Look around the league—you won’t find many 5’11” wide receivers out of West Chester University. However, New York’s Dan DePalma fits that mold, and he’s made an early impression on the Giants coaching staff through the first nine practices of training camp.
I know what you’re thinking, Dan De-Who? But try to bear with me—his name may be a bit more familiar in a month or so.
The 23-year-old wideout originally signed with the Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2011, but ultimately ended up spending his rookie season on the Giants’ practice squad. DePalma now returns to Giants training camp with a purpose: to make the final 53-man roster in any way possible.
So far, reports from Albany say DePalma has been playing well. One of his catches was even featured on Giants.com’s Training Camp Top Plays on August 4.
If he continues to impress, DePalma may land the roster spot he desires.
With the loss of Mario Manningham to free agency, the Giants have a vacancy at the third wide receiver position. Domenik Hixon, who is currently filling in for the injured Hakeem Nicks, and Jerrel Jernigan seem to be the early front-runners to win the spot.
While it would be one heck of a long shot for DePalma to get into the mix at third wide receiver, he has a good chance to separate himself from a deep, yet inexperienced group of receivers and make the team.
DePalma’s primary competitors have combined for only 20 catches at the NFL level. The Giants’ third round selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, Ramses Barden, has 15 career catches, and former Cowboy/Patriot/Seahawk Isaiah Stanback accounts for the last five.
Undrafted rookie free agents Brandon Collins, David Douglas and Julian Talley round out the cast of pass-catchers fighting for a roster spot.
DePalma, who has a year of familiarity in offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride’s system, may have the early upper hand over the three rookies. He may also be a more attractive candidate than Stanback, who has not caught a pass since 2009, and Barden, who has been a constant disappointment after an impressive college career at Cal Poly.
However, it’s DePalma’s versatility that gives his value an added boost.
In addition to being an All-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference wide receiver, DePalma also stepped in at cornerback during his time at West Chester. According to a Tweet by ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk, DePalma has offered his services to the Giants’ defensive backfield.
The Giants certainly have an attraction to players who can be inserted into multiple roles.
Tight end Bear Pascoe has the ability to step in at fullback in a pinch, which he proved in 2010 when starter Madison Hedgecock went down with a hamstring injury, Kevin Boothe is the team’s most valuable offensive lineman for his ability to line up at center, guard or tackle—he has been starting at left guard in training camp.
Defensively, Mathias Kiwanuka has proven to be a contributor, whether he’s playing defensive end or linebacker.
If defensive coordinator Perry Fewell decides to accept DePalma’s offer, he will become the team’s only two-way player, which will grant him an invaluable utility role. The NFL is a copycat league and in recent years, Patriots head coach Bill Belichik has made it a popular tactic to use a two-way utility player with the likes of Troy Brown and Julian Edelman.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see his Super Bowl rivals follow suit.
It would be ironic, since DePalma was asked to pretend to be not only Edelman, but also All-Pro receiver Wes Welker in preparation for the Super Bowl last February. His efforts on the scout team did not go without high praise from both his coaches and his teammates.
According to an article that ran on SI.com, cornerback Corey Webster claims DePalma to be the “toughest Giants receiver to cover in practice,” and Fewell considers him the “’quickest and hardest working receiver on the team.”
That’s pretty high praise for a Division II product that has yet to catch a pass at the NFL level.
And quite honestly, is there any other team you’d rather play for if you were a young, aspiring receiver in the NFL? New York loves to groom its own home-grown talent—look no further than Victor Cruz, whose rise to stardom just last season would have been unimaginable as an undrafted free agent struggling to make the team in 2010.
Ultimately, DePalma may need to shine on all three teams—offense, defense and special—if he wants to have a shot at making the 53-man roster. Even if he falls short, DePalma should be a sure bet for the practice squad, but it’s hard not to pull for the New Jersey native to survive the Giants’ final cut.
Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinBoilard