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Fact or Fiction: Breakout candidates, players with most to gain

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The Giants.com crew is presented with four statements and must decide whether they are Fact or Fiction.

Deonte Banks is the top breakout candidate on defense this year.

John Schmeelk: Fact – He showed all the traits everyone wanted to see as a young starting cornerback last year. I expect with a year of NFL experience under his belt, he will only get better. I am interested to see how Banks operates in more zone coverages, which Shane Bowen will employ. Banks did get his interceptions while playing zone last season, so there's a good chance his ball production will improve.

Dan Salomone: Fact – Now wearing No. 3, Banks should only continue to grow and make a name for himself. Longtime defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson knows what sets elite cornerbacks apart from the others. It isn't the physical attributes – which Banks has – but it's more about the demeanor.

"He really likes the challenge of, OK, I get the best guy on the games we did match and travel him," Henderson said. "He likes that challenge. He's got to still grow into studying and preparing and being ready to go and playing at a high level and understanding how the game changes and what's happening within the game. But he absolutely likes that challenge, and he'll get some more of it."

Lance Medow: Fact – I'll go with Deonte Banks, but Dane Belton is a sneaky choice because if he earns a bigger role as a safety, he could make the most of his opportunities after showing some flashes in a small sample size. Banks is coming off a promising rookie campaign, and with more games under his belt and comfort on the NFL level, his trajectory should head upwards in 2024, despite having to learn a new scheme.

Matt Citak: Fiction – Banks would be in my top three, but my No. 1 breakout candidate on the defensive side of the ball this year is Brian Burns. Is it unfair to pick a two-time Pro Bowler as a breakout candidate? Maybe. But I believe Burns could take the next step and become one of the top pass rushers in the NFL this upcoming season, especially with Kayvon Thibodeaux and Dexter Lawrence joining him in the pass rush. While he has totaled 46 sacks through his first five seasons, Burns has reached double-digit sacks in a season only once. I think he will clear that number this season, with Thibodeaux not far behind him.

Wan'Dale Robinson is the top breakout candidate on offense this year.

John Schmeelk: Fiction – I think Wan'Dale Robinson will have a good year, but I also think the Giants will add a wide receiver in the draft, which might take away some of his targets. I also think Jalin Hyatt will be a bigger part of the offense, not to mention Darius Slayton's consistent production. I know there won't be any official statistics to prove it, but I am going to go with John Michael Schmitz. He not only had to deal with the challenges of being a rookie center in the NFL last year, but he also had an early-season injury take him off the field. Until the end of the season, he also never had the same guards playing on either side of him. After an offseason getting stronger, I expect him to show that he is a good starter in the NFL.

Dan Salomone: Fact – He seems to get better the more he touches the ball in a game. Now healthy, he should be able to extrapolate that to an entire season.

Lance Medow: Fact – Wan'Dale Robinson suffered a torn ACL during his rookie campaign in 2022 and didn't start to show flashes of his old self until the second half of 2023. With another offseason ahead and more time removed from a significant knee injury, Robinson could become a consistent weapon for the Giants in his third year in the league, an expected breakout campaign for most players at that position. Robinson's ability to rack up yardage after the catch is an appealing element of his game and a dangerous facet that can be utilized as an extension of the run game.

Matt Citak: Fact – We have yet to see a full season of Robinson healthy. Despite missing the first two games of the 2023 campaign, Robinson still led the team with 60 receptions last year. He really seemed to get going in the second half of the season, with at least five receptions and 75 total yards of offense in three of the last five games. The third-year wideout could be looking at a big step in his development in 2024.

"You know who's really a sleeper? Wan'Dale Robinson from New York," Cowboys All-Pro receiver CeeDee Lamb said on a podcast a few months ago. "He's so fast. He's so nice. His routes are crazy."

View photos of the New York Giants' 2023 rookie class in action.

Dane Belton has the most to gain this year with a jump on the defensive side of the ball.

John Schmeelk: Fiction – Belton is a good choice here, and I can't argue against it. If he plays well, there's a good chance he is a starter Week 1. But I am going to go with Cor'Dale Flott because cornerback is the more essential position, and there could be an opportunity to start at either outside or nickel cornerback this season. Flott played outside more as a rookie but moved inside last year. The Giants need him to find a spot where he can play well and be comfortable throughout the season. He will have a chance to show what he can do in Shane Bowen's new system this spring in OTAs.

Dan Salomone: Fact – Belton just seems to make a play every time he is on the field, starting with a fumble recovery on the opening kickoff of his NFL debut.

Lance Medow: Fact – This is exactly why I referenced Dane Belton's name in my response to the first statement. In two starts last season, the 2022 fourth-round pick had eight tackles (two for loss), two interceptions, a quarterback hit and fumble recovery. Belton played at least 74 percent of the defensive snaps in each of the final two regular season games in place of the injured Jason Pinnock. The only other game in 2023 where he logged more than 70 percent of the snaps was Week 5 in Miami. I'd be very curious to see Dane's production as a regular contributor on defense.

Matt Citak: Fact – Belton was on the field for 39 percent of the team's defensive snaps as a rookie in 2022 and just 26 percent of the defensive snaps last season. Despite the limited playing time, the young safety recorded two interceptions each year along with a total of three fumble recoveries. With Xavier McKinney now in Green Bay, Belton has a prime opportunity to earn more playing time.

Jalin Hyatt has the most to gain this year with a jump on the offensive side of the ball.

John Schmeelk: Fiction – I think whether he has a huge jump or not, Jalin Hyatt is going to be a big part of the passing game. I am not so sure about Eric Gray. With no other proven running back on the roster other than Devin Singletary, Gray could have a chance to earn a large share of backfield work once the season starts. He is a good receiver and elusive with the ball in his hands.

Dan Salomone: Fact – The Giants have a lot to gain with him, too. They know they need more explosive plays in the passing game, and that is exactly Hyatt's calling card.

Lance Medow: Fact – We're going with the full fact sweep this week. If Darren Waller decides to hang up the cleats, Daniel Bellinger is a strong contender here, as is Eric Gray. But with Devin Singletary now in the mix in the backfield, it's hard to tell where exactly Gray fits into the equation. That's why Jalin Hyatt is the most sensible choice. He played 51 percent of the offensive snaps in 2023 but had only five or more targets in a contest three times in 17 games. When you take that latter stat into consideration, he could easily increase his production if given additional at-bats.

Matt Citak: Fiction – I'm going with Evan Neal, who missed the final eight games of last season with a foot injury. The Giants went out and signed veteran Jermaine Eluemunor this offseason, who has experience at both guard and tackle. If Neal can solidify himself as the team's right tackle, not only would that help his own career, but it would also benefit the whole line as Eluemunor could then start at one of the guard spots.

"We're still getting Evan back healthy," general manager Joe Schoen said at the NFL Annual Meeting last month. "He is rehabbing his foot, and he has been in the building last two months getting healthy. We'll see when he gets back how he is. I know it's a big year three for him, so looking forward to it."

NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah released his updated ranking of the top 50 prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft.

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