Last offseason, New York Giants General Manager Jerry Reese received a significant amount of criticism for the decisions he made regarding many of the team's free agents. By not bringing back wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Kevin Boss, there seemed to be glaring holes on the depth chart at two key offensive positions.
However, in Week 3 of the 2011 season, an undrafted free agent out of UMass by the name of Victor Cruz had a coming out party against the Philadelphia Eagles. Cruz caught three passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns while going up against one of the most talented defensive backfield's in the league. From there on out, Cruz went on to break Big Blue's single season record for receiving yards while becoming an indispensable aspect of the offense.
It would be foolish to say that we should expect the Giants to have another player come out of seemingly nowhere to step-up and have a Pro-Bowl caliber season; however, the team has a core of young players that have not yet reached their full potential. Below, we will examine a few members of Big Blue's core of younger players that could surprise us and surpass their respective expectations throughout the 2012 campaign:
Linval Joseph (DT) – After being drafted with the 46th pick of the 2010 draft, the 6'4/ 323lb defensive tackle out of East Carolina saw little playing time for the duration of his rookie campaign. It was not until the last two games of the 2010 season that Joseph began to crack the defensive line rotation (44 snaps over two games ). For his entire rookie season, Joseph accumulated six tackles while seeing action in eight games.
However, with the departure of Barry Coefield last offseason, the team promoted Linval Joseph to the starting defensive tackle position alongside Chris Canty. Although Joseph played inconsistently for the majority of the regular season, he was dominant in Week 13 against the Green Bay Packers. For the duration of the game, Joseph overmatched the Green Bay offensive line, helping to allow only 2 yards per carry between the tackles. Furthermore, Pro Football Focus rated Joseph as the best defensive tackle in the playoffs, causing more pressures on the quarterback than any other player at his position.
A full year of NFL experience could allow Joseph to drastically improve throughout the 2012 season. With the Giant's extremely talented defensive line, teams will have no choice but to consistently leave Joseph in one on one matchups. With his size and overall talent, do not be surprised to see Linval Joseph wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines this season.
In today's NFL, where many high octane passing offenses rely upon delayed runs out of the shot-gun to facilitate an effective rushing attack, having a run-stopping defensive tackle in the heart of the defense can take a serious amount of pressure off Big Blue's elite pass rushing defensive ends.
Prince Amukamara (CB) – Needless to say, Prince Amukamara's professional career has gotten off to a rocky start. He lost all of his first offseason due to the lockout, got injured in his second NFL practice and missed the first nine regular season games. When he did see action in regular season games last season, Amukamara struggled mightily. Opposing quarterbacks boasted a 125.0 QB rating and a 70% completion percentage on balls thrown in his direction. Many have already labeled him as a bust. While talking about how Amukamara looked hesitant at times last season, Head Coach Tom Coughlin stated the following:
“That will happen. If he gets himself in position where he is comfortable and knows what he’s doing, we have seen that other aspect — the physical part of the play. You saw it, too. As a collegiate player (at Nebraska), that’s what he was. He was a physical player. He was a corner.”
Prince is finally expected to be healthy and able to contribute this season. Just a year ago, he was a first-round pick and being heralded as the "steal of the draft." He is finally going to have his first full offseason to learn the playbook and better understand the defensive schemes. With starters Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas ahead of him on the depth chart, Prince will have time to ease into the season and learn the playbook. It would be preposterous to expect Prince to have a Pro-Bowl caliber 2012 campaign; however, we can expect him to come into the season as the nickel cornerback and steadily improve throughout the year.
Da'Rel Scott (RB) - Although Scott showed promise during the 2011 preseason, he produced very little in regular season play. Furthermore, this season he will be buried on the depth chart behind Ahmad Bradshaw, David Wilson, and D.J. Ware. He will struggle to get carries early on.
However, Scott has blazing speed (4.34 40 yard dash) and a year of experience under his belt. When comparing him to starter Ahmad Bradshaw, Scott is about the same size as him, just younger and faster. If he can learn the Giants protection schemes, as well as improve his field vision with the ball in his hands (these are big "if's"), he has the athletic ability to become a great player.
In the NFL, speed kills, and Da'rel Scott has a lot of speed. Although the fastest running backs are not always the most productive, we saw flashes of greatness in last year's preseason. If the Giants suffer any injuries to the running back position (i.e, Ahmad Bradshaw's chronic foot issues) do not be surprised if Da'Rel Scott bursts onto the scene in a big way.
Mark Herzlich (MLB) – Out of the several young, talented players the Giants have at the linebacker position, Mark Herzlich is perhaps the biggest mystery in terms of how he will develop. In 2008 at Boston College, he was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year. However, he missed the following season while battling bone cancer in his leg. Through hard work and dedication, Mark Herzlich proved his critics wrong and made an NFL roster last offseason as an undrafted free agent. He played in 12 games and showed that he has potential; but , like any other player, still has areas in which he needs to improve.
The question with Herzlich is how high his ceiling is. He has shown that he has the potential to become a good, perhaps even a great linebacker in the NFL; however, nobody knows how cancer treatments could effect his long-term development as an athlete.
If Herzlich is healthy, look for him to vastly improve throughout the course of this season. With a full year of NFL experience, as well as a full offseason to help him better understand the defense, there is no reason why he can not become a major contributor to the 2012 New York Giants.
It is not every year that a team has a player like Victor Cruz come out of nowhere to have a record setting campaign. In fact, players like that are very few and far between. Although it is unrealistic to expect another player to accomplish what Victor Cruz did last season, there are several young players on the Giants' roster that have the potential to become pleasant surprises throughout the course of the 2012 season. All of the above players have obstacles they need to overcome in order to fulfill their potential; however, it should not surprise anybody to see some of the young players who are buried on the Giants' depth chart to step up and produce in a big way this year.
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