As I have often done lately, I used the NFL Mock Draft Database simulator. Why? Largely because it uses a consensus big board rather than one based on the opinions of a single person whose talent evaluation qualifications are unknown.
There are no trades. Full disclosure: I ran this mock with a trade at No. 7, getting picks 20, 52 and a 2023 second-round pick from the Pittsburgh Steelers. I honestly do see a deal like as a possibility, and definitely believe the smoke about Giants GM Joe Schoen hoping to move down with one of his two top 10 picks to collect additional draft capital.
In the end, I decided that a no-trades “baseline” mock simply using the nine picks the Giants currently possess is the way I wanted to go. So, here it is.
Round 1 (No. 5) — Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
Ickey Ekwonu was off the board, having been selected No. 3 overall by the Houston Texans. The first four picks went like this:
- Jaguars — Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan
- Detroit Lions — Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge Oregon (FWIW, I think the Lions take Travon Walker and stay away from Thibodeaux here, but this is what the simulator did).
- Texans — Ekwonu
- New York Jets — Travon Walker, Edge, Georgia
I know there is a lot of chatter about the Giants loving Charles Cross. Shoot, I love the guy and think he’s going to be an excellent player. I just look at Neal and I see a player who is a seamless fit for the Giants with his previous experience at right tackle.
Everyone has their own opinions of how the top three tackles should be ordered — much like they did a couple of years ago with Andrew Thomas, Tristan Wirfs, Mekhi Becton and Jedrick Wills. I did not believe there was a wrong answer then, though Becton was the biggest gamble, and I don’t really believe there is a wrong answer now.
ESPN’s Jeff Legwold has Neal ranked as the No. 1 overall prospect in the draft. He writes:
Neal played left tackle, right tackle and left guard during 40 career starts in the SEC, which is the most NFL-ready conference in college football. He’s technically sound and fluid in his footwork. In the rare instances a defender gets an early step on him, Neal has top-shelf recovery skills. While teams have divergent opinions on where the top three tackles are on this board, Neal is the clear No. 1 here.
Brent Taylor of SB Nation’s Alabama website, RollTideRoll, told me on the ‘Valentine’s View’ podcast recently that he felt Neal’s best football at Alabama was played when he was right tackle.
Round 1 (No. 7) — Sauce Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Collecting picks is a nice goal, one that I absolutely support and would understand if Schoen trades back with one of his two picks. For me, getting a plug-and-play right tackle and the best press-man coverage cornerback in the draft is even nicer.
My oft-expressed belief is that Gardner is the perfect cornerback for Giants defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale, who is known for scheming exotic pressures and leaving his cornerbacks on islands to play 1-on-1.
If Gardner is available here, I would be hard-pressed to trade out of this pick.
Legwold, by the way, has Gardner as his No. 2 overall prospect in the draft. He writes:
Gardner came within an evaluation eyelash of being No. 1. Beyond Gardner’s rare physical ability are his ability to maintain concentration, fundamentals and footwork while being one of the least targeted defensive backs in years. It speaks to some internal grit, motivation and pride in your work. Put that in a player who still broke up 24 passes, scored three touchdowns and runs 4.4, and that’s some secret sauce. Oh, and he didn’t surrender a touchdown pass during his career.
In case you are wondering, I ran this mock before Legwold’s piece on ESPN was published. Also, as I have said before in my view this is the true home run scenario for the Giants in Round 1 if they make both picks. Offensive tackle/Gardner. Be happy and call it a day.
Other players considered: Jermaine Johnson II, Edge, Florida State
Round 2 (No. 36) — Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
Maybe I am going to die on this hill, but Dean is a player I really like. If I did a big board, which I’m leaving to Chris Pflum, Nick Falato and Mark Schofield, Dean would be ranked higher than Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd.
I know he’s 5-foot-11¼ (fifth percentile for linebackers) and just 229 pounds (13th percentile). I also don’t care. Watch him play. Like I have consistently said with Kyle Hamilton, the tape tells the story. Not his measurables.
Chris Pflum and I have had the Dean conversation a couple of times. I do not know if Chris has a higher grade on Dean or Lloyd. I just know that Chris has said to me on more than once occasion that Dean is perfect for Martindale.
Legwold has Dean as his No. 8 overall prospect. In his draft guide, Dane Brugler of The Athletic compares Dean to Jonathan Vilma. Playing for the Jets and New Orleans Saints, Vilma made three Pro Bowls in 10 seasons. I would take that.
One more thing: In that trade-down mock I mentioned, I had chosen Dean at No. 20. So, yeah, I’m happy to get him here.
Other players considered: David Ojabo, Edge, Michigan; Boye Mafe, Edge, Minnesota; Arnold Ebiketie, Edge, Penn State; Travis Jones, DT, UConn; Jalen Pitre, S, Baylor; Tyler Smith, OL, Tulsa
Round 3 (No. 67) — Dylan Parham, C, Memphis
OK, you got me. I think Parham is, for me, the 2022 version of Quincy Roche. If you have been around a while, you likely recall that Roche was a mid- to late-round draft crush for me last year. This time around, I think Parham would be an excellent choice as a developmental center.
He played guard and right tackle at Memphis, but at only 6-foot-2⅝ is looked at as an NFL center. In a way, he is Tyler Linderbaum-lite. Under-sized, but athletic. I can see drafting a player like this, letting him acclimate to the NFL and the center position, and making him a full-time starter by 2023.
Brugler has a third-round grades on Parham, making the value right in this spot. He writes:
Parham is extremely quick off the ball with the mobility to get out in space and the core strength to latch and drive opponents at the line of scrimmage. He lacks ideal length and can be overpowered at times, but he strikes with a flexible coil and developed nasty streak. Overall, Parham can play too fast at times and loses his bearings, but he has excellent movement skills and understands how to outleverage defenders and sustain the point of attack. He has the talent level to provide immediate interior depth for an NFL team and compete for a starting job, projecting best at center.
Round 3 (No. 81) — Nick Cross, S, Maryland
There are currently two — yes, TWO!! — safeties on the Giants roster. Xavier McKinney, Julian Love is the entire depth chart. I always hate the idea of having to pick a position at a certain point in the draft, but the reality is that adding a safety at some point in the draft is almost a must for the Giants.
I considered running back James Cook and wide receivers Khalil Shakir and Justyn Ross here. Cross, though, is excellent value at a position of need at this spot in the draft. Schoen would say this is a spot where value and need “mirror up.”
Legwold has Cross as his 71st-ranked prospect. He writes:
He has said he didn’t start playing football until his freshman year in high school and initially learned the game from YouTube videos. Cross offers a rare size-speed combination at the position and should continue to improve. He finished the 2021 season with 67 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
Other players considered: James Cook, RB, Georgia; Khalil Shakir, WR, Baylor; Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson
Round 4 (No. 112) — James Cook, RB, Georgia
Well, well. Look at this. A player I thought about at No. 81 is sitting here for me at No. 112 in Round 4.
Cook isn’t a guy who will carry a heavy load and grind out yards by pushing piles inside. He is slippery, though, has speed and the ability to make tacklers miss. He is also a threat as a receiver, making him an excellent option as a rotational back with big-play ability.
Cook has shifty feet to make controlled cuts against the grain and instinctively navigate holes at the line of scrimmage. Although he will be limited as an inside runner, he has legitimate versatility to flex out wide and run routes as a pass catcher. Overall, Cook doesn’t have the contact balance or build of a full-time ball carrier like his older brother [Dalvin Cook], but he can be a dynamic, versatile threat with his pass-catching skills and balanced athleticism to gravitate toward space.
Other players considered: Jeremy Ruckert, TE, Ohio State; Greg Dulcich, TE, UCLA; Jayln Armour-Davis, CB, Alabama; Josh Paschal, Edge, Kentucky
Round 5 (No. 147) — Charlie Kolar, TE, Iowa State
Finally, I address yet another position of need. Trey McBride, Jeremy Ruckert, Greg Dulcich and Isaiah Likely are already off the board.
Kolar was a highly-productive player at Iowa State. He had 168 receptions for 2,181 yards and 23 touchdowns in 49 games for the Cyclones. He won’t wow athletically, but he gets open, catches the ball, has the size at 6-foot-6½ and quality hands to be a red zone threat.
Kolar is a quarterback’s best friend because he makes himself available, has a large catch radius and is strong to the football. He is one of the smartest, most competitive players in this draft class, but needs to improve his point of attack and sustain skills as a blocker to expand his role. Overall, Kolar won’t threaten defenses vertically and his blocking leaves a lot to be desired, but he is a big, dependable chain-mover and his ability to finish in contested situations is his calling card. He projects as a high-floor, rotational Y tight end in the NFL who can earn his paycheck in the red zone.
Other players considered: Bo Melton, WR, Rutgers: Jalen Wydermyer, TE, Texas A&M; Cole Turner, TE, Nevada; Logan Bruss, G, Wisconsin
Round 5 (No. 173) — Kyle Philips, WR, UCLA
I will be honest. I am partial to bigger wide receivers with large catch radiuses who can win 50-50 balls because of their physical attributes. Philips is not that. He is a 5-foot-11¼, 189-pound slot receiver with 29⅝-inch (fourth percentile) arms.
What Philips is, though, is a chain-mover who can get open in the short to intermediate areas. Considering the uncertainty right now around both Sterling Shepard and Kadarius Toney, adding a player like this isn’t a bad option. Plus, Philips averaged 19.3 yards with two touchdowns on 26 punt returns during his time at UCLA
Brugler, has a fourth-round grade on Philip. He says:
With his shifty feet and throttle control, Philips can give defenders the slip and intuitively create passing windows for his quarterback. However, he has a small catch radius, and his effectiveness drops the further downfield he goes (70 percent of his 2021 catches came on targets within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage). Overall, Philips is role-specific as an undersized, quicker-than-fast, slot-only target, but he has the ready-made skills to be productive in that role in the NFL. His punt-return ability only boosts his draft grade
Other players considered: Jake Ferguson, TE, Wisconsin; Mykael Wright, CB, Oregon; Chig Okonkwo, TE, Maryland
Round 6 (No. 182) — Matt Araiza, P, San Diego State
When I think about this pick, I think about former Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum writing recently for the 33rd Team that “the key is to focus on traits and what you can build on. Teams want to find the prospects that have at least one elite trait.”
How about the trait of punting the football better than anyone else in the 2022 draft class? That is what Araiza does. The Giants could probably get acceptable punting from Jamie Gillan, but why not take a shot at getting exceptional rather than acceptable?
Besides, if you want value Araiza represents that. Brugler and a Round 3-4 grade on him, and here he goes in Round 6. That seems like value to me.
I am pretty happy with this haul. Maybe I would have taken Ekwonu over Neal in Round 1, but any of the three tackles works for me. I might have liked to address the defensive line, and to perhaps find a wide receiver with a higher ceiling than Philips.
It is, though, important to remember that it is impossible to get everything you want or need out of a single draft. Especially when drafting for a team like the Giants, where you can argue that every position could use upgrades or more depth.
In the end, I think I ended up with good players. I am especially happy with the first three picks.
How did I do, Giants fans?