From Jason Pierre-Paul to Landon Collins, the Giants have seen their share of players break out during sophomore campaigns. But who will it be in 2017?
That was this week's topic for "Cover 3" on Giants.com. Here's what our staffers had to say:
LOOK OUT FOR PERKINS
By John Schmeelk
My breakout player is the same guy I'm most excited to see in a full-time role: Paul Perkins. Over the past week I watched a lot of tape on Perkins getting ready for Carl Banks' segment on "Inside the Film Room" for Giants.com, and I could not be more impressed in what I saw from him in his final two games against the Eagles and Redskins.
The first thing I saw was his side-to-side agility and quickness. He is able to stop on a dime and change direction without much hesitation or loss of speed. There was a run against Washington where he had one player unblocked in the hole and another crashing down from end, and Perkins still found a way out of it by sidestepping and getting outside. He turned no rushing room into a 10-yard run.
There was another run against Washington where he baited a Washington safety to attack an inside hole by pressing between the guard and tackle. Once the safety committed, he skipped outside for a double-digit run. On a run against the Eagles that started inside the Giants 10-yard line, he was patient enough to cut back after the Eagles' front seven pressed too hard on the initial run action. It turned into a big run.
Perkins is patient, can make people miss, and has good vision. His pass protection steadily improved throughout the year to the point he can be trusted on passing downs. I would expect Shane Vereen to maintain his third down role next year, but I would hand the keys to Perkins in almost all other circumstances and let him run the rock 15-20 times a game. We'll see if he can maintain those skills with a bigger workload (there's no guarantee), but I'm optimistic. Even if the offensive line is not significantly improved this offseason, Perkins can make this run game more effective with his ability to make defenders miss. The impact on the entire Giants offense could be dramatic.
A STERLING SEASON
By Dan Salomone
Odell Beckham Jr. really did a disservice to all rookie receivers coming into the league after him. His 2014 campaign set a new bar that few will ever reach again. So whether or not Sterling Shepard's numbers – 65 receptions for 683 yards and eight touchdowns – are considered breakout-caliber for a rookie, watch out for him next season.
His most impressive attribute is making the tough catches in the toughest situations. He converted four fourth downs via reception this season, tied with veteran tight end Zach Ertz for the most in the NFL. His eight touchdowns were second among all rookie receivers, but the area where he could pick up in the passing game is yards after the catch. He excelled at that during his time as a Sooner and will look to unlock that potential even more with a season under his belt. The passing game is all about timing, and Shepard admitted that it took a little while to get used to the speed of the game while learning all of the plays. Now he'll have a full offseason to prepare and pick up where he left off.
A LEAP FOR THOMPSON
By Lance Medow
Last spring when the Giants had their first chance to see their rookie class on the field during rookie minicamp, one particular player caught everyone's attention. That was third-round pick Darian Thompson. The safety out of Boise State made his presence felt as a vocal leader in the secondary and that translated over to OTAs and training camp when he mixed in with the veterans. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo spoke very highly of Thompson and his work ethic and production during practices were a big reason why he earned the starting job opposite Landon Collins. While the Giants didn't have much regular season experience on the roster at the safety position, there were other players that had much more familiarity with the system yet Thompson beat them all out.
Unfortunately, Thompson's rookie campaign was cut short due to the injury bug. He suffered a shoulder injury in the second preseason game against the Bills that sidelined him for the remainder of training camp. Although he returned in time for the first two regular season games, he suffered a foot injury in Week 2 against the Saints and then a few weeks later, before he was set to return, reinjured the foot at practice which ended his season. Based on his collegiate resume as a ball hawk, Thompson is the perfect complement to Collins given his strength defending the deep ball. Collins made a significant jump from his rookie year to his sophomore campaign and while Thompson didn't tally as many reps during his first year in the league, the opportunity is still there, in 2017, for him to make a significant impact on defense as part of a dangerous and opportunistic secondary.
Photos of rookie safety Darian Thompson, the Giants' third-round choice out of Boise State