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5 players to watch during Giants’ training camp

Big Blue returns to the gridiron with a lot of exciting new faces and possible new roles for incumbent players

NFL: NOV 12 Giants at 49ers Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The monotony of summer-less football is just about to conclude as we’re mere hours from the start of the New York Giants training camp. Dave Gettleman and company have added a few big-time weapons for third-year quarterback Daniel Jones, and the intrigue around the team continues to grow as the season approaches.

The offense added a big-time receiver in Kenny Golladay who, theoretically, should make the lives of Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton much easier in terms of coverage assignments. The Giants also added Kyle Rudolph to play more of a traditional Y-tight end - a role that is heavily featured in Jason Garrett’s offense, and one that better suits Rudolph’s skills rather than Evan Engram.

Patrick Graham and his defensive unit outperformed their pre-season expectations in 2020. The unit should be improved. The defense added Adoree’ Jackson, Azeez Ojulari, a healthy Xavier McKinney, and Elerson Smith. Losing Dalvin Tomlinson is unfortunate, but Danny Shelton, Austin Johnson, and B.J. Hill can rotate to help fill the void left by the stud defensive lineman.

I want to dive into five players who I’m looking forward to seeing in training camp, mainly because they could be primed for a big role with the 2021 Giants. However, some of the players I am interested to watch landed on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list. They don’t have to wait six weeks to come off the list, like in the regular season, but it may be some time till we see these players in pads. The list includes Saquon Barkley (knee), Kyle Rudolph (foot), Matt Peart (back), Jonotthan Harrison (hamstring), Oshane Ximines (hamstring), and Aaron Robinson (core muscle), with Kadarius Toney currently on the COVID-19 Reserve List. Running back Sandro Platzgummer and EDGE Ryan Anderson are also on the NFI list (Non-Football Injury).

I would be interested in all of these players on the PUP list, but mainly Peart and Robinson. If healthy, Peart is the presumed starter on the right side of the line. Nate Solder is his competition, but I would imagine the Giants want Peart to seize that job; hopefully, the back doesn’t prevent him from doing so.

Robinson vs. Darnay Holmes for slot snaps is a battle we at Big Blue View have been discussing since the draft. Having a rookie land on the PUP isn’t a great way to kick off the start of their careers, but Robinson’s timeline is still up in the air after missing most of the offseason with this issue. Let’s see the five players to monitor heading into camp.

1). Adoree Jackson, CB

The biggest liability on the Giants’ defense last year was the second cornerback position. Isaac Yiadom did an adequate job down the stretch, but that was contingent upon Patrick Graham sticking to zone-based concepts while shading coverage towards Yiadom to prevent explosive plays. I appreciate the energy Yiadom has, but he shouldn’t be starting on a possible playoff-bound defense.

Jackson is a 25-year-old former first-round selection who was suddenly released by the Titans after an injury-riddled season of mediocrity. 2020 may not be Jackson’s bright spot, but his upside is endless. He’s insanely athletic, can carry vertical routes downfield, and has the fluid hips, foot-speed, and instincts to be an effective cornerback. If his potential is reached, like Blake Martinez, James Bradberry, Leonard Williams, and Jabrill Peppers were under Graham, then the Giants could be looking at the top cornerback duo in the league - no hyperbole.

The Giants have had a tumultuous relationship with their second cornerback spot for a while now. Early in the summer last season, 2019 first-round selection DeAndre Baker was arrested and this prompted the Giants to release the promising, yet susceptible, player. Landing Jackson to a lucrative contract may seem like a risk, but it’s a risk that is necessary to maximize this already impressive defense.

I want to see how well he takes to the coaching of Graham. I want to see him moving around healthy and closing on receiver’s catch points with ferocity. I also want to see him getting paired up against another 2021 free-agent acquisition in wide receiver Kenny Golladay - Daniel Jones’s new favorite weapon.

2). Kenny Golladay, WR

The two headline names from the 2021 free-agent period crack my list as the top two here - I know, stop the presses! Daniel Jones showed impressive deep ball ability in his young career. Jones had the second-highest passing percentage rate on throws with more than 25 air yards last season.

In 2019, Jones did an excellent job finding rookie fifth-round pick Darius Slayton down the field in Pat Shurmur’s offense. The proclivity to attack downfield one on one matchups perfectly coincides with the skill-set that Golladay is bringing to the Giants. Golladay was tied for fourth in 2018, and first in 2019, as it pertains to Pro Football Focus’ contested catches. His frame, vertical ability, and concentration skills are a great asset to an aerial assault.

Jones and Golladay have reportedly been working together, establishing a rapport, all offseason. Most, if not all, of that was routes on air. Now I want to see Golladay put that 2019 63.4 percent contested catch win rate to work against cornerbacks like Bradberry and Jackson.

3). Will Hernandez, RG

The early 2018 second-round selection hasn’t been very consistent throughout his career. He was benched last season for Shane Lemieux, but the coaching staff would still use him for about two to three drives per game. He also battled COVID-19, which could have affected his overall ability on the field.

It appears that Hernandez will have the first shot at right guard, a position he has never played, with Lemieux receiving the first crack on the left side. I want to see how Hernandez and the right tackle operate when real pressure is schemed towards them. We should see some of this, but I want that right tackle to be Peart which, as of now, it won’t be.

As poor as Lemieux was in pass protection last season, he did do an adequate overall job in terms of forming a cohesive and communicative relationship with Thomas. The two were in sync with their stunt/twist pickups for the most part; I hope to see a similar rapport develop with Hernandez and Peart, or, for now, Hernandez and Solder.

The overall comfortability of Hernandez on the right side is something that I hope we can all feel confident in after training camp. There’s still a lot of potential for Hernandez who is still only 25 years old. I look forward to seeing him work against Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, Danny Shelton, and B.J. Hill.

4.) Xavier McKinney, S

A broken fifth metatarsal in training camp last season kept McKinney off the field for a substantial amount of time. He returned to the Giants after the Week 11 BYE to play 211 defensive snaps. McKinney has the talent, processing, athletic ability, temperament to thrive in New York, especially with Patrick Graham calling the shots.

The Giants were solid with Julian Love playing a large complement of snaps in the stead of McKinney, but the latter’s potential can bring this defense to another level of effectiveness and deception. I want to see McKinney one on one against an athletic tight end like Engram, and I want to see how he can hold up against Sterling Shepard in the slot.

The Giants have Robinson and Holmes to play the slot, but, if McKinney shows an ability to cover receivers from the position, then the Giants can continue to be creative with how they employ their coverages, man or zone. I want to see where he aligns most of the time in training camp; is it the deep center field position, as an overhang, in the box, a combination of all three? It’s probably everywhere because of his versatile nature. McKinney now doesn’t have to rehab and hurry back onto the field. He is primed for a nice second-year breakout with a coordinator who knows how to implement his talent.

5). Carter Coughlin, EDGE/LB

This is kind of all about the linebacker position, but Coughlin is the player who intrigues me the most, and he could be on the roster bubble. There was a lot of talk about Coughlin transitioning to linebacker during minicamp and OTAs. With all of the additions the Giants made to their EDGE group, it does make sense to see if Coughlin can play off-ball.

Coughlin has a good burst, but he’s short-armed. Playing linebacker and reading one’s keys is different than being an EDGE defender, so the Giants want to see if Coughlin can provide value at linebacker. The priority on versatility was clear when Joe Judge took this job, and Coughlin’s roster spot could be linked to his ability to play either EDGE or inside linebacker in dire situations.

I am interested in the battle between Tae Crowder and Reggie Ragland; the winner should be starting next to Blake Martinez on early downs. Coughlin may not be more than the fourth linebacker behind Martinez, Ragland, and Crowder if he can prove himself in that regard. We saw too much of the Giants’ fourth linebacker last year with both David Mayo and Devante Downs earning far too many defensive snaps.

Overall, Coughlin may have to show some signs of life at linebacker to make the roster. Ifeadi Odenigbo and Ryan Anderson, two EDGE free agents that were added, could be competing for one spot if Oshane Ximines and Lorenzo Carter end up being completely healthy. The Giants also have a lot of players who are pure special teams aces, so Coughlin may not be able to hang his hat there, either.

For the first time in a while, the Giants have solid depth on the roster that may make final cuts interesting. There could be some names, like Ryan Connelly last year, who get swept up before the Giants have a chance to stash them on the practice squad. Football returning brings excitement. Let’s see what some of these young players bring to the table; let’s monitor how these free agents are acclimating, and let’s see how many footballs Joe Judge dives on in the mud.