The 2022 NFL regular season is fast approaching, and with it the full return of New York Giants football.
The 2022 college football season is also hurtling towards us, as well — and it’ll get here first. The first game of the year will kick off on Saturday, Aug. 27 at noon, between Western Kentucky and Austin Peay.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay marked the occasion by releasing his preseason rankings for the top-50 draft eligible players (ESPN+ content) this week.
While August is likely too early for many Giants fans to think about the draft, scouting departments the league over are kicking into gear. The start of the college season marks the next phase of the process leading up to the 2023 NFL Draft, as scouts race around the country to watch players in person and start building their reports that underpin the “Draft Process” proper.
The Giants themselves stand at something of a crossroads with a new regime and a looming question at the most important position on the field. Either the Giants will need a new quarterback in 2023 or they’ll need to use their draft capital to address holes elsewhere on the roster.
With that in mind, let’s see what McShay thinks about the top passers, as well as the top players at other positions of potential need for the Giants.
Multiple things can be true about the Giants at the same time.
It’s true that the Giants want Daniel Jones to prove himself to be a “franchise quarterback,” and a player worthy of building around for the foreseeable future.
It’s also true that they can’t depend on Jones playing like a quarterback worth $30 million per year and could find themselves in need of a new starting quarterback for 2023 and beyond.
Because of both of those things, the Giants should both do everything in their power to set Jones up to win, but also do their due diligence on the 2023 quarterback class. The upcoming QB class looks to be much stronger than the 2022 class.
3. C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State*
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 215 | Grade: 95
Stroud is my QB1 to begin the season thanks in part to excellent instincts, smooth delivery, strong arm and solid decision-making. He already sees the entire field at an NFL level and trusts his fast eyes. While his ball placement is a bit inconsistent at times, he has a large catalog of remarkably accurate throws under pressure. His touch and his timing are outstanding; Stroud completed 71.9% of his passes last season (fourth in the FBS) for 4,435 yards (fifth), 44 touchdowns (third) and only six interceptions.
4. Bryce Young, QB, Alabama*
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 194 | Grade: 94
Young completed 66.9% of his throws last season for 4,872 yards (second in the country), 47 touchdowns (second) and seven interceptions. He is a fast processor, and he has a quick release, but he’s still learning how to maneuver in the pocket to find clearer passing windows — a skill he will need in the NFL at his size. Young shows very good ball placement and touch on the perimeter on all three levels, and he knows how to lead receivers to yards after the catch, but his accuracy on anticipation throws over the middle could be more consistent. No moment is too big for him, and his advanced understanding of the QB position really stands out.
21. Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
Height: 6-foot-3 | Weight: 232 | Grade: 89
A former backup at Penn State, Levis now operates a quick-paced, quick-hitting offense at Kentucky where his fast decision-making fits perfectly. He has a relatively quick release and a strong arm — the ball jumps off his hand with velocity. Levis is light on his feet and shows good agility eluding the rush, knowing when to climb or slide to extend. And while he hangs tough in the pocket, he also knows when to tuck the ball and run. But I’d like to see him get more reps making full-field progression reads and downfield anticipatory throws. Levis threw for 2,826 yards, 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and he added 376 rushing yards and another nine scores on the ground.
26. Tyler Van Dyke, QB, Miami (Florida)*
Height: 6-foot-4 | Weight: 224 | Grade: 88
With a strong arm and good pocket mobility, Van Dyke leads receivers to yards after the catch when he has a clear pre-snap read and gets the ball out in rhythm. He keeps his eyes downfield as he climbs the pocket to avoid pressure, and he flashes the ability to adjust his release point and make impressive off-platform throws. But Van Dyke misses within the strike zone too often over the middle and is inconsistent throwing outside the hashes. His touch and timing on downfield passes need to get better, and I’d like to see him speed up his decision-making. His 80.1 QBR was 11th best last season, as he piled up 2,931 passing yards, 25 TDs and six interceptions in 10 games (nine starts). [Summer scouting report]
There aren’t really any surprises at the quarterback position in McShay’s top 50. I fully expect there to be a strong push for C.J. Stroud to be “QB-1” by the time the draft rolls around. He has the size, arm talent, and athletic ability that get scouts, commentators, and fans excited. That said, I personally prefer Bryce Young — at least at this point. Young is a lightning-fast processor who has that rare ability to make difficult throws look mundane. Given that the Giants want to make option routes and post-snap reads a significant portion of their offense, mental processing, football IQ, and a quick release are at a premium for the Giants.
Because Young lacks Stroud’s more ideal measurables, it’s possible he might slip a bit in the draft, potentially making him easier for the Giants to acquire.
Will Levis will also be a popular name for the Giants if they’re in the market for a QB. His size, athleticism, and arm strength have drawn comparisons to Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen. And because of the comparisons to Allen, mock drafters have already linked him to the Giants based on his traits.
Interior offensive line
The Giants hope to have their offensive tackle positions locked up for the foreseeable future with Andrew Thomas and Evan Neal. However, they have some questions regarding their interior offensive line.
Jon Feliciano is only on a one-year contract, and while Mark Glowinski is on a 3-year deal, he’s over 30 and starting his eighth season in the NFL. There’s no telling how much longer he will be a solid, reliable starter. So the Giants could look to bolster their interior offensive line with that in mind.
29. John Michael Schmitz, C, Minnesota
HT: 6-4 | WT: 320 | Grade: 86
Schmitz started four games in 2019, six games in 2020 and all 13 games in 2021, and he has never given up a sack. He has short-area suddenness and a lot of power at the point of attack, but his mirror-and-slide quickness and fluidity are average at best. He’s an effective zone blocker, and once he latches on, his overwhelming strength and nasty demeanor allow him to finish at an exceptionally high rate.
38. Sedrick Van Pran, C, Georgia*
HT: 6-4 | WT: 310 | Grade: 83
In pass pro, Van Pran is still developing after 15 starts in 2021. He is strong against power rushers, showing the core strength and lower-body flexibility to sink his hips and stalemate. But his hand placement tends to be too wide, which impacts his ability to latch on and generate torque. And if he misses with his initial strike, he tends to get out over his skis or get too high — and then he loses balance and leverage. Van Pran shows very good initial pop in the run game, has adequate mobility and takes solid angles.
47. Layden Robinson, G, Texas A&M*
Height: 6-foot-4 | Weight: 320 | Grade: 80
Robinson had a breakout season as a first-time starter at right guard in 2021, starting all 10 games in which he played. He has prototypical bulk for the position and is quick in the short area. He fires out with a purpose as a run blocker and shows good initial striking power. The only time he gets into trouble is when he gets too far out over his skis.
I think the Giants could well target a center or guard on Day 2 or early on Day 3. It could be one of these young men or another who rises over the course of the season and Draft Process, but I don’t for a second think that Joe Schoen is done with the Giants’ offensive line.
In particular, I think the Giants might focus on the center position. We don’t know how well Jon Feliciano will play this year and he’s only on a one-year contract. Likewise, counting on Ben Bredeson to transition to the position full time might be risky. The Giants have gone with square pegs for the center position since 2018, and it’d be nice to find a natural long-term answer for a position that touches the ball every play.
Receiver might be a need for the Giants in 2023, but its also possible that receiver could just be the highest-graded position on the board when the Giants pick. If Daniel Jones does emerge as a bona fide franchise quarterback, the Giants would be well-served to continue to invest in pass catchers to put around him. Adding a talented receiver on a rookie contract could also be a wise move if Jones secures a contract in excess of $120 million.
6. Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU*
Height: 6-foot-1 | Weight: 190 | Grade: 93
Boutte lines up at all three receiver spots in LSU’s offense, and he is sudden and explosive in all his movements. He consistently generates separation with his sharp cutting ability, outstanding speed and great acceleration. Then Boutte attacks the football aggressively in the air with confident and strong hands. He shows great focus, times his jumps well and can contort his body in the air. He is a big-time vertical threat who chews up cushion in a flash, but Boutte is also smooth and elusive after the catch. In 2021, he picked up 509 yards and nine touchdowns on 38 catches after missing most of the season with a leg injury. [Summer scouting report]
7. Jordan Addison, WR, USC*
Height: 6-foot-1 | Weight: 175 | Grade: 91
Addison transferred from Pittsburgh to USC in the spring after finishing in the nation’s top six in receptions (100), receiving yards (1,593) and receiving TDs (17) last season. He has the second gear to stretch the field and wins 50-50 balls downfield despite a slight frame. He’s also an instinctive open-field runner with good burst, and he flashes good contact balance for his size. Addison does drop some balls he should catch, and he’s not a nuanced or polished route runner, but he consistently separates thanks to his burst and fluidity. Most of his production has come when he works out of the slot, raising some concerns about his ability to get off press coverage at the NFL level.
11. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State*
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 197 | Grade: 90
Smith-Njigba is extremely agile with precise route-running skills, frequently gaining separation with his acceleration. He shows soft hands and very good body control, often snatching balls thrown outside of his frame, but I’ve seen some focus drops on tape. He does a good job tracking the deep ball and makes difficult over-the-shoulder catches downfield. Smith-Njigba also has the ability to string multiple cuts together to make multiple defenders miss in space. His 1,606 receiving yards were third in the country last season, and his performance against Utah in the Rose Bowl — 15 catches, 347 yards and three TDs — drew national attention.
27. Jermaine Burton, WR, Alabama*
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 200 | Grade: 87
After catching 26 balls for 497 yards and five touchdowns with Georgia last season, Burton transferred to Alabama. He is primarily an outside receiver who accelerates quickly and does a good job timing his routes, and he is at his best in the quick and vertical games. Burton still needs some polish as an intermediate route runner, but he is a speedster who shows a true second gear when tracking the ball vertically. He can pluck away from his frame and makes some very difficult contested catches, but he needs more consistency in high-pointing the ball.
36. Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina*
Height: 5-10 | Weight: 180 | Grade: 85
Downs is a lightning quick and instinctive open-field runner who is highly dangerous after the catch. He has the second gear to run under the deep ball, and he flashes the ability to make tough over-the-shoulder catches. The slot receiver has the burst and quick feet to separate from man, and he finds pockets in zone looks. But Downs is a small target who doesn’t have the frame to win a lot of 50-50 balls and doesn’t always catch the ball clean. He was one of six receivers in the FBS to eclipse 100 receptions last year, helping him to 1,335 yards (10th most) and eight touchdowns.
39. Dontayvion Wicks, WR, Virginia*
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 205 | Grade: 83
Wicks quickly gains leverage getting off the line, tracks the deep ball well and has the speed to threaten vertically. He was fourth in the FBS last season with 21.2 yards per catch, and his 1,203 receiving yards ranked 17th. He drives corners off the ball and uses his hands to separate at the top of his routes when running hitches and comebacks, and Wicks finds pockets over the middle working out of the slot. He can win 50-50 balls and flashes the ability to make the first defender miss after the catch.
It really isn’t much of a surprise that McShay had six receivers in his top 50 players. Between advances in training and the wide-open high-octane spread passing attacks that dictate modern offensive strategy, we’re in a golden age of receiving. Colleges are producing legitimately great receivers at an unprecedented rate.
The battle at the top of this list is going to be fascinating to follow over the course of the season. I have to give McShay some credit for going with Boutte over Smith-Njigba for his top spot. Boutte only played six games in a poor offense last year, but he still scored 9 touchdowns. Smith-Njigba is a talented receiver in his own right and there will be a lot of big boards with him in their top spot — he managed to stand out despite being on the same offense as Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson.
Finally we come to the defensive secondary. The Giants were widely linked to Sauce Gardner during the 2022 draft process, and linked to Derek Stingley Jr. shortly before the draft. Wink Martindale’s defense hinges on players with the rare physical profile to effectively play aggressive man coverage techniques. The Giants could be in the market for a cornerback if their don’t get the play they need from their plethora of young corners. And even if the young players do step up, we’ve already seen attrition hit the secondary hard. Cornerback is a position where you can never have too much quality depth.
Likewise, safety Julian Love is in the last year of his rookie contract and his first year as a full-time starter. He might earn a bigger contract than the Giants can afford to pay him, or he may prove to be a better utility player than starting safety. And as with the cornerback position, Martindale makes heavy use of safeties in his scheme and often has (at least) three on the field. Good, versatile depth is always important.
12. Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia*
Height: 6-foot-2 | Weight: 205 | Grade: 90
A former sprinter in high school, Ringo can match speed with any vertical route and does an excellent job of contesting jump balls. However, his route recognition and eye discipline are still works in progress, and he has tight hips, which lead to redirection slowness and allows for too much separation surrendered to quicker receivers. Ringo has solid ball skills and the elite length to bat down passes when reaching around receivers. Last season, he hauled in two interceptions and allowed just 37% of opponent completions while in coverage (13th-best in the nation). In run support, he keeps blockers off his frame and lassos ball carriers in space.
18. Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina*
Height: 6-foot-1 | Weight: 187 | Grade: 89
A versatile defensive back with experience on the boundary, at nickel and as a safety, Smith is highly instinctive and frequently gets early jumps by reading quarterbacks’ eyes, and he shows excellent foot quickness and fluid hips. He is a ballhawk with excellent vertical leap, length and soft hands, but he gets too handsy at the top of receivers’ stems. He has five interceptions over the past two seasons, and his 11 pass breakups tied for 19th in the country last year. Smith is also aggressive and physical in run support, and he shows impressive initial snap as a tackler. [Summer scouting report]
23. Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State*
Height: 6-foot-2 | Weight: 192 | Grade: 88
Porter is instinctive, and he excels in press-man while also showing the recognition skills necessary for zone coverage. He has fast eyes when diagnosing screens and runs, and he uses his length, solid technique and physicality to reroute receivers off the line of scrimmage. He plays with very good body control, but he does have some tightness and tends to get handsy when he feels himself getting out of phase. He recorded 44 tackles, four pass breakups and an interception last season.
43. Storm Duck, CB, North Carolina*
Height: 6-foot-5 | Weight: 205 | Grade: 81
Duck is a press-zone corner with the strength and balance to smother receivers underneath. He runs well enough to stay in receivers’ hip pocket and flashes good recovery speed. Duck has good feet for a taller corner but gets overly physical and grabby at times. With the frame to compete for 50-50 balls, he flashes good timing breaking up passes. He hasn’t had an interception since 2019 but has been limited to just 414 snaps over the past two seasons.
44. Clark Phillips III, CB, Utah*
Height: 5-10 | Weight: 185 | Grade: 81
Phillips has the oily hips, quick feet and balance to shadow slot receivers, and he limits production after the catch. His size raises concerns about his ability to win 50-50 balls downfield, and while he reads the quarterback well, he gets caught out of position at times. He had 57 tackles, two interceptions and 12 pass breakups (tied for 10th in the nation) last season.
48. Eli Ricks, CB, Alabama*
Height: 6-2 | Weight: 190 | Grade: 80
Ricks is at his best in press-man coverage where he can use his length to reroute receivers off the line of scrimmage but lacks ideal redirection smoothness and recovery speed. He is aggressive and physical in coverage, and he diagnoses route combinations quickly and knows when to shift his eyes from the receiver to the quarterback. Ricks attacks the ball like a receiver, too. In run support, there’s room for improvement as an open-field tackler. A shoulder injury kept him to six starts last season while still at LSU, but he has five interceptions over 16 career games.
19. Jordan Battle, S, Alabama
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 210 | Grade: 89
In coverage, Battle has a quick pedal and is an easy mover. He shows good instincts and plays with very good balance and body control. His closing burst when the ball is in the air jumps out on tape. Against the run, he plays bigger than his size and flies to the football. Battle does a very good job of generating power in the short area, he takes good angles and he does a really good job of taking on and disengaging from blocks. In 2021, Battle had 51 tackles, 3 interceptions and 2 defensive TDs.
31. Brandon Joseph, S, Notre Dame*
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 192 | Grade: 86
Outstanding instincts are Joseph’s top trait. He has fast eyes and reads route combinations quickly. A transfer in from Northwestern, Joseph is very adept as a single-high safety, two-high safety or as a robber, but he also has experience working in the slot and has enough length and fluidity to hold up one on one. And he’s rangy with very quick feet in his pedal and frequently gets early jumps on the ball — he has nine interceptions over the past two seasons. He is aggressive as a run defender, diagnosing quickly, but his poor angles lead to a lot of missed tackles (16 last year).
McShay has two members of the “All Name Team” in his defensive secondary group with Storm Duck and Jordan Battle (which is an objectively great name for a safety).
Of these players I focused on Cam Smith early on in the preseason scouting process. There’s a natural tendency to compare current prospects to alumni, which, in Smith’s case as a Gamecock, means Stephon Gilmore and Jaycee Horn. And while I can’t say with certainty that Smith is the same kind of athlete as Gilmore and Horn, he is absolutely just as physical, aggressive, and capable in press-man coverage as they are. His gritty, aggressive play demeanor and his experience at outside and slot corner, as well as safety, could well appeal to Wink Martindale.
Alabama cornerback Eli Ricks also bears watching this season. His stock might be depressed thanks to the shoulder injury last year, but a big, long, aggressive corner with ball skills and a resume that reads “LSU” and “Alabama” is sure to get scouts’ attention. Storm Duck is also intriguing, and not just because of his name. We’ve seen several industrial-sized corners come into the NFL in recent years, and the Giants were (reportedly) very interested in Sauce Gardner. They could have a similar interest in Duck if he shows a similar fluidity and ability in press-man coverage as Gardner. It might also help that the Giants drafted two players out of North Carolina last year in Joshua Ezeudu and Marcus McKethan, so they should be familiar with UNC’s squad and coaching staff.