EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll was giddy, greeting his quarterback with an emphatic high-five and slap on the helmet after Daniel Jones connected with his tight end on a long touchdown pass during the team portion of practice on Monday.
But this time, it wasn’t prized tight end trade acquisition Darren Waller stealing the targets and the headlines. Rather, it was second-year tight end Daniel Bellinger who found the end zone twice.
While this performance is likely not indicative of a major role in 2023, Bellinger’s emergence on Monday, in many ways, epitomizes the mindset and desired approach for the Giants’ offense in 2023. As wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins and safety Jason Pinnock both put it: “It’s pick your poison.”
Before opponents are forced to pick who they focus on trying to slow down this group, though, Daboll will have to make some choices himself, as the Giants currently have upwards of 10 legitimate wide receivers battling for roster spots.
“It really is what training camp is for,” Daboll said of the ongoing competition among wideouts. “That’s why we’re out here. I think everybody deserves an opportunity. Those that deserve the opportunity should get the opportunity. And then what they make of it is up to them.”
Perhaps overshadowed by the ceremonious return of Saquon Barkley and the impressive showings from Waller, this wide receiver corps features a unique, non-traditional mix of size, or lack thereof, and positional versatility. And although the pecking order remains up in the air, it’s clear that New York will not be adhering to its “Giants” epithet in 2023.
Seven of the Giants’ wide receivers, Wan’Dale Robinson, Sterling Shepard, Parris Campbell, Jamison Crowder, Cole Beasley, Jaydon Mickens and Kalil Pimpleton, are listed at 6 feet or shorter, with each known for their short-area quickness and thus having primarily played in the slot previously.
The rest of the unit includes 2023 third-round pick Jalin Hyatt, Darius Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins, Jeff Smith, Collin Johnson, David Sills and Bryce Ford-Wheaton, all of whom bring some size and field-stretching ability.
Aside from Beasley and Crowder, though, this group is almost entirely unproven and somewhat injury prone. Shepard and Robinson are still working their way back from last year’s ACL injuries, while Campbell, who New York invested in this offseason, has had his growth stunted by injuries to this point. While this could lead to questions come September, for now, the openness of the depth chart is serving as motivation.
“It’s a competitive room,” said Hodgins, who broke out for eight catches for 105 yards and a touchdown in the Giants’ playoff win over the Minnesota Vikings. “You want to be able to sit here and know that you gotta work day in and day out because you got people all around you who can make plays, and I feel like that’s what I love about our room.”
The wild card, of course, is Waller, who has also struggled to stay on the field in the past but could serve as a hybrid, unicorn-type tight end due to his rare combination of size and speed.
“Every other safety or DB who’s probably 5-foot-11 has to probably take two whole strides for his one,” Pinnock said of the Giants new tight end. “You’re playing catch up really the whole time.”
For the Giants pass-catchers, the reality that comes with having a plethora of comparable targets in the running for meaningful snaps is that there likely will be less opportunities, as snap counts are likely to vary depending on the opponent and game plan. But in 2023, the Giants have bigger aspirations than just individual accolades, and thus they are embracing the committee approach.
“I think we have a lot of unselfish guys on our team that are able to take on that role and understand that every day you may not have five catches,” Hodgins said. “You just have to be ready for when it does come your way.”