Hallelujah, the New York Giants may have found their franchise left tackle in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft in Georgia’s Andrew Thomas. The former Bulldog brings tons of experience, with 41 career starts, 26 at left tackle, and 15 at right. Day 1 was fun and interesting for the league, with a few surprises; the Packers may have found Aaron Rodgers’ successor in Utah State’s Jordan Love, Seattle drafted LB Jordyn Brooks out of Texas Tech over LSU LB Patrick Queen, and Auburn CB Noah Igbinoghene joins a crowded corner room in Miami, with the two highest-paid players at the position in the league - Byron Jones and Xavian Howard.
All in all, the draft was relatively chalky, especially early, but it sets up for a very interesting Day 2. Buckle up ladies and gents, because the Giants have some very interesting options at pick 36.
I was jumping for joy from the 49ers pick at 25 to the Chiefs at 32. Other than linebacker Patrick Queen (Baltimore Ravens, 28th), I loved seeing a running back, a few wide receivers in a loaded receiver draft, a quarterback, the lesser Georgia tackle, Jordyn Brooks, and a bunch of corners go off the board. This leaves a lot of talented players, in positions of need, for the Giants. Let’s dive into some of these players.
Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
The 6-foot-3, 216-pound receiver is excellent in contested catch situations, while also possessing very good body control. Was First Team All-ACC in 2019, while recording 59 catches for 1,169 yards and 13 touchdowns. There are things to like about Higgins: huge catch radius (81-inch wingspan), very good control of his body in the air, excellent tracking/concentration skills, and he uses his body well to box defenders away from the catch point. My problems with Higgins are his separation quickness and speed off the line of scrimmage; reportedly he ran a 1.66 10-yard split at Clemson’s pro day, which is slower than Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs. I’m always a bit trepidatious when adding big receivers with separation questions. I think teams can do worse than Higgins, but I hope the Giants don’t go receiver at 36. It’s a deep class, and the team still has other holes.
Michael Pittman Jr, WR, USC
The First Team All-Pac 12 wide receiver, and special teams player, who is a team captain, had an absolute field day against one of the best secondaries in college football, which is Utah of course. Like Higgins, Pittman Jr. has an excellent catch radius (79 ¼”), along with great vertical, downfield, receiving traits. I like Pittman’s ability to accelerate and create separation a bit more than Higgins, but Pittman’s game is predicated on physicality and winning 50/50 balls. He should be an excellent possession “X” receiver, something the Giants need. In 2019, he had 101 catches, for 1,275 yards, and 11 touchdowns. I like Pittman Jr. a lot, but selecting a receiver at 36 may be too rich for me.
Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
Mims was one of the darlings of the Senior Bowl, who happened to substantiate his pre-draft process by running a 4.38 40-yard dash and jumping out of Lucas Oil Stadium. The questions about his release against press coverage, and his route tree, were somewhat silenced in Mobile, where he showed NFL evaluators what he had in his arsenal. A fluid athlete, who has solid hands. Mims recorded 66 receptions for 1,020 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2019. Many thought he would go in the first round.
Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado
Shenault’s 40 at the combine suffered (4.58), for he was injured through much of the pre-draft process. Shenault is very explosive and incredibly dangerous with the ball in space. Put together like a running back, with a thick lower body and a 6-foot, 225-pound frame. Shenault makes defenders miss in space and will run right through the ones that he doesn’t. He has excellent athletic ability and change of direction skills too. Shenault finished 2019 56 catches, for 746 yards and 4 touchdowns, while being hampered by injuries, which are his biggest question marks. His core muscle surgery went well after the combine. But given the new COVID-19 world, he may slide further than he should.
Josh Jones, OT, Houston
Could the Giants double-down on tackles? Anything’s a possibility, especially with the Giants’ offensive line woes the last couple seasons, but I doubt it. Many felt Jones was the consensus OT5 in this draft, but the NFL, as a whole, did not. A four-year starter at Houston, Jones has great athletic traits — quick feet, natural bend, good explosiveness, and fast hands, but he’s not technically savvy. He had some false steps on tape, and his hand placement isn’t consistent. The Giants need to protect Daniel Jones, especially with Chase Young being off the board to Washington of all places, so offensive tackle investments must occur. He should hear his name called early on Day 2.
Lloyd Cushenberry, C, LSU
It’s no secret that the Giants need help at center. Jon Halapio’s future with the team is in jeopardy, due to the torn Achilles, and Spencer Pulley isn’t the long-term answer. Cushenberry fits the Giants new culture. He was given the No. 18 practice jersey for LSU, which is an honor that is meant to represent the players that embody the Tiger values on and off the field. Cushenberry isn’t too shabby on the field either. He’s quick-footed, has loose hips, possesses long arms, and takes good angles at the point of attack. He could be a bit stronger, and I wish he could get more push, but I like him in a zone scheme. A two-year starter at LSU, a team MVP, and anchored a national championship offensive line as a senior ... that just sounds like a Gettleman guy.
Matt Hennessy, C, Temple
Rumors have the Giants linked to Matt Hennessy. He’s a Don Bosco prep product, who stayed relatively local and went to Temple. He didn’t jump out at me when I saw him at the Senior Bowl, but he held his own in 1-on1 drills. He has enough functional athletic ability to operate along the line of scrimmage, but I wish he had a bit more pop and power. All accounts from former coaches say he’s an incredible competitor, who never stops trying to learn and perfect his craft. He was named a team captain and his college coach (Rod Carey) said his intangibles/love for the game are “off the charts.” I love to hear that, but this may be a bit rich for me at 36.
Zack Baun, EDGE, Wisconsin
Many believed Baun would go off the board in the first round. I was one of the many. Baun blitzed a lot in Jim Leonhard’s defense for the Badgers, and I feel his skill set would translate well to Patrick Graham’s defense. The New England Patriots have had success with players similar to Baun — hybrid linebackers with blitzing upside. Baun has the football IQ, athletic traits, and the physicality to thrive in a second-level role under Graham. In the Giants’ defense, I feel Baun would be used similarly to Kyle Van Noy, who flamed out in Detroit before Bill Belichick got ahold of him and utilized him as a hybrid EDGE defender and not a pure stacked linebacker. In 2019, Baun had 19.5 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks. I would love to see his name called for Big Blue at 36. The positive diluted sample at the combine does not mean he failed the drug test, and it could just mean he was attempting to over-hydrate to add weight.
Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State
Was First Team All-Big 10 in 2019 with 14.5 tackles for a loss and 9 sacks. He has long limbs and good lateral quickness, and I believe he can add some weight to his 6-foot-5, 266-pound, frame. Gross-Matos is flexible, light on his feet, and can dip/bend around edges pretty well. I’m sure the Giants can find a fit for him, but his coverage skills are still a question in the flat areas of the field. I love his hand work, in terms of the activeness. Gross-Matos would provide juice to a pass-rushing group that needs it, but he doesn’t fit the mold of the traditional base 3-4 outside linebacker.
A.J. Epenesa, Edge, Iowa
Epenesa should make this list because he fits the criteria for both Gettleman and Judge. Daniel Jeremiah talked about Belichick’s defenses and how it is predicated on strength at the EDGE position. Well, Judg and Graham are Belichick disciples, and Epenesa is more of an interior defensive lineman than a true EDGE. Who loves interior defensive lineman? You guessed it! Epenesa’s combine was lackluster, to say the least, but he had 11.5 sacks in 2019, along with 14.5 tackles for a loss, while earning First Team All-Big 10. Explosiveness isn’t his game, but he’s very powerful at the point of attack and packs a heavy punch. He’s a smart power rusher that I can see the Giants liking, but I don’t think they’ll go in this direction. Too many other holes on the roster will prevent them from adding a talented, yet sub-par athlete, like Epenesa.
Ashtyn Davis, S, Cal
The track star couldn’t test at the combine because of soft tissue injuries. Davis is aggressive, physical, and has the range to play single-high safety, a role that the Giants have been trying to fill for quite some time. A former walk-on, with ridiculous play speed, both mentally and physically. Davis has an excellent muscular build, and he possesses the required explosiveness and ball skills to play safety. He’s going to make a fan base happy.
Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama
McKinney is good at a lot of things — he’s smart, reads route combinations well, effective in the box, has a quick trigger, is a good tackler, but he’s not elite at anything. I love his instincts, and he played single-high safety at Alabama, but I question his single-high ability translating to the NFL. His hips aren’t overly fluid in space, but he makes up for that with his diagnosing ability. Had 176 total tackles, 18 for a loss, 5 interceptions, and 20 passes defensed during his three-year stint with Alabama.
Jeremy Chinn, S, Southern Illinois
The FCS star, who made a name for himself at the Reese’s Senior Bowl, and then made yet another name for himself at the Combine, with incredible testing numbers, slipped out of the first round. Many in the NFL feel Chinn may have linebacker upside, due to his 6-foot-, 221-pound, frame, along with his explosive/physical ability. I love his tackling ability and the plays he made on the ball, in the limited film I was able to acquire from Southern Illinois. There will be an adjustment period for Chinn coming into the NFL. But I think he’ll be good if he lands with the right defensive coordinator. I question his ability to play single high, which concerns me for the Giants and Patrick Graham’s defense.
Antonie Winfield Jr,, S, Minnesota
Like father, like son. Antonie Winfield Sr. was a baller who brought a high level of physicality, which is why he played 14 years of NFL ball. Sees the field so well and reacts to the quarterback’s eyes instantaneously to disrupt plays. He also brings a lot of physicality to the catch point, which I love to see. Despite his football IQ, ball skills, and aggressive nature, Winfield Jr. is only 5-foot-9, and he has a concerning injury history. I love the player, but I don’t feel he has the athletic traits to be a single-high safety. I think he’ll be fine in the NFL as a slot cover guy or someone who can play robber in zone coverage, but that isn’t exactly what the Giants need at safety.
Grant Delpit, S, LSU
Once thought of as a top player in the 2020 class, now his name wasn’t called in the first round. Delpit has been humbled. Despite great acceleration, range, and aggressive nature, Delpit’s tackling issues were too much to overcome. He brings a lot of intriguing traits though; his reactive quickness is excellent, but watching his tape is so frustrating because of the misses at tackle, and it’s not because he’s scared of contact or anything like that. He fails to come to balance and square up while lunging too often. His mechanics are a mess at the tackle point, but his athletic upside is still valuable. Single high safeties are hard to find and Delpit can play that role. The three-year starter, with 32 career passes defended should hear his name called in the early to mid parts of Day 2.