With the calendar flipped to July, Giants.com asks 22 important questions leading up to the start of the 2022 training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
For 22 days, a member of the Giants.com crew will answer one question about the roster, coaching staff, schedule, and much more.
No. 6: Which rookies will make an immediate impact?
Dan Salomone: For the first time in franchise history, the New York Giants made two picks in the top seven of the same draft. So, let's start there.
Outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux, the first defensive player to earn unanimous All-America status in Oregon history, will look to make the immediate impact expected of fifth overall picks. He will play opposite Azeez Ojulari, who last year set the franchise rookie sack record, and alongside defensive lineman Leonard Williams, whose 18 sacks combined in 2020 and 2021 are the most in any two-year stretch of his career. No one was happier on draft day than defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, who likes to get after the quarterback.
Similarly, Evan Neal also completed a set of bookends. The seventh overall pick out of Alabama played right tackle this spring while Andrew Thomas, the fourth pick in the 2020 draft, returned as the incumbent on the left side. That's some serious draft capital spent at two of the most important positions in the game.
While Thibodeaux and Neal were the headliners, the rookie class didn't begin and end with them.
Joe Schoen made 11 picks in his first draft as general manager, laying the foundation for Year 1 alongside head coach Brian Daboll. Considering the roster turnover and lack of cap space this year, there are plenty of intriguing rookies who could play significant roles sooner rather than later. Wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson (second round) made the most of his opportunities this spring due to injuries at his position and became a frequent target during OTAs and minicamp. Daboll, who helped build Buffalo into an offensive powerhouse, has "a very clear vision" for the versatile Robinson. Joshua Ezeudu (third round) gives the Giants flexibility on the offensive line, and Cord'Dale Flott (third round) will be a factor following the departure of James Bradberry, the team's former top cornerback. Likewise, Daniel Bellinger (fourth round) enters an open competition a tight end.
"We wanted to add depth at competition to the roster, which I think we did," Schoen said of the draft. "Again, not every guy is going to come as a starter. It takes time. Guys have to develop … [with] good coaching. Over time, you have to have depth players and frontline players."
The Giants look like they got both in the 2022 class.
Lance Medow: There are two position groups to keep close tabs on during training camp, one on each side of the ball. On defense, all eyes will be on a relatively young secondary, specifically at corner. Cornerbacks Aaron Robinson and Darnay Holmes took advantage of their opportunities this spring as both players were active and opportunistic. Robinson will likely assume most of James Bradberry's snaps on the outside opposite Adoree' Jackson, and Holmes could emerge as the main slot corner with competition from rookie Cor'Dale Flott. But there are many roles still to be decided on the depth chart.
All but three players in the secondary entered the NFL between 2020-22. Jackson, Maurice Canady and Julian Love are the only older veterans in the group, but Canady has only played 50 percent of his team's defensive snaps twice during his five NFL seasons. Moreover, Wink Martindale's scheme relies heavily on strong cover corners, and those players will be key given his aggressive nature as a play-caller and strong desire to blitz.
On offense, the competition to watch is at tight end. It's fair to say the top three players are Ricky Seals-Jones, Jordan Akins and rookie Daniel Bellinger, so it's not so much a numbers game but instead the order of the depth chart and the roles they'll play within the offense. Who will be the main blocker? Will all three serve as components of the passing attack? Could Bellinger surpass the two established veterans who have ties to members of the coaching staff? Much like we saw in Buffalo, the Giants will likely employ several tight ends within the scheme but how they go about that remains a bit of a mystery that should play out in camp and the preseason.
Matt Citak: There is a handful of players who could be looking at a breakout season in 2022. Offensive tackle Andrew Thomas made a significant jump in Year 2, and his trajectory is certainly headed in the right direction. Meanwhile, linebacker Azeez Ojulari and wide receiver Kadarius Toney flashed their potential during their rookie campaigns last year, and both appear to be great fits in their new systems. But if we're narrowing it down to just one player, it has to be safety Xavier McKinney.
McKinney put together an excellent season in 2021, playing in all 17 games and finishing the year among the team leaders in several categories. His five interceptions were a team-high, while his 10 pass breakups and 93 combined tackles ranked second and third, respectively. His 78.4 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus ranked No. 12 among all safeties. Additionally, McKinney had the Giants' only defensive touchdown of the season with his 41-yard interception return against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 9.
McKinney now gets to play under the guidance of defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. While Martindale led Baltimore's defense, the Ravens saw strong play from several different safeties, including Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Earl Thomas, and Chuck Clark. Martindale will put McKinney in a position where the young safety can lean on his strengths.
Lance Medow: When Wink Martindale spoke with reporters this spring, he summed up his defensive philosophy with one phrase: "You want to dictate to the offense instead of sitting there and letting them dictate to you." That tells you all you need to know about how aggressive Martindale plans to be on defense, which is exactly what he subscribed to when he served as the Ravens' defensive coordinator the last four seasons. It's a blitz-heavy scheme in which players constantly move around and look to create confusion. Just look at his trends in Baltimore. The Ravens led the NFL in blitz percentage in his first three seasons as defensive coordinator and finished sixth in 2021. Over those four years, it fluctuated from 31 percent to 55 percent.
As a result of his aggressive nature, no Ravens player had double-digit sacks in any of Martindale's four seasons steering the defensive unit. That's not to say you can't be productive under those circumstances, but it is more of an indication that the sacks could be spread out across the board as opposed to one player in particular doing the heavy lifting. The same can be said with respect to where personnel will line up. Safeties may take on linebacker roles at times and defensive linemen and linebackers could occasionally drop into coverage. Regardless of the pressure and fluidity of the scheme, there will always be an emphasis on corners needing to handle themselves on an island without much help. That's the give and take when it comes to an aggressive strategy. When you get home to the quarterback, it works like a charm. But if you don't, your secondary better be in position to make up for it.
John Schmeelk: In talking to Giants players at the end of the offseason program (be sure to check out our player interview series on the Giants Huddle podcast) and watching most of the spring practices, I think fans will be excited for the schematics the team has in store this season. This will, in fact, look like a combination of what the Bills and Chiefs did last season.
Based on those conversations, the base of the offense came with Brian Daboll from Buffalo, with some added flare that's borrowed from what offensive coordinator Mike Kafka used with Andy Reid in Kansas City. There will be some fun formations and more pre-snap motion.
I would expect Saquon Barkley to be used in a variety of ways throughout the season in what will ultimately be a passing-centric offense. It should be adaptable to what defenses are showing with freedom for the players to make the decisions to counteract those looks. It will just be a matter of execution and getting the ball in the end zone.
Dan Salomone: On Jan. 12, 2022, team president John Mara said, "We needed to hit the reset button." Enter general manager Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll, who most recently helped build the Buffalo Bills into an AFC powerhouse after the franchise went through a 17-year playoff drought.
From Day 1, Schoen and Daboll stressed the importance of getting the right people in the right seats and energizing the building. That has been palpable to everyone from the cafeteria to the football field. "It's just a contagious energy that's being brought right now," veteran defensive lineman Leonard Williams said.
Fast-forwarding to May, we each picked one word to describe the vision of the new regime for an edition of Cover 3, and the words we came up with were "fresh," "adaptive" and "calculated." From the personnel side, Schoen was candid about the need to make "tough decisions" to get in better salary cap health before making two draft picks in the top 10 for the first time in Giants history. He also made a series of moves in the football operations department regarding analytics.
"Anything that will help you get better or improve the roster or improve our salary cap situation or our practice habits or injuries, whatever it may be, I'm open to that," Schoen said this offseason. "I'd be an idiot not to be open to it. Over the last few years, I've immersed myself in the data and worked with some really smart people that have helped us make good decisions based off that."
From an Xs and Os standpoint, Daboll believes in empowering players to play fast and aggressively.
"You never want to throw interceptions, but I think just the idea to be aggressive and take your shots and see if you can make something happen," quarterback Daniel Jones said. "Kind of let the receivers know that we're going to do that, we're going to give you all opportunities to make plays and we're counting on you to make plays in situations. I think that's kind of a mindset he has to attack a defense, attack downfield and as a quarterback, a decision-maker, you're a big part of that."
The same applies to the other side of the ball. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will never drive home after a game and say to himself, "I wish I didn't play max coverage there." He wants to put the game in the players' hands "because this game always has been and always will be about the players."
So, whether it's making a roster move or calling a fourth-down play, there is always a method.
"When you talk about men with a master plan, they have the master plan," rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux recalled about his pre-draft interviews. "And now it's just about for us to buy into that culture and be a keeper of the culture."
Take a look at rare photos of New York Giants training camps through the years.