The New York Giants are in the midst of a regime change. But before dissecting the new head coach hire and player moves of new general manager Joe Schoen (pronounced Shane), let’s hand out 2021 season team awards for the Giants.
Not much went right for the Giants last season. The season combined devasting injuries to key starters, poor on-field execution, questionable roster moves and horrible coaching decisions that led the franchise to a 4-13 record. Yet, moving away from the debris of a disastrous season there were quality performers to be found; their outstanding play offered some optimism for 2022.
New York Giants 2021 Season Team Awards
Most Valuable Player: Xavier McKinney
Choosing an MVP performer from a dismal season is a challenge. The list of nominees were slim. But one name that stood out from the rest was second-year safety Xavier McKinney.
Despite the team’s poor play, McKinney’s performance level was outstanding throughout the season. He recorded 93 combined (53 solo) tackles and five interceptions, including one pick-six that sealed a home 23-16 win over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 9.
After being chosen with the No. 36th overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft, the Alabama safety played in only nine games in his rookie campaign. McKinney broke his foot late in preseason and the youngster missed half the season before settling into his role in the Giants defense.
Last season, the Giants defensive coaching staff praised McKinney for being ahead of the curve with his film study of that week’s opponent. That study helped him recognize play sequences and position himself to break up deep throws. McKinney defended nine passes with a 57.1 completion rate in his direction last season.
His skeptics will say it is a small sampling to give a true evaluation of his talents. But, this author is going out on a limb and saying that the second-year pro is an elite pass defender who will only get better with experience.
Mr. Schoen, Xavier McKinney is the perfect foundation piece for the defense.
Offensive Player of the Year (and Most Improved Player): Andrew Thomas
The talk of last summer’s training camp was if Andrew Thomas could rebound following a disastrous 2020 rookie campaign. Not only did Thomas exceed expectations, but he became the Giants offensive and most improved player of the year.
Who could forget his struggles as a high draft choice? Whether it was the holding penalties, false starts or blown blocking assignment (10 sacks and 57 quarterback pressures allowed), his mistakes were plentiful in 2020. All made for a nightmarish season for Thomas.
The Giants offensive line has been a mess for far too long. But Thomas showed a willingness to make himself better. The transformation began in the preseason and continued into the regular season. Now, pass protection has become Thomas’ forte. And he is making strides in becoming a more efficient run blocker.
The lone setback for Thomas’ sophomore campaign was his foot injury. As a result, he missed four games as the Giants offensive line felt the void of Thomas out of the lineup. The key to the franchise’s success relies heavily on him remaining healthy for an entire season.
Thomas is ready to take that next step and become one of the NFL’s top left tackles.
Defensive Player of the Year: Leonard Williams
The Giants defensive line play was a major disappointment in 2021. The unit rarely controlled the line of scrimmage as in years past. But the one constant was the play of Leonard Williams, who is the G-Men’s 2021 defensive player of the year.
Granted, Williams sack total (6.5) from last season was disappointing, especially after recording 11.5 sacks in 2020. But he did achieve a career-high in tackles with 81 and 32 quarterback pressures. Keep in mind that Williams played through a triceps injury for most of the second half of last season. The injury limited his ability to stay low and use his wingspan to keep opposing linemen at bay off the snap of the football. However, Williams still possesses outstanding lateral movement to make plays along the line of scrimmage.
2022 will be a new year, new coaching staff but the same responsibilities for Williams as one of the top producers of the Giants defense. Despite all of his struggles last season, Williams remains a premier defensive tackle who can create havoc in the backfield; 2022 should be no exception.
Comeback Player of the Year: Devontae Booker
The Giants dished out several big-money free-agent contracts last off-season. But one of their better bargain returns was the signing of Devontae Booker. His production earned him Giants comeback player of the year for the 2021 season.
The consensus among talent evaluators was Booker’s running ability had taken a step back product-wise. Booker’s struggle with explosiveness coming off the line of scrimmage was no secret, but his career received a much-needed boost with the Giants last season.
Booker had not run at this high level (593 rushing yards) since his rookie campaign with the Denver Broncos (612 rushing yards). Furthermore, he averaged 6.7 yards per reception and became an ideal safety valve option in the Giants passing game. Booker also served a terrific pocket pass-protector for the quarterback.
The more touches Booker received, the more cohesive the offense became. If the Giants are going to turn this mess around, then Booker needs to have a role in the offense next season.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Kadarius Toney
This award winner needs no introduction as Kadarius Toney was the lone offensive rookie who stood out on the field last season. In 10 games, Toney caught 39 passes for 420 yards but zero touchdown receptions on the season. The zero in the touchdown-column of the stat line is hard to swallow.
He missed a considerable amount of time due to an assortment of injuries and ailments. Toney was ruled out of games for a hamstring injury, a quad injury, a shoulder injury, a thumb injury and testing positive for COVID-19 not once but twice during his rookie season.
Despite the limited game action, Toney showed the level of athleticism that few past Giants receivers have ever possessed. His ability to cut and avoid tackles with cat-like moves was breathtaking. Who could forget Toney’s 10-catch, 189 receiving yards performance against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 5 last season? It left fans wanting more.
Hopefully, 2022 will be the year of his evolution as a receiver. But first, Toney will have to get his body into shape to withstand the rigors of a long football season. If he accomplishes such, Giants fans could be watching something special at the wide receiver position.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Azeez Ojulari
The Giants have been desperate to find an edge pass rusher since the trade of Jason Pierre-Paul. Putting the breakout rookie season of Azeez Ojulari into perspective is difficult, but he is the franchise’s defensive rookie of the year for 2021.
Ojulari finished the season with eight sacks in 17 games to trail only Cowboys Micah Parsons (13 sacks) and Miami Dolphins Jaelan Phillips (8.5 sacks) in the rookie sacks leader category; some in the NFL community will give him serious consideration for league defensive rookie of the year.
The ceiling level of Ojulari is high. He is so much more than an edge pass rusher. Ojulari’s athleticism allows him to become a pass defender of tight ends or a running back coming out of the backfield. Plus, his strength allows him to take on oncoming blockers in a sweep running play to the outside.
At times, Ojulari’s skill level needs to be harnessed as opposing offenses catch him out of position for a big gain. But no question, he has the makings of becoming the Giants next great outside linebacker.