The New York Giants have had some success over the years identifying free agents who have turned into productive players. Former Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz is, of course, the first name that comes to mind. On last year’s team, undrafted free agents who contributed included safety Andrew Adams (13 starts), tight end Will Tye (10 starts) and wide receiver Roger Lewis.
Will any of this year’s crop of undrafted free agents end up starring for, or at least contributing to, the Giants? With the team’s rookie mini-camp starting on Friday, let’s begin looking at some of the UDFAs the Giants have signed.
We will start today with USC offensive tackle Chad Wheeler, a player GM Jerry Reese singled out as one of the UDFAs he was most optimistic about. Per NJ Advance Media, the Giants gave Wheeler $20,000 signing bonus, a large amount for an undrafted player.
Wheeler was the ninth-ranked offensive tackle in Dane Brugler’s 2017 NFL Draft Guide, two spots ahead of Giants’ sixth-round pick Adam Bisnowaty. Yet, Wheeler was not among the 15 tackles who had their names called during the draft.
Here is Brugler’s summary of Wheeler, which hints both at his talent and the reasons why he went undrafted:
A four-year starter at USC, Wheeler earned the left tackle job early in his career and didn’t relinquish the post despite multiple injuries and setbacks, finishing his Trojans career with 45 career starts. He has a NFL frame with the movement skills to cut off speed and handle edge quickness around the corner. Wheeler trusts his technique, but has obvious core strength issues, limiting his ability to drop his hips and anchor. He doesn’t match power-for-power and struggles to sustain blocks. His collegiate résumé, including First Team All-Pac 12 honors as a senior, looks great on paper, but his checkered medical and off-field history are both red flags. Overall, Wheeler has the natural athleticism and talent to compete for starting reps in the NFL, which will also depend on his reliability.
Ahh, Wheeler’s “checkered medical and off-field history.”
A torn ACL that cost him several games in 2014, at least two documented concussions and shoulder surgery while in high school are among the medical concerns.
Off the field, Brugler writes that “... mental well-being requires investigation – arrested (Dec. 2015) after a belligerent encounter with police (at the apartment of his girlfriend and young child), which required bean bag rounds to subdue him; was later taken to the hospital and held for psychiatric evaluation ...”
Brandon Kearney of SB Nation’s USC blog, Conquest Chronicles, thinks signing Wheeler is a good risk for the Giants:
I think the Giants did a great job picking him up as an undrafted free agent. He does have big question marks surrounding him because he’s had knee problems and had concussion issues at USC. However, he still managed to start a total of 45 games during his career in college. He’s an above average athlete especially for his position, and he’s got really good footwork coming out of his stance for run blocking (however his pad level is too high). He’s an exceptional blocker on the move and is really good when transitioning to the second level for his second block. I believe he has potential to stick in the NFL but its up to him. If he can steer clear of injuries and avoid off season issues, he has great potential. The offseason issue seems to be an isolated incident, Wheeler has been an integral part of the team since and hasn’t had any problems since then. He definitely needs to improve his strength but that is something the Giants can fix within a year. He also needs to work on consistent footwork all around and tweak minor mechanics in his technique. He may make the transition to guard however a lot of people feel he fits a swing tackle type player (top backup LT, RT). To me, he’s a player who works his way up the system for a couple years, and then will have a chance to nab a starting job. I think majority of his weaknesses derive from lack of strength and explosiveness so that’s something to watch as he progresses. For the Giants it’s a low -risk, high-reward type of deal. which must be why they’re thrilled to have him.
Before the draft, Tony Pauline of Draft Analyst wrote that “On film Wheeler looks like a legitimate mid-round prospect with possibilities at left tackle or guard. Off the field is a different matter altogether.”
The Giants have been risk-averse in recent years when it comes to selecting players with character concerns, particularly early in the draft. This year they did select defensive end Avery Moss despite a checkered past, albeit on Day 3.
A player like Wheeler, though, is worth taking a risk on as an undrafted free agent. If he stays healthy, cleans up his act off the field and becomes a useful player then you get a big reward for little to no risk. If Wheeler has physical or emotional issues, parting ways with him is no big deal since there is little invested in him in the first place.