The New York Giants made 10 selections, but the 2019 draft class will always be remembered, for better or worse, for how well Daniel Jones pans out a the NFL level. We will get to Jones in a minute, but please reference an earlier column detailing the “Nest” New York created for an incoming young quarterback. For Jones, the Giants are a prime landing spot for his development.
Outside of the sixth overall pick being made on a quarterback; this draft was about rebuilding a defense. It might be a little shocking that New York waited all the way until the 232nd overall pick before addressing its offensive line, but the Giants did select five defenders between the 17th and 143rd picks overall and then added Corey Ballentine in the sixth round and Chris Slayton, both defensive prospects, in the seventh round to conclude their draft class. It is also worth noting that New York did grab Darius Slayton, who could develop into the downfield threat that this receiving corps currently lacks.
What the Giants did on defense
The Giants selected Dexter Lawrence with the mid- first round pick they received from Cleveland in the Odell Beckham trade then traded back into the first round to pick their favorite cornerback in this draft class, DeAndre Baker. They didn’t have a second round choice, but then went with Oshane Ximines, Julian Love and Ryan Connelly with their next three selections. Connelly helps the second level, an area of great need for the Giants, but the other defensive choices before he came off the board are more telling about the direction this defense is going.
The selection of Lawrence probably surprised many since Davin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill are already in place. It seems safe to say that Tomlinson is a very solid NFL player at this point. Meanwhile, Hill has star potential. So even without Lawrence, this position looked to be in good shape. That isn’t something the Giants could say about many positions on defense before the draft began.
But there is the “Planet Theory” in place here, one Giants fans should be very familiar with going back to the Bill Parcells days. Not to mention that Dave Gettleman clearly stresses his huge people on defense more than other NFL team builders. We saw Gettleman take a similar strategy when the Panthers drafted Vernon Butler in the first round even though Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei were already fixtures at defensive tackle. There were clearly bigger defensive needs, but Lawrence possesses several ridiculous traits that you just can’t teach and should be able to swallow the inside run and push the pocket while he develops more pass-rush acumen.
The selections of Baker, Ximines and Love are more telling, though, and are very reflective of how James Bettcher wants to play defense. Bettcher generates pressure through blitz and often puts his cover men in compromised positions. He is an aggressive defensive play caller preferring a lot of man coverage. To pull this off and create big plays in the process, Bettcher needs quality cornerback play.
Not only did the Giants take the bull by the horns in this regard by trading up for Baker, who they can now exercise a fifth-year option with down the road, but that selection also began a run of cornerbacks. Don’t forget that New York forfeited a substantial draft pick in order to add Sam Beal in the supplemental draft. Don’t fault this front office for Beal’s injury, but in essence, New York gets a trio of talented rookie cornerbacks in Baker, Beal and Love infused into this defense at a position that is of the utmost importance for success. Love is a smart playmaker who consistently made plays on the ball at Notre Dame. A small school standout, Ballentine was also quite impressive at the Senior Bowl. Giants fans should feel very good about the cornerback position right now and corner is the most important spot in Bettcher’s scheme. Don’t forget that New York also added Jabrill Peppers to this secondary in this process as well.
Again, the pass rush, by design, is to come from blitz and keeping the pass protection off guard while rushing the quarterback to get rid of the ball abruptly. Ximines fits the mold of more of a 3-4 outside linebacker type that this defense is looking for to hopefully pair with last year’s third-round pick, Lorenzo Carter, for a long-term answer off the edge. Ximines could really pay off down the line if he can add some more strength and bulk. But remember, the importance of these players isn’t as crucial as the men covering behind them.
A strong and massive interior presence helps in this regard as well as eating up space for blitzers to come free. Interior defensive line and cornerback now stack up to be the strongest areas of this defense.
It all comes back to Jones
That all sounds like a positive for New York; but let’s get back to Jones. Adding a quarterback was the right thing to do in this draft and the time really had to be now. Jones just looks more like a second-round prospect at the position instead of the sixth overall selection.
Jones should get time to learn and time to be groomed as Eli Manning’s successor, but there are still concerns here. Without question, Jones looks the part and has the size and athletic ability you want from this position. And by all accounts, he is a student of the game and possesses the qualities that you can’t measure including obvious toughness on the field behind very suspect blocking. That obviously is ultra-important and can’t be discounted, especially in the media market he will now call home.
But Jones has mediocre arm strength, which is especially worrisome in the weather he will have to endure in the NFC East. His footwork needs an awful lot of work and really lacks consistency or efficiency. Such improvements will not come overnight and we see this problematic footwork show up time and time again when he has to move within the confines of the pocket, a trait that separates quarterbacks at this level who make it and those that do not. Jones also isn’t a great anticipatory thrower and shows just average accuracy, especially downfield. Again, this problem is compounded since Jones lacks the ability to drill the ball into tight quarters. His processing needs to speed up and improve. Jones also puts the ball in harm’s way too often without bringing the element of creating on his own and turning negative situations into positives for his team. Jones is going to take time.
Fortunately for Jones and Giants fans alike, he is in a good situation and hopefully gets the opportunity to work on his craft. It needs a lot of work right now.
Matt Williamson is a former college and NFL scout who spent 10 years as an NFL analyst for ESPN. He currently hosts the Locked on NFL podcast.