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'Old-school' NFL Draft is right up alley of Giants GM Dave Gettleman

Giants general manager Dave Gettleman speaks to the

Giants general manager Dave Gettleman speaks to the media during a news conference on Tuesday Dec. 31, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The 2020 NFL Draft undoubtedly will be remembered for its use of cutting-edge technology to overcome restrictions that have been put in place to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. When the first round begins on Thursday evening — with a live shot from the basement of the league’s commissioner — it will be framed as a high-tech display reliant on the lightning-fast communications allowed through videoconferencing and other virtual formats.

That Draft-of-the-Future vibe certainly will be there for the draft itself and the way that teams will make final decisions on whom to pick, when to pick them and if they’re going to be part of any trades. But the work that teams put into the process leading up to the draft, the behind-the-scenes crunching of information and scouting, well, that part of the equation is going in the other direction.

Stick around long enough and some trends are bound to come around again, whether it be bell-bottom jeans or flannel shirts or . . . sleuthing NFL prospects the way it was done back in the day.

“I’ve said it a couple times, this is like back in the late ’70s when they drafted with absolutely no contact with players,” Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said on a conference call on Friday. “At the end of the day, it is a little bit old-school because you are not getting the personal touchpoints that we used to have.”

That puts it right in the wheelhouse of the 69-year-old Gettleman. Though there are a growing number of general managers in the NFL who weren’t even alive in the late ’70s, the Giants just happen to have one who has firsthand knowledge of how the league functioned at that time.

If this is an old-school draft, the Giants are fine: They have an old-school drafter.

The pulls between a reliance on gut instinct and numbers-driven decision-making have been at the core of many debates among Giants fans and observers who either defend or criticize Gettleman and his record in his two previous drafts with the team. Now it is a dichotomy that many around the NFL are curious to see play out throughout the entire league.

“A lot of the data that had been pulled together [from the Combine and pro days] to make some suggestions and decisions for a lot of teams, they don’t have all that data,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “It’s more of a tape draft. So when you look back on this five years from now, will we find out that it was beneficial that they just went off the tape, or are they going to look back and say, ‘Man, you can see the holes in the data and that’s why we had such a horrible hit rate in this draft.’ I think it’s going to be fascinating.”

The Giants adjusted to the new old ways of working very quickly. Chris Pettit, the team’s director of college scouting, was in South Carolina for the Clemson pro day in mid-March when all of the team’s personnel were called home.

“We gathered the scouts together and we said, ‘Hey, use this time when we’re not on the road and go back and watch more film,’ ” Pettit said. “ ‘Watch the games you didn’t watch, watch them again. Call the schools, call the players, be really thorough.’ Not that we wouldn’t be, but now we don’t have an opportunity to be on campus . . . Work the whole fall process over again. Our scouts are great at doing that and we were able to dig up some more information.”

The Giants have used technology to meet with many prospects, relying on videoconferencing tools for one-on-one meetings. Those help a bit.

“It gives you an opportunity to look a player in the eyes when you talk,” coach Joe Judge said of that aspect of the process. “I’m very big on body language, I’m very big on eye contact. At least you have the opportunity to look a player in the eyes, you ask him a question and see his reaction. That’s big right there.”

But it’s not the same as an in-person conversation. Especially not for Gettleman.

So the Giants will have to rely on the information that is available to them as they head into this draft. They have a general manager who had to be told to turn the volume down on his computer to eliminate the feedback on the conference call with reporters on Friday, but they also have one who made his bones in the NFL sitting in a room by himself crunching film frame-by-frame. That’s a bit of a lost art in modern football, but these days, it’s one of the few reliable resources that teams have.

“Really and truly at the end of the day, it’s about what the kid does between the white lines,” Gettleman said. “It’s not about running around in your underwear, running a 40-yard dash or doing a broad jump or whatever. It’s really about putting a lid on and playing ball. So [this draft] is a little bit more old-school like that.

“That’s not all bad.”

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