The Most Underrated New York Giants Players on the Current Roster
When you think of an “underrated” player in the NFL, what comes to mind?
Maybe it’s a backup or a specialist. Maybe it’s someone who can play more than one position and do so at a high enough level to where he brings value to the team.
Maybe it’s someone who, at first glance, doesn’t look like he can be successful in the NFL but who plays bigger or faster than his listed measurables.
Whatever your definition of what an “underrated” NFL player is, every team has them, and in the case of the New York Giants, as we count down to the start of OTAs next week, I thought it might be a nice change of pace to pick out five Giants players that don’t get a lot of mention, but who project to be integral parts of the 2014 team.
Long Snapper Zak DeOssie
On the surface, it probably seems like a waste of a roster spot to have one player solely devoted to performing one function, such as is the case with long snapper Zak DeOssie, the last remaining member from the Giants’ 2007 draft class.
If you’re of that opinion, I have two words for you: Trey Junkin.
Junkin, once widely regarded as a solid NFL long snapper, will forever be remembered for one botched snap, that coming in a January 3, 2003, playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers in which the Giants, trailing 39-38, had a chance to win with a 40-yard field goal.
Except, as George Willis of the New York Post recalls in his piece on Junkin, the snap was low and wide left, setting off one of the most bizarre sequences on a play that saw holder Matt Allen try to pass to Rich Seubert on a play in which the eligible Seubert was brought down to the ground before the ball got there, the officials missing the blatant pass interference call.
Junkin didn’t return to the Giants that next season, and four years later, the Giants had found their long-term long snapper.
DeOssie was originally drafted as a linebacker and long snapper, like his father Steve, who played for the Giants during the 1989-1993 seasons.
The younger DeOssie eventually converted full-time to long snapping duties after his rookie season and has since been one of the best at his craft in the NFL, earning two Pro Bowl berths (2008 and 2010).
What makes DeOssie so good for the Giants is that he’s usually one of, if not the first men down field on punt coverage, an impressive feat given that he not only has to snap the ball but then shed a blocker and hustle downfield despite not being the fleetest afoot.
Last season, the Giants’ special teams co-captain recorded 10 special teams tackles, which tied him with linebacker Spencer Paysinger for fourth-best on the team.
DeOssie also recovered one opponent’s fumble last season, that coming against Minnesota the third quarter of Week 7 that helped set up the Giants second touchdown of the game to make it 17-7.
Signed through the 2015 season, another underrated aspect about DeOssie has been his injury history which, per KFFL, has seen him show up on the Giants injury report in just three of the seven seasons he’s been in the league.
Considering that DeOssie continues to chase down punts, that’s a pretty good history right there, making him one of the most indispensable and underrated players on the Giants roster.
Cornerback Trumaine McBride
There are probably any number of reasons cornerback Trumaine McBride’s career has taken him to four teams in six seasons.
The most likely reason? McBride stands 5’9” and weighs 185 pounds—not exactly ideal size and weight for a cornerback playing on the island against bigger and more physical receivers.
A former seventh-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears, McBride started 10 games in his first two seasons with Chicago. In 2009, he played in one game before a sprained knee cut short that season.
The Giants decided to take a chance on him in 2013 and McBride, who initially seemed like a fringe player in training camp, not only won a roster spot with his solid play, he went on to start 10 games for the Giants despite having to deal with a groin injury toward the end of that season.
The funny thing is that despite not possessing ideal size to match up against the NFL’s taller receiver, McBride did just fine for the Giants.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), McBride finished with a 6.6 overall grade, putting him 23rd among NFL cornerbacks who took 50 percent of their team’s defensive snaps.
However, a closer look at McBride’s numbers from among that same group of cornerbacks shows that he allowed just 44.8 percent of the balls thrown at him to be completed—the lowest mark of the group.
That percentage is also just a hair above the man who will replace him in the Giants’ starting lineup, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who allowed 44.1 percent of the passes thrown his way to be completed.
What’s been the secret to McBride’s success?
“I have to put myself in the best position to be in,” he told me in an article for Inside Football last year. “With me, it’s always about technique, always about being in the best position I can be in. I have to play bigger than I really am.”
An unrestricted free agent this past winter, the Giants re-signed McBride to a two-year deal to provide depth at the position. Given the physical nature of the game, it wouldn’t’ be surprising at all if McBride finds his way back to field for more than just an occasional snap or two.
Defensive Lineman Cullen Jenkins
In the NFL, many players need to be versatile enough to play multiple positions. Sometimes, however, that can lead to being a “jacks of all trades, master of none” for some guys.
Not for defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins, who is the only established starter on the Giants roster to make the cut for being underrated.
A defensive tackle by trade, Jenkins’ ability to move outside to defensive end has enabled the Giants to save a roster spot that might otherwise have been spent on a defensive lineman.
But it’s more than just being versatile. Jenkins, who last season played the bulk of his 718 snaps at the right defensive tackle spot, has been solid not only on the inside, but when asked to move to the outside as well, this despite the challenges that come with making the transition.
“When you’re inside, you have to take shorter steps,” Jenkins told Jordan Raanan of NJ.com last year. “Everything happens so much faster. Where at end, you have a little more time to read on the run.
“You have to be covering ground more at the end. You have to be able to switch your mindset over pretty fast to whatever position you’re in.”
Although Jenkins didn’t have the sack numbers to show for it—he finished with just 5.0 quarterback sacks in 2013—often times it was his push that helped collapse the pocket and flush the quarterback into the waiting arms of a teammate who cleaned up on the sack.
He also finished third on the Giants with 12 hits on the quarterback and was second with 21 quarterback hurries, behind Justin Tuck’s 32.
The 33-year-old Jenkins is signed through the 2015, where his cap number will actually drop from what Over the Cap reports is $3.266 million this year to $2.91 million next year. If he can maintain his high level of play, there shouldn’t be any reason why he won’t see the end of his current contract.
Linebacker Spencer Paysinger
Ever since he signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011, linebacker Spencer Paysinger has developed into a versatile NFL player whose contributions as a weak-side linebacker in the base defense and an inside linebacker in the nickel have helped to keep the Giants defense afloat.
Last season, Paysinger received 707 snaps on defense, eighth-most on the team, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which is the second highest total at linebacker behind Jon Beason’s 741.
Paysinger, the only one of the Giants’ restricted free agents to receive a tender, started 10 games on defense, including five at middle linebacker in the sub package and five on the weak side, finishing seventh on the team in total tackles with 73.
In addition to his solid play on defense, Paysinger has continued his strong showing on special teams, finishing last season with 10 total tackles, tying him for fourth on the team with long snapper Zak DeOssie.
Moving forward, Paysinger figures to compete with Jacquian Williams for the starting weak-side role. Interestingly, both Paysinger and Williams’ respective contracts will be up after this season, and whoever emerges as the starter might very well be here for the long-term.
Running Back Peyton Hillis
After the 2010 season, a year in which running back Peyton Hillis tore things up for the Cleveland Browns by rushing for 1,177 yards, he was never able to re-capture the magic of that season.
So here we are today. The Giants are Hillis’ fifth team, and he hasn’t come close to recording the numbers he did during that special 2010 season.
That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a great deal of value that qualifies him as one of the Giants’ most underrated players.
Let’s look three things that makes Hillis so underrated.
Mileage. He’s carried the ball 670 times in his career for 2,717 yards and 23 touchdowns. Over the course of the six seasons he’s been with an NFL team, that averages out to 111.6 carries, meaning he probably has another year or two of tread left on his tires.
Versatility. In addition to being a runner, Hillis’ 7.8 yards per catch out of the backfield top his 4.1 yards per carry—impressive since on the majority of those catches, he’s starting from way behind the line of scrimmage. He can also play fullback if necessary.
Doggedness. Per data pulled from various pages at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Hillis has caused defenders to miss him on the first tackle 66 times, or an average of 11 times per season. That’s roughly nine percent of his average rushes per year.
Hillis probably won’t ever be a featured back in this league again. The good news is that he has matured to where he understands and accepts his role as a rotational guy and has embraced being a New York Giant so much that he signed a two-year contract extension to return, a deal that per Over the Cap offers just $100,000 in guaranteed money.