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Giants’ rookie report card: Young players growing, getting more responsibility

Let’s assess how the 2020 draft class has performed

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants
Carter Coughlin (49) after sacking Tom Brady.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants coach Joe Judge says all the time that he wants to utilize as many of the players dressed for a game as possible. Throughout the season he has proven that by working many of the Giants’ rookies into the lineup for at least a handful of snaps in specific, limited roles.

“It starts off with you getting an opportunity and you need to make the most of it. For all of us, it started on special teams. We take pride in that, especially as a New York Giant, the way we execute on special teams, the way we work as a special teams unit,” rookie linebacker Carter Coughlin said. “You make the most there, then the coaches trust you and kind of sugar you into a little defense and see how you do there and make the most of that. Then it continues to increase.

“That’s kind of been all of our journey. Each of us has done it in different ways and had different opportunities where we’ve made the most of it, and that just builds trust. When you have young guys on the field, the biggest thing is do you trust them to do the right thing, to do their job? It’s been cool to build trust with the coaching staff for me and the rest of the young guys.”

Giants’ rookies have had varying degrees of playing time, responsibility and success throughout the first half of the 2020 season. Let’s take a look at each of the team’s 10 drafted players.

Round 1 (No. 4) — LT Andrew Thomas

Andrew Thomas
Ed Valentine

It hasn’t been an easy first half of a rookie season for Thomas. He has given up 40 pressures. No other tackle has given up more than 29. Pro Football Focus ranks him 23rd of 28 qualifying tackles. Thomas’ pass-blocking efficiency score is the worst among 27 qualifying tackles, per PFF.

‘Still a lot of work to do. I think I’m making progressions every week. Small steps every day, but I’m continuing to work on getting better,” Thomas said this week. “It’s just focusing on my technique. Trying to make it muscle memory, so I don’t have to think about it. There will be some plays where I might slip up with my hand placement or my footwork in my set. Just trying to nail all those things in so I do it every time.”

Thomas has shown signs of improvement. Of the 5 sacks he has surrendered, only one has come in the past three weeks. His run-blocking has been solid for several weeks now, and his overall PFF grade Monday vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was his best of the season.

“Definitely, it’s tough being a rookie. Playing against guys every week that are very talented, very good at what they do, been doing this for a long time,” Thomas said. “It’s part of it, I knew it was going to be tough. I’m just going to continue to work and get better.”

Dealing with criticism and ignoring comparisons to Mekhi Becton, Jedrick Wills and Tristan Wirfs — all tackles drafted after him in Round 1 who have thus far outperformed him — is also part of it.

“I just have to stay in tune to what I’m doing and what’s going on inside this building. That’s what I’ve been doing so far,” Thomas said.

It is far too soon to say Thomas was the wrong choice for the Giants. Let’s see if his play continues to trend upward for the remainder of the season.

Round 2 (No. 36) — S Xavier McKinney

McKinney has spent the entire season on IR with a fractured foot. The Giants hope to get him back before the season is over, perhaps after their weekend bye. The Giants really need McKinney to turn out to be a player, especially after admitting they had at least one good offer to trade down from No. 36 and acquire more picks but decided the former Alabama safety was too good to pass up.

Round 3 (No. 99) — OT Matt Peart

The selection of Peart seemed like an investment in the Giants’ future. Most analysts figured the former UConn Huskie would benefit from a redshirt year during which he could focus on learning and improving his strength.

Peart, though, has appeared in the last six games, twice playing more than 20 snaps. And he is playing better than most anticipated this early. In 73 snaps, his 81.1 overall Pro Football Focus grade is, while a small sample size, highest among Giants’ offensive players. He has allowed only two pressures in 40 pass-blocking snaps.

If Peart continues to impress, he could force the Giants to insert him into the starting lineup. Truth is, considering the team’s 1-7 record and the lackluster play of starting right tackle Cam Fleming that probably should have happened already.

Round 4 (No. 110) — CB Darnay Holmes

Holmes, when healthy, has been the Giants’ primary slot cornerback all season. In seven games (he missed one with a neck injury), Holmes has played 234 defensive snaps. He has been targeted 24 times, giving up 17 completions. His passer rating against is 92.7.

Holmes is holding his own. For a rookie cornerback, that’s not bad at all.

Round 5 (No. 150) — G Shane Lemieux

There was a lot of chatter when Lemieux was drafted about him learning the center position. The Giants seemed to quickly abandon that idea, though, at least for this season.

Lemieux saw his first action last Monday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, starting because left guard Will Hernandez is on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Pro Football Focus didn’t think it went very well. BBV’s Nick Falato broke it down and found plenty of both good and bad.

We will see Lemieux again Sunday as Hernandez will still be unable to play, and likely as a rotational player the rest of the season. Whatever the grades were, I think there is a reason to be optimistic about Lemieux’s future.

Round 6 (No. 183) — LB Cam Brown

Brown was an off the ball linebacker at Penn State. The Giants see his length (95th percentile with 34-inch arms) and athleticism as a fit at outside linebacker, and have used him that way).

Brown drew raves early in the season for his play on special teams. he has played 21 defensive snaps in the past three weeks, mostly as a pass rusher. Expect his role to increase as the season progresses.

Round 7 (No. 218) — LB Carter Coughlin

NFL: Player Headshots 2020 Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Coughlin was drafted out of Minnesota as an edge player, with the hope he could provide pass rush. He was moved to inside linebacker when the season began, then back outside when injuries struck Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines.

That bouncing around is not idea for a rookie trying to learn the NFL ropes. If it bothers him, Coughlin doesn’t show it.

“Maybe in the beginning it did [make things more difficult]. But the way I look at it is it’s a pretty unbelievable opportunity for me to really hone in on what is the entire defense doing,” Coughlin said. “It’s a totally different feel playing outside linebacker compared to inside linebacker. But me being able to do both, I’m really understanding our defense and understanding where the inside linebackers are fitting because I know where I am as an outside linebacker, and things like that. I’d say yeah, at the beginning it was more difficult. But I’m really thankful that I’ve gotten to do that.”

Coughlin is slowly working his way into a role on defense, often in combination with Brown as pass rushers. He played 3 snaps Week 6 vs. Washington and 4 snaps Monday against the Buccaneers, earning his first career sack by hauling down Tom Brady. There is, of course, irony from a Giants perspective in ‘Coughlin sacks Brady.’

Coughlin said getting his first career sack against Brady was a “cool moment.”

“The moment it happened, I was like ‘wow, I can’t believe that just happened.’ It was kind of like a little blackout moment,” he said. “I only got to think like that for three seconds and then it was back to ‘we need to go win this game’ and stuff like that.”

Coughlin said he would keep his game jersey from Monday and sign it.

Round 7 (No. 238) — LB T.J. Brunson

Brunson is clearly behind Brown, Coughlin and Tae Crowder in the rookie linebacker pecking order. He has yet to play a defensive snap, with his only action being 20 special teams snaps over the past two games.

With all the young linebackers the Giants have accumulated, someone is going to lose out. Right now that someone is Brunson.

Round 7 (No. 247) — DB Chris Williamson

Williamson has spent the entire season on the practice squad. In training camp, the Giants appeared to be using him primarily at safety.

Washington Football Team v New York Giants
Tae Crowder runs for a touchdown.
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Round 7 (No. 255) — LB Tae Crowder

What a ride! Crowder has gone from being Mr. Irrelevant, the final player selected in the draft, to playing on special teams, to getting some work on defense for a couple of weeks, to becoming a starting inside linebacker, to being a hero in the Giants’ only victory of the season, to IR with a hamstring injury.

A former running back, Crowder showed promise before being injured. He has drawn praise for his intelligence and ability to figure out what is going on, has shown athleticism and some promise as a coverage linebacker. It’s a glimpse, and who knows if he can build on it, but it’s been enough to make you want to see more.