Dave Gettleman may seem a bit baffled by Isaiah Simmons.
It’s not hard to see why. After a lifetime in NFL scouting and personnel, of putting players into neat and orderly rows and columns, of literally stacking them in boxes in preparation for nights like Thursday’s NFL Draft, along comes this guy from Clemson whose shape doesn’t fit in any established container.
He doesn’t even have a position, really. He plays linebacker, safety, sometimes nickel. He drops back into coverage and rushes off the edge.
“It’s not standard,” Gettleman said of Simmons and the players like him — though unlikely as good at it as he is — who are coming out of the college game and making their first push into the NFL. They are the response to the rapid-fire offenses, the wide-open passing attacks, that have all but taken over college football.
Said Gettleman, “It’s not what I grew up with, that’s for sure.”
The Giants do, however, have someone who was raised in that world of abstract forms, blurred position definitions and creative solution-finding on defense.
They have Joe Judge.
He spent the last eight seasons on the coaching staff of the Patriots. He learned that the dictionary isn’t the only place where versatility comes shortly before victory. And if the Giants do select Simmons with the fourth overall pick on Thursday night, he’ll be the key to unlocking all of that potential.
“If you assume that the Giants' defense will be modeled after New England’s defense with a lot of matchup situations, this is the guy who fits that scheme,” NFL Network analyst and Super Bowl-winning general manager Charley Casserly told Newsday. “This guy can do a lot of things for you.”
Picking Simmons is a good choice only if you can unleash him and use him properly. Offensively, that is what the Chiefs did with Patrick Mahomes, what the Ravens did with Lamar Jackson and what the Cardinals are doing with Kyler Murray. Selecting Simmons and crumpling him up to fit in one of the boxes that have existed in football for decades would be a waste. He has to be unfurled, set free.
The Giants might be in a position to do that.
“The biggest [takeaway] from my time in New England is how to look at the player and find what their strengths are and then see how you can use them to your team’s advantage,” Judge said last week. “If you find a player that has great impact and upside, that’s a guy you want to add to your roster. The upside is the biggest part of it. Is it someone that has to have a true position home? To me, the position home is going to be defined by how you use them. That’s up to us as coaches to be creative and maximize strengths. Not talk about what they are not, but figure out what they can do in order to help us win.”
Can Judge convince Gettleman, three decades his senior, that he and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham (who also has a Patriots background) can utilize all of what Simmons offers? Gettleman seems to have listened to Judge and the coaches during free agency, bringing in a number of players who add flexibility and have high upsides rather than quick-fix signings that could save the job of a general manager who is on the hot seat.
The Giants tried that plan in 2016 and it worked . . . for Jerry Reese. They made the playoffs and he stayed with the team one more year. But the sugar rush of that spending spree soon wore off and left the Giants in their current predicament. Gettleman isn’t functioning like that.
Gettleman has long been enamored of “hog mollies” on the offensive and defensive lines, and this draft presents a number of possibilities at those positions for him to drool over in the first round. He also can look at the top-ranked wide receivers and daydream about pairing one of them with Daniel Jones.
In an ideal world, the Giants would love to trade back to help restock their roster. They currently hold only four picks in the top half of the draft, six in the bottom half, and none between the 36th and 99th overall selections. There are a lot of choices other than Simmons.
“At the end of the day, I have to think long-term and short-term,” Gettleman said. “At the end of the day, the decision we make will be what’s best for the Giants, and it will be a collective, collaborative decision.”
Judge is a big part of that collaboration. He already has been a big part of the evolution of the Giants’ roster. He may even be starting to convince his general manager.
“That player who’s been in what you’re saying to me is an unconventional position, it’s up to us to figure out how he fits the New York Football Giants,” Gettleman said in a line that sounds more as if it sprouted from the head coach’s philosophies than his own.
Simmons may not be like the players Gettleman grew up with, but he could wind up being a big part of the legacy the GM leaves.
GIANTS DRAFT PICKS
First round: 4th overall
Second round: 36
Third round: 99*
Fourth round: 110, 150
Sixth round: 183
Seventh round: 218, 238**, 247*, 255*
* — compensatory pick
** — acquired from Saints in Eli Apple trade