Every season brings surprises, some good and some bad. Here is a look at five players who have been pleasant surprises for the New York Giants through the first 10 games of the 2015 NFL season.
You know the story with Whitlock by now. He was a nose tackle at Wake Forest, but at 5-foot-10 (maybe) and 251 pounds he went undrafted after the 2013 season and entered the NFL as a converted fullback. He spent part of 2014 on the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad, got cut, finished the season on the Giants practice squad, beat out Henry Hynoski for a roster spot this summer and now he is an integral part of the 2015 Giants.
Whitlock is, of course the team's fullback. He has also gotten to live out a dream by getting to play some defensive tackle in pass rushing situations, and in a limited, specialized role he has been effective. You might even consider Whitlock, with that sick spin move, the second-best pass rusher the Giants have behind Jason Pierre-Paul.
Whitlock has played 108 snaps on offense, 39 on defense and is second behind Orleans Darkwa (198) in special teams snaps with 140. So, yes, he's important to this team.
When Tye, undrafted free agent out of Stony Brook, signed with the Giants after an impressive showing during the team's rookie mini-camp in May, he was the No. 6 tight end on the depth chart. The Giants were carrying six tight ends on their 90-man roster, meaning Tye was the longest of long shots to not just make the roster, but to even stick on the practice squad.
Fast forward to six months later and Tye is currently -- at least until Larry Donnell returns from his neck injury -- the Giants' starting tight end. The 6-foot-2, 262-pound Tye is also doing a whole lot more than occupying space, or just filling the position until Donnell is healthy. He is playing well, making an impact and perhaps threatening to take the top spot on the depth chart away from the enigmatic Donnell.
"He's improving, there's no doubt about it," said tight ends coach Kevin M. Gilbride. "I always felt like he had it in him to be a good player, but he's young, he's green, his development is what still needs to take place and it shows it, it shows it in some of the inconsistencies that he has. But I'll tell you what, he's made some big plays for us, too, and I think down the stretch, he's going to make a lot more."
Tye wasn't activated by the Giants until Week 4 against the Buffalo Bills and dropped the first pass Eli Manning threw to him. Since then, though, he has caught 15 passes -- including a career-high five for 56 yards last week against the New England Patriots.
Justin Pugh/Weston Richburg
I am putting them together -- at Chris's urging, FYI -- because of what they have done as a combo this season. I think we knew both were, or would be in Richburg's case, really good NFL players. We didn't know, however, if Pugh could play guard or Richburg could handle being an NFL center.
The two have undoubtedly answered that question in the affirmative. Paired next to each other they are the strength of the Giants' offensive line. With rookie Ereck Flowers alongside the two of them, that's the group the offensive line will be built around for the next several years.
The Giants picked up the seven-year veteran after Week 1 as insurance. The health of Jon Beason was always a question mark, the inexperience of Uani 'Unga was a concern, and the Giants had parted ways with veteran backup Jameel McClain, possibly due to concerns about McClain's own history of neck and spinal injuries.
Brinkley, cut during preseason by the Dallas Cowboys, came with a reputation of being a physical, run-stopping middle linebacker who wasn't really much help in pass coverage. Brinkley is paying off big-time as an insurance policy.
With Beason once again gone for the season and 'Unga missing the last two games with a neck injury, the 30-year-old has stepped in capably. He has 19 tackles in those two starts, and his 12 tackles Sunday against the Patriots marked only the fifth time in his career he has been credited with double digit tackles. He also has a sack, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Is Brinkley the long-term solution at middle linebacker for the next several years? Probably not. He does, however, give the Giants a solid veteran who can help them right now.
Truth is, the Giants couldn't be certain what they were getting when they traded a conditional seventh-round pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for Wing right before the beginning of the regular season. Wing had been cut in 2013 by the Philadelphia Eagles, kicked last year for the Steelers and lost a competition for the punting job this season in Pittsburgh. The Giants just knew they couldn't live with the way Steve Weatherford punted the ball last season, or the inconsistent way he punted it during the preseason.
Wing has been a revelation. He's had 19 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, seventh in the league, and is fifth in the league with 13 punts fair caught. He is averaging 44.8 yards per punt, up from the 43.7 he averaged in Pittsburgh. His net average of 38.9 and average return allowed of 1.0 yards are skewed by the 82-yard return last week by Danny Amendola, which came on an excellent, high, directional punt that pinned Amendola to the sideline and was covered atrociously by the Giants.
At just 24, Wing could be the Giants' punter for several seasons if he continues to perform as well as he has.