This could be the draft in which the Giants select their first player born in the 2000s.
There were several such options for them in Thursday night’s first round who fit that mind-blowing category of youth. Tight end Kyle Pitts, offensive lineman Penei Sewell and edge rusher Azeez Ojulari all will enter the NFL this weekend prior to celebrating their 21st birthday. The guy who won MVP of the most recent Super Bowl? He was drafted by the Patriots before those players even gasped their first breath on the planet.
Of course, they’re really no younger than players who have been drafted in the past. The Giants selected Andrew Thomas in the first round last year and he had just turned 21. When Dave Gettleman was the general manager in Carolina he drafted two players who were only 20 at the time, he said.
But the fact this year’s crop of newcomers arrives with DOBs flashing double zeros is a stark reminder of just how young they are. And how risky it may be to select them.
While they have had no issues with Thomas, the Giants have been burned in recent years by baggage carried by first-round picks. Ereck Flowers, Eli Apple and DeAndre Baker were all first-round picks of the organization who, for various reasons that can all be traced back to a lack of maturity, never even finished their rookie contracts with the team.
"They’re coming out younger and younger," Gettleman said. "They’ve been covered their whole lives. They’ve been taken care of and they’ve been covered and they haven’t had to be as accountable as maybe they need to have been, so when they get to us they have two things that are very dangerous: time and money. Some handle it better than others."
With those aforementioned busts, the Giants had a sense of what they were getting themselves into and decided to ignore it in favor of selecting the player. Maybe they believed the issues would be grown out of, perhaps they felt they had a strong enough locker room to help in the process.
This year, the challenge was finding those red flags to begin with.
Because of the pandemic, Gettleman could very well be drafting an entire class of players he has never met in person. While some coaches and scouts had brief opportunities to bump fists and chitchat at pro days and the Senior Bowl, most of the interactions between the front office and the prospects have been virtual only. There were no private face-to-face meetings, no workouts at the team’s facility, no dinners to get a sense of how guys treat the waitstaff or if they push their chair in when they leave or any of the other social cues that can be gleamed from such a seemingly mundane outing.
Giants director of college scouting Chris Pettit said while that made the evaluation process difficult and unique, he still thinks the team has a good grasp on this draft class.
"And that’s due to the work of our staff, the scouting staff and coaching staff," he said. "I mean, we’ve done endless amounts of Zooms. The scouts have been awesome, they’ve been working the phone lines just to get to know them, so we can sit there and really, truly know him. We have been reaching out to the college coaches as well, going back and being thorough. So, I’ve gotten to the point where I feel like we do know these guys as we would in a normal year.
"Do we have the physical contact with them that we’d like? No, so I’m trusting that our staff has really worked hard enough to get that where we feel like we know them."
It helps that the Giants’ current staff is loaded with coaches who were recently in the college game. If there is a player who wasn’t directly coached by one of the Giants' assistants, chances are pretty good he played against or was recruited by one.
Ultimately, though, it comes down to not just projecting the type of player the Giants want to draft, but the type of person.
"We talk about maturity all the time with players," Gettleman said. "You interview the players and you ask them the question: ‘What do you think is going to be your biggest challenge?’ And they turn around and say: ‘I shouldn’t have any problems.’ And I’m saying to myself: ‘Well, how much does he know? How aware is he? How self-aware is he? Does he really understand what he’s getting into?’ "
More important this year than ever, will the Giants?