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Mel Kiper mock draft 1.0: Ekwonu, Ojabo to the Giants

ESPN’s draft guru helps out the Giants at two big areas of need

Syndication: Nashville George Walker IV / Tennessean.com

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. released his Mock Draft 1.0 Wednesday morning (inSider content), and his two picks for the New York Giants could wind up being two of the most common we see over the coming months.

And while there is a constant firehose of mock drafts from the start of Draft Season through the draft itself, there are a few major outlets we like to pay special attention to for their contacts with front offices around the NFL.

Kiper is one of the leading voices in the media at large (at least when it comes to the draft) and he has contacts league-wide. His picks can reflect some of what he is hearing from those contacts.

Now, it goes without saying that it’s still very early in the process and a lot will change between now and the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine, and will change again following free agency, and pro days. Even now, a quarter of the NFL (including the Giants) is looking for a new head coach, general manager, or both.

But we should still pay attention to the mocks coming out of the major outlets for any useful insights into how the NFL feels about certain prospects.

5. New York Giants

Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State

There has been a lot of recent buzz around Ekwonu, whose stock is rising. He dominated at left tackle for the Wolfpack this season after playing some guard earlier in his career. Based on the 2021 tape, there’s not much separating Ekwonu from Evan Neal, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Ekwonu was the top tackle off the board in April. He has All-Pro potential as a run-blocker and as a pass-blocker.

For the Giants — who haven’t yet replaced coach Joe Judge or general manager Dave Gettleman — this would be top-five tackles in two of the past three drafts, but even though Andrew Thomas played better this season, the right tackle spot is far from settled. They just have to get better up front, and taking Ekwonu is a step toward that. Like the Jets, they have two top-10 picks, and they could go offense with the No. 7 selection.

7. New York Giants (via CHI)

David Ojabo, OLB, Michigan

It’s always tough to project for teams that haven’t hired new general managers, so here’s my thinking for this pick, which comes from the Bears in the Justin Fields trade up last year: The Giants have some solid options on defense, but it’s fair to say they underperformed as a unit in 2021. The best way to get better as a whole? Pressure the quarterback, which helps every level of the defense. Rookie second-round pick Azeez Ojulari had a nice season, leading the team with eight sacks, but they don’t have another top-tier edge rusher on the other side.

Ojabo can help the pass rush immediately. He had an incredibly impressive season, racking up 11 sacks and five forced fumbles while playing opposite my projected No. 1 pick, Aidan Hutchinson. He doesn’t have Hutchinson’s all-around game — he has to get better against the run — but as a pure pass-rusher, he has a very high ceiling. With these two top-seven selections, New York can get high-end starters on both sides of the ball.

Raptor’s thoughts

I can’t rightly complain about this draft too loudly, as this were my picks in my first post-season mock draft.

In my draft I had my choice between Evan Neal and Ekwonu and picked Ekwonu. In this case, Mel has Neal going off the board at third overall to the Houston Texans.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the top tackles in the draft shake out. Both Neal and Ekwonu are versatile blockers with experience at multiple positions along the OL. If the Giants take either of them in the top 10, they are drafting them to play right tackle first. However, their experience gives them the option of “failing inward,” and still giving good value as an interior lineman. Nobody wants that to happen, but if the worst case is a high-end guard, it’s a disappointment you can live with.

As I’ve stated, I absolutely believe the Giants need to add an “alpha” pass rusher, and Ojabo has the potential to be just that. Granted, he is still raw in comparison to Aidan Hutchinson, but that’s to be expected considering he only started playing football in 2017.

That said, he has elite physical traits —his 6-foot-5 inch, 250-pound frame and reported 4.5-second 40 yard dash time compare with players like Danielle Hunter, Josh Sweat, Brian Burns, and Montez Sweat — and natural instincts for beating tackles and rushing the passer.

Ojabo’s production exploded in 2021 when he learned to harness his flexibility and bend the edge. Further development and refinement to truly harness his explosiveness could make him a real monster.

Considering Mel and I had the same picks for (mostly) the same reasons, this feels a bit like patting myself on the back. However, this first round would address two holes at cornerstone positions for the Giants.

On the other hand, if Mel is agreeing with me complete, I think I might have to go back and re-think my whole draft philosophy.

Elsewhere in the NFC East

Washington Football Team

11. Malik Willis (QB, Liberty)

Philadelphia Eagles

15. Devin Lloyd (iLB, Utah)
16. Arnold Ebiketie (DE, Penn State)
19. Chris Olave (WR, Ohio State)

Dallas Cowboys

24. Travon Walker (DE, Georgia)