The members of the Giants 2015 draft class reported to the organization in the spring with varying measures of confidence, excitement, nervousness, anxiety and readiness to contribute.
This group will not produce a Rookie of the Year, as the 2014 class did in Odell Beckham Jr. But the first two selections, tackle Ereck Flowers from Miami and safety Landon Collins of Alabama, have each been fulltime starters.
>> NFL.COM NAMES FLOWERS, COLLINS, TYE TO ALL-ROOKIE TEAM
When they lined up with their respective first teams in Dallas on Sept. 13, Flowers and Collins became the Giants’ first opening and second round draft choices to start a season opener since wide receiver Ike Hilliard and running back Tiki Barber in 1997.
The two standout rookies from the Class of 2015 recently discussed the ups, downs, and adjustments of their first NFL season.
OT, Miami, 1st Round (9th Overall)
The Giants didn’t select Flowers with the intention of making their starting left tackle. They had Will Beatty, and envisioned Flowers playing the right side in a restructured offensive line.
But Beatty tore a pectoral muscle in May and was placed on the physically unable to perform list. After becoming eligible to practice, Beatty injured his right rotator cuff, ending his season before it started. Flowers stayed at left tackle, where he started 13 of the first 14 games (missing the victory over Washington on Sept. 24 with ankle injury).
In his first season, we’ve learned two prominent characteristics about Flowers. He is a young man of few words. And he has a steely determination to stay on the football field. His ankle has never fully healed, and Flowers was helped off the field in consecutive games vs. the Jets and Miami. But he started and played the entire game the following week vs. Carolina.
Flowers evidently thinks that’s nothing special.
“I’m just going out there to play, that’s it,” he said. “I’m fine.”
Flowers has performed well at the most crucial position on the line, and could be a fixture there for many season. What were his expectations when he first reported to the Giants?
“I didn’t have any expectations,” he said. “I just came in to what it was. Everything went good.”
Where has be made the most progress?
“Just overall,” he said. “My whole mindset toward the game and knowing what to expect.”
In Flowers, left guard Justin Pugh, and center Weston Richburg, the Giants have three linemen who were selected in the first two rounds of their respective drafts. Flowers, selected No. 9 overall, was the highest-rated player of the three.
Flowers, who is just 21 years old, is also learning to live outside of South Florida for the first time in his life. So, how’s life in New Jersey?
“I like it,” he said. “It’s cool, it’s different. Something new.”
The young man certainly does have an economy of words.
Safety, Alabama, 2nd Round (33rd Overall)
The most significant event in Landon Collins’ life in the final quarter of 2015 was not becoming the Giants’ free safety. Instead, it was the arrival of his son, Camden, who was born on Oct. 26, a day after the Giants defeated Dallas.
“It’s been great for me,” Collins said of fatherhood. “He’s doing fantastic. It’s been great just seeing him, and having him around and being able to hold him. He has a voice and all that, smiling, laughing; it’s great for me. Gives you another reason to play the game.”
Collins has also had a memorable year on the field. The Giants were so determined to acquire him on the second day of the draft, they sent the Tennessee Titans their second-round selection (No. 40 overall), as well as their fourth-round pick (No. 108) and the second of their two seventh-round choices (No. 245), to secure the second pick in the second round, the 33rd overall. They used it to select Collins, who was widely considered the finest safety in the draft.
Collins started each of the first 14 games, and was on pace to be the first Giants defensive rookie to start an entire 16-game season since Barry Cofield in 2006 to start an entire 16-game season.
More importantly, Collins was make a positive impact, leading the team with 92 tackles (69 solo), and had an interception and nine passes defensed.
While Collins has been solid most of the season, he has had moments he’d prefer to forget. The most noticeably occurred in the waning moments of the game against New England on Nov. 15 when he dropped what would have been a game-clinching interception. The Patriots retained possession, and kicked the game-winning field goal with one second remaining.
But after the episode Collins stood and answered every question, confirming he won’t hide when times get tough.
“It (stunk) for your whole bye week,” Collins said. “Just to do that and I can’t put something out there on film and get that bitter taste out. You don’t want that on the back of your conscience every day.”
Collins played at one of the country’s most successful collegiate programs at Alabama, and played on the Crimson Tide’s 2012 national championship team. But even the highest level of college football is a big step below the NFL.
“It’s a whole different game,” Collins said. “There’s a business side and a football side. Expectations are critical, and you got to be liable and accountable for what you do.”
Despite the physical demands of his job, Collins felt strong entering the season’s final two weeks.
“I feel actually more rested (than he did in college) because at Bama, it’s practice every day,” he said. “Here, you get three days off sometimes, and only two days to practice. Stuff like that is one of the biggest differences; you get more rest time for your body than in college.”
Collins, a Louisiana native, has enjoyed his first year in New Jersey.
“It’s been different, especially coming from hot to cold,” he said. “It hasn’t been that cold yet; I haven’t really experienced the weather. But being up here is very city-like, very, very fast to me. And it’s fun at the same time. I enjoy myself up here.”