The New York Giants need better wide receivers anywhere they can find them this offseason. That includes NFL free agency, where Juju Smith-Schuster headlines the available veteran pass-catchers.
Smith-Schuster is coming off a 78-catch season with the Super Bowl LVII-bound Kansas City Chiefs, but the Giants have been named a “nice landing spot” for the former Pro-Bowler, who would increase “his real and fantasy value.” Sports Illustrated’s Michael Fabiano believes Smith-Schuster would “become their most-targeted receiver” if the Giants bring back Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley.
Even if general manager Joe Schoen can’t retain his star quarterback and bluechip running back, the Giants will need receiver help due to Darius Slayton, Richie James and Sterling Shepard all being unrestricted free agents.
Slayton is perhaps the most valuable of the bunch because he affords free agent Jones opportunities to improve his deep-passing game, something Smith-Schuster wouldn’t offer.
Sure-Handed Veteran Not a Fit for Daniel Jones
Smith-Schuster’s not a good fit for the Giants if they keep Jones in the fold. He’s coming off a career season, but Jones needs to prove he’s no one-hit wonder.
A target as sure-handed as Smith-Schuster isn’t necessary after Jones proved his accuracy by posting a 67.2 completion percentage, despite not having stars to aim for this season.
Smith-Schuster’s a QB-friendly target who finds space between the numbers and became a star with the Pittsburgh Steelers after being drafted in the second round back in 2017. A 111-catch season in 2018 earned Smith-Schuster a Pro Bowl nod, before injuries wrecked his stay in Pittsburgh.
The Chiefs signed him to a one-year deal last offseason with his career at a crossroads. He responded by becoming the most active wide receiver on the NFL’s highest-scoring offense.
Smith-Schuster was such an effective weapon he burned the league’s No. 1 defense by making seven catches for 124 yards against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 7. His best play was this 45-yard catch and run for a touchdown.
The play summed up the best qualities of Smith-Schuster’s game. Specifically, his flair for turning short catches into long gains, evidenced by his 465 yards after the catch for the Chiefs, behind only All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce and running back Jerick McKinnon, per Pro Football Reference.
Just as important, Smith-Schuster dropped a mere six passes from 101 targets. He’s a reliable outlet, but Jones needs something more to take his game to the next level.
Giants Need Complete Remake at Wide Receiver
Jones improved this season by consistently targeting the middle of the field under head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka. Sadly, the simple but effective formula was stymied somewhat by season-ending injuries to Shepard and rookie Wan’Dale Robinson.
Fortunately, James filled the void by leading all Giants’ wideouts with 57 receptions. Re-signing James and exclusive-rights free agent Isaiah Hodgins, while waiting for Robinson to get healthy, would ensure Jones still has a cadre of dependable options over the middle.
What Jones needs is somebody who can stretch the field the same way as Slayton. The latter averaged a career-high 15.7 yards per catch this season, thanks to plays like this 32-yard touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 7, highlighted by Justin Penik of Talkin’ Giants:
Plays like this are why the Chiefs have been mooted as a possible destination for the Giants’ best field-stretcher in free agency. If Slayton doesn’t come back, he’ll need to be replaced by a receiver with different attributes than Smith-Schuster.
Jones proved he can manage games with safe and efficient throws this season. The next step in his development is to prove he can punish defenses vertically more consistently.
That won’t happen without a legitimate big-play threat on the outside.