At least seven of the Giants’ 11 rookie draft picks project to play prominent roles in the 2022 NFL season. That much is clear a week into Brian Daboll’s first training camp.
The Giants’ high expectations for their young players reach far beyond first-round blue chippers Kayvon Thibodeaux and Evan Neal on both sides of the ball.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better situation to walk into where they’re really pushing me to do everything I can to get out on the field,” second-round receiver Wan’Dale Robinson told the Daily News after another practice with Daniel Jones’ first-team offense. “And I’m just gonna continue trying to show why I should be out there and show why they can trust me.”
Neal, Robinson and fourth-round tight end Daniel Bellinger all project as starters on offense, running regularly with the first team. Plus third-round pick Josh Ezeudu, a versatile offensive lineman, has asserted himself as the team’s early top backup at both guard spots and tackle.
“I embrace it,” Ezeudu said of the organization’s high expectations. “I know that they see something inside of me that most teams didn’t see, or did see. My main goal this season is to just help the team in any way I can.”
On defense behind Thibodeaux, fourth-rounder Dane Belton projects as the third safety starting in dime packages once his broken collarbone heals. And sixth-round pick Darrian Beavers has been the first backup inside linebacker playing behind starters Blake Martinez and Tae Crowder.
That has meant a lot of snaps with the first-string defense, with Martinez’s workload managed due to last season’s torn ACL.
“It doesn’t matter if you’ve been here for 10 years or it’s your first day. That’s the crazy part about being in the NFL,” Beavers said this week. “It’s really professional. It doesn’t matter who’s out here. It’s straight man vs. man, and it doesn’t matter what round you got picked up in or if you even got picked up at all.”
GM Joe Schoen and Daboll have driven this message home to their rookie class several times since April: they’re counting on them, both now and in the future.
“Joe and I have communicated with them several times about expectations, foundational pieces for us,” Daboll said this week, adding later: “We put a lot on them. I’d say we put a lot on all the rookies. But that’s how we’re going to do it.”
Empowering the rookies is part of Schoen and Daboll’s plan to both infuse this year’s team with talent and lay a foundation for their longer-term roster rebuild.
And as Beavers said, the rookie expectations go beyond the draft picks, a group that also includes third-round corner Cor’Dale Flott and a trio of fifth-rounders: inside linebacker Micah McFadden, defensive tackle D.J. Davidson and offensive lineman Marcus McKethan.
Undrafted rookies Jeremiah Hall (Oklahoma) and Andre Miller (Maine) are both running as fullbacks and tight ends with the first-team offense, for example. Safety Yusuf Corker, running back Jashaun Corbin and tight end Austin Allen are other reserves with opportunities to make a push.
“We’ll play the best guys, whoever that is,” Daboll said. “Whether they’re drafted in the first round, whether they’re a 10-year veteran. We’re going to try to put the best guys out there.
“The rookies that maybe don’t know as much about what to do but have some really good talent, you’re going to have to live through some growing pains with them when you’re developing them to get them to where you want to get to,” the head coach added. “But we’re going to play the best guys that we think give us a chance to win.”
Robinson, in particular, is a jersey that parents of young Giants fans should probably feel comfortable buying.
The 5-8, 185-pound playmaker out of Kentucky is everywhere and constantly on the move in Daboll’s motion-heavy offense. Jones is throwing a lot of passes his way. And he has already lined up in the backfield at both running back and quarterback in the Wildcat for offensive coordinator Mike Kafka.
Frankly, he doesn’t look like a rookie on the field. And that’s how he likes it.
“I didn’t really wanna get that rookie, everybody babying [you] and things like that,” Robinson said. “I wanted to come in, show that I can work and show that I’m out here for a reason. Get rid of that rookie stigma and all that stuff just because I’m new to this or anything like that. I want to show every day that I can work and that I’m ready to ball.”
Robinson, who played his last two years under Rams offensive coordinator Liam Coen at Kentucky, admitted that learning Daboll’s offense is “tough.” But he’s excited about a “creative” system that does “everything they can to get playmakers the ball.”
“I had to go from learning the Rams system last year with my offensive coordinator coming from there at Kentucky, so to say it’s harder to learn than that system,” Robinson said. “But everybody’s getting it and coming along. You just gotta know you gotta work hard and study and do everything you gotta do outside of the building to make sure on the practice field you’re ready to go.”
Beavers, a 6-4, 255-pound linebacker, said advancing to last year’s national championship game with the Cincinnati Bearcats was the type of experience that “breeds confidence” he can measure up in the NFL — coming off his first two college years at UConn where they “won probably two games in two years.”
He also seemingly earned some trust from defensive coordinator Wink Martindale in the spring.
“I’d probably say they didn’t know I guess the athletic ability I had,” Beavers said of what he’s tried to show the Giants. “Coming out of college I weighed a little bit too much I guess for my position in college. So just coming out here and proving I can run with these guys and be athletic enough to hold my own.”
The Giants were high on Ezeudu’s versatility on the O-line, where he started 20 games at left guard, six at left tackle and two at right tackle for North Carolina. So the 6-4, 320-pound rookie is used to learning multiple positions.
“It’s no different than college,” he said. “In college, I played all four spots, so it’s the same mindset I’m gonna have now. I’m excited to do anything that helps the team. It could be starting on the first team, it could be starting on the second team, it could be on the sideline cheering on the team. I’m just excited to do whatever helps the team.”
Being a rookie obviously means starting low on the totem pole in some way. And Beavers laughed as he revealed that “they’re making some of the rookies in the defensive meetings stand up and sing and dance in front of them and stuff.”
But he said it’s clear the veterans “want the best for us” and spend more time “teaching us” and “getting us right.”
That’s preparation for meaningful roles immediately. That’s how Schoen and Daboll are building this.