Give Jerry Reese and the New York Giants credit where it’s due, they did an excellent job in regards to talent evaluation last offseason. It goes past signing Janoris Jenkins, Damon “Snacks” Harrison and Olivier Vernon to big free-agent deals. The Giants also drafted or signed a handful of NFL-ready rookies.
Eli Apple, Sterling Shepard, Paul Perkins, Andrew Adams and Romeo Okwara all made big contributions to a team who won 11 games. Safety Darian Thompson may also have started if not for injuries.
Let’s assess how this year’s picks fared through the entirety of 2016.
Apple may have been picked on by Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the Giants’ 38-13 wild-card playoff defeat, but it won’t be the lasting image of his rookie campaign. And it shouldn’t be.
Eli Apple has played pretty decently this season. Logged his first interception after Ben stared Rogers down. pic.twitter.com/fClboekYwA— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) December 6, 2016
While Apple struggled with consistency, he made enough big plays to merit the Giants spending the 10th pick of the 2016 draft on him. His combination of size (6-foot-1) and speed (4.40 40-yard dash) makes him an ideal matchup, from a physical standpoint, on the bigger, faster wide receivers of today.
His availability gives his midseason grade a boost. After a slew of nagging injuries cost him some time the first few weeks of the season, Apple didn’t miss another game after Week 6.
Final grade: B-
Shepard easily outpaced Victor Cruz to absorb the targets left behind by former Giant Rueben Randle, 105 to 72. He was second on the team — to Odell Beckham Jr., obviously — in catches (65), yards (683) and touchdowns (8).
The playoff game in Green Bay wasn’t a shining moment for Shepard either, but he was, generally, as good as advertised during the regular season. He didn’t win Rookie of the Year, as OBJ boldly proclaimed he would during the preseason, and his 10.5 yards per catch doesn’t pop off the page, but that could (and should) be attributed to a broken offense. Even Beckham averaged a career-low 13.5 yards per catch.
Shepard established himself as a legitimate WR2. And he’s only scratching the surface.
Final grade: B+
There wasn’t any measurable production around which to assess Thompson; he was shut down for the season (foot surgery) after the Giants’ second game. To add insult to injury, the Giants didn’t miss him.
Thompson had a strong training camp, and he’ll need another one to reintroduce himself to the team. The Giants’ defense was one of the NFL’s best in 2016, without him.
Final grade: Incomplete
Not much changed for Goodson since his midseason “Incomplete” grade. The Giants’ linebackers played well enough in 2016 to keep him relegated to special teams duties.
Inside linebackers Kelvin Sheppard and Keenan Robinson look set to become unrestricted free agents. If either, or both should leave New York, that would open the door for Goodson to have a larger role on the defense in his second season.
Final grade: Incomplete
Perkins was a revelation for the Giants. He gave their stagnant rushing attack a shot in the arm and supplanted Rashad Jennings as Big Blue’s starting running back at the end of the season.
Jennings is a better football player than he gets credit for being, but Perkins can simply do things he can’t. One of those things is avoid tackles in the open field, as seen in the above clip. He’s also more of a dual-threat than Jennings, and has picked up protection schemes reasonably well. He could be the man behind Eli next year, and if the Giants address the offensive line this offseason, Perkins may be even better in 2017.
Final grade: B+
There are two ways Jerell Adams can be graded: for his potential (which would be the easy argument to make) or for what he actually did on semi-limited snaps. He saw the field far more than Thompson or Goodson, but not nearly as much as Apple, Shepard, or Perkins.
Adams didn't get a ton of looks as a receiver while he was out there, which appears to be the strongest facet of his game. In 204 snaps he caught 16 of his 21 targets, one of which went for a score.
If your eyes are to be trusted, he appears to have more to offer than Will Tye or Larry Donnell. On potential, Adams would be a strong B.
Potential is great, but it generally means you haven’t done it yet. Adams still has to master the offense and establish himself as a consistent blocker. That he didn't overtake Tye or Donnell, in a season where the Giants got very little from the TE position and Ben McAdoo had no reservations about plugging rookies into important spots, speaks louder than his potential. At least for now.
Final grade: C
Okwara’s action was limited, too, but where he played is what makes him so important to the team. Okwara filled in for Jason Pierre-Paul, no small task, and held his own against the Dallas Cowboys notorious offensive line. He registered a sack of Dak Prescott, the first of his career, in his very first start on Sunday Night Football.
It will be interesting to see if the Giants can re-sign JPP, who made it clear early this week that he’s looking to be compensated.
Final grade: B
Adams earns the highest overall rookie-season grade and, considering his expectations to what he actually contributed, how could he not have? The undrafted Adams was expected to be little more than a placeholder after Thompson and Nat Berhe went down with injuries.
Instead, the Giants’ became the league’s second-best scoring defense (17.8 points per game) and PFF’s second-rated secondary — all with their third-string safety lined up next to Landon Collins virtually all year.
Final grade: A
Maybe I jumped the gun when I gave Lewis a B during the mid-season grades. In fairness, he hadn’t played much but he was starting to take snaps from Cruz and had caught his first career TD pass against the Baltimore Ravens.
If I graded him then, then I must grade him now and outside of a pair of scores, Lewis didn’t make much of an impact for Big Blue. He may be in line for more opportunities if the Giants cut Cruz next month.
Final grade: C