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Getting value out of the NFL draft from top to bottom: Days 2 and 3

How can the Giants build a champion from a roster with many holes?

New York Giants v Washington Football Team
2021 Round 2 pick Azeez Ojulari
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Day 2 of the NFL Draft is now upon us, and most New York Giants fans are ecstatic with Joe Schoen’s Round 1 picks of Kayvon Thibodeaux and Evan Neal. The question for the next two days is how to get the most out of the remaining seven picks.

The draft strategies most often discussed are need, positional value, and best player available. But a team with many needs like the Giants probably can’t address them all in a single draft. A draft may be weak at a position of high value (as this one is considered to be at quarterback). And it’s not obvious how to compare available players at very different positions of need. How does a GM build a team almost from the ground up?

Prioritizing picks by quality and depth at specific positions

One way to optimize picks is by using horizontal big boards, which rank prospects by round separately for each position. The Big Blue View horizontal boards put together by Chris Pflum, Nick Falato, Mark Schofield, and Invictus XI tell us, for example, that although the Giants badly need to add a tight end, most of them should be available in Round 3 or later.

At offensive tackle, if your team didn’t get one last night or doesn’t early in Round 2 tonight, there is a big drop off in quality after that. If the Giants are seeking a cornerback, a safety, and a defensive tackle, early Round 2 is likely their last chance to pick up a high-end prospect.

Giants history as a guide

There’s another consideration, though. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the Giants’ first Super Bowl team. The usual narrative is that the bad late-1970s Giants turned around when George Young was hired as GM and Bill Parcells as head coach, Lawrence Taylor and other Giants greats were drafted, and voila, a champion. That’s true, but misleading.

The 1978 Joe Pisarcik handoff fumble that turned victory into defeat and led to the “15 years of lousy football - we’ve had enough!” banner that flew over the Meadowlands was the catalyst for change. George Young became GM in 1979, hired Ray Perkins as head coach, and chose Phil Simms as his first draft pick. Simms was the only draftee of note, though, and the Giants finished 6-10, just as in 1978. In 1980 they added a good cornerback, Mark Haynes, but finished 4-12.

In 1981 Lawrence Taylor was drafted No. 2, as was a solid guard, Billy Ard, later on. That was a seminal moment. The team improved to 9-7, made the playoffs, and won a wild card game. Three years after “We’ve had enough!”, the Giants were on their way. Except in 1982, a strike season, the Giants dropped to 4-5, and Perkins left. His replacement, Bill Parcells, benched Simms for Scott Brunner, Simms was injured after he was reinstated, and the 1983 Giants finished 3-12-1. Young almost fired Parcells. How will Giants fans feel about Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll in five years if something like this happens?

The Giants bounced back and made the playoffs in 1984 and 1985, having added core pieces such as Terry Kinard, Leonard Marshall, Carl Banks, William Roberts, Mark Bavaro, and Gary Reasons, but it wasn’t until the 1986 season - eight years after the hiring of Young and four years after Parcells’ elevation to head coach - that the Giants finally won their first Super Bowl, with further additions in the draft such as Pepper Johnson, Erik Howard, and Mark Collins. The core they built and sustained was solid enough to win again four years later.

A long-term philosophy of roster building

The two quarterback sneaks by Jake Fromm in the final game of the 2021 season may be this era’s version of the Pisarcik fumble, and the hiring of Schoen as GM this era’s equivalent of the George Young hiring. But the history tells us that there is no short-term fix. Don’t expect the picks the Giants make today and tomorrow to make them a playoff team right away. Instead, let’s ask how Schoen might initiate a long-term strategy to build a Super Bowl team these next two days?

The problem is, this isn’t the 1980s. Elite players at QB, EDGE, and now WR command mega-contracts that eat up a significant fraction of the salary cap. A GM can’t throw big money at every premier player, which is why stars like Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams have been traded, and why the Giants might be moving on from James Bradberry.

Darren O’Donoghue of The 33rd Team has studied second contracts given to NFL players from 2010-2017. The idea is that the amount of guaranteed money a player gets in a second contract - whether by the team that drafted him or another team - relative to the guaranteed money in his rookie contract is an objective measure of successful players whose performance exceeds their original draft position.

This “second contract pay ratio” (SCPR) can identify where it makes the most sense to draft such players to get the most bang for the buck over a period of years. Given a salary cap, at which positions and in which rounds is a GM most likely to get performance by a young player that exceeds the expectations of where he was drafted? Teams that best identify where in the draft they can get high performance cheaply and where they have no choice but to spend their highest level draft picks (and the highest rookie salaries that accompany them) are the ones that can build sustainable success over time.

In Round 1, O’Donoghue finds that wide receivers, cornerbacks, offensive tackles, and centers have been most likely to earn big second contracts relative to their first and thus are good “value” draft choices for that round - not cheap in the dollars sense, but well worth the money they get.

Quarterbacks are of middling value in Round 1, presumably because they tend to be drafted high, are thus costly from the start, and often don’t pan out, but beyond Round 2, where there have been some of great value, the odds of finding value at quarterback have been small.

In later rounds, surprisingly, offensive tackles of great value can be found according to O’Donoghue. This does not mean that the best OTs aren’t found in Round 1, only that there are enough offensive tackles taken in lower rounds who made it and received a rich second contract that it is worth drafting them in later rounds as well. On the other hand, good value in guards can be found more often in later rounds, and thus spending Round 1 capital on a guard is not cost-effective. Safeties and running backs appear to have low value wherever they are drafted, implying that few of them are getting expensive second contracts.

What does this mean for the Giants?

Let’s combine the SCPR concept with the Big Blue View consensus big boards to suggest some cost-effective approaches to the remaining rounds of the draft.

EDGE: Defensive end and outside linebacker are in the bottom five positions in SCPR, suggesting that the market for EDGE is efficient: The more you pay the more you get, in general, so you might as well draft one in a higher round - and that is exactly what the Giants did in taking perhaps the best pass rusher in the draft, Kayvon Thibodeaux, at No. 5. Azeez Ojulari may be an exception to the low SCPR rule, a great value investment by the Giantslast year at No. 50. The Giants are now probably finished shopping in the EDGE aisle.

Offensive tackle: Tackle is the second highest SCPR position of all, so there is good reason to take an OT in the first round, which the Giants did with Evan Neal at No. 7. But the value is even high down to Round 3, so don’t rule out a mid-round offensive tackle pick by the Giants. Round 3 names on the BBV big board are worth keeping an eye on.

Cornerback: This position is tied with wide receiver for highest SCPR on Day 1, but the dropoff after Round 1 is much steeper than for WR. The Giants missed out on Sauce Gardner, Derek Stingley, and Trent McDuffie, so they may want to move fast in Round 2 to get a strong man cover prospect like Kyler Gordon.

Quarterback: The Giants will probably not draft a QB this year, but having declined Daniel Jones’ fifth-year option, it’s not out of the question that they could take a chance on someone like Desmond Ridder, BBV’s QB3, a Round 2 value. Ridder’s accuracy is not ideal, but Brian Daboll knows something about rookie QBs with that problem. Malik Willis, more of a developmental project at QB2, is still on the board as well.

Guard: This is the highest SCPR position of all, and its value is high across every round. This means that the Giants can take one tonight that BBV ranks in Round 2 (e.g., Sean Rhyan, Dylan Parham, Jamaree Salyer) or Round 3 (Lecitus Smith, Spencer Burford), or even wait until Day 3 to address this position.

Center: This position has the third-highest SCPR by position in Round 1, so the Ravens were justified in picking Tyler Linderbaum, but its value is middle of the pack for the middle rounds. Few centers taken in Rounds 5-7 get second contracts, so if the Giants want to draft competition for Jon Feliciano, Friday night or early Saturday would be the time to do it. Names on the BBV big board in this range are Cam Jurgens and Luke Fortner.

Wide receiver: Wide receiver is tied for the highest SCPR in Round 1, which says that premiere college WR prospects are often worth the use of a high pick. The NFL knows this - six wide receivers went in the first 18 picks Thursday night. The value persists through Round 3, though, so grabbing one on Day 2 can be well worth the smaller investment, and even a decent number of WRs picked in the lower rounds get second contracts. The BBV big board has no fewer than 12 wide receivers of Day 2 quality, any of whom could go to the Giants.

IDL: Interior defensive lineman have the fifth-highest SCPR overall and fourth-highest in Round 1, but the value drops off after Round 2. On the other hand, IDLs are among the most frequent position groups from Rounds 5-7 that get second contracts. Most likely this is because IDLs fall into two groups: Those with pass rush talent and pure run-stuffers. If the Giants feel they need more interior pass rush, there will be many good IDLs available in Round 2 (DeMarvin Leal, Perrion Winfrey, Travis Jones from the BBV big board). Having picked up Dexter Lawrence’s fifth-year option, though, the guess here is that if they take an IDL at all it will be a run-stuffer on Day 3.

Tight end: Tight ends have the sixth-highest SCPR of all positions overall, but the second-lowest in Round 1, so it pays to wait until the later rounds to get value at this position. The 2022 draft is tailor-made for this - it’s possible that every TE in this draft will still be on the board when Round 3 begins, perfect for what the Giants need: Greg Dulcich, Jeremy Ruckert, Jelani Woods, Charlie Kolar, you name it.

S, ILB, RB: There is no place in the draft at which players at these positions have high SCPR. This suggests that it is usually not worth investing in these positions in the first round where the cost of that first contract is highest, because they often wind up not getting any more in their second contract than their first, or do not get a second contract at all. The Giants may try to grab a safety like Jaquan Brisker or Jalen Pitre in Round 2, or Nick Cross in Round 3, but with only two safeties on the roster surely one will be selected somewhere.

The Giants also desperately need an ILB, but this draft is so deep in ILBs, with only two taken in the first round, that Round 3 is the earliest the Giants should use draft capital on an ILB.

The same holds true to an even greater extent for running back. There are so many capable RBs available, and the positional value so low, that the Giants can easily wait until their last few picks to even think about taking one.