Wink’s been waiting.
Ever since Don “Wink” Martindale arrived as the new defensive coordinator of the Giants he’s mostly sat by and watched the team’s front office work on improving the offense. There were nine new players signed in free agency and only two of them line up on defense. On top of that, two of the most productive defensive players on the team from a year ago have either been released (Logan Ryan) or are waiting to see if, when and where he’ll be traded (James Bradberry).
On Thursday night, though, Martindale’s patience may be rewarded.
The Giants hold the fifth and seventh picks in the upcoming NFL Draft and there is a good chance they’ll be using them to (finally) add talent to a defense that has many more question marks in personnel than exclamation points.
For the front office, that has meant not just scouting the incoming players but the schemes and types of athletes Martindale employed during his successful time in Baltimore.
“I'll give Wink a lot of credit, he's very open-minded,” general manager Joe Schoen said. “He likes players with versatility. He doesn't necessarily have size, length parameters. When we watched some Baltimore film, you could just see how much he values versatility, where he can play players, how he can put them in their best position to succeed.
“He's been really good, really clear, really defined in terms of what he's looking for.”
That stands to reason. Martindale knows what he likes and isn’t going to change his coaching philosophies.
Just listen to what Brian Daboll said last week when asked about his first impressions of Martindale, with whom he had never worked before this season.
“He wears the same wardrobe every day,” Daboll noted with a chuckle.
It was a friendly jab — “I’m not one to give fashion advice,” Daboll quickly added — but maybe a profound one as well. A guy who finds a sweatshirt he likes and stays committed to it on a daily basis isn’t a guy who will all of a sudden start altering his playbook.
So what is Martindale looking for? NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah dropped two names as possibilities.
“Jermaine Johnson makes a ton of sense to me with them,” he said of the player from Florida State whom he referred to as a “rugged” edge-setter. “He’s big, big and long, and he’s got some juice coming off the edge. That one kind of makes sense matching what they have traditionally had where Wink’s been.”
The other is cornerback Sauce Gardner.
“That’s a player I think Wink would fall in love with,” Jeremiah said of the Cincinnati cornerback. “With the range he has and he’s just so good at finding and playing the football and taking it away, I would think that would be a favorite for Wink.”
Another cornerback possibility is Derek Stingley Jr. from LSU. Schoen has had an eye on him since his breakout freshman season and many believe he can rebound from injuries and inconsistent play in the NFL.
There are other holes to fill on the depth chart, including an inside linebacker who can play alongside Blake Martinez (or in lieu of him if Martinez is not fully healed from the torn ACL that cost him most of last season). The Giants may also be interested in finding a wing man for Xavier McKinney. Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton may not fill a pressing need for them, but he may be ranked too high to pass him by if he is available.
Most people believe the Giants’ biggest need is an offensive lineman, and that is a priority for the team this week, even if it isn’t one in the first round. Because they pick fifth and seventh, if there are two offensive linemen the Giants like somewhat equally when they get on the clock they may select a defender first knowing that at least one of the two tackles will be there at seven. They may even trade back from seven and hope either one of the top three linemen remains available — has all the smoke about the Giants loving Charles Cross from Mississippi State been a setup for being able to grab him later in the round? — or depending on how far they retreat pick one of the many serviceable starting-caliber linemen who will be on the board late in the first or early in the second.
All of which indicates the Giants’ first first-round pick on Thursday will be a defender.
The Giants haven’t selected a defensive player first among their draft classes since Eli Apple in 2016, and before that the last one was Prince Amukamara in 2011. It’s been a long time since they have prioritized that side of the ball on the opening night of the draft.
The wait for fans — and for Martindale — may be coming to an end.
Four defensive players who make sense for the Giants in Thursday’s first round of the NFL Draft:
Florida State, Edge, 6-4, 254
A one-year starter at Florida State after two seasons at Georgia and deciding not to enter last year’s draft, Johnson recorded 12 sacks and 18 tackles for loss in 2021 … Scouts are impressed by his size and strength … Has the versatility to play in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme as an every-down player . . . The Giants have plenty of connections with him: He was college teammates at Georgia with Andrew Thomas, Azeez Ojulari and Tae Crowder, but he also played at Eden Prairie HS in Minnesota with past Giants draft picks Ryan Connelly and Carter Coughlin (Johnson was a wide receiver back then).
Oregon, Edge, 6-4, 254
Recorded 19.0 sacks over three seasons at Oregon and was a unanimous All-America in 2021 despite missing two games with an ankle injury . . . Explosive and athletic with long arms but some scouts wonder if he will have the body strength to compete in NFL trenches right away . . . Some see his off-field interests and confident personality as potential red flags. There are questions about his down-to-down commitment and his decision to sit out Oregon’s bowl game to prepare for the draft only fed into those concerns. If he is motivated and committed, though, he can become a game-wrecker.
AHMAD “SAUCE” GARDNER
Cincinnati, Cornerback, 6-2, 190
A tall, sticky player in coverage who impacted not just games but game plans; he had only 2.9 passes per game come in his direction last year as teams barely even tried to attack him . . . When he was tested as a freshman he led the team with 11 PDs and did not allow a touchdown. In fact he did not allow a touchdown pass in three years in college, a streak of 1,103 coverage snaps . . . Has the confidence and swagger you’d expect from someone nicknamed “Sauce,” but with an off-field maturity that belies his humble beginnings growing up in Detroit.
Notre Dame, Safety, 6-4, 220
A two-time All-America (and a freshman All-America) he recorded eight interceptions in three years in South Bend … Missed the final six games of 2021 with a knee injury but ran a 4.59 40-yard dash at the Combine . . . Has wily vision and anticipation that can confuse quarterbacks . . . A big, physical player who can be a force at the line of scrimmage but also provide coverage against tight ends and running backs, his presence would allow Xavier McKinney to roam the deep secondary while he handled the front of it.