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Assessing Giants GM Dave Gettleman: Draft decisions shape the franchise

Let’s look at what Gettleman has gotten right, and wrong, in the draft

Pittsburgh Steelers v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Dave Gettleman has been part of many critical decisions as New York Giants general manager. His choices at the top of the NFL Draft, especially in 2018 and 2019, have shaped the direction of the Giants for both the present and the future. Let’s assess Gettleman’s work in the draft as we continue looking at his tenure as GM.

2018 Draft Class

Rnd Player Pick Pos College/Univ
Rnd Player Pick Pos College/Univ
1 Saquon Barkley 2 RB Penn St.
2 Will Hernandez 34 G Texas-El Paso
3 Lorenzo Carter 66 DE Georgia
3 B.J. Hill 69 DT North Carolina St.
4 Kyle Lauletta 108 QB Richmond
5 R.J. McIntosh 139 DT Miami (FL)

Let’s get right down to brass tacks. Gettleman’s first draft selection as Giants general manager — running back Saquon Barkley No. 2 overall in 2018 — is one I would not have made.

Call the selection wrong if you want. I have a difficult time ever saying that it’s “wrong” to take the absolute best player in the draft. As wonderful a player as Barkley is and as well as he represents the franchise it’s hard for to simply say it was wrong. Barkley is a great player, maybe one day a Hall of Fame player, and when he is on the field he makes the Giants better.

I just would not have selected him.

The ‘Rules for Draft Success’ I penned years ago talk about not selecting a running back in the first round, especially really early in the first round. I think the exceptions to that are a) if he is a player who transforms your franchise and b) if you believe he is a finishing piece for a championship-ready roster.

The problem with the first part of that is I do not believe a running back can, by himself, transform a losing franchise into a winning one. Barkley can’t. Christian McCaffrey can’t. Ezekiel Elliott can’t. Adrian Peterson in his prime could not. Barry Sanders could not.

Getting the right quarterback, though, can do that. It can, if it doesn’t transform the franchise by itself, set you on the path toward that transformation. See Joe Burrow with the Cincinnati Bengals.

I was all aboard the Sam Darnold train in 2018. In Gettleman’s shoes, I would have selected Darnold with the second overall pick. Would that have worked? Would Darnold have been better off learning from Eli Manning and being coached by Pat Shurmur and now Joe Judge than stuck in the middle of the mess that is the New York Jets? We will never know.

I understood what Gettleman and the Giants were thinking. They knew Barkley was a star. They had Manning. They still had Odell Beckham Jr. They thought that if they added Barkley that trio would make them respectable while Gettleman set about the work of fortifying the soft underbelly of the roster.

Only, it didn’t work that way. The Giants were far worse and farther away from contention than they believed.

If they weren’t going to select a quarterback at No. 2, the prudent thing to do — the thing that could have accelerated the build of a team that needed a whole lot more than one star running back — was to trade out of the No. 2 pick and acquire as much talent as they could.

To allow the Jets to select Darnold, the Indianapolis Colts surrendered the No. 3 overall pick. They got the sixth overall pick (two-time All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson), 37th overall pick (starting guard Braden Smith), the 49th overall pick in the 2018 draft and the 34th overall pick in the 2019 draft (starting cornerback Rock Ya-Sin).

That’s how you kick-start a rebuild. That’s what I would have liked to have seen Gettleman and the Giants do if they weren’t going to go all-in for a quarterback with that No. 2 overall pick.

The rest of the class ...

When the Giants selected Will Hernandez in Round 2 (37th overall) the choice was widely praised. Hernandez has been OK, but hasn’t become what many thought he would. Is that because the evaluation was wrong? Is it because the Giants just haven’t provided Hernandez with good enough offensive line coaching to maximize his skills? I really don’t know.

Lorenzo Carter and B.J. Hill have been productive third-round picks. Carter teases with his athleticism, and the fact that the San Francisco 49ers selected the far-better-than-Carter Fred Warner four picks after Carter is a tough pill to swallow. Still, both Carter and Hill are good players.

Fourth-round pick Kyle Lauletta was chosen, in retrospect, for the simple purpose of getting Davis Webb — the young quarterback chosen the year before by Jerry Reese — off the roster. Lauletta accomplished that, and nothing else.

Fifth-round pick R.J. McIntosh has done nothing.

A quick note: Please do not call any Day 3 pick — fourth round and later — a bust. A Day 3 pick has never been a bust. They may be unproductive, but these guys last to the final day of the draft for a reason — everyone knows they are flawed prospects. Teams hope they become useful players, they don’t count on it. If they happen to become more than that, well then that’s a bonus.

2019 Draft Class

Rnd Player Pick Pos College/Univ
Rnd Player Pick Pos College/Univ
1 Daniel Jones 6 QB Duke
1 Dexter Lawrence 17 DT Clemson
1 Deandre Baker 30 CB Georgia
3 Oshane Ximines 95 DE Old Dominion
4 Julian Love 108 CB Notre Dame
5 Ryan Connelly 143 LB Wisconsin
5 Darius Slayton 171 WR Auburn
6 Corey Ballentine 180 CB Washburn
7 George Asafo-Adjei 232 T Kentucky
7 Chris Slayton 245 DT Syrac

Gettleman’s second franchise-shaping draft decision was to select Daniel Jones at the heir to Eli Manning with the sixth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. This is a decision I absolutely support and, given the same circumstances and information Gettleman had at the time, would also have made.

However he came to be in what he called “full-bloom love” with Jones, he (and Pat Shurmur, apparently) believed that Jones was the right quarterback to succeed Manning. He also believed there were other teams (like Washington) who would have grabbed Jones had he gotten cute and tried to wait until the 17th pick in that draft to select his quarterback.

It’s not part of my ‘Rules for Draft Success,’ but I am a firm believer that when you think a guy can be your franchise quarterback you never, ever get cute and risk losing him. You take him before someone else has the chance. If you feel strongly enough that he can be your guy for the next decade or more, you pay whatever price you have to in order to move up. To have sustained success in the NFL, you must have top-tier quarterback play. You do what you have to do when you have a chance to get the guy you believe can give it to you.

Will Gettleman ultimately be right about Jones?

Danny Dimes has teased. He hasn’t, though, burst on the scene and become an instant star. He hasn’t been Justin Herbert. Or Joe Burrow. Or Kyler Murray. Or Lamar Jackson. That doesn’t mean he won’t end up being extraordinary. Just that his career arc is different. Will he get to that top level? Only time will tell.

Truth be told, it’s the rest of the 2019 class that I end up having an issue with.

Gettleman has admitted that it was excruciatingly difficult for him to pass on edge rusher Josh Allen, who went seventh to the Jacksonville Jaguars and made the Pro Bowl with 10.5 sacks as a rookie, when he selected Jones.

With that in mind, I thought he would take the best edge rusher on the board, Montez Sweat, at 17. He took massive interior tackle Dexter Lawrence. I would have taken Sweat. Why? In this age of football, edge rusher trumps defensive tackle, unless the defensive tackle is Aaron Donald.

My understanding of the situation is that this choice was, like many of his free agent decisions, a nod to then-defensive coordinator James Bettcher. I was told prior to that draft that it was Bettcher banging the table for Lawrence.

Sexy Dexy is a really good player. I just think Sweat, who has 12 sacks in 25 games, would have given the Giants something they are still looking for — an impact pass rusher.

Now, we have to talk about DeAndre Baker. I understand that the Giants really wanted a cornerback. I just don’t understand the aggression in moving up from No. 37 to No. 30, surrendering two mid-round picks in the process, to make sure it was Baker. There was enough disagreement about what Baker was, and there were enough Round 2 type cornerbacks on the board, that in my view it would have been better to sit tight at 37 and keep the pair of mid-round picks given up in the Baker pursuit.

The jury is out at this point as to whether third-round pick Oshane Ximines and fourth-round pick Julian Love will be long-term defensive pieces, or if they will join sixth-round pick Corey Ballentine as castoffs.

The other really notable thing about this draft is that Gettleman found Darius Slayton in the fifth round, 171st overall. Slayton is easily the Giants’ best Day 3 draft pick since Jerry Reese took running back Ahmad Bradshaw in the seventh round of the 2007 draft, 250th overall.

2020 Draft Class

Rnd Player Pick Pos College/Univ
Rnd Player Pick Pos College/Univ
1 Andrew Thomas 4 T Georgia
2 Xavier McKinney 36 S Alabama
3 Matt Peart 99 T Connecticut
4 Darnay Holmes 110 CB UCLA
5 Shane Lemieux 150 G Oregon
6 Cam Brown 183 LB Penn St.
7 Carter Coughlin 218 LB Minnesota
7 T.J. Brunson 238 LB South Carolina
7 Chris Williamson 247 CB Minnesota
7 Tae Crowder 255 LB Georgia

The struggles of Andrew Thomas have been the thing that has gotten the most attention when it comes to the 2020 draft class. Thomas, though, has been better in recent weeks and it remains to be seen how the switch from Marc Colombo to Dave DeGuglielmo as offensive line coach will impact Thomas and the other rookie linemen.

In my view, Gettleman absolutely did the right thing by selecting an offensive tackle. Whether Thomas was the right choice instead of Mekhi Becton, Tristan Wirfs or Jedrick Wills remains to be seen. Judge obviously pinned much of the blame for Thomas’s early struggles on Colombo.

I was clear in my final pre-draft mock that I would have taken Becton. The monstrous 364-pound Becton has, in my view, the most upside. I did, though, understand why the Giants went what seemed like the safer route. It is now up to Judge and the coaching staff to make sure Thomas becomes the player draft analysts thought he could become.

We don’t yet know anything about second-round pick Xavier McKinney. I thought Mckinney was an excellent pick at the time.

Third- and fourth-round picks Matt Peart and Darnay Holmes look like keepers. Probably fifth-round pick Shane Lemieux, as well.

Late-round picks Cam Brown, Carter Coughlin and Tae Crowder all look like contributors.

The only thing about this draft class that confused me was not using at least one of the later-round picks on a wide receiver. It was, and is, a position of need and the 2020 class was rich in receiving talent.