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Mailbag: Position need vs. best player available

Peter in New Jersey: Is selecting the best athlete available old school? It seems to work more times than not! A top 5 draft pick should be on the field on day one. Should the team draft projects in the first 3 rounds?

John Schmeelk: The first part of your question is easy to answer. It is not old school and it doesn't work more times than not. Picking the best athlete would amount to just picking the player that performs the best at the NFL Combine. Teams are picking football players, not athletes. Teams pick the best player who also has projectable measureables and athletic traits.

The second part of your question is more complicated and it all depends what you mean by "project". As Joe Judge pointed out in his Wednesday conference call, no collegian is truly "pro-ready".

"You're always looking for the best player available and to me that means long-term upside," Judge said. "If you think you're taking someone who is "pro ready," what all of these rookies find out the second they step in the building is none of them are pro ready. That's why they need the spring program, that's why they need training camp, that's why they go through growing pains as rookies. To me, it's about finding the upside of the player, of looking down the long scope of a career and seeing who's going to be the best player with the most upside for you."

It is true that the fourth overall pick should need less development than the player the Giants select at 99, but how quickly they get on the field shouldn't be the deciding factor in why you draft a player. Ideally, these players will be helping your team for a decade. If they take a couple of games, or even a half or full season to learn enough to be a great player, so be it. The draft is a long-term not a short-term proposition.

Michael in Pennsylvania: If Giants trade down or pick Simmons at number 4, what are the best available possibilities for drafting several offensive line talents in later draft rounds?

John Schmeelk: There could be as many as seven or eight offensive tackles who could go in the first round of the draft. Seven went in the first 32 picks on the Giants Huddle Podcast Reporters Mock Draft that you can find here. The consensus amongst analysts seems to be that the top tier has four tackles in no particular order: Jedrick Wills, Tristan Wirfs, Andrew Thomas and Mekhi Becton. The second tier, depending on what analyst you trust, has as many as four players: Josh Jones, Austin Jackson, Ezra Cleveland and Isaiah Wilson. All eight of those players have been mocked to teams in the draft's first round.

After those two tiers, the next group contains players most analysts think need a little more development: Prince Tega Wanogho, Lucas Niang, Ben Bartch, Matt Peart, and Saahdiq Charles. One or more of those players could be available to them at pick 99 at the end of round three or at pick 110 in the 4th round.

Bill in Rhode Island: Given that the Giants won their last 2 Super Bowls with a couple of undrafted players, and none drafted higher than the second round, why do some people think it's so imperative to use the 4th pick on a lineman? They can find tough, coachable big men from power 5 schools in later rounds and teach them technique and scheme because Jones is more athletic than Eli ever was.

John Schmeelk: Good question, Bill. There are multiple reasons.

  1. Interior offensive linemen are different than tackles and should not be categorized the same way. It is much easier to find starting quality interior linemen later in the draft than tackles because they aren't out there on the edge playing on an island.
  2. The offensive line landscape isn't the same in 2020 as it was pre-2007. College offenses have shifted dramatically to a quicker passing game and there aren't nearly as many good linemen developed in college. At the pro level, teams seldom let their top tackles reach free agency. There are exceptions, but it is rare. It might be the most difficult position in the league to find a superior talent.
  3. Offensive tackles must be very good athletes to block the types of players who line up as edge rushers in 2020. Players with those traits who play tackle at power five schools do not grow on trees. They are rarely available late in drafts. It is possible to find a David Diehl later in the draft, but it is hard to count on that. Toughness is important, but the player must be an athlete, too. Even on those two Super Bowl teams, Kareem McKenzie was a big-money free agent signing. He was a premium player for whom the team allocated a good share of resources.
  4. It is harder to develop offensive linemen taken in later rounds than it was 10 years ago. Teams have less time on the field, no more two-a-day practices, and fewer opportunities to practice in pads. Developing linemen in that environment is difficult.
  5. Finally, just because a quarterback is mobile does not mean he does not need protection. You don't want Daniel Jones constantly running for his life or losing confidence in his protection. We have seen how that can impact a young quarterback early in his career. You need to put him in a good situation so he can reach his full potential. Every quarterback's numbers, even the mobile ones, fall precipitously when they face pressure versus operating in a clean pocket. Jones also struggled with his ball protection against the rush, making it even more important to keep him out of those situations.

Terae in Pennsylvania: Even if the Giants select a tackle at 4, I don't think he will start at left tackle over Nate Solder or on the right side over Cameron Fleming, both of whom have more experience. Do you agree?

John Schmeelk: It's important to note Joe Judge has been very clear it will be an open competition at every position, regardless of tenure or experience. I agree it is unlikely that whoever the Giants draft will beat out Nate Solder at left tackle, especially if he bounces back from a sub-optimal 2019. Right tackle, however, would be a different conversation. While Fleming has starting experience, he has been a backup swing tackle his entire career. Nick Gates has very limited experience. Two players who could be available at fourth overall, Jedrick Wills and Tristan Wirfs, have started multiple seasons at right tackle at big schools. They are both excellent athletes and would give Gates and Fleming all they could handle in any situation.

Pete in New Jersey: What would be a reasonable expected return for the Giants to trade back in the first round? Is it likely that another team would be interested in trading its first and second round picks? Also, might the Dolphins be interested in trading two of their three first round picks?

John Schmeelk: The obvious answer is that it depends on how far they are trading back. The further they drop back would determine how much they could receive back. Generally, any conversation in moving back in the first round would include the other team's second round pick. In the Dolphins' case, they would only be moving one spot back, so expecting the fifth overall pick and another first rounder might be wishful thinking.

NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah updated his ranking of the top 50 prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft.

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