Giants draft review … Over the course of the past couple of days we have been wracking our brain trying to come up with a word the best encapsulates the Giants 2022 draft. In the end we settled on ‘strange.’ Of course, there was nothing strange about the Giants first-round selections of former Oregon DE Kayvon Thibodeaux and Alabama OT Evan Neal with the 5th and 7th picks respectively, both of whom were among the best players in this draft and both of whom address major issues in the Giants roster.
What made the whole exercise somewhat strange, though, was that after those two, every player the Giants selected was taken well before where they projected to be selected, at least based on the consensus ranking in the draft analyst community. And we don’t mean a few picks sooner than anticipated! Indeed, compared with where they rated on GBN Big Board, for example, which has always been a pretty accurate representation of the thinking across the NFL, the Giants picks this year, starting with WR Wan’dale Robinson in the second round, were selected, on average over 100 spots earlier than we had them rated. For the record, that’s almost 3 full rounds earlier than they were projected to be taken. Indeed, one of the ‘strangest’ elements of this year’s draft, was that the highest rated Giant rookies this year, at least after the players taken in the first two rounds, are DT Chris Hinton, FB Jeremiah Hall and S Yusuf Corker, each of whom was actually signed as an undrafted free agent!
And yet when we look at the Giants’ rookie class what we is is what looks like a pretty good group. During the draft process, for example, we picked up some buzz involving each of WR Robinson, 3rd round CB Cordale Flott and 6th LB Darrian Beavers as being significantly undervalued prospects. Then on the third day of the draft, a couple of the NFL Network analysts indicated that they were very surprised that Tampa Bay selected TE Cade Otten over Daniel Bellinger, whom the Giants took themselves 6 picks later, at the start of the 4th round.
Again, what we see in the Giants draft class is a group that other than WR Robinson, who is actually going to look like something of a smurf in Giants blue, has good size for the NFL. We also see a very athletic group. Indeed, each of Robinson (4.44), Flott (4.42) and 4th round SS Belton (4.43) ran the 40 in the low 4.4 range at the combine or pro day, while Bellinger was timed in relatively fast (for a TE) 4.63 seconds and both of LBs Beavers and Micah McFadden were quick for bigger LBs at under 4.7 seconds. Even the 310-pound 3rd round OG Josh Ezeudu is described in scouting reports as very light on his feet.
Even better, just about everyone in the Giants draft class was very productive player in college. Robinson, for example, had 104 (not a misprint; that is 4 more than a hundred) receptions last year in the SEC on a team that didn’t have any other receiver with more than 40 catches such that he had 46% of all Kentucky’s receiving yards last fall. For his part, Ezeudu was by far the best player on the UNC offensive front where he played mostly OG but more than held his own when he kicked out to OT on several occasions as an injury fill-in. Meanwhile, Bellinger was arguably the best blocking TE in the country, Belton had 5 picks, while McFadden and Beaver combined for 11.5 sacks and 16 other tackles for loss last fall.
So what gives with the variance? In part, it simply reflects that no matter how good your sources, you’re never going to have the quality of information that NFL teams have access to. The other thing is that what one may be seeing is something of a new trend in the NFL and that is to worry less about getting the best player available on the board with a few toward the longer term when, because of free agency, you are very likely only going to have him for a few years if indeed he can actually play and instead focus more on what he can do for you in the time he is with the team.
And that’s exactly what it looks like the Giants did in this draft. That is identify players that they feel/hope can be useful cogs in what they hope to do on the field. In fact, the Giants didn’t draft Robinson in the second round to replace Kadarius Toney, but to complement him. The Giants want to run a lot of 4-5 receiver sets and that means multiple guys in the slot. Imgaine Toney on one side and Robinson on the other, with Saquon swinging out of the backfield and challenging the other team to match-up. We also wonder if you might see the Giants run a lot of bubble screens, jet sweeps and the like as a major part of their run game next fall. Meanwhile, a guy like Belton who played both SS and OLB last fall is going to be a useful guy to bring up to the line of scrimmage in that hybrid role when the Giants are in a 4-2-5 defensive alignment.
In the end, though, whether Joe Schoen’s first draft with the Giants is considered to be a success or not will come down largely to whether a) Evan Neal can plug the hole at RT and anchor the OL over the next few years and b) and maybe even more importantly can Thibodeaux add some real juice to the pass rush. Indeed, we said on more than one occasion prior to the draft that despite the issues on the OL that the Giants prime target in this draft was one of the top three edge rushers. And in Thibodeaux we think the Giants got the one guy in this draft with the potential to be a true transformative player if he wants it!
But now we wait!