Giants’ Golden Tate, Dion Lewis and Evan Engram to see roles increase – NFL Nation
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Devonta Freeman is the splashy name added to the New York Giants’ roster to help offset the loss of star running back Saquon Barkley and wide receiver Sterling Shepard. Freeman has made Pro Bowls in a previous life for the Atlanta Falcons and been a productive player.
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But when Sunday rolls around, Freeman will have had five days to digest the Giants’ playbook and get into game shape. That makes it tough to expect more than spotty contributions this Sunday against the visiting San Francisco 49ers (1 p.m. ET, Fox).
“I’d say anybody you bring in [to] this kind of situation, who’s new to your program and you bring them in mid-week, you’ve got to focus in on what they’re going to do in that direct game plan. You can’t try to give them the entire playbook at once,” Giants coach Joe Judge said Wednesday after Freeman signed.
Judge and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett are looking beyond Freeman to fill the voids. They know it’s going to take a village to replenish the production they were expecting from Barkley.
Who is in line for bigger roles?
Gallman will likely start Sunday as the top run-down option. He can be a sufficient short-term fill-in, having produced 118 total yards and two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) in his only healthy start for an injured Barkley last season in a Week 4 win against Washington.
But the Giants don’t seem to have a ton of trust in Gallman as a receiver and pass-blocker. He was inactive for last Sunday’s game in Chicago. So Lewis will likely shoulder the biggest workload this week with Freeman still getting up to speed. Lewis has the trust of the coaching staff in passing situations and even near the goal line. That should make him fantasy-friendly in the short term.
Freeman’s role will increase with time. He is expected to be mixed in sporadically Sunday. Freeman’s playing time down the road will, in part, be determined by how Lewis and Gallman fare this week in their extended roles.
With Saquon Barkley out for the season, running backs Dion Lewis and Devonta Freeman will carry the load for the Giants backfield. Matthew Berry believes that Lewis will get the bulk of the work due to his familiarity with the offense.
“We have a lot of confidence in the backs we have here in Dion and Wayne,” Garrett said. “Those guys will certainly get opportunities. For us to be able to sign a guy like Devonta Freeman is a real bonus for us.”
Judge comes from the New England Patriots, a team that typically uses a committee at running back with a different approach each week depending on the game plan. Expect that to be the case for the Giants, much to the chagrin of fantasy managers and regardless if any of the three have a big week.
“I’d say within every specific game plan, we’re going to always look to use all of the players we have at the game, and make sure we have enough combinations to go ahead and create advantages for ourselves,” Judge said.
There is some uncertainty about how much Freeman has left, but the Giants were impressed during his Tuesday workout. They think he can help offset the monumental loss of Barkley, who had accounted for 24 of their 29 runs of 20-plus yards over the past two seasons.
“I think he’s got some juice left in the tank,” Judge said. “We’ll give him the opportunity to prove that.”
Freeman, 28, averaged 3.6 yards per carry last season and had three rushes of 20-plus yards.
Tate came back from a hamstring injury last week. Once Shepard went down, Tate was on the field for 31 of 40 second-half snaps. He had four catches on four targets for 35 yards, and became quarterback Daniel Jones’ safety blanket.
The injury to Shepard means Tate goes from being the third receiver to a crucial piece again, one who should be Jones’ most popular target for the foreseeable future.
Board is more likely than Damion Ratley to slide into the third wide receiver spot. It’s still a massive opportunity to make some plays. The Giants have run 11 personnel (three wide receivers on the field) 51.6% of the time this season, per ESPN Stats & Information.
Board could be another big-play receiver alongside Darius Slayton.
“[Board and Ratley are] both different than Sterling,” Judge said. “These guys both have decent length and a lot of speed. … C.J.’s had production as we’ve worked. I would hope that would improve based on how he’s picked up on the offense.”
Board (22 routes run) has produced when given the opportunity this season with five catches on five targets.
The Giants have five plays of 20 or more yards this season, and Barkley accounted for one of those in the pass game. It should be no surprise that they’re last in the NFL averaging 14.5 points per game.
“The correlation between making explosive plays in a drive and scoring is pretty high in this league,” Garrett said. “When you don’t make them, it’s pretty difficult.”
In order for this offense to function as intended, Engram must provide the explosiveness his talent promises. He’s going to get opportunities in space.
The Giants have already been using Engram as a pseudo-wide receiver. He’s run 67% of his snaps out wide or from the slot. His 44 slot routes are second among all tight ends, behind Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz.
He has 74 receiving yards on 15 targets, but given his track record it should turn. The Giants are committed to the explosive tight end who Judge recently referred to as a developing player.
“We want to be creative [getting Engram the ball], but at the same time we’ve got to make sure we’re playing within our offense,” Judge said. “We’re not just trying to invent something for the sake of doing it.”
They doing it because he’s perhaps their most dynamic offensive player with Barkley and Shepard out. Engram has no choice but to play a bigger role now.
He excelled in a similar situation during his rookie season when several of the Giants’ top playmakers went down with injuries.