Which undrafted free agents have the best chance of making the New York Giants’ 2023 roster? That is the topic explored on the latest ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast, with the help of Emory Hunt of Football Gameplan.
Hunt, who also works for CBS Sports and authors the annual Football Gameplan Draft Guide, has a deep knowledge of largely obscure NFL prospects that makes him perfect for this discussion.
The conversation with Hunt focused on four players — West Virginia wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Washington safety Alex Cook, East Carolina tight end Ryan Jones and Toledo inside linebacker Dyontae Johnson.
Let’s explore Hunt’s thoughts on each of those players.
Likely the best known of any of the nine undrafted rookies the Giants signed.
Can he make the 53-man roster?
“It’s hard. It’s tough,” Hunt said. “It’s not because of talent he probably won’t make the 53, it’s because ... are you taking him over Isaiah Hodgins, are you taking him over Darius Slayton? Parris Campbell? Jalin Hyatt? Wan’Dale Robinson? Collin Johnson? Sterling Shepard? Jamison Crowder? That’s eight dudes right there. That’s a tough nut to crack.
“He would really have to be above and beyond, Victor Cruz-like.”
That, though, does not mean Ford-Wheaton doesn’t bring an intriguing skill set to the table. The Giants guaranteed Ford-Wheaton $236,000 ($216,000 in salary, $20,000 in signing bonus), the most of any undrafted player they signed.
“He’s athletic, he’s tall, he’s long,” Hunt said. “I think the reason why they gave him that amount of money is they were going to make sure he understands how much [they] want him and want to continue to work with him.
“They’re probably going to try to keep him on the practice squad and hope that if they do have to release him the good faith they showed coming out of the draft giving him all that guaranteed money shows him they really like me, they want to work with me, I’ll stay here and not sign with someone else.”
Ford-Wheaton was plagued by drops at West Virginia, with an alarming drop rate of 11.2%, and the perception that his production did not match his athletic profile.
Hunt wrote in his 2023 Draft Guide that Ford-Wheaton tends to body catch or cradle the ball rather than snatch it with his hands.
“That’s probably why he went undrafted and also part of the reason why the Giants want to work with him, to try to tear away from that,” Hunt said. “You love that he competes, and when you get a guy that competes, that will try to get better, that will work on his craft this is what you get and this is why you want to continue to work with a guy like that.”
When I asked Hunt which UDFA he thought had the best chance to make the roster, he didn’t hesitate to name Cook, a 6-foot-1, 196-pound safety.
The Giants, of course, lost starting safety Julian Love in free agency. While they have a number of candidates for the spot next to Xavier McKinney, there is also opportunity at the safety spot for an undrafted player like Cook.
“I was thoroughly impressed with his ball skills and ability,” said Hunt, who had Cook rated before the draft as his No. 2 combo safety. “Alex Cook to me stood out ... Alex Cook, to me, is someone, based off what he does from a football standpoint and how he can fit within this defense being versatile gives them a little bit more of a fluid athlete than what they had last year in Dane Belton.
“Cook, to me, has an opportunity to really surprise some once we get the pads on.”
The Giants churned through linebackers constantly during the 2022 season. They signed Bobby Okereke to a four-year, $40 million contract to solidify that spot, but there is still a competition for the spot next to him and a chance for a player like the 6-2, 230-pound Johnson to earn a roster spot.
“Good pop upon contact, good blitzer, still has upside left in his game,” Hunt said. “That’s a very thin position for the Giants where a guy can make some noise and have some opportunity.”
Hunt said that Johnson is “someone I feel like can play any linebacker spot.”
Hunt added that “Johnson has the speed, the burst, the blitzing capability” to get noticed.
Jones spent two years playing linebacker at Oklahoma before transferring to East Carolina to become a tight end. His skill set seems similar to that of Jeremiah Hall, a tight end/fullback who was in training camp as an undrafted free agent with the Giants a year ago.
“I just like how he runs his routes and how he’s able to work himself open at the top of the route,” Hunt said. “Like the receiver position, it’s a crowded room. It’s going to be fun to see how he can make a dent and how he can make things difficult for the Giants to make a decision to keep him on the 53 or make sure he’s secured on the practice squad.”
The biggest problem for Jones, as Hunt referenced, is going to be the Giants’ tight end depth. Darren Waller and Daniel Bellinger are locked in with roster spots. Lawrence Cager, Tommy Sweeney and Chris Myarick are experienced players. Dre Miller spent last year developing on the Giants’ practice squad.
Jones will need an excellent spring and summer to work his way into the mix.
“It’s hard, man. Making the NFL is so hard,” Hunt said. “If you’re a GM or a coach these are the problems that you want to have. You want to be able to say, man, we have to cut this talented player because we have three talented players in his position.”
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