Not much is expected from the last pick in the draft. He is called "Mr. Irrelevant" for a reason.
But when the Giants used that selection on Tae Crowder in April, inside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer knew the title was not an appropriate one.
"With me being at the University of Georgia for four years, I kind of knew about him a little bit," Sherrer said this week. That relationship is part of what has allowed Crowder to make the jump from last pick to starting linebacker. Last week against the Cowboys, Crowder played almost three quarters of the defensive snaps and made five tackles.
"Most rookies, obviously it takes a little bit of time and you kind of saw that early on once we got out of training camp and into game time," Sherrer said of Crowder’s progression. "He had a little hamstring issue that slowed him down a little bit too, and then we kind of progressed, kind of pushed him into some packages to help get him going, and since then he’s done a really good job."
Crowder completed the conversion from overwhelmed rookie to integral player first among the many late-round defensive picks the Giants made in April, but he has some players on his tail. Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin, also linebackers and sixth- and seventh-round picks respectively, are on the verge of a similar trajectory.
Brown has yet to play a defensive snap, but could be called upon to do so on Sunday against Washington with injuries thinning the depth at outside linebacker. It’s not necessity that has led to Brown’s possible promotion, though. It’s been his special teams play that has led to it.
"He’s a guy who really is coming into his own in the kicking game," Joe Judge said. "I think the one thing about special teams for young players is, it allows them to really learn and adjust to the speed of the game and the physicality. Just the reactionary instincts they have to develop within the game, that transfers over to offense or defense as well. He has some good exposure already through five weeks of really playing and seeing some fast-paced ball in front of him. That should apply and help him on defense eventually."
The Giants see a lot of potential in Brown. A lot.
"The game is already starting to slow down for him on special teams," special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said. "Once it starts to slow down on defense, I think the sky is the limit for the kid. The kid has a big upside. He’s a good kid and he works his tail off. I tell him all the time I think he has $70 million walking around inside of him. It’s up to him to tap into it."
That may start to show itself on Sunday. For Crowder, the opportunity to play defense has already arrived.
"Off the field he is very quiet," Sherrer said. "Once you get out on the field he knows what is going on and he is going to talk and communicate. Blake (Martinez) is directing the traffic but he is kind of like the co-pilot. He’s out there, ‘Hey, this! Hey that! Hey tight split!’ Whatever the things that he may be seeing he is echoing and relaying some of that information into Blake, into the front, and trying to connect the back end into what is going on up front as well."
That’s a very important role because it reduces the mental strain on Martinez and should allow him to play his own position faster and with more decisiveness.
"The thing I have to be careful of is putting too much on his plate because I’ve got to let him play," defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said of Martinez. "He doesn’t have to put everything on his shoulders. I have to let him play so he doesn’t have to press. I have to get that right for him."
Graham said Crowder may be the key to that.
"Tae is a smart football player," he said. "He’s young, so he has a lot to learn, but he’s very aware. I do appreciate that. He’s definitely someone that can handle information. He handled it at Georgia, that’s one of the things that drew us to him as a potential prospect. I think he can help, but he’s still young, he has to learn. He definitely has some awareness."
The path that these young linebackers are on is typical in the NFL. Certainly, it is more common than the ones that get more attention, the rookies who are drafted high and immediately become starters. It’s also a progression that normally occurs during preseason games, not necessarily during the regular season.
"I think it’s a benefit to all players because they just learn how to play the game, the basic fundamentals of the game," McGaughey said of beginning on special teams and then advancing to defense or offense.
Crowder has already graduated from one to the other. For Brown and Coughlin, their diplomas are within reach.
Harris activated. The Giants activated Trent Harris from the practice squad on Saturday, giving them more depth at outside linebacker. Harris was signed as a free agent this week after Lorenzo Carter had surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles. Harris was with the Patriots and Dolphins at times between 2018-19, making him familiar with Joe Judge, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, and the Giants’ defensive playbook.