The NFL draft is a year-long event.
No sooner does one draft end, then the next one begins. Perhaps the best bit of evidence for this phenomenon is the deluge of “way too early mock drafts” that pop up, sometimes mere minutes after a draft is finished.
These are usually imperfect and flawed exercises at best. After all, my own version from May of 2021 managed to get just two pairings correct, in terms of the right player to a specific team. I was able to predict George Karlafitis to the Kansas City Chiefs at the end of the first round. I also got Sam Howell to the Washington Commanders.
But I had that in the first, not the fifth.
Still, football media is flooded with these drafts right now. And while they are flawed exercises, they are a dual-purpose window into the future. One, they offer names of players to watch as college football approaches. And two, they provide insight into how members of the football media world view a team, and their potential needs a year from now.
The consensus view right now for the New York Giants? They need a new quarterback.
Let’s take a look at how the “way too early mock drafts” have the Giants and Joe Schoen handling the first round next year, courtesy of the NFL Mock Draft Database.
The consensus pick: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
Currently the NFL Mock Draft Database has 79 mock drafts as its database. In 22 percent of those mock drafts, the pick for the Giants is Kentucky quarterback Will Levis.
In fact, he was my selection for the Giants in my own mock draft, released last week.
Given the numbers, you can see that I am not alone in this assessment. Todd McShay is another analyst that has New York grabbing the Kentucky quarterback inside the top 10.
The Penn State transfer put together a solid season in his first year as a starter for the Wildcats, completing 66 percent of his throws for 2,826 yards and 24 touchdowns. He did throw 13 interceptions, including three in a loss to Mississippi State, so whether he can limit mistakes this fall is something to keep in mind.
While he might be most known for his eating habits — as he became a viral sensation last summer thanks to his penchant for putting mayonnaise in coffee and eating bananas with the peel still on — Levis is getting real first-round buzz at the moment. Some other “way too early” mock drafts even have him as the first quarterback off the board. If he can iron out some ball placement issues, and lower-body inconsistencies with his mechanics, he can perhaps live up to that hype.
The trendy pick: Tyler Van Dyke, QB, Miami
One of the flaws with “way too early” mock drafts is that they require a ton of projection.
Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke is one such example.
A four-star recruit out of Suffield Academy in Connecticut, Van Dyke appeared in two games during the 2020 season behind starting quarterback D’Eriq King.
He began the 2021 campaign as the backup behind King, but after the starter went down with an injury, Van Dyke stepped into the lineup and did not look back. He started the final nine games of the season and finished the year having completed 62.3 percent of his passes for 2,931 yards and 25 touchdowns, throwing just six interceptions. He was named the ACC Rookie of the Year and the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year for his efforts.
Van Dyke also outdueled Kenny Pickett in Miami’s late-October victory over Pittsburgh, completing 32 of 42 passes for 426 yards and three touchdowns, along with an interception. This touchdown early in that contest is a good example of how well he sees the field and throws with anticipation. He hits the post route for a touchdown on a switch concept, letting the ball fly as the receiver gets into his break:
Van Dyke is the trendy pick for the Giants right now in the “way too early” mock drafts, as he now appears in 13 percent of the mock drafts conducted to date, including mocks from Eli Nachmany from Sports Illustrated, Matthew Lewis from Draft Dive, and Tom Downey from Chat Sports.
Still, we are talking about a redshirt sophomore with less than one full season as a starting quarterback. And a quarterback who will be playing under a new head coach and offensive coordinator next season. There is a lot of excitement about the Hurricanes for the year ahead, and with reason, but projecting Van Dyke into the first round — and especially inside the top ten — is rather optimistic.
The top “non-QB” option: Eli Ricks, CB, Alabama
While Levis and Van Dyke are two popular picks for the Giants, there are mock drafts that have New York going in a non-quarterback direction next fall.
The player tied with Van Dyke that appears in 13% of mock drafts for New York? LSU-turned-Alabama cornerback Eli Ricks.
Ricks was a consensus five-star recruit during the 2020 recruiting cycle, and began his college football journey at LSU. He played in eight games during the 2020 campaign as a true freshman, recording 20 total tackles and four interceptions. He was named to the Freshman All-SEC team, and also earned Third-Team All-American honors from the Associated Press.
Ricks played in just six games last season, as his year was cut short due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. Even in limited action, Ricks managed to tally 11 total tackles and an interception. He announced that he would be transferring last winter, and decided to play for Nick Saban at Alabama for the year ahead.
He shows great awareness on the field, and this interception against Florida from 2020 is a prime example. Watch as he reads this three-receiver concept and beats the wide receiver to the catch point for the interception:
With the recent departure of James Bradberry, the New York Giants are thin in the secondary. They did add Cordale Flott in the third round of the 2022 NFL draft, but adding to their cornerback room might be high on Schoen’s to-do list next fall. Right now, Ricks seems like the consensus top cornerback in the class, but there is obviously a long way to go until that is sorted out.
But if Daniel Jones finally takes a big step forward this fall under Brian Daboll, it would free the organization up to address another position of need, and cornerback seems like it would be a priority in that situation.
The “outside the box” position: Wide receiver
One other position that has cropped up in these “way too early” mock drafts for the Giants?
At first blush, that might seem like a strange expenditure of draft capital, given recent moves by the team. They used a first-round selection on Kadarius Toney in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft, and added Wan’Dale Robinson in the second round just over a month ago.
They also signed Kenny Golladay in free agency two cycles ago, making a big capital investment in the former Detroit Lions receiver.
Still, some Giants fans might believe that more questions rather than answers remain regarding the wide receiver room, and that concern is reflected in the handful of mock drafts that have New York adding at the position. Two players linked with the Giants stand out. First is former Pittsburgh wide receiver Jordan Addison, who recently announced his transfer to USC.
There are many reasons why Kenny Pickett was the first quarterback selected in the 2022 NFL draft. His accuracy, his willingness to attack over the middle, his mobility, and his fit with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Addison is another.
He put together a monster season for the Pittsburgh Panthers in 2022, catching 100 passes for 1,593 yards and 17 touchdowns. That built upon his freshman season, where he caught 60 passes for 666 yards and four touchdowns. Addison is a true ball-winner, which showed up on plays like this one to help the Panthers overcome Virginia:
Now he’ll be playing under Lincoln Riley at USC, paired with quarterback Caleb Williams. He could put up huge numbers for the Trojans next fall. He also has the ability to play inside or outside, and would be a fascinating addition to the Giants offense.
The other wide receiver linked to the Giants? Jaxon Smith-Njigba from Ohio State.
We might see another Ohio State wide receiver in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft.
After both Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave made it into the first round this last cycle, the Buckeyes are primed to get another receiver into the early rounds of the draft, with Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Despite playing with Wilson and Olave last season, he still managed to catch 95 passes for 1,606 yards and nine touchdowns.
He exploded in the Rose Bowl, catching 15 passes for 347 yards against Utah, setting a single-game Ohio State record for receiving yardage. Those 15 catches also tied his own school record for catches in a game, matching the mark he set earlier in the year against Nebraska.
His entire game against Utah is a highlight reel, but this play in particular stands out:
That game against Utah might be a preview of the kind of numbers he will produce this fall. Both Wilson and Olave sat out of the Rose Bowl to prepare for the draft, and the passing game truly ran through Smith-Njigba against Utah. If he has a huge season for the Buckeyes, Smith-Njigba might well come off the board in the first round, but inside the top ten.
Again, it is very early, and these springtime mock drafts are in most cases flawed exercises. But it should not be a surprise, given the questions about Jones, that the Giants are tapped with taking a quarterback in a plurality of the mock drafts produced to date.
But if Jones takes that step forward Giants fans have been waiting for, addressing the passing game still is on the minds of evaluators right now for New York. Whether that is with a receiver, or a cornerback on the defensive side of the ball, is the question.
Tune back in a year from now to see how wildly off these predictions all were...