In this week's edition of Cover 3, we discuss the most underrated players in franchise history.
John Schmeelk: I am not going to dig into history here because nearly all Giants that played before 1986 are underrated by younger Giants fans, and I have no idea who was underrated or overrated prior to the 80's Super Bowl teams because I wasn't alive. I have a couple of candidates.
Carl Banks has long been underrated by the national media and your average NFL fan. He made the All-Decade team from the 1980's and is in the Giants Ring of Honor but was only named All-Pro once, made one Pro Bowl, and has received scant Hall of Fame consideration until this past year. Banks might not have racked up the sacks, but his excellent play in every other facet allowed a player like Lawrence Taylor to primarily concern himself with rushing the quarterback. Banks could stop the run, cover, and rush the passer when he was asked. Those skills might not produce fancy statistics, but they made him a key cog in one of the best defenses of the decade.
More recently, I don't think there is enough recognition for how productive a player Tiki Barber was. He ranks 15th in NFL history in yards from scrimmage. He retired when he was only 31 years old after rushing for 1,662 yards and finishing 2006 with 2,172 scrimmage yards. It was his THIRD straight season with more than 2000 scrimmage yards. He retired as an elite running back.
The players behind Barber in yards from scrimmage than is startling: Edgerrin James (Hall of Famer), Eric Dickerson (Hall of Famer), Jerome Bettis (Hall of Famer), Franco Harris (Hall of Famer), John Riggins (Hall of Famer), O.J. Simpson (Hall of Famer), and Terrell Davis (Hall of Famer). Barber did not become a fulltime back until later in his career, so maybe that's why his numbers are overlooked, but they shouldn't be. He was a yardage machine and no one seems to remember that.
The last player I will mention is Corey Webster. The 2007 and 2011 Giants defenses are known for their pass rushers, but without the coverage from players like Webster and his cohort Aaron Ross, quarterbacks wouldn't have held the ball long enough for the linemen to get home. Webster and Ross were the common cornerbacks for those two championship teams and neither gets the credit they deserve. I chose Webster as the headliner because Ross was often dealing with hamstring injuries, and due to Webster's coverage on Randy Moss on the Patriots final possession of the 2007 Super Bowl, sealing the victory.
Dan Salomone: Homer Jones was nicknamed "Seabiscuit" by Hall of Fame safety Emlen Tunnell (who also gave him the blessing to wear his No. 45 jersey), but I have another one for him: "Since." Many times, when a Giants receiver does something noteworthy, it will be accompanied by "since Homer Jones." For example, this past November, Golden Tate's first two Giants touchdown receptions covered 64 (at New England) and 61 (at the Jets) yards. He became the first Giants receiver whose initial two scoring catches were at least that long since Homer Jones caught an 89-yarder vs. Philadelphia and a 79-yarder at Cleveland in 1965. In 2017, Odell Beckham Jr. was the first wide receiver to lead the Giants in scoring since Homer Jones in 1967.
Playing for the Giants from 1964-1969 (he played another season with Cleveland at the end of his career), Jones averaged 22.3 yards per catch, the most in NFL history among players with a minimum of 200 receptions. Fifty years later, he still ranks sixth in franchise history in receiving yards and is tied for sixth in touchdown catches. Oh, and he invented the spike as a touchdown celebration. I don't think average fans know that…but they should. Homer "Since" Jones gets my vote.
Lance Medow: Nothing is more synonymous with being underrated than contributing on special teams and mainly serving as a backup linebacker throughout your career. That's why I'm going with Chase Blackburn. In his eight seasons (2005-12) with the Giants, Blackburn appeared in 132 games and made only 45 starts with one-third (15) of them coming in one season (2012). While his stats may not jump off the page, he helped the team win a pair of Super Bowls, was a key special teams contributor and came through with some huge defensive plays in 2011, including one in Super Bowl XLVI.
Many forget that Blackburn didn't rejoin the Giants in 2011 until late November. He became an unrestricted free agent following the 2010 campaign and sat out the first 12 weeks of the season. Despite that lengthy hiatus, a few days after re-signing with the team, he suited up against the undefeated Packers and picked off Aaron Rodgers midway through the second quarter to set up a go-ahead Brandon Jacobs rushing touchdown. Rodgers had only thrown four interceptions on the season heading into that Week 13 game and finished with just six for the whole year. Even though the Giants wound up losing that game, it was a hard-fought battle that ended with a Mason Crosby 31-yard field goal as time expired. That was the first of his two big interceptions in 2011. A few weeks later, early in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl 46, he went toe to toe with Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski deep down the field and picked off Tom Brady. Prior to the interception, New England had a first down at its own 43-yard line and held a two-point lead. Blackburn finished tied for second on the team with six tackles in the game.
Blackburn joined the Giants in 2005 as an undrafted rookie out of Akron and wound up earning a spot on the roster for his first eight seasons in the NFL. He led the team in special teams tackles in each of his first six campaigns and was named a team captain in 2010. He overcame all odds and was a reliable and key contributor to the franchise. Blackburn didn't win any individual accolades throughout his career, and it's easy to overlook his numbers, but he did so many of the little things that don't always show up in a box score yet are critical in helping teams win championships.