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NY Giants
Greenhorns Are Giving Big Blue Reason for a Rosy Outlook
From the Wall Street Journal of Tue, 23 Dec 2014 21:46:09 EST
Fourth-round pick Andre Williams has rushed for 285 yards and a touchdown in the Giants’ past three games.
Fourth-round pick Andre Williams has rushed for 285 yards and a touchdown in the Giants’ past three games. USA Today Sports/Reuters

The NFL doesn’t have a Most Improved Team award, probably because it would imply that the winner set the bar pretty low. The Giants did that with their midseason seven-game losing streak, eliminating themselves from playoff contention and putting many jobs in jeopardy along the way.

But were the NFL to present such an award, the Giants’ current three-game winning streak would be the deciding factor. And given the contributions of rookies like wideout Odell Beckham Jr., running back Andre Williams and linebacker Devon Kennard, as well as that of second-year defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, the Giants’ season, though certainly not a success, is serving as a harbinger for 2015.

“I feel that my [draft] class and this year’s class have definitely made a big step forward contributing this year,” said Hankins, who has been a pleasant surprise with seven sacks this season.

At the very least, the ingredients for this year’s turnaround have some staying power. Last season, the Giants managed to improve to 7-9 after an 0-6 start, even as quarterback Eli Manning tossed a career-high 27 interceptions and completed just 57.5% of his passes. This season, in first-year offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo ’s West Coast scheme, Manning has completed a career-high 64.1% of his passes while throwing 29 touchdowns against 13 interceptions.

Devon Kennard, a seventh-round pick who landed a starting linebacker job on when Jon Beason got hurt, has made the most of his opportunity.
Devon Kennard, a seventh-round pick who landed a starting linebacker job on when Jon Beason got hurt, has made the most of his opportunity. Getty Images

Those numbers should look even better next year, when the Giants won’t be saddled with learning a new offense.

“It’s a very positive feeling in the locker room and we’re just trying to run with it and finish strong,” Williams said Tuesday following his 110-yard performance in Sunday’s win over the St. Louis Rams.

Yes, the Giants are 6-9, and veterans like Manning and safety Antrel Rolle have outgrown moral victories. Super Bowl rings do that to players. But as silver linings go, having arguably the best rookie class of general manager Jerry Reese ’s seven-year tenure is a pretty good one.

For someone like undrafted rookie Kerry Wynn—who had a sack, an interception and recovered a fumble in Sunday’s win over St. Louis—the last three wins have made an otherwise dreadful season bearable. “I wish we would be going to playoffs, continuing the season, but it is what it is,” said Wynn.

Things could be far worse.

The 3-12 Jets are also missing out on the playoffs and will be picking ahead of the Giants in next year’s NFL Draft, but that’s where their advantages end. Whereas the Giants failed up, utilizing young players who should be a part of their future, the Jets just failed. They were young, but it’s hard to point to any significant progress among general manager John Idzik’s second draft class.

Rookie first-round pick Calvin Pryor has enjoyed some success, making 35 tackles at safety but failing to intercept a pass all season. And tight end Jace Amaro, a second-round pick, has been the jewel of Jets’ rookie haul, catching 35 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns.

It’s looking good for the future with the guys that came in... They continue to get better this year, so going into the off-season, we definitely have some good things to look forward to.

—Johnathan Hankins

But the rest of the rookies have failed to make an impact, either because of injuries—cornerback Dexter McDougle (knee) and wideout Shaquelle Evans (shoulder) are on injured reserve—or abilities.

The one exception might be fourth-round pick Jalen Saunders, who has been explosive as a return man this season. Unfortunately for Idzik, Saunders now plays for the New Orleans Saints after being released by the Jets in September.

In Idzik’s defense, his 2013 trade of star cornerback Darrelle Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for the 13th pick in the draft has worked out well. Defensive end Sheldon Richardson, whom the Jets took with the pick, was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year last season and improved this year, recording seven sacks and 28 quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus.

But the Jets simply haven’t added pieces as the Giants have.

Beyond Beckham, whose 79 catches for 1,120 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 10 games earned him the right to be a Pro Bowl alternate, the Giants have relied heavily on a handful of other rookies this season. Second-round pick Weston Richburg has started 15 games at left guard (although he has been flagged seven times), and Williams, a fourth-round pick, has rushed for 285 yards and a touchdown on 68 carries in the past three weeks.

Then there is Kennard, a seventh-round pick who landed the starting linebacker job on the strong side when Jameel McClain moved to the middle in place of the injured Jon Beason. The USC product has taken full advantage of the situation, winning Defensive Player of the Week after a two-sack performance against Tennessee in Week 14.

Perhaps best of all, Kennard has made 35 tackles, compared with just one missed tackle, according to Pro Football Focus.

“It’s looking good for the future with the guys that came in this year, like Beckham Jr., Richburg, and [rookie defensive tackle Jay] Bromley,” Hankins said. “They continue to get better this year, so going into the off-season, we definitely have some good things to look forward to.”



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