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Players to Watch: Rookie class starts to emerge


The Giants have gotten some strong performances from their rookie class, which has helped the team jump out to its 5-1 start.

Injuries have derailed a few of the rookies' seasons, as ILB Darrian Beavers, OL Marcus McKethan and DL D.J. Davidson are done for the year while CB Cor'Dale Flott has been out since Week 3. But the first-year players seeing extended action have progressed well over the course of the first six weeks.

With several rookies playing well, it's no surprise that their roles appear to be growing. Heading into Week 7, the Giants are tied with the Jets for the fourth-most combined offensive and defensive snaps for rookies with 1,336.

"All the young guys that are playing, I think they deserve a lot of credit," Daniel Jones told the media Wednesday. "They're all mature and have a great approach to their work and can tell they want to get better every day. I think they deserve a lot of credit. I think the way we practice, the way everyone is getting tons of reps all the time dating back even to the spring. Those guys are young, but they've got a ton of reps and they know what to do."

Here are five players to watch in this weekend's matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars, all of whom are part of the Giants' rookie class.

WR Wan'Dale Robinson

After injuring his knee in the season opener, Wan'Dale Robinson returned to the field last week and immediately made an impact. The rookie second-round pick (No. 43 overall) caught three of four targets for 37 yards and a touchdown, the first of his NFL career. He did this all while playing just 15 offensive snaps (23 percent) in Week 6.

"I'm glad he caught those couple balls when he had the opportunity to," Daboll said after last week's win. "I have to look at them – that touchdown, I was excited for him anytime you can get your first touchdown obviously along with a win. But I don't know how many plays he played, but we managed him a little bit. Hopefully we'll get some more out of him next week."

The 21-year-old earned one of the highest grades on the Giants' offense from Pro Football Focus in last week's win with his 76.6 overall mark. The 5-foot-8, 185-pound receiver also made his presence felt in his limited action in the run game. Robinson was on the field for just three run plays, but did end up receiving a promising 78.3 run block grade on those select plays. It was the team's highest run block grade in Week 6.

"Wan'Dale did a nice job," offensive coordinator Mike Kafka added. "It's good to see him. Obviously, bounced around, having some fun. You see it in practice, too. He did a nice job."

View photos from Wednesday's practice as the Giants prepare for their Week 7 matchup against the Jaguars.

TE Daniel Bellinger

Daniel Bellinger was one of the select rookies to earn a spot in the starting lineup in Week 1. Although he did not receive a target against the Titans, the rookie tight end has been one of the team's leading receivers ever since. During last week's win over Jacksonville, Bellinger caught all five of his targets for 38 yards and a touchdown. He was on the field for 94 percent of the offensive snaps (61 snaps) and earned a 76.0 overall grade, including a 74.5 mark on 28 run block plays.

"He's got a knack for getting open, finding space, and making key plays for us," Jones said. "He deserves a lot of credit. We'll continue to try to get him the ball and let him make those plays."

Bellinger is up to three touchdowns (two receiving, one rushing), which is the second-most on the team behind Saquon Barkley. The tight end has been one of the most consistent players on offense, and while it's obvious in the box score, it's also showing up in the analytics. Bellinger's 75.9 overall grade on the season ranks fourth among NFL tight ends, trailing only Kansas City's Travis Kelce, Baltimore's Mark Andrews and Cleveland's David Njoku.

"I think he's improved since he's been here," coach Brian Daboll said. "He's been available, he's worked hard. He's done a good job inside and outside the building…

"When you come out of college as a tight end, there's a lot – there is for every position – but there's a lot to learn: how we run block, how we pass block. We've asked him to do a lot of different things. We've put a lot on his plate. I think he's picked it up well. And each game, he gains more experience. He's far from a finished product; he'll be the first to say that."

T Evan Neal

Evan Neal is the only Giants rookie to start every game this season. On top of that, other than Week 4 against the Bears when he missed a part of the game due to a neck injury, Neal has not left the field. The rookie right tackle has played 100 percent of the offensive snaps in every other game this season and has shown a lot of progress since struggling against DeMarcus Lawrence and the Dallas Cowboys.

"Yeah, I feel like I've improved," Neal said. "I feel like I've made improvement week to week. I just want to continue to do that my entire career. I believe that the improvement never stops. I just want to keep on getting better."

Neal is coming off his best performance in last week's win. The 22-year-old earned an overall grade of 70.5 against the Ravens defensive front, the highest of his young career, which included solid marks in both pass (68.8) and run (69.0) blocking. Neal surrendered just two hurries on 34 pass block snaps.

"He's a young player, he's going to learn and get better every week and that's what he's done," Jones said about the rookie RT. "We all have a lot of trust and a lot of confidence in him. That's what he's shown. I think his approach, his work ethic, his day-to-day routine – I think you can see how important it is to him. It's no surprise he's continued to get a lot better every week."

OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux

Kayvon Thibodeaux missed the first two games of the season due to a knee injury suffered during the preseason. It took him a little time to get going, but the rookie outside linebacker has shown over the last few games why the Giants took him with the fifth overall pick. Thibodeaux has recorded 11 pressures over the last three games, including the strip-sack of Ravens QB Lamar Jackson that led to the Giants' game-winning touchdown.

"It's a blessing," Thibodeaux said after contributing to last week's win. "It was the greatest moment. I really sat out there and cried just because the emotion I felt that now, I'm in the NFL. Now that you can really contribute and this is what they pay me to be here for, so the fact that I was able to get it done is a great feeling."

Thibodeaux has registered at least three pressures in each of the past three weeks, which has led to him earning a 70.0 pass rush grade on the season. Among rookie edge defenders, that ranks as the highest pass rush grade by a good margin. On top of his pass rush abilities, Thibodeaux has also broken up three passes, and racked up three run stops against the Ravens.

"Thibodeaux has been good since he's been here," Daboll said earlier in the week. "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."

S Dane Belton

Dane Belton has quietly been a consistent player for Wink Martindale's defense. After missing most of training camp and the preseason with a clavicle injury, Belton was able to return to the field for Week 2. Since then, the rookie safety has played at least 70 percent of the defensive snaps in three of his five games, while also contributing on special teams.

In five games, Belton has registered 18 total tackles, tied with CB Fabian Moreau for the seventh-most on the team. He has also recovered two fumbles, broken up a pass and gotten a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit. Belton has also been solid in coverage, where he has allowed five receptions on 11 targets, good for a passer rating against of just 68.8. The first-year safety has finished with a tackling grade of 74.0 or higher in three of his five games.


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