EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The game was on the line last Sunday and the New York Giants had wide receivers Jalin Hyatt and Wan’Dale Robinson bunched on the near side of the field. Combined, they have 16 career games under their belt.
That didn’t stop coach Brian Daboll from having the two youngsters in the high-pressure spot. Hyatt rewarded that confidence by making a leaping grab for a first down while getting hit in the numbers by Buffalo Bills linebacker Terrel Bernard on fourth-and-5 with 22 seconds remaining.
It was admittedly the biggest play of Hyatt’s professional career, even if his team eventually fell one yard short. The Biletnikoff winner was the Giants’ third-round pick out of Tennessee back in April.
“Those are the moments you gain confidence,” Hyatt said this week. “Those are the moments your coaches gain confidence in you. I made the most of it.”
That is why he was in the game. It’s clear the Giants are turning to their young receivers after bringing them along slowly to start the season. The youth movement is in full effect.
Hyatt played a season-high 55 snaps in the 14-9 loss to the Bills. Second-year slot receiver Wan’Dale Robinson, who suffered a torn ACL in his right knee as a rookie, played 40-plus snaps for the third straight game.
That’s not likely to change this Sunday against the Washington Commanders — or any time moving forward.
“Yeah, they’re young. They’re young, so you’ve got to play them to develop them, too,” Daboll said. “I’d say that Hyatt made a heck of a catch in the fourth quarter on that in-cut, held on to the ball. … Again, the more reps they have, the more experience they’ll get, the more developed they’ll get. Wan’Dale is obviously still working his way back.
“But two obviously young, young players in this league. In that position, you’ve got to play some to gain experience and to gain development.”
Robinson had eight catches on eight targets for 62 yards against the Bills. Hyatt had three catches on four targets for 21 yards. It would have looked even better if his 43-yard reception wasn’t negated by a highly questionable illegal man downfield penalty.
With the offense sputtering early this season, the wide receiver rotation the Giants used in Buffalo is likely to continue. It was Darius Slayton and Isaiah Hodgins in two-wide-receiver sets and Slayton-Hyatt-Robinson in most formations with three wideouts on the field.
That leaves veterans Parris Campbell and Sterling Shepard on the outside looking in. After playing at least 15 offensive snaps the first five weeks of the season, Campbell did not get on the field for an offensive play on Sunday. Shepard, the longest-tenured Giant, got one play where he was used as a run blocker.
“It’s out of my control,” Shepard said of how he’s handling the new role. “So why even waste my energy on [worrying].”
The Giants may be going with a youth movement, even though it’s only seven weeks into a long season. Or trying to infuse youth into a dormant offense.
Shepard, who has started 72 games in his career, understands the concept of getting the young receivers on the field.
“The only way you can take your game to a whole other level is by getting that experience,” he said.
It’s not as if Robinson and Hyatt haven’t produced when given opportunities this season. They have two of the highest catch rates on the team this season: Robinson 88.0%, Hyatt 77.8%.
The problem for Hyatt has been getting targets. He’s been targeted on just 7.5% of his 120 routes run this season. He didn’t even get a ball thrown in his direction in losses to the Dolphins or 49ers.
This is part of the learning curve. Hyatt has to find ways to get more involved and the Giants have to find ways to get him the ball.
“I mean, you’re a rookie. It’s a hard position to play, receiver,” Daboll said. “I coached it for six years. There weren’t many rookie receivers that I’ve had that have played right away. [Ex-Patriots wide receiver] Deion Branch comes to mind as one of them. But it’s a learning experience when you’re a young receiver. There’s a lot of different things that happen that maybe didn’t happen to him in college relative to whether it’s press coverage, certain adjustments, things like that, and that happens for most.
“The position, when I coached receivers, it takes a little bit of time for younger players. So again, he’s a young guy that’s still learning, and he’ll get some opportunities.”
The tweaked rotation is not something Daboll has specifically addressed with the wide receiver room. Instead, the change has occurred organically.
Hyatt and Robinson just know it’s their time.
“It doesn’t change anything for me,” Hyatt said. “I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing throughout the week, making plays, being consistent. You know, whenever my opportunity comes, make the most of it. That’s how you succeed in this league, so that is what I’m going to keep doing.”
Hyatt’s big-play ability is something that could come in handy against Washington.
The Giants will take anything that will help them get into the end zone. They haven’t been able to do that on offense in three-plus games, a total of 205 minutes. It’s the first time since 1976 they’ve gone this long without a touchdown.
“ minutes? Dang,” running back Saquon Barkley said.
“It’s simple. It’s simple. I didn’t know it was  minutes, but it’s simple,” Barkley said. “We’re not executing, we’re not doing what we need to do.”
The thought is that Hyatt and Robinson can help.