Donte Deayon had a stall in the Giants’ locker room last season off the wall, in the middle of the room. He was a practice squad rookie corner with a space in the building but no game day jersey to wear on Sundays.
And yet, the 5-foot-9, 163-pound Deayon often was the life of the locker room and developed a special bond with veteran corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who grew to trust Deayon so much that he would lend him one of his flashy cars to pick up whatever DRC wanted for dinner.
Deayon did what he was asked, with a long-term view of what it might mean.
“They can count on me to grab their Popeye’s, so on the field they’re gonna count on me,” Deayon, 23, said this past Friday. “I’m serious.”
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And Rodgers-Cromartie, 31, a 10-year vet and Deayon’s self-described “big brother,” didn’t mind little bro using his cars, because the rookie was reliable.
“As long as he don’t wreck it, we good,” DRC said on Saturday with a smile.
The Giants’ top three corners are well known: Janoris ‘Jackrabbit’ Jenkins ($ 12.9 million), Rodgers-Cromartie ($ 6.98 million) and Eli Apple ($ 1.138 million) played a combined 2,399 snaps last season, per Pro Football Reference, and are all back from last season’s stellar regular season Giants defense.
But beyond that trio, all the names and faces have changed: Leon Hall (384 snaps in 2016), Trevin Wade (355 snaps) and Coty Sensabaugh (114 snaps) are gone, and in their place on the Giants’ first unofficial depth chart released Sunday are underdogs like Michael Hunter, Mykkele Thompson, Valentino Blake and Deayon.
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Together those four players will make only $ 2.395 million in base salary this season, or $ 18.623 million less than Jenkins, DRC and Apple combined. But the Giants’ depth corners still will be vital to the team’s success.
Most NFL offenses in 2017 are attacking through the air, and injuries can thrust backups into huge roles. Just look at the Giants’ 38-13 Wild Card loss in Green Bay in January, with a hobbled Rodgers-Cromartie playing just two snaps, as an example of why these names matter in August.
Hunter, 24, a 6-foot, 192-pounder out of Oklahoma State, right now is leading the battle as next man up. He is listed right behind Jenkins on the depth chart and drew praise from coach Ben McAdoo on Friday.
“I think Hunter has had a nice offseason,” McAdoo said. “He’s picked up where he left off in camp. He’s a big, physical, long player, and he’s a young player the system.”
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Hunter, an undrafted signing like Deayon, actually played in two games for the Giants last season, getting 17 snaps in back-to-back losses at Minnesota and Green Bay. But he had trouble against the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers-to-Davante Adams connection (like 95 percent of the league) and fell back out of the rotation. So he’s determined to show McAdoo what he can bring.
“To my standards, I don’t think I played very well, just to be honest,” Hunter said of 2016. “But being able to play in those prime-time games just got me the experience to build on and get better … (I’ve been doing a lot of) film work and also working on technique. In the offseason that’s what I worked on the hardest. God-given talent is being able to run, but the technique is something you have to work on.”
Thompson, 24, is listed second-string opposite Hunter, and the Giants need the 6-1, 195-pound, fifth-round 2015 pick out of Texas to stay healthy. Blake, 27, a 5-10, 198-pound veteran free agent signing who McAdoo said “can really run out there,” has been sidelined several days with tightness in his back. Undrafted rookies DaShaun Amos (East Carolina) and Nigel Tribune (Iowa State) are also in the mix.
Deayon, though, has had a strong start to training camp, which is exciting given what his presence does for the chemistry on the defense and the team. On the field, he is fast in coverage and in pursuit, versatile as a kick returner, and relentless with his effort. Last week, for example, after Wayne Gallman juked past him in practice, Deayon chased the rookie running back 30 yards downfield and punched the ball out for a fumble.
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“The thing why he’s so valuable, man, is you need a guy that everybody knows is undersized, is small, but the heart and intensity that he brings to this team, can’t nobody match it,” Rodgers-Cromartie said of Deayon. “Pound-for-pound he’s the toughest guy on our team. I tell him that.”
“For me, I want the best for the team, so whatever I’ve gotta do to help the team,” Deayon said. “Whether it’s get a guy in a good mood, whether’s it’s DRC, Jackrabbit, just talking to guys, bringing energy, bringing enthusiasm, I think it builds a lot of chemistry so that way when we’re on the field, we’re gaining trust. When we’re in the locker room, we’re gaining trust with each other.”
McAdoo also loves the young corner’s spunk. “D.D. is a guy, Donte Deayon is a young man who gets football, who likes football, and brings a passion and energy,” the coach said.
And so, when Rodgers-Cromartie says that “you can always count on Deayon,” it becomes clear that while the Giants’ corners are relatively anonymous to the public, inside the facility, they already have plenty of fans.
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