Giants rookie roundup: How did 2023 draft class fare in preseason win over Panthers?

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It was a rookies-in-the-end zone kind of night for the New York Giants in Friday’s 21-19 preseason win over the Carolina Panthers.

Wide receiver Jalin Hyatt and running back Eric Gray both scored their first NFL touchdowns as the Giants starters picked up minutes for the first time this preseason. But after one offensive possession with quarterback Daniel Jones and two with the defensive starters, the rest of the roster got its opportunity to shine.

We’re rounding up after each preseason game how the 2023 drafted rookies and some undrafted free-agent standouts fared. Here’s how they performed against the Panthers:

CB Deonte Banks, first round, No. 24

After a strong preseason debut, Banks and the defense have been focused on finishing plays this week. Continuing the training camp theme, Banks and Tre Hawkins III lined up outside while Adoree’ Jackson took the slot role in certain packages.

“I think when you go into these games, in any sub package, you want to play your three best corners,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said earlier this week. “Right now, those are our three best corners. There’s nothing set in stone yet, you know what I mean? We’ll see how it works out.”

Hawkins and Banks, getting in extra reps, played one more possession than the rest of the starting defense. Banks had back-to-back tackles in the first quarter. On the play that followed the second one, Banks did a good job in coverage on a deep pass to DJ Chark. The cornerback kept him on the sidelines and the pass was incomplete.

One more preseason game remains, but Banks has his eyes on the start of the season.

“I’m excited for Week 1,” Banks said. “I’m ready to play.”

Schmitz has focused on being loud and communicating on the field during training camp, and Jones was happy with the center’s communication in the first preseason game as they continue building their relationship.

“That’s a big responsibility of a center, to make a lot of those calls and get everybody on the same page and communicate,” Jones said. “As a young guy, learning the system and then having to communicate all that can be tough sometimes, but I think he’s done a really good job with it.”

Friday night, Schmitz had more solid play, providing protection for Jones and quarterback Tyrod Taylor. There wasn’t anything especially notable, which is what you want in a center, but he did assist in Gray’s rushing touchdown (more on that later). Schmitz, along with tackle Evan Neal, pushed the pile into the end zone.

WR Jalin Hyatt, third round, No. 73

The Hyatt show has been gathering steam throughout camp and fans have been itching to see it in action after the receiver was targeted only once in last week’s loss. Well, Hyatt got more opportunities Friday and showed some resilience, too. He had four receptions on five targets for 35 yards, including a 33-yard catch from Taylor for his first NFL touchdown.

The touchdown came after he dropped the ball on the previous play. Hyatt returned to the bench after the TD with a huge smile on his face.

“That’s what you want to try to do, particularly with young guys,” Giants coach Brian Daboll said. “You know there’s going to be bad plays. So to kind of encourage that next-play mentality … it’s good if you can go right back to them if the coverage is what it is and the quarterback is supposed to throw it there. … He had that drop and then we went right back to him and he made a nice play.”

Hyatt played the majority of the first half but received some attention from trainers right before the half concluded after he landed hard on a play. He returned to the sideline early in the second half without his helmet, though he was unlikely to receive more snaps in the game anyway. After the game, Hyatt said he got “a little banged up. But I’ll be fine. Everything is good.”

RB Eric Gray, fifth round, No. 172

Gray got plenty of action at special teams last weekend, then returned one punt for 9 yards on Friday. Saquon Barkley was the only starter who didn’t play, so Gray got plenty of reps and added some offensive force Friday. He led the running backs with five carries for 16 yards, adding a touchdown in the second quarter. His effort was impressive as he powered through the final part of the run and fought to get the ball in the end zone.

As for his return game, he displayed good awareness and decision-making on a kickoff return early in the second quarter. He let the ball bounce out of bounds, which resulted in a penalty and the Giants starting with the ball at their 40-yard line. That drive ended in Hyatt’s touchdown. But Gray did give up a block — which ended in Taylor taking a hit — on that touchdown pass to Hyatt.

CB Tre Hawkins III, sixth round, No. 209

As mentioned, Hawkins started at corner with Banks and Jackson in certain packages. The lineup is something of a surprise to even Martindale, who didn’t have it in mind during draft weekend.

“I knew the player that Deonte was, and I just didn’t know the level where Tre was at,” Martindale said this week. “He’s stepped up to every challenge that we’ve given him and he’s playing well right now.”

Hawkins finished with one tackle Friday. He had a good play staying on Adam Thielen, tracking him down the sideline and forcing an incompletion.

DT Jordon Riley, seventh round, No. 243

Riley found himself back in the starting defensive line Friday. The surprising seventh-round selection has proven beneficial for the Giants, giving them even more D-line depth behind Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, Rakeem Nunez-Roches and A’Shawn Robinson.

“He’s a large man, and he’s very confident,” Martindale said this week. “Now, he’s green, (but) he’s got a great room: Dex and Leo, A’Shawn and Nacho. Players know players, and they know he can help us, and they’re helping him every day. … I think that’s what’s great about that room is that they know what we need to win. I’m excited for the kid.”

Riley had a strong Friday, with three combined tackles (two solo). His most impressive moment came in the second quarter on a fourth-and-1, when he stuffed Spencer Brown to force a turnover on downs.

“MetLife was lit,” Riley said after the game. “I liked it a lot.”

Martindale liked Owens’ play last weekend and the coordinator should have plenty more to evaluate. Owens is competing for a safety spot and strengthened his standing in that competition with seven tackles Friday, tied with linebacker Bobby Okereke for a team high. On the final defensive possession of the first half, Owens added a nice pass breakup on third-and-15. He played plenty in the second half, too.

Undrafted free-agent notes

• Quarterback Tommy DeVito came in during the second half and went 9-of-11 for 88 yards. DeVito showed great awareness on his first possession of the game: He looked down on the play but kept running after the missed tackle, scrambling up the middle for a 2-yard gain.
• After a tough performance last week, wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton caught two targets for 24 yards, including a 14-yard pass play from DeVito on third-and-4.

(Photo of Jalin Hyatt: John Jones / USA Today)

The Football 100, the definitive ranking of the NFL’s best 100 players of all time, goes on sale this fall. Pre-order it here.

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