Giants: 3 breakout candidates to keep an eye on as training camp kicks off

New York Giants, NYG, Giants, Dane Belton, Micah McFadden, Brian Daboll

The New York Giants kick off training camp on Tuesday as they prepare for the upcoming 2023 season. Camp is always an exciting time for young players to prove their value and earn themselves larger roles with the team. Entering 2023, three second-year players stand out as break-out candidates as training camp kicks off this week.

Is the No. 2 LB job Micah McFadden’s to lose?

After veteran LB Jarrad Davis went down with a season-ending knee injury, the Giants’ No. 2 LB job became wide open for the taking. Second-year LB Micah McFadden has the advantage over other players contending for the position after making seven starts for New York as a rookie in 2022.

McFadden appeared in all 17 games last year, totaling 59 combined tackles, six tackles for loss, and two sacks during his rookie campaign. His ability to rush the passer makes McFadden a perfect fit for Wink Martindale’s defensive scheme.

Martindale praised McFadden this offseason, saying the second-year player has “really improved.” McFadden will be competing with fellow draft classmate Darrian Beavers for the No. 2 LB job next to prized free agent signing Bobby Okereke. McFadden’s unique skillset could propel him to have a breakout campaign with an extended role in Martindale’s defense this season.

Dane Belton gunning for a starting role in his second season

Opposite Xavier McKinney is a massive hole in the Giants’ defense. Since veteran safety Julian Love departed in free agency this offseason, New York has a void to fill on the back end of their defense. Second-year defensive back Dane Belton could be the leading man for the job.

Belton, a fourth-round selection in last year’s draft, missed the majority of last year’s training camp with a broken collarbone. He eventually recovered and played in 15 regular-season games as a rookie, making five starts and totaling 31 combined tackles, three passes defended, and two interceptions.

Entering his second season, Belton could see an expanded role in the Giants’ defense as their starting strong safety. At 6-foot-1, 205-pounds, Belton has the size to play in the box; something he did plenty of during his collegiate career as Iowa’s “cash” defender. If he can string together a solid summer of practices, Belton could find himself in the starting lineup at the start of the regular season as he embarks on a breakout sophomore campaign.

The Giants need Evan Neal to take a big step forward in 2023

Evan Neal may be the biggest key to the Giants’ finding success on offense in 2023. After being drafted with the seventh overall pick last year, Neal entered the NFL with high expectations. He struggled to put things together during his rookie season, but Neal has worked hard to position himself for an improved sophomore season.

Neal has worked tirelessly this offseason, changing his pass-protection stance while training with former All-Pro offensive lineman Willie Anderson. The hope is for Neal’s new stance to allow him to get ahead of pass-rushers quicker and improve his ability to protect the quarterback’s front side.

In 2022, Neal surrendered 39 pressures and seven sacks. While some angry fans might have already written the Alabama product off as a “bust,” his teammate Andrew Thomas is a perfect example of why it is far too soon to hand out such a label. Thomas, like Neal, struggled immensely as a rookie. Now Thomas is an All-Pro tackle and is considered one of the top talents in the NFL.

The Giants are hoping Neal can have a similar career trajectory to that of Thomas and turn things around in his second season. If Neal can take a big step forward in 2023, New York can feel confident in their offense’s ability to produce as they look to open up the playbook this season.

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