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21 Questions in 21 Days

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21 Questions: 2021 breakout candidates 

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With the calendar flipped to July, Giants.com asks 21 important questions heading into the team's 2021 training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

For 21 days, a member of the Giants.com crew will answer one question about the roster, coaching staff, schedule, and much more.

No. 2: Who are some breakout candidates for 2021?

Dan Salomone: Clinching a Week 17 victory over the rival Cowboys with an interception was a good way to springboard safety Xavier McKinney into his sophomore campaign. While a fractured foot delayed his rookie debut until Week 12 last year, teammates and coaches still knew how special McKinney could be in the NFL. He started to show that as he got his legs under him, and his game should only improve with Pro Bowl-caliber players and leaders around him at every level of the defense.

In terms of a player with a few more years under his belt, edge defender Ifeadi Odenigbo is a name to remember. The newcomer from the Vikings has already built a strong relationship with assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. 

"Outside of football, he's a very knowledgeable guy," said Graham, who played college football at Yale. "We were doing Zooms, and I saw his artwork in the background and helped me out. He provided the connection there for the artwork. Smart guy. I like the way he plays football. He has versatility inside and outside on the line. Natural pass rush ability. Plays strong with his hands. Physical edge setter and a great attitude. He's always soaking it up. He's very serious, but he could play around a little bit."

John Schmeelk: There are two legitimate answers – edge rusher because of the sheer number of players at the position and the offensive line.

There are also a lot of compelling story lines on the edge, such as Lorenzo Carter trying to return from his Achilles injury, Oshane Ximines returning from a shoulder injury entering his critical third season, veteran free agents such as Ifeadi Odenigbo and rookies Azeez Ojulari and Elerson Smith. It is essential for the Giants to get strong production from that group if they want to be an elite defense.

But the primary focus should be on the right side of the offensive line because the effectiveness of this group impacts every aspect of the offense. A leaky offensive line will also make the evaluation of Daniel Jones a little more difficult. It would be beneficial for the organization to see Jones under optimal conditions to see how effective he can be over the long term. If he is under constant pressure all season there could be "what if" questions left unanswered at the end of the year, which nobody wants with Jones entering his fourth season.

There are fun position battles within the unit, too. Will Hernandez has not played right guard since high school. If Shane Lemieux isn't the left guard, he could be called on to play on the right side, but he didn't take any snaps there in college, either (but had 13 snaps there as a rookie). And there are veterans in the mix, including Zach Fulton, Jonotthan Harrison, Chade Slade, and Kenny Wiggins who will try to hold off 2020 undrafted free agent Kyle Murphy and 2021 undrafted free agent Jake Burton.

The competition at right tackle is even more crucial and features two very different players. There's Matt Peart, a second year player from UConn with just 152 offensive snaps last year (104 of which came at right tackle). He started all 48 games he played in for the Huskies, with his final two years coming as a starter at right tackle. He checks every physical box with 36 5/8-inch arms and athleticism, but the flashes he showed as a rookie need to become consistent production. His competition is Nate Solder, who has been in the league for 10 years, but not played right tackle since his rookie season. He has always been a starter and will provide a strong baseline to challenge Peart.

View photos of the New York Giants' active 53-man roster as it currently stands.

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