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Assessing the Giants’ rookie class: “A nice little running back,” and a whole lot more

Let’s look at the progress of the draft class

NFL: New York Giants-Training Camp
Saquon Barkley talks to Eli Manning during training camp.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

As the New York Giants get set to enter preseason action on Thursday night vs. the Cleveland Browns, let’s take some time to assess the development of and expectations for the team’s 2018 rookie class.

Saquon Barkley

That was Odell Beckham Jr. speaking about the team’s first-round pick over the weekend.

Yes, the Giants have themselves “a nice little running back” in Barkley. Probably the best, most versatile, one they have had since Tiki Barber.

Barkley has been everything the Giants hoped for — on and off the field.

On the field, he has looked terrific. The Giants are hoping he will be their first 1,000-yard rusher since Ahmad Bradshaw in 2012, and it will be a surprise if he isn’t. It is as pass receiver, though, that Barkley appears truly special and where his skills could truly make a gargantuan difference in the Giants’ offense.

“He’s got excellent ball skills. In terms of reminding me of backs, we all remember Brian Westbrook and guys like that,” head coach Pat Shurmur said. “They are big time threats when you throw it to them.”

Westbrook ran for 6,335 yards in a nine-year career and caught 499 passes for 3,940 yards.

Barkley has also been immense off the field. His jersey sales have rocketed to the top of the charts. He will be featured on Carrie Underwood’s Sunday Night Football anthem. He says the right things to the media. If he plays the way the Giants believe he is going to play, he could turn out to be the face of the franchise.

NFL: New York Giants-OTA Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

Will Hernandez

The Giants’ second-round pick, Hernandez quickly drew comparisons to former Giant guard Chris Snee.

“Will is bigger, obviously,” GM Dave Gettleman said when the Giants drafted Hernandez. “Will is a natural 320-pound guy. What made Chris unique is he had great quickness and he was strong as an ox and he was a very good athlete. Comparing Will to him, he is just a bigger guy but, again, strong as an ox and a really good athlete.”

GM Dave Gettleman made rebuilding the offensive line a priority, and within that priority the ability to run block is essential. Hernandez has impressed teammates thus far, including a big guy on the defense he has had to block during training camp.

“The guy will be one hell of a player in this league. You can see him working out there, and I’m sure you guys have seen it,” said Damon Harrison. “It’s one thing to do it in college, but to do it at the NFL level is a totally different thing, and I’ve had an opportunity to watch him firsthand, and I think he’ll be a really good player in this league.’

Lorenzo Carter

The Giants have Olivier Vernon, and he will be the central piece in their pass rush. They added Connor Barwin, also a successful pass rusher. They are, however, hoping that Carter can a) become a central part of their pass rush and b) become an impact outside linebacker — something the Giants have not drafted and developed in a long time.

“He’s long, he’s athletic, he’s sudden, he’s smart,” linebackers coach Bill McGovern said recently.

One of the Giants two third-round picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, Carter is also an unfinished canvas.

“Right now, he really needs to develop his whole game,” McGovern said. “He’s got to develop the way he’s playing against the run, the way he’s going to do the pass rush, and you need just a couple of moves as you get going, but he’s going to have to fine tune, he’s got to work his steps, his eyes, all of it. It’s just the overall game right now.”

Carter knows what his primary task is. Go forward and make plays.

“My job is simple: set the edge, affect the passer and lastly I have to drop, but dropping is next. That’s an after thought,” Carter said. “In the front of my head is pass rushing and being aggressive going forward.”

Carter has been soaking up knowledge from Barwin since the Giants added the veteran edge rusher at the start of training camp.

“He’s a tenured vet. I’ve learned as much as I can from him. He knows the recipe, he has the formula so it would be ignorant of me not to follow him,” Carter said.

Best guess here is that Carter becomes an increasingly important part of the defense as the Giants get deeper into the season.

NFL: New York Giants-Minicamp NorthJersey.com-USA TODAY NETWORK

B.J. Hill

Primarily a one-technique nose tackle at North Carolina State, the 311-pound Hill has quickly emerged as a starting 5-technique defensive end, forming a monstrous front three with Damon Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson.

Defensive coordinator James Bettcher on what he has seen from Hill:

“He’s been really physical at the point. I think one thing he really does well for a young guy is plays well with his hands at the line of scrimmage, and I think some of the guys you get coming in, their hands aren’t well enough but they’re not fast enough or they’re not strong enough to be able to handle the blockers that they have to play against in this league, and he’s done well with that,” Bettcher said. “We’ve moved him around in the line too, you’ve seen him lining up as a nose, as a three technique, as a five technique, a guy that’ll have some position flexibility and some things for us. “

To be more than an early- or short-yardage down player, Hill will have to prove that he can rush the passer. That wasn’t really part of his job description at N.C. State, and his ability to do remains a question.

“People say I can’t rush, but I can. I want to show people that I can do it all on first down, second and third down,” Hill said.

As for where he lines up, Hill doesn’t care.

“Wherever he [Bettcher] needs me to play, I’ll play. If he wants to me play linebacker, I’ll play linebacker, but I doubt that’ll happen,” Hill said. “Yeah, I can play the one, the three and the five. In college I played mostly the one and the three, so I’m used to playing it all.”

NFL: New York Giants-Training Camp NorthJersey.com-USA TODAY NETWOR

Kyle Lauletta

There are some who look at Lauletta, the fourth-round pick out of Richmond, and dismiss him because it’s crystal clear he doesn’t possess the rocket arm of second-year man Davis Webb.

The view here is that would be a mistake.

“He might not have a cannon but he’s accurate and gets the ball there on time. There’s a little bit of a difference with a guy being able to throw it 75 yards or a guy having good arm strength on all of the intermediate levels,’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula said this week. “Even some of the deeper throws, he’s probably completed as many deep balls as anyone has at this camp so far. If someone would have asked you that, you may have said, ‘No, he’d be the last guy I’d think of for that.’ “

It’s obvious at this point that Lauletta is behind Webb on the depth chart. That doesn’t mean that in the long term, next season and beyond, Lauletta has no chance of leap-frogging Webb in the pecking order. Shula said Lauletta has a “calmness” about him that is “unusual for a rookie” and reminded that the quarterback position isn’t all about how far you can throw the ball.

“It’s throwing to the right guy, getting the ball there on time and getting the ball there accurately. So arm strength doesn’t mean you’re going to get the ball there on time. If you look at the guys throughout the league, there’s a lot of guys who don’t have extremely strong arms but those guys that are playing in the NFL that don’t have that have great anticipation, great timing and great accuracy, and I think he is in that mold,” Shula said. “Now, he’s a young guy and he’s only played in college but I think he fits that mold, he’s got really good anticipation, good accuracy and good touch. There’s been a lot of very, very successful quarterbacks in this league, Hall of Famers, that haven’t had cannons but have had those other qualities.”

R.J. McIntosh

The fifth-round pick has still not practiced with the team. He remains on the Active/Non-Football Illness list. If and when the defensive lineman is cleared, it’s hard to imagine McIntosh making any impact for the Giants this season.

Undrafted free agents

It is impossible to know what the preseason games will bring, but heading into action there are perhaps four players worthy of attention.

CB Grant Haley

I mentioned Haley in my look at the Giants’ slot cornerback situation. Considering the uncertainty at corner, Haley may have the best shot of any of the UDFA’s of making the roster.

S Sean Chandler

Entering preseason games, I think the former Temple Owl is ticketed for the Giants’ practice squad. Maybe he can change that with some impact plays. He made a couple of those during practice this week, picking off Lauletta twice.

C Evan Brown

Brown is another play I think is ticketed for the practice squad. The former SMU Mustang is the third center on a team likely to carry two on its 53-man roster.

RB Robert Martin

In my 53-man roster projection, I have the Giants keeping only three running backs. If everyone is healthy and that happens, Martin won’t make the roster. If they keep four, Martin and Jalen Simmons will compete for that spot. One of those two figures to make the practice squad either way.