The New York Giants are gearing up for another crucial NFL Draft. The 2021 NFL Draft will kick off in a few short weeks. After months of preparation and hard work, teams will finally put their plans in motion and draft in their franchises’ future building blocks. The New York Giants hold the eleventh overall pick in the draft this year. This year’s selection for the Giants is fascinating because they can successfully go in several different directions.
The Giants filled their major needs in the 2021 free agency period. New York spent big in free agency and added two playmakers on offense in Kenny Golladay and Kyle Rudolph. Still, the Giants could draft another weapon at eleven, but now they don’t have to. They also do not have to draft a cornerback early on since they filled that hole with the splash signing of Adoree’ Jackson.
There are a couple of needs, though, that the Giants could fill at eleven. One primary need that New York did not address in free agency is the offensive line. New York’s front line was amongst the worst in the league in 2020. They need to fix the offensive line in front of Daniel Jones to allow him to enjoy his new stable of weapons. But should they reach to draft for need or take the best player available regardless of position?
There are two top-tier prospects that can heat this debate to a boil. One of the draft’s top offensive tackles, Rashawn Slater, could potentially be available at eleven overall. But the draft’s top defensive prospect, linebacker Micah Parsons, could also be available for the Giants. What happens if both of those players are on the board? Do the Giants draft the best player available, or do they draft to fill a crucial need?
The best player available: Micah Parsons
Micah Parsons – a former top-five lock
Entering the pre-draft process months ago, Micah Parsons was a top-five lock and potentially a top-three talent in this year’s draft class. In fact, if at this time last year someone asked a Giants fan, “would you rather have Rashawn Slater or Micah Parsons in next year’s draft?” many fans would have responded with, “Who is Rashawn Slater? Micah Parsons could be a generational talent, so he is the pick for sure.”
Now the debate is much less black and white and a lot more gray. Some fans say “Rashawn Slater, not even close,” and others say “Micah Parsons, no debate.”
Neither one of these players played in 2020. They both opted out of the COVID-riddled 2020 collegiate season. But one player’s draft stock (Slater) has risen tremendously in the past year, and the other player’s draft stock (Parsons) has slid and taken a bit of a hit. This time last year, Parsons was never expected to fall outside the top five, and Slater was not even expected to be a top-ten pick. Now, many believe Parsons will fall outside of the top-ten, and many have a tough time envisioning a world where Slater is not a top-ten pick. Why is that?
The conversation around positional value
The reason for Parsons’s and Slater’s swap in draft projection is simple: positional value. Offensive tackles are a premium. An NFL offense is only as only good as its offensive line. An elite offensive lineman can transform an offense. But does an elite linebacker do that for an NFL defense? In some cases, sure.
But when you are the New York Giants who have a young quarterback entering his third season on a rookie contract, you want to know what you have in him before you pay him. It has been tough to evaluate Daniel Jones due to the lack of playmakers around him and the poor offensive line in front of him. In theory, solidifying the offensive line would allow the Giants to get a good look at Daniel Jones and decide if he is or is not the future of the franchise.
The Giants already have a top-notch defense. Micah Parsons could propel New York’s defense to be arguably the best unit in the league. But, unless the Giants see significant progress from the guys on the roster or hit on an offensive line prospect in the later rounds, their biggest weakness will still be their biggest weakness in this scenario.
Micah Parsons’s “red flag”
Granted, there is another factor at play other than the positional value with Micah Parsons. He had some off-the-field question marks regarding a hazing scandal at Penn State. But most scouts and analysts seem to have moved on from those allegations, and most seem to believe it will not be a problem in the NFL. Parsons himself explained that he was a 17-18-year-old kid when the hazing happened.
Now, Parsons is a 21-year-old young man and father that has presumably aged and matured past those freshman shenanigans. But this murky history could hold teams back from drafting Micah Parsons.
Micah Parsons – the best linebacker prospect since Luke Keuchly?
NFL Draft scouts and analysts love to make player comparisons. Last summer, before the 2020 NCAA and NFL seasons kicked off and before everyone dove deep into this year’s draft class, Micah Parsons was getting insane player comparisons.
Brad Kelly, an acclaimed NFL Draft analyst and offensive coordinator for Portsmouth, declared Micah Parsons as the best linebacker prospect since Luke Keuchly in March of 2020. Pro Football Focus made the same comparison in August of 2020. Last summer around Micah Parsons, the consensus was that he is a truly rare and special (maybe even generational) defensive talent. Now he is barely even a top-ten pick. That is confusing, considering Micah Parsons did not play in 2020 but still showed up and dominated his Pro Day.
Micah Parsons ran a 4.36s 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. His relative athletic score was a 9.59 out of 10 with elite speed grades, great size grades, great explosion grades, and good agility grades. Micah is a freak athlete. He is also a near-perfect linebacker prospect.
According to Pro Football Focus, Micah Parsons missed only 11 tackles on 188 attempts in his career and improved his missed-tackle rate from 2018 to 2019. Also from PFF, “on 127 career pass-rush snaps, the Penn State linebacker has racked up 29 pressures and a 91.4 pass-rush grade.”
Micah Parsons is a rare talent. He has the rare blend of size, speed, and athleticism, combined with elite instincts, tackling, pass-rushing, and playmaking ability. If the Giants are trying to draft the best player available, they are drafting the next Luke Keuchly, and they are spending the eleventh overall pick on a home-run selection in Micah Parsons.
Drafting for need: Rashawn Slater
If the New York Giants are drafting for need, they are taking the best offensive lineman on the board and never looking back. Penei Sewell is widely considered to be the best offensive lineman in this year’s class. But Rashawn Slater is deemed to be a close second, and, in some rare cases, he is the top offensive lineman on some draft boards.
The Giants’ lowly 2020 offensive line performance
The Giants’ pass-block win rate in 2020, according to ESPN, ranked dead-last in the NFL at 46%. Their run-block win-rate ranked 18th at 70%, which is about average or slightly below. So while the Giants did upgrade Daniel Jones’s weapons in free agency, they still desperately need to fix the offensive line in front of him.
When the value of talent meets the importance of the need in the first round of the draft
The Giants need an upgrade on the offensive line. Whether that be at right tackle or offensive guard, the Giants need to add some talent to their front line more than any other position. 2021 is the year of Daniel Jones. New York needs to evaluate how he plays when he has sufficient talent around him. The painful truth is that the Giants’ talent on the offensive line is insufficient. Changes need to be made.
Rashawn Slater would be that massive upgrade on the Giants’ offensive line. He would be the talented player to fill that enormous need for the Giants. Slater was a dominant left tackle at Northwestern that deleted Chase Young in pass protection during their 2019 matchup. But in his 2018 freshman season, Slater played right tackle and was excellent on that side of the line, too.
Rashawn Slater and the importance of versatility
If the Giants drafted Slater, they have a plethora of options in front of them, thanks to Rashawn’s positional versatility. He is naturally an excellent left tackle, but the Giants just drafted their left tackle in 2020 with Andrew Thoams. Potentially, Thomas could make the switch to right tackle, and the Giants could plug in Rashawn Slater to protect Daniel Jones’s blindside. But Slater’s distant history at right tackle in 2018 could make him the day one starter at right tackle.
New York feels confident in its current starting tackles, though. They love Andrew Thomas and feel confident in Matt Peart’s potential as a future starter. On the interior, though, the Giants are expected to roll out former fifth-round pick and eight-game starter Shane Lemieux alongside the former starting guard who was benched for Lemieux, Will Hernandez. That is kind of scary, especially considering Lemieux is a clear work in progress.
Rashawn Slater was an excellent left tackle in college and deserves a chance to start outside in the NFL. However, he is pretty severely undersized for an offensive tackle. Many believe that Slater will find more success playing guard in the NFL. The most significant need on the Giants roster is at offensive guard. If he is there at eleven, the Giants could draft Rashawn Slater and get a day-one starter and a massive upgrade at offensive guard. Rashawn Slater is the top pick for the Giants to fill their most significant need, even if he is not the top talent on the board at eleven.
Rashawn Slater – the second-best player available?
While Micah Parsons would be the best player available if he is on the board at eleven, the argument could be made that Parsons and Rashawn Slater’s talent gap is not that wide. Just like Parsons, Slater is a guy with All-Pro potential. Some might even argue that Slater is the best player available, though the consensus would seem to indicate that Parsons is the higher-grade prospect between the two.
But Slater and Parsons might have relatively similar prospect grades. Not to say that Rashawn Slater is a potentially generational offensive tackle talent, but he is potentially an elite offensive lineman and long-term starter at the next level.
During Rashawn Slater’s dominant 2019 season that saw him lock up Chase Young, Slater produced a 90.0 PFF grade and allowed just five pressures over 11 games in his final season at Northwestern in 2019. According to Pro Football Focus, Slater was one of just five offensive linemen in 2019 with a grade of 87.0 or better in both run-blocking and pass-protecting. He allowed just five pressures on 355 pass-blocking snaps as a 20-year-old true junior. Slater also allowed only one hit on the quarterback, and no sacks surrendered all season.
Rashawn Slater could step in and fix the Giants’ pass-protection issues overnight. Slater could have an impact on the Giants’ offensive similar to the impact that Tristan Wirfs had in Tampa Bay last season. Wirfs was an undersized rookie near-All-Pro right tackle for the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. Slater could be that athletic, undersized tackle that exceeds expectations in 2021.
Realistically, the Giants cannot go wrong in this scenario. With one pick, New York lands the best defender in the draft class and tries to fix the offensive line in round two. Micah Parsons transforms New York’s defense, aiding in run support and boosting their pass-rush. The Giants potentially have the best defense in the NFL next season while the offense makes strides and the team is hopefully looking at their first playoff berth in years.
The other scenario is pretty, too. Drafting Rashawn Slater gives the Giants long-term security on the offensive line. Andrew Thomas and Rashawn Slater hold down the fort for the next decade. New York gets to evaluate Daniel Jones properly as the offense takes a huge step forward and goes from a weakness to a potential strength.
Maybe Rashawn Slater is the better long-term choice. Maybe Micah Parsons makes the Giants a contender overnight. Of course, the draft is a crapshoot, which is why many teams go “best player available” with every pick. But this crapshoot aspect also leads teams to think, if it is so hard to hit on a pick, we might as well try to hit on a player we need.
Either one of these players would be looked at as home-run selections for the New York Giants. Micah Parsons and Rashawn Slater are both worthy of being the number eleven overall pick in the draft. The Giants are in a great position and have the chance to leave fans happy no matter whom they select in the first round.
To me, the easy pick is Micah Parsons. He is a talent that you do not pass up. I’m going best player available and looking to land one of the interior offensive linemen in round two. This is a deep draft class for offensive linemen. But no class is ever deep in potentially generational defensive talent. Parsons would be a rare find and a true weapon in Patrick Graham’s defensive scheme. For me, if he is on the board at eleven, Micah Parsons is the pick, no questions asked.
The fanbase is split on this decision, but seemingly leaning towards Rashawn Slater out of Northwestern. I asked the question on Twitter: Rashawn Slater or Micah Parsons? I received over 100 responses. It seems that the consensus among fans is to fill the most significant need with Rashawn Slater. The most frequently given reason is Daniel Jones’s development. Fans are sick and tired of seeing their rookie quarterback get beat up game after game. Rashawn Slater is the fan selection because fans want to see Daniel Jones get a fair chance in 2021.
Personally, I can respect this opinion and still stan firmly with my own. As I said, the Giants cannot go wrong at eleven. If these two prospects are on the board, they would both be home-run selections, and I cannot wait to see what happens at the end of the month. The New York Giants are one step closer to turning this thing around and becoming a playoff team once again.