Why Giants’ 2023 rookie class has chance to make big impact

A starting cornerback.

Wait, make that two starting cornerbacks.

A starting center and a big-play wide receiver.

A kickoff and punt returner, a big guy in the defensive tackle rotation and a safety developing on defense as he carves a niche on special teams.

If these are the future roles of the seven players who comprise the 2023 NFL Draft class for the Giants, it will turn out to be quite an accomplished group. If these are the immediate roles of these seven players as rookies, well, that would be quite an infusion of talent.

Of course, it is too early to tell. Way too early. How can we assess the Giants’ 2023 draft class before any of the seven players selected in April have stepped foot on the field in a regular-season game? What we see in the summer can become nothing more than wishful thinking by the fall and into the winter.

This is not the time for grandiose assessments. But it is a fine time to consider what might be. And, based on what we’ve seen with this crop of rookies, the Giants could be counting on a bunch of them to make their 2023 season hum.

Here’s a closer look:

Deonte Banks

Deonte Banks #36 of the New York Giants in action against the Carolina Panthers during a pre-season football game at MetLife Stadium on August 18, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Getty Images

Much is expected of a first-round pick. Banks was earmarked from Day 1 for a starting spot as a perimeter corner, and he has done everything to justify that thinking. He has not missed a practice, and he competes at a high level, moving on to the next play like a veteran. As far as height, weight, speed, he fills every requirement.

John Michael Schmitz

New York Giants center John Michael Schmitz Jr. #61, pointing during practice at the New York Giants training facility in East Rutherford, New Jersey
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

This was a “value-plus-need’’ pick in the second round, and the expectation was for Schmitz to win the starting job at center. Heck, the guy is 24 years old and spent six years at the University of Minnesota. He was more than ready for the NFL. Schmitz is already adept at the communication skills he needs as the player making the line calls, and has shown he knows his assignments and can handle himself from a physical standpoint. This competition did not last long into training camp.

Jalin Hyatt

New York Giants wide receiver Jalin Hyatt (84) catches a pass for a touchdown in the first half against the Carolina Panthers at MetLife Stadium, Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, in East Rutherford, NJ.
Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

It now sounds almost comical to hear the critique after he was taken in the third round that “all Hyatt can do is run vertical routes.’’ As if that is a terrible trait for a rookie wide receiver to bring into the NFL. There is always a place for someone who can run straight and fast and catch the ball. But Hyatt is on the way to showing he is more than that. On the field, he plays taller than his 6-foot frame as his long strides allow him to glide past defensive backs. There is an immediate role for him on offense.

Eric Gray

Giants Eric Gray (20) runs the ball during the Giants rookie minicamp in East Rutherford, NJ.
Bill Kostroun for the NY Post

There has not been anything special yet from Gray as a running back, though the way he found the hole and then muscled in to complete a 9-yard touchdown run during Friday night’s preseason game against the Panthers was impressive. The key for this fifth-round pick is to prove he is reliable and can be trusted with the kickoff and punt return duties. That means, more than anything else, that his ball security is not an issue. So far, so good on that front.

Tre Hawkins

New York Giants cornerback Tre Hawkins III (37) during football practice in East Rutherford, N.J. Thursday, August 3, 2023.
Noah K. Murray for the NY Post

Here is where this draft class might become something special. When a team hits big on a sixth-round pick, credit goes all the way up and down the line, from the general manager to the personnel department, scouts and coaching staff. Did the Giants hit big with Hawkins? The early returns are promising. The cornerback from Old Dominion was selected as a player who could possibly develop into something. Instead, Hawkins soared up the depth chart. He currently is holding down a starting job on the perimeter, which, incredibly, would move veteran Adoree’ Jackson into the slot. At 6-foot-3, Hawkins has great length, and he battles in coverage. This would be some “get’’ for the Giants.

Jordan Riley

New York Giants defensive tackles Jordan Riley (95) and Dexter Lawrence (97) participates in drills during mini camp in East Rutherford, N.J. Wednesday, June 14, 2023.
Noah K. Murray for the NY Post

When Giants scouts initially were at Oregon, they were not there for Riley, but they could not help but notice this huge guy in the middle of the defensive line. They figured a 6-foot-5, 315-pound run-stopper was worth a seventh-round pick.  Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale cannot stop praising this guy, and Riley is far more active than expected in practice and the preseason games. If veteran additions A’Shawn Robinson and Rakeem Nunez-Roches continue to deal with injury issues, it is going to be difficult to keep Riley off the active list once the season starts.

Gervarrius Owens

Gervarrius Owens #31 of the New York Giants during training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center on August 1, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Owens has come back strong after missing time at the start of camp, and it is noticeable that he packs a punch on the back end from his safety spot. For a seventh-round pick, how he holds up on special teams is going to be key to his inclusion on the 53-man roster. Owens was on the field for eight special-teams snaps against the Panthers.

Bryce Ford-Wheaton

New York Giants wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton (6) makes catch during football practice in East Rutherford, N.J. Thursday, August 3, 2023.
Noah K. Murray for the NY Post

No, he is not a 2023 draft pick. Consider this a bonus inclusion. Ford-Wheaton was one of nine undrafted free agents signed by the Giants, and it was clear right away that there were plans for the 6-foot-3 wide receiver from West Virginia. The Giants guaranteed $236,000 of the rookie contract, which is more than a player would make if he were on the practice squad the entire season. Ford-Wheaton has not wowed anyone with his work on offense just yet, but he is being groomed for a role on special teams as a gunner. Given his big body, this could work, especially if Nick McCloud, a gunner last season, remains out with an injury.

Want to catch a game? The Giants schedule with links to buy tickets can be found here.

Bettor or worse?

Are the Giants going to be any good?

That is a question heard so often as the summer starts to wane and the real games grow closer. They were one of the surprise teams of 2022, going 9-7-1 and making the playoffs for the first time since the 2011 season, a feat few expected possible in Brian Daboll’s first year as a head coach.

And now, for the encore. No team — except for the Super Bowl champions — goes into a new season desiring to be the same. For the Giants to improve and take another step forward, they are going to have to find a way to beat the Eagles and/or the Cowboys — those NFC East rivals went 5-0 against the Giants in the regular season and the playoffs.

New York Giants tight end Darren Waller (12) makes a reception during the first quarter when the New York Giants played the Carolina Panthers in preseason action Friday, August 18, 2023 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.
Adding Darren Waller should improve the Giants’ passing attack, but it’s unclear how much he’ll help close the team’s gap with the Eagles in the NFC East.
Robert Sabo for the NY Post

Have the Giants improved? Is their roster more formidable? Their top veteran addition on offense is tight end Darren Waller. Their top veteran addition on defense is middle linebacker Bobby Okereke. They are counting on Banks and Schmitz to be Day 1 starters. There is no way to foresee how that will pan out. There is anticipated development from Daniel Jones, entering his fifth season as the starting quarterback and his first since signing a four-year deal worth $160 million, but a career is not always a linear ascent.

On the outside looking in, the Giants have not done enough to close the gap on the Eagles. DraftKings compiled odds for the most improved team in the NFL. The Giants were given odds of 100/1 to be the NFL’s most improved team, tied for 22nd with the Bengals, Chargers and Patriots.

The Eagles and Vikings have the longest odds to be most improved at 250/1. How much better can the Eagles be, considering they went 14-3 in 2022 and lost to the Chiefs in the Super Bowl?

The most improved team, based on these odds, is favored to be the Bears at +210. The Broncos (+425), Texans (+700), Colts (+800) and Saints (+850) round out the top five.

The Jets, with the marquee addition of Aaron Rodgers, come next at 11/1.

Asked and answered

Here are two questions that have come up recently that we will attempt to answer as accurately as possible:

Are the Giants really going to use a rotation with some of the players on their offensive line?

They did it at left guard last season with Ben Bredeson and rookie Josh Ezeudu sharing the snaps in games until Ezeudu went out with a neck injury. After that, Bredeson shared the position with Nick Gates. It was an unusual arrangement: Most teams prefer to identify their five best offensive linemen and start them, game after game. The Giants are at it again this summer with Bredeson and Ezeudu again splitting time at left guard. Mike Glowinski, the starting right guard, also has been off the field at times for a rotation, though Glowinski is probably set. It does seem as if the coaching staff is intrigued by Ezeudu’s size, power and athletic ability and are pushing for him to make a move in Year 2, which means this season could open with Ezeudu and Bredeson again sharing a spot.

New York Giants guard Joshua Ezeudu (75) when the New York Giants practiced during Giants Camp Wednesday, July 26, 2023 at Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, NJ.
Though he’ll likely start the season sharing the left guard role, Joshua Ezeudu’s size and athleticism have the Giants hoping he can soon grab a bigger role.
Robert Sabo for the NY Post

Should Daniel Jones play in the third and final preseason game?

Short answer: no. There is always a risk-reward element to putting starting players on the field in a preseason game. Jones did not play in the preseason opener. He started against the Panthers and played a grand total of 10 snaps. It was enough to suggest he is ready for the regular season: Jones completed eight of nine passes — the only incompletion was a drop by Waller — on an efficient touchdown drive. Does anybody need to see any more? Is there any reason Jones should suit up and start Saturday night against the Jets? Imagine the outcry if he plays and tweaks an ankle, compromising his availability for the real thing, Sept. 10 vs. the Cowboys. Jones is not some young guy who needs as many live-action reps as possible. This is his fifth year as a starter and his second year in the same offensive system. He is ready.

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