New York Giants: Breaking Down the First Wave of UDFA’s

Ben Coveyou
New York Giants, Javon Leake
Oct 5, 2019; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Maryland Terrapins running back Javon Leake (20) runs the ball against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the first half at SHi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is usually made up of about 30% undrafted free agents (UDFA). After the 7th round of the NFL draft the phone frenzy begins — teams calling and convincing the prospects left on the top of their draft board to join their team. Between you and me, I think some general managers (GM) trade their 7th round picks to get a jump on the UDFAs; this seemed to be a common practice for the previous New York Giants GM Jerry Reese.

Many view UDFAs as an extension of the draft class – and rightfully so. They sign multi-year contracts just like draftees do; and get their foot in the building just the same as draftees. Every rookie is at the rookie minicamp – it doesn’t matter if it’s the 1st round pick or an UDFA nobody has heard of.

Although they rarely become franchise players, UDFAs have value. It’s important for NFL teams to utilize the UDFA pool to cheaply fill out the back end of their roster with talented players that can contribute to winning football. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to find that diamond in the rough either. One such diamond in recent memory for Giants fans is WR Victor Cruz, who was a big part of the Super Bowl Championship in the 2011 season.

With the new CBA, there have been some changes to the practice squad rules that affect the roster and UDFAs. The practice squad has been increased from 10 players to 12 players, and it increases to 14 in 2022. The accrued year requirement has been lifted, which may hurt rookie players. Teams are allowed to automatically promote two practice squad players to the 53-man roster each week, increasing the Sunday active roster from 46 to 48, and at least one of those active players needs to be an offensive lineman.

Here are the UDFAs the Giants have agreed to terms with so far. It should be noted that until they’re actually signed, they’re not technically on the roster. It should also be noted that with the limited offseason program and potentially shortened training camp, there should be even more measured expectations for rookies this year than in other years – especially with the raw, developing prospects.

Case Cookus – Northern Arizona – QB – 6’3”/221 – (UDFA)
Accurate but not elite arm strength. Very productive and takes care of the ball. In 2019 he had a 60%+ completion, 4000+ yards, and 31 TDs to 7 INTs. In his career, he had 105 TDs to 21 INTs for an impressive 5:1 TD:INT ratio.

How he fits:
He’s a camp arm. A camp arm is a way to spread some reps around so the “important QBs” don’t overwork their arms. I see the Giants keeping two QBs. Colt McCoy and Alex Tanney will compete for Daniel’s backup. If Case impresses in camp and the preseason, he can stay around with a spot on the practice squad. His longshot ceiling would be to impress enough to eventually compete in a year or two as Jones’ backup, with McCoy being 33 years old and having an injury history. But usually these bottom roster QBs are a long shot, just hoping to make the practice squad and hang around long enough to endear themselves to a QB coach, and work to eventually get a shot at a back-up QB spot.

Javon Leake – Maryland – RB – 6’0”/215 – (UDFA)
Many draft analysts anticipated Leake to be drafted. He didn’t get on the field much during his career. A big reason for that was unproven pass catching ability and ball security issues. If you want to be a talented runner but not see the field much, being inconsistent in the pass game and putting the ball on the ground is the way to do it. He’s also not very laterally quick and is considered a HR hitter cut ‘n’ go RB. It’s tough to hang your hat on being a HR hitter when you run a 4.65 at the combine. These are the reasons why Leake didn’t get drafted, but it doesn’t mean he’s without value.

How he fits:
I don’t anticipate much from Leake as a RB, but he did prove to have good vision as a kick returner with 3 TDs. His running style is much more suited to kick returning in where he picks a lane and goes. If he makes the team, I view him as having special teams value and as purely a kick returner. But if he starts to put the ball on the ground, he’ll be launched quick.

Kyle Markway – South Carolina – TE – 6’4”/250 – (UDFA)
Versatile all-purpose TE that can line up flexed, in-line, or in a halfback role. Not athletically elite but moves decent enough. Decent route runner. Not a seam-buster but good enough to exploit it when it’s there. Consistent, strong pass catcher. Good, physical blocker. He’s an academic honor-roll student, and that seems to translate to his football IQ and versatility. He’s not a “blue goose” in any single category, but a good all-purpose TE prospect that can block, catch, and do so from different formations.

How he fits:
I anticipate him to compete for the 4th TE spot on the roster or land on the practice squad to continue to develop. He has upside to become a versatile, dependable, all-purpose back-up TE that can come in and give you quality snaps.

Austin Mack – Ohio State – WR – 6’1”/208 – (UDFA)
I’m a fan of Austin Mack. He’s not going to wow you with elite speed, but he’s smart, works hard, has good hands, is a good route runner, understands space, and has decent body control – especially along the sideline. He has everything I like in a WR. He has long arms and a big catch radius; and he has decent size which should help him when dealing with press/man. He’s a willing blocker. He’s not going to take the top off the defense, but he’s a reliable chain mover. He’s also versatile and could play all three WR positions. A trustworthy WR and a QBs best friend. He’s the kind of WR that Eli needed, but never got the second half of his career.

How he fits:
I believe he’ll compete for a back end WR spot. The Giants typically keep six. If not, he’ll definitely land on the practice squad and most likely see the field at some point during the year. He doesn’t have elite traits to be a WR1 or WR2, but I see his upside as a reliable WR3 or WR4.

Binjimin Victor – Ohio State – WR – 6’4”/198 – (UDFA)
What stands out with Victor is he’s 6’4” with 34” arms. He has an excellent catch radius and can high-point the ball. He doesn’t have top end speed, but he has consistent hands.

How he fits:
He has size and length, but he’s very lean which will be an issue in the NFL. Lean WRs coming out of college can get on the field early if they have speed – which he doesn’t. He’s a boundary, X WR jump-ball specialist with limited strength. But give him some time in the Giants strength program and he has upside. I see him as practice squad at best to fill out his body and better fulfill his role.

Derrick Dillon – LSU – WR – 5’11”/186 – (UDFA)
He’s fast. He reportedly ran a 4.28. He was the slot WR for the National Champions. It’s understandable that production may be hard to come by with that much talent and that many mouths to feed.

How he fits:
Speed and acting as a vertical threat to stretch the field always has value. We see however that many burners tend to be more football athletes than football players and have issues with consistent hands. Dillon seemed to catch the ball fine. He has value as a field stretcher and slot WR depth. Darius Slayton has dibs on the field stretcher role at the moment; but Dillon may see his value increase if Slayton gets injured or if starting slot WR Sterling Shepard has any concussion issues. I see practice squad but with his speed that can change in a hurry.

John Rysen – Simon Frasier U, BC (Canada) – WR – 6’7”/237 – (UDFA)
Ginormous receiving threat. At 6’7” and an 82” wingspan he has a very large catch radius. He has 10.5” hands and seems to catch the ball strong and true. At 237lbs, he’s not your typical string bean tall receiver – he should be able to work in traffic and win contested balls.

How he fits:
He’s not going to play in-line and block. He’s not going to win on route running. He can be a red zone target for back shoulder throws, high-point fades, and back endzone crossers. It’s very specific, but scoring points is a big part of the game, and a guy that’s always open can help your red zone efficiency. As long as he proves he can consistently catch the ball — especially in traffic — and win contested balls, I anticipate him to be stashed on the practice squad to learn NFL technique.

Kyle Murphy – Rhode Island – OG/C – 6’3”/316 – (UDFA)
I really like this signing. Murphy was a team captain and primarily played at LT, but also played OG and C. He’s athletic with good pass protection; good feet and anchor. His run blocking isn’t as good as his pass protection but that can be improved. He has long arms for a guard at a shade under 34”.

How he fits:
He’s a smart, versatile OG/C that could be quality competition and depth early. He may even be able to play OT in a pinch a couple years down the road, although he’ll start on the interior. A numbers game might prevent him from making the team, but he’ll at least make the practice squad, and might be on the roster at some point this year if injuries start to hit.

Tyler Haycraft – Louisville – OL – 6’3”/293 – (UDFA)
Hard working. He played RT on the Louisville team opposite of Mekhi Becton. He played well against tough competition in Clemson.

How he fits:
Haycraft is the type of hard worker and perennial underdog that you want to bring in and give him a chance. I don’t see him playing OT with his lack of length, I see him more as a OG/C. He’ll also have to add some weight. He’s a developmental prospect that will have to impress the coaches with his intangibles to hang on and make the practice squad.

Niko Lalos – Dartmouth – DE – 6’5”/270 – (UDFA)
Ivy leaguer that has the smarts to take to coaching, learn and develop. He has some length and athletic for his size. He played on the edge with his hand in the dirt. He showed some pass rush potential with 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 10 games.

How he fits:
I don’t see him as ROLB, which would force him to occasionally drop in coverage. I see him as a developmental 3-4 five technique DE. Put him in the Giants’ strength program, have him add about 10 lbs., give him some NFL coaching to improve his technique, and see what you have in a couple years. If he makes the practice squad this year he’s on the right track.

Dana Levine – Temple – OLB – 6’4”/235 – (UDFA)
Levine was a rotational pass rushing DE for Temple. He plays hard with a high motor and in limited action got 5.5 sacks and one forced fumble to show pass rush potential. Bragging rights fun fact: He sacked starting Giants QB Daniel Jones in 2018.

How he fits:
With the Giants 3-4 base defense he’ll have to play rush outside linebacker and will need to add at least about 10 lbs. to fully function at that position in the NFL. If he adds some weight and strength, and improves his technique with NFL coaching, he has a shot. He’s a developmental 3-4 ROLB and it’ll take a couple years. If he makes the practice squad he’s doing very well for himself.

Christian Angulo – Hampton – CB – 6’2”/192 – (UDFA)
A Cincinnati transfer that became All-Conference in the Big South with 14 PBUs and 3 INTs. A long, boundary CB with high-point ball skills. He’s also a willing physical tackler.

How he fits:
A tall, long, physical boundary CB that has good tools to work with. Dave Gettleman took two CBs in the draft but both are nickels. Angulo seems to be the only new boundary CB acquired so far. That bodes well for him if he can take to NFL coaching and improve his technique. He’s developmental, and it would be tough for him to make the team without injuries, but I anticipate him making the practice squad and being in the hopes and plans of the New York Giants moving forward. Boundary cornerbacks with his size and ball skills are valuable in today’s NFL.