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Cover 3: Bobby Okereke's 2023 season among memorable Giants debuts


With Brian Burns expected to be a major factor this season, looks back at memorable debut seasons by an incoming veteran:

John Schmeelk: I'm going with linebacker Bobby Okereke. He arrived in East Rutherford last year, played at a Pro Bowl level, didn't miss a snap, and immediately developed into one of the leaders on the defense. As much as I abhor tackles as a stat to determine the best players, his 149 were ninth-most in the NFL. His 92 solo tackles ranked seventh.

Okereke also made splash plays. His 11 tackles for loss were a career high (previously six in 2022 with the Colts) as were his six quarterback hits and 2.5 sacks. Okereke also took the ball away, forcing two fumbles and grabbing two interceptions. He returned one of those interceptions 55 yards.

In Shane Bowen's new defensive system, Okereke's intelligence, sideline-to-sideline speed, and ability to cover in zone should be of even greater importance. If I had to guess right now, I would say he gets the coach's communication in his helmet, making him the defensive play-caller. Okereke will be only 28 years old in Week 1 and should be one of the best players on the defense this season.

Dan Salomone: Two come to mind since I've been covering the team since 2010. They're both safeties and made their Giants debuts two years apart. First, Antrel Rolle signed with the team in 2010 and went on to pick up Pro Bowl and All-Pro (second team) honors in his first season. The former eighth overall draft pick by the Cardinals established himself as a leader in a locker room already full of leaders, setting the stage for a Super Bowl run the following year.

While Rolle's impact is remembered, people might forget that Stevie Brown came along two years later and made history at the same position. Originally drafted in 2010, Brown bounced around with the Raiders, Panthers, and Colts before landing with the Giants in 2012. And what did he do for a debut? He recorded eight interceptions, the most by a Giants player since 1968. His 307 interception return yards, meanwhile, broke the franchise single-season record of 251, set by Hall of Famer Emlen Tunnell in 1949 and matched by Dick Lynch in 1963.

View photos of the Giants' epic win over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.

Matt Citak: For my choice, you have to go back nearly 20 years to the 2005 offseason. The draft class typically garners the most attention when talking about that offseason, as the four-person group included Corey Webster, Justin Tuck, and Brandon Jacobs. But prior to the draft, the Giants made several veteran additions that would go on to play significant roles in either Super Bowl XLII, Super Bowl XLVI, or both. Right tackle Kareem McKenzie was signed that offseason, along with inside linebacker Antonio Pierce. However, I'm going with the acquisition of wide receiver Plaxico Burress.

With Eli Manning entering his second NFL season (and his first full year as the starting quarterback), the Giants wanted to get their young franchise quarterback another target in the passing game to go with wide receiver Amani Toomer and tight end Jeremy Shockey. This was especially important following the departure of wide receiver Ike Hilliard, who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after eight seasons with the Giants. Enter Burress, who immediately stepped in as Manning's No. 1 option.

Burress was targeted a then franchise-record 166 times in his first season with the Giants, 45 more than any other player. The 6-foot-5 wideout caught 76 of those passes for 1,214 yards and seven touchdowns, all of which led the team (Shockey and Toomer matched Burress with seven receiving scores that year). The 1,214 receiving yards ranked as the second-most in franchise history at the time (it currently sits at seventh on the team's all-time single-season list), while the 76 receptions were the fifth-most (it is now tied for the 14th-most in Giants history). The addition of Burress helped the Giants produce one of the league's top offenses that year, ranking third in points and fourth in yards, as they went 11-5 and took home the NFC East crown.

View iconic photos from the Giants' Super Bowl XLII victory over the undefeated Patriots.