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Giants need offensive line help in draft, but when and where remains a question

Iowa offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs warms ups before

Iowa offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs warms ups before a game against Northwestern an NCAA football game on Oct. 26, 2019, in Evanston, Ill. Credit: AP/David Banks

When the Giants had the No. 2 pick in the draft two years ago, Dave Gettleman set very high expectations for that selection. It had to be, he said before he made his choice, a “gold jacket” player. Not a starter. Not a Pro Bowler. A Hall of Famer.

Saquon Barkley, in his mind, fit that sports coat. So he took the running back.

Now Gettleman and the Giants have the fourth overall pick in the upcoming draft. It’s only two picks behind the Canton criterion the general manager established in 2018. So what will the standard for this selection be?

“You can make the argument it still should be there,” Gettleman said at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.

Maybe the caliber of players available with that selection will reach such lofty qualifications. There are some very special talents who could be on the board for the Giants, including Isaiah Simmons, Jeffrey Okudah and Derrick Brown. Chase Young might even be there. They’re all defensive standouts. Throw in the quarterbacks and wide receivers at the top of the draft, and there seems to be a decent crop of potential busts . . .  the good kind of busts that are displayed in the Hall of Fame.

But when it comes to offensive tackles, it’s hard to find the all-timers.

There certainly are enticing players who have ridiculous combinations of size and athleticism to offer. Maybe Gettleman sees Hall potential in one or more. Some scouts, though, see this class of edge blockers as more solid than spectacular. There may be plenty of sure-thing starters and bright career trajectories, but when it comes to generational abilities — players such as Tyron Smith and Joe Thomas — it’s hard to project any of them as Hall-worthy.

This class of blockers may be filled with offensive line-meh.

Last month, Jim Nagy, the executive director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl, tweeted: “Any team in the top 10 that takes an offensive tackle over Isaiah Simmons or Derrick Brown is clearly drafting for need rather than best player available.”

Tackle is a position the Giants almost certainly need to address at some point in this draft. The challenge for them likely will be to do so at the right time and place in the draft.

That could mean trading back from the fourth overall pick — particularly if a quarterback-hungry team wants to move ahead of the Dolphins at No. 5 — and selecting one of the four top prospects (Tristan Wirfs, Mekhi Becton, Jedrick Wills, Andrew Thomas) a bit later in the first round, when the value might be more in line with their ability.

It could mean using the fourth pick on a defensive player and waiting until the top of the second round — or jumping back into the bottom of the first round, as they did last year — to grab Josh Jones, Austin Jackson or Isaiah Wilson. Or they could wait even longer and take a shot on a player such as Matt Peart.

However they go about it, the Giants need to find ways to better protect Daniel Jones and open holes for Barkley, not just now but in the future. Those two playmakers were their top picks in the last two drafts, coming second and sixth overall. The Giants made those selections with very lofty expectations.

Gettleman noted that the biggest asset in the development of a young quarterback such as Jones isn’t a wide receiver or a running back.

“Offensive line,” he said. “The bottom line is, last time I checked, it’s really difficult to complete a pass when you’re on your back . . .  You have to give him a front that allows him to learn how to play the game.”

There may not be a Hall of Fame offensive lineman in this draft class, but if the Giants can select a lineman at some point who will help nudge Barkley and Jones toward reaching Gettleman’s gold standard for them, that would be just as good.

A look at some of the players the Giants might be able to select if they wait for the second wave of offensive tackles:

JOSH JONES, Houston, 6-5, 319

A four-year starter for the Cougars, he’s not quite as polished as the other tackles but is a coachable player with a big upside. The Giants have the resources to help someone like that develop, possibly at right tackle at first, including Nate Solder at left tackle, Kevin Zeitler at right guard next to him, and new offensive line coach and former NFL player Marc Colombo.

AUSTIN JACKSON, USC, 6-5, 322

A two-year starter in college, he’s still very young (20) and raw. But he has shown maturity, both on the field (when it comes to accepting coaching and not allowing bad plays to linger) and off (he was a bone marrow donor who saved his sister’s life). He may not be ready to be an immediate starter, but he could grow to reach a very high ceiling.

ISAIAH WILSON, Georgia, 6-6, 350

A product of Brooklyn, he was the “other” tackle for the Bulldogs opposite Andrew Thomas and therefore a bit overlooked by many observers. But he was one of the team’s leaders and held his own in the tough SEC. He moves well given his massive size and should have the strength and power to be a bulldozer in the NFL.

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