*Giants.com's Rookie Progress Report analyzes the play of the team's first-year players: *
While veterans like Olivier Vernon and Janoris Jenkins waited years for their first postseason berth, the Giants' 2016 rookies will get that experience right away. And they're not just along for the ride.
From Eli Apple to Romeo Okwara, the Giants wouldn't be preparing for their first playoff game since winning Super Bowl XLVI without their rookies. They have made key plays along the way to an 11-5 season for the franchise's highest win total since 2008.
As 20 teams played their final game of the season on Sunday and 12 moved on, we take a look at how this rookie class has performed – so far.
CB ELI APPLE
Draft: Rd 1 (10) 2016: 14 G, 11 GS, 51 TCKL (4 TFL), 1 INT, 7 PD, 1 FF, 2 FR
Free agency wasn't the only way general manager Jerry Reese and his staff upgraded the defense this offseason. For the first time since Terry Kinard in 1983, the Giants drafted a defensive back in the top 10 with the selection of Apple. The Ohio State product became an immediate contributor and gave the defense a triple threat at cornerback along with veterans Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The Giants allowed just 15 passing touchdowns this season, second-fewest in the NFL behind Denver (13). Meanwhile, safety Landon Collins, the first pick of the second round in 2015, enjoyed a breakout season in his sophomore year, providing a blueprint for Apple in the secondary.
"His rookie season and how he has transitioned from his rookie year to his second year and really made that big leap, that is something that I would like to do," Apple said. "I am still in my rookie year, of course, so you still want to make that improvement, but it is just kind of warming to see that he was able to do something like that and really pick up his game and he has just been telling me to try and get better every week, take care of your body – he is really on top of that. That is one thing that he prides himself on, more than anybody, is taking care of his body. He has been helping me out with that."
WR STERLING SHEPARD
Draft: Rd 2 (40) 2016: 16 GS, 65 REC, 683 YDS, 8 TD
Under the tutelage of Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz, Shepard became one of the most productive contributors from his rookie class. He started off his career with a dazzling touchdown catch on the road against the Cowboys and never faded, hauling in six more scores after the bye week.
"When I first came in, going through rookie minicamp, it was kind of the same thing as college," Shepard said. "Then, going to camp with the regular guys, it picked up a lot. You get used to it over that time. Whenever you hit the games, you've been used to it. It's football, something I've been doing my whole life."
S DARIAN THOMPSON
Draft: Rd 3 (71) 2016: 2 G, 1 GS, 7 tackles
Like Apple and Shepard, Thompson looked like a starter from Day 1 at rookie minicamp. He carried that momentum through the summer and helped the Giants to a 2-0 start while holding Dallas and New Orleans to 32 points combined. But a foot injury got in the way, forcing the Giants to place the promising rookie on injured reserve after just two outings.
LB B.J. GOODSON
Draft: Rd 4 (109) 2016: 15 G, 9 TCKL
Like he did at Clemson, Goodson is spending the first part of his career as an apprentice to an established group of veterans. In the meantime, Goodson has been a force on special teams, where is third on the team with seven tackles. He trails only Pro Bowler Dwayne Harris (11) and special teams captain Zak DeOssie (eight).
RB PAUL PERKINS
Draft: Rd 5 (149) 2016: 14 G, 1 GS, 112 ATT, 456 YDS; 15 REC, 162 YDS
The UCLA product is finding his stride at the right time, rushing for a season-high 102 yards on 21 carries in the regular season finale against the Redskins. As a whole, the Giants ran for 161 yards in Week 17, their highest total since having 208 in the 2015 finale. Big Blue still finished 29th in the NFL in averaging 88.3 rushing yards per game, but it's all about timing with the postseason coming up.
"I hold myself to high expectations," Perkins said after the 19-10 win over Washington. "One hundred yards is good, but I'm striving for better."
TE JERELL ADAMS
Draft: Rd 6 (184) 2016: 13 G, 2 GS, 16 REC, 122 YDS, 1 TD
With Will Tye taking over as the primary tight end this season, the rookie Adams has played 23.6 percent of the Giants' offensive snaps. Brought in as a sound blocker, Adams has also shown flashes in the passing game, averaging 7.6 yards per catch and picking up eight first downs this season. His lone touchdown came in the Giants' 21-20 victory over the Bengals in Week 10.
"He's exactly who we thought he was," tight ends coach Kevin M. Gilbride said. "I think he'll continue to develop and get better and better as he continues to play more. Really, once he gets familiar with the NFL and the structure of the defensive fronts, the structure of the coverage, the more he learns, the better and more comfortable he's going to be. When he feels comfortable, that's when he excels."
S ANDREW ADAMS
Undrafted 2016: 14 G, 13 GS, 46 TCKL (1 TFL), 1 INT, 5 PD
At the start of spring football, longtime safeties coach David Merritt tells all his players that he's going to treat them like starters, even the undrafted rookies like Adams. He does so for situations such as losing Thompson for the season due to his foot injury. A diligent note-taker, Adams stepped in and has locked down the spot next to Collins since Week 4. Adams grabbed his first career interception in the Week 9 victory over Philadelphia.
DE ROMEO OKWARA
Undrafted 2016: 16 G, 4 GS, 25 TCKL (2 TFL), 2 PD
Plugging along on special teams for most of the season, Okwara took on a much bigger role when Jason Pierre-Paul underwent surgery to repair a core muscle injury following the Giants' Week 13 loss in Pittsburgh. Okwara was the next man up in filling Pierre-Paul's void, which included 5.5 sacks and a touchdown in his previous two games before the injury. Making his first career start in Week 14, Okwara notched eight tackles, three quarterback hits, a sack, and a pass defensed en route to a victory over the first-place Cowboys.
WR ROGER LEWIS
Undrafted 2016: 13 G, 1 GS, 7 REC, 97 YDS, 2 TD
Lewis has only seven receptions on the season, but two of them have gone for touchdowns of 24 and 30 yards in victories. After earning a roster spot with an impressive summer, Lewis is able to strike at any time, just like his teammate Tavarres King did with a 44-yard reception in Week 17 after having just one catch all season. We'll see how they are used in the postseason with much of the attention going to the big three of Beckham, Victor Cruz and Shepard.