pleasant surprise

1. Terrell Thomas

Much like Hakeem Nicks was on the offensive side of the ball, Terrell Thomas was the breakout star of the Giants? defense.

It?s hard to imagine that going into the season, some Giants fans wanted Aaron Ross to start over Thomas opposite Corey Webster.? Thomas showed promise in his rookie season as a second round pick out of USC, and established himself as a starter in the NFL in his second season, but some still favored Ross? superior raw skills.

In his third season, Thomas took a giant step forward, improving in almost every aspect of his game.? He led the Giants with five interceptions, and his 21 passes defensed were third in the NFL.? Most impressively, he led the Giants with 101 total tackles, which is most in the NFL for a CB.? His four forced fumbles were tied for tenth in the league.

Tags: New York Giants, pleasant surprise, Terrell Thomas
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2. Hakeem Nicks

The original title of this list was Pleasant Surprises/ Breakout Players, but that doesn?t fit into one neat little headline. ?As far as wide receivers go in the NFL, there may not have been a bigger breakout star than Hakeem Nicks, who quickly became the team's #1 weapon in the passing game.

I?ll admit that when the Giants selected Nicks, I was underwhelmed.? At 6-0, he wasn?t the big receiver needed to replace Plaxico Burress.? But in the days following the draft, I began to warm to the pick, and eventually fell in love with his upside, describing him multiple times as ?dripping with talent."

After the flashes he showed his rookie season, I was expecting a big season from Nicks.? I predicted that he would be the Giants? #1 receiver by the end of the season, and that he would lead the team in yards and touchdowns.? It didn?t take until the end of the season for Nicks? to become the Giants? #1 receiver?it took about forty five minutes.? By the end of the third quarter of the Giants? 2010 season opener, Hakeem Nicks had caught his third touchdown, and a statement had been made that Nicks was for real.

Tags: Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants, pleasant surprise
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3. Deon Grant

Although all of the attention was on the outspoken and expensive Antrel Rolle, it was another safety that was one of the biggest surprises of the Giants? season.

From day one, it was apparent that Deon Grant would make Giants fans forget about the days of Aaron Rouse and CC Brown.? His acrobatic interception in week 1 was a statement that he was going to be an impact player for this defense even if he was not a starter in name.

Grant was signed from the Seattle Seahawks as depth behind Rolle and Kenny Phillips, who was returning from a serious knee condition.? But it was Grant who arguably had the biggest effect on improving the defense from 2009?s laughable unit.

Tags: Deon Grant, New York Giants, pleasant surprise
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Before I unveil the top three (I know everyone is waiting with baited breath!), I'll give a nod to some guys who just missed the cut.

14. Lawrence Tynes

His kickoffs weren?t bad this year, and he nailed 83% of his field goal attempts. The general consensus among Giants fans was that they did not feel as nervous when he stepped on to the field as they had in previous seasons.

13. Devin Thomas

When Thomas was acquired, most everyone wrote him off as mediocre depth for a desperate Giants? receiving corps.? But the former second rounder gave the Giants? special teams coverage unit a boost reminiscent of David Tyree. Tynes and Thomas were just about the only members of the special teams unit that weren't total disasters.

Tags: Brandon Jacobs, Devin Thomas, Lawrence Tynes, New York Giants, pleasant surprise, Rich Seubert
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4. Jonathan Goff

Say what you will about the Giants needing to upgrade at linebacker, if you expected Jonathan Goff to be better than he was this season, you are clinically insane.

Goff was a fifth round pick in 2008, but missed the majority of his rookie season due to a back injury.? In 2009, his first real season in the NFL, Goff saw his first real action at middle linebacker.? When Antonio Pierce went down for the final five games of the season, Goff was thrust in to the starting role.? Learning on the job, the former Vanderbilt Commodore had some ups (8 tackles against the Cowboys, an interception against the Eagles) and some downs (0 tackles in that same game against the Eagles).

With his limited play in 2009, there was no reason for anyone to think he should take over as the Giants? full time middle linebacker.? Even Jerry Reese had his doubts: he drafted Phillip Dillard in the fourth round and signed 33 year old Keith Bulluck, a career OLB, to compete for the starting MLB job.? When the dust settled, it was Goff who won the job.

Tags: Jonathan Goff, New York Giants, pleasant surprise
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5. Bear Pascoe

This one truly came out of nowhere.

In 2007, Jerry Reese scooped up Madison Hedgecock, a reject from the Rams? organization.? Suddenly, this no-name fullback was a key to transforming the Giants? running game into one of the league?s best.? This season, Hedgecock dealt with injuries, as well as relative ineffectiveness.? Enter Bear Pascoe, who was picked up in 2009 after being released by the 49ers.

Pascoe made little impact as a tight towards the end of the 2009 season, but showed the ability to be a solid backup/blocking tight end for the Giants in training camp.? Many were surprised when he was cut in September and signed to the practice squad, but his time there didn?t last long.? Kevin Boss? week 1 concussion led to Pascoe?s addition to the active roster, but it wasn?t until Hedgecock went down with a hamstring injury in week 4 that Pascoe really made an impact.

Tags: Bear Pascoe, New York Giants, pleasant surprise
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6. Barry Cofield

I knew he was a good player, but this year, Barry Cofield raised his game to another level.

A former 4th round draft selection in 2006, Cofield has always been an effective run-stopper who showed great promise in his first three seasons.? And then, in 2009, Cofield struggled in a new system under defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan.? Cofield also struggled to find playing time, despite injuries to fellow DTs Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard and Fred Robbins.

But this season, Cofield returned to his previous form, and then some.? He grabbed a firm handle on a starting job, and did not relinquish.? He was great against the run, totaling a new career high with 54 total tackles.? He also did a better job getting after the quarterback, setting a new career high with 4 sacks.

Tags: Barry Cofield, New York Giants, pleasant surprise
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7. Ahmad Bradshaw

Before the season, I predicted big things for Ahmad Bradshaw, but even my optimistic projections fell short.? Bradshaw compiled 1,235 yards and eight touchdowns on 276 carries, plus over 300 yards through the air.? He was one of the most productive running backs in the NFL, despite constantly dealing with wrist and ankle injuries.

Bradshaw struggled with fumbles, coughing up the ball seven times, often in big spots.? But despite this one flaw, the good more than outweighed the bad in the former 7th rounder?s breakout season.? An argument could be made that he should have been on the NFC pro bowl squad over Steven Jackson and his 3.8 yards per carry.

If the Giants bring back the restricted free agent running back, they will want to limit his carries so as to prolong his career.? He is one of the shiftiest runners in the NFL and has a habit of making big plays out of nothing; he?s always one touch away from breaking off a 20+ yard run.? However, the one drawback to feeding him the ball so often is that he is undersized and injury prone.? He has dealt with injuries his entire career, and might be best suited in a 50/50 backfield share.

Tags: Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants, pleasant surprise
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8. Mario Manningham

Jerry Reese has gotten a lot of flack recently, but he deserves credit for plucking Mario Manningham with the 32nd pick in the third round.? Super Mario was a first or second round talent that slipped due to character concerns.? Flash forward three years, and I haven?t read a single article calling out Manningham?s character or work ethic.? What I have seen is marked improvement and a player working hard to transform himself into one of the better young receivers in the game.

After a lost rookie season, Manningham showed he still had the talent that made him a star at Michigan, posting 57 receptions, 822 yards and 5 touchdowns over 14 games.? It was expected that his production would slip in his second season as Hakeem Nicks overtook his playing time, but improved play and injuries at wide receiver led to an increased workload for Manningham.? Although he had some trouble breaking double teams, he proved that he has the talent to be a starting wide receiver.? He would be a starter on more than half of the NFL?s teams, and the top dog on a handful.

Manningham finished the 2010 season with 60 receptions, 944 yards and 9 touchdowns.? He stepped up big after a season-ending injury to Steve Smith, topping 100 yards in each of the team?s last three games.? The Giants are hopeful that their decimated receiving corps will be back to full strength in 2011, but it?s nice to know that Manningham is already at a level where he can start and help the team.? At age 24, he is only going to improve.

Tags: Mario Manningham, New York Giants, pleasant surprise
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9. Shawn Andrews

When the Giants added Shawn Andrews as offensive line depth, the general consensus was that it was a low risk, high reward signing.? Many were wary that Andrews was something of a headcase with a poor work ethic, but if he ever proved to be a problem, the Giants could have cut him before the season started and been right back where they started.

Andrews made it through pre-season cuts unscathed, and went on to provide the Giants with a valuable sixth lineman and eventually started seven games.? Of course, like much of the Giants? linemen, Andrews missed some time due to injuries.? But when he was on the field, Giants fans were reminded why he was a three time pro bowler with the Eagles.

Andrews' versatility came in handy considering the Giants' injury woes, and his considerable talents made it so that, at worst, the Giants did not miss a beat when he was inserted into the lineup. ?He may figure prominently into the Giants? future plans at offensive guard or tackle, depending on whether or not he can stay healthy.

Tags: New York Giants, pleasant surprise, Shawn Andrews
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Although the Giants let all of their hard work slip away during an eight minute stretch in December, there were some bright spots. ?I will be counting down the ten Giants players who pleasantly surprised me with their play this season, starting with...

10. Osi Umenyiora

After Osi missed the entire 2008 season with a major knee injury, many wondered if he would ever return to the form he showed in his previous pro-bowl seasons. ?That fire was fueled when a poor 2009 season led to him losing his starting job.

But Umenyiora quieted his critics with a return to form in 2010.? The explosiveness was back, as was the ability to get after the quarterback; his 11.5 sacks were the third highest of his career. ?Umenyiora's knack for making the big play was at an all time high, as his ten forced fumbles set an NFL record.

Although he seemed to wear down a bit as the season progressed, his rejuvenation was a key to helping improve the Giants? defense to a unit that was, at times, dominant.

Tags: New York Giants, Osi Umenyiora, pleasant surprise
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