The New York Giants ended up with only six picks in the 2021 draft despite some wheeling and dealing in the first three rounds. Still, at the end of the weekend, the Giants reinforced two of their most significant weaknesses on defense, edge rusher and cornerback, while also adding a running back and receiver to the offense's cache.
Let's break down every pick and see where each man potentially will fit and how he'll impact the roster.
Round 1: WR Kadarius Toney, 6'0", 190 lbs., Florida
In what would become a pattern for the first three rounds of the Giants draft, general manager Dave Gettleman turned into “Trader Dave” and put an end to what he called an “urban myth” about his reluctance to trade down in a draft.
Gettleman fleeced the quarterback hungry Chicago Bears, set to draft 20th overall, by getting them to cough up a fifth-rounder this year (which the Giants later traded—more on that in a moment), and a first- and fourth-rounder in next year’s draft, where the talent is expected to be much deeper than this year’s limited crop.
With the 20th pick, the Giants selected Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney. Toney was among the next best available players for the Giants after New York saw both top cornerbacks (Patrick Surtain and Jaycee Horn) and both Alabama receivers, Devonta Smith (thought to be their original target at No. 11 until the Eagles leapfrogged ahead of them) and Jaylen Waddle come off the board earlier.
The Pick: Toney is relatively new at the position, having played it in college for about three and a half years. Before his breakout senior season in which he recorded 70 receptions out of 84 pass targets (83.3%) for 977 yards and ten touchdowns, Toney was more of a gadget player who did a little bit of everything including running back.
A former high school quarterback who can also serve as a return specialist on both punts and kickoffs, but as far as having played receiver, Toney has spent more time in the slot than he has on the perimeter. Toney is NFL Draft Bible's third-ranked slot receiver, behind Alabama's Jaylen Waddle (Eagles) and Purdue's Rondale Moore (Cardinals).
How he fits: Toney gives the Giants offense yet another weapon for quarterback Daniel Jones plus he gives the Giants a legitimate option on punt and kickoff returns and a gadget player who, just as the team used to deploy former receiver Golden Tate once in a rare while, can chuck the ball down the field.
But more importantly, Toney gives the Giants depth at the slot, where veteran Sterling Shepard has missed time in each of the last two seasons, and an option to eventually replace Shepard, who is receiving the last of his contract’s guaranteed money this year.
Rookie impact: Giants head coach Joe Judge offered a very telling statement that can apply to almost any rookie coming in when he said, “Like every rookie coming in here, they've got to earn what they get and we're going to work them multiple positions to find their strengths. We can't assume what we saw on college tape is the best fit for them.”
So look for the Giants to work Toney both in the slot and the perimeter, and if he can show the same kind of productivity on the perimeter that he showed in the slot, the Giants really would have themselves a big-time steal in Round 1.
Depth chart impact: There’s no nice way to put this as it’s going to happen across the league, but there’s going to be a significant talent dump of guys on the bottom of the roster who received limited or no opportunities to get in front of their coaches before training camp. If we’re talking slot receiver, Toney should pass John Ross, who per Ourlad’s is listed as the top slot receiver on the team (that, we suspect, will change as we’d expect to see Sterling Shepard get more slot snaps).
Others who could be in jeopardy of losing their roster spot include Alex Bahman, last year’s intriguing slot option, and Dante Pettis, a waiver wire pickup who was lauded for his return abilities but who never really got on track last year, partially due to COVID-19.
Round 2: EDGE Azeez Ojulari, 6'2", 249 lbs., Georgia
The Pick: The Giants took advantage of Georgia edge rusher Azeez Ojulari's slide down the draft board (likely due to some late reported concerns about his knee, which could stem from a torn ACL suffered in high school).
Ojulari, who led the SEC in sacks (8.5), tackles for loss (12.5), and forced fumbles (4) last season, told reporters he was surprised much had been made about his knee and insisted that his knee is not an issue, a statement with which the Giants agree given the investment made in the young man.
Ojulari, 6-foot-2, and 249 pounds, was rated the top 3-4 edge rusher by NFL Draft Bible. He gives the Giants some more young firepower on a pass rush that, while not horrible last year--the unit was banged up--also isn't very versatile in being able to drop into coverage.
How he fits: Ojulari brings a lot of athleticism to the table, a welcome trait for a defense that prefers its outside linebackers to be able to drop into coverage as well as rush the passer. Ojulari posted a 79.6 rating in coverage, playing in 78 coverage snaps and not allowing a touchdown in 10 pass targets against him over two seasons.
Look for Olujari to mostly play from a two-point stance--he took most of his snaps from the right outside edge, so he'll probably get an initial look from that side as well.
Rookie impact: The Giants finished tied for 12th in sacks last season, but they believe they can get better. They also need to have someone from this young group of pass rushers they're assembling emerge as the alpha, something they haven't had since Jason Pierre-Paul was traded away.
Considering how they've upgraded the back end of the defense, the hope is that they'll be able to convert more of their hits and hurries into sacks, thus moving to the top-10 of the league in that category. Ojulari can help them get there.
Depth chart impact: Both Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines are believed to be on track to return for next season. However, it will be interesting to see if Ojulari ends up moving ahead of Ximines, a promising pass rusher but whose play against the run was still in need of refinement before he suffered a season-ending shoulder ailment last year. Ojulari, meanwhile, finished as the seventh-best run-stopper in the 2021 edge-rushing class with a 10.3 run-stop percentage rate.
Round 3: CB Aaron Robinson, 6'0", 190 lbs., UCF
The Pick: In keeping with the theme of finding versatile players, Aaron Robinson can pay both on the perimeter and in the slot. In three seasons at UCF, he allowed just five touchdowns while picking off three passes. He is a solid tackler--he recorded 101 career tackles and 8.5 tackles for a loss--and had 12 pass breakups.
According to PFF, Robinson played 54.8% of his coverage snaps in zone coverage, allowing 59.3% of the pass targets against him to be completed. His versatility was undoubtedly appealing to the Giants, who are looking to diversify their personnel packages even more this year.
How he fits: The Giants defense is looking to move to more of a press-man scheme and to lessen its reliance on zone coverage, which created some problems last year on the back end. Robinson, however, can contribute to both. Primarily a slot cornerback for most of his college career, he'll also likely gets some looks on the perimeter.
Rookie impact: Given his extensive experience in the slot, it looks as though Robinson might challenge Darnay Holmes, the incumbent, for some snaps at that position. Last season, Robinson finished with an 89.3 rating as a slot cornerback, allowing just 0.84 yards/ per snap. Robinson could, in fact, alternate with Adoree' Jackson, who also has some slot capability, in that role, while incumbent Holmes moves to more of a dime-back role.
Depth chart impact: Although a bit of a surprise pick, think of Robinson as the mulligan for Sam Beal, who was a third-round pick in the 2018 supplemental draft but who, thanks to injuries and the decision last year to opt-out, hasn't panned out as hoped.
Round 4: DE Elerson Smith, 6'6", 252 lbs., Northern Iowa
The Pick: Proving a team can never have too many pass rushers, the Giants double-dipped at this position, adding the very intriguing, athletic, long and underrated, and underrated Elerson Smith, one of the stars of the Senior Bowl.
How he fits: Smith will probably be a situational pass rusher for the Giants, who will more than likely line up with his hand in the dirt as more of a 5-technique on passing downs. He has a quick enough burst off the snap that allows him to fire into the backfield to cause disruption.
Rookie impact: Smith has a lot of upside, but with that said, he still has some work to do to get stronger and improve his anchor against the run. As a rookie, expect him to be a situational pass rusher until he can increase his strength and learn some counter moves to go along with his favored bull rush pass rush move.
Depth chart impact: The Giants pass rush group has a lot of young, intriguing talent that includes Lorenzo Carter (who is in the final year of his rookie deal), Oshane Ximines, newcomer Ifeadi Odenigbo (on a one-year contract), and situational guys like Carter Coughlin and Cam Brown, two picks in last year's draft. Smith's presence could push Coughlin back to more inside linebacker snaps, seeing that the Giants didn't address that position in the draft (they do have Reggie Ragland to help with that spot, though he's signed to a one-year deal).
Round 6: RB Gary Brightwell, 6'1", 218 lbs., Arizona
The Pick: Brightwell has good size and power but is somewhat of an inconsistent runner who isn't much of a threat in the open field and hence isn't a secret weapon to have in the passing game. He'll need to develop some patience in his running, especially when cutting back. If he can improve his vision and patience, the Giants might have something there to work with. In the meantime, his ticket onto the 53-man roster is likely going to be special teams.
How he fits: The Giants desperately need depth at the running back position, where currently all they have is Saquon Barkley (who is still recovering from a torn ACL) and Devontae Booker. Barkley is expected to be fine though the odds of him taking a full workload to start the season aren't favorable. As for Brightwell, he can provide depth behind Barkley and Booker, maybe even serving as a third-down back as his pass blocking in college was pretty good.
Rookie impact: Brightwell's most significant impact will be on special teams, where thanks to his college experience in playing on all the units, he has a chance to work himself into becoming a core special teamer.
Depth chart impact: Brightwell will challenge for the third running back spot, a competition that right now is wide open and filled with mostly players who have little to no NFL experience.
Round 6: CB Rodarius Williams, 6'0", 193 lbs., Oklahoma State
The pick: Another Senior Bowl standout, Williams, the older brother of Browns defensive back Greedy Williams, was voted the Big 12 second-team all-conference in 2020 after leading his team with seven pass breakups and 18 tackles in nine starts. Durable, Williams is currently the OSU record holder with 48 consecutive starts. Last season he played 255 coverage snaps and didn't allow a touchdown.
How he fits: Williams is a big and physical corner who, more times than not, is successful in breaking up contested catches. He played the majority of his college snaps on the perimeter and saw some snaps as a box safety. Still, until he further refines his ability to play press-man overage, he might be strictly a special teamer who makes the occasional appearance on defense in dime packages.
Rookie impact: One knock against Williams is that he sometimes has been slow to react to underneath routes out of fear of the double moves, but that might resolve itself in time with more reps. NFL Draft Bible notes that Williams, due to his aggressive playstyle, sometimes gets grabby, which will have to be monitored and addressed if it pops up in practices. But overall, Williams has enough upside that with some refinement to his game, he can develop into a solid depth player.
Depth chart impact: Look for Williams to push veterans Sam Beal and Isaac Yiadom this summer for a roster spot. If Williams has a strong showing, he could end up on the tail end of the cornerback depth chart behind James Bradberry, Adoree' Jackson, Darnay Holmes, and third-rounder Aaron Robinson.