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Inside the Numbers: Rookie Progress Report

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – When asked before the NFL trade deadline about the Giants' potential options, Joe Judge talked about thinking not just in the short-term but also long-term.

And while this week Judge is focused on preparing the Giants for their game Sunday in Los Angeles against the Chargers, the big picture is never far from his thoughts. That image includes a rookie class that has demonstrated promise for the future, despite multiple games lost due to injuries.

The Giants selected six players last spring and are one of 10 teams to have all their 2021 draft choices play this season. It is the first time since 2018 the Giants have had each of their draft choices play as rookies.

The Giants have 9.5 sacks from rookies this year, which is the third-highest total in the NFL, behind the Dallas Cowboys (12.5) and Miami Dolphins (10.5). The Giants and Cowboys are the only teams to have three different rookies total at least 1.0 sack this year.

Each of the first two draft choices has set a franchise rookie record. Kadarius Toney had 189 receiving yards at Dallas on Oct. 10 and Azeez Ojulari leads the team with a franchise rookie record 6.5 sacks. The other draft choices are cornerbacks Aaron Robinson and Rodarius Williams, outside linebacker Elerson Smith and running back Gary Brightwell.

Here's the rundown on the Giants' rookies with five games remaining in the season:

WR Kadarius Toney, first round

Toney missed three games – including the last two -- and most of a fourth with ankle, quad and oblique injuries. Despite that, he is tied with tight end Evan Engram for the team lead with 35 receptions and his 392 yards are second behind Kenny Golladay's 409. Toney has yet to score a touchdown.

He also has three carries for six yards and one completion in three pass attempts for 19 yards. Toney is the only rookie wide receiver in franchise history to complete a pass.

Toney's 35 receptions are the seventh-most by a Giants rookie and his 43.6 receiving yards per game is the sixth-most (min. 30 receptions).

Among rookie wide receivers with at least 30 catches this season, Toney ranks fifth in receiving yards per game (43.6) and fourth in yards per reception (11.2).

Toney's 189 receiving yards vs. the Cowboys eclipsed the Giants' previous rookie yardage record set by Odell Beckham, Jr. (185) in 2014. He became just the sixth rookie in NFL history with at least 180 receiving yards and 10 receptions in a single game.

OLB Azeez Ojulari, second round

Ojulari leads the Giants rookies in games played (12) and starts (nine). He has 36 tackles (22 solo) and a forced fumble.

Ojulari ranks third among all rookies in sacks (6.5), sack yards (46.0), tackles for loss (seven), and is tied for the fifth-most quarterback hits (eight). He was the only NFL rookie with a sack in each of his first three games.

Dallas' Micah Parsons (10.0) and Miami's Jaelen Phillips (8.5) are the only rookies with more sacks than Ojulari.

In a victory against Carolina on Oct. 24, Ojulari posted a season-high 2.5 sacks, the second-most in a game by a Giants rookie since 1982 (B.J. Hill, 3.0 in 2018 vs. Chicago). He also added three tackles for loss and four quarterback hits, which were the most in a single game by a rookie in franchise history. On Sunday in Miami, Ojulari sacked Tua Tagovailua to break Hill's single-season rookie record of 5.5.

CB Aaron Robinson, third round

Robinson missed the first seven games after undergoing core muscle surgery in the offseason. He debuted on Nov. 1 in Kansas City and has seen his playing time steadily increase. On Sunday in Miami, Robinson was one of five Giants defenders to play all 69 snaps. He registered seven tackles (four solo).

Robinson has totaled 14 tackles (eight solo), three passes defensed and one quarterback hit in five games. He is just the third rookie in Giants history with at least five tackles, two passes defensed and one quarterback hit in a game (Nov. 28 vs. Philadelphia), becoming the first since Kenny Phillips (Week 11 of 2008) to accomplish this. Robinson joined Dolphins safety Jevon Holland as the only rookies to do this in a game this season.

LB Elerson Smith, fourth round

Smith also got a late start, as a hamstring injury he aggravated early in training camp kept him off the field until the Nov. 7 victory against Las Vegas. Smith has played in four games and participated in a season-high 21 defensive snaps Sunday in Miami.

"He's getting more and more aggressive," Judge said. "That comes with confidence and preparation as far as playing. He's a guy that's got a good skillset and, obviously, we thought a lot of him from when we drafted. He missed a lot of time through the spring and training camp as far as really getting prepared for it. Each week he's really improved. He's doing a good job for us on special teams right now. He's doing a good job in the pass rush stuff, and he's improving on his run defense as well. He's a young player who's developing. He's far from where he's going to be, but he's making a lot of gains every week."

RB Gary Brightwell, fifth round

Brightwell has played in 11 games. He has just one rushing attempt and one reception, but he is a core special teams player.

Brightwell's eight special teams tackles tie him with Keion Crossen for the team lead. He has the third-highest special teams tackle total by a rookie this season, trailing only linebackers Nick Niemann (11) of the Chargers and Jon Rhattigan (9) of the Seattle Seahawks.

CB Rodarius Williams, sixth round

Williams played 50 defensive snaps in the season's first five games before tearing his ACL in Dallas in Week 5. He was placed on injured reserve.

*Linebacker Quincy Roche isn't a member of the 2021 draft class, but he has become one of the team's most productive rookies. Roche was Pittsburgh's sixth-round choice this year. The Giants acquired him off waivers on Sept. 1, one day after he was released by the Steelers.

Roche was inactive for the first two games and also vs. the Rams on Oct. 17. He has played in nine games with three starts and has 25 tackles (15 solo), 2.0 sacks, four tackles for loss, four quarterback hits, one forced fumble and one special teams tackle.

Against the Raiders, he strip-sacked quarterback Derek Carr late in the fourth quarter. The ball was recovered by Leonard Williams, effectively clinching the victory for the Giants. Roche and Ojulari are the only pair of rookie teammates with at least one strip-sack this season.

*Defensive lineman Raymond Johnson III made the team as a rookie free agent from Georgia Southern. He has played in 10 games and posted two tackles, 1.0 sack, one quarterback hit and one tackle for loss.

Johnson is the first undrafted Giant to record a sack since Tae Davis in Week 16 of 2018 at Indianapolis. He is one of three undrafted rookie free agents with at least 1.0 sack this season, joining Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Naquan Jones and Chargers linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga.

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