8 Players Who Might Find Themselves on New York Giants' Practice Squad in 2014
A lot of the focus this summer will fall upon the formation of the 53-man roster, finalized at the conclusion of training camp. Several of those who end up cut wind up in an immediate opportunity with the team in the form of contributing as a member of the practice squad.
The New York Giants, and the NFL's other 31 teams, are allowed no more than eight practice squad designations, which fluctuate tremendously throughout the season. The players signed to the Giants' practice squad might not all be players who spent their summer with Big Blue either—other squad's castoffs are fair game.
Here's a great primer on practice squad rules and regulations.
This article, however, will focus on the eight candidates currently on the Giants roster whose chances to land on the practice squad are highest. They are ranked in order from most to least likely to make it. The first few are sure to warrant active-roster consideration, while the last couple are long shots to even make the practice squad.
These players, if selected for the practice squad, will train and develop beside New York's starters and most valuable reserves, earning NFL experience without ever stepping foot on the game field in 2014. They will have a year to focus on nothing more than their progression as professionals.
Read on to learn more about the leading candidates for this special roster distinction.
DT Kelcy Quarles
The undrafted free agent with the best chance to make the 53-man roster is Kelcy Quarles, a 22-year-old defensive tackle out of South Carolina. The No. 1 overall selection in this spring's draft, Jadeveon Clowney, was Quarles' Gamecock teammate for three seasons.
With the focus of so many blockers on Clowney at end, Quarles dominated the consistently undermanned interior trenches to a better statistical season in 2013:
|Clowney vs. Quarles 2013 Season|
|TACKLES||(FOR A LOSS)||SACKS|
All 32 of the NFL's teams doubted Quarles' ability to replicate that production as a pro—at least so far as to spend a draft pick on him. Yet, so esteemed by Quarles' collegiate play were some draft gurus that they projected his selection as early as the third round.
Here's how Quarles fits into the final 53:
The Giants will carry no more than 10 defensive linemen, a maximum of five being tackles.
Eleventh-year veteran Cullen Jenkins is the well-versed interior pass-rusher (43.5 career sacks), and 2013 second-rounder Johnathan Hankins is the gap-plugging, run-stuffer that is just now reaching maturity. They figure to claim the top two spots on the D-tackle depth chart.
Then there's 310-pound rookie Jay Bromley, whose likelihood of claiming a roster spot in 2014 is a near-certainty as a third-round investment.
Quarles must find ways to shine in a three-way battle between he, 30-year-old Mike Patterson and 2012 seventh-rounder Markus Kuhn. He can steal a roster spot from one of these two entrenched tackles by proving his college productivity not to be a Clowney-fueled hoax.
If he does not flash such potential this summer, Quarles is a prime candidate to be stashed on the practice squad. To release him, first, would not be without considerable risk; another team might be tempted to claim a talent as familiar as Quarles.
TE Xavier Grimble
Giants fans are desperate for a hero to emerge at tight end. Could undrafted free agent Xavier Grimble become that player in 2014, and possibly beyond?
No team selected the 6'4" USC product, leaving Grimble available for the Giants to scoop up after failing to address a glaring need with a draft pick. This year's crop of tight ends was not particularly enchanting, and Grimble was the class' most notable under-performer.
In Southern California, Grimble never lived up to expectations. He left school and entered the draft a year early, after three unfulfilling seasons:
|Grimble College Stats at USC|
Grimble's interim head coach at USC said the tight end is "going to be an All-Pro in the NFL" (per NFL.com), despite an overwhelming amount of evidence pointing to the contrary. It should be Grimble's focus to make New York's team before he frets over his representation on a league-wide All-Star roster.
Perhaps Grimble pulls away from a rather homely tight end crowd, in which his biggest competitors are the painfully inexperienced Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell. Kellen Davis and Daniel Fells, both seventh-year tight ends, are equally unlikely to become training camp superstars.
If Grimble is pushed out of a roster spot by a few of these guys, he should absolutely be considered for the practice squad. The Giants need an insurance policy—and perhaps new developmental project—at tight end.
CB Bennett Jackson
Only one draft pick finds himself on this list, and it's sixth-round cornerback Bennett Jackson, New York's final selection in the 2014 draft.
Jackson, a former member of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive backfield, will now try his hand at defending against NFL-caliber pass coverage. He does so, however, against a stacked cornerback lineup on his own team.
Ahead of him on the depth chart, to name a few, are 2011 first-rounder Prince Amukamara and high-profile signees Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond III. Players like Zack Bowman and Trumaine McBride figure to be quite capable in backup roles. The four-game suspension of Jayron Hosley does open Jackson's window of opportunity just slightly but not nearly enough to guarantee a roster spot.
Jackson can make the 53-man roster by holding his own in coverage and excelling on special teams. If he is unable to achieve that, then a season on the practice squad will suit Jackson best.
The 22-year-old, who was a wide receiver not long ago, can afford to take a year to refine his craft at cornerback and fill out his 6'0"-frame more thoroughly. The Giants do not need him to contribute immediately with so many talented cornerbacks already ahead of him, so a year spent on the practice squad would not do any harm.
Unless Jackson stands out as a special-teams gunner, the best place for him to spend the 2014 season is on the practice squad.
WR Corey Washington
Washington originally signed as an undrafted free agent with the Arizona Cardinals but was since waived and claimed by New York. Washington is two inches teller than the next tallest receiver on the Giants' roster, presumed starter Rueben Randle.
Small-school prospects always face an uphill climb when it comes to the NFL transition. The results from Washington's Pro Day, however, should inspire equal parts confidence and patience when it comes to his professional development:
|Washington Pro Day Results|
|4.49 sec.||33"||10'5"||14 reps||1.57 sec.||2.63 sec.||11.85 sec.||6.83 sec.|
Washington's chances to make the 53-man roster are minimal for sure. Victor Cruz remains New York's most eminent young star, while LSU products Randle and Odell Beckham Jr. project to be fine complements on the outside. Behind them, Jerrel Jernigan looks to spark a lasting flame, as fallen star Mario Manningham looks to reignite his.
After that, it's return specialist Trindon Holliday and a slew of other camp body-types muddying up the competition for Washington.
However, since the D-II product is expected to take extra time to reach NFL-caliber, Washington's natural progression would be to spend the 2014 season on New York's practice squad.
RB Kendall Gaskins
The Giants can stockpile a useful tool on its practice squad in Kendall Gaskins, a 240-pound running back who's willing to double as a fullback.
Gaskins first entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Buffalo Bills in 2013. He did not make the team in western New York, but he caught just enough luck to land on the Giants' practice squad late in the season last year. From there, he was asked to return on a future/reserve contract.
At Richmond, Gaskins was not a long-distance runner. In four seasons as a Spider, he never recorded more than 650 rushing yards. He did, however, have a knack for finding the goal line:
|Gaskins College Touches vs. Scoring|
This does not mean Gaskins is poised to become the Giants' next big scoring threat. There is overwhelming competition at running back between free agent acquisition Rashad Jennings, 2014 fourth-round selection Andre Williams and the unpredictably unbelievable David Wilson. Gaskins must overcome considerable odds to claim the final roster spot over Peyton Hillis and Michael Cox.
Gaskins is just as unlikely to be relied upon as a lead blocker. The Giants are currently featuring a heated fullback battle, headlining John Conner vs. Henry Hynoski with no third-party candidate in sight.
But on the practice squad, in Gaskins, New York can hoard a type of running/fullback-combo that can be easily accessed if either unit is suddenly thin in 2014.
LB Dan Fox
New York's linebacker pedigree is not what it once was, but the unit still fields a few quality players each year. Recently, late-round selections and undrafted free agents have been able to carve out roles—not superstar-sized, rather serviceable—in the Giants defense.
This year's "surprise of [the] linebacker group," according to Connor Orr of The Star-Ledger, could be undrafted rookie Dan Fox out of Notre Dame.
Linebackers coach Jim Hermann described Fox's approach to the game as "natural" (per BigBlueInteractive.com). An instinctive player, Fox is able to break down what's unfolding before him and make plays that are within his range.
That strength, however, is also his weakness.
Although he diagnoses plays well, Fox does not possess the athleticism to make a positive impact as a long-term starter. He projects, instead, to be a reliable reserve, capable of filling in at all three linebacker positions in the 4-3 base formation. However, he will be able to claim this role only through stellar play on special teams.
Luckily for Fox's NFL future, he's exactly the type of football player who thrives in such a situation. It's the somewhat twisted men who are at home hurling their bodies across a gridiron on punt- and kick-coverage units that somehow find their way onto the 53-man roster.
Even with the uncertainty surrounding Jon Beason's foot injury and subsequent linebacker situation, Fox's path to the Giants' active roster may go through the practice squad in 2014.
OT Rogers Gaines
The Giants must stash away at least one offensive lineman on the practice squad in 2014, and waiver claim Rogers Gaines is in good position to become that player.
Gaines, a 24-year-old out of Tennessee State (FCS), failed to catch on as an undrafted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens last season. He was picked up by the Chicago Bears but did not play in a single game. Now, with the Giants, the 6'6", 329-pounder looks to hold down a more permanent position.
New York did a ton to improve its offensive line this offseason, so that position is unlikely to be on the 53-man roster. Those spots will be reserved for the veteran holdovers like right guard Chris Snee, promising youngsters like right tackle Justin Pugh and a variety of new additions, such as left guard Geoff Schwartz (free agency) and center Weston Richburg (second-round draft pick). Only the most outstanding members of the remaining contingent will be kept along as reserves.
Gaines is not likely to be one of those players since he is still very raw. Like many other FCS products trying to make a way in the NFL, Gaines possesses the size and athleticism to be successful; the only question is whether or not he develops the necessary technique to go along with those characteristics.
It will take significant work with the coaching staff to mold Gaines into an eventual contributor. Even though he is not expected to be impactful in 2014, the big tackle must showcase significant improvement by the end of training camp in order to warrant a spot on New York's practice squad this year.
It will prove to be a valuable investment if Gaines develops on the practice squad, as his frame is ideal for a franchise left tackle.
New York must allow him another year to grow into it.
DE Jordan Stanton
Defensive end is another position that always seems to land a representative on the Giants practice squad. This summer's best candidate to do so is Jordan Stanton, an undrafted free agent out of James Madison.
A mainstay along JMU's defensive front for three seasons, the 23-year-old Stanton was an FCS-standout as a collegian, playing in a variety of roles, but fitting best as a maneuverable tackle. His 6'4", 280-pound frame is too slender for the NFL's interior trenches, but it is intriguing for a strong-side defensive end.
Some will say 2013 third-round selection Damontre Moore is the heir apparent to take over Justin Tuck's now-vacant role on the left side, but the slight, 250-pounder is undoubtedly a better fit rushing the passer from the blind side. Veterans Mathias Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers, both stronger run-defenders, are the real front-runners to become Tuck's 2014 replacement.
None of those three players is appealing as a long-term solution, however. The truth is New York will likely rely on a committee, at least at first, to replace Tuck's production. Stanton, still so raw, won't be part of this committee in 2014, however, he could be the player who eventually takes hold of the reins on the left side of Big Blue's defensive front.
For now, Stanton should develop on the practice squad, giving the Giants a season's worth of practice assessment to determine his capabilities at the professional ranks.
*All roster information courtesy of Giants.com.