Three New York Giants With Impact Potential

Every team in the league wants them, but they are hard to come by. I am talking about those gifted athletes who make a difference on the playing field. Football players so good that they keep the opposition worried. These are the men that win football games and go to Pro Bowls. They are the ones that the average fan talks about around the water cooler on Monday and Tuesday mornings.

Impact players.

Since the retirement of Lawrence Taylor and Phil Simms after the 1993 season, the Giants have not had many impact players on their roster. For most of the 1990’s there was Rodney Hampton, but that was about it. Any wonder why the team stunk? Defensively, towards the end of the decade, Michael Strahan, Jessie Armstead, and Jason Sehorn began to emerge. But Armstead is slowing down now and Sehorn has been inconsistent since his knee injury. Offensively, the Giants have a triumvirate of rising stars in Kerry Collins, Tiki Barber, and Amani Toomer. None have been to the Pro Bowl, but all have that kind of talent.

For the Giants to remain Super Bowl contenders, it is imperative to find additional “household names”. Fortunately for New York, there appear to be three already on the roster.

DT Cornelius Griffin: Cornelius Griffin impressed me more than any defensive rookie the Giants have had since Lawrence Taylor – including the likes of Carl Banks, Leonard Marshall, Mark Collins, Strahan, Armtead, and Sehorn. Griffin is a 300 pound man who moves around like a linebacker. He is very fluid for one so large. Unbelievably, this enabled Defensive Coordinator John Fox to employ him as a “spy” against QB Donovan McNabb in the playoffs to great success. This is a job normally given to fast linebackers and safeties who still often struggled with the assignment. Not Griffin who was making open field tackles again and again against the elusive McNabb.

But it is not as a spy that Griffin will make an impact, but as a complete two-way defensive tackle. Griffin is not just an athlete, but a powerful football player. He’s a 24-year old player with muscles on his muscles. When he hits you, you know it. Cornelius has a natural explosiveness to his game that flashed quite often in his limited playing time in 2000. Last season, his combination of strength and quickness caused guards and centers all kinds of trouble. His agility and fluidity then allow him to make plays in the open field that most larger men miss. As good as his physical skills are, they will not mean much if he does not work hard. But Cornelius has a strong work ethic and a burning desire to be an outstanding football player. As Griffin matures and gets more experience, he will only get better if he stays healthy. It is important to remember that he was a junior college transfer who has not played much football at a major level.

In my opinion, Griffin has the ability to become THE BEST player on the team and a regular at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he attracts double-team attention from the opposition fairly quickly in 2001.

FS Shaun Williams: Most Giants fans did not like it when New York selected Williams in the first round of the 1998 draft. The Giants had Percy Ellsworth playing free safety at a competent level and there were many other needs on the roster. But in hindsight, the pick is looking to be the correct one. Indeed, Williams and WR Joe Jurevicius are the only players selected by the Giants in that draft still on the team.

Shaun Williams became the full-time starter at free safety last season. Before that, he was buried on the depth chart as a nickel back. In his more natural role, Williams quickly improved with experience and by the end of the season was making plays all over the field. The strength of his game is his hitting and tackling. He is a major league hitter in the mold of his idol – former San Francisco great Ronnie Lott. If you made a highlight tape of the biggest hits in the Giants’ season last year, most of them would undoubtably come from Williams. Indeed, if Shaun keeps up his ferocious patrol in center field, many opposing wide receivers will begin to dread crossing the middle against New York.

The other area where Williams excels is on the blitz. We did not see as much of that as John Fox would have probably liked last year due to the weakness at cornerback. With the drafting of Will Allen and Will Peterson, Fox will probably let him attack the line of scrimmage more. Williams times his blitz very well and delivers a punishing hit when he gets to the target. FoxSports color analyst John Madden is a believer. He came away very impressed with Shaun after his performances late in the season against the Redskins, Eagles, and Vikings.

Williams rapidly improved in coverage in 2000, but more improvement is necessary for him to reach an elite level. Fans were screaming for his head after the early season loss to the Redskins and a number mistakes in coverage in that contest. Shaun was rarely singled out after that game. If he can start making more plays on the ball – be it passes defensed or interceptions – that will be the last hurdle he will face to stardom.

WR Ron Dixon: Dixon will undoubtably be the most controversial player that I selected. After all, we’re talking about a guy who was the fourth receiver on the squad and only had six regular season receptions. Dixon had problems adhering to team rules and is a hotdog on top of that. Based on these facts, how can I have the nerve to label him as a potential impact player?

I have been impressed with Dixon since I saw him in camp last year. This is what I wrote from my early camp report in July 2000:

Another guy receiving a ton of praise from (Wide Receivers Coach Jimmy) Robinson was Ron Dixon the very impressive rookie. Despite having his calf heavily wrapped, Dixon ran like a gazelle out on the practice field demonstrating speed, quickness, and moves. Dixon just reeks of athleticism and Robinson seems clearly pleased with the rookie’s ability to grasp the complexities of the pro passing game fairly quickly (unlike the receivers drafted in 1998 more on that in a bit). Dixon has good height, but he is pretty thin especially in the legs. What stands out about him is that he is able to make his cuts without slowing down very much. Ron is able to accelerate to the ball and shows above average hands.

Physically, Dixon has the entire package. He has good height and very good quickness and blazing speed. Unlike many speed receivers, Ron can cut on a dime (similar to Ike Hilliard) and separate from coverage using his quickness as well as speed. Also unlike many speed receivers, he has good hands. Dixon came down with two very impressive catches last season on deep passes: a diving catch in the first game against Dallas and a twisting over-the-shoulder catch against the Vikings in the playoffs. Simply put, Ron reeks of explosiveness. He is a thoroughbred – the type of athlete who presents match-up problems.

In my mind, there are only two things that stand in Dixon’s way. The first is his ability to learn the intricacies of the pro passing game in terms of the playbook, pre- and post-snap sight adjustments, and route running. That will require hard work and focus – something that separates the dime-a-dozen superb athletes from truly outstanding football players. The other relates to his work ethic and focus and that is his maturity level. One gets the sense that the 25 year old Dixon still has a lot of growing up to do. Missing team meetings was one demonstration of this, but so is the hotdogging on the football field. Great players are often cocky, but cockiness has its limits.

If Dixon can overcome these barriers, then he has the real potential to be a difference-maker in the league as a guy who is a threat to score every time he touches the ball – be it on a long fly pattern or a short slant over the middle. He is the kind of guy who scares you if you are playing against him. Ron most likely will not start in 2001, but after that it will be tough to keep him off the field.

Three players with “star” potential in my opinion. Three men who, if they live up to the hype, can make the Giants an even stronger team in 2001. But more than that, these three can also help to serve as the foundation of the Giants for the next ten years.