Giants “California Dreaming” of having found an undrafted stud in USC’s Chad Wheeler.
Undrafted rookies make for the best stories in the NFL.
You know all about the stories of skill guys like Kurt Warner, Tony Romo, and Wes Welker, but undrafted offensive linemen have had their share of success in the league as well, with notables including Jeff Saturday, Jim Langer, and Brian Waters.
The Giants hope they have someone similar in the form of Chad Wheeler.
A four-year starter out of Southern California, Wheeler’s name wasn’t called in the seven rounds of this year’s NFL Draft, but the Giants earned positive reviews for scooping him up afterwards.
Despite the relative sense of chaos at USC–the Trojans went through four different coaches during Wheeler’s tenure–he remained a consistent on the line, helping the Trojans to earn three bowl game victories, the most notable of which came back in January, when USC topped Penn State in the Rose Bowl.
Wheeler also concluded the season with 1st-team All-Pac-12 honors.
The Giants, of course, aren’t going to complain about adding a potential stud to the roster. Their confidence in Wheeler was apparent during mandatory minicamp, when he earned first team reps after minor injuries hit the offensive line at left tackle. But he does raise a few questions…
If Wheeler is such a stud, why did he go undrafted?
Wheeler had his share of pre-draft accolades. Draft analyst Drew Boylhart, of The Huddle Report, even assigned Wheeler a first-round grade.
Yet all 32 teams, the Giants included, declined to use a draft pick on him. Why? Probably because of injuries. Wheeler never played a full season at USC, suffering knee and shoulder injuries, as well as a concussion.
Also likely factoring into teams’ decision to spend a draft pick on him is his off-field issue in 2015–a physical confrontation with police kept him out of USC’s Holiday Bowl showdown with Wisconsin.
He’s made it past those obstacles enough to make an NFL roster, but now he has to run with the opportunity to prove the believers like Boylhart and the Giants right.
What do the Giants see in Wheeler?
Wheeler has earned rave reviews for his athleticism and power off the snap. The Giants have shown enough trust in Wheeler in the early practice sessions to give him first-team reps when minor injuries hit the offensive line.
Wheeler partook in the offensive renaissance that’s gone through USC over the past couple of seasons, blocking for current Browns quarterback Cody Kessler and projected 2018 top pick Sam Darnold.
Despite his undrafted status, Wheeler is already making noise, and it’s become clear by the Giants’ apparent trust in him that they have plans for him.
He could very well put some immediate pressure on Bobby Hart and crack himself into the starting lineup. Wheeler did have some trouble going up against fellow Rose Bowl competitor Evan Schwan during minicamps, but the Giants could insert him into the first team unit if they like his progress.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490