The 2018 NFL regular season has concluded, so it’s time to briefly examine the state of each team’s skill positions for fantasy purposes with an eye towards next season and/or beyond. I will be reviewing each team in the reverse order of the final standings.
New York Giants (5-11)
Electing to forgo an early-round quarterback in the 2018 Draft, the Giants trudged through another season without an immediate successor to Eli Manning. While Manning ended up finishing with a the highest completion percentage and fourth-highest passing yards per game average of his career, the 15-year veteran displayed an alarming lack of desire to push the ball downfield, often checking down on the first read. An offensive line that was among the NFL’s worst in pass protection through the first 8 weeks of 2018 didn’t help matters either. Having cut 2017 third-round pick Davis Webb just before Week 1, it was conventional logic to think perhaps fourth-round rookie Kyle Lauletta would assume the no. 2 gig with the chance to start some games late in the year, though he ended up spending the majority of the season as a healthy inactive. When Lauletta did make it on to the field briefly during mop-duty in the Giants’ Week 14 domination of the Redskins, he recorded no meaningful stats other than an interception. With one year left on his contract, Manning is reportedly expected to remain with the team in 2019, though it may be contingent on him taking a pay cut in an effort to reduce his $23,2 million salary cap hit. If Manning does indeed stay in New York, he could find himself being pushed this Summer, as many Draft pundits have the Giants penciled in to take Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins with the 6th overall pick this April. Assuming Manning is the one under center for the Giants come Week 1 this September, it’ll be a stretch to consider the 38-year old veteran anything more than a bottom-of-the-barrel QB2 or bye week replacement if the matchup is right.
In a move that was lauded by some and laughed at by others, the Giants elected to take former Penn State phenom Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick in the 2018 Draft. While it remains debatable whether said choice was the correct move for the Giants’ long-term plans, Barkley’s immediate impact was certainly not. Playing behind one of the NFL’s diciest run-blocking units that ranked fourth-worst in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards, Barkley’s 2,028 scrimmage yards led the NFL in 2018, and were third-best all-time among first year players. Barkley’s heavy involvement as a receiver in addition to the potential for going the distance on any given offensive touch should lock him down as being one of the first three or four players selected in 2019 fantasy drafts. Former 2017 fourth-round pick Wayne Gallman played well enough that he should remain Barkley’s handcuff for the foreseeable future, while soon-to-be 32-year old veteran Jonathan Stewart is a near lock to be released. Signed to a two-year $6.9 million free agent contract just prior to the Giants’ drafting Barkley, the team can clear $2.275 million in salary cap space by letting Stewart go.
Despite his polarizing demeanor and occasionally downright bizarre on-field antics, the Giants gave Odell Beckham a five-year/$90 million contract extension last August that made him the highest paid wideout in the NFL. Through 12 games, Beckham was on pace for his second 1,400-yard receiving season in the last five years, though a quad injury suffered in practice prior to Week 13 ended up costing the star receiver the final four games of 2018. Beckham will remain an rock solid WR1 heading into the 2019 season, however, the combination of Eli Manning’s rapidly declining ability to play quarterback as well as Beckham’s injury history (16 missed games over the past two seasons) knocks him down to more of a top-10 fantasy wideout rather than top-5 as we’ve typically been accustomed to. While Sterling Shepard managed to post career-highs in receptions and receiving yards, he faded badly over the second half of the season. Between Weeks 1 and 7, Shepard averaged 5.1 catches and 72.6 yards per game as compared to just 3.3 and 40.4 from Week 8 onward. With Beckham and Barkley commanding the majority of the Giants’ pass game targets, Shepard will be a volatile fantasy option going forward whose spike weeks will be hard to predict. With both no. 3 and no. 4 receivers Cody Latimer and Russell Shepard heading to free agency this Spring, it will be interesting to see if the Giants feel comfortable letting those guys go and allow former Cleveland Brown 2016 first-round bust Corey Coleman to take on a larger role in the offense after picking him up off the scrap heap last October.
Evan Engram was an expected regression candidate in his second NFL season with both Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard both healthy entering 2018, as well as Saquon Barkley commanding a healthy share of targets out of the backfield. While Engram did see his receiving output dip from 64-722-6 as rookie to 45-577-3 as a sophomore, he was sidelined five games due to knee and hamstring injuries. In fact, Engram’s 52.5 receiving yards per game in 2018 tied Rob Gronkowski for 5th among tight ends who played at least 11 games, and actually higher than the 48.1 Engram posted his rookie year. Engram also saw a huge increase in his efficiency, as he saw fewer targets per game in 2018 (5.8) than 2017 (7.7), but though experienced a near 15 percent increase in catch percentage (70.3 in 2018, as compared to 55.7 in 2017). However, it should be caveated that Engram’s strong finish over the Giants’ final four games (5.5 catches for 80 yards per contest over that span) came with Beckham out of the lineup due to his quad injury. Engram will carry plenty of mid-tier TE1 appeal as we head into 2019, however, his upside is somewhat limited playing in an offense with multiple receiving threats and questionable quarterback play. As a 30-year old, journeyman Rhett Ellison filled in admirable during the time Engram missed due to injury, but is ultimately no threat to Engram’s offensive role when healthy.