Part 5 in a five-part series — a Giants trio of note.
The heat of the summer is not the only heat applied to players scheduled to assemble for the start of Giants training camp later this month. For some, there is heat to show they are worth the money. For others, the heat is on to live up to the marquee status assigned to them, based on their place on the depth chart.
The stakes are high across the board. However, not all players, roster spots, expectations and level of importance are created equal.
Here are the three Giants with the most pressure on them:
Leonard Williams, defensive tackle
This big guy needs no introduction. He was supposed to be a star with the Jets (No. 6-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft) and instead evolved into a good, solid player. Giants GM Dave Gettleman saw a young, healthy interior defensive lineman and sent over a third- and fifth-round pick to get him. After eight games of Williams doing what he usually does — good against the run, pretty good in pressuring the pocket, usually unable to seal the deal with a sack — Gettleman decided applying the franchise tag was worth the risk.
Is Williams worth $16.1 million — his tender for the 2020 season — if he continues his career production? No chance. Is it foolhardy to expect him, entering his sixth NFL season, to suddenly become an impact player? Probably. The best aspects to Williams are his age (26) and his durability — he’s started 79 of a possible 80 games. His total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, are between 48 and 55 every year. He seems to be what he is. Unless the Giants can slice into that big salary cap hit with a multiyear extension, this certainly is exorbitant for Williams. If he plays out the season on the one-year tender, he is auditioning for the entire league and his future earnings are on the line.
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Saquon Barkley, running back
Really? What pressure is there on a brilliant 23-year-old who in two seasons has exhibited all class and highlights and physical gifts to put him in the conversation for the best in the league at his position? Well, with great power comes great responsibility. Just ask Peter Parker. Barkley was a phenom as a rookie and less phenomenal in year No. 2, largely because of a nagging high ankle sprain. That is always the potential bugaboo with taking running backs so high in a draft — can they stay on the field enough to justify the selection?
It is difficult not to get ahead of ourselves here. Barkley saw Christian McCaffrey set the bar at the position with a contract averaging $16 million per year — the richest for a running back in NFL history. That came after three seasons. If Barkley tears it up in 2020 he will be in line for the same, or more, even though most first-round picks have to wait until after their fourth season to cash in.
Plus, Barkley puts a ton on himself. Too much losing at times made him ornery — there was too much of a burden to turn the franchise around on someone so young and so new. His ability is unquestioned and at times he almost tries too hard to be part of the solution. Until he gets more help around him, there is heat on Saquon, real or imagined.
Sam Beal, cornerback
There is a good chance this 23-year-old goes from being a youngster moving in the mix to a player needed to start alongside free-agent addition James Bradberry. That would be quite a leap of faith. The uncertain status of 2019 first-round pick DeAndre Baker, based on his legal entanglements, looms as a major impediment for a defense lacking in talent. Baker struggled as a rookie but, given his draft status, nevertheless was part of the plan.
Beal looks the part, tall and rangy, blessed with speed. It is time for him to show what he’s got. He missed the entire 2018 season on injured reserve with a shoulder issue and a strained hamstring landed him on IR last season before he finally made his NFL debut and got into six games, with predictably uneven results. The Giants had a second-round grade on Beal when they took him in the third round of the 2018 Supplemental Draft. He might be needed to rise from a crowd that includes youngsters Corey Ballentine and Grant Haley and rookie Darnay Holmes.