Coming off a 4–12 season in 2019, their sixth season with a losing record in the past seven years, the New York Giants hold the fourth overall pick in the upcoming draft. This draft is a crucial one for general manager Dave Gettleman. Even though he seems to have found the franchise’s quarterback of the future, Daniel Jones, the firing of head coach Pat Shurmur is indicative that Gettleman is on a short leash to finally produce a winning roster, which he seems to fully recognize. The Giants have been fairly active in free agency, but there is still nothing more valuable in the NFL than cost-controlled rookies who make an immediate and outsized impact.
Given that most position groups require major upgrades and/or depth, the Giants will have plenty of options with their opening pick. With the coronavirus mucking up the pre-draft process and the dust settled from the free-agent frenzy, we now have a pretty good idea of teams’ needs and where the prospects will stand by the time draft night opens on April 23. So here are a few names to keep an eye on as potential targets for Big Blue with their opening pick.
You hear terms like “swiss army knife,” and “jack-of-all-trades” whenever a draft analyst mentions Simmons the way they will with any defender who has a little versatility to his skill set. But with Simmons, he really fits the bill of a do-it-all defender. For all intents and purposes of labeling, however, the Clemson product is listed as a linebacker, a positional group that the Giants have long neglected. This franchise hasn’t had a linebacker go to the pro bowl since Antonio Pierce in 2006, and if that didn’t drive the point home, taking Simmons fourth overall would make him the first linebacker the Giants select in the first round since Carl Banks back in 1984. Sure, the Giants seem to have a pretty full linebacker room already after they re-signed David Mayo and picked up former Packer Blake Martinez in free agency to go along with Ryan Connelly. By no means is that group a finished product though. All three of those guys come with limitations, particularly in the passing game. So, how about a linebacker who can track the ball sideline-to-sideline, shadow every skill position, and rush the passer?
Simmons to the Giants has been a popular mock draft projection for a while now, and the appeal is obvious: In addition to filling a positional need, Simmons seems tailor-made for new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s hybrid scheme. Like Giants head coach Joe Judge, Graham was formerly an assistant coach with the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick. If Graham is looking to follow closely in the footsteps of his legendary former boss, he’ll be asking his linebackers to line up all over the field and fill a wide range of roles. If deployed properly, Simmons could start his own legion of boogeymen in East Rutherford.
Schematic versatility is a terrific quality in theory, but when it comes to the highest level of competition, Simmons will probably need to be set into a more concrete role, probably as an off-ball linebacker, to have his best chance at becoming an elite player. Otherwise, he risks fulfilling the stereotype of a “tweener” who never ends up cutting it in any one role. While that isn’t to say he’s not worthy of being a top pick, the reality of the situation certainly limits a big part of his appeal as a prospect.
By my count, this is the eighth consecutive year of the Giants having a glaring need for better talent along the offensive line. Gettleman has certainly committed some premium money and assets in his attempt to shore up the O-line, but now that a franchise QB is in tow, now is the time to find a long-term solution to one of the tackle spots. That’s where Wills could potentially come in. A 6’5” 320 lb. mauler who made 28 consecutive starts at right tackle for Alabama over the last two seasons, he feels like exact kind of guy Gettleman and Judge want in the trenches, given his nasty streak and the raw power in his game.
Wills’ game feels like a glove-in-hand fit for the running game we’re likely to see under new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. As the Dallas Cowboys’ head coach last season, both of Garrett’s top-two running backs, Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard, were in the top ten in rushing efficiency according to NFL Next Gen Stats, an indication that they were more “north/south” runners who worked in between the tackles. A healthy Saquon Barkley is sure to get 250+ carries this season, and Wills could be a great fit creating rushing lanes at the point of attack or springing big runs with his ability to find and engage defenders on the second level.
The question with Wills is whether he has the short-area quickness and the patience to do well in Garrett’s Air Coryell offense. Even though he isn’t a bad athlete, Wills struggled somewhat to set the edge against speed rushers and respond to counter moves. He could be vulnerable against the smaller, more flexible rushers the NFL has to offer and might face some growing pains unless he learns to compensate for such limitations with more refined techniques. Wills especially needs to be better about setting and sustaining a solid base and latching onto opponents, rather than defaulting to the well-timed, powerful punches that brought him success against a lower level of competition.
Assuming Garrett incorporates the same concepts in New York that he had in Dallas, Jones will be holding onto the ball for quite some time next season, as Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott ranked in the top ten in average time to the throw the ball in each of his four seasons, according to Next Gen Stats. That means Wills will need to clean up his tendency to overextend and lunge at times when he tries to finish blocks off before holding the proper leverage.
That said, Wills has the makings to one day become an all-pro, especially under the tutelage of the well-regarded offensive line coach Marc Colombo. Wills played as on the right side of the line for his entire college career, but he does seem to have the requisite tools to possibly move over to the left side whenever Nate Solder leaves.
Looking across the depth chart, wide receiver doesn’t exactly seem high on the Giants’ list of needs, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an immediate fit for a player like CeeDee Lamb. While wide receivers Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, and Darius Slayton to go along with tight end Evan Engram makes for enviable pass-catching depth, this offense still needs an “X” receiver — someone with the all-around game who can eventually soak in 150+ targets and become the go-to option that Gettleman gave away in the Odell Beckham trade.
Lamb should be up for that task after putting up 2485 receiving yards and 26 total touchdowns for Oklahoma over the last two seasons. The other option for this spot was Alabama stud Jerry Jeudy, as he and Lamb are 1a and 1b in terms of their ranking among this year’s wideout prospects (NFL draft analyst Lance Zierlein has nearly identical grades on them). I ended up going with Lamb though because he has more reps working on the outside and slightly superior ball skills. I mean, this is simply DeAndre Hopkins-esque.
As that catch should tell you, if the ball is even relatively close to his catch radius, Lamb will grab it. And while he got plenty of wide-open spaces in Oklahoma’s powerhouse offense, it’s not like he even really needed them.
That’s the kind of domination at the catch point that receivers don’t usually acquire once in the NFL and a quality that would make life a helluva lot easier for a second-year signal-caller still rounding out his game. What really sets Lamb apart from his 2020 draft compatriots though is his playmaking ability once he gets the ball in his glue-like hands. Just disrespectfully dangerous with room to operate.
Lamb’s carries a slender frame, which might limit his ability to create big plays in the NFL the way he did in college — plenty of cornerbacks in the league will be able to press him at the line of scrimmage and jostle with him at the catch point. He also has some work left to do on the finer points of his route-running, where he could be crisper setting up and making his breaks. Mastering his route skills will be important, as things are only going to get harder outside of Oklahoma’s system. Can he consistently create separation for himself outside of a receiver-friendly scheme?
Lamb also didn’t show top-notch speed on his game tape, and a flat 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash time at the combine confirmed those results from the eye test. While that time wasn’t totally unexpected, it’s rather pedestrian for the position. Those physical limitations might outweigh any ball skills or after-the-catch ability and force Lamb into the slot as a second or third option, rather than a primary target.
Chaisson might be a stretch at this spot, but I couldn’t talk about the Giants’ draft needs without mentioning an edge rusher. Besides, it’s not like there isn’t a precedent for a pass rusher projected to go in the mid-first round ending up as the fourth pick.
Chaisson is the classic “projectable” prospect with unrefined skills but unlimited upside. He only has four full years of experience playing football between high school and college, so he’s still a raw talent with room to improve his pass-rush techniques, particularly counter moves for when Plan A doesn’t work out. Still, there’s no reason to think that he won’t be able to build upon and refine the budding repertoire of moves he’s already developed.
If and when the technical side is sorted out, Chaisson’s off-the-charts athleticism will make him a nightmare for opposing defenses. At 6’4” and 250 lbs. with a strong lower half, Chaisson has the ideal build for the multiple fronts the Giants are going to use in Graham’s defense. Gettleman also surely loves that Chaisson was well respected by his teammates at LSU. His speed and flexibility are pluses, but he’ll need to continue to fill out his frame and add some functional strength, as power blockers readily gave him fits.
Both ends of Chaisson’s game were on display in LSU’s victory over Alabama this past season. While he posted 10 total tackles, three of those for a loss, Chassion’s best work came against Alabama’s LT Alex Leatherwood, a nimble athlete who looks like a first-round pick in 2021. When Chaisson lined up against power-blocking-extraordinaire Wills on the right side, however, things did not end up going so well.
The bigger question mark with Chaisson is a lack of consistent production throughout his college career — just 9.5 sacks across three seasons. Part of that can be attributed to injuries, including a torn ACL in 2018 that cost him all but one game, but a poor medical history doesn’t necessarily help his stock either. The bright side is that Chaisson stepped up on the big stage and ended his stint at LSU on a high note, recording three sacks and another three tackles for loss between the SEC championship and college football playoffs. But should that dispel the fact that he was a complete non-factor against Utah State in October? Once again, injuries might have had a large roll in his lack of production that game.
Between youngsters Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines and the recently signed Kyler Fackrell, the Giants’ edge-rushing group already has some upside, even if it’s unproven. So, is four the spot to roll the dice on a raw, injury-prone talent?
Sure, taking a defensive back for the fifth time in three drafts might seem like overkill, but if you watched most any defensive possession from the Giants’ 2019 season, you know that the cornerback group is still in need of high-caliber talent. This team also just invested a nice chunk of change in cornerback James Bradberry, and he’s a solid if unspectacular corner. Still, I would be surprised if even one person feels completely confident in handing the other starting corner spot to one of last year’s first-round pick, DeAndre Baker. Besides, building a defense from back-to-front has had some recent success and getting the opportunity to take a top-end prospect like Okudah doesn’t come around often.
Okudah certainly looks the part of a day one plug-and-play corner on the outside, with the size and technique to mirror the league’s best wideouts in man coverage. He’s at his best when playing press, where he shows a nasty edge with his punches that throws receivers off their routes and gives him leverage. When playing off the line of scrimmage though, he can eliminate a cushion in a hurry once he’s diagnosed a route and explodes into a passing window. This is a textbook example of how to break to a receiver’s ball-side hip to get in between him and the pass:
He has room for improvement in diagnosing and breaking on targets while in zone coverage, but Graham’s defense is going to favor man coverage, particularly press man, so the scheme fit is ideal for Okudah’s talents. Moreover, he’s so technically sound and smooth in his movements, he looks straight out of a cornerback training video.
Okudah’s tape speaks to his technician-like approach to his game and incredible explosiveness, but take the Michigan game, where he matched up against NFL-caliber receivers like Donavan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins.
Okudah’s route anticipation, particularly on that last clip in the red zone, leaves something to be desired. He also looked sloppy at the catch point on more occasions than you would want for a guy getting top-five consideration. In addition to a late hit in the first quarter that drew a flag, there were two other penalty-worthy plays where he doesn’t properly time his breaks when crashing to the ball and some poor officiating bails him out.
Maybe you chalk that up to some great closing speed, which many draft pundits praise him for, but Combine testing seems to say otherwise. Okudah ran a 4.48 40-yard dash, which is about average for the position. Elite speed isn’t necessarily an imperative for a good career at corner, but it’s undoubtedly the most important factor. Consider that Okudah’s time isn’t too much better than Baker’s, who ran a 4.52. While Baker made major strides throughout the season, the early returns were nothing short of disastrous, with his straight-line speed a major hindrance that he will need to consistently overcome to make it in this league. Okudah could potentially face a similar struggle.
The Pick Is in
Plenty of directions to go with at four, plenty of position groups that the front office can address while still getting good value. So, which of these blue-chip prospects do I have my eye on for the Giants?
None of them.
My pick is to not pick at four and instead trade down to a team looking to select a quarterback.
Okudah’s potential availability has me intrigued and there’s still an outside chance that his teammate, phenom pass rusher Chase Young, falls to four. However, the prudent move for a team in the Giants’ position — one where they believe they have a franchise QB in tow but with glaring needs at many other spots — is to accumulate as much cheap talent as possible. That’s the best way to kick-start this rebuild, as no one player, particularly one who doesn’t play QB, is going to make enough of a difference to pass up the opportunity to get, say, second and third-round picks just to move down a few spots in round one. What makes a trade particularly prudent is the makeup of this year’s draft pool. On ESPN’s player rankings for this year’s draft, 21 of the top 35 prospects are a defensive end, linebacker, cornerback, wide receiver, or offensive tackle — all positions that the Giants could stand to spend a first-round pick on. This team can move back pretty much anywhere in the first round, look to take the best remaining player on the board, and chances are, they’ll grab a guy who will become an immediate contributor where they need one.
While Gettleman has been notoriously trade-averse on draft day, he announced at the Combine that the Giants are “open for business” when asked about the possibility of trading out from four. As for finding a trade partner, that shouldn’t be tough. McShay has first-round grades on four QBs and the Dolphins, Chargers, Colts, Jaguars, and Patriots could all be in the market for a rookie signal-caller. The opportunities will be there, so here’s hoping that Gettleman wasn’t blowing smoke with his combine soundbite.