While the 2022 NFL Draft is still two and a half months away, the evaluation process is kicking into high gear.
General Manager Joe Schoen and many of the team's scouts and personnel executives last week traveled to Alabama for the Senior Bowl. The week in Mobile serves as the first opportunity for NFL teams to get a close look at some of the top draft prospects following the conclusion of the college football season. Between the week of practices, interviews and the game itself, the Senior Bowl gives teams a chance to really get their hands on prospects early in the draft season.
With two picks among the top seven selections, there is no denying the importance of this year's draft for the Giants.
While at the Senior Bowl, Schoen joined John Schmeelk on the Giants Huddle podcast to discuss the 2022 draft class, some of his overall draft philosophies and much more.
"There are a lot of guys who we've got a two-year study on because they did go back to school and we had reports on them last year," the new GM said about this year's class. "I think it's a deep draft because of that, because players do get better. Guys went back to school, got another year of nutrition, training, an offseason, and another year playing football. I do think it's a deep draft overall."
Last week is a crucial part of the evaluation process. With prospects spread across the country, it's impossible to see every one in-person. Not only do the festivities in Mobile bring almost all of the top seniors to the same place, it also allows for these players to compete against each other. Not all college conferences are created equal, thus last week was about showcasing their skills against top competition.
On-field performance is important, but it is far from the only factor in the overall evaluation. As Schoen noted, the interviews with players at night are just as significant. Teams are making a major investment in a player when they draft him, so it is vital that they know everything they can about who he is as a person first. Spending more time around the players allows for teams to gain as much information as possible about who they are both on and off the field.
When it comes to the types of players he would like to add to the Giants roster, Schoen was very clear on the traits he feels are important.
"Smart, tough and dependable," Schoen told Schmeelk. "Guys that are smart, tough and dependable that care about football, that care about their teammates. It's not so much about the glitz and the glamor that comes with it. But have some leadership to you when maybe things are going wrong or teammates aren't doing it well, someone that will right the ship and get the team headed back in the right direction. Those are the types of players that we're looking at…
"The more guys we get that buy into the culture and have the common goal of winning a championship in mind, and through our process are paying attention to that on a daily basis, the better off we're going to be."
With picks Nos. 5 and 7 in this year's draft, Schoen has an opportunity to add two talented players who could possibly step in as starters from Day 1. While the GM obviously did not dive into the specifics on which positions he may or may not target, he did acknowledge the economic advantages of selecting players at premium positions in the draft.
"When you're paying that premium and you can get a player that's cost controlled for four to five years -- if it's a first rounder, five years if you do the fifth-year option -- I think you have to look at that from an economic standpoint when you're trying to build a team," Schoen said.
Prior to joining the Giants, Schoen spent five years as the assistant general manager to Brandon Beane in Buffalo. During that time, the Bills were rather aggressive when it came to draft trades. Leading up to the 2018 draft, the first one that Beane and Schoen ran for Buffalo, the Bills traded QB Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland for a third-round pick. They then sent OT Cordy Glenn and the 21st overall pick to Cincinnati to move up to the 12th pick. Things got even more heated on the day of the draft, as the Bills traded up twice in the first round to select QB Josh Allen (No. 7) and LB Tremaine Edmunds (No. 16).
It was more of the same for Buffalo in 2019, as they moved up in both the second (from No. 40 to No. 38) and third (from No. 112 to No. 96) rounds to select Cody Ford and Dawson Knox, respectively. They then pulled off a blockbuster trade in 2020, sending their first-round pick and two late-round picks to Minnesota for WR Stefon Diggs. The 2021 draft was the first under Beane in which Buffalo did not move up.
As the order currently stands, the Giants own five selections within the first 81 picks of the 2022 NFL Draft, including three in the top 36. They hold their own picks in each of the first three rounds, along with the Chicago Bears' first-round pick (No. 7) and the Miami Dolphins' third-round pick (No. 81) following trades in last year's draft.
NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah released his final edition of the top 50 prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft.
A lot can change between now and April 28 but given the situation surrounding the Giants' roster and cap space, it sounds as if Schoen wants as many picks as possible in this year's draft.
"I would say where we are right now, as many at-bats as you can get, as many swings as you can get, I think that's important where we are as a team," he said. "Again, I don't think you're ever one player away. But if it's the second round and there's a player you gave a first-round grade to and you think that highly of him, then I think you go get him.
"I'm open to moving up, moving back, whatever it may be, as long as I can sleep good at night with the decision that I make. If I move back and I end up losing out on a player I like, I have to be able to live with that, or stay and take a guy or go up and get him. Again, if you're drafting good players and you're confident and convicted in your decision, then you'll sleep good at night."
Over the last few years, Buffalo has hit on a good amount of their mid-round picks. RB Devin Singletary and Knox (2019), WR Gabriel Davis (2020) and OT Spencer Brown (2021) were all selected in the third round or later, and all four have played key roles in the Bills' recent success.
Knox finished his collegiate career with just over 600 receiving yards and zero touchdowns in 18 games for Ole Miss. Despite his limited stats, the Bills had enough confidence in Knox's skillset and ability to be developed to select him with the 96th overall pick.
As Schoen says to Schmeelk, the person behind the game tape is a big indicator of a player's ability to learn and grow under a coaching staff.
"Spencer Brown was a tackle we took in the third round last year. Dawson Knox we took a couple of years ago in the third round, he had no touchdowns in college," Schoen noted. "You look at the traits. If they're really athletic and they've got size and speed and all that stuff, and maybe for whatever reason they haven't developed and the production hasn't matched, if they're wired the right way and they have the makeup, this guy is going to do everything he can to reach his potential, he's going to work hard, he's going to do extra, when you can mirror those two together, there's a chance for them to reach their ceiling…"
In terms of balancing a player's fit within the system and their overall skillset, Schoen highlighted the importance of the communication between the front office and the coaching staff. The general manager was adamant that he doesn't want to bring players into the building that don't fit what each coach is looking for at their respective positions.
"We're trying not to bring in a player that doesn't fit what they're trying to do or the coaches aren't on board with because more times than not, they're dead on arrival," said Schoen. "That's where the communication and the collaboration and the synergy between the coaching staff and personnel staff will be imperative."
The annual college all-star game was played Feb. 5 at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile, Alabama.