New York Giants: 5 'Forgotten' Players Looking to Contribute in 2014
It’s hard not to like what New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese has done this offseason in free agency.
Embarrassed by last year’s personnel shortcomings that contributed to a 7-9 record, Reese has gone on a spending spree like none other in his tenure as general manager. According to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, Reese has dropped more than $111 million on 23 players, including 13 newcomers signed from other teams.
With the addition of several new guys combined with the return of about 10 players from last season, there will be competition at almost every position, be it for a starting job or for a backup spot.
In looking at how the depth chart is starting to fill out, there are some players that, at one time, showed enough promise to earn a roster spot with the Giants. These days, however, those players seem to be something of an afterthought when evaluating the depth of the various units.
That brings me to my list of five players who really aren't mentioned much when talking about the competitions that are set to kick off this summer. These are players whose future with the team could go either way, depending on how well they perform and how injuries affect the depth around them.
So without any further delay, here’s my list of five “forgotten” Giants who will be looking to contribute to the 2014 season.
Patricia Traina is the senior editor for Inside Football. All quotes and information obtained firsthand (draft quotes are from press conferences), unless otherwise noted. Player injury histories are from KFFL. Follow me on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.
Safety Cooper Taylor
A year ago after being selected in the fifth round (152nd overall pick), safety Cooper Taylor (6’5”, 229 pounds) out of Richmond was lauded for his exceptional size and athleticism.
After Taylor was selected, the Giants' vice president of player evaluation, Marc Ross, then the director of college scouting, told the media that he believed the Giants found a hidden gem.
At that point in the draft we think we got a hidden gem there. This guy is big, fast, smart, plays the game the right way. He does a lot of things for Richmond. They line him up at multiple positions.
You’ll see him in the box; you’ll see him back deep. He covers the slot. Productive there. He transferred from Georgia Tech, but we think this guy has got a lot of upside.
Unfortunately for Taylor, who battled back from a rare heart condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome to realize his dream of being drafted by an NFL team, the injury bug got him during training camp.
Taylor suffered a hamstring injury early in camp last year that caused him to miss three of the team’s four preseason games.
He didn’t return to practice until Aug. 26 and made his NFL preseason debut in the finale against the New England Patriots, a game in which he forced a fumble.
Appearing to be back on track, Taylor then suffered an injury to his left shoulder in Week 3, an injury for which he wore a sling he told me at the time was “as a precautionary.” Still, that injury cost him three early season games and the practice time that went with it.
The final straw for Taylor came when he re-aggravated his hamstring in Week 15. He was placed on injured reserve the last week of the season, his rookie year essentially becoming a washout due to numerous injuries.
In between injuries, Taylor played in 10 games, mostly on special teams. He finished with four tackles, the highlight of his rookie season being his recovery for a touchdown of a blocked punt by defensive end Damontre Moore against the Raiders.
This year, Taylor would appear to have a steeper hill to climb to get a roster spot. The Giants re-signed safety Stevie Brown, who is coming off ACL surgery. They also added Quintin Demps, a safety and return specialist.
Those two will join Taylor and projected starters Antrel Rolle and Will Hill in camp this season, giving the Giants five safeties for four spots.
Injuries could always happen, and certainly Hill's track record so far has to leave the Giants just a little nervous.
In a perfect scenario, Demps likely makes the team where he'd also contribute as a return specialist. Also, Brown's knee holds up, though it remains to be seen if he's lost a step after the injury.
What will probably happen is Taylor will battle for the fourth spot with Brown. Can he get caught up on the time he missed last year due to injuries?
That will certainly be one of the subplots to watch this summer.
Cornerback Jayron Hosley
Selected in the third round of the 2012 draft out of Virginia Tech, Jayron Hosley (5’10”, 178 pounds) doesn't have ideal size for an NFL cornerback, but he does have long arms, good jumping ability, speed and a certain degree of spirit which was supposed to enable him to play bigger than his size.
He also played with toughness, at least that's what general manager Jerry Reese told reporters after the pick was made:
He’s not a big man, but this guy has athletic arrogance. He plays like a big guy. His skill set, years ago, kind of reminds me of Adam 'Pacman' Jones—he plays kind of like that. He runs in there kind of like a little linebacker. He throws himself in there.
He has outstanding cover skills. He’s productive. He’s an interceptor, he can intercept the ball, so we expect him to be in our nickel packages. And a bonus is that he’s a punt returner. We think if he was a couple of inches taller, he would be in the first (round conversation) with the two top corners.
Whatever promise the Giants’ brass saw in Hosley, his injury history has probably created more concern than hope.
As a rookie, Hosley missed the final two preseason games with a hamstring strain. While he returned to play in the season opener that year, the strain never really healed and he ended up missing two more games that season, and with it, the practices that went along with the game preparation.
In 2013, it was more of the same. This time his hamstring ailment cost him five games in the middle part of the season.
Production-wise, Hosley has made 49 tackles in 23 games, has broken up six passes and has made one interception.
As a punt returner, he’s been even less productive. He’s had three returns over the past two seasons for nine yards and one fair catch.
With the Giants having signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to start, Walter Thurmond to play the slot, Zack Bowman for depth and Trumaine McBride to provide depth to a group which also includes Prince Amukamara, Hosley looks right now like he'd be the sixth man on a five-man totem pole unless injuries affect the pecking order.
Linebacker Allen Bradford
Before the Giants found a long-term solution to their middle linebacker woes in Jon Beason, they had acquired running back-turned-linebacker Allen Bradford, waived by the Seahawks.
A three-year veteran who was originally a sixth-round draft pick of Tampa Bay’s in 2011, Bradford (5’11", 235 pounds) out of USC contributed five tackles on special teams.
A former running back for Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll when the two were with the Trojans, Bradford also saw some light spot duty on defense, finishing with four tackles.
Bradford is currently under contract with the Giants through 2015. As to where he might fit in, he'll likely compete with Mark Herzlich, who finished as the Giants' team leader in special teams tackles with 14, to be the backup to Beason in the middle.
Herzlich also played in 194 snaps on defense last season, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), mostly working as a goal-line linebacker after yielding the starting middle linebacker job to Beason.
What’s interesting about Herzlich’s one-year, $1 million contract is that he has a per-game roster bonus that, per Spotrac, can net him an additional $200,000 if he plays in all 16 games.
That roster bonus appears to be in lieu of a signing bonus, which would suggest that if Herzlich doesn’t make the roster, the Giants’ dead money cap charge on him would be just the $25,000 workout bonus he’s due to earn this offseason.
Money aside, Bradford, who's due a base salary of $570,000 this season, will finally have the opportunity to really absorb the Giants' defensive playbook, something he really didn't get much of a chance to do last year with him joining the team after training camp.
The more positions that Bradford shows the coaches he can play, the more valuable he can become for a Giants team that likes their linebackers to be able to play at least two different spots in addition to special teams if they're not starters.
While I don't really know much about Bradford as a linebacker, he'll certainly be one to watch during the spring and summer as he tries to climb an uphill battle for a spot on the final 53-man roster.
Offensive Lineman Dallas Reynolds
One of the most common questions I get from my Twitter followers—besides whom I think the Giants will draft in the first round—is what they plan to do at center.
To recap, the Giants signed J.D. Walton, who last played a game in 2012 for the Denver Broncos, to a two-year deal worth $6 million, which includes a $1.25 million signing bonus and a $1.25 million base, per Spotrac.
A closer look at Walton’s contract shows that in the second year of the deal, he has a $250,000 roster bonus reportedly due on the fifth day of the 2015 league year.
Usually when a player has a roster bonus due within a week after the start of the new league year, that’s an indicator that he’s not a lock to make the team going forward.
And if he's not a lock to make the team, that could likely be because the team has its eye on another prospect, be it a future draft pick or someone else on the roster.
Getting back to the question of what the Giants will do for a backup at center, a name that's been overlooked is Dallas Reynolds, signed by the Giants on Oct. 1, 2013.
Reynolds spent the 2012 season with the Philadelphia Eagles after bouncing on and off of their practice squad in prior seasons. He started 14 games at center for the Eagles in 2012.
When he came over to the Giants, he was active for three games, apparently showing enough for the Giants to tender him a one-year contract as an exclusive-rights free agent rather than tender restricted free agent Jim Cordle, who had started for them during David Baas' absence.
Does that make Reynolds, who can also play guard, a lock to make the 53-man roster out of training camp? That remains to be seen, as I would not be surprised if the Giants look to draft a guard/center prospect this year.
Still, Reynolds will get a chance to compete for a roster spot and will be another one of those unknowns who will be worth watching in the preseason.
Running Back Michael Cox
Here’s what is known so far about the Giants' running back situation.
Rashad Jennings signed a four-year, $10 million contract and will, based on recent quotes by head coach Tom Coughlin given to Michael Eisen on the team's official website, presumably carry the load regardless of what happens with David Wilson’s recovery:
I think (Jennings is) an all-around back. Whatever question I asked when I was looking at the tape got answered. In other words, he went 80 (yards for a touchdown last season for Oakland in a game at Houston). Is he fast enough? He goes 80. Does he catch it out of the backfield? Yes. Does he run the screens well? Yes.
How is he from scrimmage as a runner? Good. First and second down, can he play on third down? Yes, he can. What does he need? Well, he’s 230 pounds with a great attitude. He needs a little work on his pass protection, but I think we can get that done. I think he’s an all-purpose guy that fits us very, very well.
Getting back to Wilson, Coughlin was asked during that interview if he’s still counting on having him at some point this season.
The coach replied, “I’m counting on him, but I am not going to put him in any circumstance until it’s an absolute that he’s 100 percent. I’m not going to mess with that one.”
Until such time that Wilson is ready—if he’s ready this season—it's projected to be Jennings and Peyton Hillis providing the one-two punch at running back.
Who will be the third man until Wilson returns? Presumably, it would be Michael Cox, the Giants' seventh-round draft pick last year.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Cox received just 38 snaps on offense, starting one game after injuries all but wiped out the depth in front of him.
What’s interesting about Cox is that last year, as the injuries piled up on the Giants at running back, the coaches did not turn to him until there were no other options left, raising a question about why it took him so long to get any snaps.
Certainly part of the answer could have something to do with his ability to pass block. Historically, Coughlin has been reluctant to put rookie running backs on the field until they can demonstrate both the knowledge and ability to pass block.
This requirement won’t be changing any time soon as new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, in his conference call with reporters in February, emphasized that if a running back can’t pass block, he’s not getting on the field.
So the questions regarding Cox are how well will he do in having to learn a new playbook from scratch and can he demonstrate an ability to pass block?
The Giants might not want to put all their eggs in one basket. They could be looking at bringing in a draft pick that has had more experience pass blocking in a college program to compete for the roster spot.
Also potentially influencing what happens at this position is how McAdoo plans to deploy whoever wins the fullback position.
Will the winner of the Henry Hynoski-John Conner battle get some touches from the backfield, thereby eliminating the need for one running back and allowing the Giants to use the roster spot elsewhere?
One thing not working in Cox's favor is that he is probably not going to be the main man this year on kickoff returns, not if Quintin Demps and Trindon Holliday both make the team.
If Cox struggles with his pass blocking, he could be potentially facing an uphill battle to make the final 53-man roster this year.
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