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Did the Giants find any late-round gems in the 2023 draft?

The latter parts of the draft have been unproductive for the Giants lately. Can they buck the trend this year?

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New York Giants Offseason Workout Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

NFL fans rightfully spend most of their time thinking about the top of their team’s roster and high-profile new additions for the coming season. Virtually all of the assessments in the press focus on the same things. Every year, though, impact players unexpectedly appear from low-round picks of the previous draft, and even occasionally from undrafted free agents.

Look no further than Brock Purdy, Mr. Irrelevant at this time a year ago but a starting quarterback in the NFC Championship Game six months later and possibly the San Francisco 49ers’ long-term starter once he returns from injury. Tariq Woolen, a fifth-round pick, started all 17 games at cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, had 6 interceptions, and was selected to the Pro Bowl. Running backs Tyler Allgeier of Atlanta, another fifth-round pick, and Isiah Pacheco of Kansas City, a seventh-round pick, rushed for 1,035 yards and 830 yards, respectively, and Pacheco started in the Super Bowl.

Evaluating talent in the NFL is an inexact science, to say the least. No general manager or draft analyst has a crystal ball, and misses are more common than hits. If you don’t believe this, pick any draft in the past five years and ask yourself how many first-rounders have become great players. How much harder then must it be to identify good players in the later rounds?

One analyst who does a pretty thorough job is Dane Brugler of The Athletic, who publishes his extensive pre-draft evaluation, “The Beast,” every year. I don’t know if Brugler is any better than other draft analysts, but one thing he does do is evaluate almost everyone who has any chance of being drafted in any round and a bunch more who won’t be drafted at all.

Looking ahead to the 2023 season, which low-round draft picks might be worth keeping an eye on? One way to approach that is to ask which players were drafted significantly lower than their pre-draft evaluation would have suggested, the “still on the board” players we hope our team will get a bargain on.

Recent Giants late-round picks

It’s been quite a while since a low-round Giants draft pick became a better player for them than their draft position would have suggested. The last one was probably Darius Slayton, taken near the end of the fifth round in 2019. Brugler had Slayton as a late third/early fourth round value, saying, “Too many focus drops,” but also saying, “Slayton has inconsistencies to his game, but he is much more than simply a speed demon, showcasing fluid athleticism and length to make catches outside his framework.” That’s a pretty good description of Slayton, who has led the Giants in receiving yards in three of his four NFL seasons.

Since Slayton, the Giants’ record with late-round picks has been pretty abysmal. Ryan Connelly, Corey Ballentine, George Asafo-Adjei, and Chris Slayton from the same draft never worked out, though Connelly had early promise. Shane Lemieux from the 2020 class can’t stay on the field long enough for us to see whether he’ll ever learn to pass block. Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin from 2020 are special teams stalwarts but can’t get significant snaps on a team that is desperate for off-ball linebacker help. Chris Williamson never played for the Giants and is out of the league. Tae Crowder did outperform his Mr. Irrelevant draft position but was not up to being an NFL starter.

2021 sixth-round draftees Gary Brightwell and Rodarius Williams have been adequate in spot duty but nothing more. 2022 fifth-rounder Micah McFadden got considerable playing time as a starter out of desperation but came up short, and the other fifth-rounders, Marcus McKethan and D.J. Davidson got hurt before showing what they could do. None of these players other than Slayton and Coughlin was ranked higher by Brugler than where they were picked, and several were ranked lower.

There were however two late-round picks that Brugler would have called good values at the position they were drafted. One was not drafted by the Giants: Isaiah Hodgins, the No. 207 pick (late sixth round) of the Buffalo Bills. Hodgins languished with the Bills, playing in only a couple of games and spending the first half of 2022 on their practice squad. That may have surprised Brugler, who had pegged Hodgins as a late fourth - early fifth-round value, right after Donovan Peoples-Jones, and who said of him, “Hodgins doesn’t have the explosive acceleration to blow by NFL coverage, but his sticky hands and expanded catch radius are NFL-ready traits, projecting as a reliable possession option.” Hodgins was a revelation for the Giants in the second half of the 2022 season.

The other has not yet played for the Giants - Darrian Beavers. Beavers was selected in 2022 Round 6, a round later than Micah McFadden, so Joe Schoen must have preferred McFadden. Brugler disagreed. He had Beavers as a late third - early fourth round value and said of him, “Although he has versatile experience, the term ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ comes to mind while watching his hybrid skill set. Overall, Beavers doesn’t have elite anticipation to mask his average body twitch and range, but he moves well for his size with the instincts and tackling skills suited for in-the-box work.” Beavers looked like he might win a starting linebacker job with the Giants in the 2022 pre-season but an ACL injury cost him his rookie year. With Jarrad Davis now out for the year, Beavers may be the Giants’ best hope for adequate linebacker play next to Bobby Okereke.

What about the Giants’ 2023 late-round picks?

Overall Brugler has done a good job in recent years identifying the few Giants players drafted in the late rounds that would exceed expectations based on their draft position. Does that bode well for this year?

For the record, Brugler had Deonte Banks as CB4 (low first - high second round), John Michael Schmitz as C2 (low second - high third), and Jalin Hyatt as WR3 (low first - high second), but our focus here is on the later rounds. It’s clear that Joe Schoen sees late-round picks as currency to be used in transactions to get more skilled players in earlier rounds. The Giants began the draft with many picks in Rounds 4-7, but after the trade-ups that made Banks and Hyatt Giants, they were left with only one pick each in Rounds 5 and 6 and two in Round 7. Does Brugler see any of the players they selected as good values?

Round 5, pick 172: RB Eric Gray

Brugler had Gray as his RB11, a late third - early fourth-round value just behind Kendre Miller, Izzy Abanikanda, and Zach Evans. Getting him late in the fifth round seems like a great value, although as we know, running backs have little value (rolls eyes). Brugler says of Gray’s pros and cons:

Runs low to the ground with a compact lower body … controlled footwork and fluid hips for crisp cutting … drops his hips to bounce laterally and make defenders miss in a phone booth or open space … runs with bend and balance to keep his footing through tackle attempts … patiently reads blocks and tempos his runs to keep linebackers from squaring him up … has a sense for when to mash the gas or slow play his pace for better options … hunts for extra-base hits and averaged a first-down every 2.7 carries as a senior … effective screen target, adjusting to throws and catching well in stride (zero drops on 40 targets in 2022) … not shy sticking his face in and picking up blitzers as a blocker … coaches rave about his football character and toughness to play through minor injuries.

Runs with nondescript power between the tackles … lacks lower-the-shoulder strength in short yardage … quicker than fast and lacks a legitimate home run gear … doesn’t consistently win foot races to the corner … requires a moment to get racing again after he gears down … more of a screen receiver than developed route runner … flashes feistiness as a pass blocker, but his smaller frame will limit his success rate vs. NFL size … room to clean up his ball security (five career fumbles) …

We don’t yet know the fallout from the Saquon Barkley negotiations fiasco, but if Barkley chooses the nuclear option and sits out the season, there is hope that Gray, despite his fifth-round pedigree, will be able to make the Giants running game at least viable (with help from Matt Breida) as the Giants try to move toward more of a pass-first offense like the ones Brian Daboll developed in Buffalo and Mike Kafka was part of in Kansas City.

Round 6, pick 209: CB Tre Hawkins

Brugler had Hawkins in the “Priority Free Agent” category, i.e., 1+ rounds lower than the Giants drafted him, but by the time teams get to Round 6, absolute rankings mean less than how a specific player fits a specific team. Brugler says of Hawkins:

He has a tall, long, and limber body type with the gather-and-go skills to quickly transition vertically and stay attached to receivers. His long speed is impressive, but his average lateral agility will put him in recovery mode, and shows up as a tackler. Overall, Hawkins will get clingy and needs to improve his play recognition, but he passes the eye test with flying colors and has the athletic profile NFL teams will want to develop.

Ideally, the Giants get a full season from Aaron Robinson at CB2 and someone steps up to play the slot cornerback position capably, allowing Hawkins time to develop. 2023 might be too soon to expect production from him.

Round 7, pick 243: DT Jordon Riley

This may be the most puzzling of Schoen’s draft picks. Brugler has Riley as DT31, lower than seven Priority Free Agents, and at the top of his “Best of the Rest” category, which translates into Physical measurements and stats only, with no writeup.

Another big man in the middle is always welcome, and Riley had a good pro day at Oregon, but other than that, there is little information about him available.

Round 7, pick 254: S Gervarrius Owens

Brugler had Owens as his S16, a late fifth - early sixth-round value, so to have him available late in Round 7 may imply that the Giants got good value (even though they chose Riley before him). Brugler says of him:

Owens reads the backfield action well for efficient response times as he races to the action, though his field vision and cover skills were better in zone coverage compared to man. He has the mentality and toughness for downhill run support, but his control and finish as a tackler must improve. Overall, Owens lacks consistency in several areas (ball skills, tackling, route recognition), but he anticipates with the aggressive athleticism pro coaches will appreciate. He projects as a backup and special-teamer who can be more with NFL coaching.

Like Hawkins, Giants fans should view Owens as a developmental project and not expect much in the way of contributions in 2023. That’s OK, though. The Giants’ defensive backfield is frighteningly uncertain after this season. Adoree’ Jackson’s and Xavier McKinney’s contracts are up (and the events of this week, as well as the handling of the Julian Love contract situation, show that no assumptions should be made about new contracts in the Joe Schoen era). Deonte Banks will hopefully justify his first-round pedigree, but that isn’t known yet. Are there any sure things among any of the Giants’ other defensive backs?

Of course, the Giants also signed a bevy of undrafted free agents as well. Among those, Brugler ranks edge defender Habakkuk Baldonado as a late sixth - early seventh-round value, and wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton as a seventh-round value. None of the others were considered draftable.

Overall, considering that Banks and Schmitz were rated at just about where the Giants selected them, Hyatt and Gray were ranked much higher than their draft positions, and Owens was ranked somewhat higher as well, Brugler would probably say that the Giants had a pretty good draft.

Of course, the three draft picks they gave up in the process (Nos. 160 and 240 for Banks, No. 128 for Hyatt) have to be taken into account. Who might have the Giants taken if they had retained those picks? We don’t know what their big board looked like, but here are some players that were available at those draft positions:

  • No. 160 - LBs Henry To’oTo’o (No. 167) and Owen Pappoe (No. 168), both off the board by the time the Giants chose Eric Gray at No. 172.
  • No. 240 - DB Anthony Johnson Jr. (No. 242), off the board before the Giants took Jordon Riley at No. 243
  • No. 128 - QB Stetson Bennett (No. 128) and edge defender Viliami Fehoko (No. 129)

Time will tell whether these trades were worth going against the current philosophy that trading down makes more sense than trading up. We’re about to find out.