Four dark horse impact players for Giants in 2023

The 2022 NFL season saw the New York Giants achieve something they had not done since 2016: Make the playoffs. It also included their first playoff victory since 2011, a year in which they won the Super Bowl. General manager Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll have made a flurry of moves in an attempt to recapture that glory, including the signing of new and familiar faces that could be impact players for the Giants in 2023. 

Between new linebacker Bobby Okereke and the return of quarterback Daniel Jones, there’s a lot of expectation as for who could play a major role for the Giants in a 2023 playoff run. But which players aren’t exactly jumping off the page to be impact players? Who are dark horse impact players to succeed for Big Blue?

New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll with whistle.
Photo credit: Corey Sipkin – NY Post

Giants Potential Impact Players: OFFENSE

Running back Eric Gray

The running back position has slowly become a committee approached position in the NFL and the Giants have talent to do that. Although Saquon Barkley just re-signed, the Giants added veteran James Robinson and have several others that can contribute to the ground game from Week 1. One stands out as a potential Giants impact player: 2023 fifth round pick Eric Gray. 

The former standout from Oklahoma never averaged fewer than 4.9 yards per carry in his collegiate career, along with nothing less than 5.5 yards from scrimmage. He amassed over 3000 rushing yards, as well. Gray possesses fine speed, good one-cut burst, and the natural hands to present a threat in the passing game. Additionally, he presents good pass blocking skills. That versatility as a back can allow the Giants offense to be productive even while giving starter Saquon Barkley a break. And being a rookie won’t necessarily hold Gray back. 

Since 2012, there have been 21 players who aren’t first round picks that have produced 800+ yard seasons. Of those 21 players, 12 were Day 3 picks or later, much like Gray. What constitutes a “good” season is subjective, of course, but it’s possible he can become a productive part of the offense without having to be the lead back. 

Wide receiver Darius Slayton

Much to the potential surprise of some Giants fans, Darius Slayton should be considered a dark horse to be a key cog impact player for the team. Why? Simply put, Slayton has been a consistent threat on the perimeter for Daniel Jones since his rookie season. Slayton has accrued 700+ yards in three of his four seasons in the NFL, and has two years with a 96.0 or higher passer rating. This includes a career year in 2022, where he notched career highs in yards per catch and yards per target.

While some may point to his lack of seasons with 50+ catches or 1000+ receiving yards, those same detractors should understand the lack of offensive efficiency over the course of Slayton’s career. From Pat Shurmur in Daniel Jones rookie year, to the Joe Judge era featuring an incredibly simplified offense that didn’t take advantage of his speed, Slayton produced despite such poor schemes. He’s easily been the Giants’ most valuable target on offense.

Now in his second year with Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, along with additions like tight end Darren Waller and rookie Jaylin Hyatt, Slayton will again be just another weapon fans may not pay attention to, but will produce when it’s necessary. He’s absolutely on track to be an impact player again.

Giants Potential Impact Players: DEFENSE

DL Leonard Williams

Defensively speaking, there are plenty of candidates who can contribute and become important pieces to the Giants. Young players like EDGE defender Kayvon Thibodeaux and defensive back Cordale Flott, who are both entering their second season, are prime examples. However, there are veterans who may become X-factors to the roster, even though they’re considered more established.

Enter Leonard Williams as a potential impact player for the Giants.

Williams has been a key cog in the defense since he was traded for by former general manager Dave Gettleman. Considering he hasn’t been asked to take a pay cut nor has been dealt again by the new Giants regime, it’s safe to say he has their confidence. With that being said, the Giants saw Dexter Lawrence take a massive jump to become one of the best interior defensive linemen in the league. With Lawrence as a Giants impact player, that attention will no doubt become advantageous for Williams when blocking schemes develop on plays and open up one-on-one matchups for him. 

Additionally, the team added veterans Rakeem Nuñez-Roches and A’Shawn Robinson, along with drafting former Oregon lineman Jordan Riley in the sixth-round. This depth provides a rotation of guys to keep bodies fresh, especially on run downs with that size, and allow someone like Williams to stay energized all game. 

The most important fact, however, is that Williams is a versatile player that presents not just run-stopping prowess but pass-rush ability. With the added bulk at the position, he’ll definitely be looked to as a pass rusher more heavily. I wouldn’t be surprised, barring health, if Williams has a good year and sees more snaps on passing downs than run downs, increasing his sack total from last season.

Whomever replaces Julian Love

While Julian Love’s departure, and even contract with the Seattle Seahawks, may suggest otherwise, the defensive back’s absence is a hole needing to be filled. Who will fill it is the question, but also the possible answer to another dark horse, key cog. 

Newly acquired defensive back Bobby McCain seems to be in prime position to be the replacement, given his versatility and veteran experience. But could someone like Dane Belton, a former 5th round draft pick, step up in place of Love, especially since he did so for Xavier McKinney already? How about Jason Pinnock, who has seen his share of starts in the league as well? 

My pick to be that Giants impact player is Nick McCloud. Acquired from the Bills last year, McCloud stepped in when Adoree Jackson was hurt, and played admirably. But more recently, he started at safety during OTAs this offseason, suggesting his small edge in the competition department.

Jackson referred to McCloud in an interview as a “Swiss Army Knife”, capable of doing whatever is asked of him. That value, along with his frame and athleticism, could make him an ideal Love replacement at safety full-time. 

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