EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants' rookie class has earned high grades with its performance this season and particularly the young players' contributions in the come-from-behind 24-20 victory against the Baltimore Ravens in MetLife Stadium.
Seven of the 11 players selected by the Giants in the NFL draft last spring contributed, as did rookie free agents Tomon Fox and Ryder Anderson. The other four draft choices are sidelined with injuries, three of them for the remainder of the season.
Four of the rookies started: first-round selections Kayvon Thibodeaux (edge rusher) and Evan Neal (right tackle) and fourth-round draft choices Daniel Bellinger (tight end) and Dane Belton (safety). Second-round wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson played 15 snaps, offensive lineman Joshua Ezeudu (third round) played one snap on offense and five on special teams, and linebacker Micah McFadden (fifth round) played 11 snaps on special teams. Fox played 12 snaps on defense and one on special teams. Anderson was in for five snaps on the defensive line in his NFL debut.
Some of them made a significant positive impact on the game. Bellinger and Robinson combined for eight receptions, and each caught a touchdown pass. Thibodeaux's strip sack of Lamar Jackson – his first career sack – led to Leonard Williams' game-clinching fumble recovery. Thibodeaux had three unassisted tackles. Belton had six tackles (five solo) and a pass defensed. Neal played every snap for the fifth time in six games.
"Those guys did a good job and they've done a good job preparing," coach Brian Daboll said. "Fox was in there at the end of the game. Whatever play that Kayvon had, our coaches try to do the best job they can in developing these players wherever they were selected or however they got here. They've been doing a good job. I think our rookie development program for off-the-field stuff with (director of player engagement) Ashley Lynn, I think it's definitely important to develop all your players but particularly young players as the season goes on. The more they gain good experience, I think that helps in the long run."
The Giants' veteran players are also impressed with the first-year pros.
"I love this rookie class, not just on the field, but off the field and in the locker room," said fourth-year outside linebacker Oshame Ximines. "They've got great energy. They come to work; they come ready to work every single day. All those guys, they made great plays, and they stepped up big in this game. They all contributed to the win, and I'm proud of all those dudes. We're just going to keep them rolling, keep them going, so they can keep making those plays and we can keep getting those wins."
Robinson made a few big plays after returning to the field for the first time since injuring his knee in the season opener. In the second quarter, he caught a 15-yard pass on third-and-12 and three plays later, scored his first NFL touchdown on a five-yard throw from Daniel Jones.
"Hopefully, we can get some more reps out of him," Daboll said. "We'll see where he's at after I talk to Ronnie (Barnes, the team's senior vice president, medical services) and those guys. We had a plan going into this game and we'll play him hopefully a little bit more this week."
Thibodeaux missed the season's first two games with a knee injury he sustained in a preseason game on Aug. 21. He debuted against Dallas on Sept. 26 and the percentage of his snap counts has risen every week. He played a season-high 83% of the team's defensive snaps yesterday (49).
Forcing a takeaway with 1:30 remaining in the game was the biggest play of his young career, but Daboll has seen steady progress in the fifth overall draft selection.
"I think Thibodeaux has been good since he's been here," Daboll said. "He's a very humble person. He loves the game of football. He had to fight through some stuff, obviously, injury-wise. He's very attentive in meetings, he asks good questions. I think the players have a lot of respect for him. He got his first sack there at a critical time. It's good to see the guys happy for him."
The Giants players were so happy for Thibodeaux, they spontaneously cheered for him in the postgame locker room.
"It was a big day for him because he got his first career sack," said Ximines, who is listed directly behind Thibodeaux on the depth chart. "It's a moment that we all shared with him, and we're all going to remember that together. It was a big moment for him, and we all love him in the locker room. So, we all just wanted to show him some love on his big day. It was a big play, too. You know, a strip-sack to win the game – it doesn't get much bigger than that. He had a great play; we were all happy for him."
The Giants should have another rookie contributor at some point. Cornerback Cor'Dale Flott, who started two of three games in which he played, has missed the last three games with a calf injury but is expected to return.
The Giants final three 2022 draft choices must wait until next year. Defensive tackle D.J. Davidson, offensive lineman Marcus McKethan and linebacker Darrian Beavers are all on injured reserve with torn ACLs.
Despite those absences, the Giants are happy with the contributions they're getting from this year's draft class.
"We try to put the best guys out there that we think can help us win," Daboll said. "Those guys have certainly earned the right to play. Whether you're a rookie or a 10-year vet, what we try to do is give the opportunities to the guys that have earned them. Again, I think that obviously playing young players – that helps in the long run."