Giants’ 5 best in-season pickups: Isaiah Hodgins tops the list, but he’s not alone

The New York Giants have succeeded this season despite an endless string of moving parts. Many players who weren’t with the team during the preseason have played critical roles for the Giants as they have both tried to overcome injuries in some areas and to improve production in some other under-performing spots.

“There’s no excuses in this league,” said head coach Brian Daboll. “There’s just whoever you have, whoever you’re playing, get ready to play ’em, get the guys in there, get them ready to play. They’re on the team for a reason. Maybe they’re not a starter right away. But guys that you’re doing walkthrough with that are on the practice squad, you get those guys ready as well. And then once they’re ready to play, you put them in there and you let them play.

“Everybody needs a shot. Sometimes they’re not just handed the job … Sometimes all you need is an opportunity.”

Many of the in-season pickups the Giants have had to rely on this season have been in the secondary.

“It’s a challenge,” said safety and team captain Julian Love. “I think with football you can’t guarantee everybody’s going to get through a season healthy. That’s just something that is part of the game, so you’ve got to have guys who are willing to step up in those times, in those moments. That’s what we’ve had to rely on all season.”

The 8-6-1 Giants face the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday with an opportunity to clinch a playoff berth with a victory.

Here are five players not with the team in training camp who have been major contributors this season.

WR Isaiah Hodgins

The 24-year-old Hodgins has been unquestionably the best of the Giants’ scrap-heap acquisitions. He was awarded to the Giants on waivers from the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 2 and has been a revelation. Arguably, Hodgins is the best receiver the Giants currently have.

In seven games, four starts, he has 29 catches for 309 yards, fourth on the team in both categories. His three receiving touchdowns are most among Giants wide receivers.

Hodgins caught eight passes for 89 yards and a touchdown Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings while often being lined up against eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro Patrick Peterson.

Hodgins, a 2020 sixth-round pick by the Bills, did come to the Giants with the built-in advantage of having spent most of 2+ seasons (he had a brief interlude with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) in the offensive system Brian Daboll ran in Buffalo. He still, though, had to learn the nuances of the system being run by the Giants, and develop a rapport with quarterback Daniel Jones.

“A lot of it is conversation. Watching film and the work you do in the meeting room, talking through things, getting an idea of ​​how he sees things and how I see things,” Jones said of the process. “He knew the system really well coming from Buffalo; it’s similar there, so the concepts were familiar. It was a lot just about conversation and talking through how we saw certain situations. The time on the field is important, too, during practice. A lot of credit to him. He’s done a great job for us.”

CB Fabian Moreau

The Giants signed the veteran cornerback to their practice squad on Sept. 5. Injuries to Aaron Robinson, Adoree’ Jackson and third-round pick Cor’Dale Flott have made Moreau more important than anyone could have expected.

Moreau has played in 13 games with 10 starts. In his sixth season, he has a career-high 62 tackles. Moreau has 10 passes defensed, one short of his career-best of him. Moreau has not been perfect, but has a solid passer rating against of 97.2 and has given up completions on just 58.4 percent of passes when targeted.

Moreau and Flott initially replaced Robinson, but Moreau became the full-time starter when Flott missed several games due to injury. With Jackson out, Moreau has had to deal with opposing team’s No. 1 receivers — which is not an ideal circumstance for the 28-year-old.

“Fabian’s a guy who just brought a lot of experience and a veteran mindset to the group,” Love said. “Right away we realized how much of an asset he was, his film study of him, the way he approaches the game.”

LB Jaylon Smith

After being traded away by the Dallas Cowboys and then quickly dumped by the Green Bay Packers, Smith had a four-game audition with the Giants at the end of last season. He appeared to play well enough to earn an opportunity to return and compete for a job this season but Daboll and new GM Joe Schoen did not agree.

Smith, 27, did not have an NFL job until signing with the Giants practice squad on Sept. 20. By Oct. 1, Smith had been added to the 53-man roster.

Smith has now played in 12 games with 10 starts. He is second on the team with 79 tackles.

The Giants are obviously in the process of re-making their inside linebacker position group. Blake Martinez and Tae Crowder are gone. So is Austin Calitro, a Week 1 starter. Rookie Micah McFadden has played a bigger role the second half of the season.

Smith, a 2017 second-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys is probably not the same athlete or player he was when he has 121, 142 and 154 tackles for Dallas from 2018 to 2020. The horrible knee injury he suffered in his final game at Notre Dame has perhaps hastened a decline in his athleticism.

Among 37 inside linebackers who have played at least 500 snaps this season, Pro Football Focus grades Smith as No. 29.

Smith, though, has performed adequately for the Giants and provided — at the very least — a nice 2022 bridge for the Giants as they look to try and win games this season and then go into an offseason where they will look for roster upgrades at several positions, linebackers included.

S Jason Pinnock

A fifth-round draft pick by the Jets in 2021, Pinnock showed promise as a rookie. He played in 12 games with two starts and was somewhat surprisingly waived at the end of the 2022 preseason. The Giants pounced, claiming Pinnock on waivers.

Pinnock quickly emerged as one of the Giants’ best special teams players, but played only one defensive snaps over the first eight games. In the continued absence of Xavier McKinney, Pinnock has emerged as a full-time player on defense.

“He’s a guy that came in and we noticed right away that he was just a freak athlete,” Love said. “He’s a guy who really can do special things. Allowing him to have some opportunities to get on the field, to learn from each game, each rep, he’s done that. He’s capitalized on each moment and he’s just gotten better and better.”

The 23-year-old Pinnock is not the point guard McKinney is, but he has undoubtedly eased the loss of the Giants’ 2020 second-round pick. He has 36 tackles, three passes defenses, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and 1.5 sacks. The blemish is that Pinnock has a 140.6 passer rating against.

Overall, though, a nice find for the Giants who has helped ease the pain of McKinney’s unfortunate injury.

Veteran safety Tony Jefferson, another player who joined the Giants on Sept. 1 after the initial 53-man roster was set, saw the Giants pushing Pinnock early in his time with the team.

“I just remember when I first got here, how hard they were pushing him because they saw the what player he could be,” Jefferson said. “They’ve just been really on him and pushing him to be a good player, I think he’s done a great job.”

CB Nick McCloud

McCloud, an undrafted free agent, spent time in 2021 with the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals. He played in two games for Cincinnati, totaling 14 defensive snaps and 10 special teams snaps.

He was awarded to the Giants on Sept. 1 as a waiver claim after being let go by the Bills.

Like Pinnock, he began the season as a special teamer. He began to see significant time on defense in Week 5 against the Green Bay Packers. In the Giants’ last eight games, McCloud has played at least 50 percent of the defensive snaps six times. In two games, he played every defensive snap. He started six games.

“He’s a great player,” Love said. “I think everybody knew he was a great player coming in. Maybe the opportunity wasn’t there. He’s been doing some great things for us. He can cover, he can play in the box, he’s physical, he’s fast. He has all the tools you need.”

McCloud has now played 435 defensive snaps (53 percent) and 135 special teams snaps (56 percent for the Giants). On defense, McCloud has played 234 snaps at cornerback, 80 in the slot, 102 in the box and 19 at outside linebacker.

“That’s our job,” McCloud said of joining a new team and learning on the fly. “If you love it you’re going to get it done.”

McCloud credited Giants coach and players with helping him learn the system.

“You can’t do it yourself,” he said. “Everything’s been helpful.”

Honorable mentions

There are many other players who have been added to the lineup at times throughout the season — and continue to be added. Jefferson, safety/linebacker Landon Collins, offensive lineman Tire Phillips, wide receiver Marcus Johnson, defensive tackle Henry Mondeaux, and tight ends Nick Vannett and Lawrence Cager.

Vannett, a 2016 third-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks, is now in his seventh year in the league and is playing for his fifth organization. He has played in four games for the Giants after being signed in late November following his release by the Saints.

He credited tight ends coach Andy Bischoff with going the extra mile to help him.

“I think it wouldn’t have been as easy if it wasn’t for my coach to schedule some extra meeting times with me to really help get me caught up on all the installs that they’ve had since the offseason.”

Vannett also credited the atmosphere the Giants have created with making it easier for players like himself.

“Just having the guys in the locker room. Everyone was very welcoming. Everyone’s very friendly,” Vannett said. “The combination of all that just really allowed me to feel comfortable right away.”

Jefferson, a veteran safety in his ninth NFL season, said it takes an entire organization to be successful with so much in-season turnover.

“I think I think it starts off up top, obviously, because they got to evaluate and bringing the guys who they think fit the system correctly. You have to always give credit to them upstairs, because I’ve been up there, and I see how hard they work and how diligent they are with pinpointing exactly who they want to bring in,” Jefferson said. “Then it comes down to the scheme, which is the coaches.

“I think they’ve done a good job bringing in guys who are interchangeable, which I think has stood out, or just guys who are able to play multiple positions across the field, especially in the secondary.”

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