The Giants drafted two defensive starters in the first round, using the picks they had accumulated from the trades of Odell Beckham Jr., Eli Apple and Damon Harrison to get them. Hardly anyone noticed.
That’s what happens when a team drafts a quarterback sixth overall.
But when the season begins in September, defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and cornerback Deandre Baker will have much more impact on the Giants’ immediate fate than Daniel Jones will. They even could become young cornerstones of the defense by the time Jones takes the field for the first time in a regular-season game.
The Giants selected Lawrence with the 17th overall pick — the first-rounder they acquired in the Beckham trade from Cleveland — and then traded up from 37 to 30 to get Baker. That move up cost them the fourth- and fifth-rounders they got for Apple and Harrison.
Lawrence grew up a Giants fan in North Carolina. Watching defensive linemen such as Justin Tuck, Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Fred Robbins, he said, turned him on to Big Blue.
“It kind of inspired me,” he said.
Now he gets to follow them.
The 6-4, 345-pounder, who will be flanked by Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill, gives the Giants a nose tackle for the middle of a young defensive line.
“My goal is to come in Day One and challenge the defensive line as being the greatest unit in the world kind of thing,” he said. “That’s just kind of what my mindset is going to be and what it has been since I’ve been in high school. Let’s not settle, let’s go get it.”
In Baker, the Giants got a player they think is the best cover cornerback in the draft. He agreed.
“Nobody’s game film can match mine. Nobody’s production can match mine,” he said. “The Giants knew that, and they took me with the 30th pick.”
Baker was so dominant that he allowed only one touchdown reception in his entire career at Georgia, and none in the past two seasons. The one score he let up?
“It was a back-shoulder fade from the 1-yard line against TCU in the bowl game,” he said. “It just says that I’m up to date and I study the game. I watch the things I did wrong more than the things I did good.”
Baker is 5-11, 185 pounds, a little smaller than ideal for a cornerback, and his measurables at the NFL Combine were not off the charts. But scouts say he plays bigger than his size, and some compare him to Josh Norman in terms of his intensity and ability to hound receivers.
Thursday marked the first time in Giants history that the team made three first-round picks in the same draft. They had two first-round picks twice previously, most recently in 1984. In that way, this was a historic draft for the franchise. The Giants hope it will be in other regards as well.
“We feel like we got three guys that are going to impact this franchise for a long time,” general manager Dave Gettleman said after Thursday night’s activity.
Two, most likely, far quicker than the third.
Giants get edge rusher
Oshane Ximines joked that he thought he should have gone first overall in the NFL Draft.
This may have been the second-best option for him.
The Giants used the 95th overall selection near the bottom of the third round to pick the pass rusher from Old Dominion and bring him home to New York. Ximines was born in Queens, and although he grew up in Ahoskie, North Carolina, most of his family remains in this area.
“Honestly,” he said shortly after getting the call from the Giants, “this is the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life.”
He became the first player from Old Dominion ever drafted and follows a bit of a legacy with the Giants drafting small-school pass rushers. They took Osi Umenyiora from Troy and Michael Strahan from Texas Southern. Both of those picks worked out pretty well.
“You’ve seen guys from smaller schools go on and have great careers,” Pat Shurmur said.
The comparisons to Umenyiora come immediately because of his slender body type (6-4, 255) and his penchant for stripping the ball away from quarterbacks. He had 33 career sacks and forced 11 fumbles in four years at Old Dominion.
“He has some stuff,” Gettleman said, adding that he had a second-round grade on Ximines. “He’s got some things to polish up before we put him in the category [with Strahan and Umenyiora], but the kid has legitimate pass-rush ability.”
Shurmur added that he can be an every-down player for the Giants and is a strong fit for their scheme. He also fills a need. The Giants finished 2018 with 30 sacks, the second-fewest in the NFL. A month ago, they traded Olivier Vernon, the player who led them in sacks. Gettleman said he thinks Ximines and Lawrence address that need from the edge and up the middle.
He also comes to the Giants with a nickname ready-made for stardom. “As we all get to know the X-Man better,” Shurmur said, “I think everybody will see why we picked him.”
Ximines looked a bit undersized at the Senior Bowl against the offensive linemen — he was rebuilding his body, he said, and was about 15 pounds lighter than the 253 he was listed at during the season — but he insisted he doesn’t need to be bigger to be effective.
“I feel like pass rush doesn’t have a shape,” he told Newsday in January. “I was working out with [former NFL defensive end] Chuck Smith last week, and that’s one of the things he said that stuck with me. He said pass rusher doesn’t have a shape or a size. You can be a 6-7 monster coming off the edge or you can be a 6-2 guy, 240 pounds. The one thing all great pass rushers have is relentless effort.”
The Giants have six picks on the final day of the draft on Saturday: a fourth-rounder, two fifths, a sixth and two sevenths.