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How Giants’ rookies are looking coming into the regular season


It is not how they start, it is how they finish. The Giants hope that will be the case with their 2021 draft class.

The chances of this six-player class making an early impact are minimal. The only possibility among the drafted rookies to make an impression is outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari, the second-round pick from Georgia who lined up with the starting defense all summer and figures to log extensive snaps right away.

Otherwise, it is going to be wait-and-see with a group that, for a variety of reasons, did not make much of an impression in training camp and the preseason.

There is always great hope and anticipation with a first-round pick, especially when that pick is an ankle-breaking wide receiver known for dynamism with the ball in his hands. Kadarius Toney, taken with the No. 20-overall pick with a trade down after the Giants missed out on DeVonta Smith, might be a dangerous weapon on offense. That will not happen right away. Not after Toney missed most of training camp and all three preseason games, dealing with post-COVID-19 symptoms, followed by a strained hamstring.

Here is a look at the six draft picks and their status heading into the season:

Kadarius Toney
Kadarius Toney

Kadarius Toney: What a strange NFL indoctrination. His feet blistered in his very first practice because he was wearing new cleats and, before you knew it, he was hopping around in a ladder drill on one bare foot. That was not a good look, and it never really got much better. Nagging physical ailments kept him off the field and COVID-19 set him back, as did the hamstring issue. Toney did not do anything in the joint practices with the Browns and Patriots and thus has not been immersed in anything close to high-level NFL competition. He is making his way back, but he cannot be projected to line up in the slot on a regular basis during the first few games. Still, all it might take is one catch and then letting his fast feet do the work, to make everyone forget about his sluggish summer.

Azeez Ojulari: There were flashes, plenty of them. It is easy to see why the Giants believe Ojulari can make a contribution from Day 1 of the season. He has an NFL-ready body and has enough pass-rush moves and countermoves to succeed at the next level. There are things to learn, as far as setting the edge as a run defender and setting up an offensive lineman on the way to the opposing quarterback. That is the case with almost every first-year player. It was also impressive how Ojulari was able to withstand the rigors of his first NFL training camp. The Giants were smart with him, giving him rests and easing off the past few weeks, mindful of the knee issue he played through at Georgia.

Azeez Ojulari
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Aaron Robinson: There were high hopes for this versatile cornerback from Central Florida, as the Giants viewed him as mature and capable of excelling in man coverage, but also viable in zones and possibly in the slot as a nickel back. Robinson has yet to be seen on the field, though, as he underwent surgery to repair a core-muscle injury. He remains on the physically unable to perform list, meaning he must miss the first six games of his rookie season. That is a downer for Robinson, but once he heals, he will have time to make a contribution in 2021.

Elerson Smith: The Giants went with a developmental pass rusher from a smaller program (Northern Iowa) in the fourth round, but he strained a hamstring very early in camp and that has proven to be quite a setback. There is nothing to go on with Smith, as far as his readiness to compete in the NFL. He is on injured reserve, which will keep him out for at least the first three games. This could be a developmental year.

Gary Brightwell: It did not look promising for Brightwell, a running back from Arizona, when the Giants picked up two veterans, Corey Clement and Alfred Morris, for the offensive backfield. Brightwell did not do much early to make anyone think he was destined to survive on the roster. But Morris was released and so was Clement, and Brightwell remains after some nice work in the preseason finale. The sixth-round pick was considered to be a possible special-teams ace, and that helped him stick around.

Rodarius Williams: Sometimes, a sixth-round pick does little to get noticed. That was not the case with Williams, a feisty cornerback from Oklahoma State. Williams, 24, is an older rookie and he showed enough composure to warrant a job. He struggled when given a chance to work out of the slot in the preseason, but made several plays as a boundary cornerback. He held up and was aggressive in the joint practices, which certainly resonated with the coaching staff. The Giants hope they do not have to rely on him right away.


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