Giants 2024 Position Breakdown: A healthy Graham Gano should make a huge difference on special teams

The Giants are coming off a disappointing 6-11 season, looking to again resemble the team that won a playoff game in Minnesota two years ago.

In this series, we’ll break down the depth chart for every position group heading into the 2024 season. This time, we’ll go in-depth at the special teams unit…

Projected depth chart

Starters: Graham Gano (kicker), Jamie Gillan (punter), Gunner Olszewski (punt returner), Isaiah McKenzie (kick returner), Casey Kreiter (long snapper)

Key Backups: Eric Gray

Key additions/losses: Parris Campbell signed with Eagles, signed McKenzie, re-signed Olszewski

Top Performer in 2023: Randy Bullock, who made 83.3 percent of kicks last season

What Giants’ special teams have going for them

Gano was nearly automatic for the Giants in his first three seasons with the club, making 91.8 percent of his field goal attempts and 94.6 percent of his extra point attempts during that span.

The 2024 season was a different story, though, as a left knee injury clearly hampered Gano. The veteran made just 11-of-17 field goal attempts before landing on the IR with an undisclosed left knee injury, which required surgery.

But the hope is that Gano, now 37, is fully recovered and back to his automatic self, which would be a huge boost for a Giants team looking to turn things around.

Key concern for 2024: Gano’s knee

When Gano suffered his knee injury last season, the Giants placekicker spot went through some tough times. Mason Crosby played three games and missed a pair of field goals, leading to Randy Bullock becoming the team’s kicker. Even punter Jamie Gillan got called upon to kick a 40-yard field goal at one point, which he hit.

The Giants would like to avoid that revolving door all together by keeping Gano healthy all season long.

Jamie Gillan / Rich Barnes – USA TODAY Sports

Player who must step up in 2024: Gillan

Gillan’s first season with the Giants in 2022 was disappointing. The “Scottish Hammer” had a touchback percentage of 12.2 percent of his punts, a figure that was far too high. Only 26 of his 74 punts were downed inside the 20-yard line.

To his credit, though, Gillan had a much better 2023 season, dropping that touchback percentage to 4.2 percent. He also earned his first Player of the Week award since the 2019 season thanks to a strong season finale against the Eagles.

The Giants need the 2023 Gillan to show up this season, as a regression to 2022 could mean a new punter in the building.

Biggest camp battle: Kick Returner

Over the years, the role of kick returner became more and more diminished. The large majority of the time, teams were simply kicking the ball well out of the back of the end zone. But with rule changes in place for 2024, including touchbacks now placing the ball at the 30-yard line rather than the 25, there will be much more of an incentive for teams to keep kickoffs in bounds, meaning there will be many more kick returns this season.

The Giants need to find a reliable kick returner now that Parris Campbell has signed with Philadelphia. Running back Eric Gray had a chance to win the job last year, but he struggled with it. Gunner Olszewski was re-signed to be a punt returner, but he likely won’t figure in to the kickoff picture. Perhaps veteran Isaiah McKenzie is the answer, as he’s worked on both kick and punt returns over the course of his career.

Overall 2024 outlook

Special teams can often be an overlooked part of the game, but it’s clear that the Giants are hoping 2024 will see their units take a big leap forward. A healthy Gano will go a long way towards putting points on the board, and if Gillan can continue to trend upwards, that would be huge for the field position battle.

The Giants, and everyone else, will need to adapt to the new kickoff rules, which means finding a kick returner is key.

All in all, the Giants should be in pretty good shape on special teams in 2024.

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