The New York Giants reportedly entered the 2021 offseason slightly over the salary cap (leading one beat writer to term their situation as "cap hell") before embarking on a spending spree that landed them the likes of Kenny Golladay, Adoree' Jackson and Kyle Rudolph -- among others. Of course, that's because they were never actually in cap hell, instead having one of the most cap-healthy 2022 and 2023 situations in the NFL. The Giants have borrowed from the future to help get the present on track and provide third-year QB Daniel Jones with a stronger supporting cast (after winning just 15 games in the previous 48) in what could be a make-or-break season for GM Dave Gettleman and even the two draft picks he stuck his claim to (Jones and Saquon Barkley).
The result is a roster set up well to win now with far fewer holes leading up to the draft than ever before during the Gettleman era. The best teams draft for value and not need -- seeking instead to give themselves the best chance to find a player they can sign to a second contract rather than focusing on finding a player at a position they need. The Giants have positioned themselves to be one of those teams and the belief is they'll ultimately follow through on it. However, there will be temptation to do otherwise, and that ultimately leads us to Step 1.
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Step 1: Take a blue-chip prospect at No. 11
If I were at the helm, I'd take a BPA-adjusted approach with my draft picks. While I'd be searching for the best player available, I would put a priority on concepts such as positional scarcity and positional value (namely, will this player be able to make a big impact on what actually matters -- moving the ball via the pass and stopping the pass). This means running backs and interior defensive linemen who can't rush the passer would be out of the first-round conversation for me. In the 2021 class, the likelihood of anywhere from three to five quarterbacks being selected before No. 11 increases the likelihood of a blue-chip player who fits the criteria above being available when they're on the clock.
The position most likely to have a blue chip available at No. 11 is wide receiver and it helps that a pair of teams (Cowboys, Broncos) picking ahead of the Giants are less likely to draft a receiver given the draft capital they've recently invested in the position. At least one of the following players fits all of the above criteria, and if available, should be the pick at No. 11:
- LSU WR Ja'Marr Chase (least likely to be available)
- Oregon OT Penei Sewell
- Florida TE Kyle Pitts
- Northwestern OL Rashawn Slater
- Alabama WR DeVonta Smith
- Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle (most likely to be available)
The temptation to draft an EDGE prospect at No. 11 will be there and the Giants have sent a large contingent of key decision makers to the pro days of all the top EDGE prospects including Jaelen Phillips, Azeez Ojulari, Gregory Rousseau, Kwity Paye and Jayson Oweh. Would it be great if the Giants added an elite pass rusher who can win one-on-one battles and work in tandem with Leonard Williams in the stunt game up front? Of course it would, but unfortunately, this class doesn't have that kind of prospect. None of the top EDGE prospects named above is a true complete blue-chip prospect, but they're being pushed up the mock draft boards because of how shallow the entire EDGE class is and because of the leaguewide need for pass rushers.
When it comes to finding pass rushers, the Giants are better off letting value fall to them -- even if it's not in this class -- rather than passing up on a true difference maker in the passing game like a Smith, Waddle or Pitts -- and rather than passing on an offensive lineman who could immediately step in as the team's second-best or best lineman like Sewell or Slater.
Step 2: Trade back from 42 to acquire more picks
It won't be easy to pull the trigger on moving out of the No. 42 hole, and if a screaming value falls to them at this pick (like what happened with Xavier McKinney falling to them in the last draft), they might have to scrap this idea, but trading back out of this spot can set up the rest of their draft. It's no coincidence the Giants were able to find three of their best Day Three values (Darnay Holmes, Shane Lemieux, Tae Crowder) in the 2020 draft class where they had their most Day Three picks in the Gettleman era. The draft is an imperfect process and Day Three picks are statistically nothing more than gambles, so you give yourself the best chance to hit the bullseye by having more darts to throw at the board.
As it currently stands, the Giants only have three picks on Day Three (compared to the seven they had last year). They traded their fifth-round (Leonard Williams 2019 trade) and seventh-round (Isaac Yiadom) picks. After their first Day 3 pick in Round 4 at No. 116 overall the Giants do not currently have another draft pick until No. 196 overall -- 80 picks later. That's not ideal. Moving out of the No. 42 spot could be an excellent play if it lands them an extra late Day Two pick or multiple picks on Day Three. The depth of this offensive line class could help make that decision to trade back more palatable.
Step 3: This is not the class to skip on offensive line
In order to break down the current projected offensive line, it's important to take a step back. The Giants ranked 31st in pass protection in 2020, per Pro Football Focus, and no QB other than Sam Darnold on the expansion-esque Jets roster was pressured on a per-snap basis more than Jones. This offseason they cut their most experienced and consistent lineman (Kevin Zeitler) and have so far replaced him with a lineman (Zach Fulton) who allowed double-digit sacks in 2020.
The Giants would like to roll into 2021 with second-year players Andrew Thomas, Lemieux and Matt Peart taking a huge step in their development and starting 100% of the snaps at their respective positions, but that's a really risky strategy. I've equated these two cross-sport positions before and maybe if I do it again it will stick -- the NFL's version of the offensive line is strikingly similar to me to the MLB's version of the bullpen -- you can't really expect to win consistently without a competent group in either sport. It's possible those three players take a big jump, Will Hernandez returns to rookie-season form despite converting to a new position (right guard) and Nick Gates builds on his breakout 2020 -- but that's a lot of variables that have to go right. And if these players don't make that jump, it won't matter how much talent you add to the skill positions anyway.
This doesn't mean the Giants have to draft a lineman at No. 11. The best place to target an offensive lineman in this class is with either of their Day Two draft picks (rounds two and three). Offensive line guru Brandon Thorn believes this draft class is "loaded" with offensive linemen in the Rounds 2-3 range -- a bunch of players he can see carving out starting roles. Here are some linemen who could be available in Rounds 2 and 3 who could help the Giants right now -- ranked loosely:
- Alabama's Landon Dickerson (Round 2)
- Oklahoma's Creed Humphrey (2)
- Alabama's Alex Leatherwood (2)
- North Dakota State's Dillon Radunz (2)
- Stanford's Walker Little (2)
- Wisconsin-Whitewater's Quinn Meinerz (2)
- Notre Dame's Liam Eichenberg (Round 3)
- Illinois' Kendrick Green (3)
- Notre Dame's Aaron Banks (3)
- BYU's Brady Christenson (3)
Step 4: Don't force a pick at EDGE
The Giants would love to add pass rushers capable of winning consistently in one-on-one matchups, but that won't be easy in what's objectively a shallow EDGE class that's also not top heavy with talent. Ultimately, finding pass rushers might not be as great of a need as some are projecting it to be. In defensive coordinator Patrick Graham's unique system, the Giants found a way in 2020 to generate pressure and sacks despite at one point having to turn to plodding inside linebacker David Mayo as an edge rusher. Despite losing starters Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines and Kyler Fackrell to injuries, the Giants finished with the 12th-most sacks (40) last season.
Graham's system will likely be more man-heavy and blitz-heavy in 2021 now that the team has added Jackson to the roster at boundary CB. Graham will thus be more likely to feel comfortable leaving Jackson and James Bradberry on an island and utilizing the rest of his defensive backs as blitzers on more occasions. Also, Graham's system, by design, is set up to allow for a wide range of second-level players to find success in different down-and-distance situations.
Taking everything into the account, the Giants are best-served finding players who can develop into contributors rather than jamming picks at positions of need.
Step 5: Don't be afraid to double-dip at WR
If I was asked to make a prediction now, I would predict the Giants will end Day One with one of three players on their roster: Waddle, Smith or Pitts. Just because they go WR on Day One doesn't mean they have to avoid it in later rounds. I would argue the best strategy might be to target WR late -- specifically on Day Three -- because they'd be drafting into the strength of the class. Once again, WR is loaded with depth and talent in this class. Drafting two WRs will provide the Giants with insurance in case they need to clear cap space by releasing Sterling Shepard next offseason or if Darius Slayton doesn't develop into the player they think he will be. Here are some Day Three WRs the Giants should look to target starting with my personal favorite -- a player I deem to be the best value in this draft class regardless of position -- ranked loosely:
- Tennessee's Josh Palmer (best-cast scenario to open Day Three in Round 4)
- Iowa's Ihmir Smith-Marsette (4)
- Louisville's Tutu Atwell (4)
- Stanford's Simi Fehoko (Round 5 *if they trade for more picks)
- Western Michigan's D'Wayne Eskridge (4)
- Auburn's Seth Williams (5)
- Clemson's Amari Rodgers (5)
- Wake Forest's Sage Surratt (6)
- South Carolina's Shi Smith (6)
- Auburn's Anthony Schwartz (6)
- North Carolina's Dazz Newsome (6)
Last year around this time, I broke down a 2020 seven-step plan for the perfect Giants draft and five of the seven actually came to fruition. While this isn't meant to be a prediction of things to come, I'm going for five-for-five this year!