EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Top selections Andrew Thomas and Xavier McKinney could be immediate starters, but linebacker TJ Brunson might best personify the Giants' 2020 draft class.
A linebacker from South Carolina, Brunson was the eighth of the team's 10 choices, taken in the seventh round with the 238th overall pick. He is fast, athletic, physical and sturdy, a high-character leader and versatile player who could contribute in several spots. Those were attributes the Giants sought throughout the draft.
Brunson performed a variety of roles in his four seasons with the Gamecocks and produced in all of them.
"I think I was the guy that just went out there to bring energy and to play fast," Brunson said today at his introductory news conference, conducted online via Zoom. "I've played Mike, Will and wherever else I needed to line up. There were a few times that I lined up as a single high safety and I was a middle field safety. So, wherever they need me to play, I feel like I'm comfortable and I'm able to do it."
With the Giants, that will initially include special teams, where he also has plenty of experience.
"When I came into South Carolina, I started off on special teams and that was my way of getting on the field and getting on the roster," Brunson said, who is 6-1 and 220 pounds. "That was also how the coaches gained their trust in the players, so whatever it took. I was out on every type of drill that they had in practice. I was going out trying to get out there first, and I know that's kind of my role and how I make this team, how I can help out and make it better. Any type of special teams, whatever they need me to do, I'm out there.
"I think my favorite is probably punt. But I don't mind - I like kickoff, punt return, I like everything pretty much."
Most notably playing football. Brunson appeared in 49 games for South Carolina, including starts in each of his last 38 contests, when he seldom left the field.
"When it comes to durability, I feel like I'm a guy that's going to just be out there every game, as long as I'm healthy," Brunson said. "I'm a guy that's going to do what it takes to get on the field to help my team out. That just comes with preparation, just how I take care of my body."
His career totals included 283 tackles (164 solo), including 21.0 for loss and 6.0 sacks. Brunson also had one interception, seven passes defensed, one forced fumble and four fumble recoveries.
His bio includes numerous honors. As a sophomore in 2017, he received the defense's Tenacity and Strength & Conditioning awards and was selected to the AP's All-Bowl team. The following year, he was named Joe Morrison Most Valuable Player and the most productive player on defense and also earned the Leadership, Unselfish Teammate and Nutrition awards. Last year, he again received the Leadership Award.
But Brunson's greatest source of pride has nothing to do with those citations. Instead, he points to his two-season tenure as a team captain.
"Being a two-time captain is big just for the simple fact that I was voted on by my peers," Brunson said. "Just made me feel as if I had a stronger role to play on the team, that I was definitely a guy that had to come out every day and prove myself and prove why I had those titles."
Coming out of Richland Northeast High School, Brunson originally committed to the University of Louisville. But he said, "It just didn't feel right, it didn't feel like home for me." When Will Muschamp was hired as the Gamecocks' coach in 2016, the first player he visited was Brunson, who quickly changed his mind and decided to play college football in his hometown of Columbia.
"It was big to know that someone, especially a coach like that in the SEC, felt like I was important enough to go out and get to help start a team for his inaugural season," Brunson said. "That's going down in history, we're his first class. … Everything he told me from day one has pretty much come to fruition. Those things were just you get in here, work hard, keep your head down and you'll see what you're working for. Over the years, our relationship grew and I kind of understood him and what he wants in the program and things like that. It made it easier for me."
With the Giants, Brunson is joining another program with a new head coach in Joe Judge. He expects it to be another productive partnership.
"(When I was drafted), he just asked me if I was ready to work," Brunson said. "It was pretty simple. Let me know that they liked me, and they thought I was a good player. The real message there was just come in ready to work and prove yourself.
"My only focus is getting in and doing what I'm supposed to do to help the team. I don't have any predictions or I don't plan on going in there being that guy. I just want to go in there and do my job and do it to the best of my capabilities. Whatever is asked of me, I plan on doing it at full speed and just doing it the way that it should be done."
View photos of former South Carolina LB T.J. Brunson