At No. 7 in the annual SB Nation NFL writers’ mock draft, I face an interesting choice for the New York Giants.
I got the offensive tackle the Giants have to have at No. 5, with the selection of Evan Neal. Here, it is time to address the defense.
There are two premium edge defenders — Travon Walker of Georgia and Jermaine Johnson II of Florida State — available. There are also two premium cornerbacks — Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner of Cincinnati and Derek Stingley Jr. of LSU — available.
Traditional positional value would say ‘take the best pass rusher, stupid.’ There is a good argument for that, too. The Giants have not drafted a top-tier pass rusher since they selected Jason Pierre-Paul in 2010. New York’s pass rush has often been anemic in recent seasons, and the Giants really would benefit from the addition of Walker or Johnson to defensive lineman Leonard Williams and edge defender Azeez Ojulari, a 2021 second-round pick.
I fully expect the Giants to add a pass rusher in this draft. I am not doing it with this selection, though.
Defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale.
Look at Martindale’s history as defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens. Coverage, especially top-tier press-man cornerbacks, have always been more important to Martindale’s defense than premier pass rushers.
Martindale’s calling card is pressure defense in the front with a lot of press-man coverage in the back, where cornerbacks are left on an island to fend for themselves. He will send extra rushers, often from unique angles, but also will design exotic four-man pressure packages. His history has shown that he needs top-tier cornerbacks more than he needs elite edge rushers.
“I just don’t think with our philosophy you can have enough corners because of the quarterbacks and wide receivers in this league,” Martindale told the Giants’ official website. “What do I look for in a corner? Someone with length and speed. If they’re a smaller corner I hope they’ve got long arms and have a vertical leap to go play the football.”
With that in mind, my choice for the Giants at No. 7 is Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner.
Gardner is the top-rated cornerback in this draft class, a ready-made press-man coverage guy with the length and speed Martindale craves and the work ethic that will appeal to first-year GM Joe Schoen as he tries to rebuild the Giants.
In his annual draft guide Dane Brugler of The Athletic writes:
Gardner is a long-bodied, athletic cover man who does a great job staying on top of routes to force quarterbacks to look elsewhere (saw only 11.0 percent of the defensive targets in 2021). He shows better poise at the line of scrimmage than downfield, but he plays fearlessly and has the disruptive skills to make plays on the ball when challenged (zero touchdown passes allowed in 1,103 career coverage snaps in college). Overall, Gardner needs to continue developing his play strength, but he is a sticky bump-and-run corner with the athletic instincts to stay in phase and smother receivers. Cincinnati hasn’t produced an NFL first-round pick since 1971, but that will soon change with Gardner.
For me, this concludes what I believe would be an excellent Round 1 for the Giants — a plug-and-play right tackle with a high upside and the best press-man cornerback in the draft. That would get the Joe Schoen era off to a good start.
Best players remaining:
- Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
- Charles Cross, T, Mississippi State
- Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
- George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
- Drake London, WR, USC