The New York Giants defied expectations last year in head coach Brian Daboll’s first season with the franchise. Their 9-7-1 mark allowed them to make the playoffs, where they upset the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Wild Card Round. The Giants brought back the core of the 2022 team after re-signing quarterback Daniel Jones and franchise-tagging running back Saquon Barkley.
We dive into the three Giants breakout candidates for 2023 beyond the players who have established themselves as foundational pieces.
New York Giants Breakout Candidates in 2023
RB Eric Gray
Because star running back Barkley hasn’t signed his franchise tag, he won’t be able to attend OTAs. That opens a massive door for rookie Eric Gray, who was drafted in the fifth round out of Oklahoma. The 207-pounder isn’t much of a big-play threat, but he can gain every yard available to him thanks to his short-area burst and smooth cuts that create space away from defenders.
There’s a massive difference in athleticism between Barkley and Gray, but that doesn’t mean Gray doesn’t have solid backup or low-end starting potential. If the Giants’ offensive line is as improved as hoped with Ben Bredeson back at left guard and rookie center John Michael Schmitz slotted in, Gray has to show he can do the job if Barkley isn’t in the team’s long-term plans.
That means winning on all three downs. Gray proved to be a formidable pass catcher in college, totaling 99 receptions for 827 yards and five scores over four seasons. If he can pick up pass protection concepts and be an effective rusher, Gray can quickly ascend to the team’s No. 2 RB role over Matt Breida and Gary Brightwell.
WR Isaiah Hodgins
The verticality of the Giants’ offense was a significant issue in 2022. Darius Slayton had downfield speed but was also the obvious deep threat. Considering that quarterback Daniel Jones ranked 30th in deep-ball attempts and 20th in air yards, the numbers spell out New York’s offensive limitations.
One player who stepped up as a short and intermediate option in the offense was Isaiah Hodgins.
Hodgins, who was signed off waivers, had a “comfort” with Daboll after spending two years together in Buffalo. He parlayed the opportunity into “a surreal year” that changed his life. With the Giants down several receivers due to injuries, Hodgins immediately stepped in to produce 37 receptions for 392 yards and four touchdowns.
The 6’4″, 210-pounder immediately fit the bill as a possession threat whom Jones could trust. His large catch radius provided a perfect target for slants and deep-out routes. Though he only topped six targets once in 10 games played for the Giants, Hodgins was efficient and reliable.
The Giants added more competition to the receiving room for 2023, but the door is wide open for Hodgins to continue starting. He’s the most sure-handed, reliable option between Slayton, Parris Campbell, and rookie Jalin Hyatt. The biggest threat to Hodgins is Sterling Shepard, who is coming off a torn ACL.
EDGE Azeez Ojulari
For as much that went right in 2022 for the Giants, their pass rush was never able to put everything together until the season was almost over. Injuries limited the defense to just 1.8 sacks per game until Azeez Ojulari returned to the lineup in Week 13. New York’s leading sack artist in 2021 (eight), Ojulari played in only seven games last year.
Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale admitted he missed Ojuari “a lot” during that stretch, and it showed as the unit simply couldn’t finish impact plays. Dexter Lawrence finished the year with 7.5 sacks, but Kayvon Thibodeaux had just four despite showing immense talent along the way.
Ojulari admitted to being “frustrated” because he struggled to stay healthy for even one full game at a time. Between his more serious calf strain and an ankle injury, Ojulari’s inability to provide a legitimate second EDGE presence across from Thibodeaux was a notable limitation for the team.
Now in his third season, Ojulari has to see another boost of production for the Giants’ defense to take a step forward. New York opted against adding another body to their rotation as they’re putting faith into their young trio of pass rushers, with Oshane Ximines also coming into the spotlight.