In collaboration with SNY's GiantsFootballBlog, we put together a list of the top ten members of the defending Super Bowl Champion Giants heading into 2012. Do you guys agree with our rankings?
10. David Wilson: Think sliding a rookie into this list before he's even played an NFL down is foolish? In some cases, I'd agree. But the Giants won Super Bowl XLVI in spite of their 32nd ranked rushing game. Riding a stellar passing attack and a defense that got tough late in the season, New York was able to cause problems for the league's other top contenders.
But a main component of the receiving game, Mario Manningham, left via free agency. Also, the offensive line remains a considerable question mark. Currently, only the C and RG positions are set. Even if Rueben Randle is able to immediately fill Manningham's shoes (and not just his jersey as he will be wearing #82), a boost for the rushing attack is necessary.
For argument's sake, we'll say that the Giants aerial performance stays on par with last year's. Imagine New York's ability to move the ball with even a slightly improved running game. A ground attack formidable enough to barely break the top 20 could do wonders for Manning & Co.
Can Ahmad Bradshaw provide improvement on his own? If he stays healthy for the duration of the season, we'll likely see an automatic improvement. But that's a huge "if." Fact is, Bradshaw's durability will likely remain a permanent question and like many modern day RBs, he has shown signs of wear at a relatively young age.
The RB position is one in which a young, fresh rookie tends to enjoy only a mild learning curve. Talented first year players can often become key components immediately. If Wilson can both compliment Bradshaw or even fill in as a main event presence when Bradshaw is sidelined, then the entire offense will improve.
9. Chase Blackburn: I'm still astonished that the Giants waited until December to bring Blackburn back into the fold. A consistent contributor as a special teams player/reserve LB, he made the team as an undrafted free agent in 2005.
After losing Jonathan Goff before Week 1 to a torn ACL, New York opted to start rookie Greg Jones instead of a still unclaimed Blackburn.
It looks like the Giants were ready to move on without him once again but after deciding to let Goff attempt a comeback elsewhere, Blackburn was finally re-signed and he will head into camp as the starting MLB.
Why is he such an important component to this team? Last year, he stepped in and began contributing immediately in a Week 13 showdown with the dominating Packers. Despite being out of professional football for nearly a year, Blackburn managed to force one of only six Rodgers interceptions of the season.
He continued to solidify the middle and allowed the defense to start finding itself in time for a playoff run. Blackburn helped get the Giants back on track with an impressive interception during the Super Bowl.
With no experienced vets on the roster to challenge him, Blackburn is currently the Giants best option for an important part of the defense.
8. Bear Pascoe: Pascoe makes this list because right now, he is arguably the best TE on the roster. Last year's pleasant surprise, Jake Ballard is going to miss the entire 2012 season thanks to his ACL tear in the Super Bowl. Travis Beckum? The Giants will consider it a bonus if he gets back before Week 9. Even then, he isn't a blocker.
Free agent acquisition Martellus Bennett has not gotten off to a great start, which is concerning being he is slated to be the top guy at the position. According to TE coach Mike Pope, Bennett is currently just under 300 lbs and is dealing with hamstring issues.
Adrien Robinson? He hasn't even graduated from college yet so he has been unavailable for the OTAs.
When called upon last season, Pascoe delivered. Serving as a reliable dump off option, he had a modest 12 receptions during the regular season. He came up big in the playoffs and recorded his first ever career TD in the NFC Championship game. He was also the only TE standing during the final Giants drive of Super Bowl XLVI.
Pascoe may be needed to help solidify what is likely to be a troublesome position for the Giants this season.
7. Hakeem Nicks: Nicks slides into the seventh spot. Only missing one game in '11, Nicks hauled in 76 receptions for 1,192 yards. That was before a 28 reception postseason that accounted for 444 yards of offense, four touchdowns, and a Hail Mary grab as time ran out in the first half of the NFC Divisional matchup.
Despite entering only his fourth NFL season, Nicks is the senior WR amongst the slated top three at the position (Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle). Though he has a broken foot, he isn't expected to miss significant regular season time.
Nicks forces defenses to choose between doubling either Cruz or himself because of his speed and large strike zone. It's often a "lose-lose" for opponents. His presence greatly improves the entire WR corps.
6. Michael Boley : Boley has finally turned into what the Giants had been hoping to get when they signed him in 2009. Last season he racked up 74 solo tackles, forced a fumble, and recovered three. With the MLB spot being used less thanks to more complex DB formations; Boley has become the signal caller of the Giants defense.
The Giants are pretty deep at OLB, but Boley is currently the foundation of the position.
5. Chris Snee: Snee is the unofficial captain of the offensive line. Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2004 Draft, He has been a starter since his rookie year.
While the rest of the offensive line is currently in flux, Snee is has consistently played well throughout his career. If the Giants are going to resuscitate the running game and continue to protect Eli, the other members of the line will need to push themselves to match Snee's ability.
A solid guard might not be enough to keep a struggling line afloat, but with the uncertainty at the Ts, New York is certainly glad that the interior is fortified.
4. Justin Tuck: Some would make the argument that Tuck should be higher on this list. They would likely have valid points.
After all, Tuck is not only the leader of the defense; he is the vocal leader of the team. The Giants might only be going as far as Eli can take them, but as 2009 showed, a weak defense can negate Manning's effort.
But Tuck's prime may be behind him. He is still a physical specimen and a force to be reckoned with. He was essential to forcing a safety before notching two sacks in Super Bowl XLVI. That said, the presence of a certain other player yet to be ranked on this has pushed Tuck down to number four heading into 2012.
3. Victor Cruz: So Cruz beats out Nicks? On my list he does. It's not just about the stats being higher: 82 receptions for 1,536 yards and nine regular season TDs. It's not because he sparked a fading Giants season with a 99 yard TD reception on Christmas Eve.
Well, actually... maybe it is because of that 99 yard scamper. Cruz certainly benefits from a receiver the caliber of Nicks playing opposite of him to draw coverage, but put the ball anywhere near the Patterson, NJ native and he's going to find a way to haul it in. He oozes big plays. In fact, it can be hard to picture Cruz making a reception that wasn't jaw dropping.
Without his electric performances, the Giants simply don't make the playoffs.
2. Jason Pierre-Paul: JPP might not be the first dominant DE to wear a blue jersey but he has the potential to be the most dominant of all time. Analysts feel that he has yet to peak and given the ferocious nature of his play, that is great news for New York.
I strongly considered putting Tuck here. However, I expect 2012 to be a breakout season for Pierre-Paul and I think Tuck's ability to penetrate the backfield will correlate directly with how the offensive line handles the rush from JPP's end of the field.
1. Eli Manning: This may seem like an obvious choice for the top spot and that's because it is. If there are still Manning doubters out there, then they must be Eagles fans.
Manning nearly threw for 5,000 yards last season. Why? Because all of a sudden the Giants were a pass first team. He had a great supporting cast to work with as far as weapons were concerned, but his concentration and ability to throw ridiculously precise passes made the 2011 season special.
His grit will likely be needed during the coming season. With the offensive line in flux, he may be exposed to more pressure than he would like.