With the NFL draft approaching in late April, Newsday’s Tom Rock, Calvin Watkins and Nick Klopsis look at where the Giants and Jets stand.
Where do you have the Giants and Jets going in the first round?
KLOPSIS: As of right now, I have a feeling they both go quarterback early, but for different reasons.
First, the Giants. Eli Manning certainly didn’t play well last year, but he wasn’t the main reason why the offense struggled. There were injuries, a rushing attack ranked 26th in yards per game and an offensive line that couldn’t consistently provide protection. It’s not often that the Giants finds themselves drafting No. 2 overall, which makes it the prime position to plan for life after Eli. A lot of it depends on how the new regime of head coach Pat Shurmur and GM Dave Gettleman view last year’s third-rounder, Davis Webb, but if they think one of the top quarterbacks is their guy for the next 15 years post-Eli, they should take him and not look back. If they’re not sold on any of them, or they think Webb is the answer and they can squeeze some more time out of Manning, I could see them going after Saquon Barkley out of Penn State — provided they’re able to fix the O-line. Barkley would bring that home-run aspect the Giants’ rushing game has lacked since Ahmad Bradshaw. And it may not be a “sexy” pick, but Quenton Nelson of Notre Dame is the best lineman in this class, and he could be an immediate starter at guard if Justin Pugh goes elsewhere.
The Jets’ need for a passer is more immediate, and with Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg so far failing to show they are the answer, I’d expect them to take a look at whichever passers are left when they’re on the clock at No. 6. Do they try to trade up to ensure they get their guy? Well, they do have an extra second-round pick from the Sheldon Richardson deal. But whether they do or not, I could see them going with Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson or Josh Allen – whichever one best fits new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates’ style. Of course, if they end up signing Kirk Cousins in free agency, that would change everything. Maybe then, they try for a pass-rusher such as N.C. State’s Bradley Chubb (if he falls that far), bolster their offensive line with Nelson, or get some secondary help in Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Should the Jets just get their quarterback in free agency?
WATKINS: I’m not a big Kirk Cousins guy, his lack of playoff appearances, just one start, and his below .500 overall record doesn’t get me excited. However, I do understand why the Jets would like to acquire him. But with about five quarterbacks expected to go in the first-round, it might be time to fill some of the holes on their roster. There is so much uncertainty with the free agent quarterbacks, only Drew Brees interests me, and he’ll go back to New Orleans. Every quarterback on the open market, Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford and even Josh McCown, have question marks. Do you want a question mark as your quarterback for 2018? I would believe signing McCown as a bridge quarterback is the right play here, but Cousins’ skillset is hard to pass up.
If the Giants don’t draft a quarterback, does that mean Eli will be the quarterback into his mid 40s?
ROCK: Not necessarily. They still have Davis Webb, and while it was a waste for him to not play at all in 2017 he still has promise and may wind up being what we all made him out to be when the Giants drafted him last year: The heir apparent to Manning.
So let’s say the Giants do not draft a quarterback and roll into 2018 with Manning and Webb. That’s a pretty good place to be. Manning is in place for the win-now effort, to start the year off and see if an overhauled roster and new coaching staff can make a big difference in the results. If the Giants play well, Manning guided them to playoff contention. If he doesn’t, well, Ben McAdoo already did the dirty work of ending Manning’s streak, and it’s time to see what Webb can do for the team.
I think the ideal situation in the minds of the Giants’ brass right now is that Manning starts and plays all 16 games in 2018 no matter who is on the roster. That would mean the team is winning and Manning is playing well. Then they will have to make a decision about going forward with 2019 being the final year on Manning’s contract.
My guess is that anything short of a deep playoff run in the 2018 season will mean that Manning will not be the quarterback into his mid-40s. If he can guide the team to the top, though, I suspect he’ll have an extension on his deal before the 2019 season begins.
Say the Giants draft a QB, do you like Rosen or Darnold or Allen?
ROCK: Because the Giants have committed to Eli for the start of the 2018 season at least, they’re in that win-now mode. That’s why I don’t think they will draft a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick. That player will not be able to help them win now. What they could do is pick someone such as Saquon Barkley at No. 2 and then see how the draft plays out. Maybe jump back in late in the first round to pick up Baker Mayfield or trade back in the second for Mason Rudolph or Lamar Jackson.
But for the sake of the question, you have to look at who is making the selection. Dave Gettleman was the GM for the Panthers when they went to the Super Bowl and Cam Newton was the MVP of the league. That was probably enough of an experience to convince him that the future of the NFL is in quarterbacks who are dual threats. Now, there isn’t a Cam Newton in this crop in terms of physical abilities to run and pass. So let’s see who comes the closest.
I like watching Allen throw the football. My guess is that after the underwear Olympics at the Combine, a lot of folks are going to be gaga over his arm. But he scares me when he is on the move and has to chuck it. The NFL isn’t a seven-on-seven drill, and I don’t think Allen will be able to create in the pocket the way winning quarterbacks have to these days.
Rosen reminds me of Eli, actually. The classic pocket passer who will stand in there against pressure and deliver strong passes down the field. If Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin were making this pick and wanted to maintain a continuity in quarterback styles as they transition from Manning to their next franchise quarterback, I think Rosen would be their guy. But they’re not here anymore.
Which brings us to Darnold. He’s not a run-first quarterback, but he can do a lot with his legs. I’d say he’s somewhat similar to Aaron Rodgers or Andrew Luck in terms of being sneaky fleet. You’re not going to design running plays for him like you might for Newton or Russell Wilson, but he’ll be able to turn nothings into somethings with a pump fake and then take off. He also has the size to survive that kind of play. There’s a little bit of Roethlisberger in that regard.
So I would go for Darnold. He’s not mechanically the best of the bunch, but the Giants won’t need him to be by September because they already said Manning will be the starter. They can coach him, work on his ball security (20 picks in his last 20 games is concerning), and, if things are souring in the second half of the season, bring him in and let him do his thing.
Who is the best quarterback in the draft?
KLOPSIS: Right now, it’s kind of a 1A-1B-1C for me between Darnold, Rosen and Baker Mayfield. Darnold has the arm, pocket poise and toughness to succeed, while Rosen is a polished passer with great mechanics who may end up being good enough to start Week 1. But I’m very high on Mayfield and think he can be a star in the NFL. His height is something to watch out for, but the good quarterbacks who are short are able to make up for it elsewhere, and Mayfield does that with his great arm, mobility and overall playmaking ability.
The Jets need a running back. If they pick one at No. 6, who should it be?
WATKINS: The best running back in the draft is Barkley and he could be available at No. 6. Barkley is the best play for the Jets, if the quarterback position is settled. If Barkley is gone by the No. 6 pick, I wonder if Ronald Jones II is worth getting at No. 6. I doubt it. However, Sony Michel or Nick Chubb should be around in the early portions of the second round. Bilal Powell led the Jets in rushing in 2017, but can he become the every down back you need for the next three-to-five years?
I like the running style of Elijah McGuire, who performed well at times during his rookie season. McGuire is a good No. 2 back and I would like to see him in the return game somewhat next year.
The Jets have been linked to Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick. Can he play corner?
KLOPSIS: I think so. He played all over the secondary at Alabama – he started his career as the “star” (which is the Crimson Tide’s version of a nickel cornerback), shifted back to safety as a sophomore, then returned to corner for his junior season. There even were times where Alabama used him in the box as a blitzer. He reminds me of Jalen Ramsey in that respect. Coming out of Florida State, Ramsey was a guy who could be a Week 1 starter at either safety or cornerback, and he’s since developed into an All-Pro corner with the Jaguars. Fitzpatrick might be even more versatile, though. I tend to like him a little more at safety, where his range really can be maximized, but if I had him at corner on my board, he’d probably be No. 1 in the class there, too.
How much do you trust the new GM with making the right decisions?
ROCK: If you look at Gettleman’s drafts in Carolina, they were filled with picks that didn’t create a lot of headlines when they were made but developed into solid players. He picked defensive tackle Kawaan Short in the second round in 2013, guard Trai Turner in the third round in 2014. Both are now Pro Bowlers. In 2015, he picked three starters for the team: LB Shaq Thompson, TE Devin Funchess and RT Daryl Williams. Probably the only marquee-level pick he made – the kind that draws attention and changes the dynamic of the team immediately -- was Christian McCaffery in the first round last year.
So what does that tell us? That Gettleman doesn’t let the present impact what he can see in the long game. That he knows pro football personnel and, unlike his predecessor with the Giants, is not enamored purely by the height, weight and speed of the prospects. That he is more interested in heart and production than potential. That he probably won’t be introducing any of his draft picks as “the JPP of tight ends,” as Reese did with Adrien Robinson.
“There are guys that play professional football and there are professional football players,” Gettleman said when he was introduced in December. “And the professional football players are the guys we want.”
The problem the Giants have faced in the last few years is a lack of young core players from the middle rounds who are solid contributors. There were too many gambles, too many busts. I think Gettleman will be able to develop that core. His first pick this year will of course be newsworthy. It’s the Giants. It’s No. 2 overall. It may be one of the top quarterbacks in the draft. But I think the trust will come from the picks he makes throughout that weekend, not just in the first round. That’s where he’ll start to shape the future of the Giants. And that’s what he was brought back to do.
How can the Giants upgrade at left tackle in the draft?
KLOPSIS: Ereck Flowers hasn’t really improved since coming into the league in 2015 – he was rated the 54th-best tackle by Pro Football Focus last season, and he may end up being a better fit on the right side where he can use his power to open up holes in the running game. The problem is, there aren’t many tackles worth taking in the first round in this class. I think the three best are Texas’ Connor Williams, Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown (the son of former NFLer “Zeus” Brown) and Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey, and they’re more mid-first round guys at this point. So maybe they use their second-rounder (34th overall) to find some “hog mollies,” as Gettleman calls them. Western Michigan’s Chukwuma Okorafor could be available at the top of the second round. There also are a few interior linemen worth considering there, too – Ohio State’s Billy Price, UTEP’s Will Hernandez and Auburn’s Braden Smith could be guys to watch.
Is this the last draft for Jets GM Mike Maccagnan?
WATKINS: He signed a two-year contract extension with Todd Bowles, so in theory they’re aligned at the hip. Maccagnan is smart and has a scout’s mentality about the draft. Yet, the Jets can’t miss on the quarterback position this year, be it in the draft or in free agency. Maccagnan has three picks, a No. 6 and two second-rounders, that must become impact players in 2018. If he can’t find that in this draft, then the second guessing will come.