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Mailbag: Re-visiting Rounds 1 and 2 of 2016 Draft for Giants

We’re focusing on a single question this week, because it’s a good one

NFL: Preaseason-Tennessee Titans at Miami Dolphins
Laremy Tunsil
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

I am only answering one question in this week’s Big Blue View Mailbag. That is because this question is a good one that requires more than a quick one- or two-sentence response. It is what I would call the “draft do-over” question.

Joseph Lee asks (via e-mail): If you could re-do the first 2 rounds of last year's draft, would you take Tunsil or Decker over Apple and/or Michael Thomas over Shepard?

Ed says: There are still many Giants fans who can’t/won’t let go of the idea that the New York Giants made a mistake last year by passing on offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil when they chose Eli Apple with the 10th overall pick. That’s where this debate has to start.

First, though, I need to establish my view on how I will answer the whole “do-over” question. It’s not really fair to look back a year later and say, well, I would have done “X” because Player A had a better rookie year than Player B. The only way I can really answer this is to tell you what I would have done if the choice had been mine to make during the 2016 NFL Draft.

Round 1

Giants fans know how this played out. The team’s top two draft targets for the 10th overall pick were believed to be outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and offensive tackle Jack Conklin. The Tennessee Titans traded up to No. 8 to grab Conklin, and the Chicago Bears moved up to No. 9 to get Floyd before the Giants could.

That left the Giants needing to go to Plan B, or perhaps really Plan C. They chose Eli Apple, the young Ohio State cornerback who only had two years of collegiate experience. The fan base howled. How could GM Jerry Reese get caught flat-footed like that? And why Apple? Most draft boards had Vernon Hargreaves listed ahead of Apple among cornerbacks. And Tunsil, thought to be the best offensive tackle in the draft, was still available after his gas mask bong video exploded on the scene right as the draft was beginning.

So, what would I have done?

First, I would not have traded up. The Titans gave up a 2016 third-round pick and a 2017 second-round pick to move up. The Bears gave up an additional fourth-round pick to move up. Me? I would have kept the picks, like Reese did, and let the draft unfold.

Would I have taken Tunsil? Not a chance, and that comes from someone who believes strongly that if you don’t have a good offensive line it doesn’t matter how many good play-makers you collect. You can’t use them to their fullest advantage.

Think about the situation at the time. The video exploded the day of the draft. The facts weren’t in, teams didn’t know what exactly they were dealing with. They just knew that risk of getting involved with this player had just skyrocketed. That’s the only reason the player expected to be the first offensive tackle taken was still on the board with Conklin and Ronnie Stanley already having been selected.

Now, think about the Giants. They were riding a streak of four straight seasons without making the playoffs. Tom Coughlin had been replaced by Ben McAdoo. Reese was on the hot seat, having been told to get the Giants fixed and knowing that failing to do so — for the 2017 season — might cost him his job.

With everything that was unknown about Tunsil at the time and his job on the line, that’s a pick Reese simply could not make. And one that, if it was me, I could not have made, either.

The other factor is the reality that the Giants’ drafts from roughly 2010 to 2013 weren’t good enough. Too much reliance on selecting athletes over players, or taking chances on players of questionable character who ended up not working out, left the Giants short on talent. In the last few drafts the Giants have placed more emphasis on character and production, and that has paid off.

As for Taylor Decker, Offensive Line Scouting and Development Consultant Duke Manyweather had told me in the weeks leading up to the draft that in his view teams weren’t giving Decker enough credit. So, I’m not surprised he played well for the Detroit Lions as a rookie. Still, I don’t think I could have taken Decker in that spot.

The player I really liked with Conklin and Floyd gone? West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, who went 14th to the Oakland Raiders. I will admit, though, that I didn’t know as much about Apple as I probably should have.

If it had been me, I likely would have taken Joseph in that spot to pair with Landon Collins at the back of the Giants’ defense.

In my view, though, what the Giants did worked out just fine. Apple had a nice rookie season and should be a good player for a long time if he stays healthy.

New Orleans Saints v Kansas City Chiefs
Michael Thomas
Photo by Jason Hanna/Getty Images

Round 2

The question here is a specific one. Would I have selected wide receiver Michael Thomas instead of the receiver the Giants did choose, Sterling Shepard, in the second round?

The answer is yes. Without any doubt.

Now, that is an easy thing to say because Thomas, chosen by the New Orleans Saints seven picks after the Giants selected Shepard, had a better rookie season. Shepard, a really good player, had 65 catches for 683 yards and 8 touchdowns. Thomas ended up with 92 receptions for 1,137 yards and 9 touchdowns. He also averaged 1.9 yards per catch more than Shepard, 12.4 to 10.5.

I am not, however, basing that answer on 2016 production. Remember, I said I wouldn’t go by “Player A had a better year than Player B.” I’m not.

I simply felt, and still feel, that Thomas would have been perfect for what the Giants needed in 2016. He is 6-foot-3, 212 pounds and would have given the Giants the big-bodied outside receiver they did not have last season. Shepard, 5-10, 194, is a slot receiver and with Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz gave the Giants a smallish trio of receivers.

Now, heading into 2017 the presence of the 6-4, 230-pound Brandon Marshall balances the Giants’ receiving corps, so that point might be moot going forward. Also, there is no intent here to diminish the reality that Shepard is a really good player who should get better.

Given my choice between the two receivers, though, I would have taken Thomas in last year’s draft.

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