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Giants roster preview: Speedy CB Matt Smalley a darkhorse

UDFA from Lafayette didn't stand out in the spring, but that can change once training camp begins

Matt Smalley runs with the ball vs. Lehigh
Matt Smalley runs with the ball vs. Lehigh
Lafayette Athletic Department

Speed and big-play capability always get noticed by NFL teams, regardless of where a player comes from. Such is the case with Lafayette cornerback Matt Smalley, whom the New York Giants signed as n undrafted free agent during the spring.

Smalley, 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, is a cornerback/kick returner with 4.40 speed in the 40-yard dash. There are currently no players from Lafayette, an FCS school, in the NFL. The last was Blake Costanzo, a special teamer with the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears from 2007-2013. Costanzo made one start at linebacker in his entire NFL career. The last player from Lafayette to be drafted was guard Chris Thatcher, a seventh-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals way back in 1987.

2015 Season in Review

Smalley was named to the STATS Preseason All-America Third Team while also garnering Preseason All-Patriot League status at defensive back and return specialist. He had 44 tackles, one interception and six passes defensed as a senior. He averaged 21.1 yards on 15 kick returns. For his career, he averaged 24.8 yards per return.

In addition to the Giants, Smalley also reportedly worked out for the Philadelphia Eagles before signing with the Giants. Coming from that workout, here is an interesting tidbit from Lafayette coach Frank Tavani:

"I know the Giants actually like him more as a running back," Lafayette coach Frank Tavani said, "but he's as a good a pure cover guy as we've ever had here, that's for sure."

2016 Season Outlook

The Giants, as we know, ended up signing Smalley as a cornerback. Will he get a chance to return kicks? Maybe, but as long as he is healthy that job belongs to Dwayne Harris. If Smalley is going to make the Giants' roster he is going to have to put those pure cover skills to use, probably in the slot, and win a job.

First-round pick Eli Apple, high-priced free agent signee Janoris Jenkins and holdover Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are certain to make the 53-,man roster. Trevin Wade, who manned the slot much of last season, would also appear to have the inside track on a job.

Smslley is then competing with  holdovers Leon McFadden and Tramain Jacobs, as well as undrafted free agents Donte Deayon and Michael Hunter for a spot on either the regular-season roster or practice squad. Deayon right now appears to have the upper hand. The 5-foot-9, 158-pound slot corner from Boise State drew a lot of attention for his play in the spring and received significantly more reps than Smalley or Hunter.


Matt Smalley defends a pass.
(Photo courtesy Lafayette Athletic Department)

Can Smalley change that once training camp begins?

Dave-Te` Thomas of NFL Draft Report agrees with Tavani, the Lafayette coach, that man coverage is "what he does best."

Here is part of Thomas's exhaustive scouting report on Smalley:

Smalley has the quickness and open hips to shadow and trail the receiver. He shows crisp change of direction agility and good closing speed to shrink the cushion. He can latch and trail well in the short area, but you would like to see him be a little more aggressive in press coverage. When a receiver gets a step on him, he shows the ability to flip his hips and accelerate. He looks very sharp when planting and redirecting. He just looks a little inconsistent at times when backing off.

Just because Smalley did not necessarily flash in spring workouts does not mean he won't once training camp begins. He is a player to watch come July 29, the first full practice of camp.