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Giants’ edge defender Elerson Smith has much to prove in third season

Smith hasn’t been able to stay healthy in first two seasons

NFL: New York Giants Training Camp John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants knew that Elerson Smith would take some time to develop when they made him their fourth-round draft pick in 2021. What they didn’t know was that he would be entering his third professional season having played only 121 snaps on defense.

Repeated injuries have kept Smith from staying on the field and realizing his potential. Will he get another chance to prove his worth to the Giants, or is he already on the way out?

By the numbers

Height: 6-foot-7
Weight: 245
Age: 24
Position: Outside linebacker
Experience: 3
Contract: Year 3 of four-year, $4.238 million rookie deal | 2023 cap hit: $1.13 million

Career to date

Smith was dominant as a college athlete at Northern Iowa. Though the quality of competition was lower as an FCS school, Smith posted 7.5 sacks in 2018 and 14 the following year. 2019 also saw him lead his team with 21.5 tackles for loss, 14 quarterback hurries, and five forced fumbles.

The Giants took Smith in the fourth round of the 2020 draft, with most scouts pegging him as a high-upside developmental prospect.

For the most part, Smith has yet to show that upside. He injured his hamstring before training camp his rookie season and did not debut until Week 10. He had little impact from there on out.

Smith could not stay healthy in 2022 either. He began the season on Injured Reserve, returned in Week 8, and landed back on IR in December to undergo surgery for a bone spur near his Achilles. While he was active, he played just 14 defensive snaps in five games and saw some usage on special teams.

2023 outlook

Smith is in danger of losing his spot on the Giants’ roster as he enters his third professional season. He was not drafted by the current front office and has done little to show them why he should stick around.

None of that is to say Smith is a lost cause. He still possess impressive length and athleticism, assuming his injury history doesn’t pose any nagging effects. There is a scenario in which Smith impresses in training camp and develops into a rotational piece under defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s tutelage.

The Giants have yet to make any significant additions at edge defender this offseason though it’s still possible they could sign a veteran free agent before the regular season begins. As of now, Smith will be competing with Tomon Fox and Habakkuk Baldonado for the spots at the bottom of the depth chart. Fox appeared in every game as a rookie last year and likely has a leg up on Smith. Baldonado was just signed as an undrafted free agent. Part of the outcome will depend on if the Giants decide they are content with the pieces they have, or if they opt to go shopping for someone new once roster cuts are made.