The Giants haven't led the NFL in much recently, but they had a big lead in one category through the end of October. No team played rookies more often than they did. And they led in that category by about 500 total snaps.
That only counted rookies, like quarterback Daniel Jones, defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, linebacker Oshane Ximines and corners Corey Ballentine and DeAndre Baker. It didn't count all their second-year pros like guard Will Hernandez, running back Saquon Barkley, defensive end B.J. Hill, linebacker Lorenzo Carter, and cornerbacks Grant Haley and now Sam Beal.
The point is, the Giants are young. Very, very young. And that might be the biggest reason to be optimistic about their future, and to believe that GM Dave Gettleman could have them on the right path.
"Building these things takes time," said one NFL source who has watched the Giants extensively this season. "Everybody wants the quick fix. But that doesn't always happen. And when it does it's not sustainable. You build through several drafts, several years, and it's not always smooth. At least that's the way it is when you do it right."
Are the Giants doing it right, though? Two years into Gettleman's rebuilding, not everyone is convinced. He's made some strange trades (a fourth and a sixth for linebacker Alec Ogletree, a third and maybe a fourth for defensive lineman Leonard Williams), a very controversial one (Odell Beckham Jr. to Cleveland), some terrible free-agent signings (running back Jonathan Stewart, guard Patrick Omameh), and some iffy ones (tackles Nate Solder, Mike Remmers). He hasn't rebuilt the offensive line the way he promised (or hoped) he would, either.
But there's also only one obvious miss in his first two drafts (quarterback Kyle Lauletta in the 2018 fourth round), and his first eight picks this year and first four last year are all playing (or have played) significant roles on the team. Perhaps most importantly, he clearly has found the Giants their heir apparent to Eli Manning, despite all the criticism he received for both drafting Jones sixth overall in April, and drafting Barkley over quarterback Sam Darnold the year before.
"They've built up a nice base of young talent," said one NFC scout. "They've obviously got their QB for the next 10 years. There's probably no stud player there other than Barkley. They need to find that game-wrecker on defense. But some of these guys are going to be a good supporting cast as they grow."
There are undoubtedly holes to fill. Gettleman knows he's still missing a big-time pass rusher -- a Michael Strahan-like anchor for the defense. He knows he has more work to do along the offensive line. But he also knows he's looking at a Top 5 pick in the 2020 NFL draft, and about $60-80 million in salary cap space to use next March.
If the young core is as good as he thinks it is, there could be a marked improvement by the Giants next year.
But is it? Here's a look at the key pieces Gettleman has assembled and why the Giants think their future is bright:
The franchise quarterback
This is the biggest piece. The transition out of the Eli Manning Era would simply be awful if they couldn't find a replacement. And not only did Gettleman find one, but Jones looks very NFL-ready.
He's made some rookie mistakes this season, and fumbles far too often (13, nine lost, through nine games), but he's had three 300-yard games, three 4-touchdown games, and has nine touchdowns and one interception in his last three. He's been everything the Giants could've hoped for out of the sixth overall pick, and the fact that Gettleman got him one year after passing on a chance to take a franchise quarterback second overall is remarkable.
A big gamble paid off.
The stud running back
His recent struggles aside, does anyone dispute Gettleman's description of Barkley as being "touched by the hand of God?"
He's a game-changing player who has undeniably been the focus of every defense the Giants have played. Right now, he looks hurt and a porous offensive line isn't helping him, but he's already one of the brightest talents and most explosive players in the NFL. The Giants' offense will revolve around him at least for the next three years.
Building blocks on the O-line
Gettleman couldn't buy success here, even for the $62 million contract he gave Solder. And he's shockingly used only two of his first 16 draft picks on this spot. But there are some encouraging pieces there.
Hernandez (second round, 2018) looks like a keeper. The Giants are also very high on Nick Gates (undrafted, 2018). They have no regrets about trading for guard Kevin Zeitler, who is 29 and signed through 2021. It would be a stunner if Gettleman doesn't come out of this offseason with a new left tackle and possibly a center (though they do like 28-year-old Jon Halapio).
Unfortunately, line-building takes time. Remember the powerful offensive line the Giants had in 2007? That didn't form overnight. It included five guys who arrived in 2001 (Rich Seubert), 2003 (David Diehl), 2004 (Chris Snee, Shaun O'Hara) and 2005 (Kareem McKenzie). It took five years to find them and two more for them to gel.
Hog Molly in the middle
The most impressive young player on defense this season has been Lawrence, the 342-pound defensive tackle the Giants drafted with the 17th overall pick.
"He's a load," said one NFC scout. "And a guy that size shouldn't be able to move the way he does. It's probably hard to see his impact right now, but wait until they get a guy who can actually rush the passer outside of him. Teams are going to need four guys to block two players."
Lawrence has just 2 ½ sacks so far and he'll probably never be Aaron Donald-like, but he's got Damon Harrison potential for sure.
Hope in the secondary
The secondary has been a bit of a nightmare for the Giants, but it can be tough for young players back there. Baker, the 30th overall pick, has had a bit of a nightmare rookie season. Ballentine, a sixth-rounder, has shown some promise. Beal, last year's supplemental pick, is finally on the field, and fourth-rounder Julian Love is going to see a lot of time at safety down the stretch.
That's a lot of kids surrounding safety Jabrill Peppers, who by the way is only 24. Scouts tout the "potential" and "promise" of this group, but it's definitely a big unknown.
Gone but not forgotten
All those rookie snaps the Giants have accumulated? It would've been more if linebacker Ryan Connelly didn't tear his ACL in Week 4. He had already made three starts and his playing time only figured to increase. The Giants liked what they saw in his short time on the field, and he could be a future replacement for Ogletree.
Receiver Sterling Shepard is only 26 and signed long-term. Tight end Evan Engram is 25 and signed through next year. They've both been injury prone, but can be big-time weapons when healthy.
And while the sack numbers aren't there yet for Lorenzo Carter (2 ½ this season), the 2018 third-rounder is still only 23 and has had some strong flashes, at least. Defensive end B.J. Hill has taken a step back (from 5 ½ sacks as a rookie to zero this year), but the Giants think the second-year pro can be a solid player.
And if they can re-sign Williams, who is still only 25, they could have the pieces of a very good defensive line.