With the end of the 2019 NFL season nearly here and the true onset of “Draft Season” almost upon us, various outlets have begun ramping up their pre-draft coverage. Once again, this will be of particular interest to fans of the New York Giants, as the team looks to be picking inside of the top 5 for the second time in three seasons.
Tuesday morning, ESPN posed 30 questions (exclusive content) to their draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay. Several of them should be interesting to Giants fans from a general draft perspective, but one in particular generated a shocking answer from McShay:
The question: “The Giants are projected to have a top-five pick. What’s their biggest need?”
“Ready for a bit of a surprise?” McShay answered, “I would take a quarterback. I wasn’t a believer in Daniel Jones when he was the No. 6 pick last April, and he hasn’t done enough in my opinion to prove he’s the long-term answer in New York. In 10 starts, Jones has 11 interceptions and 15 fumbles (10 lost) this season. And his only really good games have come against bad teams (Buccaneers, Lions and Jets). However, New York needs a lot of pieces, including help just about everywhere on that defense. So while I like the idea of taking an elite franchise quarterback, I’d expect the Giants to focus on the other side of the ball. They are in the early stages of a rebuild and have nowhere to go but up -- and this draft will be crucial in the process.”
There is going to be a LOT to work through when assessing Jones’ 2019 season and spinning that ahead to the 2020 season and beyond. It is easy to get caught up in the highlight reel scrambles, touchdowns, and pretty deep passes. But we also can’t ignore the turnovers that McShay points out — nor should we ignore that defenses have had their hands on another 10 (or so) passes but were unable to finish the play. Jones scoring 20 touchdowns in 10 games as a rookie is great, but throwing the ball to the defense 20 times and putting it on the ground another 15 also.
But could the New York Giants really move on from Jones after part of one season? It is (highly) unlikely, but not outside of the realm of possibility. As their losses pile up the future looks increasingly bleak for Pat Shurmur and the odds that Dave Gettleman will be getting an earlier-than-anticipated start on that retirement in Cape Cod seemingly increase.
Could the Giants really abandon the “Kansas City Plan” and adopt the “Arizona” plan? A few weeks ago I posed a thought experiment on Twitter: How would fans react if the Giants cleaned house and the new regime decided to move on from Jones.
It is possible that the Giants’ ownership could decide to embrace a fundamental change in how the Giants approach football after enduring a losing record for seven of the last eight seasons and join the Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens, and Carolina Panthers in adopting an approach that incorporates analytics into football decisions. If so, Jones might not be an attractive option. Jones is tied with Mason Rudolph for the 32nd worst ANY/A in the NFL, and Jones has been the worst, or second worst, quarterback in the NFL by other analytic measures. Ben Baldwin, a statistician for The Athletic, has been tracking completion percentage over expectation (CPOE) and expected points added (EPA) over the course of the season, and Jones ranks 34th of 35 qualifying quarterbacks.
I would like to be clear, before the storm of angry comments commence: I am not advocating trading Jones after one season based on analytics. I stated at the beginning of the season that I am reserving judgement until the end of the year when I can digest all of the available data. That includes tape and the data going beyond the box score.
It is highly unlikely that the Giants would ever take that course of action, but the fact that it is within the realm of possibility and being seriously discussed on the national stage means it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.
But now let’s move on to the other part of McShay’s answer, that he expects the Giants to focus on the defensive side of the ball. Considering the Giants currently hold the second overall pick, that means Ohio State EDGE (and Heisman finalist) Chase Young.
And as it so happens, the Giants could get the rare steal at second overall according to Mel Kiper, who was asked to rankt prospect in the draft class.
“Thank you for an easy one to start,” Kiper said. “It’s Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young, who has 16.5 sacks and is on a run of dominance. He’s the clear best prospect in this class, and I expect him to stay at the top of my Big Board through April.”
For those who haven’t watched Young play, he is a complete EDGE prospect. Young not only has elite physical tools with great athleticism, length, size, strength, and flexibility, he is also a polished rusher who knows how to string moves together and win with his technique.
But what to do with the Giants’ second-round pick, which will also be in the top 40?
The Giants should give serious consideration to addressing the offensive tackle position, particularly considering that Nate Solder followed up an 8.0 sack 2018 season with a 9.5 sack (and counting) 2019 season. But the Giants should also consider addressing the wide receiver position. Darius Slayton has far outplayed expectations, but the Giants don’t have much beyond him and Sterling Shepard and almost nothing in the way of long-term answers.
Wide receiver has historically been viewed as a luxury position, but top receivers can help an entire offense. The ability to command double teams, beat them, create separation, and expand receiving windows, not only make life easier for their quarterbacks, it helps open up the field for the other four skill position players. We saw that over the last year as Saquon Barkley has struggled to find consistent running room while the Giants have lacked a true number one receiver. We even saw a microcosm last night as the Giants found much more success on the ground with the passing game running efficiently in the latter part of the first quarter and through the second quarter than they did when the passing attack sputtered.
McShay pegs the wide receiver class as the deepest in the draft and based on the number of players on whom he currently has a first-round grade, the Giants could get a first-round talent early in the second round.
“I have 15 wide receivers ranked among my top 64 prospects. That’s not normal. Over the past three drafts, there have been an average of 7.7 receivers taken in the first two rounds. We could blow that out of the water in 2020. It all starts with Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy, one of the best college route runners I’ve ever evaluated. He’s going to be an immediate high-impact player in the NFL. Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb is a star, too. Both are in the top 10 in my rankings. Then there are the other Alabama pass-catchers -- Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith -- along with LSU’s Justin Jefferson, Clemson’s Tee Higgins, Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk and Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr. all among my top 32 players. This is a deep receiver class.”
Obviously the way the draft board falls over the first round should, and will, determine what the Giants do with their second selection. However the opportunity to potentially get a first round caliber offensive tackle or receiver at the top of the second round is a boon.