NY Giants reporter Art Stapleton reflects on 2018 season.
Amy Newman, NorthJersey
EAST RUTHERFORD — Lorenzo Carter is done talking about his potential.
The Giants’ outside linebacker departed the team’s training facility and left his rookie season behind Monday with the promise to do what he can to become the player observers have long believed he can be.
“It’s time for me to get people to stop talking about what they think I can do, and the only way for that to happen is to do it,” Carter told NorthJersey.com and USA TODAY Network New Jersey earlier this week. “That word ‘potential’ has kinda been my tag since college, you could say, and at this point, it’s up to me to make good on it, and I’m ready to do that.”
Carter’s steady growth this season was a bright spot within a defense that featured a ton of inexperience in addition to being in desperate need of talent infusion at several positions. There were some wow plays, but for the most part his playing time hovered around half of the snaps as he worked through growing pains in his first NFL year.
His presence as part of the Giants’ rookie class is a significant one.
Saquon Barkley set NFL and team records in his first season en route to numerous postseason honors, and it’s likely between Barkley and Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield for the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Will Hernandez played every snap at left guard, and his improvement from Week 1 to Week 17 was, as Giants coach Pat Shurmur put it, “night and day.”
Defensive lineman B.J. Hill finished the season with 5.5 sacks, breaking the Giants’ rookie record. Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor had 9.5 sacks as a rookie in 1981, but sacks did not become an official statistic until 1982.
The rookie seasons for quarterback Kyle Lauletta and defensive end R.J. McIntosh were essentially incomplete. The emergence of undrafted rookies Grant Haley, Sean Chandler and Tae Davis on the defensive side of the ball should pay dividends.
Carter, 23, has a chance to be another difference-maker, as he showed in Sunday’s season finale against the Cowboys with three tackles, a sack, another tackle for loss, a quarterback hit and a pass defensed.
Carter has a little spice to his game, too, waving his finger as if he were Dikembe Mutombo after breaking up a Dak Prescott pass in the first half. He idolized former Cowboys and Broncos great DeMarcus Ware, and showed more versatility than anticipated this season.
According to Pro Football Focus, Carter is one of two rookie edge players with at least 21 pressures, 5 run stops and a coverage grade over 80.0 (minimum 30 coverage snaps). Harold Landry of the Titans is the other.
Carter credits advice and tips he received from veterans Connor Barwin and Olivier Vernon, most of which has centered on embracing the studying of tendencies – not just within the Giants’ defense and assignment recall, but what opponents were attempting to accomplish by scheme and execution from down to down.
Carter also had an impact on special teams, and coordinator Thomas McGaughey joked earlier this season that he knew his presence there would likely be dwindling soon.
“Lorenzo is one of our top tacklers. He’s 6-5, 250 pounds and he runs 4.4. He’s a big talented guy. How many of those do you want? I want 11 of them,” McGaughey said. “He’s a good young player and he’s coming along. I foresee him graduating here pretty quick, his special teams reps will probably go down a little bit moving forward, but he’s a very special player. Kind of reminds me of JPP [Jason Pierre-Paul] a little bit.”
The list of third-round names that failed to hit under former general manager Jerry Reese is a long one, and especially those such as Owa Odighizuwa and Damontre Moore who were brought here to be the next great pass rushers.
LORENZO CARTER:The LeBron of the Giants’ draft class is ready to produce
Carter has always possessed the physical tools, but in his final season at the University of Georgia, his athleticism finally turned into some on-field production. He posted career highs in tackles (62), tackles for loss (8 1/2) and forced fumbles (3), showing some of the potential – yes, that word – the Giants’ scouts believed he had.
Carter recognizes his chance to follow in the footsteps of Giants pass rushing greats Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, let alone iconic players such as Taylor and Carl Banks. He’ll spend much of his offseason training back on campus at Georgia, which has certainly produced its share of NFL players at the position, including the Chiefs’ current four-time Pro Bowler Justin Houston.
“I’m getting close to being a good player, but close doesn’t matter,” Carter said, acknowledging how much more he can grow as a player by not just adding to, but also refining and polishing his skill set. “Everything the coaches asked me to do, I feel like if I can show them I can do that when they ask, it’s just another part of my game that they’ll be confident in my ability to do it: rushing the passer, setting the edge, dropping back in coverage. That’s all part of my game, and it means a lot that so many people around here believe in the player I can be, and they see it. I’m coming back next season ready to ball out and produce, because when we get things going, we’re going to have some fun.”