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Will Giants’ Elerson Smith be worth the wait?

Injuries slowed his development during 2021 rookie season

New York Giants Mandatory Minicamp
Elerson Smith (94) works a drill against rookie Ryder Anderson during minicamp.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Elerson Smith is a bit of a mystery man for the New York Giants. Due to a combination of factors, the 2021 fourth-round pick has played very little football since 2019. Can the second-year edge defender emerge as a productive pass rusher for the Giants in 2022?

Let’s discuss Smith as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the Giants’ 90-man roster.

By the numbers

Height: 6-foot-7
Weight: 255
Age: 24
Position: Edge
Experience: 1
Contract: Year 2 of four-year, $4.238 million rookie deal | 2022 cap hit: $1.014 million

Career to date

Smith played collegiately at Northern Iowa, an FCS school. He had a good 2018 with 7.5 sacks. He followed that with a dominant 2019 — 14.0 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss, 5 forced fumbles, 4 passes defensed. Smith didn’t get a chance to play in 2020 as the Missouri Valley Conference moved its season to the spring, causing him to declare for the NFL.

The Giants, in need of pass rush help even after selecting Azeez Ojulari in Round 2, looked at that production, Smith’s top-tier measurables and his tantalizing upside, and selected him in Round 4.

Unfortunately, Smith suffered what turned out to be a serious hamstring injury while rookies were working out the week before the official beginning of training camp. He ended up spending the first half of the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.

Smith ended up playing 108 defensive snaps in eight games, and predictably considering his lack of action since 2019 had little impact. He finished with eight tackles (two solo), three quarterback hurries and one forced fumble.

2022 outlook

Smith’s impact on the 2022 Giants seems uncertain. The Giants drafted Kayvon Thibodeaux No. 5 overall, and have Ojulari entrenched opposite Thibodeaux. Those two will, if healthy, play the bulk of the snaps. Smith will likely compete with Quincy Roche, and perhaps veterans like Jihad Ward and Jalyn Holmes, for sub-package snaps.

Can Smith develop for defensive coordinator Wink Martindale the way Matt Judon, a 2016 fifth-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens out of Grand Valley State, did when Martindale was there?

That remains the hope. Smith just hasn’t played enough football the past two years to know if it is realistic. Perhaps if Smith is able to get through a full training camp and preseason we will have a better idea what he might be able to bring to the table for the Giants.