New York Giants 2014 Season Review: The Emergence of Odell Beckham

In the midst of a disappointing 2014 season, the New York Giants found a star.

There was optimism heading into the 2014 season for the New York Giants. A new offensive system paired with a defense that ranked sixth in Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points in 2013 caused some to think the Giants would take a step forward this season.

Some writers can be pretty dumb.

That didn’t happen, as the Giants finished the season 6-10, a win worse than a disappointing 2013 season. It was their third straight year missing the playoffs and the third consecutive year with a record worse than the previous season.

What Went Right

Any look at what went well for the Giants in 2014 can’t start anywhere else besides bowing to our new football overlord, Odell Beckham Jr. For Beckham, the season started with a hamstring injury that kept him out of action for the first four weeks of the season. The injury lingered long enough to draw the ire of head coach Tom Coughlin, who was frustrated by the limited return the team was getting from its first-round pick early in the season.

That seems like a long time ago, as Beckham was nothing short of stellar once he stepped on the field. He finished eighth overall in Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) despite missing those first four games. He also finished 9th in receptions, 18th in targets and averaged 108.8 yards and a touchdown per game in the 12 games he played. None of those numbers really serve justice to how much Beckham stood out, even in the best class of wide receivers we’ve probably ever seen. Beckham also noted after the season he was playing with tears in both of his hamstrings, meaning what Beckham did in 2014 was not at 100 percent health.

There were also seeds of improvement in the overall offensive system implemented by Ben McAdoo. While the Giants only finished the season 16th in Adjusted NEP, that’s a significant improvement based on their ranking of second to last in 2013. As the year progressed, Eli Manning looked more comfortable in the system utilizing quicker efficient passes, and he finished 12th overall in Passing NEP. Manning still threw 14 interceptions, but that was his lowest number in both total interceptions and interception rate (2.3 percent) since 2007. With little outside of Beckham as a receiving weapon towards the end of the season, there’s reason to believe next season could be an even bigger step forward for the offense.

What Went Wrong

This section could be summarized by just saying “the defense.” After finishing sixth in Adjusted NEP in 2013, the Giants finished 2014 ranked 27th. A mixture of injuries and disappointing performances helped sink the defense. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie wasn’t terrible, but also wasn’t the top corner the Giants paid for at five years and $35 million. After his first healthy season since 2010, the Giants signed oft-injured linebacker Jon Beason to a three-year, $17 million deal, who then got injured. Walter Thurmond didn’t make it through two games before finishing the year on injured reserve.

Injuries to Victor Cruz and Rashad Jennings also stalled the offense from reaching its full potential. Looking back, four games without Beckham for injury was one of the worst things that could have happened to the offense to start the season. Cruz was the team’s top target before he was lost for the year, though the emergence of Beckham helped soften the blow in production.

The bigger injury when comparing the dropoff from starter to backup came in the five games missed by Jennings. Before his injury, Jennings had been a productive player both on the ground and as a receiver out of the backfield. When Andre Williams stepped in during Jennings’ absence, that disappeared. Williams is the type of back who needs holes created by the offensive line to consistently gain yards and the 2014 iteration of the Giants offensive line was not one capable of doing so.

Williams, the fourth-round pick, finished seventh-to-last in Rushing NEP at -17.73 and was worth -.08 Rushing NEP per attempt. Williams, who did not record a reception during his senior year at Boston College, had a Target NEP (points added on all targets) of -5.67. The struggles aren’t all on Williams -- he wasn’t necessarily drafted to be the featured back -- but the Giants’ game plan barely changing while Williams was the feature back was troubling.

What’s Next

New York will have two big decisions on the defensive side of the ball come free agency. Both decisions come from players whose names have outweighed their production. Safety Antrel Rolle has been a Giant for the past five seasons, but he will be entering his age-32 season, his coverage skills have started to decline and he’ll have to take a pay cut from the $9.25 million cap hit he had in 2014.

The bigger decision will come from what to do with defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Pierre-Paul will only be 27 next year, and is coming off a season with 12.5 sacks. Even that doesn’t come close to the potential he showed during his sophomore season in 2011. A myriad of injuries has slowed the defensive end down in the years between. Pierre-Paul is still young and his ceiling is still high enough to command a big money contract on the open market. The Giants will have to decide if the price is worth the risk.

Per, the Giants have an estimated $14.8 million worth a cap space using their top-51 contracts in 2015. That leaves enough money to pursue some free agents if they chose to do so, either on the offensive line or almost any position on defense. The Giants could even save another $3.5 million by cutting ties with Jon Beason.

The Giants have the ninth overall pick in the NFL Draft, where they’ll likely target an offensive lineman or a linebacker. There's plenty of places the roster can be upgraded, but nothing will excite Giants fans more heading into next season than the thought of a full 16 games from Odell Beckham.