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7 for Nos. 5 and 7: How hard is it to build a 7-player consensus for the Giants?

GM Joe Schoen says that’s what he wants to do — so, we tried

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NFL Combine
Joe Schoen
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

New York Giants general manager Joe Schoen said last week that he wants to enter the upcoming NFL Draft having identified seven players he would feel good about selecting with the team’s two picks at the top of the draft.

That, of course, is because the Giants have selections at No. 5 and No. 7. So, Schoen wants to know who he and his staff believe are the best seven potential draft choices to add to his team.

“Find seven players you like in the draft and I can sleep good at night because two of those guys will be there, one at five, one at seven,” Schoen said. “If we come up with seven that we like, I’m happy staying [at five and seven]. If there’s a guy we fall in love with, I’m not afraid of moving up and I’m not afraid to move back.”

So, how hard is it to come up with a consensus on the best seven players for the Giants in the 2022 NFL Draft?

Chris Pflum, Nick Falato and yours truly set out to find out. Turns out, it’s not easy. Not easy at all.

I asked Chris and Nick to compile lists of seven players, which I put next to mine. We did not consider Michigan edge defender Aidan Hutchinson. That’s because he is the one player we can agree someone will select before the Giants pick at No. 5. Here is the result:

7 for Nos. 5 and 7

Chris Pflum Nick Falato Ed Valentine
Chris Pflum Nick Falato Ed Valentine
Ickey Ekwonu Ickey Ekwonu Ickey Ekwonu
Evan Neal Evan Neal Evan Neal
Kyle Hamilton Kyle Hamilton Kyle Hamilton
Kayvon Thibodeaux Kayvon Thibodeaux Kayvon Thibodeaux
Sauce Gardner Sauce Gardner Sauce Gardner
Jordan Davis Travon Walker Travon Walker
Trevor Penning Andrew Booth Jr. Trevor Penning

We are in agreement on five players:

Chris, Nick and I would each choose any of offensive tackles Evan Neal and Ickey Ekwonu, safety Kyle Hamilton, cornerback Sauce Gardner and edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux depending on how the board breaks.

After that?

Well, then the fun starts.

Two out of three

Travon Penning

Chris and I agree on Northern Iowa offensive tackle Trevor Penning.

For me, I honestly would not have expected to put Penning in my top seven prior to the NFL Scouting Combine. Most pre-Combine prospect big boards (which are, truthfully, meaningless) don’t have Penning ranked nearly that high.

There is also, though, the reality that most analysts had Mississippi State offensive tackle Charles Cross, not Penning, as OT3.

I have gone back-and-forth on Cross, and will probably continue to do so. I see the fluidity and the smooth pass protection. I also see that he played in an Air Raid scheme, did not play in a three-point stance, did very little run-blocking, is really young (which is good and bad — see Andrew Thomas), and has never played the right side.

I checked with two highly-respected draft analysts — Dane Brugler of The Athletic and Jim Nagy of the Senior Bowl. Brugler said Cross belongs in the top seven, Nagy said he does not. So, he splits evaluators as to how early he should go, not just guys like me.

I loved Penning’s response at the Combine when asked to describe his play style.

“Physical. Nasty. Prick.”

“I think it’s [physicality] huge, a huge part of my game,” Penning said. “You want to make the defender across from you feel it. You want him at the end of the day to be exhausted and he wants to go home and get on that flight and get the hell out of there. It’s very important.”

I want some of that on my offensive line. I think Schoen might, too.

Then, the workouts came along and this happened:

Penning tested stunningly well athletically and physically. Better than, or virtually equal to, Cross in every category. He is also an easier projection since he played both right tackle and right guard, as well as some left tackle, for Northern Iowa.

Penning made Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List for the 2021 college football season.

Nick wouldn’t bite on Penning, mostly because at this point he has not seen enough.

“I need to see it with my own eyes,” Nick said.

Travon Walker

Nick and I agree on Georgia defensive end Travon Walker. I have written this before, but one of the hardest parts of scouting — and what separates OK scouts from top-notch ones — is looking past what players are and being able to see what they can become. Walker, because of the way he was sometimes used at Georgia, is an edge projection based on glimpses and traits.

Walker is currently Daniel Jeremiah’s No. 10 overall prospect.

For me, I’m trusting the projections that Walker’s traits will lead him to being an even better pro than he was a collegian. Brugler has Walker going No. 3 to the Houston Texans in his newly-released mock draft.

Nick says:

“Travon Walker has rare size/speed/power components and he’s just scratching the surface of his immense potential. He’s 6-foot-5, 272 pounds with 35½-inch arms. His strength is hard to combat when OTs attempt to down block, and his penetration skills are excellent off the line, due to his twitchy nature and explosiveness. Walker can push the pocket with strength and has a lot of pass-rushing moves; the moves may not be overly refined in terms of placement, and he needs to learn to string them together consistently, but the raw strength and power in these moves, combined with Walker’s incredible athletic ability/length, are difficult to find, even in the NFL. Walker is raw, but the upside is incredible and the floor is still really high. He’s a high ceiling/high floor prospect who played on a defense with a ton of depth. He’s a versatile player that aligned all over Georgia’s front. His performance at the Combine during on-field drills answer some questions about his lower body fluidity. Walker could be the first Georgia Bulldog selected in a group of many deserving candidates.”

Just to be sure you get it, 10.0 is a perfect RAS score. After that Combine performance, Pro Football Network wrote:

The versatile defensive lineman was a top-five performer at almost all of the athletic testing drills. He also showcased his incredible agility during on-field workouts. As his scouting report reveals, Walker has the potential to play at any weight, at any alignment, and at his current trajectory, the potential to be a top-five pick in April.

Chris says he isn’t necessarily “against” picking Walker. He is just “for” picking defensive tackle Jordan Davis.

“I’m not a “no” [on Walker], just listening to Martindale not being interested in EDGEs. Davis can do more for Wink’s defense by controlling the middle, creating rushing lanes by occupying blockers, and he still has a burst like Aaron Donald or J.J. Watt, so he can be a rusher in his own right.”

Jordan Davis? Seriously?

When Nick saw Jordan Davis’s name in Chris’s list of seven, his response was “The Jordan Davis choice will get Giant fans going.”

I’m sure it will.

Here is why Chris put Davis in his seven.


Okay — and yes, this is Chris speaking now — I know bringing up a nose tackle inside of the top 10 is going to trigger a lot of Giants fans. Hell, it’d upset me in most years.

But I have three reasons for bringing his name up.

1) There are six guys we all agree the Giants should take at No. 5 overall (I’m including Hutchinson). So one of those guys is absolutely going to be there for the fifth pick. That’s just math.

I also believe the Giants should look long and hard at Trevor Penning, so that brings us up to seven players for seven picks. But I do believe that Davis has the potential to be mentioned in this conversation. His tape isn’t glamorous, but it is really good, and I do believe he is just scratching the surface of what he could be.

I’m not saying I would pick him over Hutchinson, Thibodeaux, Neal, Ekwonu, Gardner, Hamilton, or Penning, but he should at least be in the conversation.

2) The “planet” theory of drafting, pure and simple. There are very very few humans walking the planet who are physically capable of doing what Jordan Davis is capable of doing. To have a faster 10-yard split than J.J. Watt and only 0.05 seconds slower than Aaron Donald at 341 pounds (50 pounds heavier than either All-Pro) is utterly absurd.

Davis will be one of the most athletic players to ever suit up in the NFL the second he steps on a football field. If you have the opportunity to harness that kind of ability and potential, you have to at least consider it.

Better to envision him chasing the Cowboys’, Eagles’ or Commanders’ QBs than the Giants’.

3) The premise of all this is that it’s for the Giants, specifically. I don’t know how the Giants feel about Thibodeaux, whether or not his personality rubbed them the wrong way. But I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Giants loved that Davis (as well as Wyatt) stayed through the end of the linebacker workouts to cheer on their teammates. Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll have talked a lot about “culture” over the last two months, and that kind of camaraderie has to be appealing.

Also, I took Wink Martindale’s scheme into consideration. He is all about creating pressure with his play design. And while we talk a lot about shut-down corners, having a defensive lineman with Davis’ incredible size, power, and athleticism makes forcing (and controlling) double-teams much easier. And if Martindale has a player like Davis, he would have a much easier time scheming free rushers from the second level. Or he could find innovative ways to make use of Davis’ raw athleticism and get that running at quarterbacks like the the boulder from Raiders of The Lost Ark.

There’s no reason why Davis couldn’t line up at 7 technique with Julian Love blitzing behind him.

Finally, I am doing what got Jerry Reese in trouble: I’m trusting the coaching staff to do their jobs and get these players to their ceilings. In particular, I would be trusting defensive line coach Andre Patterson to do for Davis what he did with Linval Joseph and Danielle Hunter. Yeah, top 10 is probably too high for “just” a nose tackle (even though the Giants desperately need an actual NT). But Davis’ tools can translate to just about any scheme and alignment along the defensive front. He protect the linebackers, open alleys for blitzers, lock down the interior in a 2, 3, or 4-man front, or even align as an industrial-sized end in certain packages. His blend of size and athleticism could transcend positional value, because he could potentially play so many different positions.

Davis has the kind of tools a coach wants to work with, so I’m putting him in the conversation.


As for me, I can’t put Davis in my top seven. Quite honestly, despite the athletic testing I didn’t even consider him. This is a passing league, and it is difficult to pick anyone that high in the draft if you are not sure the player can have consistent impact in the passing game. I’m just not sure Davis can.

Here were my notes after watching Davis’s games against Alabama and Auburn:

Strengths

– Mountain of a man | Difficult to move @ POA
– Can push the pocket
– Really quick in a phone booth to make plays vs. run | Can quickly shed blocks and engulf runners
– Makes between guards a “no run” zone | Value dependent on how much a team wants/needs that

Weaknesses

– Stamina/conditioning
– Won’t make plays as a pass rusher

The Giants already have Dexter Lawrence. Whether they consider Lawrence a true nose tackle or not, I’m not sure adding Davis is the right way to go.

Does this mean the Giants should trade down from No. 7?

So, as we have established, your Big Blue View front office cannot come to a seven-player consensus. Does this mean that if one of our five “consensus” players does not slip to No. 7 — which is always possible — that the Giants should trade down?

If Schoen and the Giants find themselves in this situation they absolutely have to investigate the possibility of moving down.

Chris and I were discussing this, and he said:

“There’s a feeling that this is a weak draft because it doesn’t have anyone who’s been hyped up for the last 3 years, but there is just a TON of talent in it.”

My response:

“It’s not weak. It’s just not top heavy.”

There aren’t a plethora of top-10 quarterbacks. There is no Joey Bosa or Micah Parsons. Evan Neal and Ickey Ekwonu would rank below Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater, last year’s top tackles in the draft.

It might be impossible to come to an agreement on the best seven players for the Giants in the top seven picks of the draft. On the flip side, it is impossible not to see that there are a ton of really useful players in this draft class who could help the Giants quickly.

Nick has Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. in his top seven. I have him as CB4, behind Gardner, Derek Stingley Jr. and Trent McDuffie. That, though, might be because I haven’t watched him enough.

Here’s Nick on Booth:

“Andrew Booth Jr. is a long man coverage CB with good skills at the line of scrimmage - he’s very physical. He’s smooth in his backpedal and has excellent eye discipline when in zone; he plays top-down and has excellent instincts to come downhill on routes underneath him. Booth’s short area quickness and ability to physically play through the catch point are great traits to possess, as is his ability to stay in phase while in man coverage. He can carry routes vertically, horizontally, and has the fluidity to sink his hips on quick cuts without losing momentum. He’s also one of the better, more aggressive, corners in run support; he flies downhill with his hair on fire, blowing up screens or stopping runs that are spilled outside. His tackling technique is wild, which could lead to missed attempts at the next level, but there’s a ton to like with Andrew Booth Jr.”

Chris mentioned players like Jermaine Johnson, Tyler Linderbaum, David Ojabo and Devonte Wyatt. We have talked about Cross. I would be hesitant to take him the top seven, but he’s a quality player who will likely have a good NFL career.

What about George Karlaftis, Zion Johnson, Devin Lloyd, Nakobe Dean, Kenyon Green or even a wide receiver like Drake London or Treylon Burks?

If one of your “consensus” players isn’t on the board at No. 7, move down into the middle of Round 1, collect some 2023 draft capital and you still have a really good chance of finding a player or players who will help you sleep well at night.