Giants’ Elerson Smith earns awesome player comparison

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If you remember Jason Taylor from back in the day, you likely recall a 6’6″, 244-pound defensive end that played 15 years in the NFL, being named a Pro Bowler six times and first-team All-Pro three times. While the New York Giants didn’t draft Taylor, they landed his physical replica in the 4th round of the 2021 NFL draft.

Elerson Smith out of Northern Iowa wasn’t exactly a household name when the Giants elected him, but his statistics at the collegiate level stand out tremendously. During his last season of play in 2019, Elerson posted 14.0 sacks, 28 solo tackles, and forced five fumbles. He was an absolute menace for their defensive front as a 6″7″, 245-pound outside linebacker. He added about 70-pounds of muscle mass since his senior year of high school to his most recent college campaign.

The Giants plan to use Smith a bit differently than Taylor, who was a traditional DE in a 3-4 point  stance. The Northern Iowa product will likely be a standup pass rusher, representing a fantastic speed option off the edge, which coordinator Patrick Graham can deploy to take it vantage of matchups.

Smith is one of the most impressive physical specimens from this most recent draft class, landing the highest vertical jump of any defensive end in the draft. As a Senior Bowl stand-out, Smith has the physical tools to dominate at the next level, and with a bit more size and strength, he could end up being a starter long term for the Giants.

He currently possesses a nice speed rush but could add a bit more power to improve his speed-to-power transition. His frame has a bit more room to grow, and with professional coaching and dietary guidelines, there’s no question he could end up being an impact player in year one for a Big Blue. Considering the connection to Taylor, who recorded 139.5 sacks over the course of his career, including 18.5 in 2002, it proves that Smith has the size to get the job done.

The Giants might’ve landed a steal in the 4th round, and even if he starts his career contributing on special teams, there is no situated starting outside linebacker unit just yet, so if he performs well during camp and takes gradual steps forward, he could find himself earning live reps in the regular season.

How the New York Giants might utilize Elerson Smith in his rookie season

The New York Giants added help on defense in the second half of this year’s draft. Four of the Giants’ six draft picks were spent on the defensive side of the ball in 2021. Two of those picks were invested into edge rushers. The Giants had a clear need on the edge entering the draft and addressed it with two solid, high-value draft picks.

The first edge rusher that the Giants landed was Azeez Ojulari in round two. Many expect Azeez to be an instant-impact starter on New York’s defense and a huge boost to the team’s pass-rush. The second edge rusher that the Giants drafted was Elerson Smith in the fourth round.

Elerson Smith is a player that stood out at the Senior Bowl and fans are excited by his potential. However, the Giants have a bunch of edge rushers on their roster currently, so it is hard to see Smith getting extended playing time in the regular season on the defensive side of the ball. Smith might be utilized in a couple of other niche roles, though, giving him a chance to make an impact as a rookie.

How Elerson Smith could be utilized as a rookie

Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines will return from injuries this season. Those two will likely see the lion’s share of snaps as the Giants’ starting edge rushers. That is until Azeez Ojulari comes into his own and starts to steal playing time. That trio of Ximines, Carter, and Ojulari will be the Giants’ main pass rushers on the edge.

Behind that trio is a slew of rushers like Ifeadi Odenigbo, Carter Coughlin, Ryan Anderson, Cam Brown, and, of course, Elerson Smith. It appears that Elerson Smith might be buried on the Giants’ depth chart this season. But that might not be the case.

Elerson Smith might see playing time as a rotational pass-rusher on the Giants’ defense. The Northern Iowa product has an uphill battle for playing time, but he has the tools to be a solid player. Smith is a lanky 6-foot 6-inch edge with 34-inch arms. He is a developmental pass-rusher who had 14 sacks in 2019. He might not be present much on the Giants’ defense in 2021, but Smith might see starter-level playing time in the game’s third phase: special teams.

Having a ridiculous wingspan like that will benefit Elerson Smith right off the bat. His long arms will make him a contributor right away on special teams. In 2019 at Northern Iowa, Elerson Smith blocked 2 field goal attempts. The Giants’ special teams was very inconsistent in 2020. Smith’s special teams background must have been considered when the Giants chose him in the fourth round. With his long arms and field goal-blocking skills, Elerson Smith will be able to contribute right away on the Giants’ special teams as he develops into a pass-rusher on the team’s defense.

New York Giants: 3 rookies who could stand out in mini-camp

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The New York Giants will be hosting their minicamp this upcoming weekend from May 14 to May 16, which will include 22 players, including six draft picks, three undrafted rookies, and a max of five tryout players. So far, the Giants have already confirmed they will bring 30-year-old receiver Kelvin Benjamin in for a workout, kicking the tires on the veteran who was formally a Dave Gettleman draft selection years ago.

However, the Giants have a few stellar young players to work with on both sides of the ball from their most recent draft class, but there are a few undervalued options who could make an impact in their first year in the NFL. Let’s take a look at a few prospects who might have an extended future with the Giants.

Three New York Giants rookies who could stand out in mini-camp:

1.) Elerson Smith

The Giants utilize their fourth-round selection on Northern Iowa edge rusher Elerson Smith. Nobody knew who Smith was before his surprise selection, but he was a Senior Bowl stand-out who showed incredible production in 2019. Smith is a 6’6″, 252-pound pass rusher, who racked up 14 sacks, 14 QB hurries, 21.5 tackles for a loss, five forced fumbles, and two blocked kicks during the 2019 season.

Smith is a superior athlete who had the highest vertical of any defensive end in the 2021 draft class at 41.5 inches.

According to the “Relative Athletic Score” metric, Smith ranked 18th out of 1333 DE’s measured since 1987, showing a superior stature in that category. With sufficient speed off the line of scrimmage, I view Smith as a mismatch rotational option for the Giants this upcoming season. Against heavy-footed offensive tackles, Smith has the speed and power to overwhelm them on the outside or dashing to the interior with jab step moves.

Camp will give us our first look at Smith, and hopefully, he progresses nicely as he looks to add a bit more muscle mass onto his frame but also refine his technique at the next level.

2.) Aaron Robinson

Another exciting young rookie is UCF nickel corner Aaron Robinson, who was formally an Alabama transfer. Robinson is a press, man coverage corner who will push Darnay Holmes in the slot for reps. That should be an exciting position battle between two feisty players.

Robinson isn’t only a stellar football player but is also a great teammate. Head coach Joe Judge pointed out his ability to energize players around him and how he creates positive relationships with his fellow teammates. That is exactly the type of character attribute the Giants are looking for, and it fits perfectly with the structure of their defense and represents the type of player they seem to be attracted to.

I believe Robinson has a bright future ahead of him as a third-round selection, and the Giants were so high on him they felt the need to trade up and snag him before Dallas or Philadelphia could make their move. He’s a player to keep an eye on during camp and could even win the starting job in the slot potentially.

3.) Brett Heggie

The Giants signed UDF Brett Heggie out of Florida, and while he went undrafted, he has some solid, tangible traits to consider as we approach minicamp. Heggie is a 6’4″, 310-pound interior defender with experience at center and offensive guard. Having been teammates with Kadarius Tonye, Heggie has routinely faced off against quality opponents in the SEC. In 2019, he started 12 games, including eight left guard and four at right guard. In 2020, Brett moved to the interior at center, starting all 12 games at the position. He has desirable size for the NFL as a center but lacks functional strength at times and is lackluster with his fundamentals. The Giants likely view his physical traits as potential upside, but he will need extensive coaching to iron out some of his bad tendencies and habits.

While I don’t see Heggie contributing day one, he could be a long-term project and could end up being valuable down the line as a reserve or potential starter at center in the future.

The New York Giants might’ve landed a steal in pass-rusher Elerson Smith

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When the New York Giants selected Northern Iowa standout defender Elerson Smith, most were surprised, even flabbergasted at the selection. The Giants desperately needed offensive line support after ranking 31st in pass-blocking efficiency in 2020. However, the Giants took a different approach this year, focusing on value and best player available. They ended up with Elerson, who entered college as a 190-pound pass rusher in desperate need of size and strength.

Smith went on a physical journey to transform his body, adding 75 pounds of healthy weight to his frame, increasing his power and speed up the process. As a 6’7″, 255-pound defensive end, Smith projects as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 base scheme. He has the length to seal the edge but also the underrated speed and power to get after the quarterback. The Giants perilously needed more depth and starting level talent at the position, especially with Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines going down last year and not having a healthy sample size to prove their production.

There’s reason to believe that Smith could be one of their bigger steals from this year’ss draft, as he posted a 4.71 40-yard dash and put up 26 reps on the bench press at his Pro Day. He is fast and strong, earning 14 sacks last year for Northern Iowa.

According to Bryce Paup (Elerson’s DL coach at Northern Iowa), who was interviewed by Patricia Traina of Giants Country:

“We knew he had potential, but there’s a lot of people that have potential, but never reached their full potential,” Paup said.

“Why? Because they can’t put it all together. This game is more than just athleticism. It’s the ability to work hard to study, to do the right things at the right time to treat people right, to keep your nose clean all the time, and to be able to handle the mental stress that comes with it.”

Of course, Smith was the 116th pick, so he is a developmental prospect who needs some time to get his feet wet at the NFL level. With stronger and bigger players to beat in the trenches, Smith is going to have a rough time adjusting his game, as these experience players have seen it all, ranging from speed to power. They know how to control and react underdeveloped players, so while I imagine Smith well be viewed as a rotational piece to start his career, he has the upside to make an impact as a potential starter down the line.

Nonetheless, the Giants had serious issues with injury last season at OLB, so Elerson will have an opportunity to earn reps at some point in the season, especially since the Giants scheme for opponent and offensive systems.

Why Elerson Smith is the New York Giants’ most intriguing prospect

The New York Giants had one of the best drafts in the NFL, no question. On day one they secured a playmaker on offense in Kadarius Toney while also picking up a first- and fourth-round pick in 2022 from Chicago. They then followed that up on day two by trading down once again, this time with Miami. They gained an extra third-round pick in 2022 and selected pass rusher Azeez Ojulari with the No. 50 overall pick. In round three they traded up to snag cornerback Aaron Robinson, a versatile defender who can line up outside or in the slot. But it was on day three where they found their most intriguing prospect – edge rusher Elerson Smith out of Northern Iowa. Here’s what makes him so fascinating:

Why Elerson Smith is the New York Giants’ most intriguing prospect:

His remarkable size

Size is more important than ever in the NFL. Take new Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Devonta Smith for example. He slid to No. 10 overall strictly because of his lean 166-pound frame. Despite him being the first receiver to win the Heisman Trophy in nearly 30 years and breaking almost every SEC single-season receiving record, his size prevented him from going earlier in the draft.

For others, like Elerson Smith, size can be a huge strength for a player’s stock. Check out Smith’s insane measurements from his pro day at Northern Iowa: 6’6″ tall, 252 pounds, and a whopping 83″ wingspan. His mammoth-like stature is not wasted while on the field either. Take a look at this clip from a game against North Dakota State from 2019:

Smith uses his size to its maximum potential by tipping the ball the moment it is released from Lance’s hand. He times his jump perfectly and uses all 34″ of his arms to affect the pass. Could a defender standing at only 6-foot make that play? Not a chance.

What makes that play even more impressive is who he did it against. For those unfamiliar with Smith’s alma mater, Northern Iowa is a member of the Missouri Valley Conference in the FCS. That doesn’t mean he’s facing lesser competition though. The quarterback for NDSU in the clip above is Trey Lance, the No. 3 overall pick in last week’s draft and the future QB of the San Francisco 49ers. Furthermore, the tackle Smith is lined up against is Dillon Radunz, a second-round selection by the Tennessee Titans.

His freakish athleticism

There’s an argument to be made that Elerson Smith is the most impressive athlete in this year’s draft class. For a 6-foot-6-inch 252-pound human, Smith’ athleticism is off the charts. All you need to do is watch his vertical jump from his pro day to understand the specimen he is:

His jump, 41.5 inches, was the seventh-best of any prospect in the entire 2021 draft class, regardless of position. No other edge rusher came close to his mark. To weigh 252-pounds and have the hops of an NBA player is absurd.

Also on his athletic-résumé are his high school achievements. While attending Minneapolis South High School he was a first-team all-state selection by USA Today as a tight end. Yes, you read that correctly. As a 6’6″ senior he was catching passes and torching defenses while also being voted to the all-state second-team as a defensive end. He also participated in track and field, wresting, and basketball (for obvious reasons) in high school. He dominated those as well.

His room for growth

Most of the day three picks in the NFL are considered projects with potential. Smith is no exception. But he made sizable progress at Northern Iowa in an area that is now his greatest strength – size. As a senior in high school Smith was fully grown but weighed only 190 pounds. This led to him not receiving a single offer from a FBS program and having to attend Northern Iowa.

The moment he arrived in Cedar Falls, Iowa he quickly got to work and made sure his lean-frame would never get in his way again. Over the course of his four years playing for the Panthers Smith gained more than 50 pounds and still has room to add another 30.

Most of Smith’s 2021 season will be spent in the gym with strength and conditioning coach Aaron Wellman, and that’s okay. The talent, while raw and undeveloped, is there and plentiful. If he is able to add those extra pounds in the form of muscle and maintain his athleticism, Elerson Smith could be a force in the Big Apple for years to come.