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Players to Watch: Young Giants on the rise

PLAYERS-TO-WATCH

The Giants entered the bye week on a high note, winning two of three games after a 1-5 start. They spent the downtime self-scouting and putting together a plan for the home stretch of the season, which begins on Monday Night Football in Tampa Bay against the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers.

Here are five players who could play a major role coming out of the break:

S Xavier McKinney

The Giants are one of just two teams in the NFL with a takeaway in every game this season and have 14 total, tied for the fifth-most in the league. McKinney has four of them, including two against the Raiders to earn him NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. The 2020 second-round draft choice has five interceptions in his first 15 career games, the first Giants defender to accomplish that since cornerback Will Allen in 2001-02. McKinney is heating up just as the defense is as a whole. The Giants have won two of their last three games and gave up an average of 13 points in that stretch.

"I'm not here to talk about ceiling. I mean, it's through the roof," fellow safety and defensive co-captain Logan Ryan said. "He's a really good player. He's a smart player. He works hard. He's productive because he's good at finding the ball in the air. The good thing about Xavier is he had a ton of success in college obviously, and he came from a program that is used to that. He's able to come to work each and every day and he doesn't seem like he's acting any differently with the success. He seems like it's what he expects of himself and what we expect of him. With Jabrill [Peppers] going down, [there are] more opportunities for me and Zay, and I think it was our best game as a tandem last game of doing our job for the most part and at the end of the game making the plays necessary for our team to win the game. We put a lot on our shoulders back there as signal-callers, as leaders. I'm in year nine, he's in year two – basically, it's game 12 of his career [as a starter] and he's playing well beyond his years, and that's what we expect him to do."

WR Kadarius Toney

Toney has flashed his first-round talent, most notably in the Giants' Week 5 trip to Dallas. He set a franchise rookie record with 189 yards on 10 catches in that game, but suffered an ankle injury the next week. The Giants eagerly await their playmakers getting healthy over the bye week, and Toney is part of that group.

LB Azeez Ojulari

The second-round draft choice leads all NFL rookies with 5.5 sacks, which also tie a franchise rookie record for a season – and he has eight games to go. He was also the first rookie with at least 5.5 sacks through seven games since the Chargers' Nick Bosa had 7.0 sacks in 2019. The NFL rookie sacks record is 14.5 by Tennessee's Jevon Kearse in 1999.

RB Devontae Booker

Booker has played in 85 games throughout his career, and two of his best ones have come in the past two weeks. He recorded a career-high 125 yards from scrimmage on Monday Night Football in Kansas City and followed up with 122 in last week's home victory over Las Vegas. While the Giants could get Saquon Barkley back against Tampa Bay coming out of the break – and they will welcome him with open arms as any team would do – but Judge made it clear they wouldn't abandon Booker.

"[Booker has] done a lot of things that give us the confidence to go ahead and put him in there, and you're always better off having two guys that can carry the ball and stay fresh out there and keep wearing down a defense," Judge said. "Those two-headed monster teams are tough to face. Obviously, that wouldn't take us out of finding ways to get Saquon the ball, that's always going to be a main point of it just as it would for all our other playmakers, but along the way you want to have a lot of depth at those positions to keep playing and have them fresh."

LB Quincy Roche

The Giants clinched the victory last week when Roche sacked Derek Carr for a 7-yard loss and forced a fumble that was recovered by Leonard Williams with 37 seconds remaining. Roche is part of a group of young defenders ascending as the Giants enter the second half of the season. He played 50 defensive snaps last week, trailing only Ojulari, another rookie, and second-year pro Tae Crowder for the most at linebacker.

"I'm thankful to be here," said Roche, a sixth-round draft choice by the Steelers before they let him go at the end of August. "I'm thrilled to be here and thankful for the opportunity for the Giants to claim me off of waivers and I've just been trying to get better every day. That's my job—to come in here with a great mindset, get better every day and when my number is called, show up."

From Daniel Jones' one-handed catch on a trick play to Xavier McKinney's pick-six to the OT thriller in New Orleans, re-live the best moments from the first half of the season in this must-see photo gallery.