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Rookie review: How did the newest Giants play in the preseason?

How do the Giants’ rookies look as we get ready for the regular season?

Carolina Panthers v New York Giants Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The New York Giants are officially done with their 2023 preseason.

Their next order of business is to whittle their 90-man roster down to 53 players by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 29. The Giants will have some very hard cuts to make along the way, and several of those cuts could be rookies.

The 2023 Giants will almost certainly be relying heavily on their rookie class in all phases of the game. They’ll have a consistent presence on the field for the offense, defense, and special teams. But that isn’t because the Giants’ roster is thin and they just don’t have enough good veterans — the rookie class was pretty impressive in its own right this year.

Draft picks

Round 1 - Deonte Banks (CB)

The Giants first-round draft pick showed why he was so highly regarded in the lead-up to the draft, as well as why he unexpectedly slipped to the Giants at 24th overall.

Banks’ impressive traits were on display throughout camp and the preseason. He’s big, long, agile, fast, and explosive, and started immediately across from Adoree’ Jackson. Banks was able to physically match up with the outside receivers we saw him against and wasn’t bullied or exposed in coverage.

That said, he also played like a player who only has 22 career games spread across four college seasons. Banks physically matched up with Jameson Williams, but gave up leverage and positioning later in the route. There were receiving windows there to be had, but the Lions’ receiver failed to haul in the catches. Those are nuances to playing the position that will come with time, experience, and coaching. Banks will be getting plenty of opportunities to learn on the job, as the Giants will be relying on him throughout the season.

Round 2 - John Michael Schmitz (OC)

Schmitz is another rookie who will be expected to start immediately. He quickly worked his way into the Giants’ starting offensive line and hasn’t really looked back. Schmitz was steady and reliable in the first two preseason games and certainly looked the part of a starting center. He was the only player on the Giants’ offensive line who didn’t look like a backup in the first game (notable, because Joshua Ezeudu and Ben Bredeson flanked him).

He had some slight issues with leverage and lunging, but those should improve with more experience at the NFL level. Schmitz wasn’t spectacular in the first two preseason games, but he doesn’t have to be. The Giants will face some talented defenses this year, and steady, reliable play from their center will be much appreciated.

Round 3 - Jalin Hyatt (WR)

Some fans panicked when it was revealed that the Giants’ third-round pick was playing with the third string offense in the beginning of the off-season program. But it seems as though the Giants’ coaches had a plan for bringing Hyatt along in the offense.

For the most part, the Giants used Hyatt behind the line of scrimmage on tosses or sweeps, but he did run down the field on occasion — one of which resulted in a 30-yard touchdown pass from Tyrod Taylor. Hyatt’s impressive acceleration also allowed him to get behind Sauce Gardner in the third preseason game, which certainly opened eyes.

He’s a better route runner than many gave him credit before the draft, but Hyatt still has work to do in expanding his route tree as a pro. The Giants will likely continue to pick their shots with him early in the year, or scheme opportunities to get him the ball in space.

Round 5 - Eric Gray (RB)

Gray immediately stepped in and seized a role on the Giants’ roster as the primary punt and kickoff returner. He’s also shown off his ability as a pass catcher as well as with the ball in his hands. He’s shown solid vision, short-area quickness and contact balance on game day. And while Gray isn’t an explosive athlete or a home run threat as a ball carrier, he should be dependable in that regard. He’s the type of player who can routinely pick up the four or so yards needed to keep an offense on schedule, and turn nothing into something when the play breaks down. That seems to be enough to earn him the third running back job behind Matt Brieda, as well as being the primary returner.

Gray does have one glaring area of his game which needs work if he’s going to see the field on offense with any kind of regularity: Pass protection. He struggled with pass protection in the preseason, making some errors that could be disastrous against starters in the regular season. There are ways around that, such as using “scat protection” and making the running back a check-down option. But there will still be times when Gray has to be a blocker, and poor blocks can kill an offensive drive.

Round 6 - Tre Hawkins III (CB)

Hawkins is the unquestioned star of camp and the preseason. Few people even knew who he was when the Giants selected him in the sixth round out of Old Dominion — I know he wasn’t on my radar.

However, Hawkins has the size and athleticism to play press-man coverage in the NFL, and he was expected to be a special teams player and developmental piece. Instead, he seemingly came out of nowhere to be the Giants’ CB3 and essentially take a starting job as an outside corner who comes onto the field when Jackson moves into the slot.

Hawkins didn’t look out of place lining up with the Giants’ starters and at times even looked better than Banks. Hawkins played fast and fluid, as well as showing off the trademark physicality from his college tape. It remains to be seen whether he can sustain the momentum when teams break out their full offenses for the regular season, but what he’s already accomplished is remarkable.

Round 7 - Jordon Riley (DT)

The seventh-round nose tackle out of Oregon has proven to be another preseason sensation.

At least as far as nose tackles go.

Riley’s play isn’t nearly as exciting as Hawkins and his is a much more thankless position. But it’s still notable that he started against the the Lions and played with the starters against the Panthers. And he looked the part in each game. Riley is a massive human and massively strong, refusing to give any ground in the middle of the Giants’ defense. But perhaps most impressively, Riley looked much quicker on the field for the Giants than he did in college. He still doesn’t have great range and likely won’t be a one-gap penetrator, but he was quick to make plays off of his blocks or disengage and pursue ball carriers.

It will be interesting to see how much Riley sees the field with A’Shawn Robinson and Rakeem Nunez-Roches returning from injury, but he should be in the mix.

Round 7 - Gervarrius Owens (S)

The Giants’ final draft pick wasn’t as involved as the rest of their draft, at least not early in games. Owens was active in the second halves of games and lead the Giants with 14 combined tackles, as well as a QB hit and a two passes defensed.

He likely has an uphill climb to make the final roster, but his physicality and downhill play certainly appeal to Wink Martindale. He might be a player worth watching after a year of development in 2023.

Undrafted free agents

Tommy DeVito (QB)

The former Syracuse and Illinois quarterback was one of the most fun parts of the Giant’s entire preseason. Few thought much of DeVito when he was signed after the draft as an undrafted free agent out of Illinois, but he’s made believers out of Giants’ fans.

DeVito is athletic, has solid arm talent, and is a daring passer. He wasn’t always perfect in the preseason, but he consistently kept the offense moving. DeVito is athletic enough to execute the mobile parts of the Giants’ offense and improvise when he has to. He also shows a pretty impressive ability to generate force from the ground up and challenge tight passing windows when he was able to set his feet.

It would be something of a surprise (at least as of this writing) for DeVito to make the final roster. The Giants just might not have the available spots to carry three quarterbacks. However, he is certainly worth developing if he makes it through to the practice squad.

Bryce Ford-Wheaton (WR)

Expectations were high for the rookie out of West Virginia and he was a highly sought-after UDFA due to his size and rare athleticism. However, he struggled to consistently catch the ball through the summer and in training camp. He has all the traits that scouts and coaches want in a receiver, but his catch consistency was frustratingly lacking.

That said, his size, strength, and blocking acumen haven’t gone unnoticed. He received a shout-out from GM Joe Schoen for his special teams upside, which lead to speculation that he might be destined for a roster spot rather than the practice squad as he develops. Unfortunately, Ford-Wheaton suffered a torn ACL in the final preseason game and was placed on the IR Sunday, ending his season before it could start.

Alex Cook (S)

Owens may have lead the Giants’ defense with 14 tackles, but Cook was close on his heels with 13.

The UDFA out of Washington was a regular presence on the field for the Giants in the preseason, logging 97 defensive snaps. In fact, Cook had the second-most snaps of any defender in the final preseason game. That was also a game in which he was seemingly all over the field and made several impact plays.

As with Owens, Cook might not have a clear path to the 53-man roster. However, he was quietly impressive when he was on the field and has certainly earned a spot on the practice squad.

Dyontae Johnson (LB)

Johnson tied Cook with 13 tackles on the preseason, though he wasn’t quite as flashy about it as the safety. Johnson looked to be fairly instinctive on the field and processed quickly enough. He might not have more upside than as a special teams player, but he likely did enough to earn a practice squad spot and the chance to develop.

Habakkuk Baldonado (Edge)

Haba Baldonado has a real chance to make the final roster as pass rusher depth. He lacks the great burst and bend off the edge the makes a good speed rusher, but he made up for it with solid technique and good leverage. Baldonado had some flash plays and created a fair amount of pressure when he was on the field. He might not have been a phenom out there, but his 4 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1.0 sack, and 2 QB hits likely caught the coaches’ eyes. The question is whether or not he did enough to leapfrog Oshane Ximines or if he’s destined for the practice squad.