The Giants, by almost all accounts, had a terrific draft day. And the praise wasn’t just all about “Trader Dave” Gettleman’s wild maneuvers. It was about the players he selected, too.
It was a small class, but a strong class, top-heavy with players who come in with high expectations and a few others who could have sneaky strong impacts, too. All of them have a chance to contribute. The first few could play significant roles.
Their quest to do that starts on Friday, when they step on the field for the first time at the Giants’ weekend rookie mini-camp. Here’s a look at just how impactful the members of the Class of ’21 could be, in order of the impact they’re likely to have:
1. LB Azeez Ojulari (second round, 50th overall)
The steal of the second round, Ojulari is the one player in this Giants draft class likely to be an immediate starter, given how badly the Giants needed an edge rusher to play opposite Leonard Williams. There’ll be competition from returning players like Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines, but they’re both coming off injuries and have had their chances in the past. The Giants’ coaches have loved the 6-2, 249-pound Ojulari’s potential throughout the draft process and have envisioned plenty of ways to turn him loose. So he’ll get a huge chance to contribute, especially in the pass rush. And if they’re right about him, he’ll have the opportunity to put up some decent sack numbers given the attention that will likely be focused on Williams from opposing teams.
2. WR Kadarius Toney (first round, 20th overall)
This speedy, electric offensive weapon should only be limited by the amount of opportunities he gets. There will clearly be plenty, as the Giants try to get creative to put the ball in his hands. But he obviously won’t step in as the No. 1 option. The Giants’ offense is still going to run through Saquon Barkley and they didn’t spent all that money on Kenny Golladay to have the passing game run through someone else. The 6-foot, 193-pound Toney figures to be somewhere behind those two, Sterling Shepard, and tight end Evan Engram in the pecking order. That’s fine. Even with 4-to-5 chances a game, he can leave his mark. And that could always increase if he’s as good as expected. But at the start, he’ll be a fourth or fifth option in the offense, with the hope that his big-play potential can be used strategically to catch defenses off guard.
3. CB Aaron Robinson (third round, 71st overall)
He will enter camp battling second-year pro Darnay Holmes for the nickel cornerback job, though veterans Isaac Yiadom and Quincy Wilson will hope to take some of that playing time, too. The Giants obviously liked the 6-foot, 190-pound Robinson enough to trade up for him in the third round, and they likely didn’t do that with the expectation he’d spend the season on the bench. So he’s probably the favorite to beat out the others to get at least the majority of nickel snaps. Just how many those are depends on defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and how much he runs out of a true nickel package (as opposed to one with three safeties). Robinson’s play could impact that decision, too.
4. LB Elerson Smith (fourth round, 116th overall)
He is maybe the most intriguing player in this class, given that he played at Northern Iowa and is considered a bit of a developmental prospect. His play at the Senior Bowl showed he has the skills to make it in the NFL, and at 6-6, 262, he certainly has the size. He’ll be thrown into the edge-rusher mix with Ojulari, Carter, Ximines, and others. With Carter and Ximines coming back from injuries, Smith has a chance to get an early edge in that race. At the start, he’ll likely be more of a situational pass rusher. Graham had a knack for using linebackers like Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin effectively that way last year. That could be Smith’s immediate future – a limited chance to have a big impact.
5. RB Gary Brightwell (sixth round, 196th overall)
He was drafted for special teams, period. He didn’t play a lot at running back in college and, barring injuries to Barkley and Deonte Booker, likely won’t in the NFL. But he could be a huge part of the Giants’ special teams, given how good he is at it. He could be the modern version of David Tyree – a special teams weapon who occasionally helps out on offense. That’s what the coaches are counting on. And they seem genuinely excited about the impact he can have.
6. CB Rodarius Williams (sixth round, 201st overall)
The Giants are pretty crowded at the cornerback position, so unless there are injuries it’s hard to see where the 6-foot, 193-pound Williams fits. With James Bradberry, Adoree’ Jackson, Robinson, Holmes, Yiadom and Wilson all in front of him, he might not see much of the field on defense at all. That could change, of course. The Giants went through a lot of corners last year, and if he shows he can play, they’ll find a way to squeeze him in. But until that point, his impact will mostly come on special teams. If he’s fighting for a job in the defense, it’s probably more for the future.