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Progress Report: Youth shining down the stretch

The youth across the Giants' roster has been obvious throughout the season. The Giants have had more rookies start this year than in any other non-strike season since 1980, and that does not even count the multitude of second-year players receiving significant playing time.

While Sunday's win over Miami was all about 16-year veteran Eli Manning, it was the performance of several first- and second-year players that helped secure the victory.

Let's start on the offensive side of the ball.

Saquon Barkley was the number two overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and immediately became one of the top backs in the league. A high ankle sprain suffered in Week 3 hindered Barkley's success earlier this season, but on Sunday, he looked like his normal self. Barkley carried the ball 24 times for 112 yards (4.7 yards per carry) and two touchdowns while adding four receptions for 31 yards. It was his first 100-yard rushing game Week 2, and the first time he found the end zone since Week 8.

Wide receiver Darius Slayton made the most of his opportunities Sunday, catching two passes for 31 yards and a touchdown. The rookie fifth-round pick leads the Giants with eight receiving touchdowns, the most of any first-year player in the NFL. Tight end Kaden Smith also contributed in the passing game, as he again started for Evan Engram. Smith recorded three receptions for 38 yards. The rookie sixth-round pick was claimed off waivers from the 49ers in September and has started the last four games due to Engram's foot injury.

With Kevin Zeitler (ankle) injured, Nick Gates started at right guard, marking just the second start of his career. The 24-year-old lineman out of Nebraska did not allow a single pressure and picked up a key block on Barkley's second touchdown run. Gates earned an overall grade of 82.1 from Pro Football Focus.

Now let's move to the defense.

Following the release of Janoris Jenkins on Friday, Sam Beal was inserted into the starting lineup at corner. The 23-year-old led the Giants with 11 tackles (eight solo), one tackle for loss and one pass defended. Beal made a great play in the middle of the third quarter to tackle running back Patrick Laird for a safety, giving the Giants a three-point lead. The play served as the turning point of the game, as the Giants would go on to score 20 unanswered points.

Starting opposite Beal at corner was rookie DeAndre Baker, who put together his second consecutive strong performance. Baker finished tied for the second-most tackles with six (five solo) and had two pass breakups. Baker did a good job in coverage against Miami's DeVante Parker, limiting the Dolphins' number one option until the end of the fourth quarter when the Giants were up by 23 points.

Julian Love has shined since taking over at safety for the injured Jabrill Peppers. The rookie fourth-round pick finished with five tackles (four solo), two tackles for loss, a pass defended and a quarterback hit.

Defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence enjoyed one of the best games of his rookie season. While the stat sheet shows that he recorded just one tackle, Lawrence was a force in the pass rush. The first-round pick had two quarterback hits and finished with a pass rush grade of 90 and an overall grade of 82, according to PFF.

Lawrence wasn't the only young defensive lineman to perform well. Oshane Ximines collected 0.5 sacks and a QB hit, while RJ McIntosh picked up a sack, tackle for loss and a QB hit to go with his two solo tackles.

On top of the performance of several first and second-year players, fourth-year receiver Sterling Shepard led the team with nine receptions for 111 yards, earning the highest grade of any Giant at 87.9, according to PFF. Third-year lineman Dalvin Tomlinson tied with Lawrence for the highest PFF grade on the defensive side of the ball (82.0) after recording three tackles (one solo), one sack, 1.5 tackles for loss and one QB hit.

While this season may not have gone as the team or fans expected, the play of numerous young players has provided hope for a bright future.


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