I wrote last week that, in spite of all of the free-agent signings, the New York Giants' hopes for a 2014 recovery rest on the ability of quarterback Eli Manning to make his own recovery. Manning is the single most important player the Giants have, by far, and they will go as far as he takes them.
But assuming Manning does correct the problems that led to his career-worst 27-interception season in 2013, there are certainly other players on the team who could help elevate it to greater heights. These are players who can improve on their 2013 performance, health or both, and if they do, could help the Giants rise above the NFC East muddle and into the playoffs.
This is not a prediction, mind you. Those come months from now, at far more appropriate times once rosters are set and we've had time to properly mull over the offseason. The Giants could be a first-place team in 2014. They could be a last-place team in 2014. It's way too early to know, and even once it's prediction time there are still going to be a ton of unknowns and what-ifs on this team. But this is a brief list of players who could give them a significant boost on which they may not even necessarily be counting.
David Wilson, RB. The Giants brought in Rashad Jennings to be the starter. But they're still very high on Wilson's raw talent. If he's recovered from neck surgery and can overcome some of the (blocking, fumbling) problems he's had early in his career, his game-breaking ability will be a useful weapon in the run game. And they would find touches for him.
Victor Cruz, WR. He caught three touchdown passes in the first game, one in the fourth and then not another all year. Cruz was the victim of double coverage much of the season due to deficiencies elsewhere in the passing game. But he's going to be the clear top threat in the receiving corps again until someone else shows improvement. If Cruz can find a way to thrive in spite of the extra attention, that would be a huge boost to the offense.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB. As is the case with Cruz, the Giants are paying this guy to be a difference-maker. But it's a big bet on a player whose consistency hasn't always matched up with his considerable talent. Rodgers-Cromartie has, they say, the talent to be one of the best cornerbacks in the league. The Giants think getting him in a locker room and a meeting room with mentor Antrel Rolle will help turn the light on and get him to play to his ability every week. If that happens, then they got a deal.
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE. The best player on the Giants' defense has been more or less a non-factor for a season and a half now due to injuries. To go from non-factor to 2011-style JPP would be an absolutely massive jump. A healthy, productive Pierre-Paul is the perfect example of a player who could give the Giants an unforeseen edge over their opponents every single week.