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‘Things I think’ as we get closer to the 2021 NFL Draft

Thoughts on draft guides, draft prospects, Sam Darnold, more

NCAA Football: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl-Georgia vs Cincinnati
Azeez Ojulari
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

We are less than three away from the 2021 NFL Draft. With that in mind, here are some ‘things I think’ as we wait.

The Beast is on the loose

One of the highlights of draft season, and most useful things you can get your grubby little draftnik hands on, is the annual draft guide from Dane Brugler of The Athletic. Brugler calls the guide ‘The Beast.’ Before Brugler was the draft analyst for The Athletic, you had to pay directly for this. Now, you need an Athletic subscription for the guide, which included scouting reports on 415 players.

Here are a few notable things.

Edge rusher

Brugler has my preferred edge rusher for the Giants, Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari, as his top-ranked edge rusher. The only other edge rusher with a pure Round 1 grade is Kwity Paye of Michigan.

Of Ojulari, Brugler writes:

A two-year starter at Georgia, Ojulari lined up as the JACK linebacker in head coach Kirby Smart’s 3-3-5 base scheme, standing up and rushing with his hand on the ground. After a promising redshirt freshman campaign, he was one of the best pass rushers in the SEC in 2020, leading the conference in sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles. Ojulari senses how blockers want to attack him and is very skilled at using his burst/bend to attack their outside shoulder, greasing the corner and detaching from blocks with his violent hands. While he lacks elite size for the position, that shouldn’t limit his NFL ceiling if he continues to diversify his approach and develop his counters. Overall, Ojulari is an instinctive and explosive athlete with the dip-and-rip cornering skills and scheme versatility to become an impact NFL pass rusher. He projects as a younger version of Yannick Ngakoue.

Brugler gives Jayson Oweh of Penn State, Joe Tryon of Washington and Jaelan Phillips of Miami Round 1-2 grades. Gregory Rousseau? A pure Round 2 grade in Brugler’s eyes.

Brugler describes the Rousseau conundrum this way:

Rousseau is a faith-based projection with clear bust potential because he is still learning how to be impactful from snap-to-snap. But his natural instincts and traits (length, frame, athleticism) give him a Chandler Jones-type of ceiling.

Offensive tackle

Brugler’s top three offensive tackles, and the only ones with pure first-round grades, are Penei Sewell of Oregon, Rashawn Slater of Northwestern and Christian Darrisaw of Virginia Tech.

The most likely to be a Giant seems to be Slater. Brugler says “Slater will be graded as an offensive tackle on some draft boards and a guard/center on others, but regardless, he offers the smart, technically sound approach to be a plug-and-play NFL starter, and would best fit in a zone scheme.”

Wide receiver

Brugler has Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith as his top three receivers, in that order. They are the only three with pure Round 1 grades.

Brugler says “Waddle doesn’t stand out for his size or seasoning, but he is a special athlete with the sudden movements and acceleration to be an NFL playmaker in the Tyreek Hill mold. He projects as scheme-versatile receiver and dynamic return man.”

Was I wrong about Sam Darnold?

Those of you who have been reading Big Blue View for a while will recall that I was all aboard the Sam Darnold train prior to the 2018 NFL Draft. I thought the former USC star was the best quarterback in that draft class, and I wasn’t shy about beating the drum for the Giants to select Darnold at No. 2 as the eventual successor to Eli Manning.

Darnold’s three seasons with the New York Jets were a disaster, but I’m not yet willing to toss in the towel on the idea that Darnold can be a really good NFL quarterback. The Book of Sam has yet to be completely written, and I think the Carolina Panthers chapter could be a good one for him.

The Jets were a mess with Todd Bowles as head coach in 2018. He wasn’t ready for that job in that market. Adam Gase followed bowles and was an unmitigated disaster from his opening press conference as Jets coach.

Horrid coaching. No talent to work with. Darnold never had a chance to be truly successful with the Jets.

In Carolina, Matt Rhule is a quality head coach. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady did wonders at LSU for Joe Burrow, and will probably do the same for Darnold. The Panthers have a committed owner who will do what it takes to put a quality team around Darnold.

There is still part of me that believes Darnold would have been a good choice for the Giants in 2018. That he would have benefitted greatly from a year or year-and-a-half of watching Eli Manning. Darnold and Daniel Jones will both be 24 years old this season. I still think it’s anybody’s guess which of the two ends up having a better career.

Beasts of the East?

The Giants have not won the NFC East title since 2011. They have had one winning season in the last eight years. Co-owner John Mara said recently he is “tired of losing,” as he should be. Mara isn’t outright demanding an NFC East title. At least, he isn’t saying that out loud. There is no doubt, though, that a losing record in the NFL’s new 17-game format is not going to sit well with Mara.

Could the Giants, after an impressive free agency and with Saquon Barkley returning, emerge as the best team in the NFC East.

I got a kick the other day out of Bleeding Green Nation’s Brandon Lee Gowton throwing his support behind the Giants on the SB Nation NFL Show.

‘I don’t think the Giants should be discounted, and that’s coming from someone who never took the Giants seriously for a long time because the Eagles would own them,” Gowton said. “I think the Giants actually have something going for them here now. They’ve definitely upgraded. I think that much can’t even be debated ...

“I just don’t think you can count the Giants out. It’s been so long for them, maybe it’s finally time.”

In defense of Rondale Moore

I really don’t get the Rondale Moore love from much of the draft community. I really don’t. The Purdue wide receiver is 5-foot-7 and he’s been hurt more than he has been healthy for the past two seasons.

Still, Todd McShay and Matt Waldman know more about assessing draft prospects than I do and both defended him over the past week.

McShay:

“His size is probably the biggest concern, but how about that workout. I love him as a player.

“He’s so quick and fast and the explosiveness you see with the vertical jump and the 40-yard dash that he ran … He is so good with the ball in his hands. To me, now in the NFL you want that more than ever. You want a guy that you can work the short game, the screen game, reverses … he just does such a good job of sensing where the defenders are, he’s so elusive and then he has that second gear to take off and turn a 7-yard play into a 35-40-yard play. That’s why I think he has a chance to be a top 50 pick.”

“I think he’s going to be a special player in the league.”

Waldman isn’t sold to the extend McShay is, but he sees the attraction. Moore is No. 11 in Waldman’s ranking of 65 wide receivers.

“The thing with him is he’s blindingly sudden. If you could get Rondale Moore in the third round or the bottom of the second round and you know you’re going to use him in the slot where he has two-way go’s to use that blinding suddenness to get open early …

“I see him more as what people hoped Tavon Austin would be as opposed to being the next Steve Smith (Panthers).”

I will defer to their judgment. Still, Moore is a 5-7 guy who is hurt all the time.