With the dust starting to settle on the 2019 NFL Draft, the “Cover 3” crew gives its thoughts on the Giants’ newest class.
JOHN SCHMEELK: I’ve written a lot about Daniel Jones already, so I will turn to the rest of the class. It was clear heading into the draft that the Giants knew they had to improve their defense, and it is impossible to argue they didn’t. Dexter Lawrence will have an immediate impact on the defensive line as a run stopper, with all the needed athletic potential to be an interior pass rush threat as well. Third-round pick Oshane Ximines was a dominant pass rusher at Old Dominion, and there is a strong belief his skills will transfer well to the next level.
The biggest changes, however, came in the back end of the defense, where the Giants completely rebuilt their cornerback corps. Deandre Baker, the team’s third-round pick, and fourth-rounder Julian Love will both have opportunities to win starting roles. Supplemental pick Sam Beal, on whom the Giants spent their 2019 third round pick to select, can also be considered part of this group since he missed last year with a shoulder injury. Then there’s DII cornerback Corey Ballentine out of Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. He has all the traits and testing numbers of an NFL cornerback.
The Giants considered Baker the best cover corner in the draft and was primarily used as an outside press cornerback at Georgia. He matched up with Deebo Samuel (an early second round pick in the draft) when Clemson played South Carolina and shut him down. Beal is a long, physical outside corner as well. They will be part of a fierce competition for the starting role across from Janoris Jenkins with some of the other young veterans on the roster and Ballentine.
While the versatile Love played in a variety of schemes at Notre Dame and proved he is capable of lining up inside and outside. His best immediate position at the pro level could be in the slot. He will have the opportunity to compete with 2018 undrafted free agent Grant Haley for that starting role in the nickel defense.
A vastly improved secondary with players capable of covering one-on-one will give defensive coordinator James Bettcher more freedom to try to manufacture pressure with blitzes. New analytics developed by Pro Football Focus show that coverage performance by cornerbacks actually impacts winning and losing more than pass rush. The Giants hope all their additions in the secondary do precisely that.
DAN SALOMONE: As much as general managers like to play it close to the vest, Dave Gettleman once again hid his draft plans in plain sight. In 2018, much of what he talked about was how the devaluation of the running back was a crock and that the Giants needed to fix the offensive line. He went out and drafted Saquon Barkley and Will Hernandez with his first two picks. In 2019, he spoke about wanting to find the next franchise quarterback and the need for defensive players. He drafted Daniel Jones sixth overall, the first of just three offensive players taken in the 10-man class. So there you have it. Now, you may have been surprised by some of the names, but the positions you knew were coming. Even with Jones expected to sit for a period of time behind Eli Manning, the Giants got a pair of Day 1 contributors in the opening round in defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and cornerback Deandre Baker, whom the Giants and many others believe to be the best cover guy in the draft. “We feel like we got three guys that are going to impact this franchise for a long time,” Gettleman said after the first round.
As for the other seven players – two linebackers, two cornerbacks, a wide receiver, an offensive tackle and a defensive tackle – Gettleman continued to build the roster he has envisioned since taking over as general manager. Throughout the process, he has his scouts tag players they think are “blues.” These are prospects they envision playing in a Giants uniform.
“Very honestly, these are the kinds of kids we want to bring in here -- smart, intelligent kids who hate to lose, and that's what we're looking for,” Gettleman said. “This was an especially unique group. But we put blues on these kinds of guys, and we had a draft that was almost completely blue because that's what you want to build around.”
LANCE MEDOW: The Giants wound up selecting 10 players in this year’s draft. They grabbed three on offense (QB, WR, OT) and seven on defense (three CBs, two DTs, DE, LB). Heading into the draft, I don’t think it was a stretch to say they had some notable needs on the defensive side of the ball given some recent trades and free agent losses. By adding three cornerbacks (technically four because last year’s supplemental pick Sam Beal didn’t play), the Gants will have plenty of competition in camp to determine who will line up opposite Janoris Jenkins and serve as the primary nickel corner. Keep in mind, aside from Jenkins, who played 99% of the team’s defensive snaps last season, Grant Haley (39%) and Tony Lippett (2%) are the only other corners still on the roster who logged defensive snaps in 2018.
The team’s third-round selection Oshane Ximines gives the Giants another young pass rusher to develop. He collected 32.5 sacks and 51 tackles for loss in his four-year career at Old Dominion and led the Monarchs in both of those categories each season. A player with that resume will be a welcome addition given the Giants tallied just 30 sacks in 2018 and Olivier Vernon, who was traded to the Browns this offseason, was responsible for seven of them. To put things in perspective, the returning player with the most sacks from last season is B.J. Hill, who had 5.5, with three coming in one game.
The other theme that shouldn’t be overlooked in this class is the continued effort to improve special teams. Both Ryan Connelly (fifth round) and Corey Ballentine (sixth round) will help in that department as they have plenty of experience on the collegiate level playing on various units. Even though Ballentine’s numbers are impressive as a kickoff return man, he’s much more than just a fast, explosive player as he has contributed to both coverage teams similar to former Giant Dwayne Harris.
Like any other draft class, you won’t be able to assess the return on the investment until three to four years down the road. Everything at this point is based on projections and potential. Certain players are surrounded by all the hype in the world, others fall under the radar. At the end of the day, all that matters is what you do on the field once you get to the NFL.