Okay, so it’s not a real interview, but there are in fact ‘just’ 101 days until the 2021 draft as we speak and while there is still a lot of sorting out to do between now and April 28th, this year’s draft class is really starting to come into focus. What we have done is put together a bit of a fictitious interview based on questions drawn from emails we have received from Giants fans in the three weeks since the season ended asking about the team’s draft options and plans. Of course, we also need to see what happens in free agent, both in terms of who the Giants are able to either resign or sign from elsewhere. But that may not have the biggest impact on the Giants draft options, especially in the opening round. So, let’s get to it:
Who are the players the Giants are most likely to be looking at with the 11th pick? In a perfect world one would think that the two players would most like to get their hands with this year’s top pick are WRs DeVonta Smith of Alabama and/or LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase. Unfortunately, it just a perfect world and both guys are likely to be long gone by the time the Giants get on the clock with the 11th pick. In fact, the odds are better than even that both would have been already off the board even had the Giants lost their season finale against Dallas and actually ended up with the 7th pick.
The fact is that in picking 11th the Giants really don’t control their own destiny. Indeed, the first rule of drafting is that ‘you can’t take a player that’s not there’. As such, the Giants first hope is that in a year in which there are a half dozen or so blue-chip elite prospects that they get one of those guys at #11, especially if there is a run on QBs in the top ten which is very possible. The fact is there are as many as 5-6 QBs currently with at least a top 15 grade, while as many as nine of the 10 teams picking ahead of the Giants have at least some issue at the position. However, we likely won’t know until April 28th just how all that plays out.
Figure, though, that at least four of those QBs are likely to go top ten as are the two WRs and Oregon OT Penei Sewell. And that means the Giants should get a shot at least one or two of the remaining blue chip prospects – at least as it stands now – including Penn State LB Micah Parsons, Miami DE Greg Rousseau, Alabama CB Patrick Surtain and/or Florida TE Kyle Pitts each of whom would be a nice addition in their own way. Of course, ‘at least as it stands now’ are the operative words as there are still over 100 days until the draft and there will almost assuredly between some risers and fallers on the board.
Who are the ‘bubble’ blue chippers we should be keeping an eye on? Again, things are just now starting to come into real focus, but the red-chip players closest to the blue-chip group right now appear to Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle, G/Ts Rashawn Slater of Northwestern and Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood, Michigan DE Kwity Paye and Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley.
Of that group, I should think that two to watch from the Giants’ perspective are Waddle and Farley. Indeed, Waddle was generally considered to be the better prospect that his teammate Devonta Smith prior to the season as he is a much better athlete. Hard to argue with Smith’s productivity this year, though, which was literally just off the chart.
There is a similar situation at CB where Surtain is the consensus top prospect, but talk to people are the NFL where there is a lot of love for Farley. Surtain has prototype length for a cover corner and is a terrific technician with adequate quickness and recovery speed, but in truth he’s not necessarily an elite athlete. In contrast, Farley, who is also actually a little longer than Surtain, IS a terrific athlete with explosive speed. And while there are people that will say ‘give me the guy who produced on the field rather than the guy that looks good in shorts’ fact is that based on most metrics Farley has actually been just as productive, if not more so, than Surtain in his career with the Hokies. Indeed, a pretty good case can be made that the biggest difference between the two is that Surtain was on national TV every week playing for the national champions, while Farley wasn’t.
Any chance that the Giants take a QB at #11 themselves? One never wants to say never, especially when it comes to the draft, but the chances are slim to none that the Giants take a QB with their opening round pick. They might have considered it if they had a shot at a truly special QB prospect like Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence or Zack Wilson of BYU, but that ain’t happening this year. And they just aren’t likely to pass on a potential elite non-QB prospect to take a shot with the 5th or 6th rated guy at the position this year.
You mention ‘bubble’ offensive linemen like Slater and Leatherwood. Any chance the Giants take one to complete the OL rebuild they started in last year’s draft? As we said, we never like to say never, but fact is we’d be shocked if the Giants did take an OL at #11. Again, if maybe a Penei Sewell was there as a BPA he’d be just too good to pass on. However, we just don’t see guys like Slater as being anywhere near close to that level. Bottom line, Giants are starved for impact players and it would be hard to see them passing on the several elite or near elite players with big-play potential that it would appear they’ll have a shot at in order to add an offensive lineman who is mostly likely going to be asked to play on the interior line.
I notice you had the Giants taking TE Kyle Pitts in your latest mock draft. Isn’t he a lot like Evan Engram? The simple answer is yeah! Pitts is a longer than Engram; he’s also got better hands, but isn’t as fast. Fact is if the Giants end up taking Pitts it will be because they are hoping that he ends up providing them with the explosive, big-play ability they hoped they were getting with Engram.
Not to belabor the subject, but we’ve actually never been as down on Engram as some Giants’ fans these days. Of course, the drops are frustrating, but he did catch a lot of passes with the Giants. What’s been missing, though, are the big plays. Indeed, in his four years with the Giants, Engram averaged 11 yards a catch and scored only 13 times. And that’s the kind of production you could probably have gotten from a JAG. But the Giants are no more likely NOT going to take a potentially explosive big-play, match-up problem like Pitts because Engram wasn’t the goods, than they were never going to take another OT with a top ten pick because Erick Flowers was such a dud.
Couple of more things on Pitts, who currently gets more hits for the Giants at #11 in mock drafts out there than any other player. First off, if you are selecting a guy like Pitts you are not drafting a TE. You’re taking a unique talent with special athleticism who has the potential to be a real match-up problem at the next level who just happens to play TE. And if you pair a unique talent like Pitts with a unique talent like Saquon Barkley (assuming he’s healthy) you have the potential to have a truly unique offense that is a match-up nightmare for opposing teams. To do that, though, you actually have to run a unique offense, not just something out of Football 101, and I’m not sure we’ve seen that kind of creativity out of the Giants’ yet.
Do you think that Penn State LB Micah Parsons would be a perfect fit in the Giants defensive scheme? No question that Parsons has been one of the most dynamic defensive players in college football. And on paper he indeed looks like he’d be an ideal fit with the Giants 3-4 D. However, games aren’t played on paper. Fact is that while the Giants are nominally a 3-4 team, because so many teams use a 3-wide set as their base offense, the Giants actually line-up in a 4-2 scheme on as many as 65-70% of their defensive snaps. As a result, the Giants have been forced to push their OLBs up to the line of scrimmage where they end up being undersized DEs. And Parsons, while a terrific playmaker isn’t all that big at around 6-2, 240 which means in your 4-2 he’s going to have be a very small DE or move into the MLB spot beside Blake Martinez. And what tape on Parsons shows is that while he is that dynamic player when allowed to roam and make plays in space, he is not all that instinctive when he shifts inside to play a pure MLB role.
So what about the pass rush? Would someone like Greg Rousseau be a good fit? When we made our Giants’ selection for that latest mock, the choice came down to Rousseau or Pitts. And Rousseau was tempting because it can be really difficult to find a quality edge rusher with the potential to post 10-12 sacks a year. Indeed, other than QB, DE maybe the hardest position to fill in the draft because again you need a really good player. Rousseau, who reminds one of former Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul, certainly looks the part with the length teams are always looking for; he has long legs, long arms and is a long strider with excellent closing speed. However, what you see on tape is a guy who’s very raw and has a very limited arsenal of pass rush moves. In fact, its not clear he has any legit pass rush moves at all. Indeed, if one was asked which of this year’s elite prospects was most likely to fall, you’d have to point the first finger at Rousseau, although it is still hard to outright dismiss a 15.5 sack season like he had in 2019 with the Hurricanes.
And other than Rousseau, it’s hard to see any other ER this year who would be worth the 11th pick, again based on what we know today. There are guys like Michigan’s Paye or Rousseau’s Miami teammate Jaelin Phillips who’ve received some top 20 props, as well as some DTs like Alabama’s Christian Barmore and Daviyon Nixon of Iowa who might fit as a 5T DE, but they would all be considered reaches at #11, again at least at this time.
Bottom line is that of the three issues identified above, upgrading the ER situation could be by far the hardest to address. However, there are in fact more than one way to skin a cat. One option for the Giants, for example, would be focus primarily on the secondary first. If they could in fact upgrade the coverage unit, then the Giants could play more man in the secondary. And if they were comfortable playing man, then they can start to bring more people like Peppers, Logan Ryan and Xavier McKinney to the LOS and allow DC Patrick Graham to start blitzing more often. In the meantime, you continue to see what you already have on the edge with the expected return of Zo Carter and Oshane Ximenes from injury, and the possible development of rookies Carter Coughlin and Cam Brown.
Any final thoughts? Yeah a couple of things. Pet peeve! It’s just way too early in the process for people to be claiming that this or that player ‘is the guy they want!’ – as if anybody cares who ‘they’ would like – especially when it’s pretty obvious that they have likely never in fact actually really seen the guy they like play in anything more than a youtube highlight video!
The other thing is we get a lot of emails from Giants’ fans asking what we think of their ‘mock’ draft which will usually have, for example, a CB in the first round, an ER in the second and a WR in the third – or some such. Fact is you are NOT going to fix the Giants issues at WR or in the secondary with a 3rd round pick. What I am hoping the Giants will actually do as they did with the OL last year, is really focus in on one unit and address it in numbers. And then do the best you can mixing and matching with the units. Time will tell!