Where the New York Giants Could Go in Night One of the 2021 NFL Draft

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Stephen Lebitsch, Staff Writer

It has been nearly four months since the New York Giants walked off the field at MetLife Stadium in hopeful celebration following their victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the season finale, only to have their unorthodox playoff chances at 6-10 stifled by the rival Philadelphia Eagles hours later on Sunday Night Football. 

Surely there are still some Giants fans who may hold grudges against the Eagles for their handling of a “meaningless game” that was viewed as the exact opposite for two other teams in the standings. Yet, one only needs to look at the bigger picture of the Giants’ 2020 season to realize that there were some positive things to take away for an organization struggling to rediscover itself. 

At the same time, a lot has happened around the Giants since closing the book on the 2020 season. A few of their quality players departed in free agency or were released due to cap space needs — notably Dalvin Tomlinson, Golden Tate, Kevin Zeitler, Wayne Gallman and Kyler Fackrell. 

On the other hand, Big Blue reeled in some big names from the free-agent market like Kenny Golladay, Adoree Jackson, Kyle Rudolph and Danny Shelton. Star running Saquon Barkley is amid a heavily monitored recovery from ACL surgery that ended his 2020 campaign in the hopes of returning to the backfield in 2021. Owner John Mara has challenged the team to make his investments in their offseason priorities pay off with victories. 

“It’s been a very difficult four- or five-year period for us, and I’m tired of the losing and of having the postseason press conference trying to explain what went wrong and why I think we’re making progress. It’s time for us to start winning some more, and that’s one of the reasons we spent the money we did,” said Mara in the beginning of April.

This Thursday, the offseason agenda continues with the 2021 NFL Draft, and there are still holes for GM Dave Gettleman and the front office to fill in order to make the Giants successful. The Giants are slated to pick at number 11, with the biggest question circulating the media being whether they will trade the pick and move down. Regardless of how the first round, along with the rest of the draft, pans out, the pressure is on Gettleman to get this draft right after his first three in New York culminated in seasons of fewer than six wins. The players lost in free agency were in positions of need and nothing to scoff at, so it is either restock the weapons or lose the trust of the owner and fans for good. 

Among the several pathways for the Giants in night one, the most intriguing yet uncertain is trading down from No. 11 to gain more draft capital or acquire a position need — like a defensive end — that insider consensus believes will not go in the top eleven picks. History shows us this choice is very unlikely, given Gettleman has never traded back in the first round in his eight seasons and 54 draft selections as general manager. However, facing questions about this streak, Gettleman insisted he has considered doing so in the past, but only at the right price would he act.

“I’ve tried in the past. Honest, I’ve tried to trade back,” Gettleman insisted with a laugh when asked about his track record. “But it’s got to be value. I’m not getting fleeced. I refuse to do it.”

If Gettleman maintains his current draft position, the most likely move will be selecting one of the top 15 wide receiver candidates to give Daniel Jones an extra weapon. Most draft analysts know that the Giants have a lot of interest in former Alabama teammates Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith, both of which helped their school to a national title with the former characterized as having the best speed and explosiveness in his class. Partnering one of those players with Kenny Golladay could upgrade the Giants’ offensive arsenal and give defenses one extra person to worry about. 

Waddle and Smith are both highly desirable commodities that could go between picks four and 10, so the Giants need a backup option. In that situation, they should turn to the carousel of offensive linemen available and stitch up the team’s most obvious need over the last few seasons. Former right guard Kevin Zeitler has already left for Baltimore, and left guard Will Hernandez is a possible candidate for an in-draft asset trade. Therefore, the Giants need to provide Daniel Jones with an additional protector on a young offensive line bound to be tested in 2021. One of their potential selections is Northwestern OL Rashawn Slater.

Whatever wide-eyed rookie the Giants select in round one will remain a big mystery until Thursday night. However, nobody should eliminate the possibility of the front office making trade moves that do not involve the eleventh pick but other selections and current players on the roster. 

Along with Hernandez, tight end Evan Engram’s value on the team has dropped to its lowest with his performance last season, marred by 11 drops that led to six interceptions for Jones and the fact that the Giants signed Kyle Rudolph in free agency. Defensive back Julian Love could also get moved simply due to the Giants having him buried in the depth charts at the cornerback and safety positions, especially after their free-agent signings, and wanting to respect his potential in a trade for at least a low-level pick. 

As John Mara emphasized in his pre-draft press conference, the expectations are set, and it is up to Dave Gettleman and Joe Judge primarily to meet them. The Giants went on a spending spree in free agency at the request of the front office — the biggest contract offer being given to Kenny Golladay at four years for $72 million — and now it is time to make good on those investments. If the floor collapses from under them this season, there is little certainty that Gettleman climbs out of the rubble with his job. 

Mara is confident the Giants are a pick or two away from being where he imagines them. 

“We think it will pay off, but time will tell. We’re certainly not a finished product by any stretch of imagination. We need to add some more pieces in the draft, but I do like the direction that we’re going in.”