The New York Giants exceeded expectations in 2022, making the playoffs and winning a postseason game for the first time in more than a decade. They were able to succeed despite their passing game being ranked 26th in the NFL.
Quarterback Daniel Jones cut down on his turnovers (career-low five interceptions) and passed for a career-best 3,205 yards. His 67.2 completion percentage was tied for fifth-best in the league.
Yet despite making obvious strides forward as a passer, Jones lacked ample receiving weapons. No Giants pass-catcher reached the 60-reception, 750-yard, or five-touchdown thresholds. So the front office made notable moves in the offseason to upgrade the receiving group for their 26-year-old QB.
New York’s boldest transaction was to trade for former Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller, a Pro Bowler in 2020. The Giants also added ex-Indianapolis Colts speedster Parris Campbell and nabbed potential big-play threat Jalin Hyatt from Tennessee in the third round of the NFL Draft.
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During recent offseason workouts, Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka confirmed that making more big plays downfield was a goal for this season. New York ranked 31st in the NFL in Intended Air Yards last year.
“You definitely want that to be a part of your offense,” Kafka said. “I think that’s one thing we kind of did a deep dive on is how we can improve it to get some more of those opportunities or personnel to get the right people in the right spots.”
While Waller should not only be able to help improve the Giants’ deep passing game, he is projected to function as Jones’ top target and hopefully regain his 2020 form, when he caught 107 passes for 1,196 yards and nine TDs.
Only Kansas City’s Travis Kelce was more productive than Waller at tight end that year, and Jones is already seeing why his new 6-foot-6, 255-pound target is capable of such outstanding production.
“He can run every route. Catches the ball really well, great body control,” Jones said. “He’s obviously a tough matchup for people, for defenses, with a guy who can run like that with that kind of size, and how you play him in man and how you account for him in zone coverages.”
“He definitely gives something for a defense to worry about or to game plan for, and we can move him around and put him in different spots. Just a super versatile player.”
In 2022, Waller averaged a career-best 13.9 yards per reception. But injuries limited him to 20 games over the past two seasons, and the 30-year-old is focused on staying available for a new team that is going to lean on him heavily.
“That’s something I haven’t been able to do the last couple of years, and I’m fully aware of that,” Waller said about staying healthy. “I’m doing everything in my control to be able to be out there and be accountable, be reliable.”
Waller has the requisite talents to fill a major need in the Giants’ passing game. But there is also extra pressure that comes with playing in New York, a market that is unlike most others in professional sports.
After wearing the iconic Silver and Black, the newest Giant says he is already comfortable in the legendary “Big Blue.”
“I’m getting used to the blue, man. It’s a new color, but it’s cool.”
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Most importantly, his new quarterback has already prepared Waller for life on the New York stage, where a decade of mediocrity ended last year, and now expectations are being raised again.
“He really said ‘embrace it,’” Waller said Jones told him about playing in New York. “Not a lot of people get to say they play football in a market like this or a city like this with people as passionate as this fan base is.”
“It’s all about your perspective. Whether you look at it as it’s scary or you look at it as a great opportunity. I view it as a great opportunity.”
Campbell, like Waller, can provide more upside to the Giants’ passing game if he can stay on the field. In his first three seasons with the Colts, the 2019 second-round pick played in just 15 games.
In 2022, Campbell finally made it through a full season, finishing with a career-best 63 catches and recording receptions of 30-plus yards in five games.
In the offseason, Campbell said that being able to put the injuries behind him and not missing any games in 2022 was an accomplishment for him. He is heading into his first year with the Giants as a more confident pro.
“It was tough, very tough those first three years,” Campbell said. “Being able to bounce back from each and every injury that I had, I really learned a lot about myself. I feel like I grew as a man, as a person, as a player.”
Along with Campbell, the addition of Hyatt will allow the Giants to challenge opposing secondaries with more downfield strikes this season. The rookie is a true vertical threat who was compared to longtime Eagles standout DeSean Jackson in his pre-NFL Draft scouting report on the NFL’s official site.
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Returning veteran wide receiver Darius Slayton has already been impressed by the former Volunteer, having already watched the rookie’s college film.
“I was a fan before he got here,” Slayton said. “You turn on the film, it’s a whole lot of flying. I mean, it’s fun to watch, fun to play with guys like that.
“You can see the talent. Not just his speed. I think he does route run well. He catches the ball well.”
Slayton averaged 15.7 yards per catch last season, and now with the trio of newcomers working with him, the Giants are aiming to generate more explosive plays in the passing game in 2023.
“They don’t know where it’s coming from,” Slayton said of the retooled New York air attack. “You’ve got me or Jalin or Parris or any of our guys. Darren is huge but can fly. It’s like you’ve got all these guys flying at you.”
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Even with the new playmaking pieces added, this will be Jones’ second season under Kafka, so there will also be continuity in the overall guidance of the offense.
“Any time you can kind of get in the second year of the program, there’s familiarity with the verbiage, familiarity with the communication,” Kafka said. “Now we’re working to streamline it, working to be more efficient with it, efficient with the situations that we’re asking him to be in, making those decisions.”
Jones said while he is certainly more comfortable in his second season working with Kafka, the development and learning processes are ongoing.
“It’s definitely beneficial for myself as well as all the guys who have been here, having learned it once,” Jones said. “We’re focused on continuing to evolve and change up what we’re doing, and experiment with different things that may be good for us.”
Jones is a proven dual-threat quarterback, with talents as a passer and runner. However, the Giants haven’t unlocked his full potential as a downfield passer. This season, they hope to be much more aggressive in that regard, as evidenced by the skill sets of their new offensive acquisitions.
While we may see more highlights from New York’s passing game this season, Jones did caution that making sure the offense meshes together will take some time and much work in the preseason.
“I’m excited, I think we all are,” Jones said. “But there’s a long way for us to go. For us now, we’re focused on taking a step every day.”