Matt Hennessy was almost overlooked once before, until the offensive lineman caught the eye of Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule, then at Temple, in the summer before his senior year at powerhouse Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, New Jersey. He won't be overlooked in the NFL draft.
Hennessy, a New York native, has played and worked his way into a likely Day 2 draft prospect after four years at Temple and is projected as a second-round selection.
Among the teams interested -- his hometown New York Giants, who have had multiple video calls with the center. The Giants own the fourth pick of the second round (No. 36 overall), and Hennessy is believed to be a serious option.
"Since declaring, I think the stock has trended upward a little bit," Hennessy told ESPN in a telephone interview this week. "Coming out, I had a pretty good idea of where I could end up if I had a good pre-draft process, building on the three years of film I had. So I thought I could definitely get into the second round. When I first came out, people probably had little bit lower grades. But now it looks like, based on what me and my agent [Chase Callahan at Rep1 Football] are hearing, early second round."
That puts him right in line with the Giants, who need a starting center after Jon Halapio tore his Achilles in Week 17 and Joe Looney, whom they expressed interest in during NFL free agency, re-signed with the Dallas Cowboys.
Halapio remains a free agent. That leaves Spencer Pulley as the only center on the roster with significant starting experience. The Giants have also toyed with moving Nick Gates, who started three games last season at tackle, to center. But if the Giants' pre-draft maneuvering is any hint, they will add a center early on next week.
"We're working that group over pretty good in the draft," Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said. "We're always going to continue to upgrade."
The Panthers, despite laying low throughout the process, are also a threat given Hennessy's connection to Rhule, who noticed him at a summer camp before his senior season at Don Bosco and immediately saw a center. Hennessy was previously a tackle. Temple's recruiting coordinator at the time, Mike Siravo, is also on the Panthers' staff.
Draft's No. 2 center?
Teams seem to know they can't wait too long to select Hennessy. One offensive line coach had him as his No. 1 center. A scout ranked him as his No. 2 center behind Michigan's Cesar Ruiz, who is projected to be the first center off the board, somewhere in the first round. The Miami Dolphins, with their bevy of picks (14) and a need at the position, are believed to be a strong option.
After Ruiz, Hennessy appears to be among those next in line, alongside LSU's Lloyd Cushenberry. San Diego State's Keith Ismael and Wisconsin's Tyler Biadasz (medical concerns) are projected as mid-round prospects.
Hennessy appears to be the right fit for the Giants. He's an old-school center who can anchor and play with toughness, seemingly ideal for an offense expected to play power football and do a lot of downhill running.
The scout raved about his smarts and instincts. Hennessy's feedback from teams has only validated the assessment.
Asked to discuss his strengths, Hennessy said: "Everything above the neck as far as getting people aligned at the line of scrimmage and deciphering defenses. And just from an athletic skill set, getting people cut off in the run game at the first and second level. Getting out on screens and creating big creases by doing so."
Teams have pointed out minor fixes for Hennessy during their virtual meetings. Stuff like adjusting his hands on his strike or tweaking his footwork in pass protection. This is the fine-tuning that will occur in the NFL, depending on the scheme.
Growing up a Giants fan
If Hennessy lands with the Giants, it would have extra-special meaning. His older brother, Thomas, is the long-snapper for the New York Jets. They grew up in Clarkstown, New York, a 40-minute drive to the stadiums in East Rutherford, New Jersey -- big Giants fans who were season-ticket holders before the teams moved into MetLife Stadium.
Hennessy saw the Giants play countless times as a youngster. Too many to remember. He made the trip to Dallas for the opening of AT&T Stadium on Sept. 20, 2009, when the Giants won 33-31 and quarterback Eli Manning christened the locker room with his signature. Hennessy was also at the stadium to greet the Giants after their Super Bowl parades in 2008 and '12.
"I remember going to those games just as Eli was starting to take over. Remember the Super Bowls. Those were two of my best childhood memories. It was fifth and eighth grade," Hennessy recalled. "Went to the stadium both times for the celebration after. Got all the gear. Got to see the [Lombardi] trophy and everything."
He was especially fond of the Giants' defensive line, which featured the likes of Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. He relished them wreaking havoc for years. He watched a steady offensive line that developed together and became a staple of those teams.
Now, he might have the opportunity to be part of the solution to an offensive line problem that has plagued this franchise since its last Super Bowl. It's not out of the question for the Giants to take an offensive tackle with their first-round pick (No. 4 overall) and a center in the second round.
Hennessy had separate virtual meetings with the coaching staff and front office. One call included coach Joe Judge, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and offensive line coach Marc Colombo. Then there was Gettleman and assistant general manager Kevin Abrams on another.
"It has been awesome. Now that I'm back in New York, around all my childhood friends that are Giants fans, they're super fired up," Hennessy said. "I haven't told any of them [about the meetings]. It's funny. But they're all talking about the Giants' draft, and it's funny being on the other side of it and having these Zoom meetings with the personnel people and coaches."
His friends will know now, and they will realize that come draft time, there is a real chance their friend ends up on his -- and their -- favorite team.