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Highlighting Richie James, Jaylon Smith and Jon Feliciano – The Denver Post

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One reason the Giants exceeded expectations in 2022 is that a lot of unheralded players outperformed expectations of their own abilities and contributions in key roles.

Wide receiver Richie James, linebacker Jaylon Smith and center Jon Feliciano are three veterans whose contributions on one-year contracts made significant and underrated impacts on the Giants’ return to the playoffs.

A look at all three free agents’ performances during an encouraging season:


James missed the entire 2021 NFL season due to knee surgery with the San Francisco 49ers. You never would have known it watching him play for the Giants this fall.

James, 27, became one of Daniel Jones’ top weapons. He tied for the team lead in catches (57) and touchdown receptions (four), finished second in receiving yards (569), and served as the team’s primary punt returner.

He reached those stats despite being out of the receiver rotation for about 4-5 weeks midseason. He easily earned an extra $100,000 in incentives by blowing past the 40-catch mark.

He wasn’t even back to 100% on that knee, either. Our understanding is James’ speed should hit another gear in 2023 once he has a full offseason to rehab healthy.

James had a big training camp as backup QB Tyrod Taylor’s favorite target. Then Jones loved throwing to him in the regular season, too. James had 57 catches on 70 targets (81.4%).

“He played great all year,” Jones said after James’ seven catches for 76 yards and a TD in a late-season win over the Colts. “He’s a really good football player, knows where to be, knows how to get open, has a feel for spaces and uncovering in zones and can beat man-to-man coverage. His work ethic, his demeanor every day — if you’d see that, you wouldn’t be surprised by it.”

James believes Jones and the offense will continue building in 2023 after laying the foundation, too.

“This is his first year in the system, it’s our first year in this system, and ain’t no telling what it’s gonna look like next year,” James said after the playoff loss to the Eagles. “I think we’ll be better.”

There were some hiccups, obviously: the muffed punts in Seattle, a dropped TD in the playoff loss at Philly. But James was a consistent and reliable pro. He played in all 17 games despite sustaining two concussions.

It’s unlikely the Giants will want to invest heavily throughout the entire receiver position if they make one or two higher-profile additions to the group this offseason. So it’s possible that could price James out of New York.

While he played on a one-year, $1.065 million deal with $100,000 guaranteed in 2022, for example, the preeminent cap site estimated that James provided value equivalent to a $4.8 million receiver.

Then again, James enjoyed being a part of this team. And it feels like the Giants would like to keep him around at the right price. So it’s possible they will strike a deal. Either way, James deserves credit for exceeding expectations. He has earned the right to play regularly somewhere in 2023.


Smith signed to the Giants’ practice squad on Sept. 20, moved onto the active roster quickly on Oct. 1, debuted the next day in a Week 4 win over the Chicago Bears, and became a mainstay on Wink Martindale’s defense the rest of the year.

Smith, 27, was not even on an NFL roster to start the season, let alone on anyone’s radar as a starting middle linebacker for an eventual playoff team. But that’s what he became – or proved he still is.

‘I think I showed a lot: that I can still play at a high level and be an impact player,” Smith told the Daily News on breakup day Jan. 22. “And that’s really what my main focus was: trying to help add value to this team, this unit.

“It was a great year,” he added. “It’s not where we wanted to end up, but it’s a lot to build on.”

Linebackers coach John Egorugwu said Smith insisted from the jump that he could help the team.

“He showed as soon as he got here that whenever his name got called, he was going to be ready,” Egorugwu said on Nov. 18. “That’s something he always said to me: ‘I’m ready, I’m ready.’ He was here on day two and he was like, ‘Alright, I’m ready, I know it.’ That’s the mentality he has and that’s why he’s had a successful career. He’s been a really good addition for us on defense.”

Smith made 88 tackles (46 solo) in 13 games, ranked second on the Giants’ defense. He had a sack, three tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and two QB hits.

Less obvious to the public eye, Smith helped the Giants get lined up. Down the stretch, as safety Julian Love called the plays in, Smith could be seen directing traffic up front, getting the front seven aligned.

He was a vocal leader and a welcome professional in the middle of a young defense.

Obviously, the Giants’ run defense still needs a lot of work. They will be looking to upgrade and likely get younger at inside linebacker as they continue to rebuild the roster.

Smith deserves credit for his leadership and contributions to the Giants’ run, though, especially after he had bounced from the Dallas Cowboys to the Green Bay Packers to the Giants in 2021 and sought an opportunity to prove he’s still got it.

He played on a one-year, $1.035 million deal, per, but performed at the level of a $3.5 million linebacker, per OTC.

“For me, I’m just thankful for the opportunity, and I know what type of player I am,” Smith said. “I know the value that I add. I’m just humble and I’m always trying to grow. But I’m young. I’m 27. I’ve got a lot of experience, but I’ve still got a lot to give in this game, playing at a high level. So I’m looking forward to healing and getting ready for another great year to come.”


Feliciano ranked 10th among all NFL centers in pass block win rate at 95% in 2022. That wasn’t far behind the Philadelphia Eagles’ Jason Kelce (96%), the best center in the sport.

Feliciano, 30, set a nasty and tough tone for the offense. He played 15 games often through numerous injuries, including a broken bone in his knuckle that he didn’t even know was lingering from a previous season.

After a win in Jacksonville, while coming back from an X-ray on a badly injured finger, Feliciano smirked and said: “Well, it’s not broken.”

It’s easy to forget this was his first NFL season as a full-time center.

“Yeah, I think I’ll keep getting better, too,” Feliciano said on breakup day in late January. “It was my first year being a center all year. Decent year. I’m like the 15th alternate pro bowler, so that’s fun. I’ll take it.”

Feliciano was selected as a third alternate, actually. And he said that in his eight-year NFL career, he’s been with Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen “the last four” from Buffalo to New York and “it’s been great. I love those guys.”

The Giants’ brass obviously values him as a player and person, too. Even if they draft interior O-linemen, Feliciano is a player who can help them. It just remains to be seen how the negotiations go.

He played on a one-year, $3.25 million deal with $2.4 million guaranteed in 2022, and he played at a $3.7 million value, per OTC.



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