The New York Giants have been a team who prioritized size when building out a roster both via the draft and free agency dating all the way back through the years of general manager George Young. Throughout the early years of current general manager Dave Gettleman's tenure, the same has been true. Gettleman has used a first-round pick (Dexter Lawrence), an early third-round pick (B.J. Hill), a fifth-round pick (RJ McIntosh), and he traded an early third-round pick (No. 68 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft) plus a 2021 fifth-round pick to acquire Leonard Williams. He did all this after inheriting former second-round pick Dalvin Tomlinson. All five players are interior defensive linemen and only Williams has displayed on tape any ability to successfully rush the passer when aligned in another spot.
The importance of winning in the trenches on the interior can be debated in today's pass-heavy version of the NFL, but I still think it holds a lot of weight (and teams like the Eagles and Ravens agree, hence their decisions to acquire Javon Hargrave and Calais Campbell, respectively, this offseason, to add to an already loaded interior defensive line group). However, neither team used key draft capital to build out their interior fronts. I would argue that the interior defensive line depth across the NFL might be the deepest of any position and it's also a position that ages well with veterans like Cambell continuing to play at a dominant level. So it's fair to debate Gettleman's plan for how to improve his interior front, but the good news is that we can soon turn the page on this debate as it seems likely the franchise is ready to turn their attention to improving other key areas of need.
During the 2020 free agency period, the Giants did their best to address as many needs as possible without mortgaging too much of their future cap space (for when they need to re-sign Saquon Barkley, for example). The goal of this process was to use free agency for needs so they can draft for value. The perfect scenario is when value meets needs in any draft at any given pick. With that said, because the Giants still have several glaring needs, they have a better chance at matching each value pick with need.
Step 1: Attempt to acquire more draft capital via trade
Experts who have studied the draft will tell you that it's almost always the right decision to trade back and acquire more draft picks. After all, the draft is an imperfect process (the best quarterback of all time was a sixth-round pick) and it's best to have as many bullets in the chamber as you can get. If you already believe you've drafted your franchise quarterback and you own a top-five pick overall, you're in prime position to trade back with a team outside of the top-5 who needs a quarterback and thus acquire more draft picks.
If the Giants don't feel like Isaiah Simmons is a can't-miss "gold jacket" (as Gettleman would say) prospect -- and if they don't see any of the offensive tackles in that same regard -- their best option is to trade back and acquire more draft picks (in the range of the one they lost by trading No. 68 overall for impending free agent Leonard Williams during a lost 2019 season -- and yes, I'm still bitter about that one). The optimal goal here is to trade back, but not too far. For example, if the Chargers (No. 6 overall) or Dolphins (No. 5 overall) want to ensure no team jumps them for their quarterback of choice, the Giants can move back, pick up an early-third rounder to replace the pick lost for Williams, and likely still get Simmons or their choice tackle. If they move back further, say a team like the Jaguars (No. 9), the Raiders (No. 12) or the Buccaneers (No. 14), they can also acquire an early second-round pick or more but at the risk of potentially missing out on one of the big four tackles.
Ultimately, the other teams ahead of the Giants can help their trade down cause. If the Redskins and Lions stay at their respective draft slots and pick non-quarterbacks, the Giants could be in the driver's seat in a bidding war for Tua Tagovailoa. At the very least, the Giants need to strongly consider and attempt to acquire more draft capital to fill their needs if they're not sold on a prospect at No. 4 grading out considerably higher than anyone else on their big board.
Step 2: Be patient but prudent about drafting a WR
If you've read anything about the 2020 draft class you know that this might just be a historic wide receiver class. What makes this receiver class so special is not the elite group up top but the incredible amount of depth. There is an argument to be made that legitimate NFL starters can be found in rounds 2-4 and even into round 5 at the wide receiver position. Some of my favorite targets by round include (Rd. 3: Bryan Edwards, Chase Claypool, Tyler Johnson; Rd. 4: Van Jefferson, Donovan Peoples-Jones; Rd. 5: Quintez Cephus, Isaiah Hodgins, Gabriel Davis, James Proche). A case can be made that literally every single one of these players would be the highest-graded player on the Giants' board -- regardless of position -- with their remaining picks after No. 36 overall. If they trade down from No. 4, they can acquire another pick in the range from 36-99 (where they currently have none) to use on an even higher-caliber prospect who falls based solely on the ridiculous depth of this class.
Wide receiver is far down on my current list of needs for the Giants, and in general, I feel the impact of the position is overrated when it comes to wins and losses thanks to fantasy football, but the best teams draft for value and the Giants would be passing on too much value by not targeting a receiver at some point on Day 2 or more likely on Day 3.
Step 3: Add athleticism and speed to the off-ball LB spot
For years, the Giants have lacked the necessary athleticism at the linebacker position to be consistently successful on obvious passing downs. For a short period of time, they found it with Michael Boley, but that was short-lived (2009-2012). The lack of athleticism at the off-ball linebacker position dates back to the George Young (former general manager era). Young did a ton of great things to get the Giants franchise back on the map, and at the time, his plan to prioritize size at the linebacker position made sense for a more run-heavy NFL, but in 2020, the bulkier B.J. Goodson-type linebackers can make your defense a liability on passing plays.
The Giants need a linebacker who can hold up in pass coverage against tight ends, big slot receivers, and running backs. That same style of linebacker can also be utilized as a blitzer both off the edge and through the A gap. This type of linebacker allows flexibility for any defensive coordinator.
The good news for the Giants is that there are several linebackers who fit the billing in this class (which is very, very rare and further shows why they should probably prioritize getting one), but the bad news is that they're going to have to use a premium draft pick to get one. At No. 4 overall, they can get one right away with Simmons. However, if they wait until No. 36 overall, they would have to hope one of Kenneth Murray or Patrick Queen falls to them. They could also consider Willie Gay Jr. at No. 36. At No. 99 overall, Appalachian State linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither could still be on the board and that would be a snap pick for me -- one of the best values in the class. Unfortunately, I think the NFL will agree on this despite what the consensus draft community has projected in mocks. Linebackers Logan Wilson (Wyoming) and Justin Strnad (Wake Forest) also fit the bill for me, but they are flyers for this role and could flame out.
Step 4: Prioritize getting stronger on the interior OL
If the Giants truly want to transition to a run blocking scheme under Garrett and Colombo that utilizes more power, gap, and pin-pull concepts, they need to get much stronger at the pivot than they are right now with Spencer Pulley at center. Both Pulley and Jon Halapio have struggled with play strength at the point of attack during their tenure with the Giants. Halapio, who is recovering from a torn Achilles, is no guarantee to be on the roster in 2020.
It will be wise for the Giants to prioritize grinding the game film on the 2020 center class and pinpointing a favorite. The good news is that by the nature of the center position, there should be top prospects available for the Giants when they pick at No. 36, at No. 99, and at No. 110 overall. I believe the NFL (as a whole) underrates the importance of the center position's impact on wins and losses (harking back to my earlier comment on overrating the importance of the skill positions) and the Giants can take advantage of this.
I'm not particularly smitten with the draft's top projected center Cesar Ruiz -- because I think his skill set best fits a zone-blocking scheme but targeting New Jersey native and Temple alum Matt Hennessy (possibly trading up from No. 99 to the 70-75 range) or Wisconsin's Tyler Biadasz seems like an ideal plan to me. Biadasz was projected as a sure-fire first-round pick after the 2018 season but played through multiple injuries in 2019 that led to some really questionable game tape. He has certainly also been impacted by the truncated pre-draft process. If the Giants are comfortable with his medicals, I see value in targeting a Wisconsin lineman and specifically Biadasz.
If the Giants want to wait until later on Day 3, one of my favorite offensive line values overall is center Keith Ishmael out of San Diego State. He turned some heads during the Senior Bowl week and could be a steal.
Step 5: Don't skip out on a deep and talented OT class
This was part of my step-by-step plan for the Giants during the 2019 NFL Draft, but unfortunately for Daniel Jones, they ignored it. The good news is that the 2020 tackle class is even deeper with several talented developmental prospects who should be available on Days 2 and 3. It's important for the Giants to draft at least one offensive tackle because their current depth chart includes an aging and overpriced veteran (Nate Solder) -- the injuries have taken a toll on his body, a former undrafted free agent in Nick Gates, and a flyer free agent signing in Cameron Fleming (one year, $4M). It's also important for them to take advantage of a deep and talented tackle class because those don't come around very often.
Some of my favorite targets for the Giants at No. 36 overall include TCU's Lucas Niang at the very top. If you throw on Niang's game tape from 2018, you see a first-round talent and a tackle who for the most part shut down both Nick Bosa and Chase Young when TCU played Ohio State. If you throw on Niang's 2019 tape, you see another player -- and the injury situation played a key role in that. If his medicals check out, it's a high-upside swing. The same can be said about Boise State offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland who just might be the most athletic tackle in the entire class outside of Tristan Wirfs -- but he battled a turf toe injury that altered his functional play strength in 2019.
If the Giants wait until No. 99 overall, or even into Day 3 of the draft, some of my favorite tackles to target include: Ben Bartch, Jack Driscoll, Saahdiq Charles, and Matthew Peart. It's a mixed bag with two small school prospects who dominated a lower level of competition (Bartch and Peart) and two big school prospects (Driscoll, Charles) who have will need to be developed with the right coaching staff at the next level.
Step 6: Don't force it with an EDGE player
Everyone knows the Giants need an EDGE pass rusher, but that doesn't mean they can get one if the value is not there. And outside of Chase Young, this is a very questionable EDGE rusher class. A high-upside play at No. 36 overall could be to target Notre Dame's Julian Okwara, who has medical concerns that are a bit overblown as far as I'm concerned (he broke his fibula -- an injury that generally has a clean recovery), but Okwara's game is far from complete. An equally as strong (if not stronger) case can be made that he won't be the best value on the board at No. 36 for the Giants.
I believe the team would be better off targeting a Day 3 EDGE with the athletic upside to develop into an excellent pass rusher. Florida's Jabari Zuniga is my favorite of the Day 3 targets who fit the mold and Charlotte's Alex Highsmith is right behind him.
Step 7: Don't neglect finding a safety you can trust in single-high looks
The Giants have lacked a true free safety they can trust alone in the deep half since Kenny Philips (prior to the injuries) and it has really hurt their defense overall. Because defensive coordinators have looked down at a roster that doesn't include a deep-half safety right range, they've been hesitant to mix up their defensive coverages with single-high safety looks. When they have used a single-high safety, the results have been disastrous (see: Antoine Bethea, Curtis Riley, Darian Thompson).
In general, finding a safety you can trust in the deep half is very difficult at the NFL level. Players like this are few and far in between despite how great of an impact they have on wins and losses. That's why the Baltimore Ravens did everything in their power to sign Earl Thomas the moment he first reached free agency last offseason.
In this specific class, two deep-half safeties who fit what the Giants need perfectly could very well be available to them, but they'll have to use the No. 36 overall pick to get them. Antoine Winfield Jr. from Minnesota and Ashytn Davis from Cal come to mind. Both players have incredible range even if they check in on the smaller side. It's a risk (from a durability standpoint) to take a sub-200-pound player in the top-36, but the reward here might just outweigh that. The Giants can do a lot worse than drafting Winfield or Davis at No. 36 overall.