EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There was no ease-in period for Kayvon Thibodeaux and Evan Neal, the New York Giants’ first-round picks in the 2022 NFL draft.
Thibodeaux, a linebacker selected fifth overall, was working alongside starting defensive lineman Leonard Williams and in front of linebacker Blake Martinez during drills at Thursday’s OTA practice. Neal, an offensive tackle taken seventh overall, was protecting for quarterback Daniel Jones and blocking for running back Saquon Barkley.
The Giants’ top selections have quickly made their presence known.
• Injuries on NFL punts are up 50% — What’s the fix?
• Giants expect early impact from draft class
• Chiefs’ Hardman sees opportunity after Hill exit
• Tolbert looks to get ‘1% better every day’
• Commanders envisioning rugged backfield
“Evan has looked great so far, and you can tell he really wants to learn it,” Jones said. “It’s important to him.”
Said Williams of the Giants’ newest pass-rusher: “It’s just been a few practices so far, but you can still see [Thibodeaux’s] attributes, and in the three practices we’ve had so far he’s shown great speed.”
Coach Brian Daboll apparently has no qualms about throwing his top picks right into the mix, because the Giants are expecting a lot from them this season.
Thibodeaux and Neal are not alone. General manager Joe Schoen was limited this offseason by an undesirable salary-cap situation, so the Giants couldn’t make any splash signings in free agency (their biggest moves were for guard Mark Glowinski and backup QB Tyrod Taylor). That adds pressure to get production from their 11-player draft class.
Here is a look at what the Giants can expect from their picks this season after seeing them at rookie minicamp and OTAs:
Thibodeaux: He’s going to play a lot. That is obvious after just a few weeks. Thibodeaux moved around the defensive front during OTAs and dropped into coverage on a play when the ball was completed in the right flat to Barkley (not sure if Thibodeaux would’ve made the tackle). Regardless, he adds something this defense has been missing with his explosive first step and personality. “He brings a little bit of juice,” Daboll said recently.
Neal: He’s the replacement for Nate Solder at right tackle, and looks the part. Listed at 6-foot-7 and 350 pounds, Neal shouldn’t have much trouble making the NFL transition physically. He made most of the Giants’ other linemen look small at OTAs. The focus is on getting him reacclimated to the right side after playing left tackle last season at Alabama. “Really just transitioning everything back over,” he said. The Giants will get him as many reps as possible. Neal will face Titans pass-rushers Bud Dupree (42.5 career sacks) and Harold Landry (12 sacks last season) in Week 1, and the Panthers’ Brian Burns (9.0 sacks last season) in Week 2. Welcome to the NFL!
WR Wan’Dale Robinson, second round, No. 43 overall: He will be part of the receiver rotation immediately. Daboll hinted during the draft at a lot of four- and five-receiver sets, which would allow Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Sterling Shepard, Robinson and Darius Slayton to get plenty of work. “I think when you put together an offense, you try to build it around the strengths of the players that you have,” Daboll said during the draft. “And if that’s a bunch of receivers, it’s a bunch of receivers.” Robinson could also get snaps out of the backfield alongside Barkley. It’s something he did in college.
Take a look back at the best plays from WR Wan’Dale Robinson in his time at Nebraska and Kentucky.
G Joshua Ezeudu, third round, No. 67: He was the second-team left guard to start OTAs. Shane Lemieux, now healthy after missing almost all of last year with a knee injury, is getting the first crack at the starting spot. But it’s an open competition, and Ezeudu will get his opportunities. “Compete to start, probably inside [at guard],” Schoen said during the draft of the North Carolina product. Ezeudu could crack the starting lineup at some point this season.
CB Cor’Dale Flott, third round, No. 81: He will compete for a starting job. It appears it will be at slot cornerback, not on the outside where last year’s third-round pick, Aaron Robinson, took first-team snaps the first week of OTAs. “Ideally, [Flott’s] inside,” Schoen said during the draft. Third-year corner Darnay Holmes has the inside track in the slot, but given his inconsistent first two seasons, he’s hardly a lock to start Week 1. Flott is extremely slender (6-1, 165) for the NFL but doesn’t lack confidence though. “I’m ready,” he said at rookie minicamp about earning a starting job.
TE Daniel Bellinger, fourth round, No. 112: Bellinger should play immediately, in part because of the Giants’ lack of depth at the position. He worked with the starters for most of Thursday’s practice, though it could be because veteran Ricky Seals-Jones was dealing with a personal matter. Bellinger can provide value as a blocker, but is more of a project as a receiver. He had just 31 receptions as a senior at San Diego State, but has upside that might flash this season. “I think I have a lot to show, and of course a lot to improve on,” he said. “I want to come out and show that I can be a receiver and not just a blocker.”
S Dane Belton, fourth round, No. 114: The starting safeties are Xavier McKinney and Julian Love. Belton and converted cornerback Jarren Williams appear next in line. But if the Giants sign a veteran this summer, it could limit Belton’s contributions on defense as a rookie unless he convinces them he’s ready. Regardless, he should contribute immediately as a core special-teamer.
LB Micah McFadden, fifth round, No. 146: The Indiana product reminds of a slightly smaller version of Blake Martinez on the field and should be Martinez’s caddie this season. Maybe he will fit in some specific packages for his coverage in zone or as a blitzer. McFadden’s role could increase depending on how Martinez, returning from a torn left ACL, holds up.
DT D.J. Davidson, fifth round, No. 147: He has a chance to be a part of the interior defensive line rotation considering the Giants are thin at that spot. Expect Davidson to play some right away.
OL Marcus McKethan, fifth round, No. 173: McKethan (6-7, 335) will start out as a guard, but the plan appears to be for him to add tackle flexibility. This makes him a potential backup on a crowded line as a rookie.
LB Darrian Beavers, sixth round, No. 182: The inside linebacker out of Cincinnati worked alongside McFadden on the second-team defense during OTAs. He should fit in on special teams and specific defensive packages, likely as a pass-rusher with his experience playing on the edge in college.