The 2022 NFL Draft is rapidly approaching. That means it’s time to post the updated “Big Blue View Rules for Draft Success.”
If you aren’t familiar with these rules, I created this guide to my draft philosophy several years ago. Each year the rules get tweaked with new examples and, on occasion, modified to reflect the changing realities of the NFL and my evolving beliefs. I also try to relate them to decisions currently faced by the New York Giants as well as ones they have made in recent years. It’s not perfect, and there is plenty of room for debate. If I was a GM, though, these are the rules I would draft by.
1. Draft ‘value’ over perceived need
I always push back against the idea that the Giants need to take position A in Round 1, position B in Round 2, position C in Round 3, etc. That is how you make mistakes - how you leave better players on the board while selecting lesser ones.
Truth is, you are never certain what your ‘needs’ are going to be in any given NFL season. You never know where injuries may strike, or where players already on your roster may under-perform or over-perform expectations.
One thing that is no doubt true when it comes to assessing ‘value.’ A team’s perception of ‘value’ is impacted by its perception of its ‘needs.’ Teams undoubtedly set their draft boards based somewhat on perceived needs and fits for their systems. As one former scout told me, that is simply human nature. My point is this. If you believe you need a wide receiver, but there is not one on the board who you believe should be drafted at that stage of the draft, you don’t grab a lower-ranked wide receiver. You take a player who, on your board, has a grade that makes him deserving of being picked in that spot. When grades are equal need and scheme fit come into play. At that point, take the player you feel gives you something you don’t already have -- the player who fills a need. Trust your evaluation, try to match value and need whenever possible. Value trumps need, but need is the deciding factor when values are equal.
You take ‘value’ over perceived ‘need.’ You hope, of course, that the best players on the board happen to match areas where you believe you have needs. The draft is unpredictable, however, and available value does not always match perceived needs.
I keep reciting it, but former Minnesota Vikings GM Jeff Diamond once told the story on the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast of why he chose Randy Moss in the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft despite already having two star wide receivers. It is worth listening to.
How does that impact this draft? The need for the Giants on the offensive line is obvious, even after adding four middle- to lower-tier free agents. Still, if the top two offensive tackles — Evan Neal of Alabama and Ikem Ekwonu of North Carolina State are off the board — what then? Take the third offensive tackle — likely Charles Cross of Mississippi State — or an edge defender, cornerback, or safety you have a higher grade on?
Taking ‘value over perceived need’ would indicate passing on the offensive tackle if your draft board tells you there are better players available.
2. If you don’t have a franchise quarterback, get one
The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. If you don’t have a top-tier one, you cannot have any type of sustained success. You can have a good year, or a good stretch within a year, but you simply can’t be competitive year after year without one. If you need a franchise quarterback, think there is one available when it is your turn to draft, and pass on drafting him shame on you.
This is why the Sam Darnold vs. Saquon Barkley debate took place. It’s why quarterbacks will fly off the board in Round 1 this year, even though analysts say this is a weak quarterback class without top 10 worthy players at the position. It’s why I supported the Giants’ decision to draft Daniel Jones at No. 6 in 2018. The Giants had a need to replace Eli Manning, thought he could be the guy, and went for it. As they should have.
Simply put, quarterback is more valuable than any other position on the field. Having, or not having, one does more to change the fortunes of your franchise than a player at another position possibly could.
The flip side of this rule is do not take the quarterback in the first round unless you are absolutely convinced he can be the face of your franchise for the next decade. You can’t pick a guy just to pick a quarterback or because Mel Kiper, Todd McShay, some other TV talking head, media member or the fan base says you should. You are marrying that player. You are putting the fortunes of the franchise in his hands. If you pick the wrong quarterback, you set your franchise back.
How does that impact this draft? We can argue forever about Daniel Jones and whether he is or will be the Giants’ quarterback beyond the 2022 season. Every indication is, though, that the Giants’ new regime intends to give him an opportunity during the upcoming season to prove to them one way or the other what the answer should be.
So, the Giants are unlikely to be in the quarterback market in Round 1. With picks 5 and 7, though, the Giants could be positioned to take advantage of teams who will be. Teams who might want to move up for a quarterback include the Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints. Moving down could allow GM Joe Schoen to collect more picks, the extra draft “at-bats” we know he would like as he tries to rebuild the Giants’ roster.
3. Do not take running backs early in Round 1 ... unless they are franchise-changers
This is a modified, softened version of the previous “don’t take running back in the first round” rule. It reflects the reality that teams do it, sometimes with good reason. Like the Giants did with Saquon Barkley.
Here is what I believe. If you are going to invest a first-round pick in a running back — especially a top 10 pick — you better be right and that guy better be a super star. He better be more than a running back. He better be a franchise-altering three-down back who can be a pivotal part of your passing game. And, you better have the pieces in place at quarterback, offensive line and wide receiver to take advantage of the player’s skills. Draft a running back as early as the Giants drafted Barkley, he better turn out to be a guy who performs at an elite level well into that second lucrative contract you are probably going to have to give him.
NFL offenses no longer revolves around the running game. Offenses revolve around the quarterback, the offensive line and the wide receivers. Running backs share the load, with most teams employing two or three and very few dominating the percentage of rushing attempts for his team. Look at offenses, and most of your running backs play fewer snaps than anyone else. Running backs are rarely the centerpiece of an offense, they are complementary players. Barkley’s importance makes the Giants an exception.
I have been told that former Giants GM Ernie Accorsi’s rule was always that quarterback, left tackle and pass rusher were the most important positions, and that running back was near the bottom of the list. The way the game is now played, I would add pass coverage guys (corners and safeties) to the premium positions list. In fact, at every position I think you have to value players who impact the passing game over those who do not.
To get true value from a running back at No. 2 he would have to end up having a career far superior to any player at a premium position who could be taken in that spot. Historically, there are always plenty of quality running backs available in the middle of the draft. Take one then, and use your first pick on an impact player at a more important position.
The Giants are a great example. Tiki Barber, Joe Morris, Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs were not first-round picks. David Wilson, Ron Dayne, Tyrone Wheatley, George Adams, Rocky Thompson and Tucker Fredrickson were first-round picks.
Denver’s Terrell Davis might be the best example. A sixth-round pick in 1995, Davis and the Denver Broncos proved you don’t need a first-round running back to be a great running team. Davis gained more than 1,700 yards in 1997 and more than 2000 in 1998. The San Francisco 49ers got 963 rushing yards on 207 carries (4.7 yards per attempt) from sixth-round pick Elijah Mitchell last season.
Did the Giants do the right thing drafting Barkley? To be honest, probably not. They probably could have accelerated their rebuild by trading out of that spot in the 2018 draft and acquiring additional draft picks. Ideally the Giants would have drafted Barkley — a running back with a limited shelf life — as a finishing piece rather than a building block.
Nowadays, we sometimes see teams drafting near the end of Round 1 select running backs. Those are generally playoff-caliber teams looking for a finishing piece. I have much less of an issue with that than trying to build around a back.
How does that impact this draft? It really doesn’t, at least not directly. Whether they trade Barkley or not, it would be no surprise if the Giants add a running back in the middle to late portion of the draft.
4. When in doubt, draft a lineman
This applies to both the offensive and defensive lines.
I don’t care how pass-happy the NFL gets or how much the rules change, the game is still won and lost along the front lines. On offense, you have to be able to block for your quarterback and open holes for your running backs. On defense, you have to be able to rush the passer and you have to be stout against the run in the middle. You never want to be caught without enough players who can do those things, so when in doubt draft a lineman. The Giants have learned these lessons the hard way in recent seasons.
You should be able to find quality linemen in the middle to late rounds, especially on the offensive side. David Diehl, a fifth-round pick, was a great example. Rich Seubert was not drafted at all and still had a long, productive career for the Giants. Elite linemen, especially tackles, are usually only available in the very early stages of the draft.
My rule? After you get your quarterback, or if you already believe you have him, you build from the inside out. Year after year I advocate for the Giants to select an offensive lineman high in the draft.
On the defensive side, you should be able to get run pluggers in the middle to late portions of the draft. If you can get a defensive lineman you believe can impact the run and the pass it’s hard to argue with that.
How does that impact this draft? Schoen has signed five free agent offensive linemen. None, though, are top-tier difference makers. They obviously still need more talent there. First and foremost, they need a right tackle. The perfect scenario for the Giants, of course, would be to find Ikem Ekwonu of North Carolina State or Evan Neal of Alabama available to them. You can pick the wrong lineman, like the Giants did with Ereck Flowers. In my view, though, it’s rarely wrong to pick an offensive lineman. You need more of them on each play than any other position on the field and your quarterback, your most important player, cannot succeed without them.
5. Trade down, not up
There are very few times when any player is worth trading up for, thus causing a team to mortgage valuable draft picks. You need depth in the NFL, and you can’t accumulate it by trading away your draft choices -- which is what you have to do to move up. Generally, it is better to move down and accumulate more draft choices than to move up and wind up with less. Your mistakes hurt less when you have more choices, more chances to get it right. You can take risks on occasion when you have more choices, and -- if the situation is right -- you can actually use some of those ‘extra’ picks to move up when you feel it is warranted.
When is it OK to move up? First and foremost, if you are moving for a guy you believe will be a franchise quarterback. If you are moving for a player at another position you believe is a franchise-changer or the one piece you need to put you over the top and into the Super Bowl, that is OK. Also, if you have accumulated extra picks perhaps then you can use that flexibility to target a player or two in the draft or via trade.
Normally, though, move down instead of up.
One caveat: I do happen to agree with the theory that you can move down too far. Wherever you move down to, you need to be comfortable that players you will be happy to select from will be on the board. You don’t want to outsmart yourself and lose out on a player or group of players you really wanted. Schoen talks about being able to sleep at night regardless of whatever decision you make.
How does that impact this draft? The Giants are in a rebuild. Schoen seems to understand that, even though he won’t say it. They need truly game-changing players, but they also need volume. With two top-10 picks, it makes absolute sense for the Giants to use one of them to move down and accumulate picks they can try to use to stock the roster with talented young players. Or, to set themselves up with multiple first-round picks in 2023. Let’s see how Schoen plays his cards.
6. Don’t ignore your strengths
I can think of two obvious areas where the Giants are an example of having ignored strengths.
During the early part of Tom Coughlin’s tenure the Giants had a tremendous offensive line. They ignored supplementing it for too long, and have been chasing the fix now for nearly a decade. Defensively, the Giants used to be built with multiple top-tier pass rushers. The last truly top pass rusher they drafted was Jason Pierre-Paul, more than a decade ago. Maybe Azeez Ojulari becomes that, but we can’t yet be certain.
Truth is, you never know in April exactly what your needs will be during the season. Take the best players who fit what the Giants are trying to do. Along the way, hope that value meets need and your decisions are correct often enough that you don’t enter the season with too many glaring deficiencies.
How does that impact this draft? I’m not sure it does. Is there a single position on the roster they couldn’t upgrade? I don’t think so.