A new but under-the-radar (and not necessarily ideal) storyline recently in Giants land has been the injuries that have plagued some of their starters, wiping out much of that first season, only to see the rookie of mentioned to return in year 2 to make an impact.
Receiver Victor Cruz, offensive lineman Nick Gates and, most recently, safety Xavier McKinney are homegrown giants who lost all or part of their rookie seasons to injuries, only to come back strong. And now defensive end/outside linebacker Ellerson Smith hopes to be the latest member of that club.
Smith played his college ball at Northern Iowa, where according to Pro Football Focus, he recorded 75 quarterback pressures, 14 sacks, 37 tackles and 45 stops over two years. Smith’s 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he had put enough on tape to convince the Giants that he was worthy of a fourth-round draft pick in the 2021 draft.
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Unfortunately, when Smith arrived in East Rutherford, he immediately began dealing with injuries, including a hamstring strain that landed him on the injured reserve list after missing most of training camp.
By the time Smith was ready to go, he had missed most of his rookie campaign, and while he returned later in the year, he missed the final game of the season with a neck injury.
As the Giants prepare for a new season, Smith is still very much in the team’s plans. He took advantage of some extra reps he got in the spring when guys were sidelined with injuries and did well enough to earn even more reps in training camp. What he does with those reps — assuming he can stay healthy — will determine whether he has a spot on this list.
What He brings
A 255-pound outside linebacker like Smith should be a physical force, but all that weight was spread across a 6-foot frame, leaving Smith too thin to handle the physical demands of his position.
While it’s true that he didn’t display much power, he wasn’t overpowered there either. He showed a quick release when lined up inside on passes, and he also showed good hand use, lean body and quick feet to create problems for opposing guards.
He also showed some “dizziness” as he rushed off the rim. While there weren’t many opportunities, there were enough flashes to intrigue.
Smith recorded a quarterback hit in each of his last two games and showed an aggressive nose for the football on special teams, where he recorded a healthy five tackles to add to his eight defensive tackles.
For a fourth-round pick, Smith has unusual skills. He needs to toughen up and play more physical football as the sledding will get tough and he will be tested.
His aggressive style is something to like as he is much more attacking than reactionary. And for a tall man, he can bend his knees well. If he increased his strength and added bulk, he should be in a better position to handle the physical demands of the position.
Smith is in Year 2 of his four-year rookie deal and will count for $1,014,572 against the salary cap this year. If he didn’t make the roster, he would provide an $825,000 cap hit with a dead cap of $189,572 this year and an accelerated hit of $379,144 against the 2023 cap.
Smith has a lot to like about his game and is still a developing young player with upside. It’s too early to label him as “injury-prone” or a bust, but he should find a way to stay on the field with his skills and versatility — he can play with his hand on the ground or stand up standing in two -point stance.
Smith’s college tape suggests he can bring physicality to a defense, which the Giants will no doubt welcome as they look to build a defense that looks to dictate the offense.