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Tyler Haycraft: Giants’ UDFA long shot a player worth rooting for

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Former collegiate walk-on trying to fashion NFL career

NCAA Football: Eastern Kentucky at Louisville
Tyler Haycraft (left) celebrates a Louisville touchdown.
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

During the buildup to the 2020 NFL Draft there was a great deal of speculation that the Giants would end up selecting massive Louisville offensive tackle Mekhi Becton in the first round. They selected Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas instead.

The Giants, though, will be bringing a 2019 Louisville offensive tackle to training camp. They signed Becton’s teammate, Tyler Haycraft, as an undrafted free agent. Let’s take a closer look at Haycraft.

The basics

Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 293
Age: 23
Position: Offensive tackle
Experience: Rookie
Contract: Year 1 of three-year, $2.287 million UDFA deal | Guaranteed: $5,000

How he got here

Haycraft was a walk-on at Louisville and didn’t earn a starting job until becoming the Cardinals right tackle last season. That’s when a new coaching staff without pre-conceived notions came to Louisville.

Haycraft is one of those players you can’t even find a full scouting report for. He did not get an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine. He didn’t get to work out for scouts at a traditional Pro Day due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. He held his own Pro Day.

The Giants, quite obviously, spent a ton of time pre-draft studying Becton, who ended up going 11th overall to the New York Jets. While they were doing that, they also obviously took note of Haycraft, manning the opposite side of the Louisville line and playing in the 364-pound Becton’s massive shadow.

Dwayne Ledford. a journeyman NFL center who played in nine games in an NFL career that last from 1999-2005 and saw him with five different teams. became Louisville offensive line coach last season. Ledford was undeniably impressed by Haycraft.

“He’s got one of the best stories that I’ve ever been around,” Ledford told the media during a recent pre-draft teleconference. “Just being a walk-on, earning everything that he’s got and the way that he continues to work at his craft. He is relentless.” ...

“The first time I had the guys over this summer, I was talking to my wife and she said catch me up on the guys. When I got to Tyler, I said, ‘Tyler’s just awesome’. And the reason I say that is that Tyler has earned everything he’s gotten in life. For somebody to come here and walk on and then earn a scholarship and now he’s our starting right tackle.”

2020 outlook

Haycraft, not surprisingly, faces long odds of making the 53-man roster. Thomas, Nate Solder, Matt Peart and Cameron Fleming will make the roster if all are healthy. Nick Gates has tackle experience and, if he isn’t the starting center, will be a versatile backup.

Eric Smith and Nate Wozniak are the other tackles on the roster. Haycraft is likely competing for a spot on the practice squad.

At just 6-foot-3, 293 pounds, Haycraft is the shortest tackle on the Giants’ 90-man roster. His future is likely inside. He just happens to be a good size for a center, if perhaps a tad light. Ledford thinks he can make the transition.

“I told Haycraft that I think because of how athletic you are, you’re a gritty and tough player, and smart, I think you could transition and play center,” he said. “When I was in college, my senior year I played tackle, but when I got to the NFL, those tackles have some great length and I quickly found out that I wasn’t able to play tackle up there, but I was able to play center, play inside. I think Haycraft will make a team very, very happy and I think he could have a very good career at that position. So much of it is from a mental standpoint and he’s just such a tough and gritty competitor.”

Earlier this offseason, Haycraft spoke with Dan Duggan of The Athletic. Here is a bit of what he said:

“I’ve always been doubted,” Haycraft said. “You hear that all the time, but no one ever really thought much when you walk onto Louisville. Then once I got that scholarship, that wasn’t enough. I wanted to be the starter. Once I became a starter, I wanted to be the best O-lineman.” ...

“If we’re at practice, I’m always going to be in the play,” Haycraft said. “I’m always going to help up a receiver or running back and in a game it’s the same. I’m going to be the first guy. I’m going to make it a race. Not only am I going to do my job, but I’m going to help and protect my teammates. If we’re lifting or running, I’m going to be the first guy. I’m going to race anybody and everybody in my position group and the D-line, and I want to be in the top two, if not No. 1. I’m trying to get the competition level raised by pushing my teammates and trying to get everyone better, but also showing that I can be the top guy.”

Let’s face it. We have no idea if Haycraft can really transition to center or make it in the NFL. What I think we can see, though, is why the Giants were attracted to him. He has a mentality that makes him worthy of an opportunity, and worthy of rooting for.