New York Giants Rookie, Free Agent Midseason Progress Report
The acquisition of free agents and draft picks is always an exciting time for a NFL club, as the players often represent a fresh start at a position or two.
So just how effective, then, have the New York Giants' new acquisitions—the 2013 draft class and 2013 free agent class—been?
If one goes by the team’s 2-6 won-loss record, then the result obviously isn't promising.
However, there have been some bright spots to emerge from both groups.
In this series, we’ll look at each draft pick and each free-agent acquisition who has been with the club since training camp to see what kind of impact they've had so far in the Giants’ first eight games.
Offensive Lineman Justin Pugh, 1st-Round Draft Pick (Syracuse)
It was never a question of “if” but rather “when” the Giants were going to get Justin Pugh, their first-round draft pick, into the starting lineup.
Pugh got his opportunity at right tackle when David Diehl, last year’s starter, needed to miss six weeks because of a thumb issue.
Once Pugh stepped into the lineup, there was no removing this 6’4”, 304-pound prospect.
“You know, Justin’s progressing along fairly well,” said offensive line coach Pat Flaherty. “In the last few weeks I've seen his technique and fundamentals become better.
“In the beginning, with learning the offense, one, and then learning the techniques that you need to protect in the pass protection, some things were very challenging to him because he was playing against some savvy veterans there in the beginning of the season,” Flaherty continued. “In the last couple of weeks, he’s settled down.”
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Pugh, who’s taken every single snap on offense since Week 1, has only allowed 2.0 sacks and two quarterback hits.
While his 29 quarterback pressures are the most of the Giants offensive linemen, the former Syracuse standout has shown he’s not afraid to battle through to the whistle, and he's demonstrated fine balance, even if being walked back into the pocket.
Pugh, who was the fifth offensive tackle taken in the 2013 draft, might just be the best of the bunch, according to former NFL offensive lineman Ross tucker, now an analyst for NBC Sports.
"He's been the best of the bunch, probably even better than [No. 11 pick] D.J. Fluker, who struggles in pass protection as well," Tucker said via NJ.com.
"Pugh has probably been more solid than any of those [other rookies]. It's really been because of his feet, and he's playing smarter," Tucker added.
Flaherty believes that with more reps, Pugh will become even better.
“When you’re going into your ninth game it should slow down for you as a rookie but he’s still a rookie, so he’s going to learn each and every game,” he said.
Defensive Tackle Johnathan Hankins, 2nd-Round Draft Pick (Ohio State)
After looking so promising in the preseason, Johnathan Hankins, a promising young run stopper, disappeared from the landscape for the first four games of the season.
He was finally active in Week 5 due to injuries at the defensive tackle position and logged a five-tackle game that earned praise from head coach Tom Coughlin.
The following week, Hankins didn't record any tackles and then was right back to being inactive, as he remains last on the depth chart at defensive tackle.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Hankins has played 94 defensive snaps (40 against the run and 54 against the pass).
He has one quarterback hit, two quarterback hurries, three tackles, and two stops for zero or negative yardage.
Defensive End Damontre Moore, 3rd-Round Draft Pick (Texas A&M)
After capturing the hearts of Giants fans with a huge preseason debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers that included a blocked punt on special teams, four tackles, one quarterback pressure and a tackle for a loss, Giants third-round pick Damontre Moore ended up suffering a shoulder injury that cost him the rest of training camp and the first week of the regular season.
About a month after getting back onto the field, the man nicknamed “Damonster” for his ability to terrorize opposing quarterbacks ended up tweaking his hamstring.
As a result, Moore has only received 30 snaps on defense, accumulating just two assisted tackles, which currently ranks him last on the Giants defense.
In sum, all of the missed practice time has stunted this intriguing young man’s development, according to defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.
“He missed some time in the preseason so everything that you try to do developing a player and bringing him along to be that role player that you want him to be gets pushed back,” Fewell said before the Giants played their Week 8 game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
However, that doesn't mean that Moore, who in addition to being able to play as a down lineman, can also play the "joker" position, is so far behind that he can’t potentially be more involved with the defense in the second half of the season.
“If the light switch comes on,” he said when asked if Moore can become more of a situational pass rusher.
“Damontre is a very talented young man. It’s just the development of the player.”
Quarterback Ryan Nassib, 4th-Round Draft Pick (Syracuse)
If you’re still wondering why the Giants traded up six slots in the fourth round (with Arizona)—giving up their fifth-round draft pick in the process for a player of whom general manager Jerry Reese told reporters during his post draft press conference, “If he doesn't ever play, that would be great”—you’re not alone.
All Nassib’s presence has meant so far is that the Giants have been forced to keep three quarterbacks. That’s a big reason why special teams ace and reserve linebacker Kyle Bosworth, now with the Dallas Cowboys, is no longer on the roster.
Nassib might very well turn out to be a good NFL quarterback one day, though as long as Eli Manning is able to stand, chances are Nassib won’t get his opportunity with the Giants.
Safety Cooper Taylor, 5th-Round Draft Pick (Richmond)
Various injuries, including a hamstring and, more recently, a shoulder, have interfered with this intriguing rookie's progress.
Through eight games, Taylor, who missed nearly four weeks of preseason with a hamstring strain, has been inactive three times.
While some teams might have placed a rookie who missed that much time on injured reserve, the Giants obviously believe that the 6’4”, 228-pound rookie out of Richmond, who thus far has mostly received his game reps on special teams, can be more of a factor for them as the season progresses.
Taylor, who beat out veteran Tyler Sash for a roster spot, is currently fourth on the Giants depth chart at safety and still has a very bright future as a prospective third safety/pseudo linebacker.
It’s hard to ignore the young man’s impressive size and physical tools; however, the missed time hurt his rookie season.
With a full offseason of NFL-level weight training and conditioning and a chance to really absorb the playbook to where he can better understand the entire structure of a play and not just his responsibilities, Taylor should be able to make more of an impact in 2014.
Offensive Lineman Eric Herman, 7th-Round Draft Pick (Ohio)
A feisty young prospect that showed a lot of heart during training camp, when it came time to handing out roster spots, Herman, one of two seventh-round draft picks, just missed making the final cut and was instead signed to the team’s practice squad.
Despite injuries to right guard Chris Snee and center David Baas, the Giants have left Herman on the practice squad to further develop his game in order to succeed at the pro level.
One of his biggest issues coming out of camp was his inconsistent and clunky footwork, which oftentimes affected his balance. That’s simply a matter of technique and agility and is a deficiency that can be improved with coaching and practice repetition.
The good news is that Herman, who in addition to working as a guard is also said to be learning center, is healthy to where he can take advantage of the coaching and classroom instruction, while also continuing to work on his training and conditioning.
With the offensive line likely headed for a major overhaul in the coming offseason, there is no reason to believe that Herman won’t be given a chance to compete for a starting job.
Until then, he seems destined to remain on the practice squad.
Running Back Michael Cox, 7th-Round Draft Pick (Massachusetts)
After starting the season as the team’s kickoff returner, where he returned two kickoffs for 39 yards, Cox was inactive in Weeks 2 and 3 due to injuries that necessitated his game-day slot be given to someone else.
In Weeks 7 and 8, he found himself thrust into the spotlight when injuries to David Wilson, Brandon Jacobs and Da’Rel Scott (since waived/injured) decimated the running back unit.
Cox, whose game reps have not included much in the way of pass protection, has carried the ball 20 times for 42 yards.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Cox has missed three tackles, presumably in pass protection.
With Jacobs (hamstring) and Andre Brown (broken leg) reportedly set to return to the lineup after the bye week, Cox will likely go back to contributing on special teams.
Kicker Josh Brown, Free Agent (Cincinnati Bengals)
After the 2012 season, the Giants decided to go in a different direction at place-kicker by bringing in journeyman Josh Brown, known for his big leg, to improve their kickoffs.
Per Team Rankings, the Giants have done just that so far, averaging 2.8 touchbacks per game, which puts them 17th in the NFL after eight weeks.
By comparison, in 2012, the last season of Lawrence Tynes’ tenure, the Giants ranked 30th in the NFL by averaging 1.4 touchbacks per game on kickoffs.
On field goals, Brown has converted 12 of 14 attempts, his only misses coming from 38 and 44 yards earlier in the season.
His 85.71 percentage has him ranked 18th in the NFL.
He has also been perfect on his PATs, making 15 out of 15.
Linebacker Dan Connor, Free Agent (Dallas Cowboys)
The Giants, who passed on an opportunity to draft a prospective linebacker candidate who might become a staple in their defense for years to come, hoped that former Panthers and Cowboys inside linebacker Dan Connor might provide some stability on a one-year deal after the team lost veteran Chase Blackburn in free agency.
That unfortunately has not be the case.
Although Connor finally wrested the starting middle linebacker job from Mark Herzlich, it was a second neck burner suffered in a two-week span that ultimately landed the six-year veteran on injured reserve.
The move that must have come as a surprise to Connor, who prior to having his season ended, told reporters that he didn't think his injury was that serious.
While it was a disappointing end for Connor, who in one game recorded two tackles, the move ultimately paved the way for the Giants' acquisition of current middle linebacker Jon Beason, who replaced the struggling Herzlich in the starting lineup.
Defensive Tackle Cullen Jenkins, Free Agent (Philadelphia Eagles)
Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins might not have the stats to show for it—in eight games, he has a half sack, 10 total tackles, five quarterback hits, 13 pressures and six tackles for a loss—but he’s been a big reason why the Giants' run defense has held some of the NFL’s top rushers to under 100 yards.
“As a group I thought the whole year we've been solid in the run game,” confirmed defensive line coach Robert Nunn, who has seen the run defense allow an average of 102.2 yards per game, 10th in the NFL per Team Rankings.
“We've done a good job of stopping the run, just not been able to create the opportunities whether it’s third down and distance or getting the game right where we can have the opportunities to rush the quarterback,” Nunn added.
“Playing the last two running backs and being able to stop them the way we did and get the hits on the quarterback, it feels like we’re moving in the right direction.”
In addition to playing some solid snaps at defensive tackle, Jenkins has lined up at defensive end in pass-rushing situations. Again, he hasn't quite gotten home with some of his rushes, but he’s brought some solid play to a defensive front that was a major offseason focus.
Cornerback Trumaine McBride, Free Agent (Jacksonville Jaguars)
When Trumaine McBride, the six-year veteran, made the final 53-man roster ahead of rookie Charles James, it was a bit of a surprise to on-lookers, who thought that James’ ability to special teams might give him the edge.
In the end, McBride, who is listed at 5’9” and 185 pounds, has put his experience to good use.
McBride, who was out of football in 2012 after splitting the 2011 season first with the New Orleans Saints and then with the Jacksonville Jaguars, has appeared in all eight games so far, starting four at left cornerback with Corey Webster sidelined with a groin injury.
Surprisingly, McBride hasn't been attacked that much when he’s been in the game. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), McBride has taken 219 snaps on defense but has only been thrown at 26 times.
Of those 26 targets, McBride has allowed 12 passes to be completed for 156 yards and just 39 yards after the catch. He’s also broken up two passes and has not allowed any touchdowns yet,
“Trumaine has done a great job,” said Giants cornerbacks coach Peter Giunta.
“He’s played in the league and has experience, so that’s a huge plus. Having a guy that has experience, has played in games, played in the Chicago system, and he’s done a great job for us obviously stepping up and playing."
Safety Ryan Mundy, Free Agent (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Safety Ryan Mundy was originally acquired to compete for that fourth safety spot on the team. However, a season-ending injury suffered by starter Stevie Brown in the preseason meant that Mundy, the former Steeler, was the next man up.
Mundy doesn't quite have Brown’s instincts, as his one interception through eight games would seem to indicate.
While he has allowed 70 percent of the passes thrown his way to go for completions of the 163 yards, only 46 have come after the catch as Mundy oftentimes is in a good position to limit the damage.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Mundy, who also contributes on special teams, has given up three of the five touchdowns completed so far against the Giants safeties this season.
Of his 503 defensive snaps, Mundy has only been involved in 10 pass rushes so far, matching the 10 that Brown was involved with in 2012.
Overall, Mundy has been solid, but again, he’s not the ball hawk that Brown was in 2012, nor has he seen the field as much as Brown, who took 100 percent of the defensive snaps in seven of the team’s games last season.
Wide Receiver Louis Murphy Jr, Free Agent (Carolina Panthers)
When the Giants signed receiver Louis Murphy, a former member of the Oakland Raiders and Carolina Panthers, general manager Jerry Reese, in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio that was quoted in the team’s official press release, spoke of some big expectations for the 6’2”, 203-pound five-year veteran.
“I think he’s going to add another dimension to our offense,” Reese said. “He gives us a different dimension in our offense. … This guy gives you a deep threat that we haven’t had.”
Giants fans are still waiting to see what Reese saw.
Murphy was inactive in Week 5 against the Philadelphia Eagles because of an ankle injury.
The following week, he wasn't given any snaps and was listed as having not played in the official NFL game book’s lineup report.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Murphy has received just 28 snaps in the Giants’ first eight games.
He has caught his only target for an eight-yard reception, that coming in Week 3 against the Panthers.
Tight End Brandon Myers, Free Agent (Oakland Raiders)
When the Giants signed Brandon Myers, who in 2012 had a breakout season for the Oakland Raiders with 79 receptions for 806 yards and four touchdowns, the hope was that he would be able to transfer those skills over to the Giants offense.
That hasn't happened. Myers is currently fourth on the Giants with 23 receptions (out of 36 targets, per Pro Football Focus) for 265 yards and one touchdown.
What’s been the reason for Myers’ decreased production in the passing game?
“Well, a good bit of that has been the pace of the defenses we've played, we've had to keep in the protection a little bit more,” said tight ends coach Michael Pope.
“Our number one goal is always to protect the quarterback. We do a little bit more than they did at Oakland with keeping him in the protection, has been one of the things.”
Then there is the fact that in the Giants offense, the receivers usually get first dibs on the pass distribution.
As a run blocker, Pope noted that Myers wasn't asked to do much of that while in Oakland, but that he’s started to make strides in that area of the game.
“It’s taken him some time to learn this offense since he just showed up here,” Pope said. “I think we’re the fifth offense he’s had all the way back to college. It’s taken him a little bit of time to unlearn offenses he’s been in and we have a lot of option route running in our offense, and that’s something that just takes a number of reps.”
Pope said he likes Myers work ethic and that he believes the 6’3” tight end will continue to get better with run blocking while also continuing to contribute in the passing game when the opportunities are there.
“He’s been a very solid catcher; he hasn't dropped the ball and the chemistry that has to develop when you have an option type offense takes a while between the quarterback and that receiver,” Pope said.
“Hopefully he’ll continue to make progress in that area and that is his long suit coming here, as a receiver, but he has been a very good fundamental blocker for us on the edge.”
Quarterback Curtis Painter, Free Agent (Indianapolis Colts/Baltimore Ravens)
At the start of training camp, quarterback Curtis Painter looked to be nothing more than camp fodder, an extra arm for the summer at best.
So imagine everyone’s surprise when offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride told reporters midway through camp that Painter, who was competing with David Carr to be Eli Manning’s backup, was involved in “a legitimate competition.”
Lo and behold, it was Carr and not Painter who was listed on the list of final roster cuts, a decision that head coach Tom Coughlin said in a press release distributed to the media, came down to the downfield passing.
“What we saw was that (Painter) did make, I thought, more of the throws down the field. He did have a couple opportunities where he brought the team down the field,” Coughlin said when the final roster moves were announced.
Since unseating Carr, Painter’s primary role has been to help with the scout team. He did manage to get into one regular-season game, against the Panthers, in fourth-quarter mop-up duty.
In that one, he completed two of four pass attempts for 16 yards and one interception.
Defensive Tackle Mike Patterson, Free Agent (Philadelphia Eagles)
In 231 defensive snaps in his first season as a Giant, defensive tackle Mike Patterson, the former Eagle, has really made his living against the run.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he’s received positive run grades in four of the first eight games.
Patterson has shown an ability to surf the line of scrimmage and instinctively anticipate which hole a running play is designed to attack.
He then quickly gets his big body into that gap which forces the running back to turn things to the outside.
Patterson probably won’t get many, if any sacks this season—that’s not what his job description is. He is instead tasked with pushing the pocket on passing downs, and creating congestion up front.
His 15 total tackles (13 solo), including an extremely impressive 11 stops for zero or negative yards, per Pro Football Focus, has made Patterson one of this year’s most underrated Giants free agent acquisitions.
Cornerback Aaron Ross, Free Agent (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Aaron Ross’ Giants homecoming was short-lived.
The veteran defensive back, a Giants’ first-round draft pick in 2007, spent last season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, whom he joined as an unrestricted free agent after the 2011 season.
He rejoined the Giants this past offseason, singing a one-year veteran minimum contract, presumably to play the nickel cornerback role.
For the short while he was on the 53-man roster, Ross hosted regular film-study sessions for his defensive backfield teammates in order to improve the communication.
However, he suffered a back injury in late September that, according to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, could have kept him out “anywhere from two to eight weeks.”
Because the Giants needed a roster spot for safety Will Hill, who completed his league-imposed four-game suspension, Ross lost his roster spot.
He finished the season with four tackles, all solo, and one interception for nine yards.