There’s an idea that it’s going to be difficult for undrafted rookies to make NFL rosters this year due to a shortened offseason and lack of preseason games.
That might be true, but at Giants camp, those UDFA players are getting every opportunity to make their mark.
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Odds are, especially on team this young that also lacks depth in key areas, a few of them could make an actual impact on the Giants this season.
“I come from a school of thought of it doesn’t matter how you got there, it matters what you do when you get there,” Giants coach Joe Judge said on Monday, adding that “everybody is starting at ground zero with us. We’re allowing them every day to compete and demonstrate their value and production and that’s what we’re working on right now.”
Across a full week of padded practice, a scrimmage and various interviews with Giants position coaches, it’s clear that a few undrafted players in particular have stood out.
Here are three that have helped themselves in training camp:
WR Austin Mack
The Giants didn’t add any new wide receivers of note, so this was already an ideal situation for an undrafted free agent coming out of the draft. The chances that one makes it increased when Cody Core, a special teams ace, was lost for the season with a torn Achilles.
So, the Giants will give their trio of undrafted rookies — Mack, Binjimen Victor and Derrick Dillon — every chance to make the team.
Thus far, Mack has been the standout.
Friday, Mack caught a touchdown over cornerback Grant Haley on a fade, and he’s acquitted himself well in drills when matched up with James Bradberry.
“The thing with Austin Mack is his knowledge,” wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert said on Monday. Austin Mack’s a super smart guy. He can play any position. He’s a tough guy, he’s a physical guy, he’s very dependable. That’s the thing that stands out with him to me.”
Mack has good size — 6-foot-2, 216 pounds — though wasn’t particularly productive coming out of Ohio State and only ran a 4.59-second 40-yard dash. As a senior, he only managed 27 catches for 361 yards and three touchdowns. He was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school, though, and NFL.com compared him to former Giants receiver Cody Latimer entering the draft.
“The production is disappointing, but the tape should give evaluators some hope,” NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein wrote. “He has average speed, but is an instinctive, purposeful route-runner who can uncover on intermediate routes. His frame, length and hand size expand his catch radius, but he needs to eliminate focus drops. There is size and talent to work with … He has WR4 upside if he can prove himself on special teams.”
To make the team, Mack won’t only have to fend off Victor and Dillon, as both David Sills and Alex Bachman — each spent time on the Giants practice squad last year — have performed well thus far in camp.
Mack’s real ticket to the roster: special teams. If he can stand out there, a la Core, he’ll likely stick around.
CB Jarren Williams
Cornerback was a position group that looked crowded earlier in the offseason. Then, Sam Beal opted out of the season, DeAndre Baker was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list and then, later on, a deal with free agent Ross Cockrell fell through.
That has left the Giants with only one certain starter at cornerback (James Bradberry) and a whole lot of question marks, opening the door for someone like Williams to emerge in training camp.
Williams — who is only listed at 5-foot-10, 187 pounds — has received a surprising amount of playing time in camp, and has even gone against some of the Giants’ starting wide receivers and held his own, for the most part.
By all accounts, Judge has been impressed.
“He’s a guy who takes coaching points from the classroom to the field. He’s very receptive, he plays with a good demeanor,” Judge said. “He’s got a good body frame on him. He’s almost built a little bit more like a safety at times than a corner. He factors into different positions in the kicking game for you. I like the way he comes out every day.”
Williams opened the offseason with the Arizona Cardinals but once he was released, the Giants scooped him up. Now he’s pushing for a roster spot.
It’s still possible the Giants look to add a veteran in free agency or after roster cut-downs, but for now this is the group they’re rolling with, which bodes well for Williams’ chances of making the team.
The only players considered locks at the moment: Bradberry and rookie Darnay Holmes, while it’s a safe bet Corey Ballentine makes the team, too.
Outside of those players, Williams is likely competing for a roster spot with Grant Haley, Dravon Askew-Henry and Prince Smith.
RB Javon Leake
It was somewhat surprising when Leake opted to leave Maryland after his junior season, and that didn’t exactly pay off since he went undrafted.
Ultimately, a slow testing time in the 40-yard dash might’ve played into that after Leake ran a 4.65 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
Through training camp, though, Leake has shown that he has much more burst than that 40-yard dash might indicate. Per various reports, Leake flashed at Friday’s scrimmage, sprung by a Spencer Pulley block on one run in particular down the left sideline.
He averaged an impressive 7.2 yards per carry at Maryland last year, and scored 15 touchdowns on just 136 carries the last two years.
“He’s a guy that’s really coming on right now,” Judge said. “He’s feeling more comfortable in the system and scheme, he’s doing a good job taking coaching points from Burton (Burns) to the field. He’s a guy that’s very tuned in (during) meetings, paying attention. You can see that. He’s improved on a daily basis. (Friday) he had an opportunity to just go out there and just play. That’s always how you want to see it.”
The Giants only brought six running backs to camp. One is unlikely to make the team (Sandro Platzgummer) and another is a fullback (Elijhaa Penny). Another is Saquon Barkley, and veteran Dion Lewis is likely going to make the team too.
That leaves Leake competing with Wayne Gallman for the No. 3 running back job on the depth chart. Or, to stick around if the Giants opt to keep four non-fullbacks.
Gallman has been given every opportunity to succeed since being drafted in the fourth round in 2017, but has mostly disappointed, including last year while occasionally filling in for an injured Barkley. He finished with 110 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries.
He’s had a nice camp thus far, but Leake looms large. It helps that he was an impressive returner at Maryland, where he scored three kick return touchdowns the last two years.
The 6-foot, 215-pounder has shown impressive acceleration throughout camp, and even if he doesn’t ultimately beat out Gallman for a roster spot, there’s a good chance he’ll stick around on the Giants’ expanded practice squad this season.
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