The New York Giants are in first place courtesy of unexpected contributions from guys like Jasper Brinkley, Kerry Wynn and Brandon Meriweather.
By Justin Weiss
“Nobody gives us a chance to win,” Giants head coach Tom Coughlin once said. “We’ll see.”
Led by a bunch of no-names on defense, the New York Giants are shockingly perched atop the NFC East with a solid 5-5 record.
How Big Blue — featuring 3 late-round picks, 2 undrafted free agents and a mere 3 first-round picks — almost pulled off an improbable upset of the undefeated New England Patriots, should be credited to the unheralded group of young defenders who came oh-so-close to preventing Tom Brady from improving to 9-0.
Jasper Brinkley, MLB
The journeyman linebacker, who has played with the Vikings (2009-12, 2014), Cardinals, Cowboys and now Giants in just his sixth season in the league, has been a tremendous force for New York in two games after both Uani Unga and Jonathan Beason went down with injuries. A big, strong linebacker, Brinkley has excelled playing square along the line and physically meeting the ball carrier in the hole.
He was the highest rated player (+5.5) in the team’s thrilling 32-18 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and has contributed to the rush defense, which surrendered 136 yards and a mere 10 first downs all game on the ground against Tampa Bay.
Kerry Wynn, DE
An undrafted free agent in 2014 out of the University of Richmond, Wynn was a three-sport star in the CAA. Now an impact run stopper, Wynn utilizes a developmental five-technique and a strong, stiff frame to stop rushers such as Legarrette Blount from passing the line of scrimmage.
Scratched over the first eleven games of the 2014 season, he made an impressive statement with a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery in a game against the St. Louis Rams late last season, and hasn’t looked back since.
“I really like his motor,” coach Tom Coughlin said. “He plays hard, the kid plays hard. And he’s in the right spot and he’s smart. He’s a tough guy.”
Brandon Meriweather, S
Dubbed Brandon “15 Yard Penalty” Meriweather with the Washington Redskins last season, the former first round pick has bounced back in a huge way. The Giants signed the former two time Pro Bowler before the season began, and he has started nearly every game in 2015 alongside Landon Collins.
An excellent tackler, Meriweather isn’t afraid to jump in and stop the run. His motor doesn’t seem to be an issue under Tom Coughlin, while his tremendous athleticism and hands show every Sunday.
Jonathan Casillas, LB — Former Patriot signed a four-year deal before the season. Has excellent speed, is a sideline-to-sideline player, and excells in covering running backs in both the flat and in wheel routes. His hard work has paid off, as the veteran linebacker has a career-high 34 tackles and a sack.
Uani Unga, LB — The BYU product has been anything but spectacular at middle linebacker, but the Giants haven’t needed him to be. He’s forced 2 key fumbles and 2 key interceptions, and even had a huge late-game tackle a couple of weeks ago.
Devon Kennard, LB — 2014 fifth round pick has been excellent as a pass-rushing linebacker, prompting speculation that New York would line him up on the defensive line. “I can’t praise Kennard enough,” Jon Beason said last season. “He prepares better than any rookie I’ve ever seen, and that’s including myself. He just really wants it, he gets it, he understands it.”
Robert Ayers, DE — Despite missing a couple of games to injury, Ayers is ranked the seventh-best edge defender in the NFL by Pro Football Focus (subscription only) for his play as a run stopper. Is powerfully built, and utilizes tremendous finishing ability and impressive hand push to compensate for a lack of speed.
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