EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Joe Schoen first participated in the NFL Draft in 2002 when he was an area scout for the Carolina Panthers.
"First pick ever was Julius Peppers," Schoen said of the defensive end who was named to both the 2000s and 2010s all-decade teams and is fourth on the NFL's career list with 159.5 sacks. "So, that was a good one."
Schoen's 21st draft begins Thursday night, and it is unquestionably the most significant of his career. Three months after being named the Giants' general manager, he will have the final say in the draft room for the first time.
More importantly, this is a critical draft for the Giants, who won just four games last season and have endured five consecutive losing seasons. With the fifth and seventh selections in the first round and five of the first 81 picks, this is a major opportunity to upgrade the roster and take big steps toward improvement.
"(After the draft), I want to be able to say, one, we improved the talent level on the team, but we also brought in foundational pieces that fit the type of character that we want in the locker room," Schoen said. "Guys that are smart, tough and dependable and will make us proud on and off the field, but also happen to be talented football players. I think that'll help build the foundation for where we're going."
He will try to realize those objectives in a draft that is uncommon from both a Giants and an NFL perspective.
This is the 87th NFL Draft and the first in which the Giants own two of the top seven choices. They acquired the seventh overall selection when they traded with the Chicago Bears to move back in the first round of the 2021 draft. Trades up or back are always possible, but the Giants are preparing under the assumption they will stay put.
"The good thing is we can just take one through seven, the best seven players that we think are in the draft and we know we're going to get two of those players," Schoen said. "That's what has put me at ease. We've come to a position where we've got seven players we like. Now we'll just wait to see how it plays out."
Actually, the list consists of more than seven players.
"We have more than seven just in case there was a scenario where we could move back and maybe get more picks," said Schoen. "We're in a good position right now and again, if we're at seven, there's a chance there could be five players up there we still like, there could be four, there could be none. We've gone through a lot of different scenarios, moving back, staying, whatever it may be. We feel good we're going to get two good football players."
See which draft prospects remain on NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah's top 150 list.
League-wide, the only certainty is that there will be uncertainty. Last year, virtually every mock drafter started with three direct hits, because everyone knew quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance would go 1-2-3. And Kyle Pitts, Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and Penei Sewell were virtual locks to go in the top 10.
With the countdown to tomorrow's first round reduced to hours, no one outside of Jacksonville knows who the Jaguars will select with the first pick. Or what the other three teams in line before the Giants – Detroit, Houston and the Jets – will do when they're on the clock.
"Right now, being at five and seven, you're trying to count the names and you really don't know – there's a lot of speculation," Schoen said. "Who's going to go one? If this guy goes one, this guy goes two, and then there's another scenario if it's a different player at one, that completely changes the landscape of the draft, at least in the top 10. We're going through all of the different scenarios we can."
The Giants are one of eight teams that own two first-round picks. Their planning is further complicated by Carolina owning the sixth selection, between the Giants' two first-round choices. The Panthers don't currently own another pick until No. 137, near the end of the fourth round. Carolina could try to trade back to acquire more selections.
"Not really sure what they're going to do there," Schoen said. "They don't have a second or third-round pick right now because of the Sam Darnold trade and the C.J. Henderson trade a year ago. They may want to trade back and collect more draft picks or address a need with that pick. So, it'll be interesting to see what they do."
This is not considered a strong year for quarterbacks, which could make it the first draft since 2013 in which none are taken in the top 10. It could also be the first draft in history in which no quarterback, running back, wide receiver or tight end are among the first 10 players selected. The top of the draft is expected to feature offensive linemen, pass rushers and cornerbacks, positions that are widely considered needs for the Giants.
"It's interesting that the draft works out that way, especially in this day and age with all of the passing and catching and the skill guys and the way the game is going," Schoen said. "But you've got to deal with what's in the draft and stack them accordingly. That will be interesting, again, if no quarterbacks go in the top 10 – 2013, that was a long time ago. Then you think about nobody that touches the ball getting drafted in the top 10, from a receiver, running back, tight end, quarterback – yeah, it is weird.
"But again, you can only deal with what you're given, and you've got to assess the value and where the value and the pick meet up, sometimes it works with a need, or you just take the best football player."
Schoen will be very happy if he can acquire two players in his 21st draft who will deliver the same impact as Julius Peppers did in his first.