As the grades continue to pour in for the six-member class hand-picked by the New York Giants, I’ve resisted assigning grades to the class as it's not fair to do so without giving these kids a chance to get on the field.
But that doesn’t mean one can’t look at the pros and cons of each selection and come to a preliminary verdict on each pick’s worthiness by also examining what other options were on the board at the time for the first four rounds.
So that’s what I have done in this exercise as next time I do issue draft grades, it will be for the Class of 2019 and after the upcoming season, which will mark the three-year mark recommended to assess a fair grade on a draft class.
ROUND 1, 20TH OVERALL — WR KADARIUS TONEY, FLORIDA
The Giants didn’t have to draft a receiver in the first round, but the value was too good to pass up, and hey, why not give quarterback Daniel Jones another arrow in his quiver for the season?
Toney will probably see most of his snaps in the slot, the position he’ll probably take over full-time as soon as next year if the Giants decide to move on from Sterling Shepard. And speaking of Shepard, we all saw how the passing game suffered without him; at least now the Giants have another solid player they can plug into that spot.
Pros: When a team finds a player who can do multiple things and do them well, it’s hard not to love the pick. In Toney, they have a guy who can not only slice the top off a defense but who can contribute to the running game in select situations. Oh, and did anyone mention he’s a former quarterback with a cannon for an arm? Remember how the Giants used to have Odell Beckham Jr throw the ball on some gadget plays every so often? Yeah, Toney can do that as well.
Cons: Toney is still relatively new to playing the receiver position, having played it for about three and a half seasons. To that end, he’s still learning how to sell routes and fakes, but if that’s the worst of his issues, then he’ll probably get plenty of reps to smooth a lot of those wrinkles out.
Who else was an option?: The Giants took something of a gamble regarding a pass rusher as four of the last five picks in the first round went off the board (Houston’s Payton Turner, No. 28, Miami’s Greg Rousseau, No. 30, Penn State’s Odafe Oweh, no. 31 and Washington’s Joe Tryon, No. 32).
They also lost out on Alabama offensive lineman Landon Dickerson, who went to the Eagles in the second round at Pick No. 37. Dickerson was a prospect the Giants reportedly had an eye on, so when he was gone, the Giants felt comfortable dropping eight spots in a swap with Miami.
Early verdict: That the Giants were able to get Toney by trading down and acquire two additional premium picks in next year’s draft (including a first-rounder from a Bears team that will be starting a rookie quarterback and a rookie left tackle) is a decision I’ll applaud all day, every day, regardless of how much they get out of Toney as a rookie.
ROUND 2, 50TH OVERALL — EDGE AZEEZ OJULARI
The Giants plucked Georgia product Azeez Ojulari in the second round of the draft following a trade down with the Dolphins in which “Trader Dave” continued to build his legend when he had the Giants drop eight spots and got an extra fourth-round pick in 2022’s draft. Ojulari projects as the weakside starter.
Pros: Azeez Ojulari was the top-ranked 3-4 edge rusher in this draft according to NFL Draft Bible, and with good reason. Despite being "short" for an edge rusher at 6'2", Ojulari can rush the passer, drop into coverage, and defend the run. He plays a physical game, and once he gets up to speed on the Giants' defense, there's no reason to think he won't be one of the starting outside linebackers for this team.
Cons: Some late-breaking news about a knee issue (don’t you just love the draft week subterfuge that takes place every year?) came out. However, the Giants were satisfied with Ojulari’s medicals, and the rookie himself declared his knee perfect. Other than for bulking up a bit more and improving as a run defender--all things that will come over time with reps and added strength--there’s not a whole lot to dislike about this pick.
Who else was an option?: A couple of centers went off the board toward the end of the second round, including Ohio State's Josh Myers (No. 62 to the Packers), Oklahoma's Creed Humphrey (No. 63 to the Chiefs). Although the Giants have Nick Gates locked in at center, they appear to be looking to add some competition to fill out the depth at that spot, as evidenced by their agreeing to terms with center Brett Heggie of Florida.
Early verdict: All things considered, the Giants got outstanding value with drafting Ojulari where they did, as he’s a very promising pick that offers a high upside.
ROUND 3, 71ST OVERALL — CB AARON ROBINSON, CENTRAL FLORIDA
The Giants traded up to select a physical press-man cornerback in Central Florida's Aaron Robinson. Robinson began his college career at Alabama before transferring to Central Florida after one season. He only recorded one interception and 16 pass breakups over his college career, but Robinson's versatility--he can play on the perimeter and in the slot (though he projects to more of a slot cornerback at the next level) were too good for the Giants to pass up.
Pros: Has good enough speed to stay with the fastest of receivers and uses that speed to make up for lost ground if caught out of position. He's also solid at locating the ball in flight and thrives in man coverage--he allowed 55.8 percent of the pass targets against him to be completed. A physical player who, when he hits a guy, you can feel the reverberation yards away. He does a solid job in run support, where he posted 34 career stops for zero or negative yardage.
Cons: Will struggle in zone coverage due to average instincts and tends to lunge at ball carriers rather than take smart angles and wrap them up--had 17 missed tackles during college career. Not much of a ballhawk--recorded three career interceptions. Got a little sloppy with technique in senior season, becoming "grabby" and earning himself a career-high five penalties.
Who else was an option?: Minnesota cornerback Benjamin St. Juste and Stanford cornerback Paulson Adebo, both players who I thought might draw the Giants' interest, went to the Washington Football Team at Pick No. 74 and to the Saints at No. 76 (originally the Giants' slot, which they traded to Denver who in turn traded the pick to the Saints).
There were also a pair of guards that went later in the round, including Ohio State's Wyatt Davis, who went to the Vikings at No. 86, and Illinois guard Kendrick Green, who went to the Steelers at No. 87.
Early verdict: Robinson will challenge Darnay Holmes for the full-time slot duties, but don't expect Robinson to be limited to just the slot even though that seems to be the position where he has thrived the most in his career. His versatility will give defensive coordinator Patrick Graham yet another treasured chess piece that will likely be deployed in multiple packages, making this pick yet another excellent value.
ROUND 4, 116TH OVERALL — DE ELERSON SMITH, NORTHERN IOWA
Proving a team can never have too many pass rushers, the Giants added defensive end Elerson Smith out of Northern Iowa. Smith is a 4-3 down lineman who played most of his snaps in the dirt and could be part of the 4- and 5-man pressure packages given his quickness off the snap.
Pros: Excellent length and athleticism as a pass rusher who worked out of a three-point stance. Excellent story of perseverance who gained 60+ pounds since his freshman season and still has more room to add the bulk necessary to hold up against bigger offensive linemen. He has an explosive first step and good hand usage--he doesn't let blockers latch on to him.
Cons: Has played only two college seasons (841 snaps) thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the cancellation of his senior season. Still raw and has a limited pass rush toolbox. He will struggle to hold his edge against the run, at least until he gets stronger.
Early verdict: Smith needs a year in the NFL weight room to finish filling out his frame, which is why he'll probably be a situational pass rusher to start his rookie campaign. He has a lot of upside and right now appears to be the most underrated player in this year's Giants draft class.
ROUND 6, 196TH OVERALL — RB GARY BRIGHTWELL, ARIZONA
The Giants needed to add to their running back room. So as they did back in the 2017 draft when they added Wayne Gallman (fourth round) on Day 3, they added another young running back on Day 3 in Arizona's Gary Brightwell, a 6'1", 218-pound downhill player who plays a hard-nosed, physical game, but who, at least right now, isn't quite the complete package.
Pros: Stays on his feet after the first contact with a defender; averaged 3.48 yards after initial contact throughout college career and forced 60 missed tackles. Good ball security; only three fumbles in 342 carries. A strong, powerful runner with good open field instincts. Offers special teams value, having played on all the units in college.
Early verdict: Brightwell should enter camp as the No. 3 running back and will probably initially see more time on special teams than he will on offense. His college career path reminds one of Gallman's when he came out of Clemson--a strong, powerful runner able to churn out extra yards after contact but who had issues with dropped passes.
ROUND 6, 201ST OVERALL — CB RODARIOUS WILLIAMS, OKLAHOMA STATE
Older brother of Cleveland defensive back Greedy Williams and the oldest (he'll turn 25 years old by the start of the 2021 season) of the Giants' 2021 draft picks. Williams is a big, physical perimeter cornerback who has minimal experience as a box safety and the slot.
Pros: Physical corner with special teams value who effectively jams the receiver off the line of scrimmage, sometimes with a one-handed jam. He can sometimes be grabby, which leads to penalties, but he did a good job cleaning that up from a 2019 season-high of six flags to only two in 2020. He allowed just 54.2 percent of pass targets thrown at him to be completed. Competitive in contested catch situations. Fluid mover with very good speed and change of direction to stay with receivers. Did a great job of cleaning up missed tackles in his final college season--he did not miss a tackle in 479 defensive snaps.
Cons: Slightly hesitates when asked to cover underneath routes, largely due to a reluctance to get beaten. Not much of a ballhawk--he has two career interceptions in 212 pass targets.
Early verdict: Williams is a legitimate threat to knock Sam Beal, whom the team drafted in the third round of the 2018 supplemental draft but who, due to injuries and his opting out of the 2020 season, off the roster. Williams probably won't get many snaps on defense, at least not initially, but there could be a spot for him in the dime package.