EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Even before the New York Giants make a pick in this year's NFL draft they are adding another young piece to the league's second-ranked scoring defense. It's almost as if they have an additional Day 2 draft pick with safety Darian Thompson returning from injury.
Thompson missed almost all of his rookie season with a lisfranc injury that required surgery. He played just 82 defensive snaps in two games and finished with seven tackles.
But Thompson has been at the facility most of this offseason rehabbing his right foot and "things are looking up." His progress has been smooth and there are not expected to be any long-term ramifications from the injury. Thompson is expected back at full strength this season.
The third-round pick out of Boise State began running on land several weeks back. He ran with cleats for the first time last week and has been backpedalling and pushing sleds.
Everything is trending in the right direction. There have been no setbacks since surgery ended his season in November.
"I've been feeling really good," Thompson told ESPN last week. "No soreness. They want to take their time. With my progress, things are looking up."
This is encouraging news for the Giants. They selected Thompson in last year's draft and were immediately impressed. What they saw during the spring and summer had them convinced he would be the ideal complement to Landon Collins on the backend. Thompson would be the centerfielder; Collins could roam and make plays near the line of scrimmage.
But after being slowed by a shoulder injury in the preseason, Thompson hurt his foot late in a Week 2 victory over the New Orleans Saints. He aggravated the injury in his first practice back, prematurely ending his rookie season.
It wasn't an easy pill to swallow. Thompson was laid up for several weeks and forced to watch multiple games from home. But once he was able to move around and return to the facility, he watched film and attended meetings, preparing as if he would play.
"I used this time to better myself mentally, to focus on more details like watching film and learning the playbook. I feel like it actually benefitted me," Thompson said. "Also, I learned not to take anything for granted. I was as high as I've ever been and then I got dropped down really quick. This whole opportunity is a blessing and I can't wait to get back out there."
The film work has extended into the offseason. Thompson continues to look at the two games he did play -- against Dallas and New Orleans in Weeks 1 and 2 -- to see where he can improve.
He also watches film specifically of Collins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins because he believes he can learn from how they play the game. They aren't just out there thinking about scheme and assignment. They're able to do what's asked all while instinctively playing football. They're all football players, and it has caught Thompson's attention.
"Getting better mentally is just as good as getting better physically," he said. "So I do my rehab on the side, but when I'm in the film room I'm pretending that I'm playing. So I'm still learning things and taking mental reps. That is one thing that will help me greatly."
Thompson could be on the field with his teammates some time this spring. He is confident he will be healthy enough to participate in some organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp, although that will be up to the Giants' medical and training staff.
"It's absolutely realistic [to be back this spring] but it depends on when the trainers feel comfortable putting me out there," Thompson said. "I'll be out there. I just don't know when."
It's only April. There is no reason to rush anything now, even if Thompson will have to earn a starting spot. Undrafted rookie Andrew Adams stepped in and started 13 games without missing a beat last year for a defense that played as one of the league's best units for most of the season.
There will be competition at the free safety position opposite Collins this summer.
That's fine with Thompson. He just needs to show the Giants that he's capable of doing what he showed them last spring and summer when he was penciled in as the free safety of the current and future. It even showed in his limited playing time (especially on this play vs. Dallas) the first two weeks of the season. https://twitter.com/jordanraanan/status/776070679426891776
"I just want to help my team win some games. A lot of games. More than last year," Thompson said. "That is the big thing for me.
"Individually I just want to be out there. I feel I can make a difference."
As the Giants gather as a team for the first time this season, he's on the right track. Thompson's foot is feeling good and there is no reason to believe he won't be back at 100 percent this summer or season.