Rysen John’s journey to the NFL has begun its next act, and as part of the en masse opening to the 2021 exhibition season, all of that added up to his first critical reviews on U.S. national television.
And for those catching the exploits of the former Simon Fraser University receiver, now doing his thing as a second-year tight end for the New York Giants, those early reviews all pointed towards the high ceiling and vast skill set possessed by the chiseled 6-foot-7 rookie who during his high school days had starred with the Vancouver College Fighting Irish.
In Saturday’s 12-7 loss to the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium, John came on in the second half and showcased not only the big strides he has taken since initially signing with the Giants as an undrafted free agent following the 2020 NFL draft, but his adaptability to line up in different areas within the schemes of head coach Joe Judge and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.
John was targeted a modest four times over the second half by third-string quarterback Clayton Thorson, the former Eagles’ fifth-round draft pick, yet he came away with three catches for 14 yards and the promise of more to come when the NFC East team gets back to action this coming Sunday (10 a.m.) at Cleveland.
After spending last season on the Giants’ practice squad, John’s first pro catch came Saturday on the Giants’ opening play of the third quarter.
Lined up wide to the boundary side, John cut back horizontally along the line of the scrimmage, curling back out and snaring a short, three-yard pass from Thorson to his team’s 32-yard line.
It was the first of three opportunities in which analyst and former Giants’ linebacking great Carl Banks had to talk about the SFU product.
“Carl, let’s talk about the young man that made the catch, Rysen John,” began play-by-play man Joe Papa. “We had a chance to ask Giants’ head coach Joe Judge about John, a guy that broke in as a wide receiver, with wide receiver skills and he said ‘We know that skill set’s there, but with (veteran TE) Levine Toilolo suffering that a season-ending (torn Achilles tendon)…”
Opined Banks, the two-time Super Bowl champ and member of the famed Big Blue Wrecking Crew which also included the likes of Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson: “He’s a big guy. He’s not going to be an in-line tight end. He’s going to be a blocker from the ‘F’ position (an offset fullback role).
“He’s got receiving skills… they know that,” Banks added of the Giants. “Now he’s progressing but he’s got to show that he can block from some position in order to really make a case to stay on the roster. They know he can catch the football. They know he can run. He’s a big guy. He goes almost 260.”
Just under two minutes into the fourth quarter, John made his second catch, another three-yarder, again lined up on the boundary side, this time with a short, precise sideline route.
“They are working him off the ball, kind of as an F back/H back, moving him… catching the ball on the run, that’s where he can be good against a linebacker or a smaller corner or safety,” said Banks of John. “He can body a guy out.”
The basketball analogy was apropos, not only because John starred on the hardcourt in high school for the Fighting Irish as a prodigious front-court force, but also in ways that his college football teams at Simon Fraser took advantage of his ability to literally ‘post-up’ defenders in mismatch situations on the gridiron.
On the very next snap, John lined up just off the left tackle in an empty backfield set, then did just as Banks suggested he should, cutting off his seven-yard route for a first down by turning back to face his quarterback and box out Jets’ cornerback Milo Eifler.
Replays showed the pass from Thorson was low and skipped off the turf into John’s hands, yet the point was made as it pertained to his ability to put his best physical qualities on display in a mismatch situation.
“He went in there and posted him up, pretty much and that’s a good catch on a low throw,” Banks said.
Soon after learning the play had gone incomplete, he added: “But he goes and puts that big body on (the defender) and he can’t get around him. You throw it to him in his chest and he’s got it.”
John’s final catch of the game came with 10:14 remaining on a second-and-12 from the Giants’ own 47, this one going for an eight-yard gain in the middle of the field.
On the day, Thorson went 5-of-16 for 72 yards with John responsible for three of those completions.
“Good work again for Rysen John,” added Banks. “He’s going to be a guy who is working the intermediate part of the field as a big tight end/H back.”
With an abbreviated three-game exhibition schedule now one-third complete, NFL teams will begin the process of paring down their rosters, with the final cutdown date coming Aug. 31.
John concluded his collegiate career with SFU in 2019 as the top receiver in the NCAA Div. 2 Great Northwest Athletic Conference after catching 53 passes for 861 yards and 10 touchdowns.
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