The tenure of Dave Gettleman as New York Giants’ general manager was not successful by most measures. The team was bad and seemed bereft of talent when he arrived in 2018, and it seemed to still be that way when he left at the end of last season. He had numerous disastrous free agent signings that did not improve the Giants on the field. The contracts he negotiated also put the Giants into an untenable salary cap situation that has left current General Manager Joe Schoen hamstrung in his efforts to upgrade the talent level of the 2022 Giants roster. These decisions are continually reviewed in the comments section of Big Blue View and need not be discussed further (even though they undoubtedly will be).
This post is intended to raise a different question. Gettleman did not hire the Giants’ head coaches or their staff during his tenure. He was definitely responsible, though, for the Giants’ drafts from 2018-2021. In the wake of the Giants’ 4-1 start and their stirring, improbable victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, we ask: How good do Gettleman’s drafts look now?
This is not yet another discussion of which players Gettleman should have drafted instead of the ones he did draft. We all know the names: Quenton Nelson. Josh Allen. Justin Herbert. Rashawn Slater. Micah Parsons. Trey Smith. Rehash those in the comments for the 897th time if you wish.
It’s also not about the philosophy of roster building. Yes, Gettleman did not fix the offensive line once and for all (although he did try - he just didn’t sign good free agents and devote enough draft picks to it). Yes, trading up and giving up two draft picks to draft a cornerback rather than staying put to get one was a bad move, not only the result but also because accumulating picks in an uncertain draft is better than giving them away. (Despite that, though, many fans were equally annoyed when he traded down twice in 2020, and many will be happy for Joe Schoen to trade up for a quarterback in 2023.)
Instead, let’s consider a more narrow question: How much Gettleman’s draft picks - the ones actually on the team - are contributing to the Giants winning now. In other words, did Gettleman and the equally-maligned Giants scouting staff exhibit skill in identifying good college players? Of the four drafts he conducted, 20 of the 32 players he drafted remain Giants, so there is a pretty good sample to consider.
Saquon Barkley is the only 2018 draft pick who remains a Giant. He is on track to have an all-time season for an NFL running back. Do the Giants have even one of their four victories this season without him? Gettleman was criticized for taking a running back with the No. 2 pick in 2018, but the argument can be made that he is more valuable than the typical running back because of his pass-catching ability and his elusiveness. This year Barkley is exceeding expectations for rushing yards to a greater extent than almost every other NFL RB:
expected and actual rushing yards this season:— Tej Seth (@tejfbanalytics) October 6, 2022
-the browns have a perfect run game
-lamar jackson and rashaad penny are carrying their respective run games
-the bucs, bengals and chargers need more out of their running backs pic.twitter.com/rbJR0WxV3P
Mike Kafka has not yet made as much use of Barkley’s pass-catching potential as Pat Shurmur did in his rookie year. But against the Packers, Barkley caught a pass from Daniel Jones 4 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and took it 41 yards because he did this:
This juke by Saquon Barkley is insane— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) October 10, 2022
Also, love the Barkley utilization on the drag w/ Bellinger releasing inward towards Walker (7)...seemed to be an under call by Campbell (59) that wasn't picked up or some kind of miscommunication pic.twitter.com/laxHrpqvpn
The player Gettleman envisioned as a “gold jacket” guy is kinda looking like one right now.
Daniel Jones is certainly the most controversial draft pick of the Gettleman era. Few if any saw him as worthy of the No. 6 pick, and questions remain about what his ceiling is. Is he a quarterback a team can “win with”? Is he a quarterback a team can “win because of”? Since Schoen decided not to pick up Jones’ fifth year option, some kind of decision has to be made by the end of the year.
Traditional metrics such as passing yards and TDs tend not to favor Jones, and we often see him ranked near the bottom of NFL starting QBs by various pundits. Advanced metrics see him a little more favorably, for example, he has typically gotten fairly good scores from Pro Football Focus. ESPN’s quarterback rating (QBR), which is based on expected points added (EPA) for all “action plays” in which the QB is affecting the outcome of the play, with an adjustment for the quality of defense he is facing, sees him as a middling QB. On the QBR scale of 0 to 100, Jones rated 55.7 (ranked 18th), 54.0 (20th), and 47.5 (22nd) in his first three seasons.
Things are changing in 2022, though. For the season Jones is up to No. 14, just ahead of some guy named Brady and also higher than Matthew Stafford, Joe Burrow, and Aaron Rodgers:
In Week 4 against Chicago, he scored an outstanding 90.4, third-best in the NFL:
And against Green Bay he was No. 6 with an excellent 75.2 score:
Against the Packers, Jones was right there with Josh Allen in EPA per play:
Offensive EPA tiers from week 5 games so far. Look at the New York Football Giants passing offense and Daniel Jones leading the way. pic.twitter.com/Qe86kMPpxO— Justin Penik (@JustinPenik) October 10, 2022
Daniel Jones only has 3 TD passes this season and has only passed for 200 yards once. It’s unlikely that he will ever become Josh Allen or Justin Herbert. But this season he is looking more and more like a QB a team can win with. With an improved offensive line, and especially with a couple of top flight receivers, he may even start to look like a QB a team can win because of - if he gets the chance in 2023.
Both Allen and Herbert were the third QBs drafted the year they came out; it’s an inexact science to say the least. Maybe 2019 was not the year to draft a QB. But Jones, the second one chosen that year, is clearly the second best of that class, and it is not yet out of the question that he can become the best of that class.
Dexter Lawrence has been a good player ever since joining the Giants. But the No. 17 draft pick used to select him was the centerpiece in the trade Gettleman made that sent Odell Beckham to the Cleveland Browns, so the bar was a high one to clear for whomever he selected with that pick. Add to that the fact that Titans’ defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons, taken two picks later, has been more of a disruptive presence in the passing game than Lawrence, and it has seemed that Gettleman made the wrong pick.
In 2022, though, Lawrence appears to be taking his game to the next level. Here are the IDL PFF rankings after five weeks of the season:
Dexy is right there with Simmons and in some pretty elite company overall. Sunday, he had a key sack of Aaron Rodgers in the second half:
Dexter Lawrence with the 3rd & 8 sack of Aaron Rodgers in the second half pic.twitter.com/jn3PwqZtu4— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) October 9, 2022
And he’s been doing this the past couple of weeks without Leonard Williams there to draw attention from him. This may be the year Lawrence becomes a Pro Bowler.
Oshane Ximines was Gettleman’s second attempt to upgrade the Giants’ edge defender position. (The first, Lorenzo Carter, was a good player but never quite became an impact player.) Ximines showed promise in the pass rush as a rookie but tailed off after that. He was especially weak setting the edge on rushing plays. After a key offsides in 2021 that may have ruined the Giants’ chance to defeat Kansas City, Ximines was buried on the bench the rest of the season.
Then a funny thing happened on Ximines’ presumed way out the door. The Brian Daboll regime gave him a chance, he played well enough to make the 53-man roster, he earned playing time when the season started, especially with the absence of Kayvon Thibodeaux for the first two games, and ... he has played well. He ranks 18th among NFL edge defenders in 2022 with a stellar PFF grade of 81.4, just behind Trey Hendrickson and just ahead of Demarcus Lawrence and Haason Reddick:
He has two sacks and 10 overall pressures, and notably he has graded 78.5 in run defense, his previous weakness:
Xavier McKinney might be the best second-level defender the #Giants have against the run right now.— Dan Schneier (@DanSchneierNFL) September 28, 2022
And Oshane Ximines continues to prove he has taken a step in this system when it comes to playing the run. pic.twitter.com/JkILxxQbBb
Against Green Bay, Ximines had the game-sealing strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers:
“I hope someone has a picture of that!”— Tom Rock (@TomRock_Newsday) October 9, 2022
Oshane Ximines not in front of Big Ben or Buckingham Palace but standing over Aaron Rodgers after the win-sealing sack. https://t.co/AlwGT5eeFt
Oh, and by the way, the draft pick Gettleman used to select Ximines was another piece received in the OBJ trade.
Julian Love has been one of the more ignored pieces of the 2019 draft, serving mostly as a backup to the starting safeties but also filling in at cornerback when needed. With the release of Logan Ryan this summer, Love finally became a starter. He has been solid as a starting safety (64.7 PFF grade) and has given defensive coordinator Wink Martindale flexibility to play him deep or bring him into the box. He made the key defensive play late against Carolina, sacking Baker Mayfield:
Love is not a star, but as a fourth-round pick he has been good value for the Giants.
Darius Slayton? Yes, Darius Slayton. He looked like a fifth-round steal for Gettleman in his breakout rookie season. By the summer of 2022 he looked as if he would not make the 53-man roster. Surprisingly he did, but he seemed not to fit into the Mike Kafka - Brian Daboll offense. Slayton was inactive in Week 1, hardly played in Weeks 2 and 3, and was only targeted twice in Week 4.
But misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. (BBV, your go-to source for Shakespeare quotes.) In Week 5, with the Giants desperate for healthy bodies at wide receiver, Slayton had 6 receptions in 7 targets for 79 yards, including 27 yards after catch, and an 89.6 PFF grade:
Darius Slayton 6 catches for 79 yards on 7 targets & was missed on a possible big play.— Bobby Skinner (@BobbySkinner_) October 10, 2022
His speed is a valuable piece and you don’t give up on talent. Don’t forget about Slay pic.twitter.com/oh7c9Pna4c
Before Sunday, Slayton looked like a failed Gettleman draft pick. But now? Time will tell.
Andrew Thomas trailed only Daniel Jones in the contest for least-loved Dave Gettleman first round draft pick. He was the consolation prize for the Giants losing out on Chase Young by defeating Washington late in the 2019 season. He was pilloried as a failure, the worst of the four big offensive tackles taken in Round 1 in 2020 and especially worse than instant star Tristan Wirfs. Fast forward to today, and Thomas is the highest-rated offensive tackle in the NFL, according to PFF:
Another week. Another clip of Andrew Thomas dominating his opponent.— Bobby Skinner (@BobbySkinner_) October 4, 2022
This week features a lot of Robert Quinn and dirt. All the awards. Right now. pic.twitter.com/1la34u0ZXJ
In 332 snaps in 2022, Thomas has allowed 0 sacks, 1 hit, 5 hurries. Thomas is playing at an All-Pro, not just a Pro Bowl, level. The undisputed greatest draft pick of the Gettleman era.
The rest of Gettleman’s 2020 draft is intriguing, but probably has to be classified as TBD:
- Xavier McKinney missed much of his first season and started to flash in his second season. It has been hoped that he would take another step to elite level in 2022. It’s difficult to say whether that has happened, but in part that is a result of how he is being used. McKinney is not playing as much centerfield as he did under Patrick Graham. He’s only been targeted six times so far in 2022, surrendering two completions, and quarterbacks have a 47.2 passer rating when targeting him (per Pro Football Reference), which is excellent. Instead, Martindale has used him quite bit in the box, sometimes having him rush the passer. He had a key block of an Aaron Rodgers pass attempt late in the Giants’ victory on Sunday:
- Matt Peart looked excellent at times as a rookie and then fell off the proverbial cliff during the chaos of the 2021 season before being lost to an ACL tear. At some point he will return to health. Will the current Giants coaches be able to make an effective OT out of him? Time will tell. Worth noting is how Peart came to be a Giant. In the 2019 OBJ trade, Jabrill Peppers came to the Giants along with the draft pick that Gettleman used for Dexter Lawrence. That allowed Gettleman to release Landon Collins and Snacks Harrison. As a result, the Giants received a third-round and two seventh-round compensatory picks in the 2020 draft. Peart was the resulting third-round pick.
- Speaking of those comp picks, one of the seventh-round picks Gettleman got was used to draft Mr. Irrelevant, Tae Crowder. Crowder has been a starter at ILB much of his Giants career, which by any criterion is great value for the final pick in the draft. On the other hand, Crowder starts because the Giants have no one better, and he has been a liability in pass coverage and tackling most of his career to date. But while we all weren’t watching, Crowder started to improve. Here is the evolution of his PFF grades from Weeks 1 to 5:
Here’s an example of Crowder’s improved play against the Chicago Bears:
On the key defensive play in the Packers game, Crowder and Nick McCloud picked up Aaron Rodgers’ tell with the tap of his right shoulder and let their teammates know, facilitating McKinney’s block of Rodgers’ 4th down pass:
Awesome sequence. #Giants picked up on Rodgers’ tell. When he touches his right shoulder, Crowder and Love immediately signal to McCloud that the ball is coming his way. They’re then able to get in his throwing lane and essentially end the game with a deflection #TogetherBlue pic.twitter.com/gWnGvaD1qI— Will Presti (@WillPresti) October 9, 2022
Azeez Ojulari was a steal for Gettleman at pick No. 50 in the 2021 draft. He was arguably the second best rookie edge defender in the NFL in 2021, accumulating 8 sacks, and is considered the starter opposite Kayvon Thibodeaux in 2022. Of note is that the pick used for Olulari was the result of a trade-down with the Miami Dolphins that brought Schoen an extra third-round pick, which he used to draft CB Cor’Dale Flott.
Sixth round pick Gary Brightwell has had a couple of moments at RB, most notably a 13-yard gain late in the Carolina game and his first rushing TD against Green Bay, in which he plowed forward through the pile to score. He is also the Giants’ primary kick returner but seems miscast in that role.
The rest of Gettleman’s 2021 draft can be summed up in one word: Injured. The jury is still out on Kadarius Toney, Aaron Robinson, Elerson Smith, and Rodarius Williams because of how little they have seen the field. Time will tell whether this class in retrospect looks like a disaster, a great draft, or something in between.
The final verdict
It’s too early to deliver a final verdict on the quality of the players Gettleman drafted. One was awful - Deandre Baker, unnecessarily reached for and no longer in the NFL. Several are now playing well for other teams, most notably B.J. Hill. Will Hernandez was an almost universally praised pick who looked good as a rookie and then declined. For some the jury is still out, e.g., Darnay Holmes, Shane Lemieux, and most of the 2021 class.
But the impression we now have of many of the players discussed above has changed since their rookie years, and even since the beginning of 2022. Some of it may just be the normal maturation of NFL players as they gain experience. Some of it may be a return to full health after previous injuries (e.g., Barkley, Thomas). But how much of it is the effect of the current Giants’ coaching staff - how their behind-the-scenes work has made them better players, and how they are being used in games to put them into positions to succeed? The Giants team that is now 4-1 includes many Gettleman draft picks starting and/or playing key snaps in meaningful games. Is it an accident that Jones, Lawrence, Ximines, and Crowder seem like better players now than they were under the previous coaching staffs?
Gettleman’s combative personality, combined with some outdated ideas about what is important in today’s NFL, his failures outside the draft to improve the roster, and his willingness to defer costs to the future, will be his legacy in the minds of Giants fans. And that is justified.
But maybe - just maybe - Dave Gettleman and the Giants’ scouts knew how to evaluate college prospects?