Hours before the start of the draft, Giants general manager Dave Gettleman told NFL Network that he wanted to come away with two players in the first round who can step in and help the team win “now.”
People hung on the final word of that sentence, surmising that the Giants must not be taking a quarterback because he would not start right away with Eli Manning back for a 16th season. The team entered Thursday with two of their 12 total picks coming in the first round. By the end of the night, Gettleman turned it into three, selecting Duke quarterback Daniel Jones at No. 6, Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence at No. 17, and Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker at No. 30. Thus, the G.M. fulfilled his quota of adding two immediate contributors, with a third in waiting.
“It’s a wonderful thing when need and value match,” Gettleman said in a press conference alongside coach Pat Shurmur upon the conclusion of the first round. He added: “We feel like we got three guys that are going to impact this franchise for a long time.”
Below is a look at how the draft picks fit into the roster:
ROUND 1: QB DANIEL JONES, DUKE
Thursday wasn’t the first time the Giants used draft capital on a quarterback in the Manning era. Over the years, they took various quarterbacks in the middle rounds, but the sixth overall pick means something else entirely. Jones is the probable successor to a two-time Super Bowl MVP and the most iconic quarterback in franchise history. Now, when does it happen? There are a lot of variables. First, the organization remained committed to Manning throughout the course of the offseason, even knowing that taking a quarterback high in the draft was a distinct possibility. They communicated as much to Manning, even on draft night. As Shurmur called Jones, Gettleman dialed up Manning.
“All along, we’ve spoken to Eli about how we are evaluating quarterbacks in this year’s draft, and there is a decent chance there may be a new guy here,” Shurmur said. “It doesn’t bother Eli.”
Shurmur also reiterated on Thursday night that Manning’s job isn’t to teach the next quarterback. It’s Manning’s job to be the best player he can be, and then it’s the rookie’s duty to be smart enough to learn from him.
“I told Eli when we visited,” Shurmur said, “It’s your job to win games and keep this guy off the field.”
Meanwhile, Jones knows the weight of being the next in line.
“I’m going to be myself and not try to be Eli or be anything but myself,” he said. “I think staying confident in that and staying confident in who I am is what’s going to be key to that process.”
ROUND 1: DT DEXTER LAWRENCE, CLEMSON
They don’t get much bigger or stronger than the 6-foot-4, 342-pound Lawrence, who was second among all combine participants with 36 reps in the bench press. The prospect of him collapsing pockets up the middle was too great to pass up for Gettleman, who has drafted a defensive tackle or two in his day. So where does he fit? Shurmur compared Lawrence to Linval Joseph, a former second-round pick and Super Bowl XLVI champion for the Giants. The two-time Pro Bowler moved onto Minnesota, where he overlapped with Shurmur. Last year, the Giants traded Damon Harrison, one of the best run-stuffers in the game, to the Lions. The transaction helped two players. Dalvin Tomlinson moved to his natural spot at nose, while B.J. Hill set the franchise’s rookie sacks record. The Giants believe they can all play all three at the same time.
“That was the unintended consequence of that, but I would say this, when we play base defense, you have a five-technique, a three-technique and a one-technique, and we can certainly play all three of those guys,” Shurmur said. “Then when we get into our even fronts, certainly there will a little bit of a rotation there, I think, which is good.
“Again, we can’t have too many good quarterbacks. You can’t have too many good corners, and when it comes to defensive linemen, you can’t have too many good front people. They’ve all got to compete. We’re really thrilled about him. If you haven’t been around him, this is a big human being. He moves well, he’s sneaky quick, and I think he’s going to be a really good addition to our front.”
ROUND 1: CB DEANDRE BAKER, GEORGIA
The secondary underwent major changes this offseason, particularly at safety. Landon Collins signed with the Redskins in free agency, a void filled when the Giants acquired former first-round pick Jabrill Peppers in the trade with the Browns. They also signed veteran Antoine Bethea, who has ties to defensive coordinator James Bettcher from their Arizona days. But what about the corners? Janoris Jenkins enters his eighth NFL season, fourth with the Giants, in 2019. The team is also excited about Sam Beal’s debut, which was put on hold after the supplemental draft choice spent last season on injured reserve after undergoing shoulder surgery. Meanwhile, the Giants view Baker, who is expected to play primarily on the outside, as the “best cover corner in the draft.”
“The thing that impressed me most on tape was how stinking competitive he is,” Shurmur said. “He’s very confident and he’s very competitive and I think when he’s faced with a challenge of a good wide out, he’s going to accept the challenge. Again, as Dave mentioned, the fact that our board met with some of the needs and some of the things that we wanted to answer, we were fortunate enough to get those three players. So we are thrilled to have them and get them in here as quickly as we can and get them going.”
ROUND 3: OLB OSHANE XIMINES, OLD DOMINION
A Queens native, Ximines saw the Giants were coming up on the clock near the end of Round 3 on Friday night and said to himself, “please.” And then he got the call. He is going back home.
“Honestly, this is the best feeling I have ever had in my entire life,” he said. “My family is from New York, everybody has been rooting for me to go to New York, and to actually have it happen, I have been waiting all day for this. I wouldn’t want to go to any other team. I’m just excited and ready to get to work.”
And there is work to be done.
While Ximines makes the leap from Old Dominion to the NFL, the Giants are trying to improve a defense that ranked 23rd in scoring, 24th in yards, and tied for 30th in sacks last season. Gettleman made it a priority to add defensive playmakers, drafting big man Dexter Lawrence in the first round to bring pressure up the middle. That should open up opportunities for edge rushers – like Ximines. He is the second outside linebacker drafted by Gettleman in the third round in consecutive years, joining Lorenzo Carter, who had four sacks and broke up four passes in his rookie year. Ximines said he did a “good mix” of playing with his hand in the dirt and standing up in ODU’s defense. He also was asked to play in coverage at times.
“We have a lot of sub three-down packages here at Old Dominion,” he said. “And in that case, I had to drop into the flat or take the seam (and) cover up No. 2 a little bit, and some things like that.”
Meanwhile, the Giants traded Olivier Vernon, the team’s previous active sacks leader, to the Browns last month. That made it even more important to add a pass-rusher in the draft. Ximines finished his college career with 33 sacks, 51.5 tackles for loss, and 11 forced fumbles, all ODU records. He was the first player in school history to be drafted to the NFL.
"X-Man – he’s a scheme fit for us," Shurmur said. "He’s a guy that’s played a lot of football – 48 starts, has been very productive, many sacks. He’s got a good first step. He’s a good edge player. I think he’s going to be a real good fit for our defense in base, as well as in nickel. Not to mention, as good a player as he is, as productive as he is, he’s an even better person. He’s going to be another real good scheme fit for our locker room.
"I called him to tell him we were going to draft him, and he quickly said hello and dropped the phone. He’s probably as excited a player to hear that he was going to be a New York Football Giant as anybody that I’ve called in the last couple years. We’re excited to add him to our team, and I think he’s a really, really good scheme fit for us.”
ROUND 4: CB JULIAN LOVE, NOTRE DAME
Gettleman likes hog mollies, but he also loves cornerbacks. He drafted three in all, including Notre Dame’s record-holder for career pass breakups. One of three finalists for the 2018 Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the nation’s top defensive back, Love recorded 61 total tackles with 3.0 TFLs, a QB hurry and three fumble recoveries in his final season. He was one of 16 players in the nation with at least three fumble recoveries. He returned one for a TD against Virginia Tech, while adding a late interception in win over the 24th-ranked Hokies.
“I think I’m a pretty physical player, I don’t shy away from contact at all,” Love said. “If anything, I show a lot of effort, I’m a smart player and I make plays. That’s what I’ve done my whole life and I’m excited to do that going forward. I’m just going to continue to be a playmaker.”
In other words, those are characteristics for a perfect nickel corner.
“I think my skillset allows me to be inside, which is great,” he said. “I can play outside or inside. Wherever they need me, I am going to compete to the best of my abilities. I feel pretty good about playing inside.”
ROUND 5: LB RYAN CONNELLY, WISCONSIN
The Giants selected five consecutive defensive players, spanning from Lawrence in the first round to Connelly in the fifth. The Wisconsin product played 52 games with 26 starts at inside linebacker, recording 251 tackles, 29.0 TFLs, 6.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions. A 2018 Butkus Award semifinalist, Connelly was a three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection. A former Minnesota state championship quarterback in high school, he started at the bottom in college as a walk-on before earning a scholarship in 2015. The Giants liked his intelligence and instincts, viewing him as a versatile MIKE linebacker.
“At Wisconsin, we did a little bit of everything,” Connelly said. “Whether it features zone (coverage) or man, man on the tight end, man on the running back, we kind of switched it up a lot. Kind of experienced kind of doing all those different things there.”
Shurmur added: "He's one of those guys, he can run sideline to sideline, very physical, and he's a very, very effective, very productive guy."
ROUND 5: WR DARIUS SLAYTON, AUBURN
Slayton ended the run of defensive players and will join a new-look wide receiver room with no Odell Beckham Jr. Slayton stretched the field in college, averaging an incredible 20.3 yards per catch in his career. He was tied for sixth among wide receivers at the combine with a 40-yard dash time of 4.39 seconds. He was also tied for third in both the vertical (40.5 inches) and broad (135 inches) jumps. He ended his college career with an exclamation point with three receptions, all for touchdowns, of 74, 52 and 34 yards in the Music City Bowl vs. Purdue. He set Auburn bowl records for receiving yards (160), touchdowns (three) and longest TD catch (74).
“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.”
Shurmur added: "Darius Slayton is an outside receiver that has some inside characteristics, but the 4.3 speed shows up on tape. He's extremely fast. He can get behind the defense, and we all know the effect that can have for an offense."
ROUND 6: CB COREY BALLENTINE, WASHBURN
Ballentine was the 2018 Cliff Harris Award winner as the small college defensive player of the year, and became the first Ichabod and one of only three NCAA Division II players to be selected for the 2019 Senior Bowl. Doubling as a track star at Washburn, Ballentine was also a major special teams contributor. He finished his career second all-time in blocked kicks with four, and his 24.81 yards per kickoff return ranked fifth all-time on the Ichabod charts. His 1,166 career kickoff return yards ranked seventh in school history. Ballentine played free safety in high school but got recruited to Washburn as a cornerback.
“When I started playing, I started as a down safety in our defense, so kind of like nickel,” he said. “I played nickel for two years then I played corner in 2017 and 2018. I’m comfortable playing both positions inside and outside. I don’t have a problem with either.”
ROUND 7: OT GEORGE ASAFO-ADJEI, KENTUCKY
A two-year starting right tackle at Kentucky, he was a key cog in a unit that blocked for All-American Benny Snell Jr., the first Wildcat to rush for 1,000 or more yards in three straight seasons. Chad Wheeler is the incumbent right tackle on the Giants after the team used significant resources on everything to the left of the position over the past two seasons. They signed left tackle Nate Solder, traded for right guard Kevin Zeitler, drafted left guard Will Hernandez, and re-signed centers Jon Halapio and Spencer Pulley. The Giants see "Big George" competing for a spot at right tackle.
"Well, it's the length. It was the toughness," Gettleman said of what they saw in him. "You know, he's played in the SEC -- he's going to see good pass rushers every week. He's kind of getting a little taste of what's ahead of him. Like I said, the length, the toughness, and the ability to fight through, lining up in the SEC every Saturday."
ROUND 7: DT CHRIS SLAYTON, SYRACUSE
The Giants entered the draft with 12 picks and came away with 10 players, including seven on defense. Slayton rounded out the class on Saturday as a three-year starter who ended his career ninth all-time at Syracuse in tackles for loss. Gettleman called him a "a big, violent, inside banger."