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Rookie Progress Report: First taste of the NFL


Training camp is in the books and the start of Week 1 on the horizon, so let's take a look at how the Giants' rookie class has performed to this point:

The Giants finished the 2023 NFL Draft with seven draft picks, all of whom made the 53-man roster today:

  1. CB Deonte Banks – Round 1, Pick No. 24
  2. C John Michael Schmitz – Round 2, Pick No. 57
  3. WR Jalin Hyatt – Round 3, Pick No. 71
  4. RB Eric Gray – Round 5, Pick No. 172
  5. CB Tre Hawkins III – Round 6, Pick No. 209
  6. DT Jordon Riley – Round 7, Pick No. 243
  7. S Gervarrius Owens – Round 7, Pick No. 254

In addition, undrafted rookie wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton was placed on injured reserve Sunday after tearing his ACL. He will be out for the 2023 season.

Let's take a closer look at the Giants rookies.

1. CB Deonte Banks

Back in the spring, the Giants were very excited about landing Banks in the first round of this year's draft. The cornerback's skill set is ideal for the type of defense Wink Martindale likes to run and, at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, he has the physical tools to thrive in the NFL. Sure enough, Banks played well in his limited preseason action.

The rookie corner was on the field for 33 coverage snaps across the first two preseason games and did not allow a single reception, earning a passer rating allowed of just 39.6. Following the second preseason game, Banks had the most coverage snaps without allowing a catch among all rookie cornerbacks, and this came after covering Lions WR Jameson Williams and Panthers WR Adam Thielen in the first two contests, respectively. Due to his strong play this summer, Banks seems to have locked up one of the starting outside cornerback spots.

"I think he's been great," Martindale said about Banks earlier this month. "It's one of those things – corners are on the island. You know what I mean? When you see, he's on the island and this is the NFL. It's 50/50 on the edge. He still has that mentality that if he gets knocked down nine times, he gets up 10 and doesn't flinch. (He) listens, learns (and) Rome's doing a great job with him, (Defensive Backs Coach) Jerome Henderson…"

2. C John Michael Schmitz

The Giants selected Schmitz in the second round with the hope that he would secure the starting center position for this season and beyond. So far, so good. Similar to Banks, Schmitz saw action with the starters since the beginning of training camp and has looked like he belongs. The rookie started at center in each of the first two preseason contests, and across the two games, allowed just one single pressure on 50 pass block snaps. 

"Training camp, preseason is really for those young players and it's good for the young players to get in there and get in the mix on how the speed of an NFL game shows up, and it comes on you fast," offensive coordinator Mike Kafka told the media earlier this month. "I thought that those young guys did well, JMS, like you said I thought was one of those guys who – he got in there, he played hard and there's obviously a bunch of things that we can get better at and that's where we're working to improve on."

In addition to his game reps, Schmitz has also gotten valuable experience going up against the Giants' interior defensive line, including Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams, during practice. The rookie believes he's getting better each day he's out there, and his chemistry with quarterback Daniel Jones is growing, as well.

"I'd say each and every day just gain more confidence out there," said Schmitz. "Keep getting more confident in my calls and putting the offensive line in a position to succeed out there and me and DJ seeing things the same way as an offense."

View photos of the Giants' 2023 rookie class in action during training camp and preseason.

3. WR Jalin Hyatt

When Giants Life: The Process was released after the draft, it was revealed that the Giants were considering using their second-round pick on Hyatt before selecting Schmitz at No. 57. Of course, Hyatt ended up lasting into the third round, where the Giants traded up to No. 71 in order to ensure they landed the speedy receiver out of Tennessee. It's safe to say the Giants are happy with their early returns on Hyatt.

Throughout the first few weeks of training camp practices, Hyatt would seemingly make a deep, highlight reel catch just about every day. He would use his speed to blaze past defenders and get open down the field, where he would bring in deep passes from Daniel Jones or Tyrod Taylor. We then saw him do the same thing in the second preseason game, as he brought in a 33-yard pass from Taylor for a touchdown. Despite some preconceived notions about Hyatt from other people around the league, assistant general manager Brandon Brown said the team was confident in the rookie wideout's all-around skill set after doing extensive research on him.

"I think with Jalin, it's doing your due diligence," Brown told the media last week. "It's knowing what he was asked to do at Tennessee. It's us having those extra conversations with his position coach at Tennessee, talking to the coaching staff at Tennessee, knowing what their system called for because what he's doing for us, he has more talent in his body than the role he was asked to play at Tennessee. So, you look at the skill set, did he have bend, balance and burst? Can he get out of breaks? Was he asked to run a limited route tree at Tennessee versus what he can do for us? I think us going that, call it, full circle of doing all our due diligence and finding the evidence, it was a great process.

"I say it again, the synergy. You talk about the full process with Jalin, hats off to our college department. They identified Jalin early - that allowed Joe (Schoen), Tim (McDonnell) and Dennis (Hickey) to go see him against Alabama. It allowed me to go see him later against Missouri, then (wide receivers coach) Mike Groh spends time with him. Dabs spends time with him. We have him in the facility for a 30 visit. We get him on the board. All those things add to who he is and the upside. You see him making extra effort in terms of blocking down the field in practice. That adds to who he is. He's a great young man, and we're excited for him."

4. RB Eric Gray

With their first pick on Day 3 of the draft, the Giants selected the running back out of Oklahoma with the No. 172 overall selection. Gray has gotten some rushing attempts in each of the three preseason games, but has struggled to find much running room on those runs. However, the 5-foot-10, 210-pound back has found more success on special teams, where he's been serving as a returner on both kickoff and punts.

Against the Lions, Gray returned three kickoffs for a total of 62 yards while adding two punt returns for eight yards. He recorded a 9-yard punt return against the Panthers, and wrapped up the preseason with an 18-yard kickoff return against the Jets. More importantly, Gray has made some smart decisions on special teams, including allowing a kickoff to bounce and eventually land out of bounds, which gave the Giants the ball on the 40. Special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey has been impressed with the rookie's football IQ.

"Just making good decisions, and he's done that so far," McGaughey said about Gray's performance as a returner. "He's done some really good things as far as decision making. We always tell our guys, 'Let the plays come to you; don't chase them.' The plays will come to you. As a rookie, they all have—all rookies have a tendency to try and go chase plays. You've just got to let the play come to you."

5. CB Tre Hawkins III

Hawkins has undoubtedly been one of the biggest surprises of training camp. The sixth-round pick out of Old Dominion has played well since camp opened, slowly earning his way up to seeing significant time with the starting defense. Hawkins' performance has been so strong that veteran Adoree' Jackson has gotten a lot of practice reps in the slot in order to allow Hawkins to start on the outside with Banks.

The 6-foot-3 rookie cornerback has garnered praise from just about everybody inside the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, from veteran players to the coaching staff all the way up to the front office.

"He's got length that fits our system," Brown said last week. "Getting the description from Wink, Wink is very particular of what plays in the system and what's at a premium. We know you've got to be able to run, got to be strong, guys that have length and you've got to be willing to be physical in the run game also in press coverage…

"You look at where he is in training camp. Nothing has been too big for him. Every time there's been a platform, he's answered the bell. So, I think more guys like him that fit our profile, and then they have the mental toughness, play with short-term memory. They're getting coached the same way. It doesn't matter how we acquire them. Once they're here, it's an even playing field. Dabs says, again, you earn your playing time based on merit, and Tre's nothing more than an example of that."

6. DT Jordon Riley

If Hawkins has been the biggest surprise of training camp, then Riley is not far behind. The first of the Giants' two seventh-round picks has stood out in practices and in the preseason, using his 6-foot-5, 325-pound frame to outmuscle offensive linemen. Riley registered five total tackles across the three preseason games, including a tackle for loss on fourth down against the Panthers, which forced a turnover on downs.

Riley has benefited greatly from the guidance of the veterans in the D-line room. Between Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, Rakeem Nunez-Roches and A'Shawn Robinson, the rookie has a group with a combined 27 NFL seasons to lean on during his first NFL season. The 25-year-old first-year player is absorbing as much as he can from the veterans around him, and his improvement from the start of camp has not gone unnoticed by his teammates.

"He's coming in head down working every day, focused, locked in," said outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari. "You've got big Dex, Leo in there grinding, helping him out, Nacho, A'Shawn, they're all working on him. He's pushing them every day and he's just improving every day, going hard and getting better."

7. S Gervarrius Owens

Selected with the No. 254 overall pick, Owens put together a strong start to his rookie campaign. In the preseason opener against the Lions, the rookie safety picked up a pass breakup. He followed with another pass breakup against the Panthers, in addition to seven total tackles (four solo), which matched linebacker Bobby Okereke for the most on the team.

Owens had another solid showing in the preseason finale last weekend, totaling five tackles (three solo) while also recording a quarterback hit. The 23-year-old had also been contributing on special teams throughout the preseason.

"Being a defensive player, (Owens) did some things in college, but it's just the whole maturation process of being a rookie, learning how to be a pro, finding out what you do really well and then trying to maximize that skill set," McGaughey said about Owens playing on special teams. "That's the thing that I think G.O. and all the rest of the rookies, they've just got to find out, 'Okay, what's my bread and butter, right? And now I've got to hang my hat on that and then I've got to bring everything else up to speed.'"

Owens suffered a hamstring injury against the Jets and did not participate in practice Tuesday.

WR Bryce Ford-Wheaton

Undrafted rookie wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton was lost for the season when he suffered a torn ACL in the preseason finale against the Jets. Ford-Wheaton caught two passes for 24 yards against the Panthers while also serving on special teams throughout the preseason. Prior to the injury, the 23-year-old had impressed with his contributions on special teams.

"The obvious with Bryce is just size, speed," said McGaughey. "He's 6'4", he's 225 pounds, or 230, whatever he is, and runs 4.40. Those measurables are pretty special. Whenever you can get—and with him, he's a very mature rookie. He goes about his business very professionally, he comes into meetings, he works his tail off, he's attentive, and he wants to learn. So, when you have those qualities -- smart, tough, dependable -- and just those physical attributes, he has a really, really big upside, I think."

View photos of the New York Giants' 2023 roster as it currently stands.


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