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10 players the Giants could look to add via waivers, free agency

The roster we see on Tuesday won’t be the one we see on Wednesday

Jacksonville Jaguars v Houston Texans Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The New York Giants finalized their initial 53-man roster as they prepare for a Sept. 10 home Sunday Night Football game against the Dallas Cowboys. Tim McDonnell, Chris Rossetti, and the rest of the Giants’ pro personnel department are meticulously examining all of the recently waived and cut players from the 31 other teams.

Last year, the Giants claimed and were awarded these players at final cuts:

New York also submitted waiver claims on running back Jamychal Hasty, defensive end Darryl Johnson and defensive end Kingsley Jonathan. Of the eight names above, three were either in Buffalo with Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll or arrived in Buffalo right after those two vacated: McCloud, Johnson, and Jonathan.

The Giants' current roster is more well-rounded than last season, but that will not preclude them from adding players who provide more value than some of those who currently reside on the initial 53-man roster.

Both running back Antonio Williams and linebacker Blake Martinez were on the initial 53-man roster last year, as well as several individuals who inevitably landed on Injured Reserve; in order to place a player on IR and bring him back during the season they have to make the initial 53-man roster, and there are a few candidates for that tactic on the current roster.

New York is also 26th in the waiver priority. Last year, they were fifth. There’s still a lot that can happen before Week 1 against Dallas, so let’s go through eight recently available players who could interest the Giants.

Desmond King, CB

The Houston Texans released the 28-year-old former 2017 fifth-round selection out of Iowa. King won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2015 (top defensive back in the country), after he had eight interceptions and 13 passes defended. He followed that up with a three-interception, seven passes defended, campaign, but subpar height (5-foot-10) and poor explosive testing led to a slide on draft day; he did, however, test in the 92nd percentile in the three-cone drill.

King is not subject to waivers since he was cut by the Texans, and if the Giants are interested, it wouldn’t be the first time a certain member of the Giants expressed interest in Desmond King. Ryan Cowden, the Giants’ executive advisor to the general manager, was a part of the Titans organization when Tennessee traded a sixth-round pick to the Chargers to acquire King.

Not only does King offer versatility as a secondary player, but he is also a skilled kick returner with two return touchdowns in his career. If this coaching staff has made anything clear, it’s that versatility is critical, and King offers it on defense and special teams.

King has played more than 2,000 snaps in the slot throughout his career, with 1,317 snaps at outside cornerback, with most of those outside snaps in the last two seasons. King has 23 passes defended with nine interceptions, 336 tackles, and only a 10.7% missed tackle rate. He also has 27 career tackles for a loss. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale loves to run smaller personnel packages, but defenders must be able to execute their run fits aggressively, and King offers that skill set.

The Giants retained Darnay Holmes with a pay reduction. Still, competent, versatile defensive backs should be explored on a roster with two rookies projected to start, as well as Cor’Dale Flott, who is still a young developing player.

Alex Leatherwood, OL

I wasn’t a Leatherwood fan during the 2021 draft cycle when Mike Mayock selected him 17th overall. I thought his technique, feet, balance, and inconsistent use of power were problematic. After the Raiders released him last season, the Bears claimed him and he played 32 regular-season offensive snaps before Chicago waived him this week. Las Vegas ate $7 million in dead cap to let Leatherwood walk. Josh McDaniels had just taken the Raiders’ job and felt the former first-round pick wasn’t going to fit his offense.

Leatherwood is frustrating, but there are reasons to kick the tires on the 24-year-old former consensus five-star high school player:

Leatherwood is a long player with elite explosive testing. He would compete for the swing tackle position or he could be the direct backup to Mark Glowinski, since Leatherwood has 847 career snaps at right guard.

Brian Daboll is another reason Leatherwood may be considered. The Giants’ head coach may have insight on what makes this kid tick; Daboll was the offensive coordinator for Alabama in 2017 when Leatherwood was a freshman. He played 86 snaps at left tackle in his true freshman season under Daboll.

The Giants could use help at swing tackle and with their interior offensive line depth. Tyre Phillips was surprisingly released, which could have been health-related, and Matt Peart doesn’t inspire hope. Leatherwood has done nothing but disappoint since entering the NFL, but a fresh start on a competent team with a familiar face in Daboll could help spark something in a young player of high pedigree.

Hakeem Adeniji, OT

The recent release of Tyre Phillips makes Matt Peart one snap away from seeing the football field. While Adeniji was far from perfect with the Cincinnati Bengals, he would arguably be an improvement over Peart in pass protection.

Adeniji is a 25-year-old 2020 sixth-round pick out of Kansas. He has 1,008 snaps under his belt and started three playoff games last season for the Bengals. He wasn’t great in those three games; he surrendered four sacks and 15 pressures against Baltimore, Buffalo, and Kansas City.

The Bengals have used him at both tackle spots and at right guard, where he has 777 career snaps. I don’t love the idea of the Giants adding Adeniji, but their backup tackle position is an issue now that Phillips is no longer on the Giants. Adeniji is young, long, and has experience starting on a Super Bowl team.

Sean McKeon, TE

The Giants tight end room is stacked after the addition of Darren Waller. Still, the only true blocking tight end is Daniel Bellinger since the Giants retained Lawrence Cager, another former wide receiver in college. McKeon was a 2020 UDFA out of Michigan who has played 312 offensive snaps for the Dallas Cowboys.

He only has six career targets and two receptions. The 6-5, 240-pounder (likely weighs more now) is more known for his blocking, specifically at the second level. He’s only 25 years old, and Cowboys’ beat writers said the decision to waive McKeon was difficult, and they hope to stash him on their practice squad. I’m not sure if there’s a spot on the Giants roster for McKeon, but there’s a role for a more blocking oriented tight end behind Bellinger.

Jordan Smith, OLB

The 122nd pick in the 2021 draft was waived by the Jacksonville Jaguars. The UAB product was unique in the sense that he is 6-6, 250 pounds, with a hybrid EDGE/LB play style. Unfortunately, Smith only has 21 regular season snaps under his belt from the 2021 season. He tore his ACL in June of last year and worked his way back onto the football field this offseason.

In preseason this year, Smith recorded three STOPs and four tackles with good grades across Pro Football Focus. Jacksonville has recently allocated plenty of resources to their edge and linebacker rooms through free agency and the draft. They’ll likely attempt to squeeze Smith onto their practice squad, and they may do so successfully. He’s an intriguing option for the Giants, but one that likely won’t happen with the recent acquisitions of Isaiah Simmons and Carlos ‘Boogie’ Basham.

Tanner Muse, LB/S

Yes, it’s another hybrid safety/linebacker from Clemson. Muse is a 6-2, 227-pound 26-year-old athlete who ran a 4.41 40-yard dash at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine. He was drafted 100th overall by Mayock and the Raiders before landing in Seattle last season and spending the 2023 preseason with Pittsburgh.

Muse missed his rookie season with a foot injury. By the time he got healthy, the coaching staff and front office that drafted him fell apart. He doesn’t have a ton of production through his two healthy seasons; he has 20 total tackles and a pass knocked down, but he was productive on special teams.

Through two seasons, Muse had nine special teams tackles. His presence on the roster would primarily be for special teams, but he fits the positionless label and is quick out of his stance. He could be a depth piece for a Martindale defense that finds ways to best leverage players with Muse’s measurables.

Emil Ekiyor Jr., IOL

Many in the draft community saw the upside of Ekiyor. Still, the former Alabama Crimson Tide went undrafted in 2023 and found himself with the Indianapolis Colts, where he only played in preseason Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills. His tape at Alabama wasn’t bad, but his medicals were an issue for teams, specifically a left shoulder injury and a knee injury that some teams were unaware of before the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.

Ekiyor’s college tape wasn’t bad, albeit most of his snaps came at right guard, but his lone preseason action against Buffalo was problematic. He surrendered three pressures and a sack. The 6-2, 315-pound guard seems destined for the Colts’ practice squad.

I don’t necessarily see the Giants signing Ekiyor to their active roster, but New York could use a young developmental guard with functional movement skills, a physical temperament, and good college tape; Ekiyor fits that description.

Henry Byrd, IOL

Byrd is an undrafted rookie out of Princeton who was a standout left tackle for the Tigers and head coach Bob Surace. The 6-5, 310-pounder was a three-sport athlete in high school with good strength and adequate length with just 33½-inch arms. He played well throughout preseason for the Denver Broncos, who are attempting to slide him onto their practice squad.

He played 62 snaps at left guard for Denver. Will the Giants reserve a roster spot for Byrd? Likely no, but this 24-year-old Ivy League standout isn’t someone to scoff at.

Jaquon Johnson, S

The longtime Buffalo Bills’ reserve safety and special teamer is still only 27 years old. Joe Schoen helped select Johnson in the sixth round out of Miami back in 2019. Johnson only has 428 defensive snaps with 938 special teams snaps that include 13 tackles on special units.

Johnson recorded 25 total tackles and two interceptions on defense, operating all over Leslie Frazier’s defensive unit. Johnson is 5-10, 190 pounds. New York doesn’t necessarily need help at safety, but Johnson is a familiar face to both Daboll and Schoen, who has displayed special teams’ competence. For that, he could be in consideration.

Keith Taylor, CB

The Carolina Panthers surprisingly released Taylor, their 2021 former fifth-round pick out of Washington. The 6-3, 195-pound 24-year-old played 35% of their snaps last season on a lackluster team. Phil Snow was let go as defensive coordinator, and Ejiro Evero assumed the role. Taylor was a Matt Rhule selection, and it appears Frank Reich is turning the roster over to a different image.

Taylor played most of his snaps outside and has four career passes defended with no interceptions and a 72.6% catch rate, which isn’t excellent. Still, he has great height, solid length, and adequate explosive testing for a cornerback at a young age. I don’t believe the Giants will go in this direction, but the Giants could do worse than seeing if Taylor has anything to offer.