With the draft now just a month away, the volume of mail from anxious Giants’ fans worried about what will happen with the 4th pick and beyond continues unabated. Rather than try and answer them all individually, IGGI ‘the bear’ who’s been with me since before I became a Giants fan in 1958, has compiled a list of the oft-asked, pertinent Giants-related queries and has graciously agreed to serve as moderator for the first of what we hope will be several pre-draft interviews.
IGGI: So why don’t we start with what is your reaction to the Giants’ free agent signings so far this off-season. Good, bad, indifferent!
CL: On the one hand, we kind of like the idea that the Giants opted to use free agency to bolster the defense, which at least from a baseline stats perspective, was way behind the offense last fall. However, given the cap space the Giants had entering free agency, its actually been kind of disappointing. Bradberry was a terrific addition, although in reality he’s just basically replacing Jackrabbit. Meanwhile, Martinez certainly appears to be an upgrade at LB, but is hardly a game-changer. Bottom line is that the Giants appear to have blown through around $60M in cap space just to run in place. And even that might be a bit of a stretch as they still haven’t addressed the pass rush which supposedly was the #1 priority in free agency heading into the new year. Of course, the Giants are still likely in on the Clowney sweepstakes, with Markus Golden as the fall back in the search for an ER, so that grade is incomplete. Still, if the goal in free agency was to upgrade the NFL’s 30th ranked defense in terms of points allowed, the new unit looks depressingly like the old so far.
IGGI: Who do you think the Giants will be selecting with the 4th pick next month?
CL: Some years you can figure out pretty early what players or positions the Giants are serious considering with their early picks in the draft. Other years not so much. And right now 2020 is one of those years. I have been really wrestling with trying to get a sense of where the organization is leaning this year and so far what I’ve come up with is that it is going to be either offense or defense! You laugh, but that’s the reality. My sense is that everything else being equal, the Giants would really like to address the OT situation with their top pick. However, everything isn’t equal, and it appears that the best prospects at #4 are all defensive players. The one thing you can probably take to the bank, though, is that the Giants will stick to their board, but right now we have very little clue as to which player or players the Giants really like and have on their short list. And in the end, the Giants are going to take a player they like. Let me repeat that in bold: the Giants are going to take a player they like. If they have an OT with a grade similar to the top defensive guys like Simmons, Okudah and Brown, the likelihood is they’ll take that tackle. On the other hand, if they don’t and really like one or more of those defensive prospects, it’s hard to imagine them passing on the guy given the lingering issues on that side of the ball (see above). What will be interesting to see is if the Giants will consider trading down from the 4th pick if they do indeed like one of those defensive players to take an OT that they don’t like as much just to fill a hole. Normally that’s not a Giants-like strategy, however, LT is such a hard position to fill (see below) that it is something that they may at least have on the table. Time will tell. Indeed, best advice I can give people at this time is chill out (and stop going all apoplectic every time some tom, dick, or harry, publishes a mock draft) and wait until April 23rd when we’ll find out for sure!
IGGI: Who are your top offensive line prospects?
CL: First of all, nobody should care how I have the OTs, or any position, rated. Bottom line is that the only grades that matter are those of individual teams like the Giants. And right now one gets the sense that the consensus around the league regarding the OTs is that there is no consensus. And that’s in sharp contrast to the other side of the ball where just about everybody appears to be in agreement that the best prospects after DE Chase Young are LB Isaiah Simmons, CB Jeff Okudah, and DT Derrick Brown. Problem at OT is that the top 4 prospects are all so different, plus they all have some issue. Mehki Becton of Louisville, for example, is just an imposing physical guy with tremendous upside, but he’s a tad raw and unpolished in his technique. Meanwhile, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs is a terrific athlete with a great motor, but he’s somewhat stiff and mechanical, while Georgia’s Andrew Thomas is the most experienced LT prospect and has prototype size, but he’s been inconsistent in the past and isn’t necessarily that athletic. Lastly, Alabama’s Jedrick Wills is maybe the most pro-ready prospect in the bunch; he’s also the most solid technically. Wills, though, is not all that big (at least for a top 5 OT) and really isn’t that good of an athlete and as such doesn’t offer much in the way of upside. He’s also the least likely to be comfortable playing LT at the next level. In the end, one can make the case that all 4 guys have top 10 potential. It’s my sense, though, that if the Giants were to take an OT at #4, it’s going to be someone with a ton of upside with the potential to be a franchise LT and the only who is likely to come close in that regard is Becton. Again, time will tell!
We also make the point regarding the offensive line. The draft is a crapshoot, its a lottery, its like flipping coins. And when we say that, it means that the draft IS a crapshoot; it IS a glorified lottery; it IS like flipping coins. The reality is that of those four top OTs, the odds are that 1-2 are going to be really good NFL players; 1-2 are going to be JAGs; and 1-2 are going to be busts. And there is no one out there, not Mel Kiper, not Dan Jeremiah or Mike Mayock, not Bill Belichek, who can tell you with any more accuracy than a blind monkey throwing darts at a dart board which one will be in which group. As George Young used to say regarding the draft: You make the best decision you can and then cross your fingers. Of course, the same probably holds true for the 4 or so top defensive players this year. Its the draft! There are no sure things, no guarantees!!
IGGI: Could the Giants get their OT in the second round if they went defense in the opening round.
CL: Not likely. I mean they’ll be some OTs available, but they are all going to be longshots at least as LT candidates. The problem is that if you want to get an OT with legit LT potential, you pretty much have to get them in the first round. And the additional problem for the Giants is that if they don’t get one this year, unless they get horribly lucky with a later round pick, they will almost be forced to get one early next year.
IGGI: What do you see the Giants doing at #36 if they don’t go OT there?
CL: I know some readers will roll their eyes a little, but it is not outside the realm of possibility that in the end the Giants end up deciding to live with what they have at OT for another year. I doubt they do the same at C, which I see as one of the Giants two biggest immediate needs. In that context, it wouldn’t surprise me if, like last year, they traded back up into the opening round to target Michigan C Cesar Ruiz, always with the proviso, if they like him.
On the other hand, if the Giants stay at #36, I could very well see them taking a WR, which will almost unquestionably be the strength of the draft in the early part of the second round. Indeed, I have been making the case (apparently to an audience of no one) that while the OL needs to be upgraded, what would really put the scare in opposing coaches would be a legit #1 receiver with the potential to take the top off their defenses. Last year, for example, the Giants had no one who scared opposing defenses deep so the other guys were consistently bringing 9-10, even 11 guys into the box fixing to stop #26 and just daring the Giants to beat them deep. Slayton did come on late, but add another legit big-play threat and you would start to force opponents to play their safeties much deeper, which in turn would open up the underneath zones for guys like Shepard, Tate, and Engram, not to mention, almost by definition, give Saquon some space as opponents just aren’t going to be able to bring so many guys to the LOS. And if they do, hammer them over the top. And receivers who could be in the mix at that point include Baylor’s Denzel Mims, USC’s Michael Pittman, Brandon Aiyuk of Arizona State, Chase Claypool of Notre Dame, Penn State’s KJ Hamler and Jalen Reagor of TCU. Of course, the Giants could opt to add a WR with either their late 3rd or early 4th round picks and there’ll be some good ones there, but they’re more likely to be complimentary type guys rather than potential go-to receivers.
IGGI: Give me the name of a player who you think might be a shock pick at #4.
CL: You heard it here first! Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU. He’s one of the hottest guys in the draft right now; see above for the positional analysis.