The 2023 NFL Draft is rapidly approaching. That means it’s time to post the updated “Big Blue View Rules for Draft Success.”
If you aren’t familiar with these rules, I created this guide to my draft philosophy several years ago. Each year the rules get tweaked with new examples and, on occasion, modified to reflect the changing realities of the NFL and my evolving beliefs. I also try to relate them to decisions currently faced by the New York Giants as well as ones they have made in recent years. It’s not perfect, and there is plenty of room for debate. If I was a GM, though, these are the rules I would draft by.
1. Draft ‘value’ over perceived need
I always push back against the idea that the Giants need to take position A in Round 1, position B in Round 2, position C in Round 3, etc. That is how you make mistakes — how you leave better players on the board while selecting lesser ones.
Truth is, you are never certain what your ‘needs’ are going to be in any given NFL season. You never know where injuries may strike, or where players already on your roster may underperform or overperform expectations.
One thing that is no doubt true when it comes to assessing ‘value’: A team’s perception of ‘value’ is impacted by its perception of its ‘needs.’ When it comes to ‘best player available,’ all 32 teams are likely to have a different idea who that might be at most spots in the draft. Teams undoubtedly set their draft boards based somewhat on perceived needs and fits for their systems. As one former scout told me, that is simply human nature.
My point is this. If you believe you need a wide receiver, but there is not one on the board who you believe should be drafted at that stage of the draft, you don’t grab a lower-ranked wide receiver. You take a player who, on your board, has a grade that makes him deserving of being picked in that spot. When grades are equal, then need and scheme fit come into play. At that point, take the player you feel gives you something you don’t already have — the player who fills a need. Trust your evaluation, try to match value and need whenever possible. Value trumps need, but need is the deciding factor when values are equal.
You take ‘value’ over perceived ‘need.’ You hope, of course, that the best players on the board happen to match areas where you believe you have needs. The draft is unpredictable, however, and available value does not always match perceived needs.
I recite this annually, but former Minnesota Vikings GM Jeff Diamond once told me the story of why he chose Randy Moss in the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft despite already having two star wide receivers. Minnesota didn’t need a wide receiver — they already had Cris Carter and Jake Reed — but they knew Moss would be a difference-maker. So, they took him. That worked out pretty well.
How does that impact this draft?
The obvious target areas for the Giants in Round 1 are wide receiver and cornerback. What, though, if the top receivers (Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Quentin Johnston, Jordan Addison, Zay Flowers) and top cornerbacks (Christian Gonzales, Joey Porter Jr., Devon Witherspoon, Deonte Banks) are all gone?
By our perceived value rule, the Giants would only take a wide receiver like Jalin Hyatt or a cornerback like Cam Smith if he was in the group with highest remaining grade on their draft board. Otherwise, you look elsewhere.
If grades are equal, need is the trump card. If the highest-graded player on the board is someone from a different position, take the better player. That is generally the best long-term decision, and the draft is about the long term.
2. If you don’t have a franchise quarterback, get one
The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. If you don’t have a top-tier one, you cannot have any type of sustained success. You can have a good year, or a good stretch within a year, but you simply can’t be competitive year after year without one. If you need a franchise quarterback, and you think there is one available when it is your turn to draft and pass on drafting him, shame on you.
This is why the Sam Darnold vs. Saquon Barkley debate took place. It’s why quarterbacks fly off the draft board year after year even though many of them are overdrafted. It’s why I supported the Giants’ decision to draft Daniel Jones at No. 6 in 2018. The Giants had a need to replace Eli Manning, thought he could be the guy, and went for it. As they should have.
Simply put, quarterback is more valuable than any other position on the field. Having, or not having, one does more to change the fortunes of your franchise than a player at another position possibly could.
The flip side of this rule is: Do not take a quarterback in the first round unless you are absolutely convinced he can be the face of your franchise for the next decade. You can’t pick a guy just to pick a quarterback or because Mel Kiper, Todd McShay, some other TV talking head, media member or the fan base says you should. You are marrying that player. You are putting the fortunes of the franchise in his hands. If you pick the wrong quarterback, you set your franchise back.
How does that impact this draft?
Well, it doesn’t. Or, at least it shouldn’t. At least not the early part of the draft. The Giants just signed Jones to a four-year, $160 million contract and I don’t see them drafting a guy like Hendon Hooker on Day 2 — if he lasts that long — as a hedge.
What the Giants do not have now that Davis Webb is a quarterbacks coach for the Denver Broncos is a third quarterback. Even with Webb, they did not have a young, developmental quarterback who could grow at least into a long-term backup role.
Tyrod Taylor is fine as the backup for 2023. Drafting and developing a young quarterback who could take over as No. 2 in 2024 and beyond would a smart, cost-efficient move. It would behoove Joe Schoen and the Giants to strongly consider looking for such a player on Day 3.
3. Do not take running backs in Round 1 ... unless they are a finishing piece
I tinker with this rule more than any of the other five. That isn’t because my basic anti-Round 1 running back stance changes, but because the NFL changes, and my thinking about acceptable circumstances for taking running backs in the first round evolves.
This year, I have actually modified the sub-head for this sections. Where it now says “a finishing piece” it used to say “a franchise changer.”
There is a difference. I honestly do not believe a running back can change a franchise in today’s NFL. Quarterbacks, coaches and general managers do that.
Dave Gettleman thought Saquon Barkley could, drafting him No. 2 overall in 2018. As wonderful as Barkley has been, he has not changed the Giants’ franchise. The arrivals of GM Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll and their impact on Daniel Jones is what finally appears to have the Giants back on a good path after a decade of darkness.
Drafting Barkley at No. 2 was a mistake, regardless of the kind of player he has been or will be. That pick should have been used on a quarterback, or traded for a haul of draft picks that would likely have accelerated the massive rebuild the Giants needed. In all honesty, I believe part of the issue at the time was that GM Dave Gettleman and co-owner John Mara did not want to face the reality that a full-scale rebuild was needed. My belief is they thought they could pair Manning, Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr. and give Manning one last shot at a playoff run while working to fix the rest of the roster.
NFL offenses no longer revolve around the running game. Offenses revolve around the quarterback, the offensive line and the wide receivers. Running backs share the load, with most teams employing two or three and very few dominating the percentage of rushing attempts for his team. Look at offenses, and most of your running backs play fewer snaps than anyone else. While acknowledging how much Barkley meant to the Giants’ success in 2022, the belief here is that the Giants want to build a more explosive passing attack and move away from being so Barkley-centric.
I have been told that former Giants GM Ernie Accorsi’s rule was always that quarterback, left tackle and pass rusher were the most important positions, and that running back was near the bottom of the list. The way the game is now played, I would add pass coverage guys (corners and safeties) to the premium positions list. In fact, at every position I think you have to value players who impact the passing game over those who do not. Using the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) measure, only the center position adds less value than running back.
Historically, there are always plenty of quality running backs available in the middle of the draft. Take one then, and use your first pick on an impact player at a more important position.
The Giants are a great example. Tiki Barber, Joe Morris, Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs were not first-round picks. David Wilson, Ron Dayne, Tyrone Wheatley, George Adams, Rocky Thompson and Tucker Fredrickson were first-round picks.
Denver’s Terrell Davis might be the best example. A sixth-round pick in 1995, Davis and the Denver Broncos proved you don’t need a first-round running back to be a great running team. Davis gained more than 1,700 yards in 1997 and more than 2000 in 1998.
The San Francisco 49ers got 963 rushing yards on 207 carries (4.7 yards per attempt) from sixth-round pick Elijah Mitchell in 2021. Jonathan Taylor, Nick Chubb and Miles Sanders were second-round picks. Tony Pollard was a fourth-round pick.
In recent years, we have seen teams looking for that finishing piece, for one more playmaker who might put them over the top, select running backs in the latter stages of Round 1. The Pittsburgh Steelers took Najee Harris at No. 24 in 2021, and the Jacksonville Jaguars took Travis Etienne at No. 25. Granted, the Jaguars were not a contender, but the pick was their second in Round 1. In 2020, the Kansas City Chiefs took Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the final pick of Round 1.
In those circumstances I can understand picking a running back. It’s why teams like the Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills would be justified in taking Bijan Robinson, the top running back in the 2023 draft class, this time around.
Robinson would be a finishing piece for those teams, and that would make sense.
How does that impact this draft?
As of right now, Barkley’s long-term future with the Giants is in doubt. The Giants have placed the franchise tag on him for the 2023, which he has not signed. Negotiations toward a long-term deal that would fulfill co-owner John Mara’s wish for Barkley to at least continue, and perhaps finish, his career with the Giants have ground to a halt. Schoen admitted recently that there is no current offer on the table, and no negotiations taking place. The two sides seem to have a much different idea of Barkley’s value.
In the upcoming draft, there are a plethora of backs who could be taken anywhere from Round 2 to Round 5. They won’t have Barkley’s talent, but many of them could become useful parts of running back rotations in the NFL. It should surprise no one if the Giants select one.
4. When in doubt, draft a lineman
This applies to both the offensive and defensive lines.
I don’t care how pass-happy the NFL gets or how much the rules change, the game is still won and lost along the front lines. On offense, you have to be able to block for your quarterback and open holes for your running backs. On defense, you have to be able to rush the passer and you have to be stout against the run in the middle. You never want to be caught without enough players who can do those things, so when in doubt, draft a lineman. The Giants have learned these lessons the hard way in recent seasons.
You should be able to find quality linemen in the middle to late rounds, especially on the offensive side. David Diehl, a fifth-round pick, was a great example. Rich Seubert was not drafted at all and still had a long, productive career for the Giants. Elite linemen, especially tackles, are usually only available in the very early stages of the draft.
My rule? After you get your quarterback, or if you already believe you have him, you build from the inside out. Year after year I advocate for the Giants to select an offensive lineman high in the draft.
On the defensive side, you should be able to get run pluggers in the middle to late portions of the draft. If you can get a defensive lineman you believe can impact the run and the pass it’s hard to argue with that.
How does that impact this draft?
The Giants absolutely have to continue to throw draft resources at both lines.
On the offensive side, we know they need a center. If the draft falls a certain way, addressing that need in the first round is not out of the question. They drafted two guards and a right tackle a year ago, but continuing to add players — especially at the guard spots — would be a good idea.
On the defensive side, we know that the Giants have committed to improving the run defense and the depth along the defensive line. Like with center, if the Giants are sitting at No. 25 and the highest-graded player on their board is Calijah Kancey or Brian Bresee, two of the best defensive linemen in this class, then I could support selecting one of them. Regardless, drafting more defensive line help at some point needs to be a priority.
5. Trade down, not up
There are very few times when any player is worth trading up for, thus causing a team to mortgage valuable draft picks. You need depth in the NFL, and you can’t accumulate it by trading away your draft choices -- which is what you have to do to move up. Generally, it is better to move down and accumulate more draft choices than to move up and wind up with less. Your mistakes hurt less when you have more choices, more chances to get it right. You can take risks on occasion when you have more choices, and — if the situation is right — you can actually use some of those ‘extra’ picks to move up when you feel it is warranted.
When is it OK to move up? First and foremost, if you are moving for a guy you believe will be a franchise quarterback. If you are moving for a player at another position you believe is a franchise-changer or the one piece you need to put you over the top and into the Super Bowl, that is OK. Also, if you have accumulated extra picks via trading down or accumulating compensatory picks perhaps then you can use that flexibility to target a player or two in the middle rounds.
Normally, though, move down instead of up. Give yourself more swings.
One caveat: I do happen to agree with the theory that you can move down too far. Wherever you move down to, you need to be comfortable that players you will be happy to select from will be on the board. You don’t want to outsmart yourself and lose out on a player or group of players you really wanted. Schoen talks about being able to sleep at night regardless of whatever decision you make.
How does that impact this draft?
The consensus top four wide receivers in this draft could be off the board by 25. Ditto with the top four cornerbacks. If the Giants want one of those players, they do have 10 picks in this draft and could use some of them to move up.
I am not recommending that, though. None of those wide receivers is expected to become Ja’Marr Chase or Justin Jefferson, the kind of No. 1 receiver that would justify a move up. There is no Sauce Gardner among the cornerbacks.
Depending on how the draft falls, the move that has potential appeal for me is to move down from 25 to somewhere between 27 and 31, maintaining a first-round pick and the fifth-year option that goes with it, and adding more draft resources. Especially if that haul includes at least one 2024 pick.
Where I would advocate moving up and using some of those additional draft resources to target players, is on Day 2. Schoen manipulated the board on Day 2 a year ago to land Wan’Dale Robinson — albeit by moving down. Moving around the board is what I did in a recent mock draft. Seven of the Giants’ 10 picks are on Day 3, with three of them being seventh-rounders. They are set up to use some of those resources to go and get players they want on Day 2.
6. Don’t ignore your strengths
I can think of two obvious areas in years gone by where the Giants ignored strengths and turned them into weaknesses.
During the early part of Tom Coughlin’s tenure the Giants had a tremendous offensive line. They ignored supplementing it for too long, and have been chasing the fix now for nearly a decade. Defensively, the Giants used to be built with multiple top-tier pass rushers. For a long time they ignored that strength and their pass rush became a liability. With the selections of Azeez Ojulari and Kayvon Thibodeaux the past couple of years, that is changing.
Truth is, you never know in April exactly what your needs will be during the season. Take the best players who fit what the Giants are trying to do. Along the way, hope that value meets need and your decisions are correct often enough that you don’t enter the season with too many glaring deficiencies.
How does that impact this draft?
I am not certain it does. In my view, there likely is not a single position on the roster that would not benefit from additional depth.