EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey. On Sunday, the New York Giants started as a rookie with a right tackle, tight end, outside linebacker and safety in a win over the Baltimore Ravens. Their second round pick, Van’Dale Robinson, was essentially their No. 1 wide receiver, despite only playing 14 snaps in his first game since his knee injury.
General manager Joe Sean and coach Brian Daball’s first class draft is playing a lot, maybe more than they would have preferred in the first year of the new regime. But this is the state of the franchise and its composition. They had holes, and they urgently needed newcomers to fill them.
“We are trying to field the best guys that we think can help us win. These guys certainly deserve the right to play,” said Daboll. “Whether you’re a rookie or a 10-year veteran, we’re trying to give opportunities to the guys who deserve them.
“Again, I think playing with younger players helps in the long run.”
It makes what is happening right now win-win. The Giants (5-1) have been successful and are better prepared for the future, which is one of their big goals this season.
Sean and Duboll have been realistic about this team from the very beginning when it entered Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. They knew they had flaws, but they thought they could compete by essentially rebuilding. Sean allowed veterans like tight end Evan Engram to get through and cut the safety of Logan Ryan and defenseman James Bradberry. They replaced them with younger and cheaper players.
The Giants’ rookies have already snapped 1,277 offensive and defensive snaps this season, according to Sportzshala Stats & Information. It’s the fourth most in the NFL in six weeks, and would have been higher were it not for injuries.
Top players Kaiwon Thibodeau and Evan Neil have been in the starting lineup since day one. Robinson will be the main offensive player as long as he stays on the field. Cornerback Kor’Dale Flott and offensive lineman Joshua Ezeudou, both selected in the third round, have already contributed. Flott even started two games before suffering a calf injury.
Daniel Bellinger, the team’s first pick in the fourth round, has been playing tight end since day one. He leads the Giants with two touchdowns. Safety Dane Belton plays a key defensive role (having started and played 42 snaps against the Ravens) as the third quarterback. Micah McFadden, a fifth-round pick, is a special team sponsor, while undrafted rookie Thomon Fox was used as a hitter.
The Giants’ last three draft picks — defenseman D.J. Davidson, offensive lineman Marcus McKethan, and linebacker Darrian Beavers — are not playing, but that’s because all three recently suffered ACL ruptures.
Daball had long set the stage for this early rookie success. Neal and Thibodeau were selected as the starting lineup when they were drafted. Bellinger was a first-team tight end by the start of the summer, Robinson was a top wide receiver in the spring, and the coaching staff quickly realized they needed to use three-insurance packages with Belton.
“I feel like they didn’t treat us lightly in the beginning,” Bellinger said. “They threw us there and said: “Guys, you need to step up. Either you sink or you swim. Being so hard on us, I feel like it made us take the leap to get better.”
There were immediate expectations. The Giants’ recruits could see that there would be opportunities early in their careers.
It helped that they knew the new regime was committed to their success.
“We all felt like at the end of the day they called us in for a reason,” Robinson said. – They didn’t call us to sit on the bench and just wait and stuff like that. They wanted us to contribute, play and help this football team win. We didn’t look at it as where they just gave us [playing time] or throwing us right into it. We just looked at it like we should have earned it. We just had to keep showing that we would try to get better every day.”
They still have.
Robinson scored his first touchdown on Sunday against the Ravens. Bellinger caught a season-high five passes. Neil played one of his best games to date, and Thibodeau’s first career dismissal effectively ended the competition.
That doesn’t mean the Giants rookies won’t have bumps in the road this season. The Jaguars (2-4) have one of the youngest teams in the league in terms of age and were through in six weeks.
“You kind of understand that you can have growth issues from time to time,” Jacksonville coach Doug Pederson said. “We experienced it already this year. That’s how you learn, that’s how you get better as a football team and try to keep them to a minimum every week.”
The Giants are definitely learning. Meanwhile, they have already become the best football team because of their rookie class.