For Giants tight end Larry Donnell it has been a year full of surprises. This time last year, Donnell had just made the Giants roster as a surprise inclusion on the active roster, where he would play sparingly and contribute with three catches the entire season. A year later, Donnell is leading the Giants in receptions through four games and is coming off his finest performance yet, featuring three receptions in the end zone.
Following the departures of Brandon Myers and Bear Pascoe this offseason, an opportunity arose for Donnell after the Giants targeted career backups Daniel Fells and Kellen Davis as the extent of their tight end business. For the remainder of the spring though Donnell would remain in the shadows, as Jerry Reese would instead put the spotlight on 2012 fourth round pick Adrien Robinson. Once camp opened, Donnell would make his presence known. The Giants originally were planning a committee approach at tight end, but it would be Donnell that would start the first three preseason games and cement his position as the team’s starter early on. In fact, it would be Adrien Robinson who would have to prove himself worthy of being on the roster rather than Donnell.
Whoever would end up starting at tight end was bound to see a fair share of targets, as Eli Manning has always been a fan of utilizing the tight end, whether it was a household name like Jeremy Shockey or the lately drafted under-the-radar types like Kevin Boss or Jake Ballard. What nobody could have predicted though is just how comfortable Eli has become with Donnell. Donnell’s 31 targets on the season is just one behind Victor Cruz.
In a league where the line between receiver and tight end has become increasingly blurred, the Giants seemed to have found a keeper in Donnell in the old-school mold. Donnell, a quarterback originally at Grambling State, wasn’t exactly Vernon Davis during his pre-draft workouts. But what Donnell lacks in downfield explosiveness, he makes up for in reliability. Donnell has proven to be Eli’s number one target both in the end zone and when it comes to converting first downs, craftily using his sheer size and positioning, sure handedness and a willingness to go up and grab the ball to lead all Giants receivers in receptions and touchdowns.
He may not be the “Jason Pierre-Paul of tight ends”, but he has been arguably the Giants’ most consistent performer on offense thus far. If Donnell keeps up his current pace, he may be even better than that.