EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – On Jan. 2, Dave Gettleman held a news conference to review the 2018 season. The Giants’ opponents had scored 369 points, the highest total allowed by the four NFC East teams. It was no coincidence, then, that the Giants finished in the division cellar.
“We need to improve the defense,” Gettleman said then. “We’ve got to get better on the defensive side.”
Since then, he has been on a crusade to do just that. Last month, he traded for safety Jabrill Peppers and signed a pair of key defensive free agents in linebacker Markus Golden and safety Antoine Bethea. The defensive reconstruction continued in the three-day NFL Draft that ended Saturday. Selecting Duke’s Daniel Jones, a potential quarterback, at No. 6 overall was the marquee move. But seven of the last nine selections were for defensive players: three cornerbacks, two linebackers and two linemen.
Coach Pat Shurmur and Gettleman are confident those moves will bolster the defense in 2019 and beyond.
“From my perspective, when we were getting ready to pick, there were some offensive players that ended up being in the conversation on the same line, and we just made some decisions that directed us toward the defense,” Shurmur said. “We knew we were going to make some significant changes to the defense, and we already have, two safeties, Markus Golden. So we've done some significant things on defense prior to the draft.”
“I feel much better (about the team’s long-term health),” Gettleman said. “I thought we had a very -- a real quality draft. And time will tell. We're going to know how good this draft was in three years. That's when we'll know. We'll know how good last year's draft was in two more years.”
The players selected Saturday were cornerbacks Julian Love of Notre Dame and Corey Ballentine of Washburn, linebacker Ryan Connelly of Wisconsin, wide receiver Darius Slayton of Auburn, tackle George Asafo-Adjei of Kentucky, and defensive lineman Chris Slayton of Syracuse.
The third-day acquisitions join the four players selected on the first two days of the draft, including three first-rounders (a first in draft history for the Giants). They were Duke quarterback Daniel Jones at No. 6, Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence at No. 17, Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker at No. 30, and Old Dominion outside linebacker Oshane Ximines at No. 95 in the third round. The Giants traded their second-round choice, plus fourth and fifth-round selections, to Seattle to move into the back of the opening round to secure Baker.
“As far as I'm concerned, we had a hell of a weekend,” Gettleman said. “They're good players here.”
Here’s a closer look at the ones selected on Saturday.
*Julian Love, CB, Notre Dame, 5-11, 193, Fourth Round, No. 108 overall
Love played in 38 games – starting the last 34 - in three seasons for the Fighting Irish and had 176 tackles (126 solo), five interceptions, including two he returned for touchdowns, and a school-record 44 pass breakups. He also had four fumble recoveries, of which he returned for a score last season vs. Virginia Tech. The Giants believe he can compete for the starting nickel job.
“I had a pretty great three years at Notre Dame,” Love said. “I started a lot of games, played in all my games. I was healthy, I competed with the best at Notre Dame. I know I can do a lot of things, so I think that’s what teams saw. I’m excited to showcase that going forward.”
“Julian Love is a really, really good football player,” Shurmur said. “He can play in the slot. He can play high. He's got that tweener kind of corner safety ability, which makes him a unique player for us.”
*Ryan Connelly, ILB, Wisconsin, 6-3, 237, Fifth Round, No. 143 overall
Connelly was the fifth consecutive defensive player selected by the Giants. A former high school quarterback and standout lacrosse player, Connelly arrived at Wisconsin as a walk-on. But after redshirting for a season, he earned a scholarship in 2015 and went on to play in 52 games with 26 starts for the Badgers. His career totals include 251 tackles (157 solo), 29 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks and two interceptions. Connelly was selected a team captain in 2018, when he started all 12 games in which he played and finished second on the team with 89 tackles (58 solo), including 3.0 sacks.
“It’s pretty surreal just coming from a high school quarterback, to walking on at Wisconsin, and now getting to play for the New York Football Giants,” Connelly said. “It’s pretty crazy, and it doesn’t even seem real to me yet.”
“He can run sideline to sideline, very physical, and he's a very, very effective, very productive guy,” Shurmur said.
*Darius Slayton, WR, Auburn, 6-2, 190, Fifth Round, No. 171 overall
Slayton played in 29 games in three seasons at Auburn and caught 79 passes for 1,605 yards (a 20.3-yard average) and 11 touchdowns. As a redshirt junior in 2018, he had a career-high 35 receptions for 670 yards and five scores. The previous season, he averaged a career-best 22.2 yards on 29 catches and scored five touchdowns. Slayton caught three passes in the Music City Bowl vs. Purdue and scored on each one, from 72, 54 and 34 yards.
“I think my biggest strength is my speed,” Slayton said. “I’m able to push the field vertically, as well as catch the ball intermediately, and I have ability to go and score. That’s probably some of the biggest things I’ve heard from teams that I hope to be able to bring the Giants. Just help take the top off the defense and help us win games.”
“Darius Slayton is a take the top off the coverage guy,” Gettleman said. “He's a 4.3 (in the 40-yard dash) guys who played 4.3, so he's got big time speed.”
*Corey Ballentine, CB, Washburn University, 6-0, 204, Sixth Round, No. 180 overall
In 2018, Ballentine received the Cliff Harris Award as the small college Defensive Player of the Year. He was the first layer from Washburn selected to play in the Reese’s Senior Bowl. Ballentine played in 46 career games at the Division II school and finished his career with 173 tackles (106 solo) with four interceptions, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. An outstanding kickoff returner, Ballentine averaged 30.6 yards on 23 returns as a junior and 19.8 yards on 24 runbacks last year.
“I wasn’t really highly recruited for football coming out of high school,” Ballentine said. “I was a late bloomer, I was recruited more for track. Washburn was one of my few football offers that believed in me. They believed they could help me grow and get better as a player. I met with the coaches and I figured it being close to home and I was comfortable with my coaches and teammates, it would be the best option for me. That’s why I chose it over other schools. I had a couple other D2 offers but I figured Washburn was the best one out of the other offers.”
“He's just a good solid football player, and he's a guy that's going to come in and compete,” Shurmur said. “The one thing to remember is all these guys as they fight for a spot on first, second, and third down, these guys all can run, so they'll be contributing on fourth down, on special teams.”
*George Asfao-Adjei, T, Kentucky, 6-5, 308, Seventh Round, No. 232 overall
Asfao-Adjei played in 48 games with 23 starts for the Wildcats, including 12 starts at right tackle in 2018, when he was a two-time Southeastern Conference Lineman of the week. He was a key member of an O-line that helped Benny Snell Jr., the first Wildcat to rush for 1,000 or more yards in three straight seasons. Asfao-Adjei, who was born in The Bronx, graduated in December with a degree in community and leadership development.
Asfao-Adjei honed his pass blocking skills going up against edge rusher Josh Allen every day in practice. Allen was selected seventh overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“It was a great experience,” Asafo-Adjei said. “We both sharpened each other honestly. He had troubles going against me, I’m a speed guy, I’m good with the pass rush. He’s a great edge rusher, I gave him problems, we both helped each other. You saw it in the outcome of the season and the outcome of our play. It’s just a blessing to be on a team like that with multiple other players.”
*Chris Slayton, NT, Syracuse, 6-4, 309, Seventh Round, No. 245 overall
The second Slayton drafted by the Giants on Saturday, Chris played in 49 games with 42 starts for the Orange and totaled 107 tackles (66 solo) with 32.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. In 2018, he started every game (13) for the third straight season, was a defensive captain, and collected 24 tackles (16 solo) eight tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He was awarded Syracuse’s Ben Schwartzwalder Award as the team’s exemplary football player
“I first met (the Giants) down at the East-West Shrine Game week, and at the combine,” Slayton said. “I liked them a lot, and they liked me, so it all worked out.”
“We see him (Asafo-Adjei) competing at right tackle, and then we've got the Chris Slayton kid from Syracuse who's a big, violent, inside banger,” Gettleman said. “They were both fifth-round values for us.”
And they capped off a very satisfying draft for the Giants.
“We feel like we addressed everything we pretty much wanted to with this group,” Gettleman said.
*Shurmur’s son Kyle, a quarterback who starred at Vanderbilt, was not drafted, but quickly agreed as a free agent with Kansas City. The Chiefs are coached by Andy Reid, who gave Pat Shurmur his first NFL coaching job in 1990 in Philadelphia. Shurmur coached under Reid for 10 years on the Eagles staff, and they remain close friends. He is thrilled Kyle will get a chance to play under Reid.
“I think it's terrific,” he said. “I think certainly my history with Andy runs deep, and so as we're watching the picks come off, certainly that (monitoring whether Kyle was drafted) was running parallel, hoping he was going to end up in a really good place. I think regardless of whether he was picked or not, he's ending up in a really good place, so he'll go there and compete, and I think he's going to be with a terrific team, and what I consider to be an outstanding quarterback culture, and that's what you want for a young player that's going to learn how to play the position at this level, so I'm happy for him.”