With the draft and free agency right around the corner, everyone is talking about additions that teams could make. But what about the Giants' returning players? In this week's Cover 4, we take a look at potential 2023 breakout candidates:
John Schmeelk: Let's go deep and go with wide receiver Collin Johnson. He tore his Achilles tendon at a practice late in training camp where he was performing as one of the best players at the position. He has size and excellent hands to make catches in traffic. Talking to him at the end of the season, he is making great progress in his recovery and expects to be ready at some point this off-season to begin practicing again. Sure, he may be a serious longshot, especially with more experienced receivers such as Isaiah Hodgins in front of him. But if the Giants can't afford an elite receiver in free agency or acquire one in the draft or via trade, someone like Johnson might have a chance to step up and play a bigger role than anyone expects.
Dan Salomone: There's no question the Giants were a better on offense with rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger on the field, so his arrow is pointing up. The team was 8-3-1 with him in the regular season (1-1 in the postseason), and their three highest point and rushing totals occurred in games in which he started. Like most of his classmates, Bellinger showed promise while dealing with an injury. He missed four games because of an eye issue but showed up in big spots, averaging 8.8 yards per catch and recording three touchdown grabs, including one to start the second half of the Wild Card victory in Minnesota. He also became the first rookie tight end in Giants history to rush for a touchdown, doing so in the win over Green Bay in London. Elite teams tend to have difference-making tight ends and Bellinger will try to join those ranks.
NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah updated his ranking of the top 50 prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Lance Medow: There are two strong options for this label. Kayvon Thibodeaux showed several flashes during his rookie campaign, but you can't overlook fellow rookie Wan'Dale Robinson, who had his season cut short in Week 11 (when he tore his ACL following his first career 100-yard game). Robinson also missed four games earlier in the season due to a knee injury. Consider the injuries and the fact that he barely scratched the surface of his potential, you can lean toward him having a breakout campaign, especially since the opportunities will be there in the receiving corps. It's too early to tell what that position group will look like; yet Robinson will carve out a key role regardless of what the team does in free agency and the draft. He proved in college that he can be an explosive playmaker by taking a short catch and turning into a game-changing reception and that's exactly what this offense needs in 2023.
Matt Citak: There are several reasonable choices to be the Giants' breakout player in 2023. The honor could easily go to one of the injured players returning from a season that was cut short – think of Wan'Dale Robinson, Darrian Beavers and Collin Johnson. Robinson was just starting to pick up things when he suffered a torn ACL, while Beavers and Johnson were rather impressive during training camp before going down with their respective season-ending injuries.
But as we have seen in the past, it sometimes takes a player a while to really get back into form following a serious injury such as a torn ACL or Achilles. Although these three could be firing on all cylinders by the middle of the season, let's go with second-year outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux as the team's 2023 breakout candidate. Thibodeaux's rookie numbers don't jump off the page, but the 6-foot-5, 258-pound from Oregon enjoyed a solid first season in the NFL. Thibodeaux registered four sacks, 13 quarterback hits, two forced fumbles and five pass breakups in 14 games after a knee injury in the preseason derailed the start of his year.
Despite the slow start to his rookie campaign, the No. 5 overall pick still led all rookies with a pass rush win rate of 17.9 percent (according to ESPN) while picking up 40 total pressures on 409 pass rush snaps (according to PFF). This helped him finish fourth in the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. Heading into the 2023 season, Thibodeaux will have the benefit of already knowing and being comfortable in Wink Martindale's defense. Hopefully a stronger overall defense and a healthy Azeez Ojulari will help open up things a bit for Thibodeaux. And picking up another tip or two from his mentor, Michael Strahan, couldn't hurt, either.
View photos of every move made by the Giants during the 2023 cycle.