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Giants place special teams ace Antonio Hamilton on IR

Antonio Hamilton was arguably the MVP of the New York Giants’ underrated and vastly improved special teams unit in 2018, but he has played his final snap until the 2019 season.

According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Giants have placed Hamilton on injured reserve with a quad injury that he suffered during the team’s 17-0 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 15.

Prior to the injury, Hamilton had emerged as a workhorse on special teams where he played the most snaps for the Giants and where he was a highly productive contributor — specifically on punt coverage.

Hamilton originally signed a three-year, $1.62 million contract with the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted free agent out of South Carolina State back in 2016. Hamilton was a core special teamer and played snaps sparingly at the cornerback position during each of his of his first two seasons in Oakland. The Raiders waived the 25-year-old defensive back at the start of the 2018 season and first-year Giants general manager Dave Gettleman immediately put a claim in for Hamilton.

Gettleman’s goal was to retool the Giants special teams in 2018 by adding special teams aces like Hamilton to the back-end of his 53-man roster and he accomplished as much.

According to Football Outsider’ DVOA, the Giants have the No. 3 ranked special teams unit in 2018. The Giants rank No. 3 overall in punt coverage and No. 2 overall in kick coverage, per DVOA. The credit belongs to players like Hamilton, Michael Thomas, and several other free agent and draft acquisitions from the 2018 offseason who have contributed to this ranking.

In addition to the players, first-year Giants special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey has done an excellent job leading this group. McGaughey’s Carolina Panthers special teams unit finished No. 7 overall in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings for all 32 special teams units during the 2017 season. The Panthers also finished with the No. 10 overall special teams rating in Rick Gosselin’s annual and extensive special teams rankings that can be found here. In those same rankings, the Giants ranked No. 32 overall during the 2017 season with the worst unit overall in several categories including extra point percentage, most opponents blocked kicks, fewest punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, among others.

Football Outsiders’ DVOA assigned the Giants with the dead last special teams unit in 2017 — they ranked No. 32 overall. They have gone from No. 32 overall to No. 3 overall in special teams DVOA in just one season.

Hamilton will be a restricted free agent this offseason and the Giants have the option of re-signing him for the lowest restricted free agent tender. If the Giants do opt to re-sign Hamilton as a restricted free agent, they will likely assign him that lowest tender — in 2019 it is projected to be around $2 million against the 2019 salary cap which is expected to rise to around $190 million overall.

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