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Who Would New York Giants Protect for NFL Expansion Draft?

If the NFL ever held an expansion draft for a new team, a strong case could be made for these 11 players to receive the protection designation.

The Seattle Kraken, the National Hockey League’s newest franchise, is set to partake in an expansion draft Wednesday in which it will get to select one player from every NHL club (except for the Vegas Golden Knights). 

As part of the expansion draft rules, each NHL team can protect 11 players on their rosters. And that got me wondering: If the NFL were to hold an expansion draft under the same guidelines, which 11 players would the Giants protect? 

Let's run down the roster and make some picks.

CB James Bradberry

James Bradberry goes through drills during a Giants 2020 training camp practice in East Rutherford, NJ.

James Bradberry goes through drills during a Giants 2020 training camp practice in East Rutherford, NJ.

All Bradberry has done for the Giants since signing with them in the 2020 free agency period is become the kryptonite to the opponents' top receivers. Bradberry, who rightfully was voted to his first career Pro Bowl last year, finished tied for second in the league in pass breakups and was a top-10 ranked cornerback league-wide by Pro Football Focus. Top-shelf cornerbacks have become hard to find, so when you do land one, you better go all out to protect him at all costs. 

DB Logan Ryan

Logan Ryan

Logan Ryan takes a quick break during a 2020 Giants training camp practice.

There's no such thing as perfection in this world, but when it comes to the value defensive back, Logan Ryan brings to the Giants on and off the field, he's pretty close. On the field, you can start with the versatility that has allowed him to play multiple roles on defensive coordinator Patrick Graham's defense--and that versatility, by the way, makes him a bargain for the $7 million cap figure he's due to count for this year. Off the field, there's the calm voice, the commitment to the team concept, and the wisdom that this still-young veteran brings to the locker room that hopefully his younger teammates are noticing and emulating. 

DL Leonard Williams

Leonard Williams at Giants practice.

Leonard Williams takes the field at Giants practice in 2019.

There's a reason why Williams was the Giants' top free agent to re-sign this past off-season, and it goes beyond the fact that he was their best pass rusher. Williams, who per Pro Football Focus was tied with James Bradberry as the highest-ranked Giants player on defense, was their top-ranked player against the run and finished third on the team in stops for zero or negative yardage. Williams has thrived in Patrick Graham's system, which makes better use of his athleticism and ability to attack.  

ILB Blake Martinez 

Nov 8, 2020; Landover, Maryland, USA; New York Giants inside linebacker Blake Martinez (54) celebrates after an interception against the Washington Football Team in the second quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 8, 2020; Landover, Maryland, USA; New York Giants inside linebacker Blake Martinez (54) celebrates after an interception against the Washington Football Team in the second quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

What's more impressive than Blake Martinez's team-leading 151 tackles? How about the fact that significantly more than half of those tackles were made within five yards of the line of scrimmage, which is one stat to take note of when it comes to evaluating a linebacker's performance. Add to that, Martinez accepted and executed a leadership role on this team, serving as the rock for his teammates, and you have yet another young veteran who thus far has proven to be well worth his weight in gold.

QB Daniel Jones

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) throws the ball as head coach Joe Judge looks on during OTA practice at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center on Friday, June 4, 2021, in East Rutherford.

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) throws the ball as head coach Joe Judge looks on during OTA practice at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center on Friday, June 4, 2021, in East Rutherford.

This season, Daniel Jones will hopefully put to rest the lingering questions about his qualifications to be the Giants' franchise quarterback. The Giants have done everything possible to ensure Jones, whose strength includes the deep ball, a staple of the offensive system run by coordinator Jason Garrett, to make sure Jones has all he needs to succeed. For those reasons--not to mention the drop-off at the position behind him--Jones would be worth protecting, as to lose him would be a significant chunk of the offense.

RB Saquon Barkley

Sep 14, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) runs the ball in front of Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree (48) during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium.

Sep 14, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) runs the ball in front of Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree (48) during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium.

Although there is no clarity on when Saquon Barkley will be cleared medically to return to the practice field, the Giants and Barkley are confident that the day is coming sooner than later. And when Barkley is healthy, he's shown glimpses of just how dangerous he can be on offense. With offensive coordinator Jason Garrett supposedly armed with an improved cast of characters offering endless flexibility, all he has to do is to figure out how to optimize what Barkley brings to the table. (He can start with sending Barkley on fewer runs up the middle into the teeth of the defense and lining him up more in the slot and out wide to take advantage of Barkley's ability to beat linebackers and smaller defensive backs in space.)  

WR Kenny Golladay 

Oct 4, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay (19) before the game against the New Orleans Saints at Ford Field.

Oct 4, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay (19) before the game against the New Orleans Saints at Ford Field.

A legitimate X-receiver? Yes, please. A tall, fast receiver with a 60.2% career contested catch rate doesn't grow on trees. While some might argue the Giants overpaid for Golladay when they handed him a four-year, $72 million contract, if Golladay does for quarterback Daniel Jones and the offense what Plaxico Burress did for Eli Manning back in the day, then Golladay will be well worth the investment.

K Graham Gano

Nov 29, 2020; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; New York Giants kicker Graham Gano (5) hits one of his four field goals during the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

Nov 29, 2020; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; New York Giants kicker Graham Gano (5) hits one of his four field goals during the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

A kicker? You betcha. We talk about how last year if the Giants had won jsut a few more games, they wouldn't have needed the Eagles' help to win the NFC East. WEll three of the games the Giants lost were by three points or less, and considering how automatic Graham Gano was last year--we're talking a career-best 96.9% field goal conversion rate--wouldn't you want peace of mind in knowing that if it came down to a clutch late-game field goal, your kicker was certain to deliver the goods?

Edge Azeez Ojulari 

Bears Azeez Ojulari, OLB, Georgia Ncaa Football Chick Fil A Peach Bowl Georgia Vs Cincinnati

Azeez Ojulari, OLB, Georgia during the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl (Georgia Vs Cincinnati)

Not since defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was picked in the first round of the 2010 draft have the Giants had a legitimate homegrown pass rusher come from the draft. And although Ojulari has yet to take a snap in the NFL, like Pierre-Paul, he's brimming with all sorts of talent and athleticism, which if he can convert into speed and power at the NFL level, he's going to become breathtaking to watch. Playing in the SEC, which is one of the toughest conferences in all of college football, Ojulari, last season, finished as the conference leader in sacks (9.5) and forced fumbles (4) while finishing second in the conference with 13 tackles for loss. That's a lot of potential to like about the Giants' highest-drafted edge rusher since Clint Sintim was selected in the second round in 2009.

DL Dexter Lawrence II

May 3, 2019; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence (97) during rookie minicamp at Quest Diagnostic Training Center.

May 3, 2019; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence (97) during rookie minicamp at Quest Diagnostic Training Center.

Lawrence is probably the most underrated member of the Giants period. A big reason for that is his statistics--especially in the pass-rushing department--aren't gaudy by any stretch of the imagination. But that doesn't mean this man-mountain doesn't significantly impact the defense every week. The Giants' third-best run defender behind Williams and Martinez, Lawrence finished second on the Giants defense last year with 33 stops for zero or negative yards. He was second on the team in quarterback hurries (19), behind Williams (31). If Lawrence can somehow start finishing off those hurries by turning them into sacks, the gaudy numbers--and the recognition that comes with it--will follow. 

OC Nick Gates

Jul 25, 2019; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants offensive guard Nick Gates (65) in action during the first day of training camp at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

Jul 25, 2019; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants offensive guard Nick Gates (65) in action during the first day of training camp at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

Nick Gates might only be in his second season as a full-time center, but he’s intelligent, aggressive, and still has a lot of upside. Considering Gates had to learn under fire, he did a decent enough job; of the 19 centers that played in at least 80% of their team's offensive snaps last season, Gates and the Giants allowed the seventh-fewest pressure opportunities and ranked eighth in pass-block efficiency within that same sample size. Putting together an offensive line is a tricky task as it is—just look at the struggles the Giants have had over the years. But when one finds a guy who plays the game with top-shelf intelligence and a nasty streak exhibited through the whistle, you probably don't want to let him get away so fast.

11 Best Players Left Unprotected: Jabrill Peppers, Xavier McKinney, Adoree' Jackson, Lorenzo Carter, Evan Engram, Aaron Robinson, Sterling Shepard, Kadarius Toney, Andrew Thomas, Shane Lemieux, Matt Peart

Again, only one player from each team can be selected in the expansion draft, which is why I took a bit of a gamble with some of the younger talent.

Peppers, Engram, and Carter were omitted from the protected list because they are in contract years, and I have doubts about the Giants being able to re-sign them all if any. Shepard is still under contract, but with Kadarius Toney onboard and a high salary-cap figure for 2022, it's hard to imagine him having a future with this team beyond this year.

Thomas, Lemieux, and Peart have shown promise as rookies, but none to the point where potentially losing any of them in an expansion draft would necessarily cripple the team. Along with Robinson and Jackson, they would make excellent building blocks for an expansion team, but there were just so many players that could be protected.


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