The Giants set the stage for rookie success back in the spring

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants started a rookie at right tackle, tight end, outside linebacker and safety on Sunday in a win over the Baltimore Ravens. Their second-round pick, Wan’Dale Robinson, was essentially their No. 1 wide receiver despite playing just 14 snaps in his first game back from a knee injury.

General manager Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll’s first draft class is playing a lot, perhaps even more they would prefer in Year 1 of the new regime. But this is the state of the franchise and its roster. They had holes and needed rookies to fill them, immediately.

“We try to put the best guys out there that we think can help us win. Those guys have certainly earned the right to play,” Daboll said. “Whether you’re a rookie or a 10-year vet, what we try to do is give the opportunities to the guys that have earned them.

“Again, I think that obviously playing young players -- that helps in the long run.”

This makes what is happening right now a win-win. The Giants (5-1) are experiencing success and better positioning themselves for the future, one of their top goals from this season.

Schoen and Daboll have been realistic about this team from the start entering Sunday’s matchip with the Jacksonville Jaguars. They knew they were flawed, but thought they could compete while essentially rebuilding. Schoen allowed veterans such as tight end Evan Engram to walk and cut safety Logan Ryan and cornerback James Bradberry. They replaced them with younger -- and cheaper -- players.

The Giants rookies have already logged 1,277 offensive and defensive snaps this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That is fourth-most in the NFL through six weeks, and it would be more if not for injuries.

Top picks Kayvon Thibodeaux and Evan Neal have been starters since Day 1. Robinson is going to be a staple in the offense as long as he remains on the field. Cornerback Cor’Dale Flott and offensive lineman Joshua Ezeudu, both third-round picks, have already been contributors. Flott even started two games before suffering a calf injury.

Daniel Bellinger, the first of the team’s fourth-round picks, has been a starter at tight end since Day 1. He leads the Giants with two touchdown catches. Safety Dane Belton is a key piece to the defense (starting and playing 42 snaps against the Ravens) as the third safety. Fifth-round pick Micah McFadden is a special teams contributor and undrafted rookie Tomon Fox has been utilized as an edge rusher.

The Giants' final three draft picks -- defensive tackle D.J. Davidson, offensive lineman Marcus McKethan and linebacker Darrian Beavers -- aren’t playing, but that is because all three suffered torn ACLs recently.

Daboll set the stage for this early rookie success a long time ago. Neal and Thibodeaux were penciled in as starters when they got drafted. Bellinger was the first-team tight end by the start of the summer, Robinson was in the top-flight receiver mix in the spring and the coaching staff quickly realized they needed to use three-safety packages with Belton.

“I feel like in the beginning they didn’t take it easy on us," Bellinger said. "They threw us in there and said, ‘You guys have to step up. It’s either you sink or swim.' That kind of toughness on us, I feel like, made us take a jump to be better.”

There were immediate expectations. The Giants’ rookies could see that there were going to be opportunities early in their careers.

It helped that they knew the new regime was committed to their success.

“We all felt like at the end of the day, they drafted us for a reason," Robinson said. "They didn’t draft us to sit on the bench and just wait around and things like that. They wanted us to contribute and play and help this football team win. We didn’t look at it as anything as where they were just giving us [playing time] or throwing us right into it. We just looked at it like we had to earn it. We just had to continue to show that we were going to try to get better every day.”

They have so far.

Robinson scored his first touchdown on Sunday against the Ravens. Bellinger caught a season-high five passes. Neal played one of his best games to date and Thibodeaux’s first career sack essentially ended the contest.

It doesn’t mean there won’t be bumps in the road for the Giants’ rookies this season. The Jaguars (2-4) have one of the league’s youngest teams by age and have taken their lumps through six weeks.

“You kind of understand that you may go through growing pains from time to time,” Jacksonville coach Doug Pederson said. “We’ve experienced that this year already. That is how you learn, that is how you get better as a football team and try to minimize those each week.”

The Giants will undoubtedly learn. In the meantime, they’re already a better football team because of their rookie class.