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Rookie Report: Evaluating the Giants rookies through the first four weeks

NFL: New Orleans Saints at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants are a quarter of the way through the 2018 regular season already. While the 1-3 record is a bit of a disappointment, there’s been some optimism around the rookie class. With that in mind, we can take a look at how each of the Giants’ rookies have performed through the first four weeks of the season.

Saquon Barkley

So far the second overall pick has been as advertised. Barkley has been able to break a big play, but the Giants also have the fourth-highest rate of runs that have gained negative yards. He’s fifth in the league in touches and seventh in yards from scrimmage.

Barkley is second in Football Outsiders’ rushing DYAR and sixth in DVOA, while the Giants’ offensive line ranks 31st in adjusted line yards and averages just 2.0 rushing yards before contact. His standard success rate, which uses the percentage of yards needed that were gained, is 43 percent per Football Outsiders, which ranks 23rd among 38 running backs with at least 32 carries. Barkley’s success rate by EPA — the percentage of runs that have positive expected points added — is just 35.6 percent.

Through four weeks, the repeated sentiment from the offseason has held true — Barkley has been excellent, but it doesn’t matter without other pieces of a functional offense. He has at least 100 yards from scrimmage in all four games this season, but those yards haven’t been able to spark the offense single-handedly. Barkley’s win probability added totals negative-8.6 percent on running plays and just 3.9 percent on passing plays. He’s been worth minus-2.21 expected points added on the ground just 2.0 through the air.

One place where Barkley’s usage could continue to improve is how he’s used in the passing game. If he’s used more in the slot or the outside or even just in front of the line of scrimmage, he could be put in more space to do more damage. Over half of Barkley’s targets have come behind the line of scrimmage and 83 percent of his targets have come no further than two yards down the field. That’s fine for a normal running back, but Barkley wasn’t drafted to be a normal running back. Instead of running the ball with Barkley on first down, throw it to him.

These issues aren’t the fault of Barkley, but they come with trying to get the most efficient use out of a running back picked second overall.

Will Hernandez

Hernandez has gotten better each week. He was at fault for some of the pressures against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1, but that could be said of all five offensive linemen who played in that game. Hernandez was expected to be a force in the run game, and that’s come already. Per Sharp Football Stats, Barkley’s highest success rate has come running behind the left guard.

source: Sharp Football Stats

This holds up by EPA, too. Among the run gaps, Barkley only has positive EPA behind the right and left guards. But he’s been much better behind the left guard — eight carries, 6.1 EPA (0.76 average), and 62.5 percent success rate — than right guard — 10 carries, 1.17 EPA (0.12 average), and 40 percent success rate.

But where he’s really developed is in the passing game, a welcome addition to a line that desperately needed it. Hernandez has been able to use his strength to keep defenders away from the quarterback, but his situational awareness has also been an important factor to his early success. He never looks lost on a play, again a welcome trait along this line.

Take this play here against the Saints this past week. There’s pre-snap communication between Manning, Hernandez, center John Greco, and left tackle Nate Solder. They recognize a blitz is probably coming from No. 24 and they adjust the protection for it. At the snap, Hernandez kicked to his left — where two rushers are likely to come from, and they do — but he also prepared himself to adjust in case the defensive tackle to his right came at him. Still, he was able to take the defensive end who looped to him and kept him away from the quarterback.

It’s something relatively simple — having clear communication and knowing the assignment — but there’s a low bar to be judged against for this offensive line. Though even without grading on a curve, Hernandez has continued to be excellent.

Lorenzo Carter

Lorenzo Carter has been given a bigger role than previously expected because of the injury to Olivier Vernon through the first four weeks of the season. Carter has played 40.6 percent of the defensive snaps as the No. 3 edge rusher behind Kareem Martin and Connor Barwin.

Carter has always been a good athlete — he had the No. 2 speed score and was No. 1 in SPARQ among this year’s class of edge rushers — but he hasn’t always been able to translate that athleticism into production. That was the case in college when he had just 14.5 sacks in four years and it still remains something to work on in the NFL.

At Georgia, Carter had a role that was more of a traditional linebacker who could rush the passer. But so far with the Giants, Carter has transitioned to full-time edge rusher — he has just three snaps in coverage against the pass this season. When Carter can use his speed, good things can happen.

Against the Houston Texans, Carter had a pressure by lining up in a wide-9 technique, running full speed at right tackle Julie’n Davenport and flushing Dashaun Waston out of the pocket.

He got his lone sack of the season by fighting Davenport to the outside, then beating him around the edge.

But there are still times when he doesn’t really have a move and can easily be stopped by an opposing tackle like he was in many cases against the New Orleans — here against Ryan Ramczyk.

Carter is second on the team with three quarterback hits and he’s already matched his four-year college total with one pass breakup. He wasn’t supposed to get this much time on the field this early and we’ll see how or if his role changes with the return of Vernon, but there have been signs of development in this time with room for much more.

B.J. Hill

Throughout training camp, Hill was a breakout star. He was treated as a clear-cut starter in the preseason and played limited snaps. He hasn’t really been given that role in the regular season, though. Through four games, he’s played just 32.8 percent of the defensive snaps.

But, Hill has made an impact when he’s on the field. He leads the team with two sacks — one each of the past two weeks — and he’s done it from the interior and the edge. He also moves extremely well for a 300-plus pound lineman. Against the Saints, he got his sack when he and Dalvin Tomlinson were 2-on-1 against the center which eventually gave Hill a clear run to Drew Brees. It wasn’t beating a blocker like his sack on the edge against Houston, but there are not many interior defenders who would have been able to close on Brees as Hill did.

Like Carter, Hill could see his playing time decrease even more with the addition of Josh Mauro, who is returning from a four-game suspension. But while that scenario could help Carter with his development, Hill has already shown he should be getting more playing time than what he’s already been given.

The others

  • Kyle Lauletta, the Giants’ fourth-round pick, has not been on the active game day roster yet, so he’s no immediate threat to take over at quarterback. But should the Giants continue to struggle on offense, it would not be a surprise to see him get a look during the second half of the season.
  • Fifth-round pick R.J. McIntosh has been on the reserve/non-football illness list since the beginning of September. He likely won’t see any action until 2019.
  • Sean Chandler, an undrafted rookie safety out of Temple, was a surprise player to make the roster out of training camp. He’s only been in on one defensive snap (he made a tackle) but has played over half of the team’s special teams snaps.
  • Tae Davis, an undrafted linebacker out of Tennessee-Chatanooga, has not seen the field on defense, but has played on 36 special teams snaps.