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New York Giants’ midseason rookie report card: Grading class of 2016

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Grading Eli Apple, Sterling Shepard and the rest of Giants’ rookie class

NFL: Washington Redskins at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants GM Jerry Reese has been widely panned for his personnel decisions of late, and much of that criticism is valid. He also doesn’t get enough credit for some of his draft picks through the years. Since taking the reins from Ernie Accorsi in 2007, Reese has snagged a few serious ballers.

  • Steve Smith and Ahmad Bradshaw (2007)
  • Hakeem Nicks (2009)
  • Jason Pierre-Paul and Linval Joseph (2010)
  • Justin Pugh and Johnathan Hankins (2013)
  • Odell Beckham and Weston Richburg (2014)
  • Landon Collins (2015)

He’s missed on his fair share too, notably Rueben Randle and Ramses Barden (throw in David Wilson under extraordinary circumstances). Fans are still on the fence in regard to LT Ereck Flowers as well.

Nothing shifts the narrative faster than losing. Four consecutive seasons without a playoff berth and fans won’t remember you drafted Joseph, only that you let him get away. Today’s world is ‘what have you done for me lately?’.

The Giants won championships in 2007 and 2011, but this is New York, where there’s only two options: win or win now. Resting on your laurels simply won’t do.

The 2016 NFL Draft was, to date, the most important of Reese’s career. Tom Coughlin stepped down after 2015, and Reese could be shipping the cars home next if the Giants whiff on the playoffs again.

With that in mind, let’s assess how this year’s picks have fared through seven games.

Eli Apple

Round 1, pick 10

Grade: C+

Apple got off to a strong start in training camp, and showed flashes during the preseason. He carried that momentum over to Sundays, turning in solid performances against the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints in the first two weeks of the regular season. He’s a big, physical cornerback (6-foot-1, 199 pounds) with good recovery speed (4.40 40-yard dash), and he’s a willing open-field tackler in run support.

Notwithstanding, the biggest part of being productive is being on the field. Groin and hamstring injuries have hampered Apple for the past several weeks. He left the Giants’ game against the Washington Redskins in the first half, didn’t play the following week against the Minnesota Vikings, missed virtually all of the Green Bay Packers game and was sidelined against the Baltimore Ravens.

When healthy, Apple is a big contributor and will continue to improve with reps. The bye week gives him time to rest nagging injuries.

Sterling Shepard

Round 2, pick 40

Grade: B+

Shepard made a big splash in camp as well, drawing rave reviews from players and coaches, teammates and opponents alike. Beckham called Shepard the league’s best-kept secret.

“Comes up with the big catch, makes the big plays. He’s going to be the Rookie of the Year,” Beckham said after the Giants’ 16-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints.

Shepard has performed as advertised. He isn’t quite as dynamic as Beckham, or at least hasn’t been yet, but he makes plays. He has a knack for finding the football, evident on his first career TD reception against Dallas where he jumped over Cowboys’ cornerback Anthony Brown and went around his arm to reel in the catch. Whenever Shepard’s number is called, he delivers.

Unfortunately, his number isn’t called too often. He’s received 48 targets from Manning, a little less than seven a game, many of which traveled less than 10 yards down the field. That must improve after the bye. If not for the Giants’ offensive struggles, Shepard would likely grade out even higher.

Darian Thompson

Round 3, pick 71

Grade: Incomplete

Thompson’s health has been his biggest problem, to an even greater extent than Apple. He missed a few weeks over the summer with a shoulder injury and lost his starting spot to Nat Berhe in the Giants’ season opener.

More recently, a foot injury has kept him out of the lineup since Week 2.

Thompson looks poised when he’s on the field, but there just isn’t a big enough sample-size on which to assess him. Best-case scenario, the Giants’ hope to have him back after the bye.

B.J. Goodson

Round 4, pick 109

Grade: Incomplete

Like Thompson, we haven’t seen enough of Goodson to say how good he is or can be. He’s stuck behind Kelvin Sheppard at middle linebacker and that doesn’t look like it’ll change soon. The Clemson product has seen virtually all of his snaps on special teams to this point.

Goodson has the physical tools (30 bench press reps, 7.05 three-cone drill at NFL Combine), but adjusting to the game speed and learning a more complex defensive scheme don’t happen overnight. Plus the Giants are stronger than they’ve been at linebacker in recent years. Barring injury, it’s unlikely we’ll get a real look at Goodson on defense this season.

Paul Perkins

Round 5, pick 149

Grade: B

Is Perkins be the future at running back? The UCLA product has drawn early comparisons to Giants great (yes, love or hate him) Tiki Barber. While it’s far too early to anoint him, Perkins appeal to Giants’ fans is rooted in what he could be. His 67-yard catch-and-run screen pass against the Vikings was the lone bright spot in a putrid offensive performance.

The Giants’ running game is been bad, for a combination of reasons. Shane Vereen is done for the season and Rashad Jennings has been banged up. The offensive line, particularly the right side hasn’t been able to generate much of a push off the line of scrimmage. And perhaps the biggest reason of all, head coach Ben McAdoo his been notoriously non-committal to establishing it.

By default, Perkins has become the guy you want to see more of. Whether or not he’ll have more success than Jennings is yet to be determined, but he’s an option the Giants have yet to exhaust. He’s shifty, elusive in the hole and a dual-threat. From what little we’ve seen, it’s clear he needs more snaps. McAdoo and offensive coordinator Mike Sulivan agree: his snap count doubled over the last two games, from seven against the Ravens to 15 against the Los Angeles Rams. That was the second-most among Giants’ running backs. Perkins could be in line for more opportunities in the second half of the season

Jerell Adams

Round 6, pick 184

Grade: Incomplete

Adams line this season: three targets, three receptions, 32-yards receiving. Not a heck of a lot to go off.

Adams, similar to Perkins, has benefited from the mess around him. Larry Donnell does something to hurt the team almost weekly at this point. Against Baltimore, it was running out of bounds one yard shy of moving the chains on third down. Last Sunday, he ran into two Rams and got the ball ripped out of his hands on the Giants first drive.

Will Tye is solid, but ordinary. He’s more sure-handed than Donnell, and a better blocker, but he runs like a lineman and won’t give you anything spectacular. Tye is more lunch-pail than big-play, which was fine before the tight end position evolved the way it did. Versatility is at a premium these days.

Adams may be a hybrid. From what we’ve seen, admittedly a small sample, he appears to have the physicality, a la Tye and big-play potential, a la Donnell. Still, the fact he hasn’t cracked the lineup after seven weeks suggests he may not be ready. But how much worse could it get at tight end?

Andrew Adams

Undrafted

Grade: C+

Adams’ introduction to Giants’ fans started on the wrong foot. A crucial unnecessary roughness penalty against the Redskins wiped out a fourth-quarter blocked punt, and the Giants went on to lose the game. It’s a loss that may come back to haunt them at some point this year.

Things have improved for Adams since. Relative to his experience, he’s done a tremendous job in the secondary. He’s been thrust into meaningful spots, thanks to injuries to Thompson and Berhe, and has performed beyond expectations. That does not mean he’s the next Tyrann Mathieu or anything, just that he’s proven to be a capable stopgap at safety.

Adams got his first start at Minnesota, and he’s lined up alongside Landon Collins ever since. The undrafted free-agent has been able to hold the fort down and may have earned snaps even when everyone’s healthy.

Roger Lewis

Undrafted

Grade: B

In limited duty, Lewis proved he isn’t afraid of the moment. Filling in for Beckham, who left the Ravens game briefly with a hip pointer, Lewis hauled in his first career TD.

His snaps have gradually gone up since, but he isn’t likely to see significant time behind Beckham, Shepard and Victor Cruz. Still, it’s assuring to know he’s ready to contribute when called upon. Based on that alone, Lewis grades out high.