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Mel Kiper pre-combine mock draft: Giants draft Thibodeaux, Lloyd in the first round

Could the Giants really go all defense in the first round?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 23 Oregon at UCLA Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2022 NFL Scouting Combine got under way Tuesday as prospects, NFL personnel, and media members flock to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana.

No, don’t run to your TV to see if the workouts are live, those won’t start until Thursday. But that means there’s still time for a quick mock draft before the Combine is done and draft boards are reshuffled.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper released his pre-combine mock draft (inSider content) Tuesday morning, and it features a pair of selections for the New York Giants that are both completely surprising and perfectly predictable.

Those choices are Oregon EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux at 5th overall and Utah LB Devin Lloyd at 7th overall.

Let’s see what Kiper has to say for himself, then unpack it.

5. New York Giants - Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon

If the draft plays out like this and both of the top offensive tackles are off the board before the Giants pick, taking a defender makes the most sense. And if Thibodeaux is available, he’d be a perfect fit for a New York defense that needs to pair a true edge rusher with rookie Azeez Ojulari, who led the team with eight sacks last season. Thibodeaux has to improve his all-around game, but he has outstanding physical tools as a pass-rusher. He had seven sacks last season and put up the second-best pressure rate in the country (17.8%). If he comes close to his ceiling, he’ll make multiple All-Pro teams.

The Giants have some nice pieces to build around for new general manager Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll, but they’re not going to be able to acquire an edge rusher like Thibodeaux anywhere other than the draft. We could look back at this pick in five years and consider it a steal.

7. New York Giants (via CHI) - Devin Lloyd, ILB, Utah

With the Giants’ second top-10 pick, I’m going all-in on improving the front seven of the defense. Lloyd is a middle linebacker, yes, but he does so much more. He had 111 total tackles, eight sacks, 20 tackles for loss, four interceptions and a forced fumble last season. He had 16.5 total sacks over the past three seasons. Lloyd (and No. 5 pick Kayvon Thibodeaux) can add some pass-rush upside to a team that desperately needs it. If New York does take Lloyd here, that probably means Blake Martinez, who tore his ACL in September, will be a salary-cap casualty.

The Giants are going to have to address their offensive line at some point this offseason, and I also thought about center Tyler Linderbaum here.

Raptor’s Thoughts

Kiper has NC State offensive tackle Ickem Ekwonu going first overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Alabama tackle Evan Neal going third overall to the Houston Texans, and Mississippi State offensive tackle Charles Cross going sixth overall to the Carolina Panthers.

On the one hand, we are seeing how it could be very likely that the Giants just won’t be able to find a right tackle at the top of the draft. And I’m including Cross in group, even though he has only ever played left tackle and there are no guarantees on his transition to right tackle, or to the NFL game.

On the other hand, the Giants are getting two very good players at the top of the draft.

Thibodeaux has spent most of 2021 and 2022 at the top of draft boards before various “concerns” have caused him to slide down a bit. He has the tools to be a truly dangerous EDGE in the NFL, with great length, flexibility, athleticism, and a pro-ready repertoire of moves. He can play from a 2 or 3-point stance, and drop into coverage when asked. Wink Martindale might prefer coverage players to pass rushers, but if Thibodeaux is the clear-cut Best Player Available, the Giants are getting a potential Blue Chip guy.

And you can say much the same thing about Devin Lloyd. Linebacker doesn’t have the same kind of positional value as OT, EDGE, or CB, and I could really see the Giants taking a player like Cincinnati CB Ahmad Gardner here. But in a vacuum, Lloyd is a great player who has been remarkably productive and versatile for Utah. The Giants have long needed an inside linebacker who can really run and cover the middle of the field. Lloyd could give Martindale a plethora of options in his blitz packages — as Kiper notes, he’s a pretty good pass rusher in his own right.

On the other other hand, the Giants desperately need to rebuild (or just plain build) their offense. The have fielded the worst offense in the NFL the last two years, and it’s clear that you have to win on offense in modern football.

This draft is legitimately stacked on the defensive side of the ball, but defense just doesn’t offer the same consistency and predictability that offense does.

Kiper notes that he thought about Tyler Linderbaum at 7th overall, and might have gone in that direction. Center has about the same positional value as MIKE linebacker to me, and finding a center who can be a building block is almost as important as finding a right tackle.

The struggle between the draft board — which will almost certainly be heavy on defense at the top — and the Giants’ realities will be incredibly interesting to watch.

What the Giants really need is for Kenny Pickett, Malik Willis, or Matt Corral (or any combination thereof) to rocket up draft boards over the next two months.