It is the middle of February. The last football season just ended. The next one is miles off in the distance. It is freezing outside here in the northeast, feeling like a ridiculous 6 degrees outside in upstate New York. I think we could all use a heart-warming thought that will make us look forward to the next New York Giants football season with a smile.
So, here’s one. ESPN has posted a list of 10 2016 rookies poised to make a leap to stardom in 2017. Three of those players — Eli Apple, Sterling Shepard, Paul Perkins — are Giants. So, thinking about the progress those three players could make next season should provide you with happy thoughts about the 2017 season.
Let’s look at some of what ESPN’s Matt Bowen, a former NFL defensive back, said about each player.
Apple has the size (6-1, 199 pounds), top-end speed (4.40-second 40-yard dash) and man-coverage ability to make a big jump as a second-year pro, based on what I am watching on film. The skill set is there, and so is the length in a press position. Apple is going to challenge routes and use his hands at the line of scrimmage. And he flashes the transition speed to close on the ball.
Plus, he tackles. Think of a physical, press-man cornerback who is going to compete outside. The next step is to become that playmaker when the ball is in the air. Finish at the point of attack. ...
The way I see it, there is a lot of room to grow with Apple, and I believe he has a high ceiling as a cornerback in this league. This is a guy I would love to coach. And with an entire offseason to train like a pro (no combine prep), Apple can make the jump in his second year. The talent, the size, the physicality? That's what I want in the secondary.
Great job playing through the hands!!!! Eli Apple! pic.twitter.com/zeZzzgTxZK— WeAreDBnation (@WeAreDBNation1) January 8, 2017
Shepard (5-10, 194 pounds) is a dynamic talent who can create matchups for the Giants due to his electric footwork, route running and speed in the high-4.4 range. In 2016, Shepard produced 65 receptions for 683 yards and eight touchdowns. And with the Giants expected to move on from receiver Victor Cruz, look for Shepard to make even more plays in 2017. He will get a lot of one-on-one coverage working opposite of Odell Beckham Jr. Aligned inside or outside the numbers, Shepard can create matchups with his lateral and vertical speed.
Perkins' lateral ability is off the charts. He can make a linebacker miss in a phone booth and then find a crease to burst up the field. This guy is lightning quick. In 2016, Perkins (5-10, 208 pounds) rushed for 456 yards on 112 carries (4.1 yards per carry), and he also caught 15 passes for 162 yards. Decent numbers, but the tape is telling us that he can be a weapon for the Giants' offense next year. Think of the nickel runs (three-receiver personnel), the quick option routes and the screen game. The Giants' rushing attack was an issue last season. But Perkins' ability gives New York an opportunity to create specific game-plan opportunities to get him the ball.