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Mel Kiper mock draft: Evan Neal, Kayvon Thibodeaux to the Giants

The Giants add to their offensive and defensive fronts

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 10 CFP National Championship Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The first wave of the 2022 NFL free agency period has subsided, and it was a low-key affair for the New York Giants. The team made some moves, generally with the aim of giving themselves a safety net in case the draft takes an unexpected turn. But they were all low-cost moves and nothing to dramatically change the composition of their roster.

But the first wave of the free agency period subsiding, the landscape of the rest of the NFL has certainly changed. That means it’s time for draft experts around the media sphere to update their mock drafts.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. released his own updated mock draft (inSider content) on Tuesday morning, reflecting the changing needs around the NFL. While the Giants couldn’t reshape their roster in free agency, some of the teams around them certainly did — not to mention the trades in and around the Top 10.

So, what does Kiper’s draft look like for the Giants now?

5. Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

The Giants, the other team with two top-10 picks [Kiper is referring to the New York Jets here], haven’t been as active in free agency as new general manager Joe Schoen gets the team back into decent salary-cap shape. That doesn’t mean they don’t have needs, though, particularly at edge rusher and offensive tackle. With the way the board has fallen in this projection, they can get Day 1 starters at both spots.Neal is a massive tackle who can overpower defenders in the run game and move his feet as a pass-protector. Andrew Thomas, the No. 4 pick in the 2020 draft, looked much better in Year 2 and could stay at left tackle, pushing Neal to the right side. Neal also played some guard at Alabama, and he could be great there too. This is a big season for quarterback Daniel Jones, so the Giants have to keep him upright.

7. Kayvon Tibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon (via Chicago Bears)

This pick is logical for the team and for the prospect. The Giants’ top pass-rusher last season was rookie Azeez Ojulari, who led the team with eight sacks, and they have to improve on the edge. This is their best chance to add a young, talented defensive end. They can afford to use this pick on Thibodeaux, who has a high ceiling but was inconsistent in 2021.If Thibodeaux puts it all together, you’re talking about All-Pro-level talent. But if he doesn’t build out secondary moves and can’t improve his all-around game, he could struggle. He has the type of physical traits NFL teams love, but taking that guy in the top 10 is risky. If New York passes on Thibodeaux, keep an eye on cornerback or linebacker with this pick.

Raptor’s Thoughts

On the surface, Giants fans don’t really have much to complain about here. The Giants get one of the top two tackles in the draft in Evan Neal (and as Kiper notes, a potential guard if Neal doesn’t work out at tackle), and one of the top EDGE defenders in Kayvon Thibodeaux.

Giants fans might prefer Ikem Ekwonu, but the Houston Texans selected him at third overall.

Neal should serve as an upgrade at one of those two positions, and I do believe the Giants need to come out of this draft with a right tackle and a center. Neither necessarily has to be a top-10 pick, and I believe the talent level is pretty consistent into the second day at those positions.

I’m less sure that the Giants have to find an edge defender in this draft, at least not highly. I disagree with Kiper that the Giants’ best path toward improving their pass rush is with an edge defender. More importantly, Wink Martindale seems to disagree,

“Everybody says right away ‘pressure,’ but pressure can be viewed in many forms,” Martindale said in his first interview as the Giants’ defensive coordinator. “A lot of the times that we had free runners in the past, it’s just been on four-man pass rushes. Now, it’s different guys coming, but I think that’s our trademark. We know how to attack protections, and I’m looking forward to doing the same thing here.”

He also said, “We’re not built that way. We like to attack … and pressure breaks pipes on these offenses as well. I just don’t want to sit back and say, ‘OK, let’s see what you’ve got.’ I want them to sit back and see what we have.”

Pass rush and coverage work hand-in-hand, but much of Martindale’s scheme is built on aggressive man coverage to lock down receivers while he manipulates and attacks protections with his play design up front. Martindale’s philosophy grew from Rex Ryan, and the Ryan School of Defense really does depend on having elite coverage players to enable the pass rush. Rex enjoyed Darrell Revis’ prime years with the Jets, and Stephon Gilmore with the Buffalo Bills. Martindale had Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey, and Jimmy Smith.

That’s why Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner has become such a popular pick for the Giants, and why I personally favor him over an edge defender after the hiring of Martindale. It’s worth noting that Kiper mocked Sauce Gardner to the Jets at 10th overall.

The Giants can still add an edge defender like Boye Mafe, Nik Bonitto, or Sam Williams on the second day.