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Cover 3: Final thoughts & predictions before draft


In this week's edition of Cover 3, the crew shares final thoughts and predictions ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft.

John Schmeelk: Every year, we discuss how every team is going to go through their draft process and determine who to select. The stock statement is always that teams will select the best available player, but it is never that simple. Need does come into the equation. A need won't make Dave Gettleman completely go off his board, but if two players have similar grades it could sway him from one player to another.

The Giants were busy in free agency and eliminated most of their major needs for the 2021 season. The Giants finished 12th in the league last year with 40 sacks, but they did not have a consistent threat to rush off the edge. Two young players who started on the edge to open the season, Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines, both had serious season-ending injuries.

The other thing to keep an eye on positional value. Dave Gettleman's three tenants of winning football are: Run the ball, stop the run, and pressure the passer. Dave Gettleman loves to draft big people. The best edge rushers in the league rarely ever hit free agency and when they do they get franchise-tagged or are given the biggest non-quarterback contracts in the league. In other words, unless a team drafts a top edge rusher, they are very difficult to acquire.

But this edge rusher class is far from a sure thing. The consensus top edge rushers in the class have intriguing traits and attributes, but they also have parts of their profile that might make some front offices hesitate.

Off the tape alone, Miami's Jaelan Phillips might be a Top-10 player, but he had enough injury/concussion issues earlier in his career that he medically retired from football. Fellow Hurricane Gregory Rousseau had 15.5 sacks as a freshman with great size, but opted out of the 2020 season, didn't test like an elite athlete and is still very raw playing the position. Penn State's Jayson Oweh's athleticism shows up on tape and had one of the best pro days in the history of edge rushers. He also had no sacks in 2020. Kwitty Paye is also a tremendous athlete with rumors of a record setting 3-cone drill (which is a predictive test for edge players), but he was used in different ways at Michigan and never turned those traits into enough production. Finally, Azeez Ojulari might be the safest pick amongst the group with an RAS score in the 81st percentile, long arms, and the ability to bend the edge and 15 sacks in his last 21 games at Georgia. But he only weighed 249 pounds at his Pro Day.

The billion-dollar question is where the Giants' front office has this group of players graded relative to the rest of their board. No one knows except for the people in that draft room. Each team will consider these players differently, especially when it comes to the medical reports on someone like Phillips, or judging the potential of Rousseau, Oweh and Paye. Making a proper evaluation with the organization's scouts, medical personnel and coaches to determine the best fit on and off the field won't be easy and could differ greatly from team to team. The Giants also have great connections to some of their college programs like Penn State (defensive line coach Dean Spencer) and Georgia (head coach Kirby Smart).

If one of these players grades in the top tier of the Giants' draft board, my gut feeling is an edge rusher will be the pick. If they do not, I think the Giants will pick between the players that are left amongst Jaylen Waddle, Devonta Smith, Patrick Surtain II, Jaycee Horn, Micah Parsons, or one of the top offensive linemen left on the board, such as Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater.

It is hard to predict a specific player because there is no way to know who is going to be there. In a year where the scouting process has been limited by COVID, I believe the Giants will select a player they have great insight on from their coaching staff. Keep an eye on players from Alabama, Georgia, and the rest of the SEC. If I had to make my best guess between the players that not only have the highest grade but also the best chance to be available, I think the Giants will take Devonta Smith, wide receiver from the University of Alabama. Runner Up: Azeez Ojulari – edge rusher from Georgia. Wildcard: Jaelan Phillips – edge rusher from Miami.

View the best players still available in NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah's top 150 prospect ranking.

Dan Salomone: The Giants surprised people outside the Quest Diagnostics Training Center with their old-school and aggressive approach to free agency, but general manager Dave Gettleman has made it clear that won't preclude them from going after certain positions in the draft. The grind of the NFL season has a way of thinning out positions of strength, and Gettleman's philosophy is you can never have enough quality at a single position. So just because the Giants signed Kenny Golladay and Adoree' Jackson, they haven't taken wide receivers and cornerbacks off their draft board.

During a pre-draft press conference with Gettleman and Chris Pettit, the Giants' director of college scouting, we gleaned a little more insight into their thinking. Gettleman talked about how integral the coaching staff has been in painting a picture of the type of players they want. The GM took it a step further and said "the biggest direction is with the linebackers, very frankly." Along those lines, another thing to pay attention to is, despite no headliners like Chase Young, Myles Garrett, or one of the Bosa brothers, Pettit defended this year's class of edge rushers and said the 11th pick is not “too rich” for the position.

Lance Medow: With respect to the 11th overall pick, GM Dave Gettleman summed things up nicely in his pre-draft presser: "The more quarterbacks that go, the more players it pushes to us. It's obviously helpful. Frankly, I'd like to see 10 quarterbacks go in front of us, but basically the more quarterbacks that go, the better it is for us. And it's possible, yes." While 10 is wishful thinking, at least three is a good bet and that means the Giants will be in a position to choose from a handful of players they'll likely have interest in and believe can help the team immediately. That group could include a linebacker, corner, wide receiver and offensive lineman, which is why I'd be a bit surprised if they move out of their current spot.

One of the interesting things Gettleman mentioned when he addressed the media Thursday was the feedback Joe Judge and the coaching staff provide when it comes to evaluating talent and how important their direction is regarding linebackers so that the front office can pinpoint players who would be a good fit for Patrick Graham's scheme based on versatility. That's something to keep in mind if the Giants select a linebacker in this year's class and heavily consider Penn State's Micah Parsons with their first-round pick, assuming he's still on the board.

Although the Giants addressed several positons in free agency, I wouldn't rule out any of them being addressed in the draft. The team's big focus this off-season was adding depth and versatility, especially given some of the talent they lost during the course of the 2020 season (Saquon Barkley, Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines). You can never head into a season thinking your main group of starters will play all 16 games - that means you can never have enough at any given position. Despite the additions of Kenny Golladay, John Ross, Adoree Jackson and several defensive linemen, I could see the Giants easily drafting a player or two at those positions. The 53-man roster at the beginning of September rarely resembles the one at the end of December.

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