All the talk around the 2018 NFL Draft is about quarterbacks Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen. And all the talk around here is which one the New York Giants should take with the second overall pick.
But, just for a minute, let’s talk about the Giants’ options should they decide that they don’t like their choice at quarterback after the Cleveland Browns make their selection with the first pick in the draft.
I know, I know. I can already hear the furor echoing from a comments section that doesn’t yet exist as I write this. But for the sake of argument, just go with me here. The Giants would still have Eli Manning to hold things down while Davis Webb develops. It’s not like college football is going to stop producing quarterbacks, that the Giants couldn’t trade up in the future should they feel the need to do so. The franchise certainly weren’t terminally hamstrung by trading for Eli.
Perhaps by the end of the draft process the Giants will see just a bit too much Mark Sanchez in Sam Darnold or Ryan Leaf in Josh Rosen; believe that the combination of Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. would be just a bit too explosive; see Josh Allen as Jake Locker: Part Deaux.
So, I want to take a look at four non-quarterback prospects that I am sold on (and a fifth option with whom I would still be comfortable).
These picks all have a very strong reputation for character and work ethic, as well as the potential to quickly be among the best in the league at their respective positions.
1) Saquon Barkley (RB, Penn State) - Barkley spent almost the entire college football season atop my Top 10 rankings, only falling to Baker Mayfield in the final week. Yeah, Barkley is listed as a running back, but he is FAR more than a running back.
He certainly does bring a genuinely rare blend of size, power, explosiveness, agility, and speed to the running back position, but he also brings all those traits to the passing game as a dangerous (and polished) receiver. Over the last two seasons he has combined for 87 receptions for 1,034 yards and seven touchdowns. Barkley is a quadruple threat, who can help the team as a runner, receiver, pass blocker, and kick returner. In three years he amassed 5,038 yards and 51 touchdowns for Penn State, and was second in D-I football in total yards in 2017.
Adding a player like Barkley to an offense that already has Odell Beckham Jr. and Evan Engram would give Manning and the Giants’ future quarterback match-up possibilities and a dynamism that few offenses could match. It should also be noted that Barkley is, by all accounts, a very clean player who is beloved around the Penn State program.
2) Quenton Nelson (OG, Notre Dame) - Another player that I’m going to get shouted at for mentioning. However, Nelson is clearly the best offensive line prospect in the draft, and the best offensive lineman in the country. He is isn’t absolutely perfect, but he combines power, athleticism, technique, and awareness in a way that few linemen do in college — or the NFL. Nelson is scheme-diverse and can play in any blocking scheme in the NFL, already comes from a Pro-Style offense, and can contribute immediately as a pass protector and run blocker. Nelson has the potential to be an All-Pro his rookie year and is the type of player you can build an offensive line, and an offense, around.
Best Player in the Country!— Duke Manyweather (@BigDuke50) January 1, 2018
Quenton Nelson!#StrikeLeverageDriveFinish#EyesOnOLine pic.twitter.com/GRxNSNRDVg
3) Bradley Chubb (DE, NC State) - Chubb (likely) won’t test off the charts like Jadeveon Clowney or Myles Garrett. But as a football player, he is already more polished than either of them. Both first-overall pick defensive ends got by in college on sheer athletic freakish-ness. They could overwhelm blockers with size and explosiveness. Chubb is a great athlete in his own right, but he gets by with a blend of power, technique, motor, and a plan of attack. In that he is more like former Ohio State, and current Los Angeles Chargers defensive end, Joey Bosa. That is certainly a high bar for him to clear, but Chubb has shown the ability to take over games at the collegiate level.
4) Minkah Fitzpatrick (DB, Alabama) - Drafting defensive players out of Alabama has certianly been kind to the Giants, netting them both Landon Collins and Dalvin Tomlinson. Fitzpatrick’s position in the NFL will likely depend on how he tests, but whether it is cornerback, free safety, or something like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie’s current role as a hybrid blitzing slot corner and free safety. Fitzpatrick has been a playmaker for Alabama since stepping foot on campus as a true freshman. His potential in the secondary along with Collins is certainly intriguing for a defensive coordinator, and worrisome for offenses. Fitzpatrick also, reportedly, has a sky-high football IQ, and is regarded as something of “another Saban” or an extension of Nick Saban on the football field. As a high school senior he skipped his final spring break to spend the week on campus at Alabama for spring practices. That is the kind of player you want as the Giants repair and rebuild the culture of their locker room and defense.
5) Roquan Smith (LB, Georgia) - Honestly, this spot could have gone to a number of players — Bryce Love is sixth in my “Top 10” ranking, but as a pure runner, he doesn’t bring enough to the table to be considered this highly. But Smith is something the Giants haven’t had in a long time: A linebacker with instincts, high football IQ, range, versatility, athleticism, and leadership. Second is awfully high for a linebacker that doesn’t also have elite size, but thundering size is less important now that it was even a decade ago. And behind players like Damon Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson, speed accuracy, and communication are more important.
Smith could connect the dots in the Giant’s defense and help close the void in the middle of the field which has helped to blunt their pass rush.