[Editor’s Note: Version 1.0 below was originally published on January 30]
The New York Giants have officially entered life without Eli Manning, a man who epitomized stability. His durability may have covered up organizational miscues for the better part of this century, but the last half-decade has revealed the dysfunction riddled throughout the franchise. Dave Gettleman’s ill-advised decisions have left the Giants with only one elite talent (at an increasingly valueless position) and without a surplus of draft picks. For a roster with as many holes as Big Blue’s, there simply is not enough draft capital to quickly turn the ship around. Nevertheless, this year’s draft is essential, as always, and it is always interesting to take a look ahead, particularly with a pre-combine 7-round mock draft.
Observing the Giants’ depth chart reveals the specific deficits this roster possesses. The chart provides a guide as to just how urgent individual needs are to be addressed. On the offensive side of the ball, a lack of depth rears its head. The Giants have only one lone area of comfort: center. Spencer Pulley resides as an adequate backup center. They just don’t have the backups at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, tackle, or guard. Unfortunately, starter-level talent is absent at both left and right tackle as well.
On defense, New York is undoubtedly deep on the defensive line and, arguably, in the secondary, where a hodgepodge of young defensive backs have shown equally as many flashes as they have warts. Trading a third (and potentially fourth) selection for Leonard Williams has boosted the talent level of the front seven but getting to the passer remains a poignant stain on this defense. Additionally, poor linebacker play has plagued the Giants for years on end and the departure of Janoris Jenkins has left them without a number one cornerback. The number of young talent investments in the secondary will lead to hesitation during the draft but improvement is still necessary, especially in today’s pass-happy league.
Subsequently, it makes sense to separate these needs into tiers where they can be interchangeable, yet still provide some semblance of order. Tier 1 needs are paramount to be addressed, Tier 2 needs demand consideration, and Tier 3 needs would appreciate the upgrade but don’t require the attention of the prior tiers.
Tier 1: Offensive Tackle, Edge Rusher, Linebacker
Tier 2: Wide Receiver, Cornerback, Safety, Interior Offensive Line
Tier 3: Tight End, Quarterback, Running Back, Defensive Line
Round 1, Pick 4: Jedrick Wills, OT, Alabama
As this past college football season transpired, certain things became evident: Joe Burrow’s transcendent rise to stardom, Chase Young’s undeniably elite talent as the top non-quarterback in the class, and Jedrick Wills’ spot atop offensive tackle rankings. Other possible selections include Isaiah Simmons, Andrew Thomas, and Jeff Okudah. Still, Wills’ elite blend of athleticism and technique is too good to pass up, especially for a team so desperately in need of offensive line help.
Assuming Gettleman sticks to his tendency not to trade back then addressing a Tier 1 need, securing a position of heightened value, and possibly grabbing the best player available would be a home run selection at fourth overall. It may not be the most entertaining pick, but Daniel Jones’ development may very well hinge upon the play of his offensive line, and disguising the flaws of a potential franchise QB is the second most important act a franchise can exhibit behind finding said passer. Thank me later, but Wills has legitimate blue-chip potential, even if he makes his money at right tackle as he did as Tua Tagovailoa’s blindside protector.
The reaction time by Wills in this clip is ridiculous. Goes through three different thought processes in less than three seconds to start.
•1: Starts play, kick-slide.
•2: Recognizes inside slant, slides in.
•3. Realizes it’s a stunt, back out with no wasted movement. https://t.co/O3fkqZAB4p
— Matt Valdovinos (@MVScouting) January 28, 2020
Scouting is an unequivocally tricky task, but certain evaluations come easier than the rest. Young and Wills are two examples of that, and both deserve to be top-five selections. Young is the best prospect in this class, but Wills has all the makings of a player deserving to be the first non-quarterback, offensive player taken come April. In the rep above, so many of his strengths are on display, as described by our very own Matt Valdovinos. Whether it be the mental processing, lower-body skills, or quality technique, Wills makes it look easy time and time again.
Round 2, Pick 36: Terrell Lewis, EDGE, Alabama
Protecting and rushing the passer cannot be understated in their importance to winning football games. It’s a significant reason why New York has not seen the success they would like to have in recent years. Here, the Giants can complement their previous selection with an exciting EDGE prospect who happens to hail from the same school. Other names considered were Curtis Weaver, Jeff Gladney, and Lucas Niang, but the upside and positional value of Terrell Lewis, along with the perception that he could start from the jump, gives him an edge (no pun intended).
Lewis is a high-motor player with physical tools to admire, as his 6’5”, 260-pound frame also possesses enticing athleticism. Like many EDGE prospects, his hands can use improvement but it is hard not to bank on his physical upside. Better suited for outside linebacker looks in a 3-4, Lewis may not see the field regularly in year one. Still, he should be an ample complement to Lorenzo Carter, another SEC EDGE rusher looking to break out.
Rushing the passer should always be a priority, but with a secondary as raw as the Giants’, it becomes all the more important. Drafting Lewis is an acquisition for both the short-term strength of the defense and the long-term outlook of the organization as he could end up being a vital cog in a rebuilt New York machine.
Round 4, Pick 100: Markus Bailey, LB, Purdue
Though Essang Bassey, Logan Stenberg, and Kyle Dugger were all still available, I decided to go with Markus Bailey off of the team’s dire need at the LB position and his fun 2018 tape. Bailey played in only two games this past season due to a knee injury, but evaluating him over the summer had me excited for what was to come. He is an excellent run defender with the athleticism to pursue ball carriers outside of the tackles and the instincts to hold his own in coverage at the next level. His stock may have dipped but heading into the year Bailey was a top-five linebacker in this class. He should be expected to produce at that level moving forward. Bailey can step in day one and be the best off-ball linebacker on the roster fairly quickly.
Round 5, Pick 132: Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota
Even with the league seeming to dim the lights on Tyler Johnson’s prospects at the next level, I’d be more than willing to bet on him. The Giants can use the depth at wideout, as injuries wreaked havoc last year and he offers similar upside to former day-three pick, Darius Slayton. Johnson is a natural separator, a great red-zone target, and reliable in terms of body control and after the catch skills. He is reminiscent of DaeSean Hamilton. He struggles with drops and lacks elite athleticism, but brings enough to the table where a team should be quite comfortable if he is their fourth receiver. Adam Trautman, Zach Shackelford, and Ke’Shawn Vaughn were other options at this spot, but my (likely) second-round grade on Johnson won the day.
In this house, we appreciate horizontal red zone separators pic.twitter.com/u8AimY3a29
— Anthony Licciardi (@ALiccNFL) October 30, 2019
Round 6, Pick 163: Akeem Davis-Gaither, LB, Appalachian State
Simmons has garnered a ton of well-deserved hype and consideration for a top-five selection in recent months. His ability to play anywhere and everywhere is incredible at the college ranks, even if it means his fit in the league will be harder to identify. Wherever he ends up spending a majority of his snaps, it is almost certain he’ll see some at moneybacker, being the central coverage linebacker on passing downs. Akeem Davis-Gaither may not be as versatile, athletic, or naturally gifted. Yet, he is capable of similar production in the moneybacker role Simmons would likely play if drafted by New York. While Bailey is more of a prototypical linebacker, Davis-Gaither plays right into the future of the league, emphasizing passing and the importance of athleticism and hybrids on the defensive side of the ball. It seems too easy to hand a hybrid defender to a Bill Belichick disciple like Joe Judge, but here we are. He was an easy choice over Jordan Fuller, Jake Luton, and Kendall Coleman.
Round 7, Pick 195: Dane Jackson, CB, Pittsburgh
Earlier, I mentioned a hesitancy to look towards cornerbacks this spring as so many resources have already been invested into rebuilding this secondary. For these reasons, I considered Calvin Throckmorton, Terence Steele, and Darius Anderson. However, a late day three pick does not hold the significance of a Thursday or Friday selection, leaving room for upside swings on athleticism, especially at a high-value position. Dane Jackson is a well-rounded athlete who is aggressive and enticing at the catch point. He lacks consistency in both man and zone coverage and is a liability in run defense thus limiting his ceiling. However, he does enough in terms of forcing turnovers and being scheme-independent to warrant a depth spot on a roster. His floor is low, as is every seventh-rounder, but with a shrinking player pool, Jackson treads water.
Round 7, Pick 215: AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College
Late-round selections come in all shapes and sizes, including innately oversized running backs like AJ Dillon. The Boston College back is 6’ on a good day, but 250 pounds. His lack of speed is overly evident and kills nearly any chance of a big play but that does not mean he can not be utilized. I think he projects better as a fullback where he can be used more creatively. Whether it be serving as depth for Saquon Barkley, rumbling through the trenches at the goal line, assisting in pass protection, or playing his part in a passing concept, Dillon offers a varied skillset that surpasses his Benny Snell-like ceiling as a true RB. Without much to lose, Dillon can be another creative asset for Judge and company, as he attempts to dominate with his size at the next level.