The Giants had their eyes on safety Jason Pinnock when they practiced against the Jets in August.
They needed gunners on the punt team and liked Pinnock’s ability there. They also needed safety depth, and GM Joe Schoen is always looking for young players who can both contribute and develop long-term.
So when the Jets released their 2021 fifth-round pick at the end of camp, the Giants claimed Pinnock off waivers and deployed him on special teams immediately in their Week 1 win at Tennessee.
That laid the groundwork for Pinnock to show defensive coordinator Wink Martindale what he could do, and to receive a promotion when Xavier McKinney got hurt and rookie Dane Belton struggled.
Now Pinnock is a late-season mainstay, starting and playing 92% of Sunday night’s snaps, flying around FedEx Field during the Giants’ 20-12 road win at Washington with five tackles, a QB hit, two passes defended and a forced fumble.
“I’m glad we have those players,” head coach Brian Daboll said Monday of Pinnock and other reserves who have stepped up in key roles. “They’re good football players for us, and they’ve improved since they’ve gotten here.”
Rebuilds take time, and Schoen’s process is still only in phase one.
But the Giants are competing early in part due to a refreshingly collaborative pro personnel scouting process that has landed useful players like Pinnock to patch up the roster.
Assistant GM Brandon Brown revealed back in August that Schoen’s front office solicits input from Daboll and the coaching staff on the qualities, traits and attributes they’re seeking in players to fit their schemes and systems.
“We get the player descriptions from the coaching staff, and we go out and get the groceries,” Brown said. “Regardless of quarterback, running back, other positions, offensive line, defensive line, corners, there’s no different approach.”
Those conversations are about more than just the week-to-week roster, too. Everything is done with an eye on the future.
“It’s not a checklist,” Brown said. “It’s a collaborative approach. You don’t jam a square peg in a round hole. That’s how you build a bad roster. What you want to do is you want to make sure it’s a collaborative effort based on what the job description is, and you evaluate the talent.
“The coaches aren’t on the road; they don’t know the marketplace,” Brown added. “That’s why it’s a collaborative process. You get the best results when you put both of those together between what does the system call for, what can the player do, what is a year one versus year three [and] end of a contract in our system?”
Schoen, Brown, director of player personnel Tim McDonnell, director of pro scouting Chris Rossetti and the pro personnel staff spearhead the process with coaches’ input. Prior experience with players is a plus and often reinforces a fit, especially for immediate contributors.
Veteran linebackers Jaylon Smith and Landon Collins had played for the Giants before. Veteran safety Tony Jefferson and D-lineman Jihad Ward played for Martindale with the Baltimore Ravens. Veteran center Jon Feliciano was a former Buffalo Bill with Schoen and Daboll.
Wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins and offensive lineman Jack Anderson also were former Bills draft picks, and corner Nick McCloud was a Buffalo practice squad player last year.
But Pinnock was a Jet. Tackle Tyre Phillips was a Raven on the offensive side of the ball. Tight end Nick Vannett was a Saint. D-tackle Henry Mondeaux is an ex-Steeler. Veteran corner Fabian Moreau was a Falcon and an ex-Washington player.
Identifying immediate contributors was especially crucial this season due to the myriad of injuries on the Giants’ roster. They are again one of the most injured teams in the NFL, and while their team is far from perfect and often learning on the job, they wouldn’t have survived without finding capable pros available throughout the league.
Schoen gave credit to Daboll and the coaching staff for incorporating so many new players into their system so quickly during the bye week in November. At the time, he said the Giants led the NFL with 12 players not on the roster in September who had played offensive and defensive snaps.
“A testament to our coaching staff: A lot of these guys have played winning football for us,” Schoen said. “The pro scouting staff has done a great job as well identifying these players, upgrading the practice squad, and those players have filled in admirably and helped us get to where we are. The coaching staff has done a great job with what we’ve been trying to bring in to backfill some of the roster.”
The upshot especially with some of the young players is that they’re not just contributing now; they’re under contract into the future, too.
Pinnock is signed through 2024. McCloud’s and Phillips’ deals run through 2023. Hodgins, Anderson and tight end Lawrence Cager are exclusive rights free agents. Mondeaux is a restricted free agent.
Of course Schoen’s first draft pick, No. 5 overall selection Kayvon Thibodeaux, was the star of Sunday night’s big win. And many of the Giants’ best players were drafted or added by the previous regime from Daniel Jones to Andrew Thomas, Dexter Lawrence, Saquon Barkley, Azeez Ojulari, Julian Love and more.
But Schoen and Daboll were brought here to rebuild this program from the ground up for a reason. Their collaborative work in stocking this roster with depth and developing players has helped survive and even overachieve in year one.
And the more this staff works together, the more their familiarity and alignment ideally will help them build a sustainable winner in East Rutherford, N.J., again.