Can competition elevate deep Giants WR room with no obvious No. 1?
Saquon Barkley won’t be at the Giants’ first open OTA practice on Thursday and likely not at any other practice until he receives a new contract.
So while Daniel Jones’ top running back bides his time, it will be worthwhile to evaluate the quarterback’s increasingly deep stable of targets in the passing game and determine who will rise to the top.
Even though a star No. 1 receiver continues to elude the Giants, Jones appears to have more options due not only to free agency and the draft but players returning from injury, as well.
Tight end Darren Waller and wide receiver Parris Campbell are the obvious apparent free agency upgrades in the pass game, added to a receiving corps steadied by returning Giants Isaiah Hodgins and Darius Slayton.
And third-round pick Jalin Hyatt and undrafted free agent Bryce Ford-Wheaton provide different combinations of speed, size and intrigue.
But the return of Collin Johnson (Achilles) to this week’s practices is also a breath of fresh air for a player who had been one of last year’s training camp standouts before he went down.
Veteran Sterling Shepard (ACL) is already cutting on grass. Second-year Wan’Dale Robinson (ACL) is working his way back.
And don’t forget free agents Jeff Smith and Jamison Crowder were brought in, while the shifty Jaydon Mickens returns after time on last year’s practice squad and shouldn’t be overlooked. David Sills, Makai Polk and Kalil Pimpleton will also compete.
Of course, likely only six of those receivers — excluding Waller — will be active in the Giants’ Week 1 opener against the Dallas Cowboys. Some guys will get cut and others will slip to the practice squad.
It’s intriguing, however, that there should be some stiffer competition to get on the field and earn the right to catch passes from Jones. Particularly due to the loss of the reliable Richie James, there are a lot of targets available for someone to grab in the slot.
Hyatt was primarily a slot receiver in Tennessee’s spread offense, and Brian Daboll doesn’t mix and match his outside and slot receivers much in personnel formations. In Daboll’s offense, wideouts pretty much play one or the other.
So usage will be something to watch. So will players’ workloads coming off a 2022 season when the Giants went light on players in the offseason and tons of guys got hurt.
But above all, the hope will be that competition created by depth added in the wide receiver room will help Jones and the offense take the next step in 2023.
Maybe Thursday will flash a glimpse of what is to come.