The New York Giants have one linebacker pushing Ryan Connelly for starting job

New York Giants, Devante Downs

The New York Giants signed David Mayo do a three-year extension this off-season, with the goal that he could push Ryan Connelly for a starting job on defense. However, another low-key player has quietly made an impact during practice.

With the Giants enjoying their first week of padded practices, getting a more in-depth look at some of their younger, unproven players, has opened some eyes to potential roster changes.

Head coach Joe Judge made sure to enter the training camp portion of the off-season with a focus on competition. He stated that every player had to earn their spot on the roster, specifically starters. That gave players like Devante Downs, formally a seventh-round pick by the Minnesota Vikings in 2018, the confidence to compete for starting reps.

Downs, who barely played in his first two years in the NFL, featured primarily on special teams. He recorded 28% of the reps for the Minnesota Vikings in 2018 and 26% for the Giants last year after being claimed in October.

The special-teams unit can often be the gateway to starting teams, and Downs has shown an elevation in efficiency in production during practice so far.

New York Giants’ Judge has been impressed by Downs:

“He has good movement skills. I like the way he works,” Judge said of Downs this week. “He’s starting to communicate a lot better with his command in the system and really understanding. That just comes with time. That’s every player in our system. Everyone gets more comfortable and communicates better. But he’s a guy that comes in, you can see his eyes in meetings, he’s very engaged and focused on you when you’re talking.

“Whether you’re talking directly to him or somebody else, he’s taking the same coaching point. He comes on the field every day, ‘Yes sir,’ ‘no sir,’ goes to work, does whatever you ask him to do to the best of his ability. I’m enjoying working with him a whole lot.”

Ultimately, if Downs can even sneak his way into sub-packages on defense, that will be a huge victory for the former seventh-rounder. He has a long way to go before he can be a starter, but with Ryan Connelly coming back from torn ACL, he has a better opportunity than most. Of course, he will have to beat out Mayo, who started in 13 games last year, racking up 82 combine tackles, five tackles for a loss, and two sacks.

An increase in maturity and dedication has seemed to treat Downs well, with Judge noticing him through the first week of practice.