New York Giants: Defensive Players to Watch at the Combine

New York Giants, Nate Solder, Jon Halapio, Mike Remmers

It is no secret to anyone reading this, but the New York Giants are in serious need of defensive talent.  At the time of this article, the Giants have just $23.2 million of their 2020 cap space allocated to the defensive side of the football.  For comparison, that is less than what both Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald will count towards the Bears and Rams respectively.  The next closest figure is that of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which is $42.9 million.

It is without question that the New York Giants will target the defense in both Free Agency and April’s draft.  Everyone knows the big name prospects that the Giants may or may not be able to get in the first round.  Chase Young, Isaiah Simmons, Derrick Brown and Jeffrey Okudah are all well known and potential targets for Big Blue in the early stages.  Yet, with currently 10 picks throughout the entire draft, including compensatory picks, the Giants need to be able to target defenders at every stage.

Who are some other prospects the Giants could target in days 2 and 3?

EDGE Zack Baun – Wisconsin

Zack Baun has been a named mocked to the Giants in the 2nd round by numerous sources.  However, he doesn’t have a flashy name like Young, K’Lavon Chaisson or A.J. Epenesa.  For Giants fans well in tune with Joe Judge’s plan of versatility, maybe you should get accustomed to it.  Baun is a defensive playmaker that will be best suited in a versatile role.  His quickness and burst are what will make him stand out in pressure generation.  He can quickly fill gaps in the run game, as well.  If Zack Baun is indeed a selection for the Giants, look for him to play all over the field for the defense.

CB Damon Arnette – Ohio State

I will not be surprised to see Ohio State’s Damon Arnette sneak into the first round after a good showing in Indianapolis.  His skills in press coverage would be well suited for every team in the NFL.  Arnette does not have the elite speed most teams may covet in a corner, so safety help is a must.  Where he does excel, are his ball skills and short-area abilities.

EDGE Joshua Uche – Michigan

No, this isn’t an article of Big Ten athletes.  Joshua Uche is just good.  In his interview this week, Jedrick Wills picked Uche when asked who his toughest matchup was in college.  That is saying a lot coming from an Alabama prospect.  Uche is not the most filled out athlete, but his quickness and bend is top-notch.  He has the frame to add more mass, which could really propel him into the top echelon of NFL pass rushers.

S Kyle Dugger – Lenoir-Rhyne

The South Atlantic Conference in NCAA’s Division II is about as far away from the Big Ten as one could get.  Kyle Dugger, however, will be competing with top tier talent on Sunday’s.  Dugger is another versatile defensive weapon.  One could call him a poor man’s Isaiah Simmons.  However, if he gets called to play for the New York Giants, they’d very likely hit it rich.  Dugger may find the best success transitioning to LB.  In fact, he was asked to take part in LB drills at the NFL Combine.  He may not have the same skill set as Simmons, but he comes with similar versatility.

LB Akeem Davis-Gaithers – Appalachian State

Another prospect from a “smaller” program, Akeem Davis-Gaithers has the talent that the Giants are looking for.  He’s a linebacker that comes with a very good range.  In college, he occasionally was asked to cover wide receivers, but absolutely has the athleticism to cover running backs and tight ends in pass defense.  Similar to Uche, he could afford to put on some extra pounds.  With his hard-hitting mindset, it would be extremely beneficial for him to do so at the next level.

S Shyheim Carter – Alabama

The Giants have had success with Alabama safeties and Shyheim Carter could be the next.  Like Landon Collins, Carter does his best work near the line of scrimmage.  Another versatile, hybrid player, the New York Giants could very well benefit from his services.  Also like Collins, however, he is not someone you’d trust covering a running back or tight end in coverage.

LB Cameron Brown – Penn State

A late-round prospect, Cam Brown is the type of linebacker the Giants have needed.  He has incredible range and athleticism.  Often being bumped out to cover wide receivers in the slot and tight ends.  The Nittany Lions used him quite often in pass defense of the flat zones.  He’s got the range to play WILL but will need to bulk up and clean up his tackle finishing for the NFL.

 

How can the New York Giants upgrade their secondary?

New York Jets, Logan Ryan, Tennessee Titans

The New York Giants pass defense was well documented as being one of the worst in the league last season.  The Giants secondary gave up more than 4,200 passing yards on the season (28th overall) and 7.1 yards per pass attempt (29th overall).  New York must upgrade their pass defense, but according to ESPN’s Jordan Raanan, those upgrades will not come from spending big in the cornerback market in free agency.

How will the New York Giants improve their pass defense?

Much of the headaches in the pass defense could be attributed to the lack of experience in the secondary.  Only three of the cornerbacks that saw impactful snap counts for the Giants defense last season had any playing time before last season.  Only one, Janoris Jenkins, started more than ten games heading into 2019. 

Many believe that the New York Giants may look at the top of the 2020 NFL Draft to help upgrade the cornerback position, but is adding more inexperience a good move?  Maybe. Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah seems to have the talent. However, adding a veteran presence to replace Janoris Jenkins looks to be the better move for New York.

If the rumors are true and the Giants won’t spend big on the cornerback market in free agency, who does that leave?  It most certainly rules out Byron Jones, assuming he doesn’t get an extension from Dallas. Jones will be one of the most highly sought free agents on the market and will likely get paid as such.  

Chris Harris, Jr., Logan Ryan, Bradley Roby, and Jimmy Smith are all free agents that made at or above $10 million per year on average.  However, is $10 million the bar for the Giants? Also, was their performance or age going to impact their number? I wouldn’t rule these names out like I would with Jones, but they may be just outside where New York is willing to go for the position.

So, who could the Giants target in free agency?

Former first-round selection for the Minnesota Vikings, Trae Waynes found himself not having an excellent coverage year in 2019.  His speed is his top trait, and he consistently has been good as a run defender. Unfortunately, his coverage ability has not been as consistent.  He shows flashes, but in the last four seasons has given up 16 touchdowns.

Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Darqueze Dennard is another intriguing name for New York to keep an eye on.  He’s a solid cornerback, particularly in the slot, but has not been the most durable. With only one full season in the last six, health should undoubtedly be a concern for the Giants.  

I am sure the Giants would love to take Byron Jones away from a divisional rival and excel.  However, if the cost is an issue, there may be another option. Enter former Eagle Ronald Darby. Darby had an extremely forgetful 2019 season, posting an abysmal 45.9 grade with PFF.  He has battled injuries throughout his career and was put on injured reserve in December for a hip injury. Before 2019, Darby had been a very reliable starter, when healthy. Could he return to that form?

What is the Giants answer at improving the pass defense?

All of these options are risky.  Spend less money on inconsistent talent or durability concerns.  This has been the gamble that has hurt the New York Giants in other recent free agency moves.  The best way to help an inexperienced pass defense is to upgrade the pass rush. It’s been the story for the Giants all along, and that will not change.  

Yannick Ngakoue, Shaquil Barrett, and Kyle Van Noy could all be and should be considerations for the Giants.  The Chase Young dream is unlikely. Isaiah Simmons is versatile and talented, but will that translate to a consistent threat in disrupting the quarterback?  Trading back and somehow taking a K’Lavon Chaisson, AJ Epenesa, or any of the other next tier rookie edge defenders is an option. Whatever the case, if the Giants want to improve the pass defense without spending big in free agency, the best way to do that is to spend big in getting to the quarterback.

The Real Question for the New York Giants at 4

New York Giants, DeAndre Baker

The New York Giants have a very real dilemma if they do not trade back in the 2020 NFL Draft this April.  Of course, any Giant fan will hold on to the dream of Chase Young falling to New York, but the roads to get there are nearly impassable.  

It would take a team willing to outbid the Miami Dolphins, who hold five picks in the first two rounds this year, for Washington’s pick.  Which would also mean the Redskins would be willing to move outside the Top 5.

Possible? Sure. So is me winning a lottery jackpot upwards of one billion dollars?

What options do the Giants realistically have at 4?

Fans of the New York Giants should stick to three options assuming they stay at number 4.  Those options are offensive tackle, a versatile defensive unicorn, and another young cornerback.

Offensive Tackle

Fortunately for the Giants, the offensive tackle class has some very good talent.  There are four options right now that the Giants could consider at the 4th overall. Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, and Mekhi Becton out of Louisville.  

Jedrick Wills seems to be separating himself a bit from the rest, but Mekhi Becton has been gaining quite a bit of steam heading into the pre-draft process.  I wrote in my most recent mock draft that I believe Andrew Thomas would be the best fit for the Giants run game, but Becton Wills and Wirfs all have their arguments as well.  Admittedly, I’m beginning to lean more towards Wills, while not being able to deny the lateral movement of Becton. Regardless, if Dave Gettleman wants to add a hog molly with the 4th pick, there are plenty of options.

The Unicorn

All I really need to say here is the name “Isaiah Simmons” and end this paragraph.  Everyone knows his name and what he can do. He’s versatile, he’s talented and he has very few, if any, weaknesses to his game.  Simmons can play a variety of positions, which is what makes him attractive for the Giants here. He wouldn’t fix all of the defenses issues, but wherever he plays best would be an upgrade for New York.

His best fit for the Giants would likely be linebacker.  Either as an interior LB or as the WILL in a 4-3 front. Regardless, he can cover running backs, tight ends and even wide receivers, as well as be an impact blitzer.  If you’ve been a fan of the Giants for awhile, you likely desire a talented sideline-to-sideline linebacker that can defend the pass against running backs and tightends as much as I have.  Simmons is that answer.

Cornerback

Albeit the least likely of the three options, one can not rule out the Giants potential attraction to Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah.  Okudah’s man coverage skills and athletic ability may result in him evolving into one of, if not the best cornerback in the NFL during his time.  He is physical and can stay on a receivers hip through any route. Okudah’s ball skills are tremendous. He may need to work on his zone presence a little, but the value he adds in the pass game outweighs that.

The Dilemma

To me, the real debate for the Giants if they choose to stay at four is simple.  Linebacker or offensive tackle. Of course, Simmons can play more than just linebacker, but he is best suited for the middle of the defense.  He’s not a true EDGE rusher and putting him at safety takes him away from being a consistent impact on every rep. If the Giants draft Simmons, it is to play him at linebacker.  

As much as I covet a game-changing linebacker for this team, is a linebacker more valuable and more of a dire need for the New York Giants?  It certainly is something they need to address, but let’s not ignore the issues at offensive line.

The problems along the offensive line have been rampant for the Giants for years.  Nate Solder was given a big contract but has not lived up to it. The right tackle has been a carousel of players with no clear answer.  Misfortune and durability have crippled the starting center role. Trying to patch the line up can no longer be an answer.  

OL Nick Gates showed promise last season.  He stepped in when Mike Remmers was injured and looked good.  Whether or not he can be a consistent starter quality talent for New York is still a question.  Free-agent Jack Conklin has been a name linked to the Giants for some time now, but his signing with Big Blue is no certainty either.  Even with the addition of Conklin, do either him or Gates have what it takes to play left tackle? Can Nate Solder drastically improve?  

Finding a talented offensive line is not just a problem that plagues the Giants.  Every team in the NFL values talent on their line every off-season. There are plenty of teams with good lines, but having depth is another thing.  Jack Conklin could command big money in free agency, which the Giants have, but are they willing and able to outbid other suitors? Time will tell. 

The 2020 offensive tackle class this year is pretty talented.  As noted earlier, there are four options for the Giants with the 4th pick.  Usually, if a position of need is deep, I am all for waiting to select a player.  However, is this really something worth risking to wait until taking with the 2nd pick?  Would players like Josh Jones, Lucas Niang and Austin Jackson have the same impact and longevity? They might, but why let another team dictate who you can pick if you have the fortune of being able to choose whoever you want?

Isaiah Simmons is a fantastic athlete and I will not be disappointed to hear his name called to the Giants in April.  I will be the first in line to buy his jersey.  However, when it comes down to it, offensive tackle is a much more important need than a linebacker. The Giants have taken risks in the last two drafts.  A running back with the 2nd overall pick, and then a controversial QB selection in 2019. It is imperative for the success of the team to give both of those players help.  Even if that means sacrificing a unicorn in the process.

Debate: Should the New York Giants take a WR at 4?

New York Giants, DeAndre Baker

As the NFL season comes to a close, fans of the New York Giants have already begun speculating moves that their beloved team should do this offseason.  Something that has become all too familiar over the last few seasons.

One position of intrigue and debate is wide receiver.  After trading away Odell Beckham Jr. and being thin at the position, many wonders if the Giants will take an elite receiver at the top of this April’s NFL Draft.  Others, on the other hand, believe this would be a mistake. Which side are you on?

Making the case for a WR in Round 1

With the 4th overall pick in hand and considering the needs of Washington and Detroit in front of them, the New York Giants very likely could miss out on a premier defensive talent yet again.  Chase Young seems bound for Washington. Isaiah Simmons’ performance has made him a strong candidate to go 3rd overall. So, what does that mean for the Giants?

Popular options include trading back to a quarterback hungry team, taking a young offensive tackle or grabbing another cornerback.  However, many others think the New York Giants should be taking a wide receiver. 

Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb have been considered by some to be ideal selections for the Giants.  Jeudy has been compared to the Cowboys’ Amari Cooper and can be the outside receiver New York covets. His speed and agility make him a threat at all levels.  

Then there is CeeDee Lamb.  Lamb has incredible ball skills and control of his 6’2” frame.  Many compare Lamb to Houston’s Deandre Hopkins or even 6-time Pro Bowler, Reggie Wayne.  How could the New York Giants pass on that?

Even if the Giants were to trade down, the talent in this draft class at the receiver is very deep.  Clemon’s Tee Higgins, Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III, LSU’s Justin Jefferson, and Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr. are just some of the names that could be called in the 1st round.

Making the case against a WR in Round 1

The depth of this receiving class may be the strongest case against taking a receiver in the first round.  It is no secret that the New York Giants have needed all over, especially on the defense and offensive line.  Is taking a receiver in the Top 5 really the best use of draft capital?

Without trading out, the Giants are sitting in a great position to address many needs with premier talent.  Isaiah Simmons is an ideal fit, but may not be available. Ohio State CB Jeffrey Okudah is another top prospect that will be available with the 4th pick.  The tackle position is very top-heavy, with Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Alabama’s Jedrick Wills and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas all being considered as the best tackle prospect in the class. 

The Giants have a talented group of receivers already, but they are thin at the position.  With the injuries they suffered last season, having depth is critical. Taking a wide receiver later in the draft may be their best option.  Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk, Southern Cal’s Michael Pittman Jr. and Ohio State’s K.J.Hill are just some of the names the Giants could call at any point in the later rounds.  Temple wide receiver Isaiah Wright has been impressing scouts this week at the Shrine Bowl and could very well be a breakout player in the NFL.

What about the free-agent market?

The New York Giants are going to have a ton of money available for free agency.  If they prioritize the offensive line and defense in the NFL Draft, they have some options in free agency in order to build out the depth at wide receiver.

New York can definitely bring back guys that WR Coach Tyke Tolbert is familiar with.  Cody Latimer, Cody Core, and even Da’Mari Scott would all be unsurprising returns to the Giants.  If the G-Men dip elsewhere in free agency, they do have options. They could look to add a veteran with a one year deal, much like Randall Cobb, Demaryius Thomas or Danny Amendola.  The veteran option giving them depth, talent, and experience as a stop-gap for the season.

What about a younger option that could be signed for a longer deal?  WR Amari Cooper hasn’t be resigned by Dallas… yet. The Jets Robby Anderson looks to be headed to the open market and will be sought after.  There are also options like Rashard Higgins, who showed flashes with his time in Cleveland before the Browns brought in Landry and Odell.

Whatever the case may be, the New York Giants will have to address the lack of depth at wide receiver.  The talent is there, especially with the emergence of Darius Slayton, but there is a longevity concern that will need to be taken into consideration.