Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson
In the last four games of the 2008 season, Eli Manning did not eclipse 191 yards passing. During that stretch -- without wide receiver Plaxico Burress -- he threw only two touchdowns.
The Giants won at home in overtime over Carolina in Week 16, but lost the other three contests. Manning completed only 54 percent of his passes in that stretch. Manning, never the most accurate passer around, was even worse during the Giants' playoff loss --once again, without Burress. Weather was a factor at times and Brandon Jacobs missed two of those games, but it was apparent that defenses didn't fear New York's pass-catchers with Burress out of the lineup. The Giants' offense features a tremendous running game, but that might not be enough when compared to the other elite teams in this league.
There was much speculation that the Giants would add Braylon Edwards in the offseason, but that never materialized. Instead, they used their late first-round selection on North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks. Nicks is fairly refined for a rookie and the Tar Heels used a lot of NFL principles in their offense, but he is still a rookie and an adjustment period is a given. Nicks is an intriguing option, and there are other young wideouts on this squad who also have a lot of upside.
Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith don't have as high of a ceiling as Nicks, but both, especially Smith, are steady players. Smith should be a fine No. 2 wideout or slot guy for the foreseeable future, but he and Hixon would be far more effective with a true difference-maker on the opposite side. Hixon did lead the team in receiving last year and has some big-play abilities.
Two wild cards are Mario Manningham and Sinorice Moss. Neither is particularly big, but they can get deep. Manningham in particular could take a big step forward this year, while Moss needs to step up to see the field.
The Giants also used a third-round selection on Ramses Barden. His stature is extremely impressive, but he looked overwhelmed at the Senior Bowl and I expect that to be the case in Year One for someone trying to make the transition from a tiny school like Cal Poly. He is a long-term project.
Overall, this is a very good team. Even with Steve Spagnuolo now in St. Louis, I expect the defense to be much improved -- which is really saying something. The running game should once again be among the top few in the league. Manning did a better job of valuing the football last year and that improvement needs to continue. He also needs to be more confident in spreading the ball around -- he clearly missed his safety blanket when Burress was out. A wideout or two could step up as well. Even without a true No. 1 option at that position, the Giants should win plenty of 13-9, grind-it-out games. It would just be much easier with someone of Burress' or Edwards' caliber in the mix.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.