The 2020 NFL Draft is going to be pivotal for the New York Giants moving forward. Giants fans are eagerly waiting to see how the holes on the roster can be filled. One position group bereft of proven NFL talent is EDGE. I have high hopes for Oshane Ximines and I am waiting to see Lorenzo Carter scratch the surface of his incredible potential. But all in all, the position group is still worrisome, even with the addition of Kyler Fackrell, who I like.
The Giants should have many options at picks 36 and 99 in the draft. The early second-round selection could be used at center on prospects like Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz, LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry, or even Temple’s Matt Hennessy. If the Giants do go Isaiah Simmons at 4, then the 36th pick could be spent on an offensive tackle like TCU’s Lucas Niang, Houston’s Josh Jones, or Auburn’s Prince Tega-Wanogho. I wouldn’t discount safety, nor would I rule out a receiver at 36 or 99, even though I believe 36 is entirely too early for that.
The EDGE position should occupy one of these two selections on the second day of the draft. I wish the Giants would have the fortune of drafting Ohio State’s Chase Young, but he’ll likely be in Washington. Nevertheless, there should be some solid Day 2 options available at pick 36 and 99. I’m writing this list with the assumption that Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos will be selected in the top 25 picks of the draft.
Zack Baun, Wisconsin
Baun is easily one of my favorite players in this draft. A versatile defender at 6-foot-2, 238 pounds, Baun was the defensive staple for Jim Leonhard’s aggressive Badger unit. Mostly played as the LOLB or ROLB, but the responsibilities varied.
Baun is a quality EDGE rusher with an explosive first step, multiple pass-rushing moves, great hands, and an ability to counter. He flashed effective long arms, cross-chops, and speed up the edge while playing with some flexibility in his lower half. Baun’s ability to react instantaneously to what he sees is incredibly impressive, and his initial explosiveness, moving laterally, or while coming downhill, is insane. Baun was trusted to cover slot receivers and is capable in space.
Many believe he should be an off-ball linebacker in the NFL, which is understandable. I think his skill-set meshes well with the typical New England model of hybrid defenders. Think of how Kyle Van Noy was utilized in New England, and remember that Patrick Graham spent seven years in Foxborough. Baun can rush the passer, play in man or zone coverage, be split out on the slot, operate in the box, and utilize his overall ability to key and diagnose plays all at an effective level. The Giants would be so lucky to land Baun at 36, but I don’t see him getting out of the first round. Is it possible? Yes. Is it probable? No.
Baun shows enough speed and first-step explosiveness to constantly threaten solid tackles. We see it in the clip above against Penn State. He opens the tackle’s hips with a hard outside foot jab, selling the upfield burst, but then uses his excellent lateral agility to explode inside on the stunt to earn the sack. Baun uses this incredible suddenness, along with that lateral agility to be an excellent run defender. Good luck to any offenses that try to use Baun as the “read” defender. His instincts, quick reactions, and punishing hits are hard to exploit.
In the first clip against Michigan, Baun wins with speed up the arc and then hits the tackle with a club/swim combination. The club stuns and halts the tackle’s momentum up the arc, and the swim helps Baun create separation. Look how smooth Baun is while executing this move, and his timing on the club is impeccable. He hits the tackle right as the tackle starts to punch forward, which causes the tackle balance issues. On the goal line against Michigan, Baun showcases his ability to crash inside rushing gaps and avoid blocking attempts. He gets skinny, low, and slides through down blocks. He is a very good B-Gap run defender from the edge. The last clip against Michigan shows his ability to make plays in space. He is an easy open field, wrap up, tackler who punishes ball carriers. I love Baun’s tackling mechanics. He breaks down, comes to balance, wraps up and drives, which seems to be a forgotten art with some players. Unfortunately, it’s hard to not love Baun, and we could see him go in the top 30, just outside of the Giants’ range.
Josh Uche, Michigan
Like Baun, Uche shouldn’t be relegated as only an EDGE player. He has the movement skills and athletic ability to operate in space. After the Senior Bowl, draft pundits were talking about Uche as a potential Round 1 pick. I thought that was way too rich, but I like the versatility Uche has to offer. If I had one word to describe him, it would be “quick.”
Uche is an explosive athlete who can be used in a variety of ways but needs development as a pass rusher. He has good bend and wins with speed/rip at the top of the arc, but I need to see more pass-rushing moves, more pop in his hands, and better counters. He has the lateral movement skills to shoot inside, after forcing tackles wide, and he flashed this on tape, but he needs more hand counters to maximize his athletic profile. He could get stronger setting the EDGE, but he showed some good lower leg drive against Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs. Uche is a solid overall run defender who crashes the B-gap well with suddenness and a low profile to disrupt plays in the backfield. I love his burst/bend ability and I love seeing him operate in zone coverage as a linebacker. Similar to Baun, I feel he could find a nice role in Graham’s multi-faceted defense if he continues to develop. There is a lot of potential here, but he’s not a finished product, having only played one full college season. There are questions with Uche, but his athletic ability and potential will be intriguing to a coaching staff.
Let’s start by showing a clip of Uche (no. 6) running with the speedy K.J. Hamler (1) from Penn State. Uche impressively stays with the slot receiver, then gets his head turned around to locate the ball and force a pass defensed. Very nice linebacking skills. The second clip is also against Penn State. Look at the explosiveness and foot speed of Uche coming from the backside part of the play to make an aggressive tackle.
Against Iowa, Uche bull-rushes Wirfs. Bull rushing isn’t Uche’s strong suit — he can comfortably add more weight/strength to his frame, but he can still have reps like the one you see above. At the Combine, Uche weighed 245 pounds, but his playing weight was more than likely lighter than that. Watch as Uche gets underneath the pads and explodes low to high through Wirfs’ breast plate. Uche doesn’t disengage from the rush, nor does he locate the quarterback, but he does show impressive drive against one of the top tackles in the 2020 draft.
I think he’s an option at 36, but I wouldn’t want to take him there. If the Giants do trade down and acquire more Day 2 picks, I’d be more comfortable with selecting Uche and seeing how he can be developed by this new coaching staff.
Julian Okwara, Notre Dame
Burst, flexibility, and athletic ability are all very good qualities of Okwara’s. For the Giants, I am much more comfortable with him at pick 99 than I would be at pick 36. Some variables surround Okwara that give me pause for him at 36. He has only played one full season of college football, which was his best year in 2018 where he recorded 39 tackles, 12.5 for a loss, and 8 sacks. I expected him to build on that campaign, but he struggled to earn production in 2019 before he broke his fibula in November.
Okwara tends to struggle to set the edge and needs to get stronger at the point of attack in that area, which was really on display against Georgia, Andrew Thomas in 2019. I feel the Giants may still view him at 36, due to upside and what he could potentially be. There’s a concern for me there because I feel the Giants need a more “sure thing” with these valuable picks. But if the Giants accumulate more Day 2 picks, then Okwara could be an interesting option. There’s still a lot I like about Okwara’s game; he’d step into the Giants and arguably be their more athletic pass rusher, from a bend/explosiveness perspective. Has a great first step, moves with suddenness and fluidity. Okwara has heavy hands that he uses to help create separation at the line of scrimmage. Crashes interior rushing lanes very well with his quickness. We can see his heavy hands, extension, lower leg drive, and his initial strength upon contact. A twitched up athlete with good potential, but whose game isn’t fully developed just yet.
#NotreDame EDGE Julian Okwara could be a target for the #Giants at 36. Good twitch/bend. A Sudden player with pop in his hands too. Needs to get stronger setting the edge, but he can generate power while moving forward. Interesting player Giants‘ fans should know #NYG #nfldraft pic.twitter.com/HAsXsp2Rzg— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) April 7, 2020
Bradlee Anae, Utah
Anae had an up and down pre-draft process. His Senior Bowl performance was outstanding, but his Combine was lackluster. Anae is a short-armed, motor EDGE prospect who is a hand technician. Anae has a respectable amount of burst out of his stance and his agility is average, but he doesn’t have the excellent athletic traits of Uche or Okwara. He has adequate bend in his lower half and does an excellent job with the placement and timing of his hands at the point of attack. I love his run defense as uses his hands to keep himself clean and maintains his gap discipline. Anae wins mostly through hustle and will bring a high level of physicality to the tackle point.
Anae had ample amounts of production in college. From 2017-2019, Anae had more than 10 tackles for a loss in all three seasons and had more than 7 sacks in each season. He finished his four-year stint at Utah with 131 tackles, 40 tackles for a loss, 29.5 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles.
In the first clip against USC, Anae is lined up as the 3-technique to the non-play side. USC’s Austin Jackson (73), who some feel is a first-round pick, tries to block down on Anae but can’t locate anything other than his outside shoulder. Anae gets to the mesh-point and makes the tackle for loss. The play showed great instincts and solid initial explosiveness. In the second clip, also against Austin Jackson, Anae uses his good first step explosiveness to win the edge. Anae gets hip to hip with Jackson and utilizes a cross chop to force the tackle off balance. Then, Anae dips that inside shoulder and bends the corner to finish the sack with command. Anae does the same thing to Washington’s Trey Adams (72), only Anae turns a much tighter corner against Adams, whose set wasn’t good. The last clip against USC is Anae at 3-technique again. He easily sheds the block of the guard and gets his hand on the running back to force a tackle. Anae is a solid option for the Giants at 99, but I don’t feel like his addition would make the EDGE unit close to complete.
Curtis Weaver, Boise State
Weaver has a much different build than a lot of the other EDGE prospects in the 2020 class. Weaver stands at 6-2, but is 265 pounds. That makes him essentially a cupcake away from being deemed a defensive lineman. Although he may not fill the traditional need of OLB for the Giants in a 3-4 base, Weaver still has tools that could be utilized by New York.
Weaver is a smart, penetrating, player who has an explosive first step off the line of scrimmage. He has solid speed up the arc and knows when to employ counter moves. Weaver plays with good leverage and keeps his chest clean while flashing active hands. Weaver is always hustling and always seems to find the football. He was incredibly productive at Boise Stat with 128 tackles, 47.5 for a loss, 34 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 6 passes defensed in his three seasons on campus.
Weaver is not overly fluid dropping into coverage but did it more than one would expect at an adequate level. He sees the offense very well, which allows him to use his quick reactionary ability to attack advantageous angles against the run. Solid run defender, who is stout and strong at the point of attack. Weaver could assist the Giants with EDGE help and be an OLB who can be kicked inside to the 5-technique and 4i-technique roles if the situation dictates.
Weaver displays a surprising ability to get to the outside hip of tackles. He reduces the surface area of his chest up the arc and shows a solid bend in his lower half to dip his inside shoulder and turn through contact.
The first two clips against UNLV speak well to Weaver’s skill set. In the first one, we see his surprising quickness and dip, but the second clip is especially interesting. The UNLV tackle overcompensates outside and takes away a favorable angle. Weaver adjusts and shows an inside counter move to spin back inside and get into the pocket. We see a powerful chop against Wyoming, combined with speed, to defeat another tackle. Against Portland State, Weaver jams the tight end and plays a spy on the quarterback. Weaver is patient, takes away the throwing lane and then makes a solid open-field sack.
Weaver is a solid player, with a unique build. His competitive toughness is off the charts, and he has a surprising burst for a player of his size. He should be selected somewhere on Day 2.