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Kayvon Thibodeaux headlines 5 2023 breakout candidates for the New York Giants

Giants hoping all of these players take big steps forward

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Syndication: The Record
Kayvon Thibodeaux
Danielle Parhizkaran/ / USA TODAY NETWORK

Before his rookie season, New York Giants edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux had a big goal.

“I don’t want to think too big. You have to compartmentalize the season,” Thibodeaux told NFL Network. “If I could average at least one sack a game or contribute five to 10 tackles a game, then I’ll be good.”

Thibodeaux learned that the NFL isn’t that easy. He had a good rookie season, but was hardly a super-natural sack-per-game force. He finished with 4.0 sacks, 13 quarterback hits, and 49 tackles (6 for loss) while finishing fourth in balloting for AP Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Thibodeaux said this spring that his rookie season was “pretty good,” but that it “left a lot of space to grow.”

The Athletic recently named Thibodeaux as the Giants’ breakout candidate for 2023. Dan Duggan wrote:

Thibodeaux’s rookie season featured flashes of the talent that compelled the Giants to use the fifth pick in the 2022 draft on the outside linebacker. The hope is that Thibodeaux can build off his potential to become a game-wrecking presence off the edge. His advanced metrics as a pass rusher ranked much higher than his four sacks last season, so there’s reason to believe Thibodeaux will make a greater impact in Year 2 when he converts pressures into game-changing plays.

Thibodeaux had 10 of his 13 quarterback hits and three of his four sacks last season beginning in Week 11.

“When you haven’t played against NFL-caliber guys, you don’t really know how big, how strong you need to be, how fast you need to be,” Thibodeaux said. “Once you kind of get that down and you start to really learn the ins and outs of the games, which is what I started to do at the end of the season last year, going into this year, it becomes a lot easier. Now I can focus on the offense and not so much focus on myself but figure out the different tips and tricks I can give going into training camp.”

Here are four other potential breakout candidates for the Giants.

Evan Neal

The Giants drafted Neal No. 7 overall a year ago because they believed he would become the right tackle bookend for stud left tackle Andrew Thomas, giving them a pair of offensive tackles they could build their offensive line around for the next several seasons.

Neal struggled mightily in 2022. Being a rookie tackle in the NFL is not easy, and a midseason knee injury set him back, but the end result wasn’t pretty. Neal was the lowest-graded tackle among 57 qualifiers graded by Pro Football Focus. Only one tackle had a lower pass blocking efficiency score than Neal’s 94.0.

That doesn’t mean all is lost. In his pre-draft prospect profile of Neal, BBV’s Chris Pflum said “Neal projects as a starting offensive tackle with scheme diversity and Pro Bowl upside.”

The skills and athletic traits that made him that type of player are still there. Neal has spent the offseason working to get more comfortable at right tackle after switching positions every season at Alabama. The possibility exists that Neal could make huge strides toward being the player the Giants thought they were getting.

Aaron Robinson

Over two abbreviated seasons, we have seen hints that Robinson could be a good NFL cornerback. Robinson has a more than acceptable 80.5 passer rating against and has given up completions only 54.5% of the time when targeted.

The problem is sample size. Injuries have limited Robinson to 11 games and 340 defensive snaps in two seasons.

Drafted in Round 3 of the 2021 NFL Draft with the idea he would be a slot cornerback, Robinson was supposed to be a starting outside cornerback for the Giants last season. He played in only two games.

With Deonte Banks having been selected in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft, there are two potential paths for Robinson. He could be a backup cornerback on the outside and perhaps in the slot. Or, Robinson could compete for and win the slot cornerback job during training camp.

Robinson has 205 snaps played on the outside and 97 in the slot over two seasons.

If Robinson wins the slot cornerback role — and stays healthy — we could finally get a full look at why he was highly thought of coming out of UCF.

Wan’Dale Robinson

When GM Joe Schoen surprisingly selected wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson 43rd overall in the 2022 NFL Draft, he said the Giants had a vision for how the 5-foot-8 Robinson would fit into the passing attack they wanted to employ.

Injuries prevented the Giants from fully implementing that plan for Robinson. A patella sprain cost him four games early in the season, and a torn ACL at the end of a breakout nine-catch, 100-yard receiving game in Week 10 against the Detroit Lions ended his season.

In all, Robinson played in just six games and caught 23 passes for 227 yards, a somewhat disappointing 9.9 yards per reception.

There is a question regarding when Robinson will be available. He did not practice in the spring, continuing his rehab working with the Giants training staff. Will he be ready to participate at some point in training camp? Will he miss regular season time as he continues to recover?

If Robinson can get on the field early enough during the 2023 season, perhaps he and the Giants can show us the plan they had for Robinson when they selected him.

Darrian Beavers

The 2022 sixth-round pick was en route to earning significant snaps at off-ball linebacker before a preseason torn ACL derailed his rookie season. Martindale said this spring that Beavers was “different than others out there” when he watched the off-ball linebackers a season ago.

Jarrad Davis, the veteran who was expected to compete with Beavers and Micah McFadden for a starting spot next to newly-acquired Bobby Okereke is out ‘long-term’ with a knee injury.

Barring a free-agent signing, that leaves Beavers and fellow second-year player Micah McFadden competing for that spot. Beavers was ahead of McFadden before getting hurt a year ago. If he can return to that level of play, there is an opening for Beavers to outplay his status as a sixth-round pick.