in 2019.

  1. Targets per game in Jones' starts
  2. Yards per target in Jones' starts
  3. New OC Jason Garrett's historical target distribution

Without further ado:

Giants receiving

Obviously this data shouldn't be taken as gospel considering how these rates and totals fluctuated based on opponent and teammate availability. With that said, some possible takeaways include:

  • The reality that Tate isn't the low-aDOT receiver in this offense led to him out-producing Shepard with similar per-game usage when catching passes from Jones.
  • It's easy to see Slayton improve upon his already-solid efficiency as he continues to gel with his same-year QB.
  • Shepard averaged a clean 8.3 targets per game across the entire season, a mark only 16 WRs managed to top.
  • Only Zach Ertz (9 targets per game) and Travis Kelce (8.5) topped Engram's robust average among all TEs.
  • Only Christian McCaffrey (8.9 targets per game), Alvin Kamara (6.9), Austin Ekeler (6.8), Leonard Fournette (6.7), Tarik Cohen (6.5) and James White (6.3) posted more season-long pass-game involvement than what we saw from Barkley with Jones under center.

And then we have Garrett, who called plays from 2007-2012 before turning over the responsibility to the likes of Bill Callahan, Scott Linehan and Kellen Moore.

It's tough to know exactly how much influence Garrett maintained in recent Cowboys offenses. The constants from his previous era included heavy involvement from TE Jason Witten, an alpha-like role for No. 1 WRs such as Terrell Owens, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, as well as a steady stream of targets to RBs Marion Barber, Julius Jones, Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray. The 2012 Cowboys featured triple-digit targets for Witten (147), Bryant (138) and Austin (119), while combined targets from Murray (42) and Jones (36) as well as Kevin Ogletree (55) and Cole Beasley (24) paints the picture of a play-caller capable of enabling five fantasy-relevant pass-game options.

The one likelihood seems to be that ...

There will be plenty of production from the Giants' passing game in 2020

Jones was one of just 11 QBs to rack up at least five games with 300-plus passing yards last season despite only starting in 12 games. The factor that really slowed down this passing game was pressure; Jones joined Sam Darnold as the only QBs to be pressured on at least 40% of their dropbacks. RT Mike Remmers and C Jon Halapio are tentatively expected to be replaced by career backup Cameron Fleming and incumbent backup Spencer Pulley, respectively, although the Giants did help their cause by using top-five round picks on OT Andrew Thomas (No. 4 overall pick), OT Matt Peart (No. 99) and G Shane Lemieux (No. 150).

What doesn't appear to be on the verge of imminent improvement is the Giants' mediocre defense. Trash was probably a better descriptor of the 2019 unit, as only the Dolphins (10) allowed opposing offenses to clear 30 points more than the Giants (9). Other than handing the franchise tag to DT Leonard Williams and signing former-Panthers CB James Bradberry to a hefty contract, the league's 30th-ranked scoring defense failed to do much of anything in the offseason to suggest a turnaround is on the way.

Thus we have a talented passing game with a (likely) improved offensive line and (likely) porous defense. Sounds a lot like a team that could be behind on the scoreboards and/or in a shootout more often than not.

Barkley is my No. 2 fantasy RB behind only the artist known as CMC. The current average draft positions of the WRs has Slayton and Shepard well ahead of Tate, which is extremely curious considering what we saw from the group last season. Still, each WR carries aforementioned upside and boasts an average draft position outside of the top-40 players at the moment. Engram is mostly going off the board in the TE8-9 range, likely due to concern over injuries. There are so many late-round options at the TE position that I usually prefer to pass on the middle group, but I'd certainly want to take a stab on Engram's upside ahead of anyone outside of the consensus top-four TEs.

Only Barkley is being valued at his ceiling at the moment. I'd rank the Giants' WRs as 1) Slayton, 2) Tate and 3) Shepard. Taking a risk on Engram staying healthy seems appropriate as long as he continues to fall towards the lower-part of the TE1 range. He's my PPR TE5. It's a bit of a mystery in regards to what Jones' pecking order will look like in 2020, but luckily all of these receivers are offering enough of a discount at the moment to warrant fantasy consideration. Their average draft position is fair considering the mystery involved, although their respective ceilings are also quite a bit higher than the other ensured backups going off the board in this range.

Don't be afraid to spend freely on the Giants' skill-position talents in 2020. 

Ian Hartitz

All things NFL. Great day to be great. You can follow Ian on Twitter @Ihartitz.