Daniel Jones. Daniel Jones. Daniel Jones. Daniel Jones. Daniel Jones. When it comes to New York Giants’ rookies, Jones dominates the conversation. Justifiably so. He was the sixth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, and he is a quarterback. So, the spotlight on him is to be expected.
We have, however, pretty much exhausted our various looks at Jones’ performance during spring practices. He’s been good — what the Giants hoped for. He’s learning. The stage isn’t too big for him.
With spring workouts concluding on Thursday, let’s go through the rest of the rookie class and offer some assessments before the Giants get to training camp in roughly six weeks.
DL Dexter Lawrence (Round 1 — No. 17)
When the Giants drafted the 6-foot-4, 342-pound rookie the belief was that he would take over at the nose, or shade, spot in the middle of the defensive line. The spot Damon Harrison occupied before being traded to the Detroit Lions.
The Giants appear to have other plans. Lawrence has been lining up at defensive end, what generally appears to be a 4-tech over an offensive tackle. That gives the Giants a defensive line of Lawrence, the 311-pound Hill and the 318-pound Dalvin Tomlinson, with Tomlinson generally at the nose.
All three players can slide to the different spots along the three-man front, something defensive coordinator James Bettcher values.
“I think you have to be [interchangeable] the way the league is now. I think there is enough motions, adjustments and offensive guys are good enough now. For the most part, they are not going to let a nose just sit there and play nose the whole game. They are going to make him slide and extend the play on guards and edges of guards. They are going to motion and do enough to have to be interchangeable enough to defend what we see from an offensive standpoint,” Bettcher said. “We want guys to have the flexibility to play up and down the line.”
Lawrence was not a prolific collegiate pass rusher with 10.0 career sacks. The belief, though, is that Lawrence and Hill offer more pass rush than Tomlinson when aligned over the tackles.
It is really impossible to accurately judge line play with in the spring with players in shorts and full contact not permitted by league rules. Lawrence has done enough, though, that he quickly moved from second-team reps to working with the first-team defense.
Lawrence believes he is “underrated” as a pass rusher.
“It’s kind of on me to prove myself, right, because I know who I am and to prove others wrong,” Lawrence said. “I’ve always been able to collapse the pocket, now I’m focused on escaping blocks or finishing the plays and things like that.”
CB DeAndre Baker (Round 1 — No. 30)
The Giants made a considerable investment in Baker because they felt he was the best cover cornerback in the draft, moving up from No. 37 in the second round to get him. They surrendered a fourth-round pick (132nd) and a fifth-round pick (No. 142) to get him.
Baker said this spring that the trade doesn’t add pressure for him.
“No, it’s not important. That’s behind me. I was just drafted. Now, I’m here with the team,” Baker said. “I’m just doing whatever it takes to win. Whatever my coach needs me to do, that’s what I’m going to focus on right now.”
Baker knows, however, that the Giants will “expect a lot of production” from him. Baker’s work this spring, getting his hands on several passes and seeming to be in good position even when giving up completions, hinted that he might end up proving the Giants right.
“He is very competitive, he’s very tough. The corners are at a little bit of a disadvantage because there is no bump and run. Part of his charm was his ability to play up on a receiver and bump him,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “We think we are going to see more good stuff once training camp gets going. He’s very competitive, he picks things up, he works hard. The things you need to see.”
Baker has been splitting first-team reps opposite Janoris Jenkins with 2018 supplemental draft selection Sam Beal.
Darius Slayton, who played against Baker a number of times in the SEC, referred to the cornerback as “sneaky strong” and thinks we won’t see what he can really do until training camp when he can “press up on guys and just straight lock them down.”
Edge Oshane Ximines (Round 3 — No. 95)
The Giants handed him the nickname “X-Man” when they drafted him. They are hoping Ximines will be an X-factor in their pass rush in 2019.
When the Giants drafted him, GM Dave Gettleman allowed that he was impressed by Ximines’ variety of moves and that he has “legitimate pass rush ability.”
Like with down linemen, spring practices are a difficult time to judge edge rushers like Ximines because of both the lack of physicality in practice and the reality that media is often 100 or so yards away from the action with our view obstructed by a line of players waiting for their reps.
What you could see from Ximines is the athleticism that attracted the Giants to him and got them to make him the first player from Old Dominion selected in the NFL Draft.
“He’s got a great first step, he’s got great quickness. He’s a bright-eyed kid. I think you guys are going to all really enjoy his personality. He’s got a big smile on his face. He’s been coached extremely hard. His college coach is a good friend of mine, and we’ve crossed paths. So, I know he’s been coached that way,” said outside linebackers coach Mike Dawson. “He’s a guy that loves the game. He’s a guy that wants to get better, he wants to know what he did wrong. Even if it wasn’t necessarily an incorrect or a bad rep, how can I make that rep a little bit better? Coach me on the film. Some guys, they just go, ‘Hey coach, I did what I’m supposed to do. Let’s move on to the next play’. He’s a guy that wants to know the ins-and-outs of it. He’s going to be a fun guy to be able to get your hands on, and get to help mold and shape, and watch him grow.”
Ximines worked with the second-team defense throughout the spring.
CB Julian Love (Round 4 — No. 108)
Love worked a little bit at free safety during rookie mini-camp and the Giants have said that down the line the former Notre Dame corner could end up there. For now, though, Love is working as a slot cornerback. Ultimately, Love could surpass Grant Haley and grab the starting role. During the spring, though, he spent most of his time working with the second-team defense.
When you think about the Giants’ rookie class, a common characteristic is that none of these players seemed to be in over their heads during spring practices. Love, after playing top competition at Notre Dame, is in that category of a guy who looks like he belongs.
Could Love mount a real challenge to Haley during training camp? We’ll find out.
LB Ryan Connelly (Round 5 — No. 143)
The Wisconsin product was so impressive during rookie mini-camp that Bettcher risked showing some of his film to veteran players, a move that the defensive coordinator knew experienced players might not appreciate.
“Connelly is really smart,” Bettcher said. “You try not to show a rookie to the vets too early, but I was showing the cut-up to the vets. This is a guy from the rookie minicamp and it was a concept and a route and he played it exactly the right way. It was a great example. Smart and tough.”
Connelly worked with the second-team defense during the spring. It is uncertain whether he can mount a serious immediate challenge to B.J. Goodson for playing time. He may, though, be able to show the Giants enough to convince them to move on from Goodson once his rookie contract expires at the end of the 2019 season.
WR Darius Slayton (Round 5 — No. 171)
Maybe one day in the future Slayton’s first practice as a Giant, which came during rookie mini-camp, will be the stuff of legend. If he goes on to have a terrific career with the Giants, it could be.
Slayton was awful in that first practice. Well, his hands were awful. He dropped at least four passes. I’m not sure exactly how many because I didn’t start counting until I noticed that the ball kept hitting the ground after it hit the fifth-round pick’s hands.
Slayton, though, has rebounded nicely. I can recall one pass since that first day that I thought he should have caught. His speed is obvious. He has been behind Giants defensive backs consistently. Encouragingly for a player considered to need development in his route-running, he has shown the ability to get open underneath as well.
Coach Pat Shurmur has been impressed.
“Darius has done a really good job. I think he is the most improved in my eyes,” Shurmur said. “We expected a lot out of him when he got here. The rookie minicamp was unremarkable, but since that time … He is very fast. He is practicing punts and kicks. He has done a nice job playing receiver. I really think he has done a nice job during OTA’s and minicamp.”
The Giants have a bit of a logjam at wide receiver, but if Slayton continues to impress during training camp and the preseason he should not only make the roster but could find a role in the offense on game days, as well.
CB Corey Ballentine (Round 6 — No. 180)
Ballentine’s spring, and the beginning of his NFL career, got sidetracked when he was injured in a shooting that took the life of his friend and former Washburn teammate Dwane Simmons.
The emotional scars from that day are unlikely to head for a long time, if ever. Ballentine’s physical injury, a bullet in the buttocks, healed enough that he participated in most of the OTAs and the mandatory mini-camp.
Ballentine worked mostly with the third-team defense throughout the spring, and did flash some athleticism with a few plays on the ball.
In a crowded secondary Ballentine could end up ticketed for a practice squad spot at the beginning of the season. He could change that with a solid training camp and some good special teams work in the preseason.
OT George Asafo-Adjei (Round 7 — No. 232)
The rookie right tackle from Kentucky is an easy young man to like off the field. On the field, whether Asafo-Adjei can make the 53-man roster is a good question.
Asafo-Adjei has been working as the No. 2 right tackle behind Chad Wheeler during the spring. Add Mike Remmers to the equation and that makes him No. 3. When it comes time to construct a 53-man roster, will there be room for Big George?
That is something we will find out in training camp and the preseason, when added physicality with some padded practices and preseason games will reveal whether or not Asafo-Adjei is deserving.
The Giants, though, do like Asafo-Adjei’s developmental potential.
“You watch him on tape and see that he has a lot of athleticism and power. He has a lot of toughness and plays in the best football conference in the country,” offensive line coach Hal Hunter said. “We have some technical work to do. He is a rookie and you have to tell him to do something once and he goes on and does it right the next time. He picked up the offense much quicker than I thought he was going to. He has some developmental potential.”
If he doesn’t make the roster, Asafo-Adjei would likely end up with one of the team’s 10 practice squad slots.
DL Chris Slayton (Round 7 — No. 245)
In a pre-draft scouting report, SB Nation’s Syracuse website, Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, called Slayton “a classic three-technique who passes every eye test when it comes to his measurables.”
That’s interesting because that doesn’t appear to be how the Giants are using him. Throughout the spring, Slayton seemed to generally line up at the nose, something he said he could do during his introductory press conference after being selected by the Giants.
Perhaps that plan should have been apparent because GM Dave Gettleman called Slayton “a big, violent, inside banger” when he selected him.
Draft Network called Slayton “a powerful presence on the inside” and said he “ can successfully be used to collapse the pocket.”
If it seems that I’m being vague on what Slayton did or didn’t do this spring, it’s because I am. There isn’t much to tell other than how the Giants appeared to be using him.
Slayton’s primary competition for a roster spot is likely veteran John Jenkins, who played in seven games for the Giants last season without recording a tackle.
The undrafted guys
The class of the Giants’ crop of undrafted players during spring workouts was easily tight end C.J. Conrad. The tight end out of Kentucky probably has the best shot among the undrafted players of making the roster.
Wide receiver Reggie White Jr. (Monmouth) had some moments, and running back Jon Hilliman (Rutgers) is an intriguing athlete. Offensive tackle Paul Adams, James O’Hagan and linebacker Mark McLaurin could also be players to keep an eye on.