The second day of the 2016 NFL Draft is in the books, and it came with several surprises. The Dallas Cowboys took a chance on injured Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith in the second round, while the New York Jets selected enigmatic Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg in the same round. On Day 2, the New York Giants did not throw any curve balls as they did in Round 1, but supplanted two positions of need with two of the top talents at each position in the draft. Let's see what grade draft analysts give the Giants for their selections of wide receiver Sterling Shepard and free safety Darian Thompson.
With Odell Beckham on the team, the Giants will never have a massive need at wide receiver, but they had to get one in this draft. They got a good one with Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard. He can be a productive player in the slot thanks to his quickness, burst, hands and exceptional route running. If Shepard were a few inches taller, he may have been the first wide receiver taken.
With their third-round pick, the Giants went with safety Darian Thompson. He was easily the best safety left on the board. He's a very good coverage safety but has some tackling issues. If he can better in that area, he pairs well with Landon Collins.
Overall grade: B
Victor Cruz announced before the draft that he is 100 percent healthy. Victor Cruz health percentages are the final frontier of modern mathematics. Cruz is a great individual to root for, and I hope he really does return to 2011-13 form someday, but he has been spouting percentages for nearly two years.
Even if Cruz remains at 100 percent, the Giants' third and fourth receivers right now are Dwayne Harris and Geremy Davis. Harris had a pretty good season last year (34 receptions), but he is a returner and core special teamer, not someone who is one injury by an injury-prone veteran away from the starting lineup.
So the Giants need some depth at wide receiver.
Shepard would be a top-10 pick at 6'2". He’s incredibly quick and runs tight, slippery routes. He has the best double moves in the open field of any player in this draft class and can be deadly on post and corner routes. He has the hands and concentration to make catches in traffic and is courageous between the numbers.
Shepard is the son of late Oklahoma star receiver Derrick Shepard and had a solid Senior Bowl week. He played a significant role in the Sooners' offense for four years and caught 233 passes. So Shepard isn’t exactly from Eastern Idaho Bible College. Yet he somehow obtained "sleeper" and "underrated" status in mid-April, even though he’s looked like a second-round pick for months.
I’m starting to think there’s a mailing list among draftniks that tells us when we are supposed to hype these players so that we all stay in schedule and none of us get picked off from the herd. And I am starting to worry that no one will tell me about the list because they want me picked off from the herd.
Odell Beckham Jr., Shepard and (maybe) Cruz? The Giants are going to be hard to defend.
Thompson told me at the combine that playing center field in youth baseball improved his skills as a free safety. "Especially when you don’t know which way the baseball’s going to go off the bat in center field," he explained. "Smaller ball, makes it a little harder to catch. I can definitely see the correlation there.
That’s a commercial for cross-training young athletes—playing another sport is more useful in many ways than burning the kid out in offseason camps—but it is also a description of Thompson’s game. Thompson is a free safety who anticipates, gets a good break on the ball and intercepts passes that would appear to be out of his range. He picked off 19 passes in four years. He also has the size to cover tight ends and is a sure open-field tackler.
The knock on Thompson is that he let a lot of receivers get behind him in college. Thompson doesn’t have ideal speed, so he cannot make a correction if a Beckham type gets past him. That may be a quibble that can be corrected by positioning and film study. Thompson took charge of defensive huddles at Senior Bowl week and has both good football intelligence and leadership qualities. He’s a future starter.
This is a great pick for a team that usually needs eight or nine people in the secondary just to make it through the first injury plague.
ANALYSIS: Shepard "perfect fit" for Giants
The Giants needed to add a wide receiver, and Chris Pflum says Sterling Shepard is "a perfect fit for the Giants' offense."
I'm a sucker for dudes with piles and piles of really good college tape. Shepard had combined totals of 137 catches for 2,258 yards and 16 touchdowns over his final two seasons at Oklahoma. He got better every year. Giants scouting director Marc Ross said he was a guy who'd been making an impression for years -- that he always came away from Oklahoma games impressed, and not just during Shepard's senior year when they were looking at him for this year's draft. Yes, he's 5-foot-10, 194 pounds, but wide receivers can play bigger than their size, and everything about Shepard says he does. You can argue an offensive tackle or a safety would have been a better "need" pick here, and you may be right. But they also needed a wide receiver, and Shepard is just a heck of a football player. Love this pick.
At least they keep swinging, right? General manager Jerry Reese described Thompson as a "free safety" and a "center fielder" and said he's the kind of guy who makes the calls on the back end of the defense. This is what the Giants didn't have last season and what Steve Spagnuolo's defense needs. If Thompson is all the things they believe him to be, and he can step in and start right away, then this is a good pick. But those feel like big "ifs," and I think the Giants needed to come out of the first two nights of the draft with at least one new player who weighs more than 210 pounds. They went cornerback/receiver/safety and they still have needs on both lines.
Shepard is one of the best route runners in the class and his +27.8 receiving grade ranked second in the draft class in 2015. He’s a shifty slot receiver, though he’s capable of winning on the outside and using his underrated ball skills to make just enough plays down the field to keep cornerbacks honest. Shepard is an excellent complement to Odell Beckham on the other side. Grade: A
Safety has been an issue for the Giants and Thompson complements last year’s second-rounder, Landon Collins on the back end. Thompson can play single-high free safety, allowing Collins to play in the box, but even if they play more 2-high looks, Thompson does a nice job working downhill in both the pass and run game. His +17.8 overall grade ranked fifth among safeties in the class. Grade: B
The Giants get one of the best slot receivers in this draft class, and Shepard has the potential to move outside over time and become an ideal complement to Odell Beckham, Jr. He doesn't have a top gear on downfield routes, but he's got everything else to succeed at the next level. Grade: A