Giants' rookie class highlights year

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) It has definitely been a disappointing season for the New York Giants, evidenced by their 5-9 record that will have them missing the NFL playoffs for a third straight season.

If there is a highlight for 2014, it would have to be the overall play of their rookie class.

Most of the players selected in last May's draft have made a major impact on the team right away. Only sixth-round pick Bennett Jackson, a cornerback out of Notre Dame, has not contributed; he's spent the season on injured reserve with a knee problem. The rest have all been solid performers.

''I think you have to give the class an `A,' '' said rookie running back Andre Williams, who will have to shoulder the load of the rushing attack Sunday in St. Louis. Veteran Rashad Jennings has been declared out with a severely sprained ankle.

''I think we've contributed both on offense and defense,'' Williams said. ''We've all had a chance to stand out.''

Williams has rushed for 568 yards and scored six touchdowns as the team's No. 2 back behind Jennings (606 yards, four TDs). The Boston College product and fourth-round selection knows he will get a chance to display his talents even more in the next two weeks because of Jennings' absence.

''I've had a great mentor in Rashad and I've learned a lot from him,'' Williams said. ''I'm really proud of the way things turned out for me. I was able to stay healthy. I'm excited to be able to continue to progress. I think there's a transition you have to go through as a rookie. You can't do it on talent alone. You do have to get comfortable with yourself and your ability.''

Williams' pass blocking and pass receiving were questioned when he entered the league. But Williams has made major strides in both areas, according to coach Tom Coughlin.

''We talked about his role in pass protection and he's doing a nice job with that,'' Coughlin said after Friday's practice, the last workout before the Giants face the Rams (6-8) on Sunday. ''Andre has worked very hard in getting better. He's learned very well.''

Exactly what Williams wants to hear.

''I think my goal is to be well-rounded and I'm making strides towards that,'' Williams said. ''I want to be an every-down back.''

Of course, Williams isn't the premier member of the Giants' rookie class. That would be spectacular receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., a prime contender for the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

After missing the first four games of the season, Beckham has emerged as the Giants' go-to offensive threat. The first-round pick out of LSU has 71 receptions for 972 yards and nine touchdowns. Beckham had 12 receptions for 143 yards and three touchdowns in last Sunday's 24-13 win over Washington.

''In terms of standing out, Odell has gone on and done his own thing right now,'' Williams said. ''He's the best of the bunch.''

Other rookies have also played their part. Offensive lineman Weston Richburg, the second-round selection out of Colorado State, has been a starter at all three line positions this season.

''I think there is a sense of pride among the rookies,'' said Richburg, who will more than likely line up against Larry Donald, a top rookie on the other side of the ball. ''I think we all wanted to come in and contribute right away. There's a lot of pride in the whole group. I think any time you get this many young guys playing well, you have to be excited.''

Jay Bromley, a defensive tackle from Syracuse, has only seen limited action, but fifth-round picks linebacker Devon Kennard and defensive back Nat Berhe have been productive. Kennard has moved into a starting slot at outside linebacker for the last five games, has 39 tackles, 4 1-2 sacks and two forced fumbles, one in each of the last two games.

''I think I'm a better player now than I was when I came to camp,'' Kennard said. ''I'm trying to progress, trying to improve every week. I think this rookie class came in hungry. We all wanted to play right away. We're all competitors. I just want to be consistent and play well, play fast every Sunday.''

Berhe, a safety out of San Diego State, is a leader on special teams, even though he never played there before.

''I just got out there with the special teams and something clicked,'' Berhe said. ''I've been working hard at it ever since. I've gotten a few chances to get in on a couple of defensive packages. So I'm definitely a different player now.

''Odell is the one who has major successes and we hope that continues,'' Berhe said. ''But I think we've gotten to see the entire rookie class come in and make an impact. Everyone has their role. We definitely just have to keep it up.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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