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Making the case: The Day 2 receiver the Giants should draft is...

Options on the inside and the boundary

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Georgia vs Alabama Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

By now, everyone reading this knows the positions that the New York Giants might address early in the draft. Whether at pick five, seven, or even at the top of the second round, the positions most often associated with the Giants in mock drafts are: pass rusher, cornerback, offensive lineman.

Where might that leave wide receiver, particularly in what is being viewed as a deep group of prospects?

Giants fans hoping that the organization adds to the wide receiver room might need to wait until later on Day 2 of the draft — perhaps until New York’s selections at 67 or 81 in the third round — for the team to add a pass catcher. Even then, it might be a stretch given other needs. Still, in a pass-happy league, you can never have enough receivers. Who are some options for the Giants at those points of the draft, and which player makes the most sense?

Let’s make the case.

We’ll break these down into two types of receivers: Boundary receivers, and Slot receivers.

Boundary receivers

Pick 67 - George Pickens, Georgia

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Georgia vs Alabama Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Were it not for a knee injury that limited his snaps in his final college season, George Pickens might be a first-round lock in the 2022 NFL draft. Instead, he might see his name slide well into the second day of the draft.

When healthy, Pickens looks every bit the part of a boundary receiver at the next level. He stepped into the Georgia offense as a true freshman and caught 49 passes for 727 yards and eight touchdowns against SEC cornerbacks. He is a master of late separation. He wins at the catch point, which is something he was doing as a true freshman against bigger and more physical SEC cornerbacks, but also has the ability to create a bit of space off his breaks with arm bars, shoulder nudges and by using his leverage and frame.

But he also has the ability to separate from press-aligned defenders. Take this play from his freshman season. Against a press-aligned defender with inside leverage, Pickens uses a stutter-step off the line of scrimmage to stress the defender’s leverage, and then bursts along the boundary to separate on the vertical route for the touchdown:

Of course, you cannot discuss Pickens without mentioning how, coming back from his injury, he delivered the first big play of the National Championship game:

Pickens has the experience and skill-set to operate on the outside in the NFL. You can imagine an 11 personnel package with Pickens and Darius Slayton/Kenny Golladay on the outside, and one of Kadarius Toney or Sterling Shepard on the inside.

Pick 81 - Alec Pierce, Cincinnati

Syndication: The Enquirer Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

A number of prospects in this draft class were multi-sport athletes in high school. But few put together the combination of sports that Alec Pierce did while at Glenbard West High School in Glen Ellyn, Ill. Pierce played football, volleyball and basketball, adding track and field to his resume during his senior year.

That multi-sport background paid off in a huge was in Indianapolis, as Pierce was one of the receivers who helped himself the most thanks to this Combine performance:

That 40.5-inch vertical jump — something Pierce attributes to his volleyball background, as he told Connor Livesay and myself on an episode of the “Talking the Draft” podcast — shows up on film. Pierce is a ball-winner, with the potential to be Daniel Jones’ best friend. His ability to separate late in the play, make tough adjustments, and pair his vertical with his impressive catch radius, turns would-be incompletions into big plays for the offense.

Like Pickens, Pierce can also separate against press-aligned defenders:

You also see his ability to adjust to the throw, high-point the football and flash that vertical on this long completion against Notre Dame.

If you are serious about helping Jones, you find a way to get Pierce in a Giants uniform.

Slot receivers

Pick 67 - Khalil Shakir, Boise State

NCAA Football: New Mexico at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

If the Giants decide that adding on the inside is the priority, they can start by looking at Khalil Shakir from Boise State. Shakir has been a standout receiver for the Broncos the past few seasons, and while his home in the NFL is likely on the inside, Boise State has used him on the boundary. In the shortened 2020 campaign, Shakir saw time on the outside as well. During that year, by my charting, he saw 228 snaps on the outside, in contrast with the 110 snaps he saw in the slot.

That led to plays like this one against San Jose State, with Shakir catching the curl route on a both-runback concept — something the Giants have used the past few years — and then creating after the catch:

That ability after the catch, which Shakir showcases here by dipping under the initial tackle attempt and then accelerating away from the rest of the defense, makes Shakir a dangerous athlete. When you pair that with what he can do out of the slot, using the benefit of the two-way go off the line, it makes for a dangerous combination.

But what also stands out watching him is his catch radius. Shakir put up some highlight-reel catches on campus, on plays like this one against BYU:

His ability to play on the inside or in the slot, his explosiveness after the catch and that impressive catch radius make Shakir a fit not just with the Giants, but league wide.

Pick 81 - Kyle Philips, UCLA

NCAA Football: UCLA at Utah Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

A little later in the draft, Kyle Philips from UCLA could be an option for the Giants if they want to address the slot receiver position. Studying Philips this winter, I wrote this in my notes: “[t]he man is a walking ladder drill with very quick feet.” Philips is a fluid mover who uses a combination of stutter-steps, foot fires and hesitation moves to beat defenders off the line of scrimmage. His footwork is very impressive, and there are routes where he will make two or three different breaks to confuse the defender and get separation.

Take this play against Oregon for example:

Running an out route from the left slot, Philips angles to the inside, pushes vertically, then hits the defender with multiple stutter-steps before snapping his route to the outside. It all works, and he creates a big window for his quarterback to target.

Philips also offers some verticality to his game. On this play against Fresno State, he aligns on the outside and pushes downfield on the nine route, tracking the football well and fighting to the football to secure the touchdown:

Comparisons are perhaps my least-favorite aspect of draft season, but with Philips it was easy. He is Braxton Berrios after a third energy drink. Sometimes the footwork is almost too much, and it throws off the timing of routes and concepts, but if he can tone that done just a bit, he can be a very productive slot receiver in the NFL.

Final thoughts

If the Giants address receiver — and the direction they take that decision — might hinge on how they feel about the current options on the roster. Do they feel comfortable with their current outside options, such as Golladay, Slayton and Collin Johnson? Or do they feel confident in players such as Toney, Shepard and Richie James on the inside?

Were the decision mine to make, adding Pierce makes a ton of sense for the Giants. Adding another receiver on the boundary and giving Brian Daboll the options on the outside, while sliding Toney into the slot, seems to make the offense more explosive in the passing game. Plus, Pierce’s ability to adjust to off-target throws, and be that “quarterback’s best friend” as he told me a few weeks ago, looks to be ideal for helping Jones develop.

But then you remember Daboll’s path to the Giants, boosted by his work with Josh Allen in Buffalo. Part of what helped unlock Allen? A dangerous option in the slot in Cole Beasley coupled with Stefon Diggs and others working over the top. If the Giants believe that Shepard, or Toney, can be that player in the slot, then adding on the outside is the move. But if they are unsure, adding an inside option makes a ton of sense.

Which leads us to Philips late in the third round as a name to watch.