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NFL Draft

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Inside new regime's draft day, from beginning to end goes inside the draft room as new leadership holds critical capital for the team.
By Michael Eisen May 03, 2022

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Joe Schoen awoke Thursday morning knowing he had to complete a task with long-term consequences for many people with whom he is close.

"I'm closing on a house on Monday, so I had to deal with a lot of that stuff," Schoen said. "I had to get the check so I can close on Monday, I went and saw the house and did a walk-through.

"Unfortunately, my family and furniture aren't coming (from Buffalo) until June when school ends. I'll have a bed and a box spring and maybe a beer and some ketchup in the fridge. It will just be a bachelor pad."

Schoen had another big assignment and the returns on that were more immediately favorable. Ninety-two days after his introduction as the Giants' general manager, he had the final decision on the team's two selections in the first round of the NFL Draft. The Giants owned the fifth and seventh picks, critical capital for a team with new leadership that is looking to rebuild a franchise without a winning season since 2016.

The Giants selected University of Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux at No. 5 and Alabama tackle Evan Neal two spots later, upgrading two areas of need with players universally ranked among the very best in this draft.

"We're excited about what we have," coach Brian Daboll said. "A lot of work to do with these guys. There always is when you draft young guys and they come into your program, but certainly excited with their talent and also the type of people that they are."

The selections of Thibodeaux and Neal, as well as the players the Giants will add in the final two days of the draft, is the culmination of months of work that not only resulted in the acquisition of two likely starters but in a draft room that operated so efficiently it seemed to be on autopilot.

"Since I got the job, I've been home for about 36 hours," Schoen said. "It's all been for this day, this weekend."

After completing his trip to the bank and his house tour, Schoen arrived at the Giants' headquarters at 9:15 a.m. He began reviewing the "million scenarios" that could develop and reaching out to other general managers and his numerous NFL personnel contacts.

"I made several calls around the league and talked to three or four teams that were behind us that potentially were interested in moving up," Schoen said. "Had those conversations and the way the draft fell we were able to stay at five and seven.

"We had probably three teams that had talked about potentially moving up, and it was more to seven - there weren't a lot of calls - actually, there weren't any calls on anybody coming up to five," Schoen said. "We had some conversations in a scenario where it was really six guys we coveted, and if all six went, then we would have probably considered moving back. But any scenario where two of the six guys we liked were there, we were going to stay. That would have been really the only chance we would have moved back in that scenario."

The Giants have a small magnetic card for every player who earns a spot on their draft board. The magnets are placed on the big board at the front of the draft room according to their grades, with the best players, appropriately, at the top. Extra sets of magnets are produced, and Schoen and his staff spent hours placing them on desks, tables or any uncluttered area they could find and reshuffling them again and again until they had covered every potential outcome.

"We had every possible scenario based on how the top of the draft went, and it was really a unique draft," Schoen said. "Typically you have an idea of who is going to be first and second, and there were rumors of it and rumors of who was going to go third, but you didn't really know. Everybody was kind of speculating on that. So, we were prepared for a lot of different scenarios."

The draft room on the second floor of the Quest Diagnostics Training Center began filling up at about 7:30 p.m. When television coverage of the draft began 30 minutes later, 36 people were in the room. In the front row were Schoen, Daboll, team president John Mara, chairman Steve Tisch, assistant general manager Brandon Brown and senior vice president of player personnel Chris Mara. Behind them were scouts, athletic trainers and representatives of other departments whose input might be called upon.

The first two players off the board were edge rushers, Georgia's Travon Walker to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson to the Detroit Lions. They were followed by two cornerbacks, LSU's Derek Stingley to the Houston Texans and Cincinnati's Ahmad Gardner to the Jets.

While those names were coming off the board, Schoen and Daboll, sitting next to each other, resumed what they'd been doing for weeks – shuffling magnets on a table.

"Those were the actual magnets," Schoen said. "We were going through different scenarios. We had stacked them one through 13 in case we moved back. We knew there were six players we liked and ideally we would get two of those six and were able to do that."

Considering the high stakes and the large number of staffers in attendance, the draft room was shockingly quiet while the first few players were selected. The long hours of preparation made most conversation unnecessary, though Schoen at times conferred with John Mara or Brown.

When the Giants were on the clock at five, Schoen had a decision to make. Thibodeaux was the only one of the top-rated pass rushers still on their board. But two tackles they liked – Neal and N.C. State's Ikem Ekwonu, were still available. Schoen knew one of the tackles would still be there when the Giants next turn came at seven. He couldn't make the same guarantee about Thibodeaux, who became the fifth consecutive defensive player taken at the top of the draft.

"I talked to John, I talked to Chris, I talked to my whole staff and Dabs and we were all on board," Schoen said. "We didn't really have an idea how it was going to go, but the way it fell was a scenario we had been through, so it was pretty seamless."

For many in the room, the young man announcing Thibodeaux's selection elicited as much excitement as the actual acquisition.

Sam Prince is a high school senior from North Caldwell, N.J. who has battled a heart condition and received a heart transplant. He is also a fierce Giants fan. On Monday, he visited the team's offices where Eli Manning took him on a tour of the facility, and he sat down with Schoen and Daboll in the G.M.'s office. Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Prince was able to travel to Las Vegas to announce the Giants' first draft choice before a crowd of 100,000 and a national television audience.

When Prince bounded on to the stage, he bearhugged commissioner Roger Goodell. He announced the pick with unbounded enthusiasm and when Thibodeaux walked onto the stage, Prince bearhugged him, too. "Whose got more juice than Sam?" Schoen said as the room erupted in laughter.

Moments earlier, regional scout Jeremy Breit had called Thibodeaux and quickly handed the phone to Schoen.

"I love it that it worked out," said Schoen, who had spoken to Thibodeaux several times during the evaluation process. "We're going to get you here and let you get after the quarterback."

When it was Daboll's turn to speak with Thibodeaux, the clearly excited coach said, "you jacked up or what? We have a lot of work to do, but we're excited to get you in here and start working with you."

The conversations had to be short because the Giants were soon on the clock again. The Carolina Panthers, sandwiched between the Giants' two choices, took Ekwonu. With a clear need at right tackle and a high grade on the player, selecting Neal was an easy decision for the Giants.

Once again, Breit placed the call and then put Schoen on the line with the newest Giants player.

"Evan, how you doing, buddy, you want to be a New York Giant?" Schoen said. "We're jacked up and we're excited to have you. We look forward to working with you."

"Welcome to the Giants," Daboll told Neal. "We're excited to have you."

Neal's selection was announced by Goodell, who was far more sedate than Prince had been and didn't receive nearly as many cheers. Well, not from the fans. When the Neal choice was announced, everyone in the Giants' draft room stood and applauded. One of the scenarios they had envisioned played out and they had secured two of the highest-graded players on their draft board.

By 8:50 p.m., a little more than 30 minutes after the official start of the draft, the Giants' night was finished. Schoen and Daboll soon went downstairs to the auditorium to speak with the media. Then they returned to Schoen's office to begin plotting strategy for their final seven selections, most notably the three they have on Friday (one in the second round and two in the third).

With Thibodeaux and Neal, the Giants are extremely pleased with the start to their draft. So, how did Schoen feel at the end of the night?

"I'm exhausted," he said. "I'm ready for tomorrow. I'm glad that's over with. Getting the first day over with is a big relief. I'm really happy with who we got. We want to finish strong on Friday and Saturday. It's been a long road. I appreciate the coaches and the staff and all the work they've done. We have a good process in place, and it will lead to good decisions."

Now, about that refrigerator…

View photos of the Giants' draft picks as they tour their new home.


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