In a house in northern New Jersey, Eli Manning is chasing around his one-year-old son Charles Elisha and the draft ticker alerts his attention. Roger Goodell announces the New York Giants have selected Andrew Thomas, the most accomplished offensive tackle in the 2020 NFL Draft. Thomas started every game since he arrived at Georgia with one season at right tackle and two on the blindside. He played in a national title game and he matched up against SEC pass rushers. Manning smirks, chuckles, and redirects his attention to his son.
Flash forward to Day 2 and his attention is alerted back to the TV -- the Giants have selected Matt Peart, an offensive tackle prospect general managers dream of. Peart's arm length is in the 99th percentile, he's 6-7 and 318 pounds, and not a bad pound on him -- he looks more like a tight end. Peart is a developmental prospect after picking up the game in high school and playing at Connecticut, but the first time you watch him what stands out immediately is how smooth he moves in pass protection and when moving forward in the run game. Manning smirks and nods his head again.
The Giants had a different plan for 2019 first-round quarterback Daniel Jones than they had for Manning. When Manning arrived in New York, he inherited a promising offensive line of under-the-radar free agent signings by former general manager Ernie Accorsi, and eventually, Accorsi nailed free agency again by signing right tackle Kareem McKenzie in 2005. As the Manning years rolled on, McKenzie became the last major draft investment the team would make in the offensive line. The next time the Giants used middling draft capital on the offensive line was during the 2009 NFL Draft with Will Beatty and that wasn't until pick No. 60 overall. After they won a Super Bowl with two of Pro Football Focus' lowest-graded offensive tackles (and an offensive line that was No. 32 overall in pass protection, per PFF), they drafted a running back (David Wilson) in the first round.
It wasn't until Justin Pugh in 2013 -- a tackle they had to ultimately convert to guard -- that the Giants made another major offensive line investment. Things had gotten so bad up front that by the 2015 draft, the Giants forced a top 10 pick on a lineman (Ereck Flowers) who had some of the worst college tape when it comes to pass protection that you'll ever watch for a first-round pick.
The Giants had no plans of repeating that same process with Jones. It was a rare draft class when it comes to the offensive tackle position. Normally, there might be one blue-chip prospect, two if you're lucky. In this class, there were four. Normally, value dries up after the first 40ish picks, but in this one it lasted through Day 2. Prior to the draft, the Giants already had two veteran offensive tackles who have started 25-plus games each of winning football teams on the roster and one developmental prospect (Nick Gates) who looked above-average in a limited sample size in 2019. Instead of waiting until their contracts were up, the Giants drafted into the strength of the class at offensive tackle. There is no value waiting until 2021, when Nate Solder's contract comes off the books, but then you have to force a need pick in an offensive tackle class that might be subpar. The Giants recognized this and executed their plan.
Co-owner John Mara made it clear this was a plan they had going into the draft based on the strength of the tackle class and the importance of building an offensive line for their second-year quarterback.
"These guys gotta prove themselves as players, but that was the focus going into the draft," Mara said in an interview with Steve Serby of The Post. "It's something I've been banging on them for a while, we really had to get this fixed once and for all.
"In football, once you have the quarterback, you better have an offensive line. It sets the tone for the rest of the team, and if you're not blocking for the quarterback or for the running back, then you have very little chance."
This wasn't their only plan. They used the rest of the draft to add speed and pass coverage to both the second and third levels of the defense. They used three draft picks on defensive backs and four picks on linebackers. Part of their plan on defense was to get more versatile. Nearly every defensive pick they made has and can play multiple positions and roles. That will be vital moving forward as the Giants plan to move toward a "Patriots way" defense (one that started in New England back in 2017) that uses a variety of players on the second and third levels based on down and distance to go along with three down defensive linemen up front.
So while it's true the Giants did not go down a checklist of needs knocking them off one by one, they addressed key areas that haunted them in 2019 -- pass coverage, pass protection, and run blocking. After examining what the Giants did well, we'll look deeper into what they didn't accomplish in the draft, what roster needs remain, and what it might mean moving forward for the rest of the offseason.
1. Find a premier or developmental pass rusher
The Giants didn't use a premium or developmental-range draft pick on a pass rusher. The most accomplished pass rusher they drafted was Carter Coughlin, who projects best as an off-ball linebacker and/or situational edge rusher on obvious passing downs where there is no scenario in which he'll have to set the edge in the run game. A massive hole remains and the Giants need a lead dog to get pressure in third-and-long situations when the quarterbacks take a deep drop for a longer-developing play, but I'll applaud Gettleman for not forcing a need pick. This was arguably the weakest edge rusher class in as far back as I can remember after Chase Young. Prospects expected to go in the early Day 2 range (Curtis Weaver, Bradlee Anae) fell all the way until late on Day 3 -- and for a reason. By not forcing a pick at a major area of need, the Giants didn't commit the draft's cardinal sin -- placing too much importance on need.
The only chance they had was at No. 36 where they passed on Yetur Gross-Matos and A.J. Epenesa to draft Xavier McKinney. This was the correct decision because McKinney is a considerably better prospect than these pass rushers. McKinney will play three roles on the Giants defense after splitting his snaps evenly at deep safety, nickel back, and as a box safety in Nick Saban's defense at Alabama. Epenesa or Gross-Matos would have played one role, and it's hard to project where. The Giants are expected to move forward with a Patriots-esque defense that often resembles a 3-3-5 bear front look. The edge linebackers are required to have change of direction skills to play the "joker" or "star" roles (the positions on the edge) in this defense. Epenesa tested very poorly when it came to change of directions skills and he is best suited for a scheme like the one he got drafted into 18 picks later with the Bills.
Gettleman told reporters after the draft he would have traded back (and had a deal in place to do so) if McKinney wasn't on the board at No. 36 overall. The expectation is the Giants would've used the first of two picks they acquired to select Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun. He would have fit in the star or joker roles on this new defense.
2. Upgrade the center position
Heading into the draft, the expectation was that the Giants would prioritize upgrading at center. It never came to fruition. After passing on the center class on Days 1 and 2 -- though never really having the opportunity to draft any of the top three -- Gettleman told reporters he had the available centers graded considerably lower than he had Peart graded overall.
The biggest surprise came on Day 3, when the Giants passed on Wisconsin center Tyler Biadasz at No. 110 overall. Perhaps the Giants figured they could get him at No. 150 overall, but the Cowboys traded up four spots ahead of them to land the Consensus All-American who was also the first winner of the Rimington Trophy in the history of Wisconsin -- alma matter to Travis Frederick, Kevin Zeitler, Joe Thomas, and several other accomplished NFL veterans. Frederick was projected as a first-round pick after the 2018 season before returning in 2019 where he played through a shoulder injury he required offseason surgery for -- one that led to some really bad snaps on tape. This ultimately led to his draft slide and the Cowboys capitalized.
The Giants plan to give No. 150 overall pick Shane Lemieux a chance to compete and win the starting center job, but this a projection. Lemieux started more than 3,500 snaps at Oregon and all but three of them came at left guard, according to PFF. With just Spencer Pulley, Jon Halapio recovering from offseason surgery, Lemieux and maybe Gates to compete for the starting center job this summer, the Giants could opt to sign a veteran from another roster who is cut between now and September.
3. Draft a WR from the deepest WR class maybe ever
While it's true the Giants drafted into a position of strength at offensive tackle, they also bypassed selecting a single wide receiver from a class so deep that there could be potential starters drafted in the fifth round and stars selected through the end of Day 2 (the top-100 picks). I would argue wide receiver is further down their list of needs than others expect, especially as the offense shifts more toward Saquon Barkley in the passing game, but passing altogether on a class this deep is not ideal. The Giants have enough talent and competition at wide receiver for the 2020 season, but passing on a class like this could negatively impact them in the long run.