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Roster-building process doesn't end with NFL Draft

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – To the executives, coaches and players who participated in the 85th NFL Draft, the selection process was unlike any of its predecessors because of its unique communication process. But once it ended, it was similar to any other draft.

Those who made the selections and the players joining new teams all expressed their happiness about what had occurred. It's a good bet no general manager or head coach has ever offered a negative recap of his team's draft immediately after its conclusion.

To review, the Giants selected tackles Andrew Thomas of Georgia in the first round and Matt Peart of UConn in the third, plus guard Shane Lemieux of Oregon in the fifth. The defensive players were Alabama safety Xavier McKinney in the second round, plus cornerbacks Darnay Holmes of UCLA (fourth round) and Chris Williamson of Minnesota (seventh), outside linebackers Cam Brown of Penn State (sixth) and Carter Coughlin of Minnesota (seventh), inside linebackers TJ Brunson of South Carolina and Tae Crowder of Georgia (both in the seventh round).

The Giants achieved their goals of improving their team speed and versatility and improved their talent and depth at several spots.

But perhaps no event unveils critics, cynics and skeptics like the draft. They not only question the players who were chosen, but the positions that were neglected.

The Giants did not select a wide receiver, tight end, center or a marquee pass rusher, positions many observers outside of their virtual draft room expected them to target. But the team stayed true to its draft board, refused to reach for prospects and rebuffed trade offers to take players who filled both value and need requirements.

"There were calls," general manager Dave Gettleman said. "But I don't believe in overpaying. The couple of times that there were decent opportunities to trade back, the player we wanted was there. Plain and simple. So, we just took the player, that's all."

But perhaps the most important reason the Giants thought they could avoid taking risky chances at those spots is they are confident in the players they have. And as Gettleman and Joe Judge noted, player procurement doesn't end when the draft does.

Let's look at the pass rush, which continues to receive much scrutiny. Markus Golden, who led the team with 10.0 sacks in 2019, is an unsigned free agent. The Giants did not select one of the top available pass rushers in the draft, though late-round linebackers Brown and Coughlin are intriguing prospects. They also have young outside backers Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximinies, who had 4.5 sacks apiece last year, and free agent acquisition Kyler Fackrell, who had 10.5 sacks with Green Bay in 2018.

Do the Giants have enough players on their roster to generate a pass rush?

"I believe we do," Gettleman said. "I've seen what scheme can do to free people up, it's an effective way to do it. Obviously, we're getting better in the back end, force the quarterback to hold the ball a little longer. Again, there's a million ways to skin the cat. You guys (reporters) were raised on the blue-goose pass rushers, rushing with four, and the drafts and the accumulation of players just worked out that way. There's a number of ways to do it. I was here for that run (when the Giants won Super Bowls XLII and XLVI) and I saw what a blessing it is when you can rush with four. There's no reason to say we can't do it now and you also can do it with scheme. So again, there's a million ways to do it, guys. There's not just one way.

"Sometimes people think that all of the sacks have got to come from one to two guys. It's a group effort. We're going to constantly evaluate. Roster building is a 12-month season. It's 365 and it's 24/7. At the end of the day, we feel good about where we're at, but we'll continue to try to improve it. We're going to take a look at what we've got and you know part of it's going to be scheme. I've got a lot of confidence in (assistant head coach/defensive coordinator) Pat Graham and Joe and the defensive guys. We're going to be fine. It'll get better. No, we didn't draft what you guys would call a blue-goose pass rusher, but a lot of the time it's a group effort. It's not about who gets the sacks, it's about the number of sacks and the number of pressures."

View photos of the entire 10-member New York Giants 2020 Draft Class

This was considered a deep draft for receivers, but the Giants have a productive trio in veterans Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate, plus Darius Slayton who led the team with eight touchdown catches on 48 receptions as a rookie last year. The Giants have several other candidates, including four rookie free agents who have agreed to contract terms.

"They can all run," Judge said. "I think there's different elements of speed that tie in all of the receivers. You may have the deep threat receiver, you may have the slot receiver for more short area quickness who's shifty, you may have the side receiver where it's really the release speed that's important as far as getting off the line and establishing body position."

At tight end, former first-round draft choice Evan Engram is coming off a season in which he played only eight games due to injury and caught 44 passes. Kaden Smith was acquired off waivers in September and had 31 receptions and three touchdowns – including an overtime game-winner in Washington – in nine games. Rhett Ellison retired, but the Giants signed veteran free agents Levine Toilolo and Eric Tomlinson.

"We're excited about all the guys at that position right now," Judge said. "We're always looking for the best player available. We thought there were a few tight ends on the (draft) board that were worthy of being taken at certain points. When it came up to us, there was either someone better or they may have already been taken. We have confidence in the guys we have on our roster right now at the tight end position."

The center position is in flux because Jon Halapio, who started 15 games in 2019, tore his Achilles tendon in the season finale. But like at the other spots, Gettleman did not deem it necessary to reach for a prospect.

"Value and need always have to be there," Gettleman said. "Right now, it's all about competition. We are going to turn around and cross-train Shane Lemieux (who started 52 games at left guard at Oregon) and we've got Nick Gates who we are going to work with. You have Spencer Pulley, a returning center, and we'll see what happens with Pio with his Achilles. We'll see what kind of recovery he makes. We feel like we have three to four guys, two of whom have played the position with varsity competition. Nick worked at center last year during practice and, of course, Shane has never done it in a game and we're going to cross-train him and see where it goes. We've got two centers in the building that have played varsity snaps and have played winning football."

Which is exactly what Gettleman and Judge are confident the Giants will do as they continue to improve their roster.

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