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Undrafted free agent Rysen John, a 6-7 wide receiver turned tight end, is an intriguing option for Giants

Rysen John signs his contract with the Giants.

Rysen John signs his contract with the Giants. April 26, 2020. Credit: Milan John

When the NFL Draft ended without Rysen John hearing his name called, he was disappointed but not terribly surprised. He shrugged it off, went back to the game of Uno that they were playing in his Vancouver house and figured he’d just wait a few days for the next draft.

You know, the Canadian Football League draft, which began on Thursday night. He was projected as a first-round pick in that selection process.

But just a few minutes after the Giants made the last selection in the seventh round on Saturday, they called John, the intriguing 6-7 wide receiver from Division II Simon Fraser College in British Columbia, and offered him a contract as a free agent.

There was no more waiting for the CFL. The Calgary Stampeders  selected him in the third round to secure his rights (just in case), but John is NFL-bound. 

“This is what I dreamed of,” he told Newsday in a phone interview this week. “So now it’s time to make stuff happen.”

The Giants' draft class and slate of free agents features many prominent players from prominent programs. John stands out among them, not only because of his eye-popping size but because of his unheralded background.

He first caught the attention of NFL scouts with his 861 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior at Simon Fraser. When he was able to run a 4.6 40-yard dash with his long, 237-pound frame, they were even more intrigued.

So why wasn’t he drafted? Because most teams saw him as a tight end. And he has never played tight end — at least not in games. He lined up there at the Hula Bowl against Division I players and held his own, but before then, he had hardly ever found himself in a three-point stance.

“They looked at my film and saw my body type and they all agreed that they would try me as a tight end,” he said. “But I was willing to do it . . .  It’s gonna be a little bit different, but it if makes me more involved in the offense and makes me more of a weapon, that’s fine with me.”

Once he gets away from the line of scrimmage, he added, he’ll be able to play like the receiver he has always been.

John, who was named after NFL receiver Andre Rison (although spelled slightly differently, it is pronounced the same way, “like the risin’ sun,” he said), experienced such a growth spurt between 10th and 11th grades that he had to skip that season of football because of the pains he experienced as his body stretched. In one summer he went from 6-2 to 6-6. But while his body changed, his position did not.

Being a 6-7 wide receiver does have its perks.

“It made me the tallest guy on the team and usually on the field, so I had a sense of confidence every time I was out there,” John said. “That helped me out a little bit. But being big on the field and using my body any way I can to my advantage against any matchup, that’s really where it helps. I am a problem and I try to be a matchup nightmare any time my name does get called.”

Mike Rigell, the interim head coach at Simon Fraser, told Newsday it was “definitely unique” having such an oversized weapon. Consider that the tallest true wide receiver in NFL history was 6-8 Harold Carmichael, who played 14 seasons and went to four Pro Bowls. John is just a smidge shorter than Carmichael.

But the Simon Fraser offense wasn’t just designed around throwing jump balls to their towering receiver.

“He’s really shown how versatile he can be as an athlete because even at 6-7 1/2, he is really running routes,” Rigell said. “He’s comfortable in transition and coming in and out of his breaks. When you see him, it’s like ‘Wow, he’s really a receiver.’ ”

Not anymore. Though he is a Giant, which makes for some interesting possibilities. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett is known to have a fondness for using that position in a multitude of ways, and John  already has had conversations with his new position coach, Freddie Kitchens, about what will be required of him when he arrives in New Jersey.

John said he has been watching film of Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce and Jimmy Graham as he starts to model his tight end game. It’s a position at which he doesn’t stand out as much because of his height, but he's still among the lankier players in the NFL. The Giants signed 6-8 tight end Levine Toilolo this offseason, but unlike John, the veteran is more of an accomplished blocker than a receiver.

The Giants will have to teach John a lot before he is ready to play in the NFL. He’ll need to be developed before they can utilize his skills. But they won’t have to teach him to be 6-7. And that’s as solid a place to start as any.

“It’s good to be tall, man,” John said with a laugh. “It’s good to be big out there.”

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