Giants: 3 players who need to step up if Darren Waller misses Week 1

new york giants, daniel bellinger, isaiah hodgins
Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins (18) celebrates his touchdown with tight end Daniel Bellinger (82) during the second against the Minnesota Vikings quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

In a plot twist that caught everyone off guard, the New York Giants have listed their star tight end Darren Waller on the injury report just ahead of Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys. Despite remaining injury-free throughout training camp and preseason, Waller experienced hamstring tightness this week. This prompted the Giants to exercise extra caution leading into their inaugural game of the season.

Waller moved around with relative ease during Friday afternoon’s practice. However, there are lingering concerns about his ability to perform at full capacity, particularly given his past hamstring issues.

A History of Hamstring Woes: Why the Giants are Playing it Safe

Last year, Waller grappled with hamstring problems in both legs. Naturally, the Giants are treading carefully, potentially limiting his workload against the Cowboys. Although this strategy could put a dent in the Giants’ game plan, it is a prudent approach for the team’s long-term vision. If Waller sits out or is limited, several players will need to rise to the occasion. Let’s delve into who could see increased target shares.

Next Man Up: TE Daniel Bellinger

The Giants have high hopes for their 2022 draft pick, Daniel Bellinger. In his rookie season, despite a fractured eye socket against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Bellinger displayed strong performance metrics in both run-blocking and receiving. He registered 33 receptions on 38 targets, translating to an 86.8% reception rate, with 290 yards and three touchdowns to his credit. If Waller is sidelined, this San Diego State alumnus is poised to take on a more significant role. The Giants are optimistic that Bellinger can seize the opportunity effectively.

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The Veteran Option: WR Sterling Shepard

With Waller initially expected to operate mainly from the slot, his potential absence means the Giants will have to look elsewhere for that specific skill set. Enter Sterling Shepard. The veteran receiver, who is coming back from an ACL tear, has looked agile and quick this preseason.

Shepard has played just ten games in the last two seasons but aims to revive his career and provide a steady stream of receptions for Big Blue. As the longest-tenured Giant currently on the roster, he has built substantial chemistry with quarterback Daniel Jones. The Giants’ coaching staff is confident that he can fill the gap, especially if Waller’s involvement is compromised.

The Emerging Talent: WR Isaiah Hodgins

Isaiah Hodgins, the standout Giants receiver of 2022, is also set to benefit from more opportunities. Formerly a Bills practice squad member, Hodgins performed admirably in his eight games for the Giants last year. He racked up 351 yards and four touchdowns, including a crucial score against the Minnesota Vikings in the Wild Card game.

Standing at 6’4″ and weighing 210 pounds, Hodgins offers a physically imposing option that can help offset the loss of Waller. His catch rate last year was an impressive 78.6%, and he’s keen to build on his early success. Particularly potent in red-zone scenarios, Hodgins has become a trusted target for Daniel Jones near the goal line.

By assessing these options, the Giants are preparing to face any scenario. Whether Waller takes the field or not, the Giants have a range of players capable of stepping in and making a difference.