There is a natural inclination to assume that if 2016 third-round pick Darian Thompson returns to full health after playing in only two games last season, the starting free safety job for the New York Giants will be his. It’s something we hear all the time from fans, and it is understandable. After all, Thompson had earned that job before injuries derailed his rookie season.
Assuming, though, that Thompson will automatically win the job is short-changing Andrew Adams, who played well for the Giants last season once he got his opportunity.
Adams is unfazed.
“I kinda look at it as though I’m in the same situation. I’m still an undrafted guy even though I have a year under my belt and I played a lot of snaps last year I still have that hungry mentality which I’ll never lose from being undrafted,” he told me during a recent phone conversation.
“I still feel like I have more to prove.”
Let’s look closer at Adams as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp later this year.
2016 Season in Review
An undrafted free agent from Connecticut, Adams was a pleasant surprise for the Giants last season. He played in 14 games with 13 starts after injuries struck Darian Thompson, Mykkele Thompson and Nat Berhe, capably patrolling the back end of the defense.
Adams vividly recalls the spate of emotions he went through as he went from being cut to added to the practice squad, then called up to the 53-man roster and, in his second NFL game, becoming a starter.
“Waking up to that phone call ‘bring your playbook, coach wants to talk to you’ is very demoralizing as a player,” Adams said.
The Giants, though, had at least some good news. They wanted him to join their 10-player practice squad.
“They stressed that practice squad you can be called up at any time so you’ve got to stay ready. You could be the starter Week 3, Week 5, Week 10, Week 15. You’ve gotta stay ready. I kinda had that mentality,” Adams said. “I kept my head down. I grinded. I stayed up with the defense. Once my name was called up to the 53-man roster I was ready.”
That happened in Week 3, but his debut game wasn’t exactly the stuff of dreams. The Giants lost to the Washington Redskins and an unnecessary roughness penalty on Adams negated what could have been a game-altering blocked punt by Romeo Okwara.
“I played well other than the penalty. The penalty was a physical play, it wasn’t anything crazy. The coaches understood what I was thinking, so it wasn’t harped upon too much,” Adams said.
Suddenly, Week 4 against the Minnesota Vikings Adams found out that what he had been told when he was offered a spot on the practice squad was true. He was in the starting lineup, where he would remain for the rest of the regular season.
Adams finished the season with 46 tackles, 31 of them sole, five passes defensed and an interception. Pro Football Focus had Adams with the second-highest grade among rookie safeties.
“It just kinda moved so fast you couldn’t really sit back and comprehend what happened until later on into the season,” Adams said. “It was all just going so fast for me. I enjoyed it, I enjoyed the ride.”
Will that enjoyable ride continue for Adams this season?
Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo recently called it an “interesting question” when he was asked about who would play safety alongside Landon Collins.
“Look, this time of year, all jobs are open. Now when I say that, there are some obvious ones that come out. But I think that at that particular position, I think the guys realize that they have to come in and somebody has to surface,” Spagnuolo said. “Whoever that is will start at the beginning and like every year, you need probably more than three. Nowadays, you probably need four, so we will see how it plays out.”
Adams, both Thompsons and Berhe are all healthy as the Giants near the beginning of OTAs. There is further competition for roster spots from veteran Rahim Moore and undrafted free agent Jadar Johnson.
Adams understands the nature of the business.
“Everybody in the safety room is competing for a job and working hard every day, that’s the only thing that matters. We have a bunch of good players,” Adams said.
“Darian’s a good player. He’s going to be able to contribute to the defense in a great way. There’s good players all around the DB room. We all work together and work as a family and we all have one goal in mind, and that’s to be the No. 1 defense in the league.”
Adams is hoping that a year of experience will translate to a jump in his performance.
“Having a year under your belt helps a lot. Going in as a rookie you kinda know what to expect, you kinda don’t know what to expect. Even if you play a lot of snaps you’re still trying to learn the ropes of the NFL, what offenses do, how the coach wants the defense to run, how he wants you to do things,” Adams said.
“Having a year under your belt just makes everything run a lot smoother. The transition from Year 1 to Year 2 I hear players make huge jumps, so that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Drafted or not, Week 1 starter or not, Adams certainly showed a season ago that he can contribute to a quality NFL defense. He should be able to do that again in 2017.
NOTE: You can follow Adams on Instagram at Andrew_Adams33 and Twitter @AndrewAdams33.