Head coaches are selected from factors such as philosophy, the ability to hire excellent staff, and strong leadership. Once in a while, these coveted strengths are found in special teams coaches, including New York Giants coach Joe Judge and the last special teams coach to make the leap, Baltimore Ravens’ current head coach John Harbaugh. Let’s examine their first forays into the NFL draft as head coaches.
- QUARTERBACKS AND OFFENSIVE TACKLES
The two coaches both had to face their first NFL drafts as unproven head coaches, and their approach couldn’t be more different. In 2008, the Ravens were not comfortable with who they had under center. In 2007, starter Kyle Boller only started 12 games and threw a paltry nine touchdowns. The Ravens spent their first-round selection (pick #18) on Joe Flacco, a quarterback from the University of Delaware. Flacco has gone on to bring home a Super Bowl.
The New York Giants already began 2020 with a quarterback in Daniel Jones, but like the Ravens, they knew the importance of shoring up the offense by drafting offensive tackle Andrew Thomas from Georgia. Judge and the Giants continued to bolster the offensive line taking Matt Peart (third round/pick #99).
The Ravens wouldn’t draft a tackle until Oniel Cousins from UTEP in the third round (pick #99). Cousins was waived in 2010 after playing both the guard and tackle positions in very limited capacities for the Ravens. They also drafted David Hale (fourth round/pick #133) another OT late in the draft. He played eighteen games before being cut in the 2010 preseason.
The Giants already spent elsewhere (including Solder, Zeitler, and Tate), so bolstering the offensive line in the draft was necessary to stay under the cap and give Jones some added protection.
- THE PERCEIVED VALUE OF RUNNING BACKS
The second round of the 2008 draft would also prove interesting for the Ravens, and while not comparable directly with Judge the Raven’s pick would showcase their similarity with the current Giants front office. They used their second pick (#55) on running back Ray Rice. The Ravens would release Rice in 2014 while on suspension for domestic violence. Prior to his released, he amassed 3 Pro-Bowl selections, 37 touchdowns, and over 6,000 rushing yards.
This selection is undoubtedly reflective of Giants General Manager Dave Gettleman and his staff after selecting Saquon Barkley with the second pick in the 2018 draft. In just two seasons, Barkley has tallied one Pro-Bowl selection and 2,300 rushing yards. Both front offices believed in the value of running backs and what they bring to the offense. Whether or not Barkley’s value continues to satisfy the Giants’ front office and coaching staff remains to be seen, but the current evidence certainly suggests he’s doing his part to keep the offense running.
- DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO THE LINEBACKER PROBLEM
In the third round, the Ravens selected Tavares Gooden, a linebacker from Miami. Gooden struggled to stay healthy and was released in 2011. Judge refrained from drafting a linebacker so early in the draft, but the Giants already used some of their financial capital in March when they signed Blake Martinez, a proven linebacker, to a three-year 30 million dollar contract. Judge still valued drafting a linebacker and took Cam Brown late (sixth round/pick #183). The Ravens felt more confident than the Giants in taking a linebacker in the draft, but both organizations still nabbed one. At the same time, the Giants ultimately placed more value on a proven commodity in Martinez.
- SAFELY DRAFTING SAFETIES
Harbaugh used two picks in 2008 on safeties. Tom Zbikowski from Notre Dame (third round/pick #86) and Haruki Nakamura from Cincinnati (sixth round/pick #206) were both expected to be real contributors. Zbikowski played 56 games for the Ravens, including 14 games as a starter. Nakamura was a solid player but never became a standout before signing with the Panthers in 2012.
The Giants did its best to improve the secondary by drafting safety Xavier McKinney (round two/pick #36) from Alabama. He was First Team All-SEC in 2019 and recorded 82 tackles as a senior.
There are a few takeaways from comparing the two drafts. It’s incredibly clear that the draft is impossible to get right. Most of the picks the Ravens were counting on didn’t last more than a few years. And Ray Rice may have had impeccable NFL stats, but his domestic violence charges made him rightfully impossible to keep. The only success story the Ravens had was Joe Flacco, but if you can hit on a quarterback, you’ve had a successful draft. What happens with this 2020 Giants draft is impossible to declare at this point.
Both coaches, though clearly placed value on offensive tackles, linebackers, and safeties, whether in the draft of free agency. They both clearly wanted to invest in protecting the quarterback, supporting the defensive linemen, and bulking up the pass coverage. These three things have been an anemic deficiency in the Giants scheme for years. Hopefully, Judge and Gettleman solved this problem through the 2020 draft, but only time will tell.