Welcome to the 2021 NFL Drafts.
That’s right. Plural. At least for a while, anyway.
Because as the first round of selections begins on Thursday night it will feel like there are two distinct and parallel processes happening. The first will include quarterback-hungry franchises that are stacked up near the top, either through their own ineptitude last season or via trades they’ve already finalized. The Jaguars, Jets and 49ers, the first three teams on the clock, all undoubtedly are in that group. The Falcons, Panthers and Broncos, who pick fourth, eighth and ninth, could be.
Then there is the other draft. The one for the teams who already have what they believe to be a franchise quarterback on their roster (though if they were so sure of it they probably wouldn’t be picking that high to begin with). The Bengals, Dolphins and Lions at five, six and seven. The Cowboys at 10.
And yes, the Giants at 11.
Thanks to their devotion to Daniel Jones, the Giants are in that second group of teams that will be shopping in the non-quarterback aisles, virtually ignoring any of the passers coming into the league, and presented with a wide variety of possibilities. It also means that even though they are selecting outside the top 10, thanks to quarterback inflation they are more likely to land a player whom they have graded as being a top five prospect or even higher.
Basically the more quarterbacks that are drafted ahead of them — there will certainly be three and could be as many as five — the better the pool of choices for the Giants.
"The more quarterbacks that go, the more players it pushes to us," Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said last week. "It’s obviously helpful. Frankly, I’d like to see 10 quarterbacks go in front of us, but basically the more quarterbacks that go, the better it is for us."
The problem, leading up to the draft anyway, is that there is no way of knowing for sure who will be available to the Giants once they are about to select because no, there will not be 10 quarterbacks taken ahead of them. When they were picking fourth or sixth or second as they were in the past three drafts it was fairly easy to speculate on who would and would not be there for them. At 11, even with the first three picks practically handed in, there are too many variables
So for the first time in a long time the Giants will have to wait nervously on draft night to see whether their very top choices are taken before they have an opportunity to pick them.
No matter how things play out, whether they go wide receiver or offensive line or edge rusher or cornerback, there is still a very good chance the Giants will be able to draft someone who fits into Gettleman’s requirement for the 11th overall selection.
When he had the second overall pick, you might recall, he said it had to be used on a "gold jacket" player bound for the Hall of Fame. He used it to take Saquon Barkley. The criteria for 11 is a little less. Now, Gettleman said, he’s looking for someone who can become a day-one contributor.
"It’s really hard to take a guy at 11 that you’re betting on the potential," he said. "In the NFL, I’ve got to be really cognizant of the coaches. They’re under the pressure to win all the time. Every Sunday is a referendum on their skills as coaches and you’ve got to be really careful when you start taking guys that high that you love the physical skills and the potential, but how long is it going to take for it to show on the field? So that’s kind of the balance I have to get to."
Luckily for him he has these two concurrent drafts to accomplish that. Because while the Giants are not directly in the quarterback market, their next first-round selection will be impacted by it.
Giants pick up fifth-year option on Barkley
The Giants announced on Wednesday they’d picked up the fifth-year option on Saquon Barkley’s rookie deal, a move that will keep the running back under contract through 2022 and pay him a guaranteed $7.2 million that season. Beyond that, however, Barkley’s future with the Giants likely remains tied to how productive he is this year coming back from a torn ACL.
Earlier this spring co-owner John Mara said the team was "not in any hurry" to negotiate a long-term deal with Barkley, the second overall pick in the 2018 draft. That is something that almost certainly would have been broached at this time had Barkley had a healthy 2020 season with decent numbers. Instead he played just a game and a half before his season-ending injury.
"We fully expect him to be as good as new," Mara said of Barkley and a rehab that is said to be progressing on schedule. "I said it at the end of the season and I’ll say it again, we hope he’s going to be a Giant for life and at the appropriate time we’ll start those discussions."
For now, they’ll settle for a Giant through 2022.
Five possible picks for the Giants at No. 11
Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama, 6-0, 170
A smooth, long-striding artist when it comes to route-running … 2020’s Heisman Trophy winner; the Giants have not drafted a Heisman winner since Ron Dayne in 2000 … While he is listed at 170, he reportedly weighed in at a feather-like 166 at the NFL’s medical combine earlier this month.
Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama, 5-9, 180
While he is known for his blazing speed, Waddle’s greatest strength may be altering it between gears to mess with defenders’ timing … He’s short, but has the tenacity to go up and get jump balls … Eleven of his 20 career touchdowns at Alabama went for 50 yards or more … Doesn’t need deep passes to make big plays; get the ball in his hands and watch him go.
Gregory Rousseau, Edge, Miami, 6-7, 266
Was second in the country (behind Chase Young) with 15 1/2 sacks as a red-shirt freshman in 2019 … Has good athleticism, enough that he played safety in prep school … Would fill the one glaring hole on the Giants’ current roster as someone who can consistently pressure quarterbacks … After building two Super Bowl championships on homegrown pass rushers, the Giants haven’t hit on a draft pick at that position since they took Jason Pierre-Paul in 2010’s first round.
Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
As a sophomore in 2019 was named Big Ten Linebacker of the Year while recording 109 tackles and five sacks … Has inside/outside flexibility that should endear him to Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and sideline-to-sideline playmaking abilities that make him valuable in today’s speed-driven game … There are off-field concerns any team will have to answer, including accusations in a civil lawsuit that Parsons played a role in hazing a Penn State teammate.
Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern, 6-4, 304
Could the Giants find bookends for the offensive line in consecutive drafts after taking Andrew Thomas in last year’s first round? … Slater also projects at guard, which is more a position of need for the team than tackle, so he’d give them flexibility … Sharp, smart and physical … His best film is from his game against Chase Young in 2019, a player he might get to face twice a year in the NFC East.