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Elerson Smith, Northern Iowa Panthers (January 27, 2021)

Elerson Smith – © USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, the New York Giants made three more selections on the final day of the 2021 NFL Draft, including linebacker Elerson Smith (University of Northern Iowa) in the 4th round and running back Gary Brightwell (University of Arizona) and cornerback Rodarius Williams (Oklahoma State University) in the 6th round.

LB Elerson Smith Scouting Report: Smith is a tall, lanky, athletic rush end who projects to outside linebacker in the Giants’ system. He combines good size, arm length, big hands, initial get-off quickness, bend, and closing burst. Good pass rusher who makes plays in the backfield. Raw, Smith will need some time to develop and reach his potential. He will need to continue to get stronger and be more consistent at playing off of blockers in the run game. Smith is a hard worker both off and on the football field.

Sy’56’s Take: Fifth year senior from Minneapolis, Minnesota. One-year starter that had his senior season canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 1st Team All Missouri Valley Conference and 1st Team AFCA FCS All American in 2019. Smith broke out in his redshirt junior season, netting 21.5 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and 2 blocked kicks. He plays the game with a level of ease and smoothness in traffic. He gets off the ball in a hurry with great leverage and upper body positioning, his hands are exceptionally fast, and the foot quickness is elite. Smith is just scratching the surface when it comes to his true potential. He needs to sleep in the weight room for a year before he can be an every down asset, but he will be a solid rotational pass rusher right away and has the upside of being a solid starter in multiple schemes.

*If you haven’t seen Northern Iowa play but you want to get a feel for what this kid looks like on the field, think about Jayson Taylor. He has the really long, borderline thin frame but plays with tremendous burst and bend for a player his size. Smith impressed me a ton at the Senior Bowl in the practice tapes. Really twitchy, plays low to the ground, and easily changes direction. His 2019 tape is something else, too. Good player here that may need more time than others but presents more upside than most guys in this tier.

RB Gary Brightwell Scouting Report: Brightwell is a big, physical, no-nonsense, downhill runner with good speed and acceleration for his size. He is not a particularly creative running back, being more of a one-speed, one-cut slasher. His biggest negative is ball security. He needs to protect the football better.

Sy’56’s Take: Sizeable slasher that can put his foot in the ground a burst upfield. Will push defenders back on contact, shows decent late wiggle. Hard nosed kid that will get yards after contact. Has fumble issues, mechanical.

CB Rodarius Williams Scouting Report: Williams has good size for a corner and has experience in both press and off coverage. He is a competitor who plays a physical game. Williams lacks ideal speed and quickness but he is instinctive in coverage. He breaks up a lot of passes.

Sy’56’s Take: Smart and instinctive. Supports the run and knows how to play physical in coverage without getting flagged. Plays faster than he times because of knowledge, feel, and reaction twitch.

Media Q&A with General Manager Dave Gettleman (Video):

Opening Statement: Obviously we had three picks, the 7th round is still going, I didn’t trade back so we could get to this sooner. Elerson Smith, who we took in the fourth round, is a kid that played at Northern Iowa, didn’t play this fall obviously because of COVID. He didn’t opt out. They just didn’t play. And he played the Senior Bowl. He’s long, he’s athletic and we watched him on his Northern Iowa tape and what sold us on him is they played Iowa State and he must have played about 85, 90 snaps. He’s a real tough kid, athletic, long, has some pass rush potential and he’s instinctive, so we really liked him. With the first sixth round pick, we took a running back out of Arizona, Gary Brightwell. He’s a big kid and he’s got a heavy body, he’s a heavy body runner, he’s in the 215, 220 range and he really is a quality special teams player. So he’s got dual value. Then our last pick was Rodarius Williams out of Oklahoma State. We had a solid value on him on the board. He’s athletic. He’s fast. He can carry the vertical. He plays our style. He’s a press corner and we were just very pleased to see him there. So those are our last three.

Q: When you talked leading into the Draft and you also talked about free agency, I think Kevin Abrams said you wanted to be aggressive. Did that carry over into the Draft and maybe lead to some of the trades?

A: I think it did. You know, we’ve had that mindset. And you know we just felt like, it’s all about calculated risk. You know, you go to Vegas, go to Atlantic City and some people are aggressive and some people aren’t. It’s just sometimes it’s instinct. Sometimes it’s just looking at the board and seeing where it’s going to take you. You know, we felt we were aggressive in the off-season and in the roster building season — there’s no off-season here. We were aggressive in the roster building season in both free agency and the Draft.

Q: Didn’t make any picks on the offensive line and really weren’t aggressive in free agency, but do you think that position is good enough and why did you feel that way if so?

A: First of all, you don’t want it to be good enough, you want it to be good, plain and simple. It’s really apparent that we have a little more confidence in our offensive linemen than you guys do. So I’m just going to say we’re happy with the group that we have. Obviously you’re always trying to get better and you’re not going to take a player just to take a player, you take a player because you think he’s going to improve the value of your team. Right now, our offensive line is what it is, the players are who they are and we’re going to move forward.

Q: You’ve invested either draft picks or trades, why so many corners and does that mean somebody has to be the odd man out here?

A: As the media says, and as the public perception is, this is a passing league. So why not a lot of corners, okay. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you can never have too many good players at a position, and when everybody comes in, let the games begin.

Q: Did you realize you had to wait 80 picks?

A: I knew it was going to be awhile, and I was going to have time to do a number of things, my taxes, etc., etc. It’s a long wait, but listen, that’s the way it is. That’s the way it turned out.

Q: The perception, and you hear it already, that Joe in his second year, his influence is increasing, his fingerprints are all over some of the philosophical things with the trade that never happened before. Wondering what you think of that?

A: I think that we have a great collaborative group going here. It’s not about me. It’s not about Joe. It’s about the New York Football Giants.

Q: How much did his role change in year two?

A: We collaborate. We’ve been collaborating since he walked in the door. It’s about the New York Giants.

Q: Elerson Smith, you said he’s got some pass rush. He was a skinny kid who became a not-skinny kid, obviously, very long arms, big hands, things like that. You have a lot of guys, you drafted two of them, you have two guys coming back, X-man (Oshane Ximines) and Lorenzo Carter, where do you see that edge rush situation?

A: Well, there’s a lot of competition there. Listen, I’ve said this a million times; fundamentally, the college kids are further behind than they used to be. So at the end of the day, it’s about do they have the talent, the physical talent, the feel, the instinct, to develop as pass rushers. Both of these kids do. Elerson definitely does. That’s why we drafted him and at the end of the day, it’s about competition. It’s about competition. And we just feel like with those two draft picks, we’ve upgraded.

Q: The Giants have not done well in the last 10 years, you haven’t been here for all of that, with that third, fourth, fifth round stab at a pass rusher. Do you think with these two guys, one or two of them, you got it right?

A: I always think I got it right. Listen, we’ll know in three years whether we got this right. And that’s what it is, okay. It’s perception and it’s what the media writes about players. We put a ton of time into this. We don’t do this for a hobby, all right, and in three years we’ll know if we’re right or not.

Q: You were on ESPN earlier and said that you feel like you guys are close to being able to compete. What gives you the most optimism and how much of that is from guys you were able to pick up this weekend?

A: I felt we’ve had a very good roster building season.

Q: Anyone in particular or any philosophical —

A: We feel like we’ve added a strong group of players at a variety of positions. We’ve added playmakers. We’ve added pass rushers. We added corners. We feel good about what we’ve done.

Media Q&A with Head Coach Joe Judge (Video):

Q: In regard to the secondary and specifically, Rodarius Williams and Aaron Robinson, how much adding guys like that change what you guys can do schematically and coverage-wise?

A: Look, we are always looking for different skill sets that create versatility within our defensive schemes and look ultimately throughout the draft and free agency you’re looking for the best players available. We happened to go through the Draft and we had the opportunity to add two good corners, coming to compete with our current roster. We’ll see when they get here how it shakes out. I tell the guys all the time, truest thing I can say, it doesn’t matter how you get here; it’s what you do when you are here. We are excited to get these guys here and at the same time excited to work with everyone on our current roster, and again, look, our goal is to make every position as competitive as can be and that’s when you really get the best out of your team.

Q: You drafted five guys that were Senior Bowl participants this year and a few talked about the conversations they had with you and Rodarius mentioned. How important are those face-to-face conversations, especially in a year like this where you didn’t have the combine to meet with the guys?

A: For me, they are crucial. I don’t really like adding someone to our team or I can’t really have a strong enough opinion on someone if I have not had good enough interaction with them as a person and there’s no better opportunity to sit down with somebody and look them eye to eye and really ask them tough questions and get an answer and get a feel for them as a person. A number of guys at the Senior Bowl we came away with obviously the ability to have a strong opinion. To be honest the guys you only see on tape, if you don’t have enough interaction with, you may like them as a player and there’s just something missing that you can’t stand on the table and say, this guy fits our locker room, this guy fits our culture. So the interactions are definitely crucial for us.

Q: Is it possible at this point to gauge how much better you’ve gotten with this draft? And secondly, do you look at the other teams in your division in terms of what they have done and maybe whether you’ve gained on them or not or is that too early to do that at this point?

A: I don’t think you can ever make a team on paper. I don’t think you can ever really win in the offseason. To me it’s about adding competitive players each position. And then when training camp starts and the competition truly starts, that’s when we’ll know how much we’ve improved. We’ll know when we start the preseason games and truly know when we get into the season. It’s a fair question, I fully understand it. We are looking to add a raised level of play at every position. But by adding competition, one of two things happen: You either bring somebody in who you improve because they are good enough to take someone else’s job or you bring someone in who pushes the guys in front of him to keep their job, and either way you get a raised level of play.

Q: Gary Brightwell sounded like you talking about special teams and all the hidden yards and importance of it. What did you like about him in those roles while he was in college?

A: He’s a guy that definitely jumped out. A few weeks back, me, Tom Quinn and Thomas McGaughey were sitting in the staff room on a Saturday about 5:30am in the morning and Tom Quinn brought his name up and we watched his kick game and this dude was flying down the field and it was early enough that it woke you up and you really got excited about watching him. You start watching a lot more of his offense and start talking with our scouts who have done a lot of research on him and talking to Burton (Burns) as far as the running back value. Look, he’s a guy that jumps out from his skill set. You are always looking for good versatility and depth at those positions, running back and the kicking game. To be honest with you, the opportunity I had to really speak with him and spend some time with him even though it was over Zoom with Gary was very, very impressive. He has an tremendous story. This dude had the utmost compliments given to him from everyone who has been around him at every level. He was the guy that was available at the time and he was a guy we guy we could bring on on our roster and compete to be on the roster and make us a better team.

Q: From the outside there’s a lot of surprise that you guys didn’t address the offensive line throughout the three days of the Draft. Dave talked about this but I’m curious from your perspective on the guys that you have and whether you’re completely comfortable going into the season with the group you’ve got.

A: First off I’m encouraged by the guys we have on our roster right now. They are working hard. We don’t have them in the building just yet, not all of them. As we get closer to the mandatory minicamp and training camp, we’ll get a feel for them on the grass. I would say we are always looking to make every position more competitive, but right now we are committed to working with the guys on our roster and approving each one of those guys individually and that should help the unit collectively.

Q: Elerson Smith, lower level of competition, gained a lot of weight, big hands, good athlete. This team has been looking for an edge rusher for many years. You think you got it right with these two guys?

A: I think we added two guys between Elerson and Azeez that are going to be able to come in that have a skill set to develop and work with, both guys really fit our outside linebacker category. In our defense, our outside backers have a variety of skill set. Some guys are more stout, set the edge guys better in early down run setting and some guys are more third down sub-package pass rushers. Elerson is a guy, I got to sit down with him in Mobile at the Senior Bowl and was impressed with him down there playing. You watch his tape, the one thing I would say about guys from small schools and low level of competition, I think sometimes people over-evaluate someone because where they played in college. And this is a guy you look at his story, he weighed 195 pounds coming out of high school, was built more like a receiver. So someone obviously at Northern Iowa did a good job evaluating this guy and seeing his upside and potential. That’s what I think we did a good job as well with, and we’re going to have an opportunity to develop it. But he’s gained a lot of weight. That just shows his commitment to body and really developing over time. Some guys are late bloomers. But I know when Northern Iowa plays, whether it’s him or Spencer Brown another guys who was drafted along with other guys, those guys play tough. You watch their tape. They are a competitive team. So to me I look at a lot of lower competition, per se, quote, or smaller schools as really more of an opportunity to grow these guys as guys that really weren’t always in a program where they had great nutrition plans or maybe the top-tier strength program or assets available to them. Sometimes you get a guy from a really good program and you have to look and say, how topped out are they. They have been coached very well, had a resource at all times; what is their ceiling and how much higher can they go. A guy from a smaller school, you can say, we can really develop this guy. You know, let’s be patient with this guy, give him time, throw them in, let them compete and if they have upside, all of a sudden you really see them competing on your roster.

Q: Last year was a whirlwind. How is this year, the whole process and your involvement any different?

A: No, I think from the day I got here we all worked together very well. That’s one thing that I talked about from the very beginning. It’s been very open on both sides of the building. It’s just one building. It’s not separated personnel and coaching. Everyone is working together. Right now we have our scouts working with the coaches on the free agency process after the Draft, me and Dave (Gettleman), Kevin (Abrams), Mark (Koncz), Tim (McDonnell) and Chris (Pettit), we always talk fluidly throughout the entire process. There is more involvement because I wasn’t here last fall, or two falls ago. The ability to talk about who is in the draft, who we are targeting, what kind of bodies, change of the scheme and further understanding on both sides what we are looking for and how we work together. After going through a cycle last year, you knock off some of the newness and this time through it was a lot more fluid.

Media Q&A with Director of College Scouting Chris Pettit (Video):

Q. You drafted five guys that were at the Senior Bowl this year and a lot of those guys talked about those conversations had with them and the things you learned about them. How important was that this year, especially, when you didn’t have the combine and all the traditional visits? Was there extra value added on meeting guys there?

A: Every year, we’ve taken guys from the Senior Bowl. Senior Bowl does a great job of recruiting and bringing in really good players to get a look at. There’s, you know, every year I feel like we draft guys from there. This year, it really was — I said it the last couple nights was our really only time to be face-to-face with the prospects and how important that was to the process of just seeing them, feeling them, getting close to them. So yeah, it was super important, but every year they do a great job of bringing in really good players down there for us to evaluate.

Q. And then one guy that wasn’t at the Senior Bowl that you picked was Gary Brightwell who was a little more under the radar. Joe talked about how impressed he was with the special teams tape. Was that something that stood out to you?

A: Yeah, absolutely. Especially, one of our special teams coaches, Tom Quinn, ran into me one day in the hall and said he really saw some good traits in him. So we threw on the tape. Also as a runner, this guy will help us as a running back, as well. He’s competitive. He’s tough. He’s got good hands. Good athlete. So yeah I’m looking forward to seeing him run and also contribute on teams.

Q. Obviously Joe told us that the process was already starting with you guys trying to get together and worry about after the Draft and free agency. If you can explain what this year’s process looks like compared to obviously last year where you were not bringing guys in and going virtual. How different is this year and do you have a number in mind of how many guys you will look to sign after the Draft?

A: Between the scouts and coaches, we’re collaborative and we work together on recruiting and really trying to get these guys signed up after the Draft is over. It’s definitely been a better process this year than it was last year doing it all virtual. It was difficult. I’ll be honest, it was difficult. I’m sitting there looking, trying to organize it all with about 60 faces on the Zoom and the communication was hard. I think we did a great job last year and this year is going to be even better. We have the coaching staff here and we can communicate face-to-face. We have some of our scouts that live locally around and that’s helping out and then we have our scouts Zoomed in the room. It will be better this year but we’re not at full capacity when we are all together working as a team face-to-face.

Q. Rodarius Williams is going to be 25 in September. Some teams are drafting guys who are 20. How old — how do you look at age in the draft process? Is there a number that’s too old? Is there a number that’s too young? Are you aware if a guy is 22 versus 23? Do you know that number off the top of your head? How do you see age?

A: I mean, I think it’s a piece of the puzzle like every measurable is or every skill is. Obviously it didn’t affect us, his age and why we took him. You know, it’s case-by-case basis when it comes to the age to be honest with you. But no, I mean, actually he’s more mature. We don’t have to — some of these guys that are coming in, maybe don’t have the life skills being younger players, really straight out of high school almost. But no, it’s part of the puzzle like everything else, like I said, every measurable, every skill.

Q. You just spent the last year of your life devoted to these three days. What is your takeaway of this class and how does it compare to what you might have expected coming in?

A: This has been going since really our BLESTO meetings last May, I had my mind on this date. So it’s been good. It been a difficult year for all of us. But it’s been a great process. We’ve learned a lot. We learned new ways to scout. I think that’s going to help us going forward. I’m really excited about the class. There’s guys that we kind of targeted way back in February and we’re happy they were there for us at the time they were. So you know I feel good. I feel good about every draft class. We put a lot of work in both — all the scouts, all the personnel, all the coaches, we put a lot into this, so it’s a big day for us.

Q. When you look at a guy like Elerson (Smith), Joe was just talking about big school, small school. Is he a little more of hey, you look at him and say, he is not what he’s going to be and you project him and just what kind of potential as a pass rusher do you see him having?

A: I think there’s a lot of potential. The biggest thing with the smaller school guys, we always start at step one, do they dominate that level. They have to dominate that level of competition to get in the conversation. And the great thing about Elerson that, again, reference the Senior Bowl again, but we got to see him on the same playing field with guys from Power Five schools and the higher levels and he fit right in. He competed his butt off and looked the part. You got to compare apples-to-apples there. That was a great venue for us. There were times when he had to play a Division I team. He played Iowa State this year, played over 90 plays in that game and competed to the last whistle and it was really impressive to see. But I think there’s big upside there, with all our players, they are going to have to come in and develop and become pros.

Q. I know you’re finishing up and probably haven’t turned the page yet but you spend your whole year to get to this date. What’s the mindset you take when you are going to be leaving moving forward knowing, okay, next year now, we have all these extra first, an extra third, an extra fourth (picks in 2022 Draft).

A: Yeah, kind of what I alluded to last night with the class next year being so large, to have the extra picks is really beneficial going forward. To be honest with you it makes it fun knowing that we have all these opportunities to take players next year. So I’m looking forward to it. With a big class, it’s going to be a lot of work for us. Our scouts are going to have to be as thorough as ever and start work earlier with such a big class and guys moving all around. We know that and we are ready to take on the challenge but now at least we have the picks to hit it out of the park next year again hopefully.

Q. Did you get any directive or direction from the defensive coaching staff about the cornerbacks you were looking for as opposed to in years past and can you talk about sort of how Rodarius (Williams) and A-Rob (Aaron Robinson) line up with each other? Are they a similar type of player?

A: Number one, first day here with our coaching staff, is let’s sit down with the personnel and coaching staff and talk about what kind of players they want and what works in the scheme. The last thing we want to do is, you know, give them players that don’t fit their scheme and type of people. It’s collaborative. I’m sure Dave has said that many times but it’s true. We work together. It’s our job as personnel people to provide them the players that work. As far as Rodarius and A-Rob, they have some similar skill sets, both long, both physical and both competitive, instinctive minds. I think they fit our scheme. They both are good in press. Ball skills, they both have ball skills which we emphasize. I’m excited to see those guys work together.

Media Q&A with Elerson Smith (Video):

Q: Obviously, the Giants were at the Senior Bowl and I’m curious about how much you talked to them there? Do you remember those conversations? What was your impression of the Giants when you met with them?

A: At the Senior Bowl, I just had a brief 15-minute interview just like any other team there. I didn’t really get to know them much or meet with the other coaches and people on staff until later when we had a few meetings. First impression was. obviously, I just know that the New York Giants is a great, historically great, organization. I’m excited to be able to contribute to what they have.

Q: When you arrived in Northern Iowa, you were really thin, like 215 pounds or whatever it was. Then you put on all that weight. How would you describe what this journey has been like for you going from that skinny kid to being drafted by the New York Giants, which has a pretty rich history of pass rushers obviously?

A: It’s been a process. I’ve had to take advantage of each day early on when I wasn’t getting a lot of acknowledgement or recognition. It was a process. I was just kind of working in the dark and just making sure that I was getting the most out of every day. It has been a whirlwind the past few months. I’m excited to kind of take that same approach when I get to New York – just making sure that I’m getting better everyday and not letting days get by where I’m not getting better because if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. I’m really excited to be a part of New York.

Q: Technically, you called it an opt-out from last year, but clearly, that’s not what happened until the spring anyway. What was it like to have that senior season taken away from you?

A: It’s tough because your senior season is what you look forward to, you know, for all four years really. We had a great group of guys playing together in Northern Iowa and we really had a chance to make a run for it this year. But, obviously, with Covid and everything going on, it’s not the worst thing that could have happened to me. I just tried to go with the flow and understand that it is what it was and I had no control over the season being canceled. So, I just wanted to make sure that I was making the most out of my days and continuing to work toward the Senior Bowl and our Pro Day.

Q: How important was that Senior Bowl because nobody had been able to see you on the field since December of 2019?

A: It was huge. I think at that point, it was the only film I had where I played around 260. All my other film I was around 240 or 235. I just wanted to show teams that I could play with the new weight and to show them I was working hard on my body and my game and that I am able to contribute to an NFL team at this point. It was an important week because I didn’t have the film like everyone else had from the 2020 season.

Q: Obviously, being 6’6″, you have a size advantage off the edge over a lot of tackles, but is there a pass rush move that is kind of your go-to or one that you’ve really refined and you think is your best trait?

A: I like to work moves together. I love a good bull rush. I think my get-off is what starts all my pass rush moves. I love driving offensive linemen off the jump, get their feet moving and really get them scared of my length and my get-off. From there, depending on what the offensive line is giving me, it’s going to be a bull rush or I’m going to take the edger or coming underneath. I love pass rushing, though. I have a lot of fun doing it.

Q: I just wanted to ask you – the Giants also took an edge rusher in the second round in Azeez Ojulari. Are you a little bit surprised to land in New York? How much do you know about the edge rush situation with the team?

A: I’m not surprised to land in New York. I had a decent amount of meetings with them before. The edge rush situation is something out of my hands, but I’m excited to get to know the guys. I’m excited to work with them. I’m excited to get better with them and try to make the pass rush better as a whole unit. I don’t know much about Azeez, but I’m sure he’s a great player and I’m excited to get to know him and get after it and get to work with him, too.

Q: How much football have you played in the last like five years? It seems like ’16 and ’17, you didn’t play, ’18 was limited and ’19 was a big season. Is it only two years in the last five?

A: Yes. I mean, other than practice, which I treated like those were my games because that’s what I needed to get better at, my first few years of college, I started one year. Then, I was in a reserve pass rush role my sophomore year. I just like to make the most of my opportunities and I was able to do that my junior year. I think that’s a result of me treating those first few years like those were playing seasons for me or preparing for every game throughout those seasons, so I was ready at that point.

Q: I noticed you blocked two kicks. Are we talking about placekicks and you’re coming up the middle, I assume?

A: Yup. Just right on the ball, getting off and driving through the back.

Q: You’re being drafted as a pass rusher here, but have any teams asked you to play tight end or told you that they would like you to? I know you’re such a well-rounded athlete. You did it in high school. Is that something the Giants and other teams talked to you about?

A: No, not the Giants. I heard a joke about it, but no serious talk about me playing tight end.

Q: When the season was cancelled, I think you entered the transfer portal but then pulled your name out. What were those couple weeks like and what was that specific decision like for you? How did it go and how did you come to the decision to not transfer and not play?

A: Honestly, that was one of those things that were out of my hands again. I entered the transfer portal a few days after our season got cancelled because I thought it would be best for me to be able to boost my stock at a bigger school or maybe just find somewhere to play because I knew I wanted to enter this draft. After the FCS season, I entered the transfer portal and was talking to some schools. I had some schools in mind, but then the FBS cancelled, or postponed their season for that brief little stint there – a brief few weeks a day after I was into it – so, at that point everything was so up in the air. I was like, ‘I’m just going to declare and start training for the Pro Day and Senior Bowl.’ That’s kind of how it happened.

Q: I know you’re from the Minneapolis area. Do you know Carter Coughlin at all? I know you grew up near each other.

A: I actually don’t, not personally. I played against him in high school, football and basketball. I know he’s a great athlete. I know he did great things at the University of Minnesota and I’m excited to get to know him in New York.

Q: You probably posted him up pretty good in basketball.

A: I wasn’t very good at basketball. I was a wrestler most of my life. I played basketball a little bit later, even though it’s funny because I’m 6’6″, I’m not a basketball player.

Media Q&A with Gary Brightwell (Video):

Q: What does this moment mean for you to get drafted by the Giants and considering your journey here and everything you’ve been through? What does it mean to get picked by them?

A: This moment is special for me. My family grew up as Giants fans, so I mean this is everything I dreamed of.

Q: So does that mean you’re a Tiki Barber guy? Who was your favorite running back growing up?

A: Tiki Barber was my favorite running back.

Q: Tell us about your game, Gary. What are you going to bring to the team?

A: I’m excited to bring some special teams to the field. I’m going to bring a lot of explosive plays, but my priority right now is getting the playbook, getting on special teams and dominating.

Q: Did you talk to [Head] Coach [Joe] Judge about that already? He’s a pretty big special teams guy.

A: Nah, that’s my thing. That’s been my thing since high school. I’ve been a special teams guy.

Q: What do you like about that?

A: I feel like special teams starts the game and also finish it. Special teams has all the hidden yards. I mean, you need special teams to dominate.

Q: How can your parents be Giants fans when you’re from Chester?

A: I don’t know. I mean, my parents are not Giants fans. My mom is an Eagles fan, but obviously she’s got to be one (Giants fan) now. And my uncles and aunts are Giants fans.

Q: You didn’t get a chance to play a lot because of Covid. Is that good or bad or what?

A: I mean, it could be good or bad, but to me I think it worked out just right. I’m a Giant.

Q: How much did the Giants talk to you about special teams and how do you show them? How does the draft process go about in providing to them that you can do special teams and showing them?

A: I mean, we didn’t really talk about special teams. We broke the film down and we mentioned special teams, but honestly special teams impacts me. I like to be the guy that starts the game off like on kickoff at Arizona. Unfortunately, I couldn’t play it last year as much as I wanted to, but I feel like special teams starts the game. Without special teams, it could be a win or lose situation. It’s the hidden yards.

Q: What units did you play on at Arizona?

A: So last year, I got to play punt pro [protection] and I also played kick return because I was the starter last year. But years before, I played everything.

Q: Just your thoughts on being in the running back room with [Running Back] Saquon [Barkley].

A: Honestly, my thoughts about it is I get to play behind a guy who’s very competitive. I’m going to make him work and for sure he’s going to make me work, but I just can’t wait to see how he approaches the day because I know some guys have different ways. And he can help me a lot, honestly. I mean, he’s been there for a few years now, so he can help me a lot. He knows secrets that I might not know right now, so I want to learn from this guy.

Media Q&A with Rodarius Williams (Video):

Q: Hey Rodarius, congratulations. So you’re actually Greedy Williams older brother, but he got to the NFL two years first.

A: Yes sir.

Q: What’s that like when you’re the older brother and he’s there first? Are you thirsty to get there? Now, what’s that moment like?

A: It’s just a humbling moment, man. Everything that he felt on his day, I feel. I’m just ready to get in and get the work done.

Q: What has he told you about NFL life?

A: Stay healthy, stay on top of things and don’t get in any trouble.

Q: Hey Rodarius, congratulations. Can you describe your game a little bit? And also, a lot of guys down at the lower part of the draft have a lot of special teams value. Are you one of those kinds of guys?

A: I wasn’t a big special teamer, but I did play special teams. I’m coming from a four-year starting experience, so whatever needs be I’ll adjust. Whatever you guys need of me is what I’m going to do.

Q: What kind of player are you? How would you describe yourself? Obviously, you’re very durable. You play all the time.

A: I’d say durable like you mentioned and definitely high confidence in myself. I believe that I will go down as one of the greats.

Q: Hey Rodarius, congratulations man. You’re 24 years old if I read correctly. That’s usually on the older side, so I’m wondering what that was like throughout the process and how much teams harped on that or you heard that or you had to fight that perception of, ‘Hey, you’re already old or older,’ I should say.

A: I’ve never had any run-ins or anything as far as things like that. My coaches used to tell me, if you could play, you could play, regardless of age. Teams definitely can see my durability. I don’t miss too many games. I don’t miss too many practices. I’m a guy that’s going to show up to work.

Q: Hey Rodarius, did you speak with the Giants at the Senior Bowl and what was your impression of them when you had conversations with them?

A: Oh we had a great talk. They were one of the teams that showed a lot of interest in me when we had meetings and stuff like that, drawing up plays and stuff like that. I was just showing them my knowledge of the game. They really took a lot of interest in me and I’m just – I’m not really shocked that you guys picked me. I kind of had expectations to go to the Giants leading up to the Draft.

Q: Yeah, so I was going to say, when you left your meetings with the Giants, did you say in your head, ‘I think this team might try and draft me’? Was that in your head right away?

A: Yes, most definitely. I was like, ‘This is going to be one of the teams that definitely gives me a call.

Apr 302021
 
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Azeez Ojulari, Georgia Bulldogs (January 1, 2021)

Azeez Ojulari – © USA TODAY Sports

With the 18th pick (50th overall) in the 2nd round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the New York Giants selected linebacker Azeez Ojulari (University of Georgia). The Giants traded down from the 10th pick in the round (42nd overall) in exchange for a 2022 3rd-round pick from the Miami Dolphins.

The Giants then selected cornerback Aaron Robinson (University of Central Florida) with the 7th pick (71st overall) in the 3rd round. The Giants traded up from the 12th pick in the round (76th overall), giving away their 5th-round selection that they acquired from the Chicago Bears on Thursday night.

Azeez Ojulari Scouting Report: Ojulari is an edge rusher who combines good size (6’2”, 249 pounds) with excellent overall athleticism. Natural pass rusher who also plays hard. He threatens tackles with his initial quickness, bend, rip move, and closing burst. Ojulari has long arms for his size and is physical with his hands. Ojulari needs to disengage from blockers more consistently and will need to add inside pass rush moves to his arsenal. He flashes pass coverage skills but he will need work in this area. Improving player who has a big upside.

Sy’56’s Take: Third year sophomore entry from Marietta, Georgia. A two-year starter that earned 2nd Team All SEC honors in 2020. The semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award led the SEC in tackles for loss and sacks in 2020, a year after leading the Bulldogs in sacks and pressures. Ojulari is a mature, hardworking kid that gets the most out of his talents. He won team-awards for most improved player in 2019 as well as one for his efforts during the offseason strength and conditioning program. Ojulari was also a team captain in 2019, the first time a freshman has earned that honor in the Coach Smart era. This is a kid that has high-end talent that can be used in multiple ways for a defense, and it is paired with top notch intangibles. His game really started to blossom as the 2020 season came to a close. He finished with 5 sacks over his last 3 games. Ojulari still has more physical development to achieve, as he will need to add functional weight to play the every down edge in the NFL, but his versatility, talent, and intangibles will make him a dangerous defensive weapon and he can be one of the best when things come together.

No inside information here. I think Ojulari is on the NYG short list for #11 overall. I’m not exactly sure what NYG is looking to add to their outside pass rush. Do they want a pure burner (what Carter was supposed to turn into, and still can), or do they want an inside-out versatile piece? If it is the former, Ojulari is a very strong possibility. I think he has the best get off in the group. That is a great place to start. I also believe who he is as a person will be exactly what NYG wants to add.

Aaron Robinson Scouting Report: Robinson is a tough, aggressive, athletic slot corner with decent size (6’0”, 190 pounds). He plays a physical game. Speedy, he can run with receivers deep. Robinson is better in press man coverage than off coverage. He will play the run but needs to be a more consistent tackler.

Sy’56’s Take: Fifth year senior from Deerfield Beach, Florida. Began his career at Alabama in 2016 where he played in 13 games. Transferred to Central Florida in 2017 and redshirted. Two-year starter that earned 2nd Team All AAC honors in both 2019 and 2020. Robinson has the pro-caliber foot speed and burst that enables him to stay sticky to his man on all levels of the route tree. He can play the game with his feet rather than getting too grabby with his hands. Robinson has a lot of dog in him. He is always one of the toughest players on the field and he knows it. Even though he needs to control where he gets aggressive and where to gamble, he is the kind of player that elevates the energy of a defense. That doesn’t occur much from cornerbacks. His size may keep him at nickel but he can play both.

There are some corners that elevate their game with swagger. They are constantly getting in fights, constantly running their mouth. I understand that isn’t an approach for everyone to get behind, but I personally love it. Much prefer that than guys on opposing teams laughing with each other all game and trading jerseys afterward. Robinson hates his opponent every week, and he plays like it. He also has really well developed technique and footwork. Little gamble here, but I think he is starting in the league within a year or two.

Media Q&A with General Manager Dave Gettleman (Video):

Opening Statement: So we were busy. I’m learning to make right turns in NASCAR. So we traded back to 50. We got a third round pick in ‘22 and picked up Azeez Ojulari, who we are really thrilled to get. He’s an edge pass rusher. He’s instinctive. He’s very bright. He plays hard, and he’s got pass rush ability and he’s also a solid run player. We’re really thankful to get him. In the third round, we swapped spots with Denver and wanted to move up. Obviously we’re working on defense and we picked Aaron Robinson, who is a nickel, who has got the ability to play nickel and outside the perimeter, and he’s an excellent tackler, ball hawk. He’s got all the stuff. So we’re really pleased to get these two kids into our program.

Q. Did you ever think you would get addicted to trading back?

A:Let me tell you something, you never know. You never know. You know, listen, it’s all about if the opportunity is right. It’s about your board. It’s about value meeting need. It’s all those things. And like I told you guys last week, I’ve tried in the past and it just hasn’t worked. We thought we got just really good value here. And you know, again, it’s one of those deals where, for example, we move from 42 back to 50, so that’s eight slots and we had five guys there that we would take at 50. The odds are, eight slots, it’s five guys, there’s going to be — one of those five is going to be there for you. We’ve just been able to do that.

And then with the value we had on Aaron, I just didn’t want to sit and wait. We just felt — he’s a press corner and really fits what we want to do and who we want to be on defense. It’s just having the opportunity and it’s how your board lines up.

Q. With getting ‘22 picks — was that a priority?

A: I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a priority. It was important to us.

Q. Was wondering, what was going through your mind when you saw Azeez keep falling?

A: Here’s what I’m going to say to you. You have to have confidence in your ability to evaluate players. So you just turn around and people are missing it for whatever reason and it didn’t scare us, that’s for darn sure. We’re thrilled to get him.

You know, it’s kind of the same thing when people cut a player. The instinct is to say what’s wrong. My attitude is maybe they made a mistake. So it’s one of those deals where the fact that Azeez was dropping did not impact us at all in terms of our opinion of his playing ability and what he could do for us.

Q. You guys have invested some real resources in the secondary since last year, the draft picks you brought in, James Bradberry, obviously this year with Adoree’ and now Aaron Robinson. How does Aaron fit in there and how close are you to being a finished product on the back end?

A: Where Aaron fits in is he gives us more perimeter muscle, so to speak, and he’s also got that flexibility to play the nickel and play the star. We think he’s a great fit, obviously, because we traded up, hello, stating the obvious. Captain Obvious. We think he’s a great fit for our defense and our back end and we feel like you can never have too many assets back there because players come and go. You have injuries. People will say it’s a passing league and it is to a degree. And the other thing that we really liked about Aaron is you do the studies, you do the analytics — I do do it, people — and the best defenses have the best tackling secondaries, and Aaron Robinson is a really good tackling corner.

Q. Was Azeez going to be the pick at 42 if you couldn’t trade it and was Robinson one of the five guys that you thought would be there at 50 when you did get there?

A: Yes.

Q. Yes to both?

A: (Laughs).

Q. That’s a good, short answer and now I can ask a follow-up. You said getting picks for next year was important. Why is that? This seems like a team that’s poised to make a jump in 2021, why is it so important to get those picks in the future?

A: I think I said this at the pre-draft presser, this draft right now, in terms of unknowns, you have more unknowns than you can shake a stick at. You have kids that didn’t play this year. You have a lot of incomplete medical information. It’s really kind of an odd draft class. It’s an odd year. The NCAA allowed all those players to get another year and a ton of them did. One of the SEC schools, they had 13 kids decide to go back and play next year, 13 kids that could have been in this draft. That was pretty heavy throughout the Power Five conferences. We really have a feeling that next year’s draft is going to be really strong and it just gives you options.

Q. You didn’t take an offensive lineman in the first two days. Is that because — obviously the board and need and you think maybe there’s guys in the fourth or fifth round you can get, but does it also indicate you like a lot of the guys on your team and you don’t have to force anything?

A: No, actually we were looking at offensive linemen for the last two picks, and the value didn’t meet the pick, plain and simple. We had one guy we had our eye on, two guys specifically we had our eyes on and they got taken before they got to us. So no, you always want to add, you always want competition. Whether you draft a position or not has nothing to do with how happy you are with that position. It has everything to do with the draft value at the time you’re picking.

Media Q&A with Head Coach Joe Judge (Video):

Q: Can you speak about the importance of getting some edge pass rushing in there? The Giants defense for years, it used to be an automatic with pass rushers and it’s been an issue for you particularly on the outside?

A: First off, I was pleased with the progress we made on defense last year with the guys on our roster. We had injuries that affected guys like Zo (Lorenzo Carter) and X-man (Oshane Ximines), and we had some rookies. And obviously we had some rookies had to come in and step up and got good contribution from guys like Jabaal Sheard when they were on the team. So we didn’t look at this in the nature of, you know, that we had to absolutely go out there and address something, or else it was going to be dire. We have confidence in the guys we have on our roster. We like Azeez (Ojulari) as a player. We have a lot of experience with him throughout this organization. Marcus Cooper one of our scouts has great relationships with these guys. We put a lot of trust in his evaluations because he gets it know these guys on a deep basis and coincidentally actually three picks came from Coop’s area and he has a lot of inside info on these guys. On top of that, you talk about Azeez, the coach he’s going to play for, Kevin Sherrer, recruited and signed him at the University of Georgia before he was a freshman. You talk about the other coaches that we have on staff that had to play against him in the SEC, he’s always a guy that stood out to them on the field as someone they had to account for. I have a lot of respect for the way (Georgia Head Coach) Kirby (Smart) runs his program. I love those guys down there. I think they play tough and they are well-coached. To be able to add a guy to our team to compete with our current roster, he was a good fit for us. We are excited to have him here but like all other rookies, he’s got to come in and compete when he gets here.

Q. With Azeez, it’s out there that there was a knee problem and some teams actually flagged him. Where did you guys stand on that?

A: Yeah, listen, I don’t think there’s a player in this draft or any draft for that matter that doesn’t have something that shows up on a board. I trust our medical team, Ronnie (Barnes) and his guys do a great job. We have some of the best doctors in the world who look in these guys and constantly update us on what they think the current risk is. All I can go back to is this guy came back, he played, this guy doesn’t miss practices at Georgia. He played with very high effort, high intensity. I’m very pleased with what you saw on tape in terms of the medical expertise. I leave that on Ronnie Barnes and his staff and I let them go ahead and give us the information, and with that information make the decisions.

Q. What did you like about (Aaron) Robinson?

A: A-Rob is a good player. Again we are excited to add him to the program. Going to come in and compete. There’s going to be a lot of competition with defensive backs, corners and safeties.

Look, this is a guy that jumped out to us on tape and as well as when we were down at the Senior Bowl got to see him in person, sit down, meet with him; I had multiple meetings that week. Got the Zoom throughout this process. So we had a lot of exposure with this guy as a person, and this guy really does, he’s got a good personality, he really lights up. This is a guy, he plays on the field and you see when he makes a play, his teammates immediately sprint to him. There’s a lot of excitement. You can tell he’s got a bond with his teammates, and that stands out with the energy his teammates play with as well.

In terms of him as a player, he’s a physical player with good traits and gives us versatility to play inside, outside. This guy has some value to play in the kicking game as well. Just the demeanor he plays with, the physicality and his ability to play in both press and off, he’ll give us some options how we can use him.

Q. We know about your connection with Kirby and talking about that Georgia program, how much does that help with transition, and is what they do similar to what you do schematically?

A: I would say the answer in terms of the terminology or maybe some of the concepts of the defense, there are similarities to that. It’s all basically off the same branch of the defensive tree and philosophy from different coaches in the past. However, it doesn’t matter where you come from. None of these rookies have a leg up on anyone. They come in and have to learn our league and system and compete with our vets from on the roster. Just being from a certain school doesn’t give anyone a leg up on anything. You have to come in — the National Football League is completely different from college. You have to learn a lot of things about it: The speed of the game, the tempo of the game. So it’s nice that he’s from a familiar system, but past, you know, day one install meetings and basic terminology, that’s the only jump he’ll have on anybody else.

Q. This is obviously not a new world for the Giants, but the way the draft was manipulated the last two days, moving down, you had a fifth round pick you gained and you just traded away, was with the Giants for about 12 hours or something like that. Do you like this a little bit more rock and roll and keeping everybody on their toes?

A: It’s making the best decision for the team at the time. We had an opportunity to move down and gain more value because there are a number of players we feel in that range are going to be available, we’ll go ahead and look at that option. As you saw with A-Rob, we didn’t want to give somebody else a chance to take him at that point; he was a priority for us to get, so we used the pick to trade on up. As I said yesterday, these picks are people and make calculated risks whether you acquire them or give them up. I feel good about what we did today in the draft. I’m sure Dave has got a concussion or something, so make sure we check on him overnight and we’ll get back to work tomorrow.

Q. With all the uncertainty, how important were those Senior Bowl meetings?

A: Yeah, I thought they were critical. I really thought Senior Bowl this year did a great job of making sure that everyone got to meet with every player and the set up down there was really phenomenal and not having the Combine, Senior Bowl really replaced the personal interactions with those guys. I don’t think you can ever replace getting to see a guy play or work out or compete in person and be able to sit down and look a guy eye-to-eye and really get a feel for them. Zoom is nice. Personal interaction is critical.

Q. What do you remember particularly about the one with Robinson?

A: I just remember he had a very direct personality. You talk to him, he lit up when you start talking football. That’s important, again, the passion for the game. I just like direct, honest people and he’s got that to him.

Q. What is your relationship like with Kirby Smart and is there a quality in the players that he coaches that stands out? Because you have drafted three guys from there in the last year, whether that’s a coincidence or not.

A: Well, I think the coincidence would be that he just coaches really good players. They do a great job of recruiting top talent and develop them over the course of time they are there. Those players work hard and player hard and understand the value of playing old school, fundamental, physical football. That’s really what draws to us. Me and Kirby we worked three years at Alabama. I have a lot of respect for him as a person and I have a lot of respect for him as a coach. When you know where someone is coming from, you have a little bit of insight in how you can coach them, okay, what really makes them tick and how they respond in adverse situations.

Q. How critical was weekends like this in determining when you’re building your coaching staff, because you have so many assistants that were former college coaches with ties to these major programs. How much did that factor into the hiring process for you?

A: Actually none of it. We have a great scouting staff here, so we didn’t anybody in to supersede what anybody is doing. Really, this is a bonus. I hired the best coaches I can find, and it starts with being good people and good teachers.

Media Q&A with Director of College Scouting Chris Pettit (Video):

Q. A lot of the trading up and down has been the story of the Draft, not something you guys have done much of. Has this process been different than past drafts?

A: No, I don’t think so. Since I’ve been here, like Dave said I think in his presser, we have tried. We’ve tried to trade up and down before, and it has to work out — it’s worked out this year where we’ve been able to gain assets and used those assets to gain a player that we really like. I wouldn’t say it’s any different. Every year since I’ve been here we’ve been aggressive in trying to better the team. Just this year, it’s working out.

Q. What’s that moment like when you trade back from 42 to 50, and Azeez is very much in the conversation at 42, are you waiting every pick or were you sweating it out?

A: We had a bunch of guys that we really liked there and like I said before, you’ve just got to be patient. You can’t get too high or too low and the board will come to you. You have to trust it. When you have a group of guys there, it makes you feel better as the time and picks go by. Azeez was 1 in the group and he was there and he was the right player for us.

Q. You hear a bunch of things about Azeez as a pass rusher, and some people say he’s the best pass rusher in the Draft. They don’t usually last till 50. So where do you see him as a pass rusher and is he a legitimate edge guy now that you guys added to your team?

A: Yeah, I believe so. The thing that separated I think Azeez from others was he’s pro-ready with his hands. He had real good hand use. He’s instinctive. The guy has the ability to make big plays in big spots. He’s ultra competitive. He has good instincts. He had good hand use for being an underclassman that we liked.

Q. What’s your report on (Aaron) Robinson? What did you like about him?

A: A-Rob jumped off, I remember I was sitting here through the pandemic in the office, threw on the UCF tape and his instincts, his toughness and his tackling jumped out to me immediately as I was watching the tape. A little unknown about him, didn’t know much, threw the tape on one day and really caught my eye with his competitiveness and instincts.

Then we’ve kind of followed him throughout the process. We had two interviews with him down in Mobile which got to help us know him as a person, most importantly, and then I went down and saw him at his pro day as well to really spend a lot of time with him.

I think what immediately jumped off was his instincts, toughness, competitiveness.

Q. Aaron Robinson started his career at Alabama, so that’s SEC ties for all three guys this year, most of the guys last year. I think it’s pretty universally accepted that’s the best conference. Is that why you guys keep going to the SEC or do you have stronger relationships there? More scouts in that area? Why is it the SEC?

A: I don’t think we say, all right, this is the SEC we are going to scout it differently than any other part of the country. It’s just the way the board has fallen that the SEC players at the time we are ready to pick are the ones we feel best to be Giants. It’s a very good conference. There’s big people that play fast and tough and we like that. But I don’t think it’s any different — we don’t scout it any different than any other conference in the league.

Q. We’ve heard a lot about the meetings you guys had down at Senior Bowl. I meant to ask you last night, I know you guys had a relatively limited group down there, right. I know it was you, Joe, Pat. How many others were down there with you guys?

A: We had other scouts, as well, Kevin Abrams, Tim McDonnell, Marcus Cooper, Brendan Prophett, Patrick Hanscomb and Jeremy Breit was our crew. Just worked out like that. We tried to get the scouts that had the most players at the game. It was tough on us because Senior Bowl is one of our best weeks as a staff, and we had other games going on at the time so our other scouts were spread out over those other All-Star games. So we had a limited crew and we worked and it was a good experience.

Senior Bowl did a great job allowing us access to the players which Joe said was really our only limited interaction we could have with players face-to-face. We took advantage of every interview that we could.

Q. The other thing I wanted to ask you is obviously we’ve all talked about how the 2022 picks are being described as gold. You know how you prepared to scout this year, the challenges that you faced and you met. When you see you guys stacking up picks for next year, what does that mean to your group and the scouts in terms of what may hold next year when you start looking at the Draft?

A: Well, it’s exciting. Any chance you have an opportunity to gain really good football players, but I think it’s important. I think the number of players that will be in the class next year will be a lot, you know, due to COVID and players going back to school and a lot of the opt-outs. So the more picks we have with more players, more opportunity, really, is how we look at it. It’s not going to change how we evaluate or scout. It’s just now we have more picks with more players available.

Q. Curious what you would have thought if I told you on like Thursday morning that Azeez would be there at pick 50? Is that something you expected or were surprised by?

A: I wouldn’t say I was surprised or expected. I was wishful. I’d be wishful that was a possibility, along with the other players we had in the group there. But I’m really excited to have Azeez. To bring a pass rusher to our defense, another one, another young pass rusher that we can develop, I’m excited.

Q. Usually pass rushers seem to get pushed up in the Draft. Why do you think maybe this year it didn’t happen?

A: Well, you know, it’s like you see it in drafts, the flows. All of a sudden there’s a run on tackles. There’s a run on corners. There’s a run on wide-outs. You saw it last night the wave of pass rushers went at the end of the Draft and today, they started with a different position. It just comes in flows and you’ve just got to be patient, like I said, and stick to the board and the guy will be there. You’ve got to trust it.

Q. So much has been made of Dave not trading in all of his drafts that he’s conducted. I wonder if there’s been any razzing in the war room amongst you guys? We just had Joe on a minute ago and he was joking that maybe he had a concussion, Dave did. What do you make of all the activity the last couple days and has there been any ribbing inside the room?

A: You could say that there’s been a little ribbing. Trader Dave has brought some excitement to the room, so it’s been fun. Trader Dave is hearing it from a lot of people throughout the league, so it’s been fun. There’s been a little ribbing. Like I said, it’s not like we haven’t tried. Dave said it; I’ll say it. It worked out. It’s exciting. It gave a little juice. It’s been different. The room is different without all our people in it. We were limited to only ten people but there was enough ribbing with the ten people to keep it exciting.

Media Q&A with Azeez Ojulari (Video):

Q: A lot of people thought you would go a lot earlier for you. How has this process been for you and how is your knee?

A: This process was a great process, just talking to teams, building those relationships and just being able to be a Giant. I’m just happy to be here. I’m just ready to get to work. My knee is good. Everything is good and solid. Everything is perfect.

Q: Hey Azeez, congratulations. Just caught a little bit of a snippet when you were announced on TV from an old buddy, Andrew Thomas, who is now your teammate again. What was that like tonight? The wait? Did you know it would be the Giants? What was your reaction – describe it when it happened.

A: It was crazy when I got the call, man. I saw a New York on it so I just picked it up. I was just so happy to be on the phone with the Giants. It was electric. It was a great moment for me and my family and Drew (Andrew Thomas) being in the house, too.

Q: You and Drew were pretty close, right? Did I read that?

A: Yes, he was my roommate.

Q: He was the toughest tackle you ever gone against?

A: Definitely. Definitely was.

Q: Hi Azeez, congratulations. Sorry, I’m sure you thought you got away from me down here in Athens. Was it excruciating at all having to wait? I guess you ultimately don’t really know when you’re going to go, but projections were really high for you. Were you hurting there for a while or confused?

A: No. I just know I’m blessed to be here. I’m blessed to be a Giant. I just waited my turn and wait for my opportunity to come and now it’s here. Now, I’m just happy and ready to be a Giant, for sure.

Q: Azeez, I know (Georgia Head Coach) Kirby Smart and Joe Judge have connections. Have you heard anything about what you’ll be coming into?

A: Definitely. Georgia has some similarities to the Giants defense. I’ve been through it a lot. I feel like I’ll be good with the scheme and everything coming in. I’m just ready to get to work and learn – learn from the best.

Q: Hey Azeez, congratulations. There are some people who say you are the best past rusher in this draft. First question, what do you think about that?

A: Definitely. I mean, everyone has their own opinions, but definitely I believe that. I’m just confident in my game. I’m just ready to go to work with the New York Giants and show everybody what I can do.

Q: Second question, real quick. If you are the best pass rusher, they don’t normally last to number 50. What does that say to you? Does that kind of anger you or do you care about that at all?

A: I’m just blessed to be a Giant. I’m ready to work. When I get there, I just have to go get in the playbook to learn the scheme and everything. I’m just ready to show them what I can do. That’s it.

Q: Hey Azeez, what does it mean to you to go to a team that has your college roommate in Andrew Thomas, Tae Crowder is there, Lorenzo Carter is a Georgia alum – what does it mean to you to be joining up with all these guys that I imagine you’re pretty familiar with?

A: It’s just great just having my brothers up there already. They’re people that I have conversations with. It would be great for me to come in there and learn from them. They’ve been there, so they can teach me and tell me things. So, I just can’t wait to get up there with those guys and be ready to work.

Q: How would you describe what type of player you are to Giants fans who maybe aren’t familiar with you?

A: I’m definitely relentless. Effort is never a question. I’m an all-around player. I can rush the passer, stop and run, drop in coverage or whatever I have to do to help the team, I can do it.

Q: Azeez, congratulations man. What did you think – I mean you’re a guy who has played, you practiced, and then they tell you, or did you even know – that your knee was going to be a problem for teams?

A: No. I didn’t know at all. I was fully healthy the last two seasons at Georgia. I didn’t know anything. I just didn’t know. I’m blessed to be a Giant. I’m happy and ready to get to work.

Q: What was your interaction with Kevin Sherrer? Was he your coach? Did you work for him a lot? How well do you know him?

A: Oh yeah, Coach Sherrer. He recruited me when I was coming into Georgia, so our relationship is already there, for sure. I’ve learned things from him, from watching film and tape and coming into Georgia. We really have a good bond going in, for sure.

Q: Hi Azeez, congratulations. I just got in a little late. I apologize if this is a repeat, but could you describe your pass rushing ability and how you feel it’ll translate immediately in the NFL given what you’ve seen?

A: I have good speed and strength. I can convert speed to power. I can beat the guy off the edge and beat him inside. I can affect the quarterback a lot. I’m just coming in knowing I’m ready to work and contribute and I’m ready to do whatever I have to do.

Q: Just as a quick follow up, in your conversations with Coach Judge and what not and whomever it is you spoke to, what amount did you speak to him about how much they are in need of pass rushing help? How aware are you of that?

A: It was one of the needs, for sure. We definitely had conversations throughout the whole process, daily. I’m blessed to be here. I’m blessed to be a Giant today. I’m ready to get there and contribute.

Q: Azeez, congrats. A lot of the best players in Giants history, most revered players, are pass rushers – Lawrence Taylor, Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, etc. What do you think of trying to live up to those expectations and live up to those kinds of names putting on this jersey at that position?

A: Seeing all of those great Giants that came through there, I just know I have to come in ready to work and put it all on the table to give it all you got. Give it all you got for those great guys that played before us. I just have a lot of respect for those players, so you have to give it all you got and do what I can do.

Q: Real quick, Kadarius Toney, did you – I didn’t have time to double check on this schedule – but what do you think of him as a player and a fellow SEC guy, offensive weapon? What do you think of him as a player and a weapon?

A: Man, Kadarius Toney is a beast. He’s shifty. He can shake anything. He can beat you. He has speed. Man, I can’t wait to see him play. Just know he’s a dog, for sure.

Q: Azeez, you said you knew the Giants needed an edge rusher. When they’re on the clock at number 42, are you waiting for your phone to ring right there?

A: I was waiting. I was waiting on it all day.

Q: When in your conversations with Andrew did you guys start talking about becoming teammates and when did it become more and more realistic for you guys?

A: Just basically when he got drafted. When he got drafted, we thought about it. It could happen one day. So, we were like, ‘It would be cool for us to be teammates coming from Georgia. That would be nice.’ And look at us now, teammates.

Q: Hey Azeez, just on a personal level, what do your friends call you? Do they call you Z? They call you AO? They call you Zeez, or what?

A: Yes, they call me Z. Sometimes they call me vibranium. No, they call me mostly Z, though. It’s what it is the most times, Z.

Q: Okay, and the other question I have is, one of the guys you’ll probably be competing with for time is Lorenzo Carter. How close are you with him?

A: Lorenzo is my brother, definitely, for sure. He played at Georgia. I’m ready to get there and work with him and just learn things from him and just ready to get to work.

Q: Hey Azeez, congratulations man. Azeez, I noticed you have that one signature move that you love to go to, to get the quarterback. I’m curious, who helped you develop your moves in rushing and what’s one part of your game that you feel you need to improve at?

A: I’d say my time at Georgia, just working there every single day since I was a freshman. I was finding the move that worked for me and I just kept doing that. Once I found it, I just kept going to it and adjusting off of it when I had to. Thanks to Georgia and my time there, it just helped me with everything I need to do. I will definitely be using it for sure.

Q: Azeez, quickly, did you get better competing with Andrew Thomas in practice a lot?

A: Definitely, every day. Every single day competing. Good on good, everyday.

Media Q&A with Aaron Robinson (Video):

Q: Saw that tweet from [Safety] Xavier McKinney. I guess even though you transferred, you’re still viewed by some of these guys as an Alabama guy. Just curious, what’s it like to reunite with a lot of guys with Alabama ties?

A: You know, X specifically, I remember him when he first got up to school just trying to connect and bond with him. He’s a great guy. I’m ready to get up there and get to work with some great dudes, get around some great coaching, pretty much just set the standard with the brotherhood up there and go to work.

Q: What do you think you bring to the table?

A: Definitely a competitive edge about myself. A guy who’s willing to take it from every angle, vets, coaching and excel at it in my own game. Really just want to bring guys along, including myself, to create something special.

Q: Hey Aaron, I think one of things the Giants really like about you is how physical you are and that you can play man-to-man. That’s something they weren’t able to do as much last year. What does it take to be as consistently physical and effective as you are at that position on the outside?

A: Yeah, you know that pretty much comes with the game of football. I feel like I always favored the defensive side of the ball a little bit more growing up playing it. And that’s pretty much a plus in my game that I take advantage of and come with to every play 150 percent. That’s pretty much it.

Q: Aaron, how important was it for you to get to the Senior Bowl and have that opportunity to meet with the various teams? And to follow up on that, what do you remember about your meeting with the Giants?

A: Having that opportunity to get up there in Mobile to compete against some of the best in college football this past year was a great opportunity for me to pretty much expose myself a little bit more, and have that great opportunity to earn those reps, get those reps on the outside and showcase those skills as well during those practices. So it was definitely a great opportunity for myself. What I remember from meeting with the Giants was the laughs through conversation, pretty much just enjoying that moment with those coaches up there and pretty much coming off natural, it felt like.

Q: Were you on [Wide Receiver] Kadarius Toney’s team at the Senior Bowl or did you go against him at all?

A: I was on Kadarius’s team. We pretty much had one great rep of one-on-ones and a couple more reps during team reps. Pretty much just competing against one another trying to earn something, so respect to him as well.

Q: The fact that the Giants traded up to get you, does that mean something extra to you?

A: Yeah, definitely, just another great opportunity. Thank those guys up there for believing in me and that just pushes me to want to get up there and work 10 times harder for some guys that definitely believed in me. I’m going to take advantage of that and run with it, for sure.

Q: Hey Aaron, you’ll have to kind of forgive me for doing my scouting report on the fly, but did you play mostly in the slot in college?

A: Correct.

Q: And so you were saying playing at the Senior Bowl gave you the chance to play outside?

A: Correct.

Q: So, do you feel like you can play both at the next level? Are you more comfortable at one or the other?

A: Wherever I’m needed. Wherever I’m needed, I’m willing to learn that playbook, get in with my coaches, spend a lot of time around those guys, around those guys in the locker room as well to really learn it and go out and perform to the best of my ability.

Q: Did you guys play a lot of man or zone in college?

A: We mixed it up. [Defensive Coordinator] Coach [Randy] Shannon definitely mixed it up for us, gave a lot of looks and pretty much helped us a lot as well.

Apr 292021
 
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Kadarius Toney, Florida Gators (November 28, 2020)

Kadarius Toney – © USA TODAY Sports

With the 20th pick in the first round of the 20211 NFL Draft, the New York Giants selected wide receiver Kadarius Toney (University of Florida). The Giants traded away the 11th overall pick in the first round to the Chicago Bears, dropping nine spots. In return, the Giants received Chicago 5th-round pick in 2021 and their 1st- and 4th-round picks in 2022.

Scouting Report: Toney is an average-sized receiver who plays bigger than his size (6’0”, 193 pounds), with decent speed and outstanding balance and quickness. Versatile, Toney was used outside, in the slot, and even out of the backfield at Florida. He has tremendous acceleration and change-of-direction skills, which makes him very dangerous after the catch. He creates separation and makes defenders miss. Toney needs work on reading defenses, route running, and overall technique. Toney also has experience rushing and returning the football. He has a strong arm and can even throw the ball. Tough, Toney will play hurt but has been somewhat injury prone. He has had some off-the-field issues.

Sy’56’s Take: Senior entry from Mobile, Alabama. One-year starter that was a key part of the offense all four years. 1st Team All SEC in 2020. Toney saved his best for last as a senior. He broke out in a big way and finally translated potential into real production. He did more in 2020 than his three previous seasons combined, partially because of the amount of talent the Gators had ahead of him on depth chart before this past fall. Toney has joystick quickness and change of direction whether he is running routes or carrying the ball. He is the kind of guy that can miss contact in the phone booth and will always fight for more yards. Toney plays bigger and tougher than his frame suggests. It will be hard to find a more competitive spark plug than him. There are concerns around character and durability and he needs a specific role. The right offensive mind can make him a dangerous weapon though, one that can really elevate an offense as a whole.

There are some teams that have Toney in the top 5 according to one of the very few media resources I trust and speak with. That really surprises me. I won’t give details here but there are a few serious red flags with character, and I just don’t see Toney having a high ceiling. He is as tough as they come, and I love his stop-go quickness. He will make plays with the ball in his hands. But there is a cap to his speed, he doesn’t play very big, and there are a lot of shortcomings I see when it comes to routes/ball skills/awareness etc. Really intrigued to see where he goes.

Media Q&A with General Manager Dave Gettleman (Video):

Opening Statement: We made a trade back. Obviously it was too good an opportunity. It added too much value, and we felt very comfortable with where our board was and we felt comfortable with who would be there, who would be available in that slot. So we made it. We did it. So we added a 1 and a 4 next year. Another pick for this year and another pick for next year. We were very pleased we were able to make the play.

As far as Kadarius is concerned, one of the off-season goals was to add weapons on offense and Kadarius, certainly he’s a good-size kid. He’s strong. He can run. He catches the ball well and he’s a very tough kid and he’s got return skills. So we were thrilled that he was there for us at that spot. So that’s where we’re at.

Q. How surprised are you by the Eagles making a trade with the Cowboys to get ahead of you? I know you mentioned division teams don’t really trade. The way they got Smith, how much did that influence your decision to move back?

A: That was part of it. Howie (Roseman) is not afraid to trade with anybody. I had a conversation with him earlier in the week and he said, ‘Dave, do you have any problems trading with me?’

I said, ‘No, if it works for both of us, it works for both of us.’ They made the trade and we decided to trade back.

Q. How much stronger do you guys view next year’s class compared to this one and how important was it for you to get that additional first-round pick next year?

A: It was very important. It was very important to get the first round pick next year. As I told you guys at my pre-draft presser, there’s a lot of unknowns here with this group and plus a lot of kids went back and took advantage of the NCAA giving them an additional year of eligibility. That obviously played into our thinking.

Q. Can you explain how things worked with Chicago? How did it work when you guys were actually on the clock?

A: What happened was we had called around and you do that calling and I had spoken to Ryan Pace, and I had heard he was interested in moving up, so I called him. When I spoke to him, he said, ‘Yes, we’re very interested.’ And then the conversations begin.

I spoke to Ryan today before the Draft and I spoke to him again. He called me again somewhere around the 7th pick, somewhere in there, and then we got on the clock and from there, Kevin Abrams took over and finished off the trade.

Q. How close was your group at 20? Was it an obvious choice? Were there three or four guys?

A: No, he was the next guy up for us. He was the next guy.

Q. If there were other people at 11, you would not have made the trade. Did the fact that there were only three quarterbacks taken kind of force your hand here a little bit and is it a little bit disarming when you see two cornerbacks come off the board, two Alabama receivers come off the board and you’re thinking, I’m going to get this guy, I’m going to get this guy and you realize, I’m not getting any of them, we have to pivot to Plan B here.

A: We had really talked this through, me, Joe, Chris Mara, Tim McDonnell, Kevin Abrams and Mark Koncz, we had all discussed thoroughly, really looked at our board. We had a lengthy meeting on Monday and we followed it up with another meeting on Wednesday and so we really — we knew what we wanted. We knew where we wanted to go and we knew at which point we would consider a trade back and that’s where you get the other piece of it where we’re calling teams behind us.

So we had thoroughly — and then we met again at 6 o’clock tonight to just constantly review and talk it through and it was a great group effort and we all felt very — we all felt very together on the decision. And we made it.

Q. Do you think Toney is a step down from that cluster of Alabama receivers? Is he close?

A: We’re thrilled to have him. We’re thrilled to have Kadarius Toney, okay. He is a big kid. He’s a good-sized kid who can fly. He’s got really good hands. He’s got great run-after-catch skills. We’re thrilled to have him.

Q. When a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers is pressuring his team to trade him, do you call over to a team and say, what’s going on, just due diligence?

A: No, it’s none of my business. Very frankly, we’ve told you guys over and over and over again, we believe in Daniel. It would have cost — it’s going to cost a motherload for anybody to get him — even though he’s 37 years old.

Q. Were you surprised by the Eagles moving up ahead of you, but not only moving up ahead of you, but with the Cowboys? Seems like it’s rare in-division like that and going for a receiver and taking one right there.

A: I think I said it earlier. Howie is not afraid to trade with people in the division. Howie called me and I told him, I said, ‘Yeah, I got no problem trading with you.’ It’s a business deal. That’s what it is. It’s a business deal. And one hand washes the other, so obviously Dallas was happy with their return. So they made the trade with Philly. It’s not a big deal.

Media Q&A with Head Coach Joe Judge (Video):

Q. With Kadarius (Toney), do you see him as a finished product or is this a receiver that you can bring in your building and go from where he was last year to reach a ceiling that maybe you guys are projecting going forward?

A: Look, every pick in this draft is a projection. There’s not a single player who is NFL ready. Let’s not make that mistake. Everybody here needs development and part of the evaluation is identifying how high their ceiling is. We’re excited about adding him to our team. There’s a lot of things he can do and has a lot of versatility, but like every rookie coming in here, they’ve got to earn what they get and we’re going to work them multiple positions to find their strengths. We can’t assume what we saw on college tape is the best fit for them.

Q. Joe, can you speak to the roller coaster of emotions as the first round was unfolding, and I know Dave just addressed the fact that you guys addressed the possibilities, and the fact that it was Philadelphia, as you know as well as anybody are not very well liked in these parts that made that trade a jump ahead of you, that dynamic, can you speak to that?

A: Yeah, just first on the trade, trades happen a lot. Normally doesn’t happen within the division but hey, look, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. They made a move that worked for them and that was a good business move. That being said, in terms of the roller coaster of emotions, you just let the round play out. Evaluate all these players for a reason. You never know how it’s going to shake out. You know where you want to take certain guys. You know what you’re looking to fill in terms of best player available and some positions of need. We are very happy how it turned out but we added great value.

Let’s not mistake that these picks, they are people, so let’s not forget about that. You’re adding people to your team. You know, you talk about the value of having good, young developmental players to work with, and we just went through a season of free agency, okay, where we invested a lot in a team by adding veterans to our team and this is an opportunity to get more picks to add good young developmental players to our team, whether it’s this year or next.

Q. Curious if you had a point where you wouldn’t have felt comfortable going back, was 20 as far as you would go and did you expect that Toney would be there or were you not sure when you made the move?

A: Yeah, you know what to be honest with you, you evaluate the players, you’ve got their value to the team. You can never assume anyone is going to be there. There’s a lot of good players in this draft and there’s a lot of teams that want those players for one reason or another. In terms of a point we wouldn’t go back, again, we’re always willing to listen to whatever comes our way. It’s the value of the trade relative to who you’re looking at right there. For us it was a good move. We’re pleased the way it turned out. We got a good player that’s going to be able to come in and compete with our team and we have more assets to use in the future.

Q. Most people thought three quarterbacks, four quarterbacks would go before you picked and obviously only three did. Once you saw that happening, did you get a sense, oh, these two or three guys, we thought one of them would definitely be there was not going to be there?

A: No, we played out every scenario beforehand, as Dave alluded to, we have lengthy meetings and a lot of ‘what ifs’, and that’s the way we operate, as well as the coaching staff throughout the season. It’s our job to talk through the scenarios, so when a situation arises we have a course of action and plan we can go and execute.

Q. Kadarius had some injury issues at Florida and “character” issues, some things that needed to be investigated. You couldn’t get him in your building and really get to know him, how did you figure that out and figure he’s a guy that’s worth a 20th pick?

A: You know, the skill and the person has to add up together. We fully vetted every player on this board. We are very comfortable bringing him to New Jersey. We are very comfortable adding him to our roster to compete with other players on the team. Listen, we use every resource we have, okay, Jeremy Pruitt who is in our building, Jeremy recruited him out of high school. So we have people in this building with established relationships who have known this guy through the course of not only being in college, but going back to when they were in high school developing as a player.We have numerous coaches that spent a long time recruiting, have had this guy in summer camps for multiple days at a time and had extended exposure to him. We had guys at the pro day. We had Zoom meetings that were allotted by the league; we used those, phone calls. We have a great medical staff and we trust them to decisions for by the medical. I’m not a doctor, so I trust Ronnie Barnes and his staff. In terms of anything else off the field, again, look, it’s no secret I’m pretty particular about who I bring into this building, okay. I think sometimes you have to understand the person, and you have to understand the character on a deeper level than what just may be Tweeted out.

Q. Joe, we haven’t spoken to you in a while, can you talk about the offensive overhaul going back to the middle of March?

A: We are looking to improve our team in all three areas, offense, defense, and the kicking game. Working through free agency there were some offensive players that were available we thought could come in here and compete with our team and possibly improve us through competition. We are looking to do the same thing with defense and the kicking game as well. We are not a finished product by any means in any area and we are always looking to improve. If there’s a good player out there, we are looking to add them if they fit what we are looking to build.

Media Q&A with Director of College Scouting Chris Pettit (Video):

Q. A lot of scouting reports about Kadarius [Toney] describe him as a gadget player. How do you describe his skill set?

A: He’s a playmaker. He’s instinctive, he’s tough, makes a lot of plays with the ball in his hands. We feel he has flex inside and out. He also has value as a returner for us. Like I said, this is an instinctive, tough guy with very good athletic ability and speed.

Q. There were some character concerns in the background. Joe said you dug into that, talked to him and people who knew him. What’s that process like when you’re trying to dig into a prospect like that and are you just talking to a lot of people? How does that work exactly?

A: Well, our scouts in the fall talk to everyone they know on campus via Zoom and phone calls, we work them, every player, all fall. We had a chance to meet [Kadarius] down at the Senior Bowl. We spent time with him in person to get to know the person there and that continues. Then our security staff goes through every check that we do on every player.

Listen, if there was a concern with him, he wouldn’t have been on our board. And like Joe [Judge] said, we thoroughly vetted him through Zooms and phone calls throughout this process of the spring.

Q. This kid was a high school quarterback I believe. How is he as a receiver and can he play some gadget plays for you at quarterback?

A: Gadget plays at quarterback? That’s up to Joe and Jason [Garrett] and his staff. But he did; he has excellent athletic ability. He’s versatile. That’s what we like about him but like every player in the draft, he’s raw, every player in the draft and every player has to develop into a pro. So, it will take some time but this guy is a playmaker with the ball in his hands.

Q. The natural comp, he went to the same school as Percy Harvin; how similar or different they are?

A: Percy is a little before my time but both fast and playmakers. There’s a comp there, I’m sure.

Q. Is he a guy that you envisioned when you look at him as being in the backfield or the guy that can do that?

A: Again, that’s up to Jason and Joe and their staffs, what they do with him. He’s instinctive and smart enough to do that but like we said, the best thing about him, we feel he can play inside and out and add another weapon to our offense.

Q. Obviously so much was made about the top three receivers in this class. I’m just curious from your perspective, how do you see Kadarius in that second group or how close is he to the top three guys?

A: He was close enough, we felt like he was the best player available at the time we took him. I don’t know if there was a big separation, if I can say that, but like I said, he’s right up there and he was worthy of a first-round pick, so that shows you what we think of him.

Q. Last week you and Dave [Gettleman] talked about how there’s development but also when you bring in a guy, you want him to contribute. Is Kadarius close enough to being a polished receiver where you think he could come in or is there still developmental stage? I know that is for all rookies, but how close is he to being a part of this offense from the jump?

A: He’s close. He’s played at a high level at Florida. Made a lot of big plays on a big stage, so I think he’s ready mentally. He’s tough. He’ll be ready to go.

Q. I know he was down at Senior Bowl. Did getting in front of him in person, is that an important part of vetting a guy like this and actually looking him in the eyes, especially this year?

A: Absolutely. We actually met with him the first night down there, one of our last interviews and we got to spend a lot of time with him. Really great to meet him and get that face-to-face at that point in the scouting process and then watch him throughout the rest of the spring throughout the Zooms, more and more time, really get to know him and get to know the person and feel really good about him.

Q. Did you take extra time on the Friday or did you have a long meeting?

A: We had a long meeting, it was one of the last ones of the night, like I said, and we got to spend a little extra time than was allotted. So, it was really good.

Q. What do you remember about that meeting? What struck you and did you come out of that meeting saying that this is a guy that we could see on our team?

A: Yeah, it was, we were all tired, that process down there was pretty strenuous of going back-to-back to back of these long interviews which was great. But it was late in the night and we were tired. We were talking through plexiglass and everyone had masks on, and he brought energy at that point. We love that. He brought energy to the room, to the conversation. Was easy to talk to. Was open and honest and we loved everything about that conversation.

Q. That was the first time you got to meet him person-to-person?

A: That’s the only time, actually, person-to-person throughout this process with the rules the league set out.

Q. I would imagine in your evaluation of him, you’re thinking of him as a guy if he’s in the second round, because if there’s no trade you’re not taking him at 11. Two questions; is that true? Do you look at him and say, we love it if he’s in the second round for him?

A: Obviously we had a first-round grade on him. That’s the value. I did not think he would be there in the second round. Any time you get him, it’s a great value for him.

Q. For someone like you who evaluates all the players, when you see the players coming off the board, what is your sense as a guy who is thinking, okay, we are going to get the cornerback, this receiver, and then the trade? Is there a sense of deflation, like, okay, now we have to do this all over again in a half hour?

A: No. No. Because again, you let the board come to you, and I think that trade was an excellent trade to get assets for us for the future. You know, we get another first round player, which is potentially another first round starter. That’s an excellent, excellent opportunity for us. We had to take advantage of that.

Media Q&A with Kadarius Toney (Video):

Q: We were talking to Joe Judge and the front office and they were talking about how you guys spoke for a while at the Senior Bowl. What do you remember about those conversations? What was your impression of the Giants coaches? And what did you think when they picked you?

A: Really, the conversation back then was just trying to figure me out and stuff. It was so early in the process. What I thought about the coaches, I kind of took them as they came. They were very serious, so I made sure on my end that I was up to par, like on point.

Q: Where did you think you were going to go? Obviously, there was a cluster of the Alabama receivers and [Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr] Chase and then there was maybe a group after that. How do you look at them compared to you? Do you think you’re in like the second tier or do you think you’re as good as anybody in this draft? Where did you kind of get a sense of where you fit in?

A: Really, I don’t even like try to compare myself to nobody, I just try to be the best version of myself that I can. Throughout this process, I didn’t really envision myself going anywhere but a place that I was wanted. By them really just taking a chance on me it shows me like who was really in my corner the whole time.

Q: Did you think you were a first round pick the whole way?

A: Yeah, for sure. I feel like ever since I was little this was my dream, so I’ve been striving to be that ever since.

Q: For people who don’t play, what do you bring to the Giants offense?

A: A lot of dynamic versatility.

Q: During the process, how many questions did teams have about some of the off-field stuff you had early in your career at Florida?

A: Right now, everybody’s not really concerned about anything that happened off the field because that was like two, three years ago.

Q: If somebody gives you a call later tonight, a good friend, somebody from the family, what are you going to tell them about this experience tonight and what it’s going to mean to you to be a New York Football Giant?

A: I would say this whole experience was kind of special, kind of eye-opening, too. I really can’t even describe the kind of feeling that I felt once my phone started ringing. Just emotion. It was really a lot to digest.

Q: Do you feel like you’re joining an iconic franchise?

A: It’s kind of crazy. Growing up watching NFL football sometimes, like me just going to a team that – Eli Manning was there, Odell [Beckham Jr.] was there, Tiki Barber, everybody. A lot of people were a part of this franchise and I’m just next in line to do something special.

Q: You have a history of playing quarterback in high school. What has that done for your game? Do you feel that that’s helped you maybe grasp the receiver routes and all the stuff that receivers do a little bit better than if you didn’t have that experience?

A: I really feel like it helped me as far as learning plays, learning the offense, seeing things and defenses, and recognizing coverages on the run and on the move. I think it helped a lot in my game.

Q: Who were some of the players that you sort of modeled your game after that we would know of obviously in the NFL? And how do you envision yourself fitting into an offense that already has a lot of weapons on offense at wide receiver?

A: I’d say my game is kind of like Davante Adams, (Alvin) Kamara, like just quick, dynamic, explosive. Because Kamara, he’s really explosive and really elusive. Really coming into an offense that’s already full or packed, I want to just play my role. Whatever my job is, do it to the best of my ability.

Q: There aren’t a lot of wide receivers who would name a running back as a comparison to themselves.

A: Because I’m versatile. A lot of people can’t play running back.

Q: A lot of people say that you still have room to develop as a route runner and things like that. Where do you feel like you have room to grow as a player?

A: I mean, I’d agree. I’m really just embarking on my journey of really playing receiver – like my third-and-a-half year really just grasping receiver, so I feel like I’ve got a lot to really learn and a lot to grasp. I feel like I’m in the right position, the right system and the right organization to really learn and grasp a lot of things early.

Q: Can you take us through who called you first to let you know they were taking you?

A: I won’t get into names, but I’m just thankful. I won’t get into the names, I don’t want you to know everything.

Q: What was the message from Joe Judge when you spoke to him tonight?

A: It was more of comforting. If he didn’t believe in me he would not have took a risk, took a chance on me, so really thankful for that right now.

Q: Have you spoken to any future teammates? Has anybody reached out to you yet?

A: No, not yet.

Q: What do you know about New York and what do you know about the Giants in general?

A: I know New York is kind of big, it’s crazy, the ‘Big Apple.’ I don’t really know a lot about New York because I’ve never been. I never traveled a lot. But I feel like it’s a lot to learn about the Giants that I don’t know. I feel like I don’t know anything right now. Right now, I’m trying to find the quickest thing I can learn and move forward. Honestly, I’m thinking about the playbook right now, as far as learning right now.

Q: What about living here, coming here, changing your life, uprooting yourself?

A: I’m always on the move regardless anyway. I was never like an at home person, I’m always moving around, so I don’t think it’s really going to be tough for me to adjust. You got to get used to waking up earlier to get wherever I got to go and stuff, but it ain’t no problem.

Q: Were you overshadowed at all in this process by your teammate [Falcons Tight End] Kyle Pitts and obviously how high he was drafted? And with how exciting of a player he is, do you feel like you flew under the radar a little bit here and what was it like seeing him go that high as well?

A: I was really happy for Kyle to go that high. Like I expected him to go high. I expected Kyle Trask to go high, too. Like I expected a lot of people to go high from my team because that’s the kind of players we are. We just work and are dedicated, but I didn’t feel like I was overshadowed or anything. I just feel like I played my part well and did what I had to do when I had to do it.

Apr 292021
 
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New York Giants 2021 NFL Draft Review

Draft Pick Scouting Reports
Rookie Free Agent Scouting Reports
Eric’s Take on the 2021 Draft

Round Pick in Round Overall Selection Player Selected Video
1 20 20 WR Kadarius Toney (Video)
2 18 50 LB Azeez Ojulari (Video)
3 7 71 CB Aaron Robinson (Video)
4 11 116 LB Elerson Smith (Video)
6 20 164 RB Gary Brightwell (Video)
6 12 196 CB Rodarius Williams (Video)

2021 Draft Pick Scouting Reports

1st Round – WR Kadarius Toney, 6’0”, 193lbs, 4.38, University of Florida

Scouting Report: Toney is an average-sized receiver who plays bigger than his size (6’0”, 193 pounds), with decent speed and outstanding balance and quickness. Versatile, Toney was used outside, in the slot, and even out of the backfield at Florida. He has tremendous acceleration and change-of-direction skills, which makes him very dangerous after the catch. He creates separation and makes defenders miss. Toney needs work on reading defenses, route running, and overall technique. Toney also has experience rushing and returning the football. He has a strong arm and can even throw the ball. Tough, Toney will play hurt but has been somewhat injury prone. He has had some off-the-field issues.

Sy’56’s Take: Senior entry from Mobile, Alabama. One-year starter that was a key part of the offense all four years. 1st Team All SEC in 2020. Toney saved his best for last as a senior. He broke out in a big way and finally translated potential into real production. He did more in 2020 than his three previous seasons combined, partially because of the amount of talent the Gators had ahead of him on depth chart before this past fall. Toney has joystick quickness and change of direction whether he is running routes or carrying the ball. He is the kind of guy that can miss contact in the phone booth and will always fight for more yards. Toney plays bigger and tougher than his frame suggests. It will be hard to find a more competitive spark plug than him. There are concerns around character and durability and he needs a specific role. The right offensive mind can make him a dangerous weapon though, one that can really elevate an offense as a whole.

There are some teams that have Toney in the top 5 according to one of the very few media resources I trust and speak with. That really surprises me. I won’t give details here but there are a few serious red flags with character, and I just don’t see Toney having a high ceiling. He is as tough as they come, and I love his stop-go quickness. He will make plays with the ball in his hands. But there is a cap to his speed, he doesn’t play very big, and there are a lot of shortcomings I see when it comes to routes/ball skills/awareness etc. Really intrigued to see where he goes.

Media Q&A with General Manager Dave Gettleman (Video):

Opening Statement: We made a trade back. Obviously it was too good an opportunity. It added too much value, and we felt very comfortable with where our board was and we felt comfortable with who would be there, who would be available in that slot. So we made it. We did it. So we added a 1 and a 4 next year. Another pick for this year and another pick for next year. We were very pleased we were able to make the play.

As far as Kadarius is concerned, one of the off-season goals was to add weapons on offense and Kadarius, certainly he’s a good-size kid. He’s strong. He can run. He catches the ball well and he’s a very tough kid and he’s got return skills. So we were thrilled that he was there for us at that spot. So that’s where we’re at.

Q. How surprised are you by the Eagles making a trade with the Cowboys to get ahead of you? I know you mentioned division teams don’t really trade. The way they got Smith, how much did that influence your decision to move back?

A: That was part of it. Howie (Roseman) is not afraid to trade with anybody. I had a conversation with him earlier in the week and he said, ‘Dave, do you have any problems trading with me?’

I said, ‘No, if it works for both of us, it works for both of us.’ They made the trade and we decided to trade back.

Q. How much stronger do you guys view next year’s class compared to this one and how important was it for you to get that additional first-round pick next year?

A: It was very important. It was very important to get the first round pick next year. As I told you guys at my pre-draft presser, there’s a lot of unknowns here with this group and plus a lot of kids went back and took advantage of the NCAA giving them an additional year of eligibility. That obviously played into our thinking.

Q. Can you explain how things worked with Chicago? How did it work when you guys were actually on the clock?

A: What happened was we had called around and you do that calling and I had spoken to Ryan Pace, and I had heard he was interested in moving up, so I called him. When I spoke to him, he said, ‘Yes, we’re very interested.’ And then the conversations begin.

I spoke to Ryan today before the Draft and I spoke to him again. He called me again somewhere around the 7th pick, somewhere in there, and then we got on the clock and from there, Kevin Abrams took over and finished off the trade.

Q. How close was your group at 20? Was it an obvious choice? Were there three or four guys?

A: No, he was the next guy up for us. He was the next guy.

Q. If there were other people at 11, you would not have made the trade. Did the fact that there were only three quarterbacks taken kind of force your hand here a little bit and is it a little bit disarming when you see two cornerbacks come off the board, two Alabama receivers come off the board and you’re thinking, I’m going to get this guy, I’m going to get this guy and you realize, I’m not getting any of them, we have to pivot to Plan B here.

A: We had really talked this through, me, Joe, Chris Mara, Tim McDonnell, Kevin Abrams and Mark Koncz, we had all discussed thoroughly, really looked at our board. We had a lengthy meeting on Monday and we followed it up with another meeting on Wednesday and so we really — we knew what we wanted. We knew where we wanted to go and we knew at which point we would consider a trade back and that’s where you get the other piece of it where we’re calling teams behind us.

So we had thoroughly — and then we met again at 6 o’clock tonight to just constantly review and talk it through and it was a great group effort and we all felt very — we all felt very together on the decision. And we made it.

Q. Do you think Toney is a step down from that cluster of Alabama receivers? Is he close?

A: We’re thrilled to have him. We’re thrilled to have Kadarius Toney, okay. He is a big kid. He’s a good-sized kid who can fly. He’s got really good hands. He’s got great run-after-catch skills. We’re thrilled to have him.

Q. When a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers is pressuring his team to trade him, do you call over to a team and say, what’s going on, just due diligence?

A: No, it’s none of my business. Very frankly, we’ve told you guys over and over and over again, we believe in Daniel. It would have cost — it’s going to cost a motherload for anybody to get him — even though he’s 37 years old.

Q. Were you surprised by the Eagles moving up ahead of you, but not only moving up ahead of you, but with the Cowboys? Seems like it’s rare in-division like that and going for a receiver and taking one right there.

A: I think I said it earlier. Howie is not afraid to trade with people in the division. Howie called me and I told him, I said, ‘Yeah, I got no problem trading with you.’ It’s a business deal. That’s what it is. It’s a business deal. And one hand washes the other, so obviously Dallas was happy with their return. So they made the trade with Philly. It’s not a big deal.

Media Q&A with Head Coach Joe Judge (Video):

Q. With Kadarius (Toney), do you see him as a finished product or is this a receiver that you can bring in your building and go from where he was last year to reach a ceiling that maybe you guys are projecting going forward?

A: Look, every pick in this draft is a projection. There’s not a single player who is NFL ready. Let’s not make that mistake. Everybody here needs development and part of the evaluation is identifying how high their ceiling is. We’re excited about adding him to our team. There’s a lot of things he can do and has a lot of versatility, but like every rookie coming in here, they’ve got to earn what they get and we’re going to work them multiple positions to find their strengths. We can’t assume what we saw on college tape is the best fit for them.

Q. Joe, can you speak to the roller coaster of emotions as the first round was unfolding, and I know Dave just addressed the fact that you guys addressed the possibilities, and the fact that it was Philadelphia, as you know as well as anybody are not very well liked in these parts that made that trade a jump ahead of you, that dynamic, can you speak to that?

A: Yeah, just first on the trade, trades happen a lot. Normally doesn’t happen within the division but hey, look, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. They made a move that worked for them and that was a good business move. That being said, in terms of the roller coaster of emotions, you just let the round play out. Evaluate all these players for a reason. You never know how it’s going to shake out. You know where you want to take certain guys. You know what you’re looking to fill in terms of best player available and some positions of need. We are very happy how it turned out but we added great value.

Let’s not mistake that these picks, they are people, so let’s not forget about that. You’re adding people to your team. You know, you talk about the value of having good, young developmental players to work with, and we just went through a season of free agency, okay, where we invested a lot in a team by adding veterans to our team and this is an opportunity to get more picks to add good young developmental players to our team, whether it’s this year or next.

Q. Curious if you had a point where you wouldn’t have felt comfortable going back, was 20 as far as you would go and did you expect that Toney would be there or were you not sure when you made the move?

A: Yeah, you know what to be honest with you, you evaluate the players, you’ve got their value to the team. You can never assume anyone is going to be there. There’s a lot of good players in this draft and there’s a lot of teams that want those players for one reason or another. In terms of a point we wouldn’t go back, again, we’re always willing to listen to whatever comes our way. It’s the value of the trade relative to who you’re looking at right there. For us it was a good move. We’re pleased the way it turned out. We got a good player that’s going to be able to come in and compete with our team and we have more assets to use in the future.

Q. Most people thought three quarterbacks, four quarterbacks would go before you picked and obviously only three did. Once you saw that happening, did you get a sense, oh, these two or three guys, we thought one of them would definitely be there was not going to be there?

A: No, we played out every scenario beforehand, as Dave alluded to, we have lengthy meetings and a lot of ‘what ifs’, and that’s the way we operate, as well as the coaching staff throughout the season. It’s our job to talk through the scenarios, so when a situation arises we have a course of action and plan we can go and execute.

Q. Kadarius had some injury issues at Florida and “character” issues, some things that needed to be investigated. You couldn’t get him in your building and really get to know him, how did you figure that out and figure he’s a guy that’s worth a 20th pick?

A: You know, the skill and the person has to add up together. We fully vetted every player on this board. We are very comfortable bringing him to New Jersey. We are very comfortable adding him to our roster to compete with other players on the team. Listen, we use every resource we have, okay, Jeremy Pruitt who is in our building, Jeremy recruited him out of high school. So we have people in this building with established relationships who have known this guy through the course of not only being in college, but going back to when they were in high school developing as a player.We have numerous coaches that spent a long time recruiting, have had this guy in summer camps for multiple days at a time and had extended exposure to him. We had guys at the pro day. We had Zoom meetings that were allotted by the league; we used those, phone calls. We have a great medical staff and we trust them to decisions for by the medical. I’m not a doctor, so I trust Ronnie Barnes and his staff. In terms of anything else off the field, again, look, it’s no secret I’m pretty particular about who I bring into this building, okay. I think sometimes you have to understand the person, and you have to understand the character on a deeper level than what just may be Tweeted out.

Q. Joe, we haven’t spoken to you in a while, can you talk about the offensive overhaul going back to the middle of March?

A: We are looking to improve our team in all three areas, offense, defense, and the kicking game. Working through free agency there were some offensive players that were available we thought could come in here and compete with our team and possibly improve us through competition. We are looking to do the same thing with defense and the kicking game as well. We are not a finished product by any means in any area and we are always looking to improve. If there’s a good player out there, we are looking to add them if they fit what we are looking to build.

Media Q&A with Director of College Scouting Chris Pettit (Video):

Q. A lot of scouting reports about Kadarius [Toney] describe him as a gadget player. How do you describe his skill set?

A: He’s a playmaker. He’s instinctive, he’s tough, makes a lot of plays with the ball in his hands. We feel he has flex inside and out. He also has value as a returner for us. Like I said, this is an instinctive, tough guy with very good athletic ability and speed.

Q. There were some character concerns in the background. Joe said you dug into that, talked to him and people who knew him. What’s that process like when you’re trying to dig into a prospect like that and are you just talking to a lot of people? How does that work exactly?

A: Well, our scouts in the fall talk to everyone they know on campus via Zoom and phone calls, we work them, every player, all fall. We had a chance to meet [Kadarius] down at the Senior Bowl. We spent time with him in person to get to know the person there and that continues. Then our security staff goes through every check that we do on every player.

Listen, if there was a concern with him, he wouldn’t have been on our board. And like Joe [Judge] said, we thoroughly vetted him through Zooms and phone calls throughout this process of the spring.

Q. This kid was a high school quarterback I believe. How is he as a receiver and can he play some gadget plays for you at quarterback?

A: Gadget plays at quarterback? That’s up to Joe and Jason [Garrett] and his staff. But he did; he has excellent athletic ability. He’s versatile. That’s what we like about him but like every player in the draft, he’s raw, every player in the draft and every player has to develop into a pro. So, it will take some time but this guy is a playmaker with the ball in his hands.

Q. The natural comp, he went to the same school as Percy Harvin; how similar or different they are?

A: Percy is a little before my time but both fast and playmakers. There’s a comp there, I’m sure.

Q. Is he a guy that you envisioned when you look at him as being in the backfield or the guy that can do that?

A: Again, that’s up to Jason and Joe and their staffs, what they do with him. He’s instinctive and smart enough to do that but like we said, the best thing about him, we feel he can play inside and out and add another weapon to our offense.

Q. Obviously so much was made about the top three receivers in this class. I’m just curious from your perspective, how do you see Kadarius in that second group or how close is he to the top three guys?

A: He was close enough, we felt like he was the best player available at the time we took him. I don’t know if there was a big separation, if I can say that, but like I said, he’s right up there and he was worthy of a first-round pick, so that shows you what we think of him.

Q. Last week you and Dave [Gettleman] talked about how there’s development but also when you bring in a guy, you want him to contribute. Is Kadarius close enough to being a polished receiver where you think he could come in or is there still developmental stage? I know that is for all rookies, but how close is he to being a part of this offense from the jump?

A: He’s close. He’s played at a high level at Florida. Made a lot of big plays on a big stage, so I think he’s ready mentally. He’s tough. He’ll be ready to go.

Q. I know he was down at Senior Bowl. Did getting in front of him in person, is that an important part of vetting a guy like this and actually looking him in the eyes, especially this year?

A: Absolutely. We actually met with him the first night down there, one of our last interviews and we got to spend a lot of time with him. Really great to meet him and get that face-to-face at that point in the scouting process and then watch him throughout the rest of the spring throughout the Zooms, more and more time, really get to know him and get to know the person and feel really good about him.

Q. Did you take extra time on the Friday or did you have a long meeting?

A: We had a long meeting, it was one of the last ones of the night, like I said, and we got to spend a little extra time than was allotted. So, it was really good.

Q. What do you remember about that meeting? What struck you and did you come out of that meeting saying that this is a guy that we could see on our team?

A: Yeah, it was, we were all tired, that process down there was pretty strenuous of going back-to-back to back of these long interviews which was great. But it was late in the night and we were tired. We were talking through plexiglass and everyone had masks on, and he brought energy at that point. We love that. He brought energy to the room, to the conversation. Was easy to talk to. Was open and honest and we loved everything about that conversation.

Q. That was the first time you got to meet him person-to-person?

A: That’s the only time, actually, person-to-person throughout this process with the rules the league set out.

Q. I would imagine in your evaluation of him, you’re thinking of him as a guy if he’s in the second round, because if there’s no trade you’re not taking him at 11. Two questions; is that true? Do you look at him and say, we love it if he’s in the second round for him?

A: Obviously we had a first-round grade on him. That’s the value. I did not think he would be there in the second round. Any time you get him, it’s a great value for him.

Q. For someone like you who evaluates all the players, when you see the players coming off the board, what is your sense as a guy who is thinking, okay, we are going to get the cornerback, this receiver, and then the trade? Is there a sense of deflation, like, okay, now we have to do this all over again in a half hour?

A: No. No. Because again, you let the board come to you, and I think that trade was an excellent trade to get assets for us for the future. You know, we get another first round player, which is potentially another first round starter. That’s an excellent, excellent opportunity for us. We had to take advantage of that.

Media Q&A with Kadarius Toney (Video):

Q: We were talking to Joe Judge and the front office and they were talking about how you guys spoke for a while at the Senior Bowl. What do you remember about those conversations? What was your impression of the Giants coaches? And what did you think when they picked you?

A: Really, the conversation back then was just trying to figure me out and stuff. It was so early in the process. What I thought about the coaches, I kind of took them as they came. They were very serious, so I made sure on my end that I was up to par, like on point.

Q: Where did you think you were going to go? Obviously, there was a cluster of the Alabama receivers and [Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr] Chase and then there was maybe a group after that. How do you look at them compared to you? Do you think you’re in like the second tier or do you think you’re as good as anybody in this draft? Where did you kind of get a sense of where you fit in?

A: Really, I don’t even like try to compare myself to nobody, I just try to be the best version of myself that I can. Throughout this process, I didn’t really envision myself going anywhere but a place that I was wanted. By them really just taking a chance on me it shows me like who was really in my corner the whole time.

Q: Did you think you were a first round pick the whole way?

A: Yeah, for sure. I feel like ever since I was little this was my dream, so I’ve been striving to be that ever since.

Q: For people who don’t play, what do you bring to the Giants offense?

A: A lot of dynamic versatility.

Q: During the process, how many questions did teams have about some of the off-field stuff you had early in your career at Florida?

A: Right now, everybody’s not really concerned about anything that happened off the field because that was like two, three years ago.

Q: If somebody gives you a call later tonight, a good friend, somebody from the family, what are you going to tell them about this experience tonight and what it’s going to mean to you to be a New York Football Giant?

A: I would say this whole experience was kind of special, kind of eye-opening, too. I really can’t even describe the kind of feeling that I felt once my phone started ringing. Just emotion. It was really a lot to digest.

Q: Do you feel like you’re joining an iconic franchise?

A: It’s kind of crazy. Growing up watching NFL football sometimes, like me just going to a team that – Eli Manning was there, Odell [Beckham Jr.] was there, Tiki Barber, everybody. A lot of people were a part of this franchise and I’m just next in line to do something special.

Q: You have a history of playing quarterback in high school. What has that done for your game? Do you feel that that’s helped you maybe grasp the receiver routes and all the stuff that receivers do a little bit better than if you didn’t have that experience?

A: I really feel like it helped me as far as learning plays, learning the offense, seeing things and defenses, and recognizing coverages on the run and on the move. I think it helped a lot in my game.

Q: Who were some of the players that you sort of modeled your game after that we would know of obviously in the NFL? And how do you envision yourself fitting into an offense that already has a lot of weapons on offense at wide receiver?

A: I’d say my game is kind of like Davante Adams, (Alvin) Kamara, like just quick, dynamic, explosive. Because Kamara, he’s really explosive and really elusive. Really coming into an offense that’s already full or packed, I want to just play my role. Whatever my job is, do it to the best of my ability.

Q: There aren’t a lot of wide receivers who would name a running back as a comparison to themselves.

A: Because I’m versatile. A lot of people can’t play running back.

Q: A lot of people say that you still have room to develop as a route runner and things like that. Where do you feel like you have room to grow as a player?

A: I mean, I’d agree. I’m really just embarking on my journey of really playing receiver – like my third-and-a-half year really just grasping receiver, so I feel like I’ve got a lot to really learn and a lot to grasp. I feel like I’m in the right position, the right system and the right organization to really learn and grasp a lot of things early.

Q: Can you take us through who called you first to let you know they were taking you?

A: I won’t get into names, but I’m just thankful. I won’t get into the names, I don’t want you to know everything.

Q: What was the message from Joe Judge when you spoke to him tonight?

A: It was more of comforting. If he didn’t believe in me he would not have took a risk, took a chance on me, so really thankful for that right now.

Q: Have you spoken to any future teammates? Has anybody reached out to you yet?

A: No, not yet.

Q: What do you know about New York and what do you know about the Giants in general?

A: I know New York is kind of big, it’s crazy, the ‘Big Apple.’ I don’t really know a lot about New York because I’ve never been. I never traveled a lot. But I feel like it’s a lot to learn about the Giants that I don’t know. I feel like I don’t know anything right now. Right now, I’m trying to find the quickest thing I can learn and move forward. Honestly, I’m thinking about the playbook right now, as far as learning right now.

Q: What about living here, coming here, changing your life, uprooting yourself?

A: I’m always on the move regardless anyway. I was never like an at home person, I’m always moving around, so I don’t think it’s really going to be tough for me to adjust. You got to get used to waking up earlier to get wherever I got to go and stuff, but it ain’t no problem.

Q: Were you overshadowed at all in this process by your teammate [Falcons Tight End] Kyle Pitts and obviously how high he was drafted? And with how exciting of a player he is, do you feel like you flew under the radar a little bit here and what was it like seeing him go that high as well?

A: I was really happy for Kyle to go that high. Like I expected him to go high. I expected Kyle Trask to go high, too. Like I expected a lot of people to go high from my team because that’s the kind of players we are. We just work and are dedicated, but I didn’t feel like I was overshadowed or anything. I just feel like I played my part well and did what I had to do when I had to do it.

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2nd Round – LB Azeez Ojulari, 6’2”, 249lbs, 4.63, University of Georgia

Scouting Report: Ojulari is an edge rusher who combines good size (6’2”, 249 pounds) with excellent overall athleticism. Natural pass rusher who also plays hard. He threatens tackles with his initial quickness, bend, rip move, and closing burst. Ojulari has long arms for his size and is physical with his hands. Ojulari needs to disengage from blockers more consistently and will need to add inside pass rush moves to his arsenal. He flashes pass coverage skills but he will need work in this area. Improving player who has a big upside.

Sy’56’s Take: Third year sophomore entry from Marietta, Georgia. A two-year starter that earned 2nd Team All SEC honors in 2020. The semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award led the SEC in tackles for loss and sacks in 2020, a year after leading the Bulldogs in sacks and pressures. Ojulari is a mature, hardworking kid that gets the most out of his talents. He won team-awards for most improved player in 2019 as well as one for his efforts during the offseason strength and conditioning program. Ojulari was also a team captain in 2019, the first time a freshman has earned that honor in the Coach Smart era. This is a kid that has high-end talent that can be used in multiple ways for a defense, and it is paired with top notch intangibles. His game really started to blossom as the 2020 season came to a close. He finished with 5 sacks over his last 3 games. Ojulari still has more physical development to achieve, as he will need to add functional weight to play the every down edge in the NFL, but his versatility, talent, and intangibles will make him a dangerous defensive weapon and he can be one of the best when things come together.

No inside information here. I think Ojulari is on the NYG short list for #11 overall. I’m not exactly sure what NYG is looking to add to their outside pass rush. Do they want a pure burner (what Carter was supposed to turn into, and still can), or do they want an inside-out versatile piece? If it is the former, Ojulari is a very strong possibility. I think he has the best get off in the group. That is a great place to start. I also believe who he is as a person will be exactly what NYG wants to add.

Media Q&A with General Manager Dave Gettleman (Video):

So we traded back to 50. We got a third round pick in ‘22 and picked up Azeez Ojulari, who we are really thrilled to get. He’s an edge pass rusher. He’s instinctive. He’s very bright. He plays hard, and he’s got pass rush ability and he’s also a solid run player. We’re really thankful to get him. 

Media Q&A with Head Coach Joe Judge (Video):

Q: Can you speak about the importance of getting some edge pass rushing in there? The Giants defense for years, it used to be an automatic with pass rushers and it’s been an issue for you particularly on the outside?

A: First off, I was pleased with the progress we made on defense last year with the guys on our roster. We had injuries that affected guys like Zo (Lorenzo Carter) and X-man (Oshane Ximines), and we had some rookies. And obviously we had some rookies had to come in and step up and got good contribution from guys like Jabaal Sheard when they were on the team. So we didn’t look at this in the nature of, you know, that we had to absolutely go out there and address something, or else it was going to be dire. We have confidence in the guys we have on our roster. We like Azeez (Ojulari) as a player. We have a lot of experience with him throughout this organization. Marcus Cooper one of our scouts has great relationships with these guys. We put a lot of trust in his evaluations because he gets it know these guys on a deep basis and coincidentally actually three picks came from Coop’s area and he has a lot of inside info on these guys. On top of that, you talk about Azeez, the coach he’s going to play for, Kevin Sherrer, recruited and signed him at the University of Georgia before he was a freshman. You talk about the other coaches that we have on staff that had to play against him in the SEC, he’s always a guy that stood out to them on the field as someone they had to account for. I have a lot of respect for the way (Georgia Head Coach) Kirby (Smart) runs his program. I love those guys down there. I think they play tough and they are well-coached. To be able to add a guy to our team to compete with our current roster, he was a good fit for us. We are excited to have him here but like all other rookies, he’s got to come in and compete when he gets here.

Q. With Azeez, it’s out there that there was a knee problem and some teams actually flagged him. Where did you guys stand on that?

A: Yeah, listen, I don’t think there’s a player in this draft or any draft for that matter that doesn’t have something that shows up on a board. I trust our medical team, Ronnie (Barnes) and his guys do a great job. We have some of the best doctors in the world who look in these guys and constantly update us on what they think the current risk is. All I can go back to is this guy came back, he played, this guy doesn’t miss practices at Georgia. He played with very high effort, high intensity. I’m very pleased with what you saw on tape in terms of the medical expertise. I leave that on Ronnie Barnes and his staff and I let them go ahead and give us the information, and with that information make the decisions.

Q. We know about your connection with Kirby and talking about that Georgia program, how much does that help with transition, and is what they do similar to what you do schematically?

A: I would say the answer in terms of the terminology or maybe some of the concepts of the defense, there are similarities to that. It’s all basically off the same branch of the defensive tree and philosophy from different coaches in the past. However, it doesn’t matter where you come from. None of these rookies have a leg up on anyone. They come in and have to learn our league and system and compete with our vets from on the roster. Just being from a certain school doesn’t give anyone a leg up on anything. You have to come in — the National Football League is completely different from college. You have to learn a lot of things about it: The speed of the game, the tempo of the game. So it’s nice that he’s from a familiar system, but past, you know, day one install meetings and basic terminology, that’s the only jump he’ll have on anybody else.

Q. What is your relationship like with Kirby Smart and is there a quality in the players that he coaches that stands out? Because you have drafted three guys from there in the last year, whether that’s a coincidence or not.

A: Well, I think the coincidence would be that he just coaches really good players. They do a great job of recruiting top talent and develop them over the course of time they are there. Those players work hard and player hard and understand the value of playing old school, fundamental, physical football. That’s really what draws to us. Me and Kirby we worked three years at Alabama. I have a lot of respect for him as a person and I have a lot of respect for him as a coach. When you know where someone is coming from, you have a little bit of insight in how you can coach them, okay, what really makes them tick and how they respond in adverse situations.

Media Q&A with Director of College Scouting Chris Pettit (Video):

Q. What’s that moment like when you trade back from 42 to 50, and Azeez is very much in the conversation at 42, are you waiting every pick or were you sweating it out?

A: We had a bunch of guys that we really liked there and like I said before, you’ve just got to be patient. You can’t get too high or too low and the board will come to you. You have to trust it. When you have a group of guys there, it makes you feel better as the time and picks go by. Azeez was 1 in the group and he was there and he was the right player for us.

Q. You hear a bunch of things about Azeez as a pass rusher, and some people say he’s the best pass rusher in the Draft. They don’t usually last till 50. So where do you see him as a pass rusher and is he a legitimate edge guy now that you guys added to your team?

A: Yeah, I believe so. The thing that separated I think Azeez from others was he’s pro-ready with his hands. He had real good hand use. He’s instinctive. The guy has the ability to make big plays in big spots. He’s ultra competitive. He has good instincts. He had good hand use for being an underclassman that we liked.

Q. Curious what you would have thought if I told you on like Thursday morning that Azeez would be there at pick 50? Is that something you expected or were surprised by?

A: I wouldn’t say I was surprised or expected. I was wishful. I’d be wishful that was a possibility, along with the other players we had in the group there. But I’m really excited to have Azeez. To bring a pass rusher to our defense, another one, another young pass rusher that we can develop, I’m excited.

Media Q&A with Azeez Ojulari (Video):

Q: A lot of people thought you would go a lot earlier for you. How has this process been for you and how is your knee?

A: This process was a great process, just talking to teams, building those relationships and just being able to be a Giant. I’m just happy to be here. I’m just ready to get to work. My knee is good. Everything is good and solid. Everything is perfect.

Q: Hey Azeez, congratulations. Just caught a little bit of a snippet when you were announced on TV from an old buddy, Andrew Thomas, who is now your teammate again. What was that like tonight? The wait? Did you know it would be the Giants? What was your reaction – describe it when it happened.

A: It was crazy when I got the call, man. I saw a New York on it so I just picked it up. I was just so happy to be on the phone with the Giants. It was electric. It was a great moment for me and my family and Drew (Andrew Thomas) being in the house, too.

Q: You and Drew were pretty close, right? Did I read that?

A: Yes, he was my roommate.

Q: He was the toughest tackle you ever gone against?

A: Definitely. Definitely was.

Q: Hi Azeez, congratulations. Sorry, I’m sure you thought you got away from me down here in Athens. Was it excruciating at all having to wait? I guess you ultimately don’t really know when you’re going to go, but projections were really high for you. Were you hurting there for a while or confused?

A: No. I just know I’m blessed to be here. I’m blessed to be a Giant. I just waited my turn and wait for my opportunity to come and now it’s here. Now, I’m just happy and ready to be a Giant, for sure.

Q: Azeez, I know (Georgia Head Coach) Kirby Smart and Joe Judge have connections. Have you heard anything about what you’ll be coming into?

A: Definitely. Georgia has some similarities to the Giants defense. I’ve been through it a lot. I feel like I’ll be good with the scheme and everything coming in. I’m just ready to get to work and learn – learn from the best.

Q: Hey Azeez, congratulations. There are some people who say you are the best past rusher in this draft. First question, what do you think about that?

A: Definitely. I mean, everyone has their own opinions, but definitely I believe that. I’m just confident in my game. I’m just ready to go to work with the New York Giants and show everybody what I can do.

Q: Second question, real quick. If you are the best pass rusher, they don’t normally last to number 50. What does that say to you? Does that kind of anger you or do you care about that at all?

A: I’m just blessed to be a Giant. I’m ready to work. When I get there, I just have to go get in the playbook to learn the scheme and everything. I’m just ready to show them what I can do. That’s it.

Q: Hey Azeez, what does it mean to you to go to a team that has your college roommate in Andrew Thomas, Tae Crowder is there, Lorenzo Carter is a Georgia alum – what does it mean to you to be joining up with all these guys that I imagine you’re pretty familiar with?

A: It’s just great just having my brothers up there already. They’re people that I have conversations with. It would be great for me to come in there and learn from them. They’ve been there, so they can teach me and tell me things. So, I just can’t wait to get up there with those guys and be ready to work.

Q: How would you describe what type of player you are to Giants fans who maybe aren’t familiar with you?

A: I’m definitely relentless. Effort is never a question. I’m an all-around player. I can rush the passer, stop and run, drop in coverage or whatever I have to do to help the team, I can do it.

Q: Azeez, congratulations man. What did you think – I mean you’re a guy who has played, you practiced, and then they tell you, or did you even know – that your knee was going to be a problem for teams?

A: No. I didn’t know at all. I was fully healthy the last two seasons at Georgia. I didn’t know anything. I just didn’t know. I’m blessed to be a Giant. I’m happy and ready to get to work.

Q: What was your interaction with Kevin Sherrer? Was he your coach? Did you work for him a lot? How well do you know him?

A: Oh yeah, Coach Sherrer. He recruited me when I was coming into Georgia, so our relationship is already there, for sure. I’ve learned things from him, from watching film and tape and coming into Georgia. We really have a good bond going in, for sure.

Q: Hi Azeez, congratulations. I just got in a little late. I apologize if this is a repeat, but could you describe your pass rushing ability and how you feel it’ll translate immediately in the NFL given what you’ve seen?

A: I have good speed and strength. I can convert speed to power. I can beat the guy off the edge and beat him inside. I can affect the quarterback a lot. I’m just coming in knowing I’m ready to work and contribute and I’m ready to do whatever I have to do.

Q: Just as a quick follow up, in your conversations with Coach Judge and what not and whomever it is you spoke to, what amount did you speak to him about how much they are in need of pass rushing help? How aware are you of that?

A: It was one of the needs, for sure. We definitely had conversations throughout the whole process, daily. I’m blessed to be here. I’m blessed to be a Giant today. I’m ready to get there and contribute.

Q: Azeez, congrats. A lot of the best players in Giants history, most revered players, are pass rushers – Lawrence Taylor, Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, etc. What do you think of trying to live up to those expectations and live up to those kinds of names putting on this jersey at that position?

A: Seeing all of those great Giants that came through there, I just know I have to come in ready to work and put it all on the table to give it all you got. Give it all you got for those great guys that played before us. I just have a lot of respect for those players, so you have to give it all you got and do what I can do.

Q: Real quick, Kadarius Toney, did you – I didn’t have time to double check on this schedule – but what do you think of him as a player and a fellow SEC guy, offensive weapon? What do you think of him as a player and a weapon?

A: Man, Kadarius Toney is a beast. He’s shifty. He can shake anything. He can beat you. He has speed. Man, I can’t wait to see him play. Just know he’s a dog, for sure.

Q: Azeez, you said you knew the Giants needed an edge rusher. When they’re on the clock at number 42, are you waiting for your phone to ring right there?

A: I was waiting. I was waiting on it all day.

Q: When in your conversations with Andrew did you guys start talking about becoming teammates and when did it become more and more realistic for you guys?

A: Just basically when he got drafted. When he got drafted, we thought about it. It could happen one day. So, we were like, ‘It would be cool for us to be teammates coming from Georgia. That would be nice.’ And look at us now, teammates.

Q: Hey Azeez, just on a personal level, what do your friends call you? Do they call you Z? They call you AO? They call you Zeez, or what?

A: Yes, they call me Z. Sometimes they call me vibranium. No, they call me mostly Z, though. It’s what it is the most times, Z.

Q: Okay, and the other question I have is, one of the guys you’ll probably be competing with for time is Lorenzo Carter. How close are you with him?

A: Lorenzo is my brother, definitely, for sure. He played at Georgia. I’m ready to get there and work with him and just learn things from him and just ready to get to work.

Q: Hey Azeez, congratulations man. Azeez, I noticed you have that one signature move that you love to go to, to get the quarterback. I’m curious, who helped you develop your moves in rushing and what’s one part of your game that you feel you need to improve at?

A: I’d say my time at Georgia, just working there every single day since I was a freshman. I was finding the move that worked for me and I just kept doing that. Once I found it, I just kept going to it and adjusting off of it when I had to. Thanks to Georgia and my time there, it just helped me with everything I need to do. I will definitely be using it for sure.

Q: Azeez, quickly, did you get better competing with Andrew Thomas in practice a lot?

A: Definitely, every day. Every single day competing. Good on good, everyday.

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3rd Round – CB Aaron Robinson, 6’0”, 190lbs, 4.39, University of Central Florida

Scouting Report: Robinson is a tough, aggressive, athletic slot corner with decent size (6’0”, 190 pounds). He plays a physical game. Speedy, he can run with receivers deep. Robinson is better in press man coverage than off coverage. He will play the run but needs to be a more consistent tackler.

Sy’56’s Take: Fifth year senior from Deerfield Beach, Florida. Began his career at Alabama in 2016 where he played in 13 games. Transferred to Central Florida in 2017 and redshirted. Two-year starter that earned 2nd Team All AAC honors in both 2019 and 2020. Robinson has the pro-caliber foot speed and burst that enables him to stay sticky to his man on all levels of the route tree. He can play the game with his feet rather than getting too grabby with his hands. Robinson has a lot of dog in him. He is always one of the toughest players on the field and he knows it. Even though he needs to control where he gets aggressive and where to gamble, he is the kind of player that elevates the energy of a defense. That doesn’t occur much from cornerbacks. His size may keep him at nickel but he can play both.

There are some corners that elevate their game with swagger. They are constantly getting in fights, constantly running their mouth. I understand that isn’t an approach for everyone to get behind, but I personally love it. Much prefer that than guys on opposing teams laughing with each other all game and trading jerseys afterward. Robinson hates his opponent every week, and he plays like it. He also has really well developed technique and footwork. Little gamble here, but I think he is starting in the league within a year or two.

Media Q&A with General Manager Dave Gettleman (Video):

In the third round, we swapped spots with Denver and wanted to move up. Obviously we’re working on defense and we picked Aaron Robinson, who is a nickel, who has got the ability to play nickel and outside the perimeter, and he’s an excellent tackler, ball hawk. He’s got all the stuff… And then with the value we had on Aaron, I just didn’t want to sit and wait. We just felt — he’s a press corner and really fits what we want to do and who we want to be on defense. 

Q. You guys have invested some real resources in the secondary since last year, the draft picks you brought in, James Bradberry, obviously this year with Adoree’ and now Aaron Robinson. How does Aaron fit in there and how close are you to being a finished product on the back end?

A: Where Aaron fits in is he gives us more perimeter muscle, so to speak, and he’s also got that flexibility to play the nickel and play the star. We think he’s a great fit, obviously, because we traded up, hello, stating the obvious. Captain Obvious. We think he’s a great fit for our defense and our back end and we feel like you can never have too many assets back there because players come and go. You have injuries. People will say it’s a passing league and it is to a degree. And the other thing that we really liked about Aaron is you do the studies, you do the analytics — I do do it, people — and the best defenses have the best tackling secondaries, and Aaron Robinson is a really good tackling corner.

Media Q&A with Head Coach Joe Judge (Video):

Q. What did you like about (Aaron) Robinson?

A: A-Rob is a good player. Again we are excited to add him to the program. Going to come in and compete. There’s going to be a lot of competition with defensive backs, corners and safeties.

Look, this is a guy that jumped out to us on tape and as well as when we were down at the Senior Bowl got to see him in person, sit down, meet with him; I had multiple meetings that week. Got the Zoom throughout this process. So we had a lot of exposure with this guy as a person, and this guy really does, he’s got a good personality, he really lights up. This is a guy, he plays on the field and you see when he makes a play, his teammates immediately sprint to him. There’s a lot of excitement. You can tell he’s got a bond with his teammates, and that stands out with the energy his teammates play with as well.

In terms of him as a player, he’s a physical player with good traits and gives us versatility to play inside, outside. This guy has some value to play in the kicking game as well. Just the demeanor he plays with, the physicality and his ability to play in both press and off, he’ll give us some options how we can use him.

Q. This is obviously not a new world for the Giants, but the way the draft was manipulated the last two days, moving down, you had a fifth round pick you gained and you just traded away, was with the Giants for about 12 hours or something like that. Do you like this a little bit more rock and roll and keeping everybody on their toes?

A: It’s making the best decision for the team at the time. We had an opportunity to move down and gain more value because there are a number of players we feel in that range are going to be available, we’ll go ahead and look at that option. As you saw with A-Rob, we didn’t want to give somebody else a chance to take him at that point; he was a priority for us to get, so we used the pick to trade on up. As I said yesterday, these picks are people and make calculated risks whether you acquire them or give them up. I feel good about what we did today in the draft. I’m sure Dave has got a concussion or something, so make sure we check on him overnight and we’ll get back to work tomorrow.

Q. What do you remember particularly about the one with Robinson?

A: I just remember he had a very direct personality. You talk to him, he lit up when you start talking football. That’s important, again, the passion for the game. I just like direct, honest people and he’s got that to him.

Media Q&A with Director of College Scouting Chris Pettit (Video):

Q. What’s your report on (Aaron) Robinson? What did you like about him?

A: A-Rob jumped off, I remember I was sitting here through the pandemic in the office, threw on the UCF tape and his instincts, his toughness and his tackling jumped out to me immediately as I was watching the tape. A little unknown about him, didn’t know much, threw the tape on one day and really caught my eye with his competitiveness and instincts.

Then we’ve kind of followed him throughout the process. We had two interviews with him down in Mobile which got to help us know him as a person, most importantly, and then I went down and saw him at his pro day as well to really spend a lot of time with him.

I think what immediately jumped off was his instincts, toughness, competitiveness.

Q. Aaron Robinson started his career at Alabama, so that’s SEC ties for all three guys this year, most of the guys last year. I think it’s pretty universally accepted that’s the best conference. Is that why you guys keep going to the SEC or do you have stronger relationships there? More scouts in that area? Why is it the SEC?

A: I don’t think we say, all right, this is the SEC we are going to scout it differently than any other part of the country. It’s just the way the board has fallen that the SEC players at the time we are ready to pick are the ones we feel best to be Giants. It’s a very good conference. There’s big people that play fast and tough and we like that. But I don’t think it’s any different — we don’t scout it any different than any other conference in the league.

Media Q&A with Aaron Robinson (Video):

Q: Saw that tweet from [Safety] Xavier McKinney. I guess even though you transferred, you’re still viewed by some of these guys as an Alabama guy. Just curious, what’s it like to reunite with a lot of guys with Alabama ties?

A: You know, X specifically, I remember him when he first got up to school just trying to connect and bond with him. He’s a great guy. I’m ready to get up there and get to work with some great dudes, get around some great coaching, pretty much just set the standard with the brotherhood up there and go to work.

Q: What do you think you bring to the table?

A: Definitely a competitive edge about myself. A guy who’s willing to take it from every angle, vets, coaching and excel at it in my own game. Really just want to bring guys along, including myself, to create something special.

Q: Hey Aaron, I think one of things the Giants really like about you is how physical you are and that you can play man-to-man. That’s something they weren’t able to do as much last year. What does it take to be as consistently physical and effective as you are at that position on the outside?

A: Yeah, you know that pretty much comes with the game of football. I feel like I always favored the defensive side of the ball a little bit more growing up playing it. And that’s pretty much a plus in my game that I take advantage of and come with to every play 150 percent. That’s pretty much it.

Q: Aaron, how important was it for you to get to the Senior Bowl and have that opportunity to meet with the various teams? And to follow up on that, what do you remember about your meeting with the Giants?

A: Having that opportunity to get up there in Mobile to compete against some of the best in college football this past year was a great opportunity for me to pretty much expose myself a little bit more, and have that great opportunity to earn those reps, get those reps on the outside and showcase those skills as well during those practices. So it was definitely a great opportunity for myself. What I remember from meeting with the Giants was the laughs through conversation, pretty much just enjoying that moment with those coaches up there and pretty much coming off natural, it felt like.

Q: Were you on [Wide Receiver] Kadarius Toney’s team at the Senior Bowl or did you go against him at all?

A: I was on Kadarius’s team. We pretty much had one great rep of one-on-ones and a couple more reps during team reps. Pretty much just competing against one another trying to earn something, so respect to him as well.

Q: The fact that the Giants traded up to get you, does that mean something extra to you?

A: Yeah, definitely, just another great opportunity. Thank those guys up there for believing in me and that just pushes me to want to get up there and work 10 times harder for some guys that definitely believed in me. I’m going to take advantage of that and run with it, for sure.

Q: Hey Aaron, you’ll have to kind of forgive me for doing my scouting report on the fly, but did you play mostly in the slot in college?

A: Correct.

Q: And so you were saying playing at the Senior Bowl gave you the chance to play outside?

A: Correct.

Q: So, do you feel like you can play both at the next level? Are you more comfortable at one or the other?

A: Wherever I’m needed. Wherever I’m needed, I’m willing to learn that playbook, get in with my coaches, spend a lot of time around those guys, around those guys in the locker room as well to really learn it and go out and perform to the best of my ability.

Q: Did you guys play a lot of man or zone in college?

A: We mixed it up. [Defensive Coordinator] Coach [Randy] Shannon definitely mixed it up for us, gave a lot of looks and pretty much helped us a lot as well.

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4th Round – LB Elerson Smith, 6’6”, 262lbs, 4.75, University of Northern Iowa

Scouting Report: Smith is a tall, lanky, athletic rush end who projects to outside linebacker in the Giants’ system. He combines good size, arm length, big hands, initial get-off quickness, bend, and closing burst. Good pass rusher who makes plays in the backfield. Raw, Smith will need some time to develop and reach his potential. He will need to continue to get stronger and be more consistent at playing off of blockers in the run game. Smith is a hard worker both off and on the football field.

Sy’56’s Take: Fifth year senior from Minneapolis, Minnesota. One-year starter that had his senior season canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 1st Team All Missouri Valley Conference and 1st Team AFCA FCS All American in 2019. Smith broke out in his redshirt junior season, netting 21.5 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and 2 blocked kicks. He plays the game with a level of ease and smoothness in traffic. He gets off the ball in a hurry with great leverage and upper body positioning, his hands are exceptionally fast, and the foot quickness is elite. Smith is just scratching the surface when it comes to his true potential. He needs to sleep in the weight room for a year before he can be an every down asset, but he will be a solid rotational pass rusher right away and has the upside of being a solid starter in multiple schemes.

*If you haven’t seen Northern Iowa play but you want to get a feel for what this kid looks like on the field, think about Jayson Taylor. He has the really long, borderline thin frame but plays with tremendous burst and bend for a player his size. Smith impressed me a ton at the Senior Bowl in the practice tapes. Really twitchy, plays low to the ground, and easily changes direction. His 2019 tape is something else, too. Good player here that may need more time than others but presents more upside than most guys in this tier.

Media Q&A with General Manager Dave Gettleman (Video):

Elerson Smith, who we took in the fourth round, is a kid that played at Northern Iowa, didn’t play this fall obviously because of COVID. He didn’t opt out. They just didn’t play. And he played the Senior Bowl. He’s long, he’s athletic and we watched him on his Northern Iowa tape and what sold us on him is they played Iowa State and he must have played about 85, 90 snaps. He’s a real tough kid, athletic, long, has some pass rush potential and he’s instinctive, so we really liked him.

Media Q&A with Head Coach Joe Judge (Video):

Q: Elerson Smith, lower level of competition, gained a lot of weight, big hands, good athlete. This team has been looking for an edge rusher for many years. You think you got it right with these two guys?

A: I think we added two guys between Elerson and Azeez that are going to be able to come in that have a skill set to develop and work with, both guys really fit our outside linebacker category. In our defense, our outside backers have a variety of skill set. Some guys are more stout, set the edge guys better in early down run setting and some guys are more third down sub-package pass rushers. Elerson is a guy, I got to sit down with him in Mobile at the Senior Bowl and was impressed with him down there playing. You watch his tape, the one thing I would say about guys from small schools and low level of competition, I think sometimes people over-evaluate someone because where they played in college. And this is a guy you look at his story, he weighed 195 pounds coming out of high school, was built more like a receiver. So someone obviously at Northern Iowa did a good job evaluating this guy and seeing his upside and potential. That’s what I think we did a good job as well with, and we’re going to have an opportunity to develop it. But he’s gained a lot of weight. That just shows his commitment to body and really developing over time. Some guys are late bloomers. But I know when Northern Iowa plays, whether it’s him or Spencer Brown another guys who was drafted along with other guys, those guys play tough. You watch their tape. They are a competitive team. So to me I look at a lot of lower competition, per se, quote, or smaller schools as really more of an opportunity to grow these guys as guys that really weren’t always in a program where they had great nutrition plans or maybe the top-tier strength program or assets available to them. Sometimes you get a guy from a really good program and you have to look and say, how topped out are they. They have been coached very well, had a resource at all times; what is their ceiling and how much higher can they go. A guy from a smaller school, you can say, we can really develop this guy. You know, let’s be patient with this guy, give him time, throw them in, let them compete and if they have upside, all of a sudden you really see them competing on your roster.

Media Q&A with Director of College Scouting Chris Pettit (Video):

Q. When you look at a guy like Elerson (Smith), Joe was just talking about big school, small school. Is he a little more of hey, you look at him and say, he is not what he’s going to be and you project him and just what kind of potential as a pass rusher do you see him having?

A: I think there’s a lot of potential. The biggest thing with the smaller school guys, we always start at step one, do they dominate that level. They have to dominate that level of competition to get in the conversation. And the great thing about Elerson that, again, reference the Senior Bowl again, but we got to see him on the same playing field with guys from Power Five schools and the higher levels and he fit right in. He competed his butt off and looked the part. You got to compare apples-to-apples there. That was a great venue for us. There were times when he had to play a Division I team. He played Iowa State this year, played over 90 plays in that game and competed to the last whistle and it was really impressive to see. But I think there’s big upside there, with all our players, they are going to have to come in and develop and become pros.

Media Q&A with Elerson Smith (Video):

Q: Obviously, the Giants were at the Senior Bowl and I’m curious about how much you talked to them there? Do you remember those conversations? What was your impression of the Giants when you met with them?

A: At the Senior Bowl, I just had a brief 15-minute interview just like any other team there. I didn’t really get to know them much or meet with the other coaches and people on staff until later when we had a few meetings. First impression was. obviously, I just know that the New York Giants is a great, historically great, organization. I’m excited to be able to contribute to what they have.

Q: When you arrived in Northern Iowa, you were really thin, like 215 pounds or whatever it was. Then you put on all that weight. How would you describe what this journey has been like for you going from that skinny kid to being drafted by the New York Giants, which has a pretty rich history of pass rushers obviously?

A: It’s been a process. I’ve had to take advantage of each day early on when I wasn’t getting a lot of acknowledgement or recognition. It was a process. I was just kind of working in the dark and just making sure that I was getting the most out of every day. It has been a whirlwind the past few months. I’m excited to kind of take that same approach when I get to New York – just making sure that I’m getting better everyday and not letting days get by where I’m not getting better because if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. I’m really excited to be a part of New York.

Q: Technically, you called it an opt-out from last year, but clearly, that’s not what happened until the spring anyway. What was it like to have that senior season taken away from you?

A: It’s tough because your senior season is what you look forward to, you know, for all four years really. We had a great group of guys playing together in Northern Iowa and we really had a chance to make a run for it this year. But, obviously, with Covid and everything going on, it’s not the worst thing that could have happened to me. I just tried to go with the flow and understand that it is what it was and I had no control over the season being canceled. So, I just wanted to make sure that I was making the most out of my days and continuing to work toward the Senior Bowl and our Pro Day.

Q: How important was that Senior Bowl because nobody had been able to see you on the field since December of 2019?

A: It was huge. I think at that point, it was the only film I had where I played around 260. All my other film I was around 240 or 235. I just wanted to show teams that I could play with the new weight and to show them I was working hard on my body and my game and that I am able to contribute to an NFL team at this point. It was an important week because I didn’t have the film like everyone else had from the 2020 season.

Q: Obviously, being 6’6″, you have a size advantage off the edge over a lot of tackles, but is there a pass rush move that is kind of your go-to or one that you’ve really refined and you think is your best trait?

A: I like to work moves together. I love a good bull rush. I think my get-off is what starts all my pass rush moves. I love driving offensive linemen off the jump, get their feet moving and really get them scared of my length and my get-off. From there, depending on what the offensive line is giving me, it’s going to be a bull rush or I’m going to take the edger or coming underneath. I love pass rushing, though. I have a lot of fun doing it.

Q: I just wanted to ask you – the Giants also took an edge rusher in the second round in Azeez Ojulari. Are you a little bit surprised to land in New York? How much do you know about the edge rush situation with the team?

A: I’m not surprised to land in New York. I had a decent amount of meetings with them before. The edge rush situation is something out of my hands, but I’m excited to get to know the guys. I’m excited to work with them. I’m excited to get better with them and try to make the pass rush better as a whole unit. I don’t know much about Azeez, but I’m sure he’s a great player and I’m excited to get to know him and get after it and get to work with him, too.

Q: How much football have you played in the last like five years? It seems like ’16 and ’17, you didn’t play, ’18 was limited and ’19 was a big season. Is it only two years in the last five?

A: Yes. I mean, other than practice, which I treated like those were my games because that’s what I needed to get better at, my first few years of college, I started one year. Then, I was in a reserve pass rush role my sophomore year. I just like to make the most of my opportunities and I was able to do that my junior year. I think that’s a result of me treating those first few years like those were playing seasons for me or preparing for every game throughout those seasons, so I was ready at that point.

Q: I noticed you blocked two kicks. Are we talking about placekicks and you’re coming up the middle, I assume?

A: Yup. Just right on the ball, getting off and driving through the back.

Q: You’re being drafted as a pass rusher here, but have any teams asked you to play tight end or told you that they would like you to? I know you’re such a well-rounded athlete. You did it in high school. Is that something the Giants and other teams talked to you about?

A: No, not the Giants. I heard a joke about it, but no serious talk about me playing tight end.

Q: When the season was cancelled, I think you entered the transfer portal but then pulled your name out. What were those couple weeks like and what was that specific decision like for you? How did it go and how did you come to the decision to not transfer and not play?

A: Honestly, that was one of those things that were out of my hands again. I entered the transfer portal a few days after our season got cancelled because I thought it would be best for me to be able to boost my stock at a bigger school or maybe just find somewhere to play because I knew I wanted to enter this draft. After the FCS season, I entered the transfer portal and was talking to some schools. I had some schools in mind, but then the FBS cancelled, or postponed their season for that brief little stint there – a brief few weeks a day after I was into it – so, at that point everything was so up in the air. I was like, ‘I’m just going to declare and start training for the Pro Day and Senior Bowl.’ That’s kind of how it happened.

Q: I know you’re from the Minneapolis area. Do you know Carter Coughlin at all? I know you grew up near each other.

A: I actually don’t, not personally. I played against him in high school, football and basketball. I know he’s a great athlete. I know he did great things at the University of Minnesota and I’m excited to get to know him in New York.

Q: You probably posted him up pretty good in basketball.

A: I wasn’t very good at basketball. I was a wrestler most of my life. I played basketball a little bit later, even though it’s funny because I’m 6’6″, I’m not a basketball player.

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6th Round – RB Gary Brightwell, 5’11”, 218lbs, 4.62, University of Arizona

Scouting Report: Brightwell is a big, physical, no-nonsense, downhill runner with good speed and acceleration for his size. He is not a particularly creative running back, being more of a one-speed, one-cut slasher. His biggest negative is ball security. He needs to protect the football better.

Sy’56’s Take: Sizeable slasher that can put his foot in the ground a burst upfield. Will push defenders back on contact, shows decent late wiggle. Hard nosed kid that will get yards after contact. Has fumble issues, mechanical.

Media Q&A with General Manager Dave Gettleman (Video):

With the first sixth round pick, we took a running back out of Arizona, Gary Brightwell. He’s a big kid and he’s got a heavy body, he’s a heavy body runner, he’s in the 215, 220 range and he really is a quality special teams player. So he’s got dual value.

Media Q&A with Head Coach Joe Judge (Video):

Q: Gary Brightwell sounded like you talking about special teams and all the hidden yards and importance of it. What did you like about him in those roles while he was in college?

A: He’s a guy that definitely jumped out. A few weeks back, me, Tom Quinn and Thomas McGaughey were sitting in the staff room on a Saturday about 5:30am in the morning and Tom Quinn brought his name up and we watched his kick game and this dude was flying down the field and it was early enough that it woke you up and you really got excited about watching him. You start watching a lot more of his offense and start talking with our scouts who have done a lot of research on him and talking to Burton (Burns) as far as the running back value. Look, he’s a guy that jumps out from his skill set. You are always looking for good versatility and depth at those positions, running back and the kicking game. To be honest with you, the opportunity I had to really speak with him and spend some time with him even though it was over Zoom with Gary was very, very impressive. He has an tremendous story. This dude had the utmost compliments given to him from everyone who has been around him at every level. He was the guy that was available at the time and he was a guy we guy we could bring on on our roster and compete to be on the roster and make us a better team.

Media Q&A with Director of College Scouting Chris Pettit (Video):

Q. And then one guy that wasn’t at the Senior Bowl that you picked was Gary Brightwell who was a little more under the radar. Joe talked about how impressed he was with the special teams tape. Was that something that stood out to you?

A: Yeah, absolutely. Especially, one of our special teams coaches, Tom Quinn, ran into me one day in the hall and said he really saw some good traits in him. So we threw on the tape. Also as a runner, this guy will help us as a running back, as well. He’s competitive. He’s tough. He’s got good hands. Good athlete. So yeah I’m looking forward to seeing him run and also contribute on teams.

Media Q&A with Gary Brightwell (Video):

Q: What does this moment mean for you to get drafted by the Giants and considering your journey here and everything you’ve been through? What does it mean to get picked by them?

A: This moment is special for me. My family grew up as Giants fans, so I mean this is everything I dreamed of.

Q: So does that mean you’re a Tiki Barber guy? Who was your favorite running back growing up?

A: Tiki Barber was my favorite running back.

Q: Tell us about your game, Gary. What are you going to bring to the team?

A: I’m excited to bring some special teams to the field. I’m going to bring a lot of explosive plays, but my priority right now is getting the playbook, getting on special teams and dominating.

Q: Did you talk to [Head] Coach [Joe] Judge about that already? He’s a pretty big special teams guy.

A: Nah, that’s my thing. That’s been my thing since high school. I’ve been a special teams guy.

Q: What do you like about that?

A: I feel like special teams starts the game and also finish it. Special teams has all the hidden yards. I mean, you need special teams to dominate.

Q: How can your parents be Giants fans when you’re from Chester?

A: I don’t know. I mean, my parents are not Giants fans. My mom is an Eagles fan, but obviously she’s got to be one (Giants fan) now. And my uncles and aunts are Giants fans.

Q: You didn’t get a chance to play a lot because of Covid. Is that good or bad or what?

A: I mean, it could be good or bad, but to me I think it worked out just right. I’m a Giant.

Q: How much did the Giants talk to you about special teams and how do you show them? How does the draft process go about in providing to them that you can do special teams and showing them?

A: I mean, we didn’t really talk about special teams. We broke the film down and we mentioned special teams, but honestly special teams impacts me. I like to be the guy that starts the game off like on kickoff at Arizona. Unfortunately, I couldn’t play it last year as much as I wanted to, but I feel like special teams starts the game. Without special teams, it could be a win or lose situation. It’s the hidden yards.

Q: What units did you play on at Arizona?

A: So last year, I got to play punt pro [protection] and I also played kick return because I was the starter last year. But years before, I played everything.

Q: Just your thoughts on being in the running back room with [Running Back] Saquon [Barkley].

A: Honestly, my thoughts about it is I get to play behind a guy who’s very competitive. I’m going to make him work and for sure he’s going to make me work, but I just can’t wait to see how he approaches the day because I know some guys have different ways. And he can help me a lot, honestly. I mean, he’s been there for a few years now, so he can help me a lot. He knows secrets that I might not know right now, so I want to learn from this guy.

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6th Round – CB Rodarius Williams, 6’0”, 189lbs, 4.53, Oklahoma State University

Scouting Report: Williams has good size for a corner and has experience in both press and off coverage. He is a competitor who plays a physical game. Williams lacks ideal speed and quickness but he is instinctive in coverage. He breaks up a lot of passes.

Sy’56’s Take: Smart and instinctive. Supports the run and knows how to play physical in coverage without getting flagged. Plays faster than he times because of knowledge, feel, and reaction twitch.

Media Q&A with General Manager Dave Gettleman (Video):

Then our last pick was Rodarius Williams out of Oklahoma State. We had a solid value on him on the board. He’s athletic. He’s fast. He can carry the vertical. He plays our style. He’s a press corner and we were just very pleased to see him there.

Media Q&A with Head Coach Joe Judge (Video):

Q: In regard to the secondary and specifically, Rodarius Williams and Aaron Robinson, how much adding guys like that change what you guys can do schematically and coverage-wise?

A: Look, we are always looking for different skill sets that create versatility within our defensive schemes and look ultimately throughout the draft and free agency you’re looking for the best players available. We happened to go through the Draft and we had the opportunity to add two good corners, coming to compete with our current roster. We’ll see when they get here how it shakes out. I tell the guys all the time, truest thing I can say, it doesn’t matter how you get here; it’s what you do when you are here. We are excited to get these guys here and at the same time excited to work with everyone on our current roster, and again, look, our goal is to make every position as competitive as can be and that’s when you really get the best out of your team.

Media Q&A with Director of College Scouting Chris Pettit (Video):

Q. Rodarius Williams is going to be 25 in September. Some teams are drafting guys who are 20. How old — how do you look at age in the draft process? Is there a number that’s too old? Is there a number that’s too young? Are you aware if a guy is 22 versus 23? Do you know that number off the top of your head? How do you see age?

A: I mean, I think it’s a piece of the puzzle like every measurable is or every skill is. Obviously it didn’t affect us, his age and why we took him. You know, it’s case-by-case basis when it comes to the age to be honest with you. But no, I mean, actually he’s more mature. We don’t have to — some of these guys that are coming in, maybe don’t have the life skills being younger players, really straight out of high school almost. But no, it’s part of the puzzle like everything else, like I said, every measurable, every skill.

Media Q&A with Rodarius Williams (Video):

Q: Hey Rodarius, congratulations. So you’re actually Greedy Williams older brother, but he got to the NFL two years first.

A: Yes sir.

Q: What’s that like when you’re the older brother and he’s there first? Are you thirsty to get there? Now, what’s that moment like?

A: It’s just a humbling moment, man. Everything that he felt on his day, I feel. I’m just ready to get in and get the work done.

Q: What has he told you about NFL life?

A: Stay healthy, stay on top of things and don’t get in any trouble.

Q: Hey Rodarius, congratulations. Can you describe your game a little bit? And also, a lot of guys down at the lower part of the draft have a lot of special teams value. Are you one of those kinds of guys?

A: I wasn’t a big special teamer, but I did play special teams. I’m coming from a four-year starting experience, so whatever needs be I’ll adjust. Whatever you guys need of me is what I’m going to do.

Q: What kind of player are you? How would you describe yourself? Obviously, you’re very durable. You play all the time.

A: I’d say durable like you mentioned and definitely high confidence in myself. I believe that I will go down as one of the greats.

Q: Hey Rodarius, congratulations man. You’re 24 years old if I read correctly. That’s usually on the older side, so I’m wondering what that was like throughout the process and how much teams harped on that or you heard that or you had to fight that perception of, ‘Hey, you’re already old or older,’ I should say.

A: I’ve never had any run-ins or anything as far as things like that. My coaches used to tell me, if you could play, you could play, regardless of age. Teams definitely can see my durability. I don’t miss too many games. I don’t miss too many practices. I’m a guy that’s going to show up to work.

Q: Hey Rodarius, did you speak with the Giants at the Senior Bowl and what was your impression of them when you had conversations with them?

A: Oh we had a great talk. They were one of the teams that showed a lot of interest in me when we had meetings and stuff like that, drawing up plays and stuff like that. I was just showing them my knowledge of the game. They really took a lot of interest in me and I’m just – I’m not really shocked that you guys picked me. I kind of had expectations to go to the Giants leading up to the Draft.

Q: Yeah, so I was going to say, when you left your meetings with the Giants, did you say in your head, ‘I think this team might try and draft me’? Was that in your head right away?

A: Yes, most definitely. I was like, ‘This is going to be one of the teams that definitely gives me a call.

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Rookie Free Agent Scouting Reports

OC/OG Brett Heggie, 6’4”, 310lbs, 5.50, University of Florida (Video)
Heggie was a 3-year starter in college with experience at center and both guard spots. He lacks ideal power and athleticism for the NFL, but he is a smart, tough, feisty blue-collar lineman.

OT Jake Burton, 6’5”, 315lbs, 5.35, Baylor University
Burton is UCLA transfer. He has good size, but lacks ideal overall athleticism/foot quickness. Burton is physical and plays hard.

DE/LB Raymond Johnson, 6’3”, 270lbs, 4.73, Georgia Southern University (Video)
Johnson played at defensive end in college but could project to edge linebacker for the Giants. He combines good size and overall athleticism. Johnson plays low with good leverage and initial quickness. He is physical and plays hard.

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Eric’s Take on the 2021 Draft

The 2021 NFL Draft was a wild ride for New York Giants fans conditioned to the usually staid approach of the conservative franchise. I repeatedly warned fans before and during the early stages of the 1st round that New York’s obvious interest in the two Alabama receivers was going to cause another team to jump ahead of the Giants. Many Giants fans had become invested in these two players because the belief that Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith were 1a and 1b (or visa versa) on the team’s wish list, assuming tight end Kyle Pitts, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, and offensive tackle Penei Sewell were gone. Pitts went 4th, Chase 5th, Waddle 6th, and Sewell 7th. Giants fans became justifiably nervous. There were still three more selections before the Giants’ pick at #11. The two top corners went next, raising hopes with only one pick to go. However, the Dallas Cowboys lost their shot at Patrick Surtain and Jaycee Horn, and were now willing to trade down. They did. With the annoying Philadelphia Eagles, who most likely stole Smith from the Giants. Fans were pissed. Once again another team traded ahead of the Giants to take a player everyone knew they liked. And this time it was the fucking Eagles! It seemed like the entire draft was already disaster for the Giants.

Who would the team pick? Many fans had been lobbying for offensive lineman Rashawn Slater and linebacker Micah Parsons. There were rumors the Giants might select defensive lineman Kwity Paye or offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker. Arguments could have been made for each of these players, but the trade up by the Eagles seemed to take the luster off of any consolation prize.

Then all of the sudden, word came the Giants traded down. What? Dave Gettleman never trades down. And his predecessor didn’t either. And nine spots?!! All the way to the 20th pick?!! That’s a big drop. What did they get in return? It had better be good! It was. They got a 5th round pick in this draft and a #1 and #4 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Life was good again. Giants fans celebrated.

But who to pick at #20? The obvious blue chippers were long gone. So were Parsons, Slater, and Vera-Tucker. No other offensive lineman seemed worthy of the pick. Kwity Paye or linebacker Azeez Ojulari seemed like obvious options. But lurking in the back of my mind were two considerations: (1) this was widely regarded as a very deep draft at wide receiver, and (2) this was widely regarded as a not-so-impressive draft for edge pass rushers. Might the Giants look at Rashod Bateman? The Giants surprised most when they took wide receiver Kadarius Toney with the 20th overall selection.

It’s not that Toney wasn’t viewed as a 1st-round pick. He was. Urban Meyer has already said the Giants broke his heart because the Jaguars intended to draft him at #25. Toney’s “issues” fall into two categories: (1) some off-the field incidents related to guns and his interest in pursuing a music career, and (2) whether a “gadget” player – no matter how good – was worthy of a 1st-round investment. Many felt that with Joe Judge’s obsession with team culture, combined with the fiasco with cornerback Deandre Baker, would cause New York to not even consider Toney. Right or wrong, the team is clearly not overly concerned with Toney’s “character.” They met with him at the Senior Bowl and came away impressed.

The second “issue” is more of my own personal baggage. I’m still a bit of a mental prisoner to old-fashioned football. When you draft a wideout in the 1st round, I have held the belief that the guy has to start at the X or Z (outside) positions. A slot guy? Used much more in 2021 than 1991, but he had better be damned good! And a “gadget” player? Forget about it. A 1st-rounder on a player who may get 10 snaps a game?! Not a good investment.

This is where the game has changed. Depth charts mean less and less with each passing day, both on offense and defense. Not just because of who actually receives more snaps but also because “traditional” formations (i.e., one running back, one fullback, one tight end, two wide receivers) no longer apply. What matters is this: can Judge, Jason Garrett, and Freddie Kitchens figure out a way to best use Toney in combination with Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, Evan Engram, and Saquon Barkley? Because Toney needs to touch the football. But so do the other five players. Beyond 2021, one could see Toney replacing Shepard in the slot given Shepard’s contract vis a vis performance to date.

So what do the Giants have in Toney? He has average size (6’0”, 193 pounds) and doesn’t seem to play as fast as he times (sub-4.4). But the guy is the very definition of a “make-you-miss” player. Toney plays bigger than his size, has the toughness of a running back, and miraculously gets away from tacklers on a consistent basis. His balance and run-after-the-catch ability are jaw dropping. Again, it’s not him running away from people the way Waddle does, but the way he jukes and contorts himself to avoid defenders. Some draft pundits questioned his hands, but he only had three dropped passes during his entire career at Florida. Many say he needs to work on the mental aspects of the game – reading defenses, route running. Those are not insignificant concerns, and if he is going to be a “regular” wide receiver, he will have get better at both. To justify this selection, Toney has to play more than a few snaps per game. It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff game plans for him. He can be used outside, in the slot, out of the backfield, on jet sweeps, on bubble screens, etc. A former high school quarterback, he can (and has) even throw the football on trick plays. Toney should also be strongly considered in the return game.

So scratch one need off of the wish list. It might not have been Waddle or Smith, but the Giants drafted a play-making wide receiver in the 1st round. Onto the other apparent needs – outside pass rushers and offensive linemen.

Day two arrives with the Giants picking 10th in the second round. Things appear to go New York’s way as three defensive backs, two defensive tackles, one wide receiver, one running back, and only two offensive linemen go in the first nine picks. The only “oh crap” moment comes when the Eagles draft center Landon Dickerson (who could also project to guard). Fucking Eagles. None of the edge rushers went. Giants are going to draft Ojulari, right?! What?! Another trade down?! What’s going on?! This is both exciting but also nerve-wracking. I want Ojulari and now we are going to lose him. What did we get in return for dropping down eight spots? Miami’s 3rd rounder in 2022. Not bad. Not great, but not bad. All of the sudden, we’ve added an additional #1, #3, and #4 in next year’s deeper and better-researched draft. That’s cool. But I wanted Ojulari.

Four more offensive linemen go. So if the Giants wanted to go that route, forget about it in round two. The run on that position started before #18. Three more defensive backs and another wideout. No big loss. Holy crap! Ojulari is still there. Something about concerns about a degenerative knee condition? If the Giants doctors are OK with it, I am. Draft him! They do. Now, I’m really happy. Ojulari is a guy who I thought would go in the 1st round was the best fit for what the Giants needed – a true 3-4-type pass rushing outside linebacker. If you told me the Giants would get him with the 50th overall selection, I would have laughed at you. Ojulari has to refine additional pass rush moves, but the one he is a master of is damn good… his initial get off, hand slap, bend, and closing burst is very difficult for offensive tackles to handle. The major question on him is can he become a consistent pass-rush presence against big NFL tackles with quick feet. If he can, the Giants addressed a major need.

Round 3. Have to go offensive line, right? Not so fast. There have been whispers for weeks that the Giants don’t think their line is the train wreck. Do they want to add talent at the position? Yes. But they are not going to force the pick. The Giants still could use help at RB, DT, another edge rusher, linebacker, and maybe even in the secondary where they are one injury away from being in trouble. The League and the NFC East is loaded with good receivers. The Giants could use another corner. Aaron Robinson, who was supposed to be long gone, is still here. However, the other three teams in NFC East pick right before the Giants. Dallas and Philly still need help at corner. Wait?! What’s this?! Trader Dave Gettlemen is moving ahead of all three NFC East teams, giving up his newly-acquired 5th rounder, to select Robinson! What the hell is going on!? We learn later that the Eagles are damned pissed off they missed out on someone here. Revenge!

Robinson is a stud. He can play slot corner if Darnay Holmes remains too grabby or gets hurt. He and Holmes can both play slot corner if teams go four wide. He can also play outside. Robinson is an athlete, but he’s also a cocky son-of-a-bitch who hates the guy lining up over his head. Giants fans will love him. Fans of other teams will hate him. A strong New York secondary just became stronger. Isaac Yiadom is less likely to see the field.

Day three. Rounds 4-7 but the Giants only have three picks…one 4th rounder and two 6th rounders. Have to address the offensive line today, right? Nope. Giants go defense again, selecting edge rusher Elerson Smith, who didn’t play in 2020 because his team didn’t play due to COVID. Smith has an unusual build, very tall (6’6”) and lanky. He’s listed in the 260-pound range but looks too thin (similar in build to Jason Taylor of the Dolphins many years ago). However, he is another guy with a good initial quickness, bend, and closing burst. The Giants didn’t need one edge rusher, they needed two. Hopefully the got them in Ojulari and Smith. The competition for a roster spot and playing time will be fierce with Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Ryan Anderson, Cam Brown, and Carter Coughlin. Carter and Ximines – the opening day starters who missed most of the season due to significant injuries – are definitely on the hot seat.

About 80 more players went off the board before New York picked again in the 6th round. The Giants take a running back, addressing a big depth need, but not a name that was expected. However, Judge makes it clear that Gary Brightwell was a special teams stud in college so the pick makes sense. He’s also an ascending player who was just beginning to receive more playing time but Arizona’s schedule was abbreviated to five games. He’s a no-nonsense, big back with some wiggle to his game, however he has to stop fumbling. Brightwell has a great shot to make the team because there isn’t much behind Barkley and Devontae Booker.

The last pick was a pure value pick. Rodarius Williams was supposed to be long gone. I’ve seen talk in The Forum that the soon-to-be 25-year old won’t be around a long time, so don’t worry about his age. I will tell you what, Williams is the kind of guy who could have a long NFL career. He’s another physical, aggressive corner who plays with a chip on his shoulder. I feel 100 percent better about our corner situation with both Robinson and Williams at the position. Knock on wood, but the Giants may have the best secondary in the NFL.

Summary: A few months ago, I whined (yes, literally whined) about how bad this roster was, especially on the offensive side of the ball. In a few months, the Giants have added:

  • Two new back-ups behind Saquon Barkley (Devontae Booker and Gary Brightwell).
  • Three new wide receivers (Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, and John Ross).
  • One new tight end (Kyle Rudolph)
  • Two new offensive linemen (Zach Fulton and Jonotthan Harrison)
  • A new nose tackle to help ameliorate the loss of Dalvin Tomlinson (Danny Shelton)
  • Four new edge players (Azeez Ojulari, Elerson Smith, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Ryan Anderson)
  • A new inside linebacker (Reggie Ragland)
  • Three new corners (Adoree’ Jackson, Aaron Robinson, Rodarius Williams)

Holy shit. I always tell you guys that teams can only do so much in one offseason. Somehow the Giants crammed two offseasons into one, and also picked up an extra #1, #3, and #4 for next year’s draft.

The glaring omission? The offensive line. Gettleman said they were considering offensive line in the draft but they went before the team selected. So they do want to add more help there. But both Gettleman and Judge publicly say they are not as worried about the position as others. PR? Blind optimism? Or just maybe justifiable confidence? We shall see. The Giants do appear to have two starters at tackle with vet insurance (Andrew Thomas, Matt Peart, Nate Solder). They also seem to be set at center with Nick Gates and former starter Harrison. Guard is more of a question mark. The Giants signed veteran Fulton to compete with Will Hernandez and surprise starter Shane Lemieux. Kyle Murphy also quietly lurks in the wings.

My only other “wish list” position not addressed was defensive tackle, but the Giants are in decent shape with Shelton and Austin Johnson. In a crunch, Dexter Lawrence could also handle the position.

Overall, you have to hand it to the Giants. They have completely remade this roster in just a few months.

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Apr 292021
 
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Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (September 3, 2020)

Saquon Barkley – © USA TODAY Sports

GIANTS PICK UP 5th-YEAR OPTION ON SAQUAN BARKLEY…
The New York Giants have announced that they have picked up the 5th-year option on running back Saquon Barkley’s rookie contract. Barkley is now signed through the 2022 season. The NFL deadline for exercising the 5-year option is May 3rd.

Barkley’s initial rookie deal signed after he was drafted in 2018 was a 4-year, $31 million contract. He will now also earn $7.217 million in guaranteed salary in 2022.

The Giants placed Barkley on Injured Reserve in late September 2020 after he tore the ACL, partially tore the meniscus, and sprained the MCL in his right knee in Week 2. He finished the season with 19 carries for 34 yards (1.8 yards per carry) and six catches for 60 yards.

The Giants drafted Barkley with the #2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He became only the third rookie in NFL history to accrue 2,000 yards from scrimmage and breaking a number of franchise records. He also was voted to the Pro Bowl and named “Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year”, “FedEx Ground NFL Player of the Year”, “Pro Football Writers of America Offensive Rookie of the Year”, and “Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year.” Barkley started all 16 games, rushing 261 times for 1,307 yards (5.0 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns. He also caught 91 passes for 721 yards and four touchdowns. Overall, Barkley led the NFL with 2,028 yards from scrimmage. Barkley also led the NFL with seven 40+ yard runs and six 50+ yard runs. The latter figure is the highest single-season total by a Giants player since the 1970 merger. 

After that stellar rookie season, Barkley endured a forgettable sophomore season as a pro. The high ankle sprain that he suffered in Week 3 nagged him much of the remainder of the season. Playing soft and tentative at times, Barkley did not show signs of his old self until December. Nevertheless, Barkley still rushed 217 times for 1,003 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and six touchdowns. He also caught 52 passes for 438 yards and two touchdowns. 

2021 NFL DRAFT BEGINS THURSDAY…
The 3-day 2021 NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 29th:

  • 1st Round: Thursday, April 29th (starts at 8:00PM)
  • 2nd-3rd Rounds: Friday, April 30th (starts at 7:00PM)
  • 4th-7th Rounds: Saturday, May 1st (starts at noon)

The Giants currently have six picks in the 7-round draft, including:

  • 1st round (11th pick, 11th overall)
  • 2nd round (10th pick, 42nd overall)
  • 3rd round (12th pick, 76th overall)
  • 4th round (11th pick, 116th overall)
  • 6th round (12th pick, 196th overall)
  • 6th round (17th pick, 201st overall)

 

Apr 262021
 
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Trevor Lawrence, Clemson Tigers (January 1, 2021)

Trevor Lawrence – © USA TODAY Sports

QUARTERBACKS

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number means, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 10, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 11-20 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

Daniel Jones is entering the vital third year. Personally, I view the third year as THE deciding season when it comes to building the franchise. No gray area. After the third year, you decide if this is the guy you are going to extend and build around or start looking elsewhere for the next guy. Is it a black and white situation? No. Of course, he could stink in year three and succeed in year four because “anything can happen.” However, I feel the decision makers need to stay out of the gray area with a quarterback in which they drafted. After three years, he is your guy or not. Jones has had several moments that make me think he can be the guy. He also has had several moments that make me think NYG will be moving on at the end of his rookie contract. The inconsistency has been maddening, but he deserves some slack here because the supporting cast has been among the worst in football. Look around the league and you will have a hard time finding 5 offenses with a worse combination of talent at the skill and line positions together. 2021 is all about Jones and what he can do with an improved arsenal and line (which will likely get stronger over draft weekend).

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection

85+: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away

79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter

77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter

71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter

68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy

65-67: Preferred UDFA

60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 10 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1. Trevor Lawrence / Clemson / 6’6-213

Grade: 95

Summary: Junior entry from Cartersville, Georgia. Three-year starter that earned postseason ACC honors all three seasons. He finished 2nd Team All ACC and won the conference rookie of the year award in 2018 before finishing 1st Team All ACC in both 2019 and 2020. Lawrence was also a 3rd Team All American in 2020 and Heisman finalist. The former #1 high school recruit certainly delivered, winning a National Championship as a true freshman and making it back to the big game in 2019. Lawrence has been destined for the #1 pick in the draft for years. He checks all the boxes when it comes to both the on and off field requirements of a franchise QB. His arm talent and precision are top tier, he is an outstanding athlete, and he is a sound decision maker. His slow heartbeat and confident aura will elevate those around him from day one. He is one of the few that will enter the league with legitimate All-Pro expectations.

*I really think Lawrence could have come out after the 2018 season and been the first pick. This kid is a pure gamer in every sense of the word. Yes, his tools are top notch (passing and rushing), his intelligence is top notch, his approach is top notch. However, what do I like most? He brings his level of play to another level when it matters most. I respect that in a quarterback more than anything. It is a rare trait, and it is even more rare that these intangibles are attached to such a talent-filled player. The fluff about him not loving the game is complete nonsense and was created by low level humans that work in the media. Not even going to address that.

2. Justin Fields / Ohio State / 6’3-227

Grade: 83

Summary: Junior entry from Kennesaw, Georgia. Spent one season at Georgia, playing in a 1A/1B situation at quarterback with Jake Fromm, although he played lesser snaps by a wide margin. Two-year starter for Ohio State. Won the Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year Award both seasons and was a 2nd Team All American in 2019. Fields made it all the way to the National Championship in 2020 but came up short to Alabama. Fields remains an enigma. He is clearly talented enough on multiple levels to be a big-time pro. He has a tremendous arm, he is one of the best athletes at the position to ever come out, and he plays with a slow heartbeat that exudes confidence. He had multiple games over his final month that created questions about his ability to quickly process information in order to avoid mistakes. He is an ideal fit for redshirt year in the NFL because if he mentally catches up to where he is physically, he can be a Pro Bowler.

*I never even thought about placing Fields in the Lawrence-tier. However, I have had him at since the process began and never really came close to changing it. I like Fields the way I liked Dak Prescott coming out. His running is an asset to his passing game and it will score touchdowns, but he isn’t overly dependent on his legs. He can make every throw, he can change speeds and loft, and can make plays that are off-schedule. The reason I don’t have him higher? His low points (against NFL-style defenses) were really ugly. I don’t expect every young QB to go an entire college career without making mistakes, that isn’t realistic. But when defenses got complex with him, he didn’t respond well. I think he is a great fit for a team that won’t depend on him right away. I would love him in SF, maybe CAR.

3. Zach Wilson / BYU / 6’2-214

Grade: 81

Summary: Junior entry from Draper, Utah. Three-year starter that showed flashes in both 2018 and 2019, but truly broke on to the national scene in 2020 as he led BYU to an 11-1 record. Wilson is a new age quarterback that is becoming increasingly popular. He lacks traditional drop back and throwing mechanics, but he has the ability to make off-schedule throws with different arm angles appear natural and easy. He goes against the grain but was woefully accurate and rarely turned the ball over. With that said, he was 2-4 against top 25 teams and didn’t exactly play against the best college football had to offer. He is going to be a boom or bust, one that really only had one very strong season in a year where Covid-19 impacted a lot of it. He is best suited for a year of backup duty before being given the keys to the bus.

*From day one of watching Wilson, the name Tony Romo has always popped into my head. That is who I think he can be. He has a ton of arm talent that revolves around accuracy and innovation more so than power. That is more important. Wilson has the kind of game that can be really frustrating to play against, but also play with. There is a bit too much “backyard football” in his game that I’m not sure will work in the NFL. For every Mahomes, there are going to be a handful that try to be Mahomes and come up short when it comes to being creative and off schedule. Last thing I love about Wilson is the on-field toughness. He will take hit after hit after hit and remain tall. Is he tough enough to handle a New York market? That will be the biggest concern for me. He hasn’t exactly faced a lot of off-field adversity in his life.

4. Mac Jones / Alabama / 6’3-217

Grade: 81

Summary: Redshirt junior entry from Jacksonville, Florida. One-year starter that also started 4 games the year prior when Tua Tagovailoa went down with a season ending hip injury. Jones could not have put in a better performance in 2020, earning 1st Team All American and All SEC honors in addition to winning the Davey O’Brien Award. He set an FBS single season record with a 77.4% completion percentage. While Jones doesn’t have a ton pf starting experience in college, it is hard to argue against what he accomplished. He has tremendous accuracy on all levels and is far more advanced when it comes to anticipation and throwing his targets open when comparing him to most college quarterbacks. Jones lacks the ideal body type and playing strength and shows issues against pressure at times. Ideally, he would have another year of starting experience to look back on, but he doesn’t and whoever drafts him will have to take on that risk.

*There are a ton of varying opinions on Jones. You can’t overlook what he did in 2020, as it was one of the more impressive seasons from a QB in my lifetime. However, you have to take into account he was playing with more talent than everybody else and there weren’t a lot of tight-window throws. I don’t want to discount him just because of that, as Joe Burrow was in a similar spot in 2019. Jones’ footwork, intelligence, and accuracy are big time traits. He will fit into a pro offense right away and could start year 1 without a hitch. The upside is where I lose it a bit with him. He will be solid, but I don’t ever see him being great.

5. Trey Lance / North Dakota State / 6’4-224

Grade: 79

Summary: Third year sophomore Marshall, Minnesota. One-year starter that lost nearly the entire 2020 season to the Covid-19 pandemic, as North Dakota State played in just one game. In his one season as a starter, Lance won the Walter Payton Award (top player in FCS), the Jerry Rice Award (top FCS freshman), and the Missouri Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year Award. He led the Bison to a National Championship while going the entire year without throwing an interception. Lance is the definition of a risky draft pick. He lacks starting experience, and he didn’t have to throw the ball a ton. There is so much unknown here, but nobody can argue against what he actually put out there when on the field. Lance has an ideal blend of tools and showed really good intelligence. He is advanced on multiple ball handling tactics and his footwork looks natural and easy. Lance has the upside to be one of the best players in this class and he plays the ultimate position. The question will be just how big of a learning and adjustment curve will it be for him, coming from FCS and playing in just one game since the end of the 2019 season.

*Lance is going in the top 10, I think. I won’t dismiss it or “criticize” that at all. This has been such a unique year when it comes to the college football season and scouting process. With the information had (mostly tape), this is the conclusion I came up with. Lance is a really attractive prospect that has a lot of tools. But a QB that played this-little in college, at a lower level mind you, would scare the crap out of me if I am taking him to lead my franchise. Now, a team like SF has extra access to the guy that trained him over the past month and there were multiple Pro Days. Lance has attractive tape on multiple levels, I just didn’t see enough. Highest risk-reward ratio of all the QBs in the draft by far.

6. Davis Mills / Stanford / 6’4-217

Grade: 78

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Duluth, Georgia. Two-year starter that first earned a starting role after KJ Costello got injured in 2019. Honorable Mention All-Pac 12 honors in 2020. Mills was a former top-shelf recruit, but his career never quite took off. Much of his status and grade still depend on projection rather than on field performance. While he does check a lot of boxes when it comes to arm talent and mechanics, he simply didn’t show enough in his 11 starts, a woefully low number. He will be a backup for at least a year or two, however there is an intriguing skill set here.

*I’ll tell you what. If I am a QB-needy team and miss out on the top 4 guys on this list, I would rather wait until day 2 for Mills than use a day 1 pick on Lance. I know Lance has more upside, but I see a pro in Mills. He is really clean. The issue with him, like Lance, is a lack of experience. The Covid situation really hurt him, and I was surprised he left Stanford, because had he gone back to school, he could have been QB1 in next year’s crop. Someone like WAS or CHI can get really solid value here.

7. Kyle Trask / Florida / 6’5-236

Grade: 77

Summary: Fifth year senior from Manvel, Texas. Two-year starter that was actually a backup in high school to current Miami Hurricanes quarterback D’Eriq King. Trask took over starting duties after the injury to Feleipe Franks and never looked back. He finished his career strong, setting a school record with 43 passing touchdowns while earning 1st Team All SEC honors and ending up a Heisman finalist. Trask started off the year red hot but fizzled out a bit later. This is a classic pocket passer with tremendous size and arm talent. While he isn’t the best athlete, he performs well enough on the move and can maintain good presence against contact. Trask won’t be in the first tier of quarterbacks that go in the top half of round 1, but he brings similar upside as a couple of them.

*I think the NFL is going to like Trask a bit more than what you are probably seeing in media coverage. I bet he goes ahead of Mills and maybe even toward the top of round 2. He has big time size and arm talent. Remember early in the season, he was heading toward the Heisman and some were talking about him as a 1st rounder. He didn’t keep it together all season, but you still have to be impressed with how he played. For some reason I see him going to WAS and sitting for a year.

8. Kellen Mond / Texas A& M / 6’3-211

Grade: 72

Summary: Senior entry from San Antonio, Texas. Four-year starter that won Team MVP honors in 2018 and 2019. The former top dual threat recruit vastly improved over his career. He really came a long way and ended his career leading the Aggies to a 10-1 record. Mond is an outstanding athlete for the position but he understands how to use it as a backup option, not his primary one. His arm talent is better than what he shows, as he will too often try to dart his passes rather than throw them. It is a less than ideal release that gets too long at times. Mond can be a solid backup in the league that will bring a different kind of element should he ever get in the game. His ability as a passer is limited, but it is good enough too and is somewhat balanced out by his athleticism.

*I don’t see Mond ever being THE guy, but I do like him as a backup. There is such a thing to have a quarterback desired for backup duty more than a quarterback that has a (small) shot at evolving into a starter. I like backups that have some athletic ability, but not at the expense of arm talent. Mond has limitations when it comes down to what you can do with him play to play, drive to drive, week to week. However, he can provide a spark plug that others can’t because of his twitch, speed, and ability to play off schedule. Interesting name here.

9. Ian Book / Notre Dame / 6’0-211

Grade: 71

Summary: Fifth year senior from El Dorado Hills, California. Three-year starter that earned 3rd Team All ACC honors in 2020. Book left the storied Notre Dame program as the all-time leader in quarterback wins with 35. The two-time team captain is a dream come true for quarterback coaches when it comes to work ethic and leadership. Book’s talent and overall upside won’t turn a lot of heads, but his intangibles will. He is an ideal fit for a backup role because of what he can offer to the quarterback room in meetings and practice. He may be able to stick as a sought-after backup for a long time in this league.

*Some teams look for intangibles and intelligence more than physical traits when trying to find backup quarterbacks. After all, their contributions in practice, meetings, and game planning are as important as the possible few snaps they see the field. Book may be a future coach and a team may bring him in earlier than where I have him for that reason.

10. Shane Buechele / SMU / 6’0-210

Grade: 69

Summary: Fifth year senior from Arlington, Texas. Began his career at Texas where he started for two seasons before getting injured and losing his job to Sam Ehlinger. He then transferred to SMU where he started two more years, one of which he earned 1st Team All AAC honors. Buechele re-wrote the single season passing record book at SMU in 2019. While his 2020 didn’t quite reach that level, he continued to show his top tier short and intermediate accuracy. He lacks the ideal tools of a starting quarterback across the board, but there will be a spot for him on a depth chart somewhere. He is a smart and experienced passer that truly maximizes what he brings to the table.

*If there is one QB that simply lacks the tools I want in a QB, but I could see coming out of nowhere to land a starting job, it is Buechele. He is a really good thrower of the ball, really accurate, and processes information quickly. He will have a big jump in complexity of offense to learn from SMU to the NFL, but nobody is ever going to question his capability there. There has been something about him throughout the entire process that I can’t shake. I have a feeling about him far outplaying his draft grade.

11. Feleipe Franks / Arkansas / 6’7-234: 69

12. Jamie Newman / Georgia / 6’3-235: 68

13. Zach Smith / Tulsa / 6’3-222: 68

14. Peyton Ramsey / Northwestern /6’2-215: 67

15. Sam Ehlinger / Texas / 6’1-220: 67

16. KJ Costello / Mississippi State / 6’5-225: 66

17. Brady White / Memphis / 6’3-210: 66

18. Brady Davis / Illinois State / 6’4-210: 65

19. Zac Thomas / Appalachian State / 6’1-210: 64

20. Collin Hill / South Carolina / 6’4-213: 63

NYG APPROACH

There isn’t much to say here. NYG needs to use their draft assets elsewhere to build this roster around Daniel Jones. They have their 2021 backup in Mike Glennon and a third stinger who adds something to the room mentally in Clayton Thorson. If they are in a bad spot at this time next year, then I think QB becomes a stronger discussion. I think it would be nice to have an athlete in this group, someone that can create with his legs behind Jones, but I wouldn’t use a pick on one for that reason alone. If NYG wants to add another QB from this group, wait until after the draft and see who shakes free.

Apr 242021
 
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Travis Etienne, Clemson Tigers (January 1, 2021)

Travis Etienne – © USA TODAY Sports

RUNNING BACKS

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number means, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 15, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 16-30 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

Since this front office regime selected Saquon Barkley with the 2nd pick of the 2018 draft, NYG’s running game has ranked 24th, 19th, and 19th in rushing year by year. Out of 48 possible games, Barkley has played in just 31 of them. The jury is still out on long term projection of this group, mostly centering around Barkley, but for 2021 and 2022, they are set at the top. Devontae Booker was signed from LV to a two-year deal to offer a really solid backup presence. He has averaged just under 5 yards per carry over the past 3 years combined. He is also a really underrated pass catcher even though LV didn’t use him much there in 2020. Wayne Gallman left town for SF, leaving the rest of the depth chart pretty bare. Elijhaa Penny is a solid fullback.

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection

85+: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away

79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter

77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter

71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter

68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy

65-67: Preferred UDFA

60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1. Travis Etienne / Clemson / 5’10-215

Grade: 86

Summary: Senior entry from Jennings, Louisiana. Four-year starter that led the program in rushing all four seasons. Etienne is a two-time ACC Offensive Player of the Year and a three time All American. The two-time Doak Walker Award finalist re-wrote the program’s record book for both career and single season production. Etienne is one of the more decorated and accomplished running backs to enter the league in a long time. It is rare for a running back to produce at such a high level from day one as a freshman and play out all four years of his college career. He will enter the league as a playmaker that can contribute to both the running and passing game respectively right away. His ability to run low to the ground with elite balance and leg drive in combination with the breakaway burst and speed will make him one of the more dangerous weapons in the NFL right away. He is a no-nonsense, dependable worker bee that will change an offense right away.

*I have always seen some Alvin Kamara in Etienne’s game. When looking at how low he can run to the ground with thick but loose enough base, how well they both do in traffic, and how much they can equally impact the running/passing games respectively, that is the trajectory I see Etienne having. He is such a solid all-around player, a week 1 starter for sure. You also know you are getting a hardworking, smart kid that will continue to refine his craft as his career gets going.

2. Najee Harris / Alabama / 6’1-232

Grade: 86

Summary: Senior entry from Antioch, Alabama. Two-year starter that was also a key part of the running game in 2018. Former 5-star recruit that earned 1st Team All SEC and All-American honors in 2020. Harris had to patiently wait his turn in the Crimson Tide’s backfield early on in his career. In front of him were current NFL running backs Josh Jacobs, Damien Harris, and Bo Scarborough. As some of those predecessors left for the league, Harris saw his playing time increase year after year. He blossomed at the right time as a senior, finishing as the program’s all-time leader in touchdowns with 54. The Doak Walker Award winner put together the kind of tape that can easily put him in the top running back in the class discussion. He has unique size, power, and hunger. His every down capabilities should land him a starting spot in a backfield right away.

*I really think Harris can be considered the top back in this class. His swift and fluid lower body movement at that size is rare. He also has the kind of vision and toughness that you want in the backfield. He is such a gamer and will come up big in the big moments. The one drawback on him centers around he is just a step below the desired top end athletic ability. I’m not sure he will break off the big play and his high-hipped frame may make it hard to get out of a crowded phone booth. That feels like nitpicking though. He really can be a Pro Bowler early on if he gets to the right situation.

3. Javonte Williams / North Carolina / 5’10-212

Grade: 80

Summary: Junior entry from Wallace, North Carolina. Two-year contributor that split action with fellow draft prospect Michael Carter, who earned 1st Team All ACC honors. Williams finished 2nd Team All-Conference, as he finished tied for third in the nation with 19 rushing touchdowns. Williams was a part of a two-back system in which he was the one that laid the thunder on opposing defenders. He is a big and powerful bruiser that matches that ability with the aggressive mentality that never sleeps. He runs through contact consistently and pushes the pile. What sets Williams apart is the surprising ability to anticipate and miss tacklers at the final instant. He excels at altering his weight and coupled with his power, he is a tackle breaking machine. Williams has the potential to be a very solid feature back despite some top end physical shortcomings.

*I really like the kid Carter that he shared the backfield with, but Williams is a better pro prospect. He is one of the more physical backs in the class and I love his grit. Being a power back is about one third about size and strength, two thirds desire and toughness. He loves contact and will push NFL defenders back. I see a little Josh Jacobs here.

4. Trey Sermon / Ohio State / 6’0-215

Grade: 80

Summary: Senior entry from Marietta, Georgia. Started sporadically all four years of his career. Spent three seasons at Oklahoma where he won Co-Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors in 2017 before earning Honorable Mention All-Conference in 2018. Sermon’s 2019 was cut short after hyperextending his knee. He then transferred to Ohio State for the 2020 season and ended as the team’s leading rusher. Sermon left Oklahoma because he was being phased out of the offense, as they had multiple future NFL running backs on the roster. He shined in his lone season with Ohio State and ended it strong. Sermon is a physical downhill slasher that will run hungry and smart. His vision is a plus, he holds onto the ball, and he knows where to find extra yards. He can change up his running style on demand but will best be used in a complimentary role rather than being a feature back.

*I am surprised there isn’t more talk about Sermon and his upside. He has rare lower body movement traits attached to a rather sizable frame. He looked to be at a different speed as he got more and more comfortable in the Ohio State scheme. There are certain backs that just look quicker twitched than others, that is Sermon. He had a few speed bumps in college that impacted his ability to truly shine but when he did, he looked like a top tier prospect.

5. Khalil Herbert / Virginia Tech / 5’9-210

Grade: 78

Summary: Fifth year senior from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Spent four years at Kansas before grad-transferring to Virginia Tech where he became the starter right away and earned 3rd Team All ACC honors, finishing second in the conference in rushing. Herbert averaged just under 8 yards per carry over his final two seasons. He is one of the best backs, if not the best, at gaining yards after contact in the entire class. He has a stout, muscular frame but can move with plenty of twitch and a surprising level of burst. Physically, Herbert has it. Mentally, he shows advanced ability when it comes to reading the defense and reacting to it. His vision is a major plus. He didn’t show much as a receiver and there are occasions he gets a little too east/west when he shouldn’t. Herbert put the ball on the turf just one time over his 500+ carry career in college. This is a starting caliber back that will produce in multiple ways within the running game no matter what scheme he is put into.

*I think Herbert is one of the more overlooked players in the class. He doesn’t have a ton of splash plays and he doesn’t look the way some want in a starting caliber back, but just watch him game to game and it is easy to see that he is a pro. I think he has some Tiki Barber in him when it comes to size, lower body power, and running style.

6. Chuba Hubbard / Oklahoma State / 6’0-210

Grade: 78

Final Grade: Fourth year junior entry from Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada. Three-year starter that initially got his first real action when current NFL running back Justice Hill went down with an injury in 2017. Ended his career with two straight All Big 12 honors. He really broke out of his shell in 2019, where he earned 1st Team All American honors and won the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Award. He led the nation with 2,094 rushing yards and was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award. Hubbard’s 2020 season did not go as well, as he fought though a lower body injury in the shortened season and his per-touch production decreased across the board. While the scheme and lack of quality defense in the Big 12 could have inflated his initial outlook, there is no denying the big play potential here. He is well north for 200 pounds and the former worldwide ranked 100 M sprinter on the track shows elite level footwork, hip flow, and speed in space. He would be an ideal fit for zone-heavy rushing scheme and has starer potential.

*There are some that think Hubbard will be the next big thing at running back in the NFL. That size + pure speed combination will be dangerous in the open field. Add in the lower body looseness and big-time production in 2019, a strong case can be made. I actually question some of the toughness traits I look for in a back. He needs the space to be effective and while any back can have that said about him, he is more dependent on it than others. I get nervous about Big 12 backs in general as well. I try to avoid saying things like that in a general sense, but that conference just doesn’t play defense and their offenses create so much space. Boom or bust.

7. Michael Carter / North Carolina / 5’8-201

Grade: 77

Summary: Senior entry from Navarre, Florida. Started games all four years and shared touches from the beginning. Led the team in rushing his last three seasons. 1st Team All ACC in 2020, 3rd Team in 2019. Carter is the prototype third down back when it comes to running routes, catching the ball, and making plays. He is productive on all fronts and set a school record for yards per carry. Even though he isn’t blessed with size, Carter is a tough kid that will break tackles and run through initial contact. He is strong below the waist, has great balance, and will take off when he finds a crease. He comes from a military family background and has been touted for how hard he works and how disciplined he is with his approach. Carter is the kind of piece that gets added to a backfield and creates a spark right away. If he is in the right role, namely one that gets him in space or quick bursts upfield, he is going to be a playmaker.

*Even though I don’t have a high grade on Carter, I am as confident in his potential to be a solid contributor as any back in the class. He is a football player, plain and simple. Some teams are better than others when it comes to creating opportunities for backs than others, thus how much we see out of Carter will largely depend on what city he goes to. If he falls into Day 3, I think this is one of the few backs I would want NYG to use a 4th on. He is such a good pass catching back and he has knack for creating big plays. He plays faster than he times, he plays bigger than he looks.

8. Rhamondre Stevenson / Oklahoma / 6’0-231

Grade: 76

Summary: Senior entry from Las Vegas, Nevada. Two years at Oklahoma after two seasons in Junior College where he ended up being the top available running back recruit afterward. Spent his first year after high school away from the game. One-year starter at Oklahoma that missed the first 5 games of the 2020 season because of a drug suspension. Even though he played in just 6 games, he led the Sooners in rushing and touchdowns. Honorable Mention All-Big 12 in 2020. Stevenson is a big-bodied back that will bring a physical presence to the backfield he is added to. He isn’t the kind of the dynamic athlete that will create big plays and run away from the defense, but he is a pure tackle-breaker that can bounce off defenders, maintain his north movement, and push piles. Paired with a complimentary back, Stevenson can be an important weapon that will pick up the tough yards and touchdowns routinely.

*When you get into this area of the running back stack, you are most of the time looking for certain traits that complement your existing backfield. One area where I think Barkley coming off the field can be a good idea is in short yardage. He just isn’t very assertive in that area. Stevenson could solve that problem and fill that role in year one. He made the most of that opportunity in 2020 with Kennedy Brooks out and Trey Sermon transferred. The question with him will be a few character red flags. Good player though.

9. Kylin Hill / Mississippi State / 5’11-214

Grade: 75

Summary: Senior entry from Columbus, Mississippi. Three-year starter that opted out of 2020 after just three games. Hill had a really consistent and productive career in the SEC. He averaged 5.6 yards per rushing attempt and caught 67 passes. Hill has the kind of frame and contact balance to withhold a full beating from NFL defenses week to week. He is stronger than he looks, and he knows how to miss the brunt of a hit. Hill may be best suited for a 1A role in a backfield, however. He is a really good pass catcher and blocker but doesn’t always run with enough burst and speed nor does he push the pile. He can be a really effective backfield piece if his role is clearly defined with another solid back.

*Hill might end up being a really good pass catching back. I think that will be his best shot at really earning a useable spot on a good offense. There really isn’t a dynamic athletic component in his arsenal, and he has some tightness. But the more I watched, the more I respected his game. He plays smart and consistent, just wouldn’t want him being THE guy back there.

10. Demetric Felton / UCLA / 5’9-189

Grade: 74

Summary: Fifth year senior from Temecula, California. Three-year starter that has been a key contributor to the offense from day one. A hybrid receiver/running back that split his snaps at the two positions but really took over the backfield in the shortened 2020 season. Felton earned 1st Team All-Pac 12 honors at the athlete position. Felton is exactly that. He is someone that should not be restricted to one spot on the depth chart. His quickness, acceleration with the ball, and vision can be used in a variety of ways. He can run routes and catch the ball like a slot receiver and knows how to press the running lane like a seasoned running back. The more you can do, the more likely you will find yourself active on game day. Felton is a unique and versatile threat that should add multiple options to an offense.

*Felton is going to be graded very different among teams. Some will see a 3rd rounder; some will see a 6th rounder. I am right in the middle but will acknowledge that he is going to be scheme specific. Tom Brady can use a weapon like this to fullest. Sam Darnold? We would never see his name anywhere. If NYG wants to add a pass catcher into the backfield, Felton will be talked about at length. That quickness is lethal in space; however the question is will Garrett + Jones be able to use it.

11. Kenneth Gainwell / Memphis / 5’8-201

Grade: 74

Summary: Third year sophomore from Yazoo City, Mississippi. One-year starter that certainly left his mark in that one season. Won the FWAA Freshman of the Year Award, the AAC Rookie of the Year Award, and earned 1st Team All-Conference honors after producing 2,069 all-purpose yards. The other two players to do that in school history were former and current NFL running backs DeAngelo Williams and Darrell Henderson. Gainwell plays in fast forward mode. His feet look like fingers on a piano, constantly moving left and right, up and down. He stays square to his target and will maximize his speed and agility. Gainwell isn’t an every down player when looking at the backfield, but he can man the slot and run quality routes paired with good hands. If a team can create a specific plan for him, he can touch the ball 10+ times per game and put points on the board.

*I wanted to put a higher grade on Gainwell and this is one that may come back and bite me. He doesn’t have some of the natural traits I want in a running back mentally, but his speed is legit. He will make plays at the next level but the question will be what does he do in between? Another back that really needs to be planned around.

12. Larry Rountree III / Missouri / 5’11-211

Grade: 73

Summary: Senior entry from Raleigh, North Carolina. Three-year starter that led the Tigers in rushing each of the last three seasons with the program. Rountree III left campus ranked second all-time in both rushing yards and touchdowns. The compiler is a patient runner that will eat at a defense play by play, inch by inch. He wasn’t a big play back, but instead one that seemed to get hot the more touches he received. He is well put together, he runs hard, and he is smart. Rountree III plays at a different gear near the end zone. He excels at pressing the line, making a decision, and bursting into the crease. His vision is a plus. Rountree III doesn’t look like a feature back but he can be a part of a weekly committee approach because of his versatile skill set.

*You may not look at his physical profile and see a high-end short yardage back, but if you watch the tape you will see what I mean. Certain guys just play at a different gear when they are in a short yardage or goal line scenario, and that is Rountree III. As I said earlier, that is where Barkley just isn’t that good, and I think this could be a nice piece to add back there. At the end of the day, that is what it takes to be successful in that specific department.

13. Javian Hawkins / Louisville / 5’8-183

Grade: 71

Summary: Third year sophomore entry from Titusville, Florida. Two-year starter that earned 2nd Team All ACC honors in 2019. Hawkins opened eyes in 2019, setting a new school record for running backs with 1,525 rushing yards as a redshirt freshman. Hawkins is a small, but quick and explosive playmaker that is as dangerous as it gets in the open field. He has a rare ability to twist and turn his hips while moving at his top speed. The issue is, he needs to reach the open field. His lack of size and power will show up in traffic, as he goes down on initial contact too often and shows ball security issues. He is not an every down player but can be a dangerous secondary option that can have a portion of the playbook carved out for him.

*Speed kills, yes. Hawkins has plenty of it and he reaches that gear in a blink. Those space-friendly offenses can make it easier for a guy like this to play to that strength. Hawkins is really small though, and he plays small. You don’t see him running through arm contact well, he is a non-factor as a blocker, and he won’t fall forward. Maybe he creates a few big plays in specific packages, but there is a cap on his every down impact.

14. Stevie Scott III / Indiana / 6’0-225

Grade: 71

Summary: Junior entry from Syracuse, New York. Three-year starter that began his career with a loud bang, winning Big 10 Offensive Newcomer of the Year and set program freshman rushing records. He earned All Big 10 honors in both 2018 and 2019. Scott’s 30 touchdowns over his three-year career are notable, as he often ran behind an offensive line that was overmatched at the point of attack. His future in the league will revolve around short yardage duties, where his downhill force and push will be sought after. He is a straight-line burst, downhill runner that can quickly generate power behind his 230+ pound frame. He is also a big-time blocker that imposes his will on pass rushers. Scott lacks wiggle and top end athletic ability when he needs to adjust his intentions. That will limit his upside and role at the next level, but there will be a spot for him on the back end of a depth chart.

*I was more excited about Scott III at the start of the process than I was at the end. I still think he is a solid prospect that can impact a game, but he is just really limited when it comes to change of direction and lateral movement. That is fine if he is in for the specific short yardage roles. But even there, he had far too many runs where he didn’t get the job done. He isn’t always a big time physical, aggressive guy. That switch went on and off too often.

15. Elijah Mitchell / Louisiana-Lafayette / 5’10-201

Grade: 70

Summary: Senior entry from Enrath, Louisiana. Three-year starter that has been a part of a two-back system with fellow draft prospect Trey Ragas. 2nd Team All Sun Belt in 2018 and 2019, 1st Team in 2020. Mitchell scored 41 touchdowns over the past three seasons combined. He is built like an inside runner that runs with a no-nonsense approach. He prefers north-south movement and at the very least will put his head down and push the pile when nothing is there. Mitchell has some slasher in him, meaning he will approach the line with a nice forward lean, find the lane, put his foot in the ground, and just go. He lacks standout physical traits and there isn’t a ton of variety in his game, but there is a natural skill set here that can find a home on the back end of a depth chart.

*There are some scouts that see Mitchell as a 3rd/4th rounder. They see a starting caliber back if he can progress over his first year or two. I think the tool set is too limited to go in that direction but he can fill the back end of a depth chart and possibly evolve into a Wayne Gallman type.

16. Jaret Patterson / Buffalo / 5’7-195: 70

17. Ben Mason / Michigan / 6’3-246: 70

18. Chris Evans / Michigan / 5’11-211: 70

19. Gary Brightwell / Arizona / 5’11-218: 70

20. Mekhi Sargent / Iowa / 5’8-208: 69

21. Trey Ragas / Louisiana-Lafayette / 5’10-218: 69

22. Gerrid Doaks / Cincinnati / 5’11-228: 69

23. BJ Emmons / Florida Atlantic / 5’11-215: 68

24. Pooka Williams Jr. / Kansas / 5’9-175: 68

25. Jermar Jefferson / Oregon State / 5’10-206: 67

26. CJ Marable / Coastal Carolina / 5’7-195: 67

27. Spencer Brown / UAB / 5’10-208: 66

28. Josh Johnson / Louisiana-Monroe / 5’9-209: 65

29. Brenden Knox / Marshall / 5’11-215: 65

30. Rakeem Boyd / Arkansas / 5’11-213: 65

NYG APPROACH

This is actually a position I really want to see NYG zero in on day three. There are good complimentary backs that would fit in well with Barkley and Booker. I consider those two solid every-situation backs. They can catch the ball, they can run in space, they can run between the tackles. The third back that is brought in should have a specialty in an area where you don’t mind keep Barkley/Booker off the field. As previously stated, I think Barkley struggles most in short yardage in relation to the rest of his arsenal. He is big and strong enough, but he doesn’t have that “reckless” mindset, there is always a tad of hesitation in his game. Booker simply isn’t a pile pusher, so he won’t be much better in that role. I think NYG should lean toward a sizable power back if they want to add to the backfield. I like Stevenson, but there are questions about his character. I also like Rountree III if they want to wait a little longer, or Sargent if they want to wait until the free agency period. One last kicker here, Michael Carter is one of my favorite backs if he were to fall. He would be another do-it-all back, but I think his receiving skill set could be a usable asset if Barkley’s touches need to be limited.

Apr 212021
 
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Ja'Marr Chase, LSU (January 13, 2020)

Ja’Marr Chase – © USA TODAY Sports

WIDE RECEIVERS

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number means, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 20, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 21-40 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

Just as the Giants did early in Eli Manning’s career and just as the Panthers did early in Cam Newton’s career under Dave Gettleman, the front office brought in a sizable target at receiver for Daniel Jones. Kenny Golladay was signed to a huge contract with the hope that he will bring in the missing component to help elevate the 31st-ranked offense. Golladay played in just 5 games last season because of injury, but the big-play threat is just 2 years removed from leading the NFL in touchdown catches and finishing 3rd with 18.3 yards per catch. Adding him to the outside with deep threat Darius Slayton along with the reliable slot Sterling Shepard gives this position group hope for the near and long term. John Ross III, one of the fastest players in the NFL, was also signed to fill the depth chart along with Dante Pettis (who flashed late in 2020), C.J. Board, and Austin Mack. Much of this position group will revolve around Golladay’s ability to stay on the field and Slayton hopefully returning to the form he showed as a rookie in 2019 after a sluggish sophomore campaign.

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection

85+: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away

79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter

77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter

71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter

68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy

65-67: Preferred UDFA

60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 20 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1. Ja’Marr Chase / LSU / 6’0-201

Grade: 89

Summary: Junior entry from Harvey, Louisiana. Two-year starter that opted out of 2020 altogether. 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner after a record setting sophomore campaign where he totaled 20 touchdowns and 1,780 yards which are both current SEC records. Chase is a competitive and physical receiver that attacks the ball and will create on his own after the catch. He plays the game with a bruising running back’s mentality. While his skill set as a receiver, in particular route running and release techniques, will need improvement, there is a lot to his game that will help a NFL offense right away. Chase is machine when he is near the ball in the red zone. Even though he lacks desired size for contested situations, his competitive streak and strong hands will make a difference early on. He projects as a year one starter from both inside and outside receiver positions that will have a limited upside but raised floor.

*I’ll tell you what. There are two holes in his game that bother me a tad when it comes to him being graded as a VERY good receiver and a GREAT receiver. His lack of dominant size and the fact he doesn’t play as fast as he times. However, Chase has proven to be effective in traffic because of big time ball skills and a rare competitive streak. And he is still raw as a route runner, thus if and when he figures that out, he will play to his legit sub 4.4 speed. The two issues I have with Chase’s game can be completely erased in a short amount of time. He has the potential to be an All-Pro, one of the best 5-6 WRs in the game. It will come down to how hard he works and how he is used. Remember how well Justin Jefferson performed as a rookie with MIN in 2020? Chase is light years better.

2. DeVonta Smith / Alabama / 6’0-170

Grade: 87

Summary: Senior entry from Amite, Louisiana. Three-year contributor in a wide receiver room that was stacked with first round talent. Two time All American and All SEC respectively and winner of the 2020 Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff, and Paul Hornung awards. Left Alabama as the program and SEC conference’s all-time leader in receiving touchdowns with 43. The previous record holders were tied at 31. He also set the school record for career receiving yards. Smith led the country in catches, yards, yards after catch, and touchdowns as a senior while adding even more production as a punt returner. Simply put, Smith put together one of the most dominant seasons in the history of college football. The former five-star recruit was always highly regarded but there was only one ball to go around the previous three years in an offense that was hosting multiple first round talents all over the place. Smith shined when he was the spotlight guy in a way that none of them did, however. His body type may give initial concern to some, but Smith is as tough and competitive as they come, and it is refreshing to see him couple that with a pure blue-collar approach. He is all business, all about winning. That combined with his elite burst in and out of breaks, sticky hands, and ability to create after the catch can make him an elite feature receiver at the next level.

*I’ll be honest, I had a late 1 projection on Smith before the season despite the main southeast guy I work with telling me that he needed to be top 15 at worst. I watched him a ton in 2020, went back and watched some 2019 as well. Smith is a top 10 non-QB in this class and there is no question about it. I did downgrade him a bit because of the frame, but nothing drastic. It is an issue and I bet some teams will steer clear because of it. It has less to do with him being injured, more to do with him getting beat up at the line by quality press corners, something he rarely saw in college. But the information I have on Smith’s work ethic, attitude, and passion for the game made me feel better about that. Take the weight out of the question and you have a kid who moves in and out of breaks as good as anyone. You have a kid who catches nearly everything thrown his way. And you have a kid who accelerates like no other, which will make him play faster than his (he has been clocked sub 4.45 by a credible source). I’ll never say Smith’s frame is something you can completely overlook. It is a potential issue, absolutely. However, there are some risks I am more willing to take than others, this is one of them. And I think he is on the NYG short list.

3. Rashod Bateman / Minnesota / 6’0-190

Grade: 83

Summary: Junior entry from Tifton, Georgia. Three-year starter that has been re-writing Minnesota’s receiving record book. 1st Team All Big 10 and 3rd Team All American in 2019, a season that also saw him win the Big 10’s Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year Award and end up as a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award. Bateman has the ideal size, straight line speed, and ball skills to be considered a downfield threat at the next level. In addition, he is a factor after the catch because of his competitive streak and strong, but loose lower half. Bateman may be limited underneath, as he struggles to initially separate, but he brings big play potential to the field every time he steps foot on it. He is a guy who doesn’t need to be found in wide open space in order to make things happen, as he can create on his own no matter what or who is around him.

*There isn’t enough talk about Bateman but I think the league is going to like him. He plays bigger than his size and he has a nasty competitive streak. The one negative I have written down a few times is he has a tendency to disappear for stretches. Upon further review, he just wasn’t thrown to as much as some of these other guys. He also has zero help in the passing game when it came to other targets taking some attention off him.

4. Jaylen Waddle / Alabama / 5’10-180

Grade: 82

Summary: Junior entry from Houston, Texas. One-year starter who was heavily involved in the wide receiver rotation all three seasons. Two time All SEC performer on special teams and a 1st Team All American returner in 2019. Winner of the SEC Freshman of the Year Award in 2018. Waddle had his junior campaign cut short by a serious ankle/lower leg injury. He did come back for the National Championship and was clearly less than 100%, but it showed his toughness and desire to win. Waddle has clearly shown enough over his career to be considered one of the top explosive playmakers in the class. He has such an effective burst and also has the speed to top it off that can run away from anybody and everybody. Waddle lacks ideal size to compliment that speed, however he somewhat overrides it with a competitive streak that very few possess. He can change the outlook of an offense by simply being on the field whether he is in the slot, on the outside, or returning punts and kicks. Simply put, Waddle is going to score a lot points and create space for others.

*I put a first round grade on Waddle but because of where he is stacked, some will say I don’t like him. I do think I am lower on him than most, but I understand and respect what he can do for an offense. I just don’t love the value of him at #11 overall. Would it be a bad pick? Absolutely not and just like the others, I would be excited to see him in blue. I just think there are limitations in his game that will make him disappear for stretches. I don’t think he is an all-situation threat. Speed kills though, and he has plenty of it.

5. Elijah Moore / Mississippi / 5’10-178

Grade: 82

Summary: Junior entry from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Three-year starter that took his game to another level in 2020, earning 1st Team All SEC and All-American honors after leading the nation in both catches and yards per game in the shortened season. Moore is the kind of playmaker that uses his lack of ideal size to his advantage in multiple ways. His stutter step quickness and burst are elite both as a ball carrier and route runner. He is a hard guy to touch, let alone wrap arms around and get to the ground. He has elite balance and vision which makes his ability to play with different gears downright dangerous. He projects as a dangerous slot at the next level that needs to get 7-10 touches per week whether it is in the passing game or on jet sweeps/reverses. He also adds potential return value. Moore is a scary player for the opposing defense to try and catch in the open field that does have limitations stemming from his size but can be a lethal weapon if used correctly.

*I think Moore can have a similar impact on an offense as Waddle but could be had a round later. If NYG does not go WR in round 1 Moore is there (either of them actually), he will be hard to pass on. The catch? Shepard is going to man the slot and that will limit how many times we can him on the field. I am all about intra-squad competition and depth, thus I would still move forward with under the assumption Jason Garrett can make it work. Also keep in mind as much as I love Shepard, he has a pricey cap number, and his production is merely average. Moore would be a more economic slot and provide more big plays.

6. Rondale Moore / Purdue / 5’7-181

Grade: 81

Summary: Junior entry from New Albany, Indiana. Burst on to the scene as a true freshman in 2018, putting together one of the best seasons of all time in NCAA history by a first-year player. He was a 1st Team All American and winner of the Paul Hornung Award. His 114 catches were just the third time in Big 10 history a player finished with over 100 receptions in a season. That was the last time Moore played more than 4 games in a season, however. He injured his knee and hamstring in 2019 and played in just 3 games after initially opting out of the 2020 season before coming back. Much of Moore’s grade will revolve around projection, but there is no denying the objective fact that he has elite burst, speed, and quickness. In addition, he is a football-junkie and intelligent kid that truly loves the game. While the risk with a player like this is high, his versatile contributions to a team that has a creative mind running the show on offense is sky-high. He will need specific roles and plays made for him and if he can develop the skill set at receiver accordingly, he will be a big-time playmaker.

*There are small receivers every year. But the level of small (well, short) here is below the minimum some have at the position. While he has running back type thickness and leg strength, Moore’s lack of radius is a problem. He is elite in multiple other areas of the position, but a big part of his impact will need to be manufactured. He needs to be paired with an already-strong offense and creative play caller. Even though KC doesn’t exactly need more offensive talent, that is a place he could go and thrive. Just not sure he would do so here in NY with Garrett running the show. Could be a big-time payoff though if it pans out schematically.

7. Terrace Marshall / LSU / 6’3-205

Grade: 80

Summary: Junior entry from Bossier City, Louisiana. Two-year starter that opted out of the duration of the 2020 season after 7 games. Nephew of former NFL player Joe Delaney. A former 5-star recruit, Marshall had a hard time living up to the hype because of the abundance of talent the program had at the receiver position. He started off fighting an uphill battle because of a severe leg injury suffered his senior season in high school that broke his fibula and dislocated his ankle. In 2019 however, he started to break out with a 13-touchdown year for the LSU championship squad. In 2020 he was supposed to be the guy and he responded with a solid 7-game season before opting out. Marshall still plays a raw game when it comes to ball skills and routes. He needs more experience and there are still a few edges that look rough, but the upside is up there with the best in the class. His tools are first round-worthy and he has shown on tape that those tools are starting to come to light.

*This could be a hidden gem here. Maybe shouldn’t call him a hidden gem since there are some reputable people I know that have him at WR4 or WR5 in this class. If Justin Jefferson or Ja’Marr Chase hadn’t been on the roster, we could easily be talking about Marshall as a top tier prospect. He has something the guys above don’t, and that is size. His radius plays big, he is really strong, and he has interesting athleticism. I don’t love his acceleration and agility though. That is what keeps him down a notch for me. Still an interesting guy though.

8. Dyami Brown / North Carolina / 6’1-189

Grade: 79

Summary: Junior entry from Charlotte, North Carolina. Three-year starter that earned All American and 1st Team All ACC honors in 2020. Became the first player in program history with two 1,000+ receiving yard seasons. Brown doesn’t have elite speed or size, but he has constantly been a big play threat. His burst off the line, easy and smooth agility, and impeccable footwork makes him look like he is playing on ice. He is an easy operator that looks like he can play as fast as anyone in short and intermediate areas while looking like he is going for a walk in the park. When it comes to getting open, Brown is heading toward an elite level. His ball skills are still developing, particularly on deep passes, but this is a year-one contributor that has star potential. Brown has just about as much upside as any receiver in the draft if he can get stronger and bring the ball in more consistently on all levels.

*If you catch the right stretch of tape for Brown, you are going to think he is a first rounder. He may be the smoothest athlete of all the receivers in the class. It is easy for him to burst off the line, swing his hips, plant that foot in the ground and burst in any direction he wants to go. At the very least, Brown is a safe pick that will be around for a long time. His playing strength and lack of true top end speed may prevent him from being a top tier threat, but he can do so many things like a pro right now and he still has loads of progression to go through.

9. Josh Palmer / Tennessee / 6’1-210

Grade: 79

Summary: Senior entry from Brampton, Ontario. Four-year starter that came to Tennessee as an overlooked recruit that was very raw to the game after being a star basketball player growing up. Palmer is a dog on the field, meaning he is tougher and more physical than the guy that he is up against at all times. He wants it more, plain and simple. He plays such a physical and aggressive brand of football and it does make up for some skillset shortcomings. Don’t make the mistake of overlooking his talent with that in mind. He is more than fast enough, he has plus-burst in short areas, and he can go up and get it. Palmer still has some rawness to the techniques and mechanics the position requires, but this is a pure gamer that will make things happen with the ball in his hands. He projects to be a really solid number two or three option in a good passing offense.

*Palmer is going to be a coach and fan favorite. If every player could play as hard as he does, teams would be so much better off. He is a fun kid to watch, and I respect the dog in him. While his sheer talent and athletic ability may leave some to be desired, he is no slouch there. He has some Anquan Boldin in him when it comes to how his thickness and power can overtake a defensive back. He will then sneak by a corner that is too caught up in the physical matchup and get him over the top. Palmer has won matchups against some of the best corners in the country and yes, that means something.

10. Nico Collins / Michigan / 6’4-215

Grade: 79

Summary: Senior entry from Birmingham, Alabama. Two-year starter that opted out of the 2020 season. Honorable Mention All-Big 10 in both 2018 and 2019. Collins was a big play threat for the Wolverines. He averaged 16.6 yards per catch in 2018 and conference-leading 19.7 in 2019, a season in which the team awarded him Offensive MVP honors. The one statistical draw back? He averaged just 3 catches per contest over that 2-year span. Collins is one of the bigger and more physical receivers in the class. His height, wingspan, and strength presence make him a very difficult one on one matchup. This is the kind of receiver that can be open no matter where the cornerback is, including all over Collins. He understands body positioning like a basketball player. The deep speed is there but the short area turn and burst is not, thus a reason why he just doesn’t make enough impact play to play. He will need a specific role at the next level and there will be stretches where he disappears and/or won’t be a factor, but he can be a missing piece to a passing offense that needs that big downfield threat.

*Prior to Golladay being signed, I perceived Collins as being the day two target NYG would go after. He is a really big kid that plays strong and will show some build up speed. His catch radius is big time. Maybe NYG wants to add even more size on the outside? That would be a really interesting strategy by them, and I’ve always felt it could change their offense. Golladay on one side, Collins on the other, Engram up the seam with Shepard manning the slot and Slayton giving the occasional deep threat. That is a tough thing to defend, all that size, in today’s NFL. Would be an interesting weapon and strategy.

11. Tamorrion Terry / Florida State / 6’3-207

Grade: 79

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Ashburn, Georgia. Three-year starter that earned All ACC honors in 2018 and 2019. Opted out of the duration of the 2020 season after 5 games. Terry has been a big play threat since the moment he stepped on the field. He set numerous records for the Florida State program and led the country in 2019 with an average of 57.9 yards per touchdown reception, highest over the previous 15 years among receivers that had 9+ touchdowns. Terry’s size, speed, and ability to make the spectacular catch in traffic is going to make him an attractive and desired weapon for a downfield passing attack. In addition to the talent, Terry plays tough and physical whether he is involved in the play or not. He still has some rawness to his game when it comes to ball skills and routes. He drops too many easy passes and doesn’t always pay attention to the finer details of running routes. There aren’t many receivers that can match his talent level, but he will need to clean the other areas up before he is considered a play-to-play threat in the NFL. Boom or bust type that will need to prove the maturity is there.

*I think I have Terry slotted way higher than most, as it sounds like he will be taken somewhere day 3. I will acknowledge he is a risk and may need extra time in relation to guys that I have this kind of grade on. There are certain guys you watch though that just give you a certain feeling and this is the classic “Go with your Gut” prospect. Terry needs to be smoother around the edges, but his ability to burst downfield, track the ball, and go get it can be hard to find at his size/strength combination. If NYG ignores WR early on, I would be ecstatic with taking the chance on him. The potential reward here is big time.

12. Tylan Wallace / Oklahoma State / 5’11-194

Grade: 78

Summary: Senior entry from Forth Worth, Texas. Three-year starter that was a two-time 1st Team All Big 12 honoree in addition to being named 2nd Team in 2019. Wallace missed 5 games at the end of 2019 after suffering a torn ACL in practice. He was among national leaders in receiving numbers across the board when the injury occurred. This was a season after he was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award and a 2nd Team All American. Wallace came back just as strong his senior season, if not better, than where he left off pre-injury. He is a true competitor that plays bigger than his size. His ability to twist, turn, and react to the ball in relation to what and who is around him is borderline special. The questions around him are limitations that come from not having plus size or straight-line speed. He may be restricted at the next level, but even if he is a specialty player he will be reliable and tough. His production has always been consistent and his best tape has come against his toughest competition in the biggest moments. He won’t be a number one, but Wallace has a steady and long career ahead of him.

*Part of a deep wide receiver class revolves around how many quality starters one will project within the group. Here we are, 11 receivers in, and I am talking about a guy that can start for this team in 2022 and we still have a few more to go. Wallace is a gamer, a tough dude. If NYG is going to bring in some attitude to the offense without overlooking downfield talent, Wallace is a real possibility. I think his lack of size is a bit of an issue, but there are plenty of outside threats with this physical makeup and again, I love the way he plays.

13. D’Wayne Eskridge / Western Michigan / 5’9-190

Grade: 77

Summary: Fifth year senior entry from Bluffton, Indiana. Four-year starter that also has some experience at cornerback. 1st Team All MAC in 2020 in a year where was finally the feature receiver on the team. Eskridge is a blazing fast and quick playmaker that has sustained big play ability from the start of his career. He accelerates in a blink and is a hard guy to even touch when he has the ball. Eskridge did make a part time move to cornerback in 2019 because he was the best cover-man on the roster despite being overly raw. His sheer talent and willingness to make multiple back and forth moves to help the team and excel in whatever role that is, says a lot about him as a player and person. Eskridge can be an immediate jolt to any offense’s ability to put points on the board. He has averaged 22 yards per catch since the start of 2018 in addition to adding dynamic return ability. There is so much Eskridge can do on the field and his elite speed will make him sought after.

*Eskridge is really exciting talent that plays to his sub 4.40 speed. To think he hasn’t been a full-time receiver for more than a couple years can enable coaches to dream about what he can be. The size is going to hold him back a bit. I see a future slot that can be moved to the outside on plays where they really want to stretch the defense. He is still too raw to be considered an every down guy right away, but a creative mind should be able to make it work and get him the ball 6-8 times per game including special teams. From there, it will be all about how he progresses the skill set.

14. Kadarius Toney / Florida / 6’0-193

Grade: 77

Summary: Senior entry from Mobile, Alabama. One-year starter that was a key part of the offense all four years. 1st Team All SEC in 2020. Toney saved his best for last as a senior. He broke out in a big way and finally translated potential into real production. He did more in 2020 than his three previous seasons combined, partially because of the amount of talent the Gators had ahead of him on depth chart before this past fall. Toney has joystick quickness and change of direction whether he is running routes or carrying the ball. He is the kind of guy that can miss contact in the phone booth and will always fight for more yards. Toney plays bigger and tougher than his frame suggests. It will be hard to find a more competitive spark plug than him. There are concerns around character and durability and he needs a specific role. The right offensive mind can make him a dangerous weapon though, one that can really elevate an offense as a whole.

*There are some teams that have Toney in the top 5 according to one of the very few media resources I trust and speak with. That really surprises me. I won’t give details here but there are a few serious red flags with character, and I just don’t see Toney having a high ceiling. He is as tough as they come, and I love his stop-go quickness. He will make plays with the ball in his hands. But there is a cap to his speed, he doesn’t play very big, and there are a lot of shortcomings I see when it comes to routes/ball skills/awareness etc. Really intrigued to see where he goes.

15. Amon-Ra St. Brown / USC / 6’0-197

Grade: 77

Summary: Junior entry from Anaheim Hills, California. Three-year starter that earned All-Pac 12 honors in both 2019 and 2020, 1st Team in 2020. The team captain is the brother of current Green Bay wide receiver Equanimeous and also has another brother that plays receiver for Stanford. St. Brown is the son of a former bodybuilding worldwide champion. The genes are strong in this family and Amon is on a trajectory to be the most accomplished on the gridiron. He is the kind of receiver that doesn’t let the ball hit the turf if it comes in contact with his hands, plain and simple. His consistency with his ball skills and attention to detail are pro caliber and will help him exceed his physical potential. St. Brown won’t impress many with size or speed but the skill set and hustle will make things happen. He projects best in the slot and will have a limited, but important impact on an offense.

*St. Brown looks like a pro across the board. He runs such precise routes; he looks the ball into his hands and rarely shows any wiggle upon contact. He plays a very balanced and quick game. And he has a man’s body. I liked his brother coming out of Notre Dame a few years ago, albeit knowing he was really raw still. He is still on the Packers and I think this upcoming season will be his last real shot. Amon is a better football player, but maybe a little less gifted. I think we will see him playing in this league for awhile, ideally in the slot.

16. Jonathan Adams / Arkansas State / 6’2-210

Grade: 76

Summary: Senior entry from Jonesboro, Arkansas. Two-year starter that really broke out over his 13 games. 1st Team All Sun Belt and the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2020. Adams was dominant all season and seemed to blossom at the exact right time. In just 10 games, he brought in 12 touchdowns and 1,111 yards, both top 3 in single season history at Arkansas State. Adams doesn’t win with speed or explosion; he is simply a dominant physical force with top tier hands that make the 50/50 situations seem more 70/30 in his favor. There are going to be certain skills that need to be refined, namely route running and tracking the deep ball, before he can be thrown into the mix. He is a developmental player that has the makings of a starter if he really applies himself once under the tutelage of an NFL program.

*I was all over Adams in September. On the preseason grading lists that I get access to prior to the season, he wasn’t even in the top 40 seniors. What a rise he has had. He may end up getting drafted lower than this, but I would take a chance on him day three no matter what team I am. He plays the game really big and strong. One of the few guys in this class that showed dominant traits with the ball in the air in 50/50 situations. His workout went better than expected as well, showing some signs of ability that can really make him stand out once he gets with an NFL coach.

17. Tutu Atwell / Louisville / 5’9-155

Grade: 76

Summary: Junior entry from Miami, Florida. A former high school quarterback that started for two seasons at Louisville, earning all ACC honors both times. The 2019 conference receiving yards and touchdown leader respectively is also a program single season record holder in both categories. Atwell has the kind of speed that can change the game for the offense he gets added to. He is in a rare tier of explosive playmakers that brings that superior burst and acceleration to the field as a route runner and playmaker post-catch. He is a weapon that can knife through the top of a secondary, stretch the defense, and open things up for players around him. The lack of size and playing strength will cap the impact he can make individually, but if he is paired with a successful deep passer and there are other complimentary weapons around him, Atwell is the kind if playmaker that can bring an offense to another level.

*Atwell’s speed is different-level. Not just in the straight-line top end kind of way, but how quickly he can accelerate in addition to his ability to alter direction as a route runner. My initial outlook on him was heading toward a day 2 trajectory but the size issues in combination with holes I found with his skillset (routes + ball skills) pushed him down a bit. I still think he would be a useful day three pick if is there and NYG ignores the position early on, as he has some DeSean Jackson within his ability to move.

18. Sage Surratt / Wake Forest / 6’3-209

Grader: 76

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Lincolnton, North Carolina. Two-year starter that opted out of the 2020 season. Really broke out of his shell in 2019 where he led the Power 5 conferences with 1,001 receiving yards prior to getting injured and missing the rest of the year. The former High School North Carolina Player of the Year in both football and basketball scored 2,951 points on the hardwood, 2nd all time in the history of the state. His skill set on the field is very much a product of that basketball success, as he shows elite ability to attack the ball once it is in the air. His understanding of how to work around defenders bodies with ease and fluidity will make him a QB-friendly target at the next level. His lack of top end speed and ability after the catch will keep him out of the elite tier, but this is a player that will help an offense early and often.

*I had to bump Surratt down a notch. He had a really poor Pro Day workout and there are also a few notes about his lack of motivation that I received. This discouraged me a little extra because I really want to like Surratt. I love how he attacks the ball, and his 2019 tape is some of the best I have seen out of this group. I knew there were some athleticism issues from watching the tape, but his times lead to some extra negativity here. I still would love to see NYG take a chance on him day 3 if they ignore WR early.

19. Seth Williams / Auburn / 6’3-211

Grade: 76

Summary: Three-year starter from Cottondale, Alabama. Williams has been a key piece to the Auburn offense since he stepped foot on campus. His talent and tool set are a hard combination to find. He is tall, strong, and fast with outstanding leaping ability. He was an all-state medalist in high school in both the long jump and high jump. Williams is an easy prospect to like when it comes to his physical traits. The issue with him revolves around inconsistency across the board. While he does have good, strong hands, he too often did not come down with the ball in contested situations. Even though he has plus-athletic ability, he gets sloppy with his release and route running, Williams has shown enough to warrant an opportunity in the NFL, but he really needs to take in coaching and apply himself to maximize what he already has. Boom or bust.

*One negative I have on Williams was the fact he really struggled when matched up against future pros. He just didn’t seem to have a twitchy mind when it came to reactions whether it was to the ball or the defender himself. There are teams that will see the size and movement ability and want to give him a shot, though. He may be a day 2 pick.

20. Jaelon Darden / North Texas / 5’8-174

Grade: 75

Summary: Senior entry from Houston, Texas. Three-year starter that earned 1st Team All-Conference honors in both 2019 and 2020. Also a 1st Team All American and the Conference USA Most Valuable Player in 2020, a season in which he finished second in the country in touchdowns (19) and yards per game (132.2), behind only Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith. Darden is an electric playmaker that shows elite quickness, agility, and anticipation with the ball in his hands. He can create something out of nothing, he fits into creases that others cannot even find, and plays with a big-time competitive streak. Darden’s size will limit him to specific roles at the next level, but there is no denying how dangerous he can be. He will add a spark to any offense he gets drafted to if the offensive mind that runs the show can be creative enough.

*I don’t think enough has been made about how good Darden was in 2020. He was easily one of the most dominant players in college football. Who he played against does matter a bit, but I still think there should be more talk about how good he can be. Darden’s size, like a few guys in this class, are going to be a huge factor in regard to where he gets drafted. He has rare-level agility and ability to miss contact though. If he can figure out route running and gain a higher understanding of playing the slot in the NFL, he can big time.

21. Austin Watkins Jr / UAB / 6’2-207: 75

22. Simi Fehoko / Stanford / 6’4-222: 75

23. Amari Rodgers / Clemson / 5’10-212: 75

24. Frank Darby / Arizona State / 6’0-201: 74

25. Anthony Schwartz / Auburn / 6’0-186: 73

26. Cornell Powell / Clemson / 6’0-204: 73

27. Shi Smith / South Carolina / 5’10-186: 73

28. Ihmir Smith-Marsette / Iowa / 6’1-181: 72

29. Brandon Smith / Iowa / 6’1-218: 72

30. Josh Imatorbhebhe / Illinois / 6’1-218: 71

31. Tre Nixon / Central Florida / 6’0-187: 71

32. Dez Fitzpatrick / Louisville / 6’2-208: 70

33. Cade Johnson / South Dakota State / 5’11-184: 70

34. Trevon Grimes / Florida / 6’4-220: 70

35. Jhamon Ausbon / Texas A& M / 6’2-217: 69

36. Javon McKinley / Notre Dame / 6’2-215: 69

37. Dazz Newsome / North Carolina / 5’10-190: 69

38. Brennan Eagles / Texas / 6’4-225: 69

39. Marquez Stevenson / Houston / 5’10-180: 68

40. Ben Skowronek / Notre Dame / 6’3-220: 67

NYG APPROACH

Before I get into what I think NYG should do, I have to say this is going to be a very tricky situation. One can easily make the case they should use #11 on a receiver while someone else can make an equally credible case they should use their draft assets elsewhere. A lot of this will depend on the outlook of Darius Slayton. He was one of the best rookie receivers in the NFL in 2019 but there is cause for concern with how much he disappeared in 2020 (finished with 3 or less catches in 7 of 16 games). You then have Sterling Shepard, who has a $10+ cap number in both 2021 and 2022, has averaged 10 yards per catch since the start of 2019, and has missed 4, 6, and 5 games in 3 of the past 4 seasons respectively. Simply put, there are major question marks here.

To echo past comments I’ve made, the 31st-ranked NYG offense was not a Kenny Golladay-away from being competitive enough. It was not even a Kenny Golladay + Saquon Barkley away from being a competitive enough. Solving this puzzle needed multiple pieces, both along the offensive line and at the skill positions. Wide receiver is, and should be, very much in play at #11 and any pick beyond. We need to know if Daniel Jones is the long-term answer after year 3. That is usually my barometer for a young QB. You won’t know if he is the answer until you protect him with better blocking and you give him a realistic, formidable group of playmakers to work with. If that means you put a hold on building up the defense, fine. This WR group as a whole, just like a year ago, is incredibly strong. However, the longer you the wait the lesser chance you have at hitting a home run, triple, or double. I would be disappointed if NYG went 3 picks without adding another pass catcher. It does not have to be #11 (although it certainly could), but they need another weapon. There are multiple pro-ready guys here who will add a dimension to the offense it sorely needs. Imagine NYG get this year’s version of Justin Jefferson. What would that do to this offense with Barkley + Golladay + improved OL play? That is the jump they need, not just want, if they want to be ultra-competitive.

Apr 192021
 
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Kyle Pitts, Florida Gators (December 19, 2020)

Kyle Pitts – © USA TODAY Sports

TIGHT ENDS

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number means, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 15, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 16-25 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

The use of a first round pick on Evan Engram in 2017 simply has not panned out. He has made some big plays and he continues to be one of the top athletes at the position in the NFL, but his instability when it comes to catching the ball, making an impact as a blocker, and staying on the field has put multiple speed bumps in the path of this sputtering offense. Engram is a hard talent to completely give up on, as he keeps showing glimpses of a big-time player. He will be a free agent in 2022 and with the signing of Kyle Rudolph in addition to the fact Levine Toilolo and Kaden Smith are back, the chance of an Engram trade still remains. If a team needs a tight end over the course of the summer because of an injury, I expect Gettleman’s phone to ring. If he ends up in blue for a contract year, there is still hope that he could be that threat in the passing game. Long term, however, there is instability and if this offense truly wants to build around Barkley, they need to get stronger here when it comes to presence in the trenches.

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection

85+: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away

79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter

77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter

71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter

68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy

65-67: Preferred UDFA

60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1. Kyle Pitts / Florida / 6’6-245:

Grade: 90

Summary: Junior entry from Philadelphia, PA. Two-year starter that earned 1st Team All SEC honors both seasons. Pitts also earned 1st Team All American honors as a junior and won the Mackey Award. He wasn’t eligible for that award in 2019 because he didn’t play enough snaps in-line. That in lies the only question mark around Pitts and what he will bring to the next level. He needs to add more bulk and develop more core strength if an offense is going to expect him to block pro defensive ends and linebackers. As an athlete and receiver, however, Pitts has all the tools to be a dominant force. His long and twitchy frame shows fluidity and bend when attacking the ball in the air. He has elite speed and leaping ability for the position. He understands route running and displays receiver-type ball skills. Pitts has all the tools to be an immediate force in the passing game and if his lack of in-line presence can be hidden for the most part, he can be a big-time asset in any pro offense.

*The closer the draft gets, the more it seems everyone wants a piece of Pitts. I really don’t see any chance of him slipping through the cracks to #11. I would put that at a less than 5% chance. If it somehow happened, yes NYG needs to take him. It could make the tight end room crowded and it would yet again bring another tight end that may not factor well as a blocker. However, I think this offense would be better suited for that situation and I think Pitts will hold his own against defensive linemen much more so than Engram did. He would be brought in for receiving prowess, though, make no mistake about it. Pitts could change this passing game and make them unstoppable in the red zone. He can be Travis Kelce pr Darren Waller within 2-3 years. His floor is Jared Cook and I m not sure why people think the is a bad thing, as he will end up as one of the top 10-12 tight ends of all time statistically. No brainer if NYG could get their hands on him.

2. Pat Freiermuth / Penn State / 6’5-251

Grade: 80

Summary: Junior entry from Merrimac, Massachusetts. Three-year starter and two time All-Big 10 honoree. The 2019 All American played in just 4 games as a junior, but still won the conference’s Tight End of the Year Award. He was a two-time captain. Freiermuth is a classic Y-Tight End that can stay on the field in all situations. His weaponry will revolve around the ability to make plays in the passing game with his size, contact strength, and toughness. He is a blue-collar type player on the field with developed smarts and intelligence. He reads the field exceptionally well and combined with his plus short area quickness, he has all the makings of being a big time short and intermediate threat that can add production after the catch. Freiermuth will do most of his damage near the end zone and on 3rd and medium, two areas where the best offenses thrive. He isn’t overly explosive, and he won’t move defensive linemen off the ball, but his contributions will be well rounded, consistent, and reliable.

*This is a player that will need the right offense to truly reach his ceiling, and that isn’t a bad thing. There are countless players in the league you can say that about. Freiermuth is a really good football player that lacks the standout trait to his game. Again, that isn’t a bad thing. In relation to NYG, he would have to be taken in round 2 and I’m not sure it is a good fit unless this team unloads Engram. The draft is about long term, but bringing him in wouldn’t be very useful in 2021. He will be the 3rd stringer in a likelihood and the value that pick can present elsewhere will be stronger. All in all, a very good player that should start in the league for a long time.

3. Brevin Jordan / Miami / 6’3-247

Grade: 78

Summary: Junior entry from Las Vegas, NV. Three-year starter that earned All-ACC honors all three seasons, including 1st Team nomination in 2019, a year where he was also a Mackey Award finalist. Jordan is the son of Darrell Jordan, a ninth-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 1990. Brevin will enter the league as a much higher touted prospect, as he is one of the more explosive prospects at the position in this class. He doesn’t have the desired size or reach radius, but his ability after the catch and competitive mindset will create plays out of nothing. Get him the ball in space and he can break tackles, barrel over tacklers, and run away from the defense like a running back. He is a dangerous player that adds multiple dimensions to a passing game.

*Jordan is going to be an interesting kid to follow draft weekend. He is a dangerous weapon after the catch, that isn’t even a question. But snap to snap there are holes in his game and some teams may not even consider him. He plays a little small and there is some tightness in his movement as a route runner. Jordan has good straight line build up speed though and he showed the ability to go up and get it. He is a package-player, maybe not an every down guy, but a good package player that can be a monster if he is drafted into the right situation.

4. Tommy Tremble / Notre Dame / 6’3-241

Grade: 77

Summary: Third year sophomore entry from Johns Creek, Georgia. Two-year starter that earned Honorable Mention All ACC honors in 2020. Tremble was somewhat hidden in a very talented tight end room at Notre Dame. He is a fine prospect in his own right and could finally blossom in the NFL more so than what he showed in college. Tremble is a really good athlete, most notably in the five-to-ten-yard window, that plays the game with a lot of hustle and grit. He is a factor as a blocker because of that effort but he also creates really good pop on contact. His route running and burst give him a high upside when it comes to getting open underneath and intermediate. Tremble wasn’t targeted as much as he could have been with another program, thus his production and overall ball skills can be questioned. He shows interesting traits and the effort is what coaches are looking for. High upside player.

*Notre Dame has a younger stud tight end that has a real shot at being a first round pick in the coming years. Because of that, Tremble was a bit overlooked. I think NFL coaches are going to like what he brings to the table but the question can be asked, is he big enough to play every down. He blocks well but he is best used in space against linebackers and safeties. Not sure he can hang with pro defensive ends. I love him in a two tight end system in a situation where the bigger, more traditional tight end already exists. He can be a 3rd down weapon.

5. Kenny Yeboah / Mississippi / 6’4-250

Grade: 75

Summary: Fifth year senior from Allentown, Pennsylvania. Spent four years at Temple where he started one season but was a key part to their offense for three. He transferred to Mississippi as a graduate student for the 2020 season and nearly doubled his career yard output under Lane Kiffin’s high-octane offense. Yeboah averaged 19.4 yards per catch in the SEC, nearly an unheard-of number from the position. He did play a lot of traditional in-line tight end and was asked to block often. Yeboah still has a ways to go, needing to add power and strength to his game. He is a natural when attacking the ball with a wide catch radius, though. There is an interesting upside here that could fill in backup and/or specialty duty early on with the possibility of being an every down asset down the road.

*This is where the tight end group drops off a decent amount, but there is a cluster of early day three guys that are worth looking at. Yeboah tops that cluster. He is really long and it helps him as both a receiver and blocker. He just needs time to add some bulk and power to the frame. He isn’t enough of a pass catching threat to overlook the lack of true power, if that makes sense. He can be a solid player down the road.

6. Hunter Long / Boston College / 6’5-254

Grade: 75

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Exeter, New Hampshire. Two-year starter that earned All-ACC honors in both 2019 and 2020. Long led all tight ends in the nation with 57 receptions en route to an All-American nomination in 2020. He is a tall, long, and athletic pass catcher that was the security blanket for the Boston College passing game. He is quick to get his head around and will show his numbers to the passer, making him an inviting and reliable target. He still has a lot of physical development to undergo, as he needs to add bulk and power to his lower body to enhance his stability when it comes to lateral movement. He was not relied on to block in-line often and that won’t be why a team drafts him, but he needs to improve his strength overall. There isn’t enough ability as a pass catcher to overlook the shortcomings in that department. He can create mismatches in the passing game however. That size, vertical speed, and ability to do the little things right will be a great place to start.

*Most are higher than Long than I am. He is likely going to be a day 2 pick. Very traditional tight end here and he can get to the ball in traffic. He shows potential as a blocker. I docked him because I just don’t like the way he moves. He is unstable and off-balance too often. The lack of smooth unplanned movement bothers me. But I think that can be fixed in time with stability and strength work, I just don’t see it in year one and I think the overall upside is limited.

7. Noah Gray / Duke / 6’3-240

Grade: 73

Summary: Senior entry from Leominster, Massachusetts. Two-year starter that earned 2nd Team All ACC honors in 2019. Gray is a chess piece that can be moved around pre-snap in an offense that likes to use motion and versatile skill position players. He is a technically proficient, throwback player that does a lot of the little things right to help him exceed the sum of his parts. Gray may not be a top end athlete, but he is quick enough and has shown soft hands and toughness in traffic to pose as a threat underneath and intermediate. If a team wants a low ceiling-but-sure-thing number two tight end that can also play some fullback, Gray is the guy.

*Gray is the kind of guy that a good team wins with. Not in the sense where he steals the show and makes a ton of big plays, but more in the sense where he just consistently gets the job done and can wear a lot of hats. I see Gray as a tight end that lines up in line, in the backfield, and moves around pre-snap. Not every scheme would use a guy like and to be real, I don’t see Garrett using a guy like this. But he is a pure gamer and will do what he is asked more often than not. You can’t overdraft these guys but they are quality day 3 picks.

8. Nick Eubanks / Michigan / 6’5-245

Grade: 73

Summary: Fifth year senior from Plantation, Florida. Three-year starter that earned Honorable Mention All-Big 10 in 2019. A classic Y-tight end that can be an every down player in the NFL, Eubanks will enter the league after years of being under-utilized at Michigan. He has all the tools and skills necessary to be a factor for an offense that has traditional tight end usage. He has tremendous hands as a blocker, he can catch the ball and make things happen via physical nature after, and he plays fast enough as a route runner. Eubanks won’t jump off the screen but there are very few holes in his game. He needs to get more consistent with his lower body usage and mechanics and the athletic upside will put a cap on his potential. When you look at the big picture and how he took advantage of his limited opportunities however, someone is going to get a vastly underrated and overlooked player.

*Eubanks didn’t show much in college, but I think a large part of that was a result of how Michigan used him. He could have done more had he gotten more looks in my opinion. I have to keep his grade down here because he just didn’t prove enough on tape, but I do see a potential starter here. He has heavy contact to him when he blocks and runs with the ball. He caught almost everything thrown his way when he did get looks, and he has a lot of natural ability.

9. Tre McKitty / Georgia / 6’4-246

Grade: 72

Summary: Senior entry from Wesley Chapel, Florida. Spent three years at Florida State, two in which he was the starter, prior to transferring to Georgia. Split starting duties in his lone season with the Bulldogs. McKitty is a plus short-area athlete that can translate his speed into power. He is an effective space-blocker that can be moved around pre-snap. McKitty is a really comfortable pass catcher, one that can get to balls away from his body naturally. He plays a pro’s game that can be used on every down with the upside of being a solid number two tight end at the next level.

*A guy I work with has McKitty as a top 4 TE in this class for what it’s worth. He has a few really attractive tools and traits. He could have been featured more at Georgia in 2020, but they had a freshman tight end that is on a first round trajectory. He is similar to Noah Gray in that I think he can be a really important role player on a really good team that likes to move a second tight end around a bit. He made some big time catches at Senior Bowl week.

10. Quinton Morris / Bowling Green / 6’2-243

Grade: 71

Summary: Senior entry from Richmond, Texas. Three-year starter that earned All-MAC honors in 2019 and 2020. The former top prep basketball player chose the gridiron over the hardwood. He was number two on the team in catches in 2018 behind current Tampa Bay receiver Scotty Miller. Since then, he has led the team with 75 catches for 897 yards. The next leading pass catcher totaled 34 catches for 458 yards over that span. Morris was the focal point of that passing game and even though he got a lot of attention from opposing defenses, he still produced. Morris is a gamer. He plays through injuries, he puts himself on the line when attacking the ball, and he will make tough catches in traffic. He isn’t blessed with plus-tools and won’t factor as an in-line blocker. He should be able to fit into a number two or three tight end role and offer an extra, accessory-type element to a passing game.

*Morris was a little overweight and sloppy at the Senior Bowl. Stuff like that always bothers me unless there is a significant reason why. He is already on the low end of tools, thus he really needs to stand out in other areas and really work at perfecting his craft if he is going to factor. He is a natural hands-catcher and looks really crafty in traffic. I think he can make some plays on the ball but the question will be his blocking and skill development.

11. Cary Angeline / NC State / 6’6-245

Grade: 71

Summary: Fifth year senior from Chester Springs, Pennsylvania. Two-year starter at NC State after transferring from USC, where he redshirted in 2016 and withdrew from a season later. Two-time Honorable Mention All ACC. Angeline is an interesting athlete with an intriguing skill set as a pass catcher. His hands are natural and soft, capable of plucking the ball out of the air with easy coordination. His foot speed and balance stand out when considering his height, as most players at that size struggle to move in and out of traffic efficiently. Angeline won’t offer much as a blocker but two straight years of averaging 15+ yards per catch matched with his size and athletic ability means something.

*There are a few tight ends in the league that Angeline reminds me of. This kind of height and ball skills are attractive. He isn’t, and won’t be, a big-time athlete. He isn’t a very stout blocker right now. But the natural skill set as a receiver and that frame will mean something when it comes to projecting what he can potentially develop into. He has upside that some guys down here don’t.

12. Pro Wells / TCU / 6’3-249

Grade: 69

Summary: Fifth year senior from St. Petersburg, Florida. Two-year starter that was part of a three-way tight end rotation in his two seasons at TCU after redshirting in 2018. Wells’ career began at Milford Academy before a season at Northwest Mississippi Community College. He broke out in 2019, finishing 2nd Team All Big 12 after tying for the team lead with 5 touchdowns. Hamstring issues slowed him down a bit early in 2020, but he began to regain his old form over the second half of the year. Wells will be developmental tight end that will need time to get stronger and clean up his skill set. He has natural receiving ability with big, soft hands and a basketball player’s movement skills in traffic. He can really go up and get it, making him a potential menace in the red zone.

*There is a really interesting skill set here. Wells can naturally catch the ball better than most of the names in this group. He really sees it in and will get through traffic easily. He looks a tad limited when it comes to pure athletic juice and he won’t be a factor as a blocker, thus he will be limited snap to snap. I think he can be a guy that carves a role out for himself though and sticks around.

13. Matt Bushman / BYU / 6’5-245

Grade: 68

Summary: Senior entry from Tucson, Arizona. Three-year starter that led the team in both catches and yards in all seasons in which he played respectively. Missed the 2020 season with a torn achilles. Bushman has noticeably soft and easy hands capable of bringing the ball in from all angles. He has snappy reactions to the pass and will be a reliable traffic-threat. His tools, at the end of the day, will put a low ceiling on what his potential will be. He isn’t a burner and lacks pro-quickness. In addition, he is a very poor blocker that doesn’t have the power or attitude to make any difference in that department. He will be on the back end of a depth chart or practice squad while a team tries to increase his floor along areas outside of catching the ball.

*My first few looks at Bushman led me to putting him in the early day 3 tier. He just looked like a pro when it came to going after the ball and bringing it in. Further looks into the details of his game and it was pretty easy to find the holes in his game. He isn’t a top tier talent kind of guy, however he does have natural ball skills and body control. Can he get big enough to handle NFL trenches? If he can be just good enough, he can make a roster.

14. Briley Moore-McKinney / Kansas State / 6’4-240

Grade: 68

Summary: Fifth year senior from Blue Springs, Missouri. Spent three years at Northern Iowa where he started for 2 seasons. After missing 2019 because of an injury, Moore transferred to Kansas State for the 2020 season where he also started and tied for the team lead in touchdowns. Moore is a quick footed, underrated athlete that has a feisty way about him. He excels at finding the windows in coverage, comes to the pass hard, and will create after the catch. He can be a very quarterback-friendly target. He won’t factor much in the trenches, but his effort is there, and he does block well at the second level. He can be a solid backup at the next level with a limited upside.

*This is a player that impressed me each time I watched his film. Not so much with is talent and ability, but more because of his skill set and repeatability. He does a lot of the little things right and even though his actual tool set can put a limit on his impact, he is a nice guy to have on the back end of a roster. He will impact special teams.

15. Tony Poljan / Virginia / 6’7-251

Grade: 67

Summary: Senior entry from Lansing, Michigan. A former quarterback that played three seasons at Central Michigan. Made the part time move to tight end in 2018, full time in 2019. A two-year starter at the position, one of which was following his transfer to Virginia for the 2020 season. Poljan has a thick and long frame with plenty of functional straight-line speed and burst. He can pose a weapon in the end zone, as he shows the understanding of how to find space and box out defenders. His lateral quickness and overall short area athleticism are very limited. He won’t project as a starter, but he could evolve into a solid number two if he can improve his lower body mechanics.

*There are a lot of guys that like Poljan. I don’t see a dynamic enough athlete, but he does impress with straight line burst and at his size, that is going to get coaches excited. Also keep in mind he is relatively new to the position and his potential upside will be viewed as higher than most of the others down here. He has a long ways to go though and that high hipped, lack of balance-type movement bothers me a bit.

16. Miller Forristall / Alabama / 6’5-239: 67

17. Luke Farrell / Ohio State / 6’6-251: 67

18. Jake Stoll / Nebraska / 6’4-257: 67

19. Dylan Soehner / Iowa State / 6’7-268: 66

20. Shaun Beyer / Iowa / 6’5-250: 66

21. Tory Carter / LSU / 6’0-229: 66

22. Zach Davidson / Central Missouri / 6’7-245: 65

23. John Bates / Boise State / 6’5-250: 65

24. Kylen Granson / SMU / 6’2-241: 64

25. Carl Tucker / Alabama / 6’1-249: 63

NYG APPROACH

A big part of how NYG approaches this position may revolve around whether or not they ship Engram out via trade. Because of his performance and financial resources spent this offseason, I just can’t see him being a Giant in 2021. If there is a market for his services and NYG can net a future day 2 pick, I say you have to think hard about pulling that trigger. If, however, Engram plays out the duration of his rookie contract here, I don’t see room for another tight end. They’re already four deep, all four of which I see making the final 53 man roster, and adding another body there seems unlikely. The one circumstance I can see occurring, however, is if Kyle Pitts were to somehow fall into their lap at #11. The odds are slim there but adding him would add something to this offense that can really put the passing game over the top. You bring a talent like that in and figure out what to do with Engram later. Besides that unlikely scenario, the best move would be to wait until the undrafted free agency period begins to add new talent to the position.

Apr 172021
 
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Penei Sewell, Oregon Ducks (November 23, 2019)

Penei Sewell – © USA TODAY Sports

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number means, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 15, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 16-30 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

On paper, the Giants appear set for 2021 at tackle. While the progression questions still need to be answered (only comes with time) when looking at Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart, both are tool-rich and flashed as rookies. Thomas ended the year strong and played the majority of his season with a bad wheel, and Peart was showing signs before being derailed by Covid. When looking at how rookie offensive linemen play year to year, both were average. Nothing to be worried about, but also nothing to put in stone just yet. I think that means in regard to 2021, those two are the starting tackles Week 1. That is in the bag unless an injury occurs obviously. Nate Solder comes back at a reduced-price tag to back both of them up and while he has been a major disappointment since signing a huge contract, there are much worse backup tackles in the league. If Thomas and Peart move forward in their progression respectively, NYG is in a really good spot with them being on rookie contracts for the next few years. If one of them falters, the trouble sign will once again begin to flash. Jackson Barton and Kenny Wiggins offer back-end roster depth inside and outside and the coaches have said good things about Chad Slade. To be as simple as possible, this is coming down to Thomas and Peart.

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection

85+: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away

79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter

77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter

71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter

68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy

65-67: Preferred UDFA

60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1. Penei Sewell / Oregon / 6’5-331

Grade: 91

Summary: Junior entry from Malaeimi, American Samoa. Two-year starter that opted out of the 2020 season. Earned Honorable Mention all-conference honors as a true freshman in 2018 before being named Co-Pac 12 Offensive Player of the year in 2019. Sewell delivered on his highly touted high school recruit profile, ending his playing career at Oregon as the winner of the Outland and Morris Trophy, respectively. Sewell has elite potential that stems from his combination of size, athleticism, and techniques. He is a consistent weapon the trenches that has an extremely high win rate both as a run and pass blocker. He is a comfortable mover, he has outstanding hand strength, and he almost always looks under full control no matter the situation. Because he opted out of the 2020 season, however, Sewell will enter the league with just 20 college games under his belt. He needs to develop more power and trust in his lower half and become less dependent on simply being more talented than his opponent. He was a man among boys in college, but his subtle and hard to notice weaknesses will need to be cleaned up if he wants to carry that success into the NFL.

*Sewell has legitimate All-Pro potential. He can be the Quenton Nelson of tackles; a guy that comes in and makes an entire offense better simply because he is on the field throwing his weight around. If he somehow drops to #11, he has to be the pick. What do you do with him? Again, an unpopular opinion here, but I say you throw him at left guard where he could almost right away be top 5 guard in the NFL, and this running game go wild. If Thomas falters at left tackle, which needs to be considered a possibility, you have Sewell who can shift over. Sewell not playing in 2020 is causing some in the media to question him. Nonsense. This kid has rare ability and will be a big-time player at a position that causes so many problems for different teams in the league. There is a chance we see him go to ATL at 4, he’s been training at right tackle and part of me thinks he’s been told by someone to do it.

2. Christian Darrisaw / Virginia Tech / 6’5-322

Grade: 83

Summary: Junior entry from Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Two-year starter that ended his career first team All ACC. Darrisaw checks a lot of boxes when it comes to size, athletic ability, and body control. He is rarely found off balance or losing his base. Darrisaw shows the hard to find, unique trait of getting on his man and sticking to him like a magnet. That initial hand placement combined with such a stable and twitchy lower half can enable him to mirror defenders that play the speed game. His true strength and power will need to be developed over his first couple of years in the league but if that does catch up with the rest of his skill set, he has as much potential as any offensive lineman in this class.

*At first glance, I saw a tackle that was heading toward the top 10. His balance and hand techniques were so easy and consistent. Upon further review, he has a few holes (albeit correctable) that need to be cleaned up. He doesn’t always play with man-power and there are too many plays where he just isn’t getting after his man. I like bullies in the trenches but even then, I still prefer guys that play with balance and control. Starting tackle that has elite upside if he enhances his power and grit.

3. Spencer Brown / Northern Iowa / 6’8-311

Grade: 82

Summary: Fifth year senior from Lenox, Iowa. Three-year starter that had his redshirt senior season postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 2nd Team All Missouri Valley Conference in 2019. Brown comes from a hometown of 1,500 people and played 8-man high school football where he was a tight end and defensive end. He was a 0-star recruit that received just one scholarship offer. He then hurt his knee after 5 games into his redshirt freshman season before he started to turn heads over the course of the next two years. Brown developed his frame while maintaining his plus-foot speed and body control in a big way. The well-versed athlete is still early in the progression scale in comparison to fellow offensive line prospects, but there is a tool set here that very few possess. Brown is a one-to-two-year project with elite upside. He is worth taking a chance on.

*It surprised me, and admittedly causes some hesitation, to place a 1st round grade on a kid from Northern Iowa. I’ll go on record though; Brown has the ceiling of an All-Pro. I really do believe that. The question will be how much NFL coaching and NFL strength work elevates his game. Brown is already a freak athlete, and he already shows the understanding of footwork + hand techniques. I thought he was one of the biggest winners from Senior Bowl week and that was after having his 2020 season cancelled. I have to admit there is a lot of risk with a prospect like this and that is why I have his grade down here. I see a lot of Taylor Decker here, one of the most underrated tackles in the game.

4. Alex Leatherwood / Alabama / 6’5-312

Grade: 79

Summary: Senior entry from Pensacola, Florida. Three-year starter, one at guard and two at left tackle. Three-time 1st Team All SEC, two-time 1st Team All American, and 2020 Outland Trophy Award winner. Leatherwood capped off his career with 40 straight starts split between left guard and left tackle. He has an NFL body and power presence right now. He will undoubtedly be ready to step into an NFL offensive line week 1 if needed. The question will revolve around where he is best suited. The physical talent and upside should land him at tackle, where his overwhelming strength, length, and quickness can be most effectively used. However, a team that already has the outside shored up can use him early on at guard. There are some pass protection issues he needs to clean up from a technique perspective, most notably with his hands and body control. His power and ability to move men off the ball will be an asset to a running game and should provide immediate contributions if he were inside initially. No matter what, this is a starting caliber player that will increase the mauling at the point of attack for any offensive line.

*Some teams will look at him as a guard, some teams will look at him as a tackle. I see him as an offensive lineman that can play either spot based on the situation he is drafted into. If NYG goes for him, I think he is the starting left guard week 1 and I would feel really good about it. Leatherwood never quite reached the 1st round tier on my grading scale, but I still like him as a pro. He is heavy handed and a better athlete than some give him credit for. He has a few issues in pass protection that were actually similar to what I saw in Andrew Thomas last year. Maybe NYG sees that and comes out of the process with the same outlook; they think they can fix him enough and mold him into a key part of their offensive line. Leatherwood will certainly be in their discussion day 2 if he is there and NYG does not go OL round 1.

5. Dillon Radunz / North Dakota State / 6’4-301

Grade: 79

Summary: Fifth year senior from Becker, Minnesota. Started for two complete seasons. In 2017, he started 1 game then missed the rest of the season with a knee injury. In 2020, North Dakota State’s season was just one game because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 1st Team All American and Missouri Valley Conference in 2019, 2nd Team All-Conference in 2018. Radunz has elite body control and balance and it led to him being dominant at the FCS level. He then went to the Senior Bowl and had a really solid week against the better competition. This is the kind of offensive lineman that has all of the movement and balance traits but may need some extra time before he is thrown into the mix at the next level. He doesn’t seem to have that natural power and anchor that handles the man-strength found on a play-by-play basis in the league. He is an ideal fit for a heavy zone-blocking scheme and if he reaches his upside, you are talking about a very solid left tackle for a long time.

*Radunz was another impressive player in that he was forced to miss all of the 2020 season because of the school cancelling their program, but he still showed up to the Senior Bowl and performed admirably. I love the balance Radunz plays with, such a natural athlete. He may even be a better fit inside in a zone blocking scheme where his lack of true strength can be hidden a bit. No matter where he plays, he will be a solid player. There is a nice combination of grit and athletic ability here, but I think there is a cap on just how good he can be.

6. Liam Eichenberg / Notre Dame / 6’6-306

Grade: 78

Summary: Fifth year senior from Cleveland, Ohio. Three-year starter that earned 1st Team All ACC honors in 2020 and was an Outland Trophy finalist. Eichenberg also won the ACC’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy, given to the conference’s top blocker voted on by the league’s Head Coaches and Defensive Coordinators. Eichenberg is a throwback, blue collar lineman that gets the job done consistently through technique, grit, and desire. Where he lacks physical talent and ability through tools and traits, he can make up for in his approach and mental game. He may need to make a move inside but no matter where he lines up, he is the kind of lineman that plays to a higher result than the sum of his parts. His mental game is strong, his techniques are repeatable, and he has good brute strength in his hands and base respectively.

*This is a name to keep an ear out for when NYG gets on the clock day 2, assuming they don’t go OL in round 1. Eichenburg can play tackle at the next level, but if a team like NYG brings him in, he can easily transition inside. One could make the case he would be better at guard because there have been issues with him getting beat on his outside shoulder. Eichenburg is a technician that plays hard and smart. Just seems like a Joe Judge kind of guy and he brings extra versatility to the table. I bet he is in the league for a long time.

7. Jalen Mayfield / Michigan / 6’5-326

Grade: 78

Summary: Junior entry from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Two-year starter that earned Honorable Mention All-Big 10 honors in 2019. Mayfield initially opted out of the 2020 season but changed his mind, playing in just 2 games before suffering an ankle injury. Mayfield only has 15 career starts on his resume. His upside is obvious, as his size and athleticism are easy to respect. He carries a lot of weight on a big and wide frame, and it certainly plays a role in his dominant run blocking. When he gets a strong punch and maintains inside hand position, which occurs often, he looks lethal. Mayfield is, as expected, still pretty raw when it comes to techniques in pass protection and overall staying power. He still has multiple holes in his footwork after he is engaged with his man, narrowing his base and playing too tall. He has starter-upside but won’t be ready right away. Mayfield could also make a move inside where his pop off the ball could factor earlier in his career while he develops pass blocking approaches.

*Mayfield will likely go earlier than where I have him slotted. Nobody can deny his upside, as he put forth a performance against Chase Young in 2019 that may be the best lone performance I saw out of all these tackles, and I mean that. Mayfield just lacked the snap-to-snap consistency. It looked like there was an issue with his switch, just simply turning off and on too often. This is a player that ideally sits for a year, has the coaching staff work with him and feel out his drive, and let him see the field in 2022. A good team that will need a tackle next year (LAR? DAL?) would be a good landing spot for him.

8. Tevin Jenkins / Oklahoma State / 6’6-317

Grade: 78

Summary: Fifth year senior from Topeka, Kansas. Four-year starter that earned 1st Team All Big 12 honors in 2020 after being named Honorable Mention in both 2018 and 2019. Jenkins has experience at both tackle spots, although he was predominantly on the right side. He is an old school mauler that cherishes the opportunity to run block. He takes it on as a personal challenge to grab his man and put him through the sideline play after play. He already has man strength, and it was evident he was playing against boys at times in college. Jenkins checks the boxes when it comes to size, playing strength, and attitude. He needs to clean up his essential and vital techniques. His pad level and base-width are all over the place when it comes to consistency and it has produced more than his fair share of ugly tape. The starter potential is there, and the issues are correctable. High upside player.

*Jenkins is an old school right tackle prospect in that he is the big and physical mauler that doesn’t always know what he’s doing but will pretty much always throw his weight around and enhance the line’s physical attitude. He absolutely tossed Texas edge rusher Joseph Ossai around in their matchup this past year and yes, that truly does make a difference in some scouts’ eyes. Some players elevate their level of play against higher level of competition and that is something I keep hearing about Jenkins. Some view him as a late 1st rounder, I can see why.

9. James Hudson / Cincinnati / 6’5-313

Grade: 76

Summary: Fourth year junior from Toledo, Ohio. One-year starter that earned 1st Team All AAC honors in 2020. Originally a defensive line recruit that began his career at Michigan before transferring to Cincinnati in 2018. Hudson underwent a nationally-known mental health situation that enabled his transfer. The NCAA denied his immediate eligibility, thus forcing him to sit out all by 1 game. Hudson then played in the shortened 2020 season, starting 10 times. That is it. Hudson is still incredibly raw and inexperienced, but there is absolutely no denying his physical talent and upside. Hudson has a lot to learn and clean up but there is a level of explosion, twitch, and power here that very few can match. It may take a year-plus, but Hudson could be a starting tackle or guard for a long time, and a very good one.

*There is a lot of hype around this kid when looking at the long-term upside. His college career was as rocky as it gets, and he may be the most inexperienced prospect in this class. Some want to steer clear of that, others start dreaming about value in relation to where he can be had in the draft. I’ve been told he could even be a day two pick, which is wild because I thought I was too high on him. He is a gifted mover, and he plays hard. It will come down to how hard he works and how well he is coached. Could move to guard too.

10. Foster Sarell / Stanford / 6’6-318

Grade: 75

Summary: Fourth year junior from Graham, Washington. A two-year starter that earned Honorable Mention All-Pac 12 honors in 2019 after missing most of 2018 with a knee injury. Sarell only started 17 games over his career but possesses an NFL body and plays with very quick, active feet. He was the emotional leader of the Stanford offensive line and is clearly a try-hard player that will get the most out of himself. There are multiple technique shortcomings but they all stem from his over-aggression, which will cause him to overset and reach. If he can learn to be more patient and allow his ability to take over, Sarell has starter potential down the road. The athletic ability, pop, and desire are all there. He simply needs time and good coaching.

*A few guys I know have an undrafted grade on Sarell, and that is fine. He doesn’t have the lower body juice and athleticism that some want. I think he makes up for it enough with is tenacity, hustle, and size. He plays big and violent. I’m not sure if NYG really wants to use a draft resource on another tackle. If they do, unless they get major value at #11 (who might move to OG anyway), I think it is late. And I see Sarell being a guy you can get late and stash on the practice squad for a year.

11. Samuel Cosmi / Texas / 6’6-314

Grade: 75

Summary: Fourth year junior from Humble, Texas. Three-year starter that earned All Big 12 honors in 2019 and 2020, respectively. 1st Team All Big 12 in 2020. Cosmi is a tall and athletic tackle with good hand striking and fighting. He has an aggressive style that will work well in the running game. He gets a solid initial pop and is athletic enough to stay on defenders as he moves downhill. His issues consistently pop up in pass protection, however. His high hips and lack of knee bend make it very difficult for him to stay balanced and upright. He dips his head too often and just doesn’t maintain quality posture throughout. There isn’t a lot of sustainable power in his legs either. He has a lot to fix before being considered a starter at the next level.

*I had a feeling Cosmi was going to get more publicity after his Pro Day. All due respect, he absolutely crushed that Pro Day. He may be one of the better overall athletes in the class and coaches will bang the table for him. Every coach wants the athlete because they feel their coaching will make THE difference. Cosmi has had some quality OL coaching in his career so far and it hasn’t really made him a great player. I’m not sure I see the change happening in the NFL that needs to happen. He is worth a day 3 pick though and nobody can deny his upside, I just wouldn’t want to overdraft him because of it.

12. D’Ante Smith / East Carolina / 6’5-305

Grade: 75

Summary: Fifth year senior from Augusta, Georgia. Four-year starter that barely played in 2020 because of an undisclosed injury. Honorable Mention All AAC in 2019. Smith is an undersized but overly athletic blocker that shows exceptional foot speed and twitch. He moves at a different level of speed and quickness off the ball and when he maintains his balance and technique, he looks like a pro. The question with him will be where to put him, and when to put him there. He may be best suited for guard in the NFL, as he doesn’t look comfortable in sustained pass protection in space. However, this kind of athlete with this kind of length and natural bend could be a high ceiling player for tackle. Either way, Smith needs to get stronger and play with a more consistent level of balance and control. If that comes in time, he can be a starter at guard or tackle.

*I really want to see Smith get a shot in the next 2 years. I initially saw some Duane Brown, one of my favorite tackles in the game over the past decade, and upon further review I still saw it. He is underdeveloped in pass protection skills and I need to see strength gains. But his foot speed, hand strike, and natural ability to mirror was on display at the Senior Bowl after a 2020 in which we just didn’t see him play much. Really interesting guy to keep an eye on day 3 and I do think NYG will be looking at him.

13. Walker Little / Stanford / 6’7-313

Grade: 74

Summary: Senior entry from Houston, Texas. Three-year starter, but just started just 1 game in the final year because of a season ending knee injury. Honorable Mention All-Pac 12 in 2017, 1st Team in 2018. Little is the grandson and nephew of two former NFL players. He began his career at Stanford winning the Pac 12’s Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year Award. After an impressive sophomore year, Little injured that knee in August 2019 and hasn’t been on the game field since. He opted out of the 2020 season. Little is one of the biggest mysteries in the class. His body and initial techniques look like a prototype. His natural athleticism and heavy hands further enhance the notion he can be an immediate starter. However, he has a lot of poor tape where his balance, power, and sustainability look low-level. The floor is there for Little to be a quality starting tackle, but the questions are way too many to consider him anything close to a sure thing.

*Off the top of my head, I can’t remember a player that essentially go through 3 full years between live game action. He was on an early trajectory of being a sure-thing 1st rounder after 2018, but that early knee injury and opt out left a lot unknown. I am really interested in following what happens here, some still think he is a top 60 pick. Talk about a risk, but one that can certainly work out really well.

14. Alaric Jackson / Iowa / 6’6-321

Grade: 74

Summary: Fifth year senior from Detroit, Michigan. Four-year starter that earned All Big 10 honors three straight years, including 1st Team in 2020. Jackson started at left tackle right off the bat as a redshirt freshman and never looked back. He paired with current Tampa Bay right tackle Tristan Wirfs to create a formidable duo on the outside for a couple seasons. Early on, Jackson was considered the better of the two before Wirfs’ athletic tools took over during his development. Jackson may not be the first rounder and potential All-Pro that Wirfs is currently, but he has something in him. He is a really powerful and physical player that has flashed dominant stretches over his career. His lower body mechanics need to be cleaned up and there may be an issue with his length as an exterior pass blocker, but he should fit into a first-backup role with the potential of being a starter down the road.

*I can remember prior to 2019, I had a note sent to me that the Iowa coaches thought Jackson was going to be a better pro than Tristan Wirfs. I never saw that and certainly don’t see that now, but I still think it is noteworthy when you get notes from a coaching staff that you trust. Jackson is a bully. He hits hard, he finishes plays, and he is consistent with his effort. I see a guy that is just physically limited, though. He may have to make a shift inside or simply be that 7th/8th lineman on a team that can fill in at guard or tackle if injuries pile up. Perhaps he starts out the way David Diehl did and who knows what happens from there.

15. Royce Newman / Mississippi / 6’5-310

Grade: 73

Summary: Fifth year senior from Nashville, Illinois. Two-year starter that spent a season at guard and a season at tackle. Some think Newman doesn’t appear to have the length or foot speed for the outside. He gives up too much pressure on his outside shoulder and struggles to get the long arm position. He is better suited for guard in some schemes where he can use his ability to play low and strong with limited space windows for defenders around him to use. He has a lot of natural knee bend and he shows the ability to stay square with his hands attached. He just needs time to bulk up and add more power and size to his lower body. He projects as a backup at the next level.

*I’ve been back and forth on Newman when it comes to guard or tackle. It will depend on the scheme and situation a bit, but I will keep him here for now. He has the body control for it, but just not sure the speed and length will be enough. He didn’t play enough out there for me to think he can’t do it though. Maybe he just needs more looks out there. Either way, a solid backup type that can likely fill into multiple spots.

16. Tommy Doyle / Miami (OH) / 6’6-320: 73

17. Josh Ball / Marshall / 6’7-308: 71

18. Stone Forsythe / Florida / 6’8-307: 71

19. Brenden Jaimes / Nebraska / 6’5-298: 70

20. Drew Himmelman / Illinois State / 6’9-323: 69

21. Adrian Ealy / Oklahoma / 6’6-321: 69

22. Carson Green / Texas A& M / 6’6-320: 68

23. Brady Christensen / BYU / 6’5-302: 68

24. Jaylon Moore / Western Michigan / 6’4-311: 68

25. Greg Eiland / Mississippi State / 6’8-321: 67

26. Dan Moore / Texas A& M / 6’6-311: 67

27. Larry Borom / Missouri / 6’5-322: 67

28. Cole Van Lenen / Wisconsin / 6’4-305: 66

29. Landon Young / Kentucky / 6’6-310: 66

30. Grant Hermanns / Purdue / 6’7-300: 65

NYG APPROACH

Just to reiterate my stance, NYG needs to move forward in 2021 with Andrew Thomas at left tackle and Matt Peart at right tackle. I can’t imagine Nate Solder beats out Peart on the right side and I would feel good about him being the third tackle that backs up both spots. I say this because no matter who they decide to bring in, those two have the be the tackles. They drafted and developed them for a year, and it would likely do more harm than good to draft a rookie at replace either one of them. Really, there is only one player that even creates a question mark in relation to 2021: Penei Sewell. The odds of him slipping through the cracks and into the laps of NYG is probably less than 20%. However, if it happens, you scoop him up and put him at guard and there isn’t even a debate in my mind. In a more realistic sense, I think this is a year NYG can use their draft resources elsewhere. They used two top 100 picks on the position a year ago and they have a solid veteran backup. I can see them using a pick on one of these tackles that poses as a possible transition-to-guard type that can be had on day 3. If not there, possibly one of their last picks on a day 3 project that can be stashed on a practice squad.