The 2012 New York Giants: Which Rookies Will Make an Immediate Impact?
Don't let that shiny ring fool you.
They may be Super Bowl champions, but the New York Giants are far from invincible—remember, this team was sitting precariously at .500 after Week 14 and had to win out to simply make the playoffs. The NFC East is only getting stronger, and despite that postseason magic, there are definite holes on this roster.
The defense looked awful at times, especially in the secondary, and the running game struggled to find any sort of consistency. Combine that with the departure of Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham, and the 2012 G-Men will depend upon their incoming draft class perhaps more than any defending champ in recent memory.
With that in mind, here are four rookies who could provide an immediate impact for the Giants next season.
1. Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
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After his truly elite 2011-2012 season, the Giants are officially Eli Manning's team. Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson aren't walking through the door anytime soon—this team's identity is now that of a high-octane offense, one predicated on having plenty of skill players on the outside.
Mario Manningham may not have loaded the stat sheet last season (one miraculous Super Bowl catch notwithstanding), but his departure was a big one. Victor Cruz was at his most lethal last year while in the slot, shifting into holes in zone coverage and abusing the nickel corners and safeties who tried to check him.
But with Manningham now in San Francisco and Domenik Hixon recovering from knee surgery, the Giants need someone to play opposite Hakeem Nicks and allow for Cruz to move back inside.
Enter Rueben Randle, the Giants second-round pick this year. At 6'3", 210 pounds, Randle has the body of a prototypical NFL wideout. He also has great hands and, most importantly, he knows how to use them, routinely snatching the football without letting it get to his chest.
Even in LSU's prehistoric offense, he proved to be a consistent deep threat with deceptive speed for someone his size. His ability to stretch the field will open up room in the middle for Cruz, who faced more and more double teams as the year went on.
Randle has been impressive early on, and his adjustment to the professional game could give the Giants offense a whole other dimension.
2. David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech
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Again, these Giants will win with explosiveness on offense, and the selection of David Wilson addresses that need in a big way.
Running back has long been a position of strength for New York—from “Thunder and Lightning” in 2000 to “Earth, Wind and Fire” in 2007 and 2008—but all of a sudden the Giants find themselves thin in the backfield.
Ahmad Bradshaw is a dynamic back when healthy, but he had to receive an injection in his injured foot after the Super Bowl, and he has had surgery on both feet and ankles in the past—not exactly good news for a guy who relies on his shiftiness and cutting ability.
Brandon Jacobs left for San Francisco this offseason, and the entire tri-state area just groaned at the thought of D.J. Ware or Da'rel Scott being counted on to carry the load.
All of which makes Wilson that much more critical to the Giants’ success this year. Wilson will start the year as a backup to Bradshaw, but his ability as a receiver means he can still impact games in that role.
Kevin Gilbride recently called him one of the most "explosive" players he's ever coached (via ESPN), and that big-play potential (especially in the passing game) has been lacking since Tiki Barber retired.
He still has a lot to learn in order to be a complete NFL back, and there will certainly be bumps in the road, but his raw ability and a lack of depth mean Wilson will be counted on for more than a few home runs this season.
3. Adrien Robinson, TE, Cincinnati
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Many labeled the selection of Robinson in the fourth round as a bit of a stretch, another case of coaches falling in love with athletic ability despite a complete lack of college production. Yes, Robinson had only 29 career catches at Cincinnati, but he was vastly underutilized in a spread offense that de-emphasized the tight end position.
Physically, the guy is a freak—he fits the new mold of NFL tight ends perfectly at nearly 6'5" with a 4.51 40-yard dash and a 39-inch vertical. He's also got unbelievable length, something that bodes well for his future as a blocker.
New York hasn't had an explosive tight end since Jeremy Shockey was in his prime, seemingly cycling through marginally athletic fillers year after year. Jake Ballard showed some promise last year, but he and Travis Beckum were never real threats down the seam even before they both suffered ACL injuries during the Super Bowl.
Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski have redefined the impact a tight end can have in the NFL, and if Robinson can become a vertical threat over the middle he will open up even more space for guys like Victor Cruz.
Tight ends coach Mike Pope has worked wonders in recent years, turning Kevin Boss and Jake Ballard—two afterthoughts out of college—into legitimate contributors.
If Robinson takes to coaching, the Giants may have found themselves a steal. And hey, the last time Jerry Reese gambled on a guy with outstanding athleticism, it worked out pretty well.
4. Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina
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I know, I know. This one is cheating a little bit.
Austin was drafted in the second round in 2011, but a torn pectoral muscle in a preseason game knocked him out for his entire rookie year. Since he hasn't played a snap of meaningful football for the Giants, I'm including him on this list.
Austin wreaked havoc on ACC offensive linemen in his three seasons at North Carolina. Despite missing his senior season due to NCAA violations, he stayed in shape and wowed coaches at the Scouting Combine with his explosiveness off the line. He fell to New York in the second round, and an immediate impact was expected.
Though he hasn't played a snap of real football since late 2009, Austin will have plenty of opportunities this season to show that he's fully healthy. Chris Canty hasn't come close to living up to his monster contract, and, behind Linval Joseph, the depth chart at defensive tackle is wide open.
The pass rush generates plenty of headlines, but the interior of the defensive line has seemed to disappear at times. New York ranked 23rd in the league in yards per carry allowed, neutralizing Justin Tuck and company and keeping Eli Manning on the sideline.
Austin has the burst and ferocious hands to penetrate and disrupt plays behind the line, potentially making him a perfect asset in Perry Fewell's schemes. He'll need to get his strength back to take on blocks at the NFL level, but his physical abilities will at least make him a threat on third down.