The New York Giants have multiple needs on the defensive side of the ball. They need to improve a pass rush which has been anemic at best in recent years. They need to build a linebacking corps that can compete in the modern NFL. They need to improve their pass coverage to give their pass rushers time to work. And they need to find a long-term answer at free safety.
While we won’t be able to look at the latter two positions until they take the field on Sunday, we likely got to see a future Giant (or more) on the field with the defensive linemen and linebacker on Saturday.
And of course the ‘Chris and Joe Show’ offered our instant reaction to the days’ workouts immediately following the Combine Saturday night.
Interior defensive tackles
Derrick Brown came into the weekend as the top interior defensive lineman in the draft, and he will leave the Combine as the top interior defensive lineman in the draft. His measurable numbers were good, but he didn’t put on the show I was expecting him to. However, he was very good in all of the position drills, consistently showing good movement and controlled power.
So let’s take the time to look at a couple other defensive tackles who could be impact players at the next level.
Neville Gallimore (Oklahoma)
Gallimore has been on the fringe of the top defensive tackle conversation. He isn’t a threat to Derrick Brown, but Gallimore has been mentioned by some in the same breath as South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw as potentially the second or third interior defensive lineman off the board.
His work at the Combine likely put to rest any concerns about his athleticism with a fast 4.74 second 40-yard dash and a lightning 1.71-second 10-yard split. He flashes the ability to turn those traits into production in college, and he looked good enough in the position drills — fast, fluid, explosive, and flexible — that there will be NFL coaches who believe they can get him to consistently play to his potential.
Khalil Davis (Nebraska)
Both Khalil and his twin brother Carlos had good days at the combine. However, Carlos was a bit heavier and that appeared to make a difference. Khalil was just a bit faster and more explosive in the measurable drills, running a 4.76 second 40-yard dash with an excellent 1.66-second 10-yard split.
But what really impressed was Khalil’s movement skills in the position drills. He showed excellent feet in space and almost EDGE-like bend in the new hoop drill. He should be moving up draft boards and forcing scouts back to the tape after his workout.
Under the radar EDGE players
It was somewhat hard to keep track of what players would play where based on the position groups on Saturday. The players we would evaluate as “EDGE” players were sprinkled throughout the defensive line, defensive end, and EDGE group. There were also many top pass rushers who didn’t run or didn’t work out at all. So rather than try to sort through all of that here, I want to take the time to shine a light on two relatively unknown prospects who caught my eye with their workouts.
Alex Highsmith (Charlotte)
It isn’t often you see players from Charlotte showing out at the combine, but Alex Highsmith did just that. Highsmith had good numbers, and was a top performer among defensive linemen with a 4.70 second 40-yard dash, a 7.32-second 3-cone drill, and a 10-foot, 5-inch broad jump. Highsmith was also a consistently good performer in the field drills, showing good hands as well as a bend when cornering.
Add that to impressive production (75 tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss, and 14.0 sacks in 2019), and you have an under-the-radar player we should be getting to know.
Derrek Tuszka (North Dakota State)
Not many people who don’t watch FCS football knew Tuszka’s name coming into Saturday, but the North Dakota State product showed that he belongs on the same field as the big school players. Tuszka started off strong with a good 1.69 second 10 yard split, but what really impresses is his (ridiculous) 6.87 second three-cone drill and 4.34 second short shuttle. He has a versatile frame at 6-foot-4, 251 pounds, and a creative team can line him up all over over the defense. It also helps that he is very productive, with 19.0 tackles for a loss and 13.5 sacks in 2019 alone.
There’s really only one place to start with linebacker, and really only one player people will be talking about, so we might as well start there.
Isaiah Simmons (Clemson)
That’s all Simmons did on the field at the Combine. One run and then he shut it down for the rest of the night. But when you are a linebacker and outrunning cornerback Jalen Ramsey, you don’t have to do anything else.
These @IsaiahSimmons25 40-yard dash simulcams are incredible.— NFL (@NFL) March 1, 2020
: #NFLCombine on @NFLNetwork pic.twitter.com/vwd0XzBUdv
Simmons ran a 4.39 second 40-yard dash, posted a 39-inch vertical leap, and an 11-foot broad jump at 239 pounds. We didn’t get to see Simmons in position drills, but we’ve seen enough of him doing enough on the football field to know that he can do football things.
Patrick Queen from LSU and Kenneth Murray from Oklahoma put themselves in position to be the second and third off-ball linebackers off the board with their first runs. But unlike Simmons, they attempted their second runs — and each came up holding his hamstring.
You never want to see a player come up with an injury at the Combine, and that it was two of the best players at the position is that much worse. Particularly when they both looked set to out-perform expectations.
Then there’s Jordyn Brooks out of Texas Tech. Brooks is coming off of surgery for a torn labrum which ended his season in 2019, but he still came to the combine to compete. That much is admirable, but what is crazy is that with just a week and a half to “train” for the 40-yard dash, he still managed to put up a 4.55 second run. Brooks, who is still recovering from surgery, managed to outrun a huge number of linebackers who had been training for months for this event.
Just imagine what all three could have done had they been healthy.
Willie Gay Jr. (Mississippi State)
Gay has some off-field questions to answer after being held out of eight games, but he doesn’t have any questions to answer about his athleticism. Gay put up great numbers at 6-foot-1, 243 pounds, running a 4.46 second 40, putting up a 39.5-inch vertical and an 11-foot, 4-inch broad jump.
He wasn’t perfectly smooth and controlled in the position drills, but his athleticism and “twitch” stood out in just about every drill. If his off-field issues check out, he could be a name to watch a bit later in the draft as a team looks to try and harness his athletic traits.