The Athletic’s Dane Brugler, one of the most respected media draft scouts, does a way too early mock draft every season. It’s typically released right after the conclusion of the previous year’s draft and it basically acts as a wish-list that is tailored to the specific needs of a team.
It’s a very interesting exercise, especially in regards to the 2019 college football season. Before the season, Joe Burrow was a struggling transfer hoping to put LSU on the map, Jedrick Wills wasn’t considered the best tackle at Alabama, and Tua Tagovailoa was an absolute lock to go number one, albeit he still went top 5. Tank for Tua was the catchphrase in places like Cincinnati and Miami. But as we all realized, so many developments can occur in one season. The reciprocal to that equation are players like LSU’s Grant Delpit and Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa, who were mocked in the top 5 a year ago yet fell well out of the first round.
There are also plenty of players like Clemson RB Travis Etienne who decided to go back to school, despite being draft eligible. Essentially, the draft is not a science and there are so many variables that have to be considered. Of the 32 picks in Burgler’s 2020 way too early mock draft, 13 were actually selected in the first round, nine in the second, six from rounds 3-7, and four returned to school.
Brugler’s foresight on positional needs for these teams was excellent. Fifteen of the 32 picks were the correct position. Epenesa’s poor Combine had him falling 50 selections from where Brugler had him, but it was still the Bills’ first selection due to the Stefan Diggs trade. Stefan’s brother, Alabama cornerback Trevon Diggs, was also drafted by the Cowboys in the second round, 28 picks after the way too early mock.
Brugler is able to provide calculated assumptions that tend to be accurate to some extent, even though it’s an entire year away from the next draft. Despite the uncertain nature of these early mocks, Brugler was precisely accurate with the Giants positional need, before an incredibly poor 2019 showing from Nate Solder. To no one’s surprise, the Giants were picking in the top 10 and going with offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs from Iowa. Ironically enough, the Jets selected at 6, one pick before the Giants, and drafted Andrew Thomas. Brugler’s reliability prompted my curiosity on which position he believes the Giants may target. Just like his last way too early mock, Brugler has the Jets going 6 and the Giants going 7 ... and selecting a wide receiver.
In Brugler’s 2021 way too early mock draft, the Giants selected Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross, who is a 6’4 205 pound soon to be junior. In 2018, he had 46 catches for 1,000 yards, and 9 touchdowns as a true freshman, and last year he had 66 catches for 865 yards, and 8 touchdowns. Ross has strong hands, very good body control, and is an excellent athlete. He has enough speed, but isn’t a “Henry Ruggs” type of receiver. Other receivers that could be first round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft who may entice the Giants are LSU’s JA’Marr Chase, Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith, Minnesota’s Reshod Bateman, Purdue’s Rondale Moore, and Ohio State’s Chris Olave.
Selecting a wide receiver in the top of the draft makes sense in theory. Sterling Shepard has concussion concerns, Golden Tate is going on 32 and may not be long for New York due to age, which leaves Darius Slayton, a 2019 fifth-round pick, as their only reliable receiving threat. I, for one, believe in building a team through the trenches, which Gettleman certainly buttressed this past draft. However, allocating a top 15 selection to the right difference making wide receiver could really strengthen the offense and give Daniel Jones someone to know, grow, and throw to. Brugler may be onto something, given the uncertainty of the long-term wide receiver assets that currently represent the Giants. But just like the 2020 draft, the wide receiver class is deep in 2021, and the opportunity cost of drafting a receiver in the first round, of a deep class, may be extortionate depending on the post 2020 state of the Giants depth chart. Nevertheless, one thing is certain, the depth of the position is fine at the moment, but that can change rapidly, so contingency plans should be in place sooner, rather than later.
The other aspect to the upcoming draft is the precarious nature of the stability that surrounds the current sports world. COVID-19 is going to restrict the preseason of the NFL, but we’re uncertain if college football will even occur. The NCAA is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. How is it going to look if students aren’t allowed to attend class or be on campus, yet student athletes are forced to compete in potentially hazardous environments, if there is no vaccine? We just don’t know how everything will play out in the coming weeks and months. If there is no NCAA season, but the draft still takes place in 2021, how will that affect the players who are selected and how will scouts evaluate these players? Teams, more so than in 2020, will go with safer prospects who have a high pedigree from power 5 programs. Players like Ross, Chase, Waddle, and Smith. It’s hard to prognosticate the future in these unprecedented times that we currently inhabit.