Azeez Ojulari knew he was the best edge rusher left in the draft heading into Friday night’s second round. He knew the Giants had a need at that position. He even knew how highly they regarded him; they’d been having telephone conversations almost daily for the past few weeks leading up to the event.
So when the Giants came on the clock for the 42nd overall pick and he was still available, Ojulai was ready for his phone to ring.
The Giants, though, were on another call. With the Dolphins. About trading back. For the second time in two days — and just the second time in his nine-year career as an NFL general manager — Dave Gettleman traded back.
On Friday, sensing the Giants could find someone at that position of need for themselves among a pod of players who would be mathematically available at 50, they made the move back in exchange for a third-round pick in next year’s draft.
It wound up being a shrewd decision. The Giants picked up that asset and took the player Gettleman said they would have selected 42nd anyway. And that’s when Ojulari’s phone finally rang with a call from New Jersey. "I was waiting on it all day," he said.
In fact, it was a much longer wait than that. Projected as a first-round pick and described by some scouts as the best edge rusher in the entire draft, Ojulari saw his status slip a bit after knee issues were discovered in a pre-draft medical examination in recent weeks.
Ojulari insists that he is fine and noted that he has not missed a single game in the past two years. Still, it was enough to give teams pause.
Ojulari led Georgia with 5.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman in 2019 and had 8.5 in 2020. He also was a college roommate and regular practice competitor with Andrew Thomas, last year’s first-round pick by the Giants. Thomas was at Ojulari’s draft party on Friday night, joining in the celebration that made them teammates again.
The surprise on Friday night was not that the Giants wound up with Ojulari but that they made the trade back. The move came one night after they sent the 11th overall pick to the Bears in exchange for a package that included a first- and fourth-rounder in next year’s draft. Between the two trades, the Giants added three picks in 2022, something Gettleman said on Thursday was of significance because the effects of the pandemic muddled the information-gathering on this year’s crop of eligible players.
"There’s a lot of unknowns here with this group, plus a lot of kids went back and took advantage of the NCAA giving them an additional year of eligibility," he said on Thursday. "That obviously played into our thinking."
The Giants also had the 76th overall selection but traded again, this time moving up to 71 in a deal with the Broncos to select cornerback Aaron Robinson from Central Florida. The cost to move up five spots in the trade with Denver was a fifth-round pick — the 164th overall selection that they acquired on Thursday in the deal with Chicago.
Ojulari said he’d been thinking about joining the Giants for more than a year, ever since they selected his buddy. There are other Georgia products on the Giants’ roster too, including fellow edge rusher Lorenzo Carter and Tae Crowder. But it is Thomas with whom Ojulari wanted to be reunited all along.
"When he got drafted, we thought it might happen one day and we thought it would be cool to be teammates," he said. "We thought it would be nice. And look at us now."
Worth all of the waits.
Height/weight: 6-2, 249
Second round (50 overall)
Skinny: Led Georgia with 5.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman in 2019 and had 8.5 in 2020 . . . Plays with power, speed and high energy . . . Checks character boxes for the Giants; was a team captain as a freshman . . . Teams had concerns about knee issues but he did not miss any college games after an ACL injury in high school . . . Only 20 years old and becomes the first Giants player born in the 2000s.
Height/weight: 5-11, 186
Third round (71 overall)
Skinny: Has good versatility, can play inside or outside and is not tentative against the run . . . Far from a finished product but has the athleticism and physicality to compete in the NFL and in the Giants’ press coverages . . . A four-star prospect out of high school, he played one year at Alabama before transferring to UCF . . . Played in high school with Jerry Jeudy. Denard Robinson is his cousin.