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Undrafted Rookie Kerry Wynn Developing into a Solid D-Lineman for the NY Giants

Patricia Traina@Patricia_TrainaFeatured Columnist IVDecember 23, 2014

This is a 2014 photo of Kerry Wynn of the New York Giants NFL football team. This image reflects the New York Giants active roster as of Monday, June 23, 2014 when this image was taken. (AP Photo)
Uncredited/Associated Press

Back in October, New York Giants rookie defensive lineman Kerry Wynn sat in front of his locker not far from where linebacker Jacquian Williams was conducting an interview. 

Wynn, a youthful-looking giant of a man who stands 6’5” and weighs 264 pounds, looked surprised when Williams, who was trying to characterize his style of play as a linebacker, was stuck searching for a better description than the proposed “silent assassin” label.  

“Why not just go with that?” Wynn asked Williams.

“Because you can’t say that,” Williams said.

The rookie shrugged. “I didn’t know that,” he said. “I’m just a rookie who’s still learning.”

Fortunately, for Wynn and the Giants, he has been a quick study—and no, not just as an interview subject.

The undrafted rookie out of Richmond, inactive for the first 11 games of the season, has finally earned himself a game-day uniform, making the most of the opportunity to impress upon the team that he should be a part of the 2015 plans at defensive end. 

The Silent Assassin

The Giants’ 2014 training camp was highlighted by numerous competitions between veterans and undrafted free agents alike.

One such battle of interest was between a pair of undrafted rookies signed by the team on May 12: defensive linemen Kelcy Quarles and Wynn.

Kelcy Quarles as a member of the Colts
Kelcy Quarles as a member of the ColtsPhelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Quarles, who played his college ball at South Carolina alongside the league’s first overall draft pick, Houston Texans defensive end and Jadeveon Clowney, emerged as an early favorite to make the 53-man roster.

That opinion, in part, was shaped by his preseason production, which, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), included four tackles (all assists), one sack and two quarterback hurries.

However, it was not meant to be for Quarles, who found himself on the outside looking in when the last of the mandatory roster cuts were announced.

Wynn, the quiet, unassuming defensive lineman who, per PFF, had 10 tackles, two sacks, three quarterback hits and seven quarterback hurries, won the competition. 

The question, though, was if and when he would contribute on a unit where he had Jason Pierre-Paul, Mathias Kiwanuka, Robert Ayers and Damontre Moore ahead of him on the depth chart.

Different Career Paths

After the Giants waived Quarles on August 30, he was, in the span of a week, claimed off waivers by the New England Patriots, waived and then signed to the Patriots’ practice squad.

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

On September 16, Quarles was signed off the Patriots' practice squad by the Indianapolis Colts, who later waived him on November 24 only to sign him the next day to their practice squad, of which he is currently a member.

Quarles' NFL experience this far? Two games, one tackle and one pass defensed. 

Wynn? The versatile lineman who has earned snaps at defensive end and defensive tackle, the latter coming in certain pass-rushing packages, found a home with the Giants on their 53-man roster—even if he wasn’t quite yet allowed to sit at the grown-up’s table coming out of camp.

Earning the Right to Compete

Rather than pout about not getting to play on Sundays, Wynn, who is extremely mature for a 23-year-old, took advantage of the opportunity to soak up as much information from as many sources as possible in advance of the chance he hoped would one day come.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 14:  Kerry Wynn #72 of the New York Giants celebrates a stop against the Washington Redskins during their game at MetLife Stadium on December 14, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

“When I wasn’t playing, I was trying to take as many mental reps as I could,” he said. “That led to scout team reps and then team reps. So I took the mental reps knowing that when I was put out there, I’d be mentally and physically ready.”

When the injury bug struck down defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins with a calf strain and then claimed defensive ends Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers for the season, it was just a matter of time before Wynn got his chance to show the coaches how far he had come.

“Kerry has been with us a long time—all through training camp,” head coach Tom Coughlin said during his Monday conference call with reporters.

“He impressed us all the way. Much of that was you never hear the guy say much. He just plays hard; he loves to play.”

Wynn—who, per his Giants' team bio, finished his college career at Richmond having played in 32 games with 30 starts while logging 145 tackles, 22.5 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks—eventually got his chance to put all he had learned during training camp and those weeks spent working behind the scenes to good use.

That experience, in which Wynn has played different roles, such as standing up as a pass-rusher and working inside at defensive tackle, has actually helped in his development. 

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

While the man of few words feels he has a solid foundation, he insists he has a lot more he can improve.  

Such as?

“I can improve on pad level—just typical stuff that guys coming out of college need to work on,” he said.

He also hopes to add a few more pass-rushing moves to his arsenal over time.

“You have to have a few moves for sure that you can always go to," he said. "I’m young, so I’m learning. I’m sure in a few years I’ll have a lot more in my arsenal.”

Still, so far, so good for Wynn, who, despite not yet being where he wants to be as a pro football player, has showed the Giants coachesand any skeptics who questioned why he earned a roster spot ahead of Quarles—that he indeed is worthy.

Per PFF, Wynn’s snap counts have increased each week, from 24 in Week 13 against the Jacksonville Jaguars to a career-high 53 last week against the St. Louis Rams.

Among those snaps, Wynn has accumulated 1.5 sacks, one quarterback hit, five hurries, eight tackles and nine stops, with just one missed tackle. 

Against the Rams, Wynn had the type of day defensive linemen dream about. He recorded a sack and a fumble recovery, and he was in the right spot to haul in an interception.

“He has a unique ability, in my opinion, to be in the right spot at the right time,” Coughlin said. “That is what he displayed [Sunday].”

Another thing Wynn has displayed is an ability to shed blocks and quickly get himself into position to make plays.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

That is what happened on this fourth-quarter play in which he pressured Rams quarterback Shaun Hill into throwing the ball away.

On the play, Wynn (red box) sheds his block, anticipating that Hill (black circle) is about to step up into the pocket.

Having timed the play correctly, Hill does indeed attempt to step up—only to be met by a charging Wynn, a sight that causes the quarterback to throw the ball away.

Run Defender

If you are familiar with Coughlin’s thought process when it comes to playing defense, you know that he prioritizes stopping the run.

Coincidentally, that just so happens to be Wynn’s strength right now, at least in the opinion of Inside Football (subscription required), which had this to say about his performance against the Rams.

All Wynn does is make smart, reliable plays. His strength is his run defense—he is so incredibly disciplined that is rare to see him ever out of position. He contains his gap meticulously, and he is very physical for his size. … On successive snaps, he held his ground, fought off one block and forced the back into traffic for the successive stops.

Coughlin echoed a similar sentiment about Wynn’s run-stopping abilities, saying, “He holds his gap [and] is a powerful young man.”

Here is an example from early in the third quarter of Wynn's run defense.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

He spots Rams running back Tre Mason eyeing a hole that has opened. Wynn then quickly sheds the offensive blocker in order to fill that hole and stops Mason for a one-yard gain.

Untapped Potential

Like many rookies, Wynn, who these days wears former defensive end Osi Umenyiora’s No. 72 jersey, has an offseason date with the weight room, where some added upper-body bulk should help him take those next steps in his development.

Tom Gannam/Associated Press

He’s also going to continue to seek answers to questions regarding how he can improve his craft, taking the dozens of tips he’s received from his veteran teammates and finding what works best for him in different situations.

“They’re really supportive in helping me out when I have any questions and giving me tips,” Wynn said of his defensive line teammates.

“I’m constantly asking, ‘Well what could I have done better on this play?’ They really help me out.”

The more he can bring to the table, the better his chances are of being a regular fixture in that defensive end rotation next year, especially since Kiwanuka is unlikely to be back and Pierre-Paul will be an unrestricted free agent.

One thing is for sure, and that is Wynn's hard work and intelligence have earned him a fan in the team's head coach.  

“He is just going to keep on getting better as he goes along,” Coughlin said.

Patricia Traina covers the New York Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and The Sports Xchange. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced.  Follow me on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.

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