Giants Report: When the draft goods give you lemons, make lemonade!!

May 3, 2023

Let me start with something of a caveat. One of the dangers of doing this kind of analysis is that one resist the urge to simply interpret events from the context of a preconceived notion of what was going to happen. Over the course of the past 6 weeks or so we were pretty vocal about our impression that just about all the tea leaves were pointing to the fact that the Giants would be going into the 2023 draft with the primary goal of coming away with an elite, or at least as close to elite as possible, wide receiver. And while there is no  smoking gun evidence per se, just about everything we have read, still points to the fact that that was indeed the plan.

In fact, through the first 19 picks it appeared that the Giants plan was working out almost to perfection. As we noted prior to the draft, when a team is in the kind of situation the Giants were in, that is, targeting a particular position in which they hoped to come away with one of 3-4 players, particularly, when a trade up looks like it could be required, the team holds its water as long as there are at least a couple of those players on the board and then makes its move up once there is only one left. And while the general expectation heading into the draft was that at least one of this year’s top WRs, and maybe two would be off the board by the 15th pick, which likely would have left the Giants with maybe just one of their target guys available with still a relatively costly trade up to get him.

Instead, the Giants were sitting pretty with all four of the top receivers still on the board with just 5 picks to go when Tampa Bay selected Pitt DT Calijah Kancey with the 19th pick. The Giants even thought they had booked themselves a little insurance by arranging with Jacksonville, which had the pick just in front of them, that if there was only one receiver left on the board at that point that they’d flip picks with the Jags as there were rumors that there were at least three teams picking right behind the Giants – Dallas, Buffalo and Kansas City in particular – that were considering a move up to get a wideout for themselves. So no problem as long as Seattle, as expected, took a defensive lineman after taking CB Devon Witherspoon with the 5th pick earlier in the round. But then Seattle went and upset the applecart when they took Smith-Njigba with the 20th pick.

And that’s when in the words of Giants GM Joe Schoen ‘things got tense!’  The problem for the Giants always was that once you got to pick #21 there was a run of three straight teams – the LA Chargers, Baltimore and Minnesota – that were all also believed to be strongly targeting WRs. And that once into that run it would be almost impossible to trade up into that grouping, at least without having to give up something like a future #1,  because those teams were also looking at the same players as the Giants. And sure enough in rapid order fire the Chargers took Quentin Johnston of TCU, the Ravens snapped up Zay Flowers, while the Vikings grabbed USC’s Jordan Addison. Shades of 1996 and the saga of Cedric Jones. The one saving grace for the Giants was that they had at least one player – Maryland CB Deonte Banks – with a first round grade who filled one of their primary position objectives still on the board.

In fact, it also wouldn’t totally surprise me if it was actually the Jaguars who called the Giants when they got on the clock with the 24th pick and asked if the Giants still wanted to go ahead with the deal. And it certainly wouldn’t surprise if the Giants said to themselves ‘we just got screwed playing the game the way you’re supposed to, let’s not fuck around anymore and just take the guy we like rather than maybe risk losing him too!’

Just a couple of side notes on the trade with the Jags and a couple of other rumored deals that didn’t come off. I am sure there are folks that will counter that the Giants actually moved up that one spot with the Jags for fear of losing Banks. And no question it is certainly possible. Just highly unlikely. First, the deal was set up originally almost assuredly as insurance for the WRs and second, it would be very unusual for a team to wait thru more than a half dozen picks for a guy they wanted only to trade up one spot. Again possible, but not at all logical. The other point re the corners is that we don’t know where the Giants had Penn State CB Joey Porter rated. Porter, who was also still available at #24, very likely had a similar grade to Banks and the Giants could have played the old ‘well’ there’s still two of them out there’ and tried to play the board, but just having been burned playing the game with the receivers, opted not fuck around!

There have also been reports that the Giants tried to trade up for Flowers or not! The real question is not whether they tried to trade but when. Was it when all four receivers were still on the board at picks 18-19 or did they did they try to make a move after Seattle selected Smith-Njigba with offers to either/or both the LA Chargers and Baltimore.

In the end, though, it worked out beautifully for the Giants! At least it worked out beautifully when the Giants were able to trade up 16 spots in the third round to select former Tennessee WR Jalin Hyatt whom they may very well have considered at #25 and most assuredly thought about before taking C John Michael Schmitz at #57, but who was still – rather amazingly – on the board early in the third round. Make no mistake about it, Hyatt is not likely ever going to be that elusive elite #1 receiver who is going to catch 95 passes for 1,500 yards. He has a limited route tree and likely isn’t going to catch a lot of passes in traffic. What he will do, though – if he can actually play at the NFL level which is always the $64K question with all these guys – is give the Giants what they were looking for here, and that’s an explosive, big-play threat who by his very presence on the field is going to force opposing teams to decide whether they really want to bring 9-10-11 men up into the box to stop the Giants run game with speedsters like Hyatt and Slayton on the field. My guess is that Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka are already think to themselves ‘just let ’em try!

(And just a quick note on the Hyatt trade up; don’t know if the Giants picked up something, but it was hard not to note that Cleveland took Hyatt’s former Tennessee teammate Cedric Tillman with the very next pick. Hard not to think that the Browns might also have been thinking about taking Hyatt at that spot!)

Back to Banks for a moment. He’s a thickly built corner at just a tad over 6-feet and 197 pounds. He’s also a terrific athlete who blew up the combine running a 4.35 40 with a sub-1.5 second split and an explosive 42-inch vertical. And with that speed he can run with just about any receiver; he also plays under control and will battle for the battle in the air, although he could do a better job tracking the ball in-flight; he also doesn’t have great hands and may not post many picks. Also like a lot of taller corners he can be a little slow coming out of breaks so isn’t as comfortable in zone as in press coverage. He’s also a physical player, who is not shy about coming up in run support, although he could do a better job getting off blocks when engaged. And maybe most importantly, like Hyatt, Banks is a great fit for the Giants in that he is going to allow Wink Martindale – again if he can play – to play a much more aggressive, attacking scheme.

The final note on that whole sequence, what made it all work was the fact that even had the Giants been able to get one of their opening round targets at WR like Addison, they were not going to get a CB in the third round anywhere near the quality of Hyatt as a receiver. Indeed, they would have been looking at corners such as Riley Moss of Iowa, who is a good player, but still looks more like a rotational, depth type than a potential shut-down starter.

Early in the draft process we didn’t think there was necessarily much chance that the Giants would take another offensive lineman all that early. But we changed our tune with Giants OL coach Bobby Johnson running most, if not all, the top second-tier OL workouts around the country. In fact, one almost came to think that the Giants were almost locked into taking an offensive lineman, especially a C if one was available in the second round, literally no matter what happened in the first. And what happened in the second was that Minnesota’s Schmitz, arguably the best pure C in this year’s was still available.

Schmitz isn’t necessarily all that big at ‘just’ a few pounds over 300, but he’s still a physical drive-blocker who gets off the snap with authority and really locks on; he can also come off an initial block get involved upfield. Schmitz is also not necessarily a great athlete, with a 40 time in the 5.40 range, but he’s smart and instinctive and does a nice job finding and picking up blitzers. Schmitz, though, does need to work on keeping his pads low when engaging bigger interior pass rushers straight up as he will play a too high at times. This pick also has a bit of a tw0-fer feel to it as – again if Schnitz can play – it would free up Ben Bredeson to go back to his more normal LG position. Again, another great position fit with the Giants.

The Giants also hardly made a secret of the fact that they were looking at RBs during the pre-draft process, but after trading away their second third-rounder (to get TE Darren Waller), their 4th round pick (to move up to get Hyatt), and their first 5th round (as part of the deal to get Banks) all of the backs they had targeted like Tulane’s Tyjae Spears and Kendre Miller of TCU were long gone. So they had to pleasantly surprised to find Eric Gray of Oklahoma, a conference all-star who had 1.600 yards from scrimmage last year, including close to 1,400 yards on the ground, still available when they got on the clock late in the 5th round with the 172nd pick. Gray had dropped largely due to the fact that he only ran in the 4.65 range at his pro day; he’s also not all that big at just 5-9, 207. However, watch him on tape and you see someone who plays bigger and faster. While he’s under 210 pounds, for example, Gray is a thickly built back with weight-room lower body strength who keeps his legs churning; he’s also instinctive, patient and quick to the crease and while he likely won’t break off a lot of big runs, if he can play at the next level, will be the kind of back who grinds out the tough yards and keeps the chains moving. And that should make him the perfect compliment to Saquon Barkley who can take 10-12 of those tough inside runs every week and help keep #26 fresh so he can make more of those big runs. Oh, and did we mention, Gray is also an excellent receiver who had 100 career catches in college. Again, a great fit!

If the there was a ‘meh’ element to the Giants draft it was there isn’t a whole lot to get excited about their 6th and 7th round picks. Former Oregon DT Jordan Riley, their first of two 7th round picks, though, is at least big. Indeed, he’s a 6-5, 335-pound pure NT who does have some lateral agility; he’s not going to make many plays himself, though, and is more a space-eater who is going to tie up opposing blockers inside and gives the Giants a little more depth up front. Meanwhile, the two DBs taken in the final rounds – CB Tre Hawkins of Old Dominion and Houston S Gervarius Owens – both look more like special teams’ types. Hawkins, though, is a good athlete who ran a 4.40 40 at his pro day while posting a 37.5-inch vertical with some upside, while Owens, a one-time corner, is the opposite in that he’s not a particularly good athlete with a 40 time close to 4.6, but he’s an instinctive DB who reads the field well and breaks quickly on the play, but will over-commit at times. In fact, we were kind of disappointed that the Giants didn’t take West Virginia DE Dante Stills, one of our favorite players in this draft. with their 6th round pick as he went 5 selections later to Arizona.

Bottom line: We do not want to get too far ahead of ourselves here because the players still need to go out and prove it on the field, but at least on paper, the Giants look to have had a really good draft. In fact, we’ve been doing this since before George Young arrived on the scene and a pretty good case can be made that this was one of, if not the best Giants draft, top to bottom, ever. On the one hand they got some really good players. Indeed, we suspect that in a perfect world Giants wanted to come away from this draft with a first-round quality receiver, a first-round quality CB and a first-round quality lineman, all the time knowing that with just one top 50 pick, that was kind of a pipe-dream. In the end, though, they came away with all three, not to mention that they got a Pro Bowl quality TE in Darren Waller, if healthy, in a trade for one of their third-rounders.

The other reason we really liked this draft was the great fit of all the picks, or at least the first 5 (counting Waller). In particular, both Banks and Hyatt have the potential to be somewhat transformative players for their respective units. At the same time, a very good case can be made that no team did more to improve itself this weekend that the Giants. Philadelphia, for example, did make a real splash with their selection of three members of Georgia’s great national championship defence, but the reality is none of those guys is going to be anything close to a projected starter this fall and were brought in more as future replacements when the Eagles have to start shedding salary to stay under the cap in the not-too-distant future. There is also the issue that the only reason the Eagles were able to get the guys they did was because other teams passed on them and when multiple teams pass on a player there’s almost always a reason. In the case of DT Jalen Carter, for example, who the Eagles got with the 9th pick, there were major questions about his work ethic, conditioning, and motor even before he ended up pleading no contest to some driving offences stemming from an incident in which two members of the Georgia team were killed. Meanwhile, Dallas had one of the most disappointing drafts in the whole league in which they did nothing to close the gap between themselves and the Eagles.