Every year there is turnover on NFL rosters, and the New York Giants are no different.
Players leave via free agency, rookies are added, fringe players fail to hang on for another year, and players who were on the practice squad make a run at surviving final cuts this year.
With a largely young, talented, but veteran core of players, the Giants’ roster looks to be in a good place heading in to 2017. Many of their position groups are set with veteran players. However, there are always places for players who can work their way on to the final roster.
This time, let’s take a look at some undrafted free agent defenders and see if they can survive to the 53-man roster.
Why Johnson Will Make The Team
Johnson is an athletic, rangy, and confident playmaker at the free safety position. He doesn’t hesitate to close on the football and created seven turnover (five interceptions and two forced fumbles) to go with 12 passes defensed in his senior season.
Johnson also emerged as a leader for the Clemson Tigers’ championship defense and was voted captain in his senior season.
Spagnuolo’s defense functions its best when they have a free safety that they trust to patrol the deep part of the field, allowing for greater flexibility in their blitz schemes. Johnson brings the skill set of a natural free safety to the defense, and might be their only other natural free safety besides Darian Thompson.
Why Johnson Won’t Make The Team
If everybody in the safety room stays healthy there they are young, deep and talented. Darian Thompson might not be a lock to reclaim his starting job, but he should put up one hell of a fight for it. Andrew Adams played better than anyone could have hoped going from undrafted free agent to surprise starter after Thompson was lost for the season. Nat Berhe is an explosive hitter and a solid coverage option as well.
Prediction - Practice Squad
I don’t want to bet against Johnson. He brings a solid skill set that looks like a natural fit for free safety behind Landon Collins.
There will be a battle for the starting job, but it will probably be between Adams and Darian Thompson. Adams put together a solid resume and is healthy, while Thompson’s coverage ability, football IQ, and impressive communication skills let Steve Spagnuolo dial up some truly audacious blitzes in the first two games.
Johnson will likely be in competition with Berhe and Rahim Moore for the fourth safety spot. Mykkele Thompson will be in that mix as well, but he has to prove that he can remain healthy. Berhe’s play-style seems to put him at risk for concussions, which is a serious concern that goes beyond football, and it could leave the door open for Johnson.
It’s also possible that the Giants could carry more safeties if they believe that Johnson (or Mykelle Thompson, if he can stay healthy and prove he still as his athleticism) can provide depth as a nickel or dime corner as well as a safety.
Why Munson Will Make The Team
The Giants’ linebackers are hardly inspiring. They can flash at times, and improved greatly over previous years in 2016. But it’s also a bit telling that the Giants’ linebackers needed a quantum leap in play from the defensive line to for the linebacking corps to improve.
Munson might not be the dynamic athlete Giants’ fans are hoping for, but he has solid size, good instincts, is a passionate player, and was a highly productive leader for his defense. His experience playing the run, dropping into coverage, and blitzing gives him the kind of well-rounded skill set that is useful in the Giants’ “multiple” defense.
Why Munson Won’t Make The Team
The Giants might not have great linebackers, but they aren’t as terrible as fans weaned on the likes of Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks, Harry Carson, and Pepper Johnson view them to be, either.
If Ishaq Williams and B.J. Goodson develop the way the Giants hope and J.T. Thomas stays healthy, there might not be a spot on the roster for Munson.
Prediction - He Makes The Team!
Like many UDFAs, Munson will not only have to overcome a numbers game, but he will also have to prove to be a definite improvement over all the players ahead of him on the depth chart. Working in his favor is the fact that the Giants’ depth chart at linebacker isn’t as stout as elsewhere on the team.
Also, potentially, working in Munson’s favor is Mark Herzlich’s possible move to tight end and the (well discussed) fact that only B.J. Goodson is under contract past this season. If Munson performs well on special teams, he has a good chance to carve out a roster spot and develop before taking the next step when the depth chart thins after the season.
Why Schwan Will Make The Team
At 6’5”, 265, Schwan has the size the Giants like at defensive end. He also showed surprising speed at the Penn State pro day with a 4.68 40-yard dash. At Penn State he patiently waited his turn before emerging as a starter and solid contributor this past season.
He has a reputation as a high-character and very coachable player with a strong work ethic. He wasn’t a dynamic pass rusher in college (if he were, he probably would have been drafted), but was a solid “all around” defensive end who could pressure quarterbacks while also being stout against the run.
If he can earn the coaches’ trust, Schwan could provide the Giants with inexpensive depth.
Why Schwan Won’t Make The Team
Schwan enters a crowded defensive line room. The Giants have four defensive ends — Kerry Wynn, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Romeo Okwara, and Avery Moss — all vying to take on a share Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul’s snaps. Schwan has his work cut out for him to prove that he is higher than fifth in line for those snaps.
Prediction - Practice Squad
Schwan became a solid contributor for a surprising Penn State team once he finally became a starter in 2016. He reportedly flashed a good first step and generated pressure in rookie mini-camp. That is a very small sample size, but it is a positive sign.
However, there are a lot of players ahead of him. Vernon and JPP aren’t going anywhere, Owa Odighizuwa is entering his third year, Okwara flashed in relief of Pierre-Paul, Wynn is a coach’s player who’s effort and hustle will always make him a tough cut, and the Giants just added Avery Moss in the draft and seem excited about him.
A year on the practice squad will give Schwan the chance to develop and make his case if the defensive end position thins out in 2018.
Why Jones Will Make The Team
At his best Jarron Jones is a monster.
He possesses rare size and length for a 3-technique at 6’6”, with 35-inch arms, as well as impressive quickness and natural power. Matched up one-on-one, Jones has the potential to simply disrespect blockers and brush them aside like rag dolls (as he did against Miami).
A combination of injuries and questions about his football character lead to Jones being undrafted. The Giants are, arguably, the best situation for Jones to become a true Pro. Ben McAdoo is quickly gaining a reputation as a coach players love, Steve Spagnuolo is an undeniably likable players’ coach, and Jones will join a defensive line replete with hard working players. If there is anywhere in the league that can foster Jones’ talent, it’s the Giants’ defensive line room.
Why Jones Won’t Make The Team
Jones has never shown the kind of consistent dedication to bringing his absolute best every day of the week to be a reliable NFL player.
Making matters worse are the flashes of the kind of play of which Jones is capable. Coaches loathe to see his kind of potential being wasted, and if they feel their efforts to get him to put in the work to reach his potential are being wasted, they likely won’t hesitate to cut him. The Giants likely want to see Jay Bromley finally take a step forward in his final season, they really like Robert Thomas, and Kerry Wynn is one of the hardest working players around. Jones needs to give the Giants ample reason to keep him over one of those players.
Prediction - Ask Again Later
This is a similar answer as I gave with regards to Chad Wheeler when we looked at the UDFAs on the offensive side on the ball.
There is much that we just won’t know about the young guys in the trenches — and even more veteran players like D.J. Fluker, Ereck Flowers, and Bobby Hart — until the pads go on in training camp.
That goes double, or even triple, for Jarron Jones because of the questions regarding his work ethic. If he plays up to his ability, plays like he did against Miami every rep, every day, I firmly believe he can be an unholy terror in the middle of the Giants’ defense. With his length, quickness, and natural power he could be the kind of player who will keep offensive coordinators — and linemen — up at night. And if the Giants’ coaching staff can find the key to Jones buying in and consistently unlock and unleash his prodigious potential he could be the kind of UDFA steal fans are still smarting they missed out on with La’el Collins.
But until he actually shows that on the field, we can only assume he will be what he has been: A player who only briefly flashes dominance before stepping back to comfortable mediocrity.