The preseason action that matters to fans might be complete, but for 32 NFL franchises, the final steps in their roster construction are still largely up in the air. When the New England Patriots and New York Giants square off Thursday night, there will be plenty of jobs on the line, and the competition, while sloppy at times, will still be fierce. Here are five of the key aspects of Thursday’s game that could carry over into the regular season for each team.
The loss of Julian Edelman would be devastating for any team other than the Patriots, who have a stable full of weapons and a roster that has only gotten deeper since winning the Super Bowl without Rob Gronkowski a year ago. While Brandin Cooks, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan figure to lead the way for the receiving corps, a spot has now opened up where preseason standout Austin Carr could conceivably make the Patriots’ final roster.
It looked grim for Carr’s chances before Edelman’s injury, but now he could jump in the driver’s seat for a spot with a strong fourth exhibition game. Given the fact that the starters are unlikely to play Thursday, Carr will likely play a large portion of the game, and if he stands out, it could give the Patriots pause before going outside their roster for another receiver.
Geneo Grissom, Jordan Richards and Cyrus Jones
The Patriots have quietly made a number of poor day two draft picks over the past few years, and now three of them are in danger of being sent packing. Grissom could benefit from a weak defensive end group in New England, but he has proven nothing heading into his third season, with just one sack in 25 games. Richards, the safety from Stanford taken the round before Grissom, has been a massive bust, and is currently in the midst of a dreadful preseason after two disappointing NFL campaigns.
Jones may have the best shot of the three to make the team as a return man, but he has struggled once again at corner this offseason. Edelman’s injury could open the door for him considering the shortage of return men available, and a strong final exhibition game could go a long way toward the second-rounder solidifying his case for a spot on the team. His top competition is likely Justin Coleman and Will Likely, so those will be the players to watch on Thursday.
Giants backup wide receiver battles
Dwayne Harris and Tavarres King are probably the front-runners for the fourth and fifth spots in the Giants’ receiving group, but King is dealing with an ankle injury that could impact how this position battle plays out. Roger Lewis has had off-the-field issues and has been inconsistent for the Giants, but he may have the most upside of the bunch.
Travis Rudolph is the hot name right now, after a three-catch, 81-yard performance in the team’s third exhibition game caught everyone’s eye. Harris figures to be the favorite for a spot considering his return abilities, but King, Lewis and Rudolph could have their jobs come down to showing something on Thursday.
Giants’ defensive end depth
While Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul rarely come off the field, the Giants’ backup defensive end spots are still very important considering how often defensive coordinator Steve Spagnulo brings a third defensive end in to play inside. Kerry Wynn offers this capability, and both he and Romeo Okwara were solid last season in relief of Pierre-Paul.
It would be surprising to see either of them cut loose, but fifth-round pick Avery Moss is another strong candidate to kick inside on long and late downs. I thought Moss was the perfect fit in New York, as a lesser version of Robert Ayers or Justin Tuck, players Spagnulo utilized with great success. He’ll compete with Devin Taylor and Jordan Williams for the fifth defensive end spot, as the latter also offers inside/outside versatility. Don’t be surprised if the Giants keep six defensive ends considering their positional flexibility.
Geno Smith or Josh Johnson?
The Giants’ backup quarterback battle has been an utter disaster of competing degrees of ineptitude, but with rookie Davis Webb not ready to be the No. 2 yet, someone has to win the job. Stats aren’t everything, but here is the breakdown of how both quarterbacks have performed this preseason.
Geno Smith: 26 of 43 (60.5 percent), 244 yards, 5.7 yards per attempt, zero touchdowns, two interceptions, five sacks.
Josh Johnson: 11 of 20 (55 percent), 104 yards, 5.2 yards per attempt, zero touchdowns, zero interceptions, four sacks.
I list the sacks because both players have been awful at managing the pocket, often navigating directly into pressure. Smith continues his career-long trend of being careless with the ball, while Johnson has somehow completed just 55 percent of his passes while averaging just over five yards per attempt. The winner of the backup job could come down to Thursday’s performance, although it will likely go to whoever plays less worse rather than who stands out positively.
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