We are inching closer and closer to the start of the 2021 NFL Draft, with the first round officially kicking off in 17 days.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the pre-draft evaluation process has looked a lot different this year. Without the usual NFL Combine and in-house visits from top prospects, teams have been left to rely on the film and college pro days to gather information about this year's draft class.
NFL Network's Bucky Brooks joined Giants.com's John Schmeelk on the Giants Huddle Podcast to discuss a wide variety of topics surrounding this year's draft.
One thing that has been common in many mock drafts is the heavy presence of offensive players being connected to teams in the beginning part of the first round, especially within the top 10.
Of course, a big part of that has to do with the quarterback class. The first three picks in the draft are considered by most draft experts to most likely be quarterbacks, while as many as five could go within the first 10 picks.
However, another significant reason for the shortage of defensive players towards the top of most mock drafts is the lack of elite prospects at the premier defensive positions, most notably edge rusher and cornerback.
"I think this is an offensive-heavy draft because the marquee positions that normally would go on defense, pass rushers there is a lot of uncertainty, a lot of questions, and cornerback you have really good players. I don't know if you have that elite, premier player that you would put in that Jalen Ramsey category…" Brooks said of the defensive prospects. "It's just a different year because I would say defensively, there is still plenty of talent. It's just not necessarily the crown jewel that we normally see at the position."
One defensive player who often can be found inside the top 10 of mock drafts is Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons.
Parsons had a spectacular sophomore season before opting out of the 2020 campaign. In 13 games, the 6-foot-3, 246-pound linebacker registered 109 tackles (52 solo), five sacks, 14 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and five passes defensed. This performance led to him earning numerous honors, including Consensus All-American, First-Team All-Big Ten, Cotton Bowl Defensive MVP and the Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year Award, given to the top linebacker in the Big Ten.
On top of his strong stats, Parsons also put up some eye-opening numbers at Penn State's pro day last month. The 21-year-old recorded an unofficial 40-yard dash time of 4.39 seconds. To put that into historical perspective, the 40-yard dash record for a linebacker at the NFL Combine is 4.38 seconds by Shaquem Griffin in 2018. Parsons also bench pressed 225 pounds 19 times and had a vertical measured at 34 inches.
"The one thing that stands out to me about Micah Parsons is he's a dominant player," Brooks said. "You feel his presence when you watch the tape. His strength, power and explosiveness, particularly as a blitzer, stands out. On third down, if you have to blitz him more and use him as that, it works. We saw last year in the Super Bowl, Devin White had 9.5 sacks on the year as an off-the-ball linebacker blitzing.
"I think what good D coordinators do is they take a player and they put him in a position to be very, very successful based on the talent they have. I would expect him to have a lot of success."
Something that has stood out since Joe Judge took over as head coach is the number of players added to the roster with previous ties to the coaching staff. Parsons overlapped with defensive line coach Sean Spencer for two seasons at Penn State, and he isn't the only top defensive prospect with a link to the Giants' coaches.
Judge worked for three seasons under Nick Saban at Alabama, and it is that connection that has led to some analysts linking the Giants to Crimson Tide cornerback Patrick Surtain II.
Surtain is widely considered the top corner in this year's draft, and he joins Parsons as seemingly the most likely defensive players to hear their names called early in round one. However, following a strong performance at his pro day, South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn seems to be closing the gap between himself and Surtain.
Brooks discussed the two cornerbacks and what separates them as draft prospects.
"Patrick Surtain is more complete in terms of he has more tools in his toolbox that would allow him to play in any scheme," said Brooks. "Man or zone, he would be able to come in and thrive just because his game is really refined and well-rounded… Jaycee Horn to me is probably as pure of a man-to-man, cover corner that you will find. Very athletic, very strong, explosive, physical. He does a great job of challenging wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. You want him to play in a situation where he can line up and just play without having to really focus on a bunch of other stuff. He has the IQ and the instincts to be able to do it, but he's such a good athlete that I want to make the game very easy for him by lining him up, locking him up and going to play."
NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks revealed his updated position rankings for the 2021 NFL Draft.
After the Giants made a big splash in free agency with the addition of Adoree' Jackson, cornerback does not appear to be at the top of the wish list for the Giants at No. 11.
However, when speaking to the media last month, Giants President and CEO John Mara stated that the moves made in free agency allow the team to select the best player available at No. 11 rather than drafting for need.
As Mara said, "We don't have to take a receiver in round one or round two, we can sit there and just take the best player available when it comes to our spot."
Depending on how the first 10 picks of the draft go, there is a chance that the best player available once the Giants are on the clock are one of the two top corners. If that happens, Brooks has a preference for the Giants' scheme.
"Surtian is [a better fit]…" said the former NFL DB and scout. "The one thing I do know about the Giants' defense, Patrick Graham throws a lot at them because it's a bit of a snowflake-feel to the game plan in terms of it always changing a lot. You have to have a lot of bandwidth to be able to process and play in the defense, and play in a defense like that while still playing fast. I think Surtain to me makes sense because he played in a defense that's very, very similar at Alabama."
The Giants' defense performed well this past season, and Graham deserves a ton of credit for the unit's transformation. It ranked ninth in points allowed and 12th in yards allowed per game, but the Giants' ability to stop opponents in the red zone really stood out - opponents scored a touchdown on just 30 of 59 trips (50.8 percent), the second-best mark in the NFL.
Although Brooks admits that Graham's scheme asks for more from its players than your typical defensive system, the NFL Network analyst believes last year's success was due to the coaching staff and front office identifying the right players to work within the team's structure.
"I don't think there's a coincidence that you're seeing the Giants bring in a lot of intelligent, high IQ, very smart, very well-rounded guys because it takes a lot to be able to play in that defense, play on that team," said Brooks.
One other defensive prospect that Brooks connected to the Giants was Miami edge rusher Gregory Rousseau.
Rousseau had one standout year with the Hurricanes as he picked up 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss in 13 games in 2019. His sack total was the second-most in the nation, trailing only Ohio State's Chase Young, and led to Rousseau being named ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year in addition to First-Team All-ACC and Second-Team All-American.
It's tough to talk about the Giants and Rousseau and not mention another edge rusher prospect that caught the team's eye just over a decade ago - Jason Pierre-Paul.
"Gregory Rousseau to me looks a lot like Jason Pierre-Paul when he was coming out," Brooks said about the young pass rusher. "Given that Dave Gettleman and those guys have always drafted based on traits like size and physicality, those things, I would think he would be intriguing."
Brooks also made it clear that despite identifying several elite prospects, the pre-draft process will likely result in some selection night chaos on April 29.
"I think this will be the wildest draft that we've seen in terms of the variances between how we on the outside in the media world views, and what happens on the inside in terms of how the league views it," he said.