New York Giants: 6 Young Players to Build the Franchise Around
During training camp and the preseason, it seemed like player after player fell to injury for the New York Giants. By the time the season started, the Giants were being pegged as lucky to escape 2011 with a winning record.
However, the absence of players such as Justin Tuck and Terrell Thomas has barely been felt in New York due to the emergence of many rookies and young players who have stepped up in their place. This slideshow counts down the top six young Giants that could be cornerstones of the franchise for years to come.
5. Jake Ballard, TE
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Kevin who? The Giants received tons of criticism for letting Kevin Boss, one of their best offensive weapons, sign with the Raiders during the offseason, but New York's tight end situation isn't nearly as bad as many claimed it would be.
Travis Beckum and Bear Pascoe are decent, but they haven't had nearly as much of an impact as undrafted rookie Jake Ballard out of Ohio State. He kept claiming his receiving skills were underrated, and he was right: he already has 23 receptions for 395 yards and three touchdowns.
Ballard can also come up huge in the clutch. Earlier today against the Patriots, Ballard made two catches for 29 yards and a touchdown on New York's final drive, and both of those receptions came when they were needed the most.
Jake Ballard is one of the most surprising players of 2011 and one that could be an anchor of New York's offense for years to come if he continues his impressive level of play.
4. Jacquian Williams/Greg Jones, LB
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I combined these two players because their stories are very similar. Both were drafted in the sixth round of the 2011 draft, and both beat the odds to make it on to the 53-man roster. The Giants are lucky they kept both of these guys around.
Injuries have depleted the linebacking corps, leaving six players still on the active roster. Both Greg Jones and Jacquian Williams are seeing playing time, and both are making an impact.
Williams, though undersized for a linebacker, possesses rare speed for the position and dedication to the game rivaled by few. It's been a long road for Williams, but he hasn't given up yet and he has the potential to be a solid linebacker down the road.
Jones is big, strong and has a great nose for the football. Though he's a little raw and sometimes he gets overexcited and makes mistakes, Jones is the kind of player that could develop into a turnover machine on defense. He is a solid gap filler.
Both players are still rookies and their inexperience can show sometimes during games, but both are already turning heads and making an impact on defense. They have the tools to become tremendous players down the road.
3. Da'Rel Scott, RB
Call it a premature judgement, but I have a feeling Da'Rel Scott will be a very successful Giant. Although he has only touched the ball once this year on a four-yard reception, Scott's blistering 4.34 speed is a weapon the Giants need badly.
Domenik Hixon is a dominant force in the return game, but constant injuries keep him sidelined most of the season. Now that he has torn his ACL for the second straight year, there is a huge hole on special teams just waiting to be filled by Scott.
Last year players like Derek Hagan returned kicks and punts, and the result was New York having one of the worst return units in the NFL. Putting a player like Scott back to return punts could only benefit the Giants.
However, Scott's value isn't only on special teams. Although he lacks the size to be a feature back in the NFL, his speed and quickness could help him develop into a Darren Sproles-like back who can receive occasional handoffs but also be a huge presence in the passing game.
He may not have done much yet this season, but Scott is enthusiastic, fast and is definitely the versatile type of player the Giants should keep around for a while.
2. Victor Cruz, WR
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Has there been any offensive player more surprising this year than Victor Cruz?
Last year Tom Coughlin raved about him in training camp, so many New York fans knew it was only a matter of time before he made himself known in the NFL. His impressive preseason performance against the Jets last year was merely a sign of things to come, but injuries abruptly ended his 2010 season.
Cruz exploded onto the scene in Week 3 of this season with three catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles. Now he already has 34 catches for 588 yards and four touchdowns as the No. 2 receiver in New York's offense.
Cruz is reliable and can get consistently open, but he is also extremely dangerous after the catch. His first NFL touchdown featured him catching a short pass and breaking several tackles on his way to the end zone. If Cruz isn't wrapped up immediately after a catch, he can turn a five-yard pass into a 50-yard touchdown.
Cruz is the kind of explosive player that the Giants have needed opposite Hakeem Nicks, and he is only getting better as the season goes on. Hopefully Cruz will be in New York for a long time.
1. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE
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This is a guy whom the Giants should lock up for years to come. Jason Pierre-Paul, the second-year defensive end out of South Florida, backs up two of the best defensive ends in the NFL in Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck. However, Pierre-Paul has already begun to make a name for himself.
Tuck and Umenyiora have both missed time this year because of injury, but Pierre-Paul has completely filled the void in the Giants' pass rush. Pierre-Paul has recorded 35 tackles, 9.5 sacks, a forced fumble and four pass deflections already this season.
His freakish athleticism is a huge factor in his game, and he resembles a poor man's Julius Peppers with his ability to completely disrupt a play and do everything from stuff running backs to deflect passes.
Not only is Jason Pierre-Paul making everyone forget about the lack of Justin Tuck for most of the season, but he is also proving that he is up to par with some of the best defensive ends in the league, ranking third in the league in sacks and second among defensive ends.
Jason Pierre-Paul is showing exactly why he was a first round draft pick, and he could be one of the league's best defensive ends in a few years.