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Giants' six-man draft class bolsters free agent haul

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants believe their productive spring will lead to a successful autumn.

On Saturday, they concluded the NFL draft by adding three more players, giving them six new members of the roster in three days. Add those to the 13 veteran free agents they signed since mid-March and the Giants will have a significantly re-tooled roster when the 2021 season opens.

But it's not the quantity but the quality of the newcomers that most excites the franchise's football decision-makers.

"I felt we had a very good roster-building season," general manager Dave Gettleman said. "We feel like we've added a strong group of players at a variety of positions. We've added playmakers. We've added pass rushers. We added corners. We feel good about what we've done."

Earlier, Gettleman was asked on an ESPN interview how he would define his expectations for a successful season.

"What defines success is that the program, the entire program, continues to improve," he said. "I would never put a win number (on it) or anything like that. We're definitely moving in a very positive direction. It's taken a little bit longer than some people would like. But that's the way life is; it's sometimes not on our schedule. But we really feel like we're really ready to compete in the NFL."

After trading down twice and trading up once in the draft's first two days, the Giants did no such maneuvering on day three. But they're very happy with the players they secured.

With the 11th pick in the fourth round, No. 116 overall, the Giants selected edge rusher Elerson Smith of Northern Iowa. The Giants did not have a fifth-round selection, sending their original choice to the Jets in the Leonard Williams trade and the one they acquired Thursday from Chicago to Denver to move up in the third round so they could take Central Florida cornerback Aaron Robinson.

With their first choice in the sixth round – No. 196 overall – the Giants drafted Gary Brightwell, a running back from the University of Arizona. Their final selection – No. 201, the sixth-round pick they obtained in a trade with the Arizona Cardinals for linebacker Markus Golden - was Oklahoma State cornerback Rodarius Williams. His younger brother is Greedy Williams, a cornerback with the Cleveland Browns.

They join the three players the Giants selected in the draft's first two days: wide receiver Kadarius Toney of Florida, outside linebacker/edge rusher Azeez Ojulari of Georgia and Robinson.

"I'm really excited about the class," said director of college scouting Chris Pettit. "There are guys we targeted way back in February and we're happy they were there for us at the time they were. I feel good. I feel good about every draft class. We put in a lot of work. All the scouts, all the personnel, all the coaches put a lot of work into it. It's a big day for us."

The six-man draft class joins a roster bolstered by free agents like wide receiver Kenny Golladay, cornerback Adoree' Jackson, tight end Kyle Rudolph, running back Devontae Booker and defensive tackle Danny Shelton.

"I don't think you can ever make a team on paper," coach Joe Judge said. "I don't think you can ever really win in the offseason. To me, it's about adding competitive players at each position. And then when training camp starts and the competition truly starts, that's when we'll know how much we've improved. We'll know when we start the preseason games and truly know when we get into the season."

The Giants did not draft an offensive lineman, a unit that could include no starter with more than three years of experience (if the group includes center Nick Gates, guards Will Hernandez and Shane Lemieux and tackles Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart). But Gettleman was not going to reach for a player whose talent and value did not justify their selection.

"We have a little more confidence in our offensive line – the players – than you guys (reporters) do," Gettleman said. "We're happy with what we have. Obviously, we're always trying to get better. You're not going to take a player to take a player. You're going to take him because you think he's going to improve the value of the team. Right now, the offensive line is what it is, the players are who they are and we're going to move forward."

The career totals for Smith, a 6-6, 260-pounder, included 22.0 sacks and 32.5 tackles for loss. He had 14.0 sacks, 21.5 tackles, 14 quarterback hurries, five forced fumbles and two blocked kicks for a team that finished 10-5 in 2019, when he was selected first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference. Smith did not play in what would have been his final season after the MVC postponed its 2020 season to early 2021.

"It's tough, because your senior season is what you look forward to for all four years, really," Smith said. "We had a great group of guys playing together in Northern Iowa and we really had a chance to make a run for it this year. But, obviously, with COVID and everything going on, it's not the worst thing that could have happened to me. I just tried to go with the flow and understand that it is what it was and I had no control over the season being canceled. I just wanted to make sure that I was making the most out of my days and continuing to work toward the Senior Bowl and our Pro Day."

Brightwell, 6-1 and 218 pounds, played 40 games with seven starts at Arizona. After playing slot receiver – and catching no passes – as a freshman, Brightwell switched to running back and had 245 carries for 1,305 yards ()5.3-yard avg.) and nine touchdowns. He also recorded 19 receptions for 121 yards and one score.

As a senior in 2020, Brightwell was named honorable mention All-Pac 12 though Arizona lost all five of its games. Brightwell started each of them and led the Wildcats with 88 attempts for 399 yards and one touchdown. He also caught 13 passes.

Brightwell, a native of Chester, Pa. said, "My family grew up as Giants fans, so I mean this is everything I dreamed of. … Tiki Barber was my favorite running back."

Despite that and his production out of the backfield, Brightwell said running the football is not necessarily the strongest aspect of his game.

"I'm excited to bring some special teams to the field," he said. "I'm going to bring a lot of explosive plays, but my priority right now is getting the playbook, getting on special teams and dominating.

"That's my thing. That's been my thing since high school. I've been a special teams guy. I feel like special teams starts the game and also finishes it. Special teams has all the hidden yards. I mean, you need special teams to dominate."

Brightwell said he played all special teams until becoming a starter as a senior, when he continued to line up on the kickoff return and punt teams.

Williams set an Oklahoma State record with 48 consecutive starts, the longest streak among all FBS defensive backs last season. He totaled 168 tackles (137 solo), 5.5 stops for loss, two interceptions, 25 passes defensed and one forced fumble.

A native of Shreveport, La., Williams does not lack confidence.

"I believe," he said, "I will go down as one of the greats."

Sounds like the perfect quote to end another draft.

View photos of the New York Giants 2021 NFL Draft Class.

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