The 2021 NFL Draft isn’t even a week old as I sit here and write this, and the newest New York Giants have barely had time to get fit for their special edition draft caps, let alone get their new numbers or take the field as professional football players.
But even so, Mock Draft Season is relentless and ESPN’s Todd McShay released his early mock of the 2022 NFL Draft (inSider content) on Thursday.
And while a mock draft barely a week after the latest actual draft might seem silly and unnecessary, it actually mirrors the NFL’s own process. There is a short break for scouts and evaluators after the draft, but all too soon they are back at it for the annual BLESTO conference, where the league pools preliminary scouting reports for the upcoming season.
As things stand now, the Giants will have two picks in the first round of the 2022 draft (owning the Chicago Bears’ first round selection following their trade for the 11th overall pick). So where does McShay think the Giants could go with their two first round picks next year?
Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
The Giants get back-to-back picks here, and we’ll start them off with a pass-rusher. I loved the value of getting edge rusher Azeez Ojulari in the second round last week, but I’d like to see more on that defensive front. Enter Hutchinson, who was creeping up my 2021 board before suffering a fractured leg in November and returning to school for another season. He’s 6-foot-6 and 269 pounds, and he had 4.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss in 2019.
9th Overall (via Chicago)
Evan Neal, OT/G, Alabama*
In order to move up to draft Justin Fields in Round 1 last week, the Bears sent New York their first-rounder — and it could end up being a good one. After going defense at No. 8, the Giants can look to the offensive line at No. 9. Neal is versatile, with 13 starts at right tackle and 13 at left guard, and he’s 6-foot-7 and 360 pounds. There are plenty of spots up for grabs along that line, which should be the next area of focus on offense for the Giants.
We aren’t even a third of the way through May and McShay is already disappointing me. Nothing against Hutchinson as a player, but they should be able to at least cobble together an adequate EDGE presence between Ojulari, Smith, Carter, Ximines, Carter Coughlin, and Cam Brown. And if they aren’t able to get a functional pass rush from those players, I’m not sure Hutchinson is the answer. While he checks all the boxes of a “classic” defensive end, the Giants’ defense seems to call for much more of a “tweener” prospect for the position. Hutchinson would be a 5, 4i, or 3-technique defensive tackle for the Giants (depending on down, distance, and personnel package). He has great size for a 4-3 End at 6-foot-5 (or 6-foot-6) and 270-275 pounds. But if the Giants need EDGE pressure, they’ll probably be better served by looking at more athletic and versatile options. If the team is looking for a new defensive end because they’re moving on from B.J. Hill and Dexter Lawrence hasn’t earned his fifth year option, they’ll probably get better value from the second day — unless they believe Hutchinson could be a Cam Jordan or J.J. Watt type player.
Neal is a bit more of an interesting case. By the time the 2022 draft gets here he will likely have had a season of starting at guard, right tackle, and left tackle. We might have to wait until the end of next season to get a good sense of where Neal is as a prospect. Initial impressions of him are that he is an absolutely massive bulldozer of an offensive lineman. Neal looks every bit of his listed height and weight, and when he gets his hands on defenders, that’s the end of the play for them. However, that kind of size comes at a cost, and he can find himself lunging, particularly against speed off the edge. Does that translate to a guard or an offensive tackle at the next level? That determination could well depend on his tape from the coming season. There’s also the question of the Giants’ needs along the offensive line. It’s entirely possible that they could need an offensive tackle or a guard after this year. If they need a tackle and Neal shows that he has the athleticism to hang on the edge at the NFL level, this could be a solid pick. However, if they need an interior lineman — and I’m going to be consistent here — the Giants might find better value on the second day and could put that second first round pick to better use selecting a premium position.