It’s fair to say that the first round of the 2021 NFL did not go as planned for the New York Giants. The team likely didn’t plan on their top four targets all going just before they got on the clock.
But that’s just what happened, and the Giants (finally) executed the one move fans have been wanting them to make for years and traded down with the Chicago Bears.
The upside of all the curveballs thrown over the course of the first round is that there are still a number of talented players still on the board, many of whom carry first round (or fringe first round) grades. Could a near worst-case scenario for the first round have set up multiple “Ideal” scenarios for the Giants on the second day?
Let’s take a look at a couple to hope for.
Round 2 - 42nd overall
Azeez Ojulari (EDGE, Georgia)
This is probably the riskiest pick in this post. A week ago there would have been plenty of people who would be absolutely fine with the Giants selecting Ojulari at 11th overall. But then concerns were raised with regards to the long-term health of his knee following ACL reconstruction. That, much more than the fact that he could use a bit of development as a pass rusher, is what caused Ojulari to fall out of the first round. If he is healthy, Ojulari is one of the more athletic, versatile, and well-rounded pass rushers in this draft.
The Giants — at least to those of us on the outside — could use an athletic and versatile edge defender to take advantage of the secondary and Patrick Graham’s coverage schemes. One of the Giants’ weaknesses on defense was an inability to pressure quarterbacks quickly or with their natural pass rush. Instead they needed to force QBs to hold the ball or scheme up exotic blitz packages.
By rights, Ojulari shouldn’t be available at 42nd overall. And if he is, the question has to be asked “just how healthy is that knee? What is the long-term prognosis?” That, of course, adds a significant element of risk to the equation. However, the potential upside — particularly considering the Giants’ tendency to let second rounders walk at the end of their rookie contracts — could make the potential value much too great to ignore here.
Round 3 - 76th overall
Aaron Banks (OG, Notre Dame)
This exact pick could come down to the type blocking scheme the Giants want to employ in 2021. I went with Banks based on what we saw from the Giants’ offensive line in the second half of 2020. Banks is a “plug and play” guard who is athletic enough to execute a man-gap or inside zone scheme, with plenty of power and every-down reliability. He doesn’t have the scheme versatility of Alijah Vera-Tucker or Wyatt Davis, but within his limitations is only a small step back from either of those players.
The other names to keep in mind here are Georgia RG Ben Cleveland and Ohio State OC Josh Myers. Cleveland not only has rare size for a guard (6-foot-6, 354 pounds), but carries his weight exceptionally well and has surprising athleticism. Myers is a rock solid center and reasonably athletic prospect who, in the event the Giants want a more athletic zone blocking scheme, could allow Nick Gates to slide over to the right guard position he played well in relief of Kevin Zeitler in 2019.
Any of these options could allow the Giants to improve their offensive line, adding depth and competition to reinforce a young and fluid unit.
Round 2 - 42nd overall
Creed Humphrey (OC, Oklahoma)
In this scenario the Giants either aren’t confident in Ojulari’s knee or the top remaining EDGE players are off the board. In that case, the next option is to continue to add to the offensive line.
As mentioned above, if the Giants want to transition back to more of an athletic zone blocking scheme, perhaps the most effective way to accomplish that could be to move Nick Gates back to right guard and drafting an athletic center.
Creed Humphrey became a mainstay on one of college football’s best offensive lines back in 2018, and started 36 straight games at the position since seizing the spot. Humphrey is a good run blocker and a dominant pass protector, in addition to putting out consistently solid tape over the last three years. Humphrey is also remarkably athletic, testing out in the 80th (or better) percentile of the 40 yard dash (and 10 yard split), 3-cone drill, short shuttle, vertical leap, and broad jump.
He could be the centerpiece around which a young offensive line could be assembled and grow for years.
Round 3 - 76th overall
Benjamin St-Juste (CB, Minnesota)
If EDGE players aren’t available, the Giants are going to want to continue to add to their secondary. It was strongly rumored that Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II were among the Giants’ top targets at the top of the first round. We also know that Patrick Graham likes his cornerbacks big, long, and athletic. That description fits St-Juste to a ‘T’. Not only does St-Juste have rare size for a corner at 6-foot-3 1⁄4 inches, 202 pounds (with 32 5/8 inch arms), but he also has uncommon movement skills for a corner of any size. While they are unofficial, St-Juste’s 3-cone drill time of 6.63 seconds and short shuttle time of 4.01 seconds would have ranked him in the 93rd and 84th percentiles (respectively) among all corners.
The Giants have invested heavily in their secondary over the last three years, but given that their defensive success in 2020 was a byproduct of their coverage, it makes sense to keep that as stout as possible.