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Finding impact players for the Giants in the NFL Draft

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By: Anthony Del Genio

Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

There are plenty there; unfortunately we don’t know who they are

With the NFL Combine having whetted the appetites of fans, it’s hard not to look forward to the NFL Draft, even though that is still almost two months away and the free agency period is about to begin. Even so, it’s worth beginning to think about the draft, because from a financial standpoint, free agency is a better opportunity to upgrade some positions of need than others.

Last year before the draft, I discussed the somewhat incompatible draft philosophies of drafting for need, for positional value, or just taking the best player available. Ultimately I advocated for an approach that tries to combine all three, a “need meets value” philosophy that looks at the five best players available at the time of each pick and then selects based on need and secondarily on positional value. I then conducted a mock draft based on that.

How did I do? The Giants had the 25th, 57th and 89th picks last year on Day 1 and 2. At No. 25 I took CB Deonte Banks, which was right on the money except that the Giants felt they had to move up one slot to ensure they would get him. Banks had ups and downs as a rookie but most people feel he will be a very good starting cornerback for years.

At No. 57 I drafted inside linebacker Trenton Simpson of Clemson. Remember him? Pre-draft he was considered an amazing talent, possibly the first ILB off the board Simpson actually didn’t go until pick No. 87 to Baltimore. He only played 49 snaps all season, more than half of them in the Ravens’ meaningless final season game. He might become a great player, but he didn’t contribute in his rookie season. Imagine what Giants Twitter would say about that if he’d been selected by their team.

At No. 89 I took WR Cedric Tillman of Tennessee, Jalin Hyatt’s teammate. Of course the Giants traded up and took Hyatt, so I had the right uniform and position, just the wrong receiver. Tillman had an OK rookie season, mostly sitting behind starter Donovan Peoples-Jones until the latter was traded in mid-season. Tillman finished with 21 receptions in 42 targets for 224 yards (Hyatt had 23 of 40 for 373 yards).

This year the draft is even more interesting with the Giants picking at Nos. 6, 39, and 47. The Giants still have big needs, to say the least. More to the point, though: The Giants need impact players, players who can by themselves alter the course of a game. Those are better found in the draft than in free agency, because impact free agent players cost a bundle due to their already having proven themselves and their scarcity. Draftees come with uncertainty, but the risk is balanced by a low cost for 4-5 years that can allow a team to compete in a salary-capped league.

By my reckoning, the Giants only have one impact player: Dexter Lawrence. They have another top-drawer player in Andrew Thomas, and AT is crucial to the Giants’ success. By my definition, though, he is not an impact player because a player who does not touch either the ball or an opponent who has the ball cannot change the course of a game by himself. (That’s not saying the OL is unimportant, only that a good OL without elite skill players doesn’t get you too far.) Saquon Barkley is also an excellent player (though not a Giant at the moment), but in today’s pass-dominated NFL it is uncommon for a running back to change the course of a game single-handedly.

Where do you find impact players?

To me, impact players come in four flavors: Quarterback, wide receiver, pass rusher, and defensive back. I’ll include both edge defenders and interior defensive linemen in the pass rusher category. I don’t think the Giants will go DB early in this draft, because I suspect they feel they have an impact cornerback in Banks and at the present time there is a chance they re-sign safety Xavier McKinney.

It’s difficult to find impact players, even when you draft high. Here are the quarterbacks taken in the top six since 2018: Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Kyler Murray, Daniel Jones, Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson. That group has accounted for zero Super Bowl rings and one Super Bowl appearance. I’d argue that Burrow and Stroud are the only impact players in that group, though Stroud’s assessment is based on a one-year sample. Most people would say Herbert is clearly such a player, but four years in, he has one less playoff victory than Daniel Jones. Let’s see how he does with a proven head coach. Lawrence has the feel of an impact player, but so far he seems to be good but not great.

Here are the wide receivers taken in the top six since 2018: Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle. That’s it – surprising, no? Chase is certainly an impact player. Waddle to me is a tier below. There have been plenty of impact receivers drafted in recent years, but most of them have come outside the top 10 or even after Day 1. That could be good news for the Giants.

And here are the defensive linemen taken top six since 2018: Bradley Chubb, Nick Bosa, Quinnen Williams, Clelin Ferrell, Chase Young, Travon Walker, Aidan Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Will Anderson. Bosa and Williams are impact players. Young started as one but hasn’t lived up to his promise since his injury. Chubb was one last season after not doing a lot his first few years. Hutchinson looks like one, so does Anderson, but time will tell. Thibodeaux needs more consistency to be one.

Looking for impact players in the 2024 draft

As the discussion above indicates, there are no guarantees even when you have high draft picks. All the scouting and analysis in the world can still result in disappointment, because NFL success is always an uncertain projection from what even an expert can see on college tape, never a direct transferral. There is no such thing as “can’t-miss.” Most likely Joe Schoen will go into this draft the same way he did in 2022: With a group of six players, one of whom is guaranteed to be there at No. 6, that he and his coaches are most high on. He’ll choose whoever is left, barring a trade-up or -down.

Let’s assume for this exercise that Schoen does not make a draft trade, and that he shores up the offensive line enough in free agency not to see it as a first-order need entering the draft. Either of those could be false; I just want to see what happens when one attempts to find impact players in this draft. We’ll just look at Rounds 1 and 2 for simplicity.

Mock draft simulators all have their own biases – different big boards, degrees of randomness, assumptions about positional value, etc. By looking at multiple simulators we can capture some of the unpredictability of the draft. I used three different simulators: From the NFL Mock Draft Database, Pro Football Focus, and the Pro Football Network. PFF’s allows you to vary input factors, so I set positional value and team needs fairly high and randomness at an intermediate level.

For each simulator I conducted three Giants drafts of the first two rounds, following a “need meets value” philosophy similar to the one I wrote about last year. With the first three picks I am looking for a quarterback, a wide receiver, and a defensive lineman, in some order, as reflecting the Giants’ three biggest needs for impact players. Beyond that, there is no choice on my part – my rules require me to simply select the “best” (highest ranked) player available in any of the three position groups that I’ve identified as high positional value + impact position + great need, and I am only allowed to select from each position group once (which means that the third pick is more need-based). No trades were allowed. Let’s see what I was able to do.

NFL Mock Draft Database

Courtesy of NFL Mock Draft Database

Courtesy of NFL Mock Draft Database

Courtesy of NFL Mock Draft Database

The NFL Mock Draft Database big board has Caleb Williams and Drake Maye Nos. 1 and 2 (and Jayden Daniels No. 4), yet one of them was always available at No. 6, for some strange reason. I’m not complaining. At No. 39, Xavier Worthy was the BPA among my three position groups once; I’ll take him and cross my fingers that he’s not the second coming of John Ross, whose Combine 40 record he broke. In the other two drafts, Ja’Lynn Polk was a nice consolation prize for WR at No. 47 instead. On the DL, Kris Jenkins or T’Vondre Sweat could be nice additions, although if the piece I published several days ago about agility being key for defensive players is any indication, Sweat may not be the guy – he’s huge, tested poorly in the speed drills, and didn’t do the agility drills. Jenkins did much better, at least in the shuttle.

Pro Football Focus

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus

PFF’s big board and simulator are strange in a different way than MDD’s is. I never had a chance at Williams or Maye in any of my three drafts, which seems much more likely to be the case in the real draft than what MDD gave me. On the other hand, PFF has Daniels No. 22 on its big board, much lower than the other simulators’ boards do. If this is really the case the Giants have an excellent shot at him, but in PFF’s eyes that would be a big reach (they grade me “C” if I select him at No. 6). Never mind, I’m playing by strict rules here, and the BPA at No. 6 is always either Malik Nabers or Rome Odunze (Marvin Harrison Jr. is always off the board by No. 6). That much seems very realistic to me, and I will be happy if the real draft plays out that way.

That means that without a trade-up to get back into Round 1 for Daniels (which I would heartily endorse if No. 22 would be enough to get him), I always wind up going QB at No. 39, because on all the big boards there’s a group of DLs (edge or interior) in the middle of Round 1 and another group in the middle of Round 2, but none in between. PFF has not bought into the recent J.J. McCarthy hype, so he’s there once at No. 39 for me. In reality, it seems McCarthy is going to go much higher now. Here is how McCarthy is trending according to the NFL Mock Draft Database:

Courtesy of NFL Mock Draft Database

If that is the case then McCarthy is in that no-man’s land between the Giants’ first and second round picks. PFF is also among those suspicious of Michael Penix Jr. That means that twice, Bo Nix, you are a New York Giant.

PFF’s board has several edge defenders ranked higher in Round 2 than the other boards do. In three shots at the board, as things went, I wound up with three different edge defenders being best available at No. 47: Darius Robinson, Jonah Elliss, and Chop Robinson.

Pro Football Network

Courtesy of Pro Football Network

Courtesy of Pro Football Network

Courtesy of Pro Football Network

At the moment, PFN’s simulator seems the most realistic to me. It has Daniels at No. 8 on its big board, much more plausible to me than PFF’s No. 22. It also never makes Williams or Maye (their Nos. 1 and 2) available to the Giants at No. 6. That seems likely, despite the recent hand-wringing over Williams’ decisions about who to give medicals to, who he might or might not be willing to play for, etc., and the recent darts thrown at Maye for his shortcomings on the field (inaccuracy, footwork, dangerous throws).

That means I could have had Daniels at No. 6 if I wanted him. By my rules, however, I am forced to take the BPA as long as he is within one of my high value/need position groups. Malik Nabers (ranked No. 7, one spot ahead of Daniels) is always there, so I wind up taking him each time. In reality I’d imagine the Giants would take Daniels if he was there. In any case, that leaves me with a quarterback at No. 39: Bo Nix twice, and Michael Penix Jr. once.

Once again, there wound up being three different defensive linemen being best available at No. 47, so once each, the Giants selected Leonard Taylor, Chris Braswell, and T’Vondre Sweat.

Back to reality

We have no idea what the Giants’ brain trust thinks their strategy should be for the next two months, and what success they will have implementing that strategy. They may think they can beef up edge defender in free agency and not have to rely on what looks like an unimpressive draft class on the DL. (Danielle Hunter? Yes, please.) They may fail to sign a good veteran tackle and/or guard and feel that they need to address one or both of these in Rounds 1 and/or 2. They may decide to sign a veteran free agent quarterback and not draft one until Day 3. Anything is possible.

It should be possible, though, to find at least one impact player, and hopefully two, in this draft. Unfortunately there is no guarantee. Whoever you think the best GM in the NFL is, that person has made picks that didn’t work out. Look at the top six picks over the past six years at the beginning of this article. Most of the quarterbacks are not elite, some are abject failures. The only two WRs are good, only one is really elite. About half the defensive linemen are elite or close to it, the rest are useful but not special. It’s not the fault of the GMs most of the time – it’s just difficult to project from the simpler college offenses and defenses, and the overall much higher caliber opposition they face in the NFL. If you think you know who the best prospects for the Giants to draft are, you’re kidding yourself. Consider what ex-Giant and Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, who is trying this year to analyze the college QB prospect class, has to say:

On the other hand, consider the reaction of Buffalo Bills fans to the drafting of Josh Allen:

The fact that the three simulators and their big boards give such different results in some cases tells us how uncertain college player evaluation is. That said, if three samples each of three different simulators, each with its own big board and algorithm, provides a representative guide to the range of possibilities for the Giants, then the following should be possible with a “value meets need” strategy on draft weekend and appropriate for where the Giants will pick (i.e., there will be a run on WR, edge, IDL in the bottom half of Round 1 that the Giants will miss out on barring a trade):

  • One of Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels, J.J. McCarthy, Bo Nix, or Michael Penix Jr. (take the first two with a grain of salt)
  • One of Malik Nabers, Rome Odunze, Xavier Worthy, or Ja’Lynn Polk
  • One of Kris Jenkins, T’Vondre Sweat, Darius Robinson, Jonah Elliss or Chop Robinson

Are there two impact players in that group? I have no idea and neither do you, nor does any GM, even though their guesses are better than ours. Some of it is just luck. Everyone thinks Williams/Maye/Daniels > McCarthy/Nix/Penix. History says maybe yes, maybe no. What I will say, though, is that if the Giants do find two, they will be very competitive in 2024. Not Super Bowl-caliber, but closer to 2022 than 2023…IF they find a couple of good offensive linemen in free agency.

Originally posted on Big Blue View