A Multi-step Plan to Address the Giants' Biggest Personnel Needs
Offensive tackle? Defensive stud?
After giving it some thought and running through some simulations, I've come up with the ultimate Giants off-season plan, which includes potential salary cap cuts, free agent signings, and, of course, a full mock draft.
Using the Fan Speak mock draft generator, I decided to splurge on the upgrade so that my plan included potential salary cap cuts, free agent signings and, a mock draft (complete with a trade scenario which netted me a third-round pick.
You can view my full plan here, but here is a specific look at what I did in free agency to set up my mock draft.
Giants Free Agents Re-signed
The Giants have over a dozen unrestricted free agents. Of those, I re-signed edge Markus Golden ($9.45 million average per year), safety Michael Thomas ($2.25 million average per year), and receiver Corey Coleman ($1.4 million average per year).
Although I think the Giants will look to get younger at safety, Thomas still brings value as a good locker-room guy and on special teams.
I'm not ready to give up on Corey Coleman yet either, not when I have an offense that's likely going to be more of a vertical unit that counts on speed. Obviously with Coleman coming off an ACL,
I'd want to see how well he's come back, but if he is 100%--and it will have been over a year from the time of his injury until the start of the season--then I'd consider him for a roster spot.
I thought about re-signing ILB David Mayo as well, but he'd be someone I'd look at on the back end of free agency and a veteran minimum deal.
Free Agents Added
The Giants proved in 2014 and again in 2016 that spending like a wild man out of control in free agency is not the way to build a football team.
So don't expect them to go crazy this year. A safe assumption to make is that most of their free-agent budget will be poured into the defense, where Leonard Williams and Markus Golden headline the list of the Giants' own free agents.
Who else might the Giants look to add?
I signed only two free agents from other teams, both on the defense, as part of the first wave of free agency, those players being CB Byron Jones (Cowboys) and LB Kyle Van Noy (Patriots).
I firmly believe that while the Giants have a lot of promising young talent at cornerback, that group needs a veteran leader, and I'm swinging for the fences with my choice of Jones, who "accepted" my contract offer that averages out to $8.4 million per year.
Jones, ranked as Pro Football Focus' ninth-best free-agent on its top-50 list, has allowed 55.8% of the pass targets against him to be completed over the last two seasons. As a physical corner, he has also matched up well against tight ends, which have been a problem against the Giants in coverage in recent years.
Only 27 years old, Jones isn't that much "older" than his younger counterparts, yet his experience and work ethic would be plusses among a group that on the outside looking in doesn't have a veteran leadership voice.
The addition of Jones would likely mean swapping out one of last year's starting corners, DeAndre Baker and Sam Beal.
I like what Beal brings to the table. Still, his injury history worries me--he not only missed the first half of last season after missing his entire rookie campaign, but he also missed the regular-season finale with a shoulder injury which has me concerned about whether he has the durability to hold up for a 16-game season.
I don't know if Beal would be a good fit for the slot, but I would see what they have there with him as slot cornerback is a huge need on this team.
Van Noy is an outside linebacker, and as you'll see in my mock draft, I didn't address edge until much later in the draft. Van Noy, who would likely have some familiarity with what defensive coordinator Patrick Graham plans to run, has 10.0 sacks over his last two seasons, including a career-high 6.5 sacks posted last year.
I realize the Giants are hoping for one or both of Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines to step up and be part of the pass-rushing solution, but you can't put all your eggs in one basket (or in this case split them up between the two).
Van Noy is a more established pass rusher who doesn't need to be paid like a No. 1 edge rusher -- in my roster-building simulation, he "agreed" to a contract averaging $7.875 million per year, which is not bad for a rotational type at that spot.
Now let's look at my mock draft.
This first version of my mock draft includes one trade, but not a trade made in the first round, which I desperately wanted to happen.
As it turned out, I was able to get myself a third-round pick high in the round by swapping second-round picks with the Colts, dropping eight spots to pick up their second-round pick (12th in the round) and their third-round pick (11th in the round).
I not only got the players that were high on my board, but I also picked up players I think will fill needs.
Round 1, No 4 overall | OT Andrew Thomas, 6-foot 5, 320 pounds, Georgia
As expected, Chase Young and Isaiah Simmons were both off the board by the time I went on the clock at No. 4. Although I tried to trade down in the first round, it turns out I didn't have to as I picked up that high third-round pick to make up for the pick sent to the Jets for Leonard Williams with a trade I made in the second round with the Colts--more on that in a moment.
For me, the first round was a no brainer. This is a pretty good class for offensive tackles, but there is a drop off in talent once you get past the first four guys in the class.
In Thomas, the Giants would be coming away with a powerful run blocker who imposes his will on defenders and who treats every play as though it's a street fight. He brings that same passion to pass blocking and has shown himself to have advanced techniques for a college prospect.
The Giants could go with a defender at this spot, but if I'm making the decision, I'm adding a franchise left tackle to my offense to go along with my franchise quarterback and running back. And I use my salary cap money to shore up certain areas of the defense that way.
Round 2, No. 44 overall: LB Zack Baun, 6-foot 3, 240 pounds, Wisconsin
I was stunned that Braun, an off-ball linebacker, was still on the board despite my dropping down eight spots in a trade with the Colts, but with linebackers being a significant need on this team, there was no way I was going to pass on Baun.
Baun redshirted as a freshman but then went on to have a productive carer for the Badgers, logging 152 tackles, 30.5 for a loss, 15 sacks 2 interceptions 4 passes defensed and three forced fumbles. He's instinctive in coverage, takes smart angles
If Baun is half as intuitive as Ryan Connelly, his former teammate at Wisconsin, then I can't imagine why the Giants wouldn't be happy with a potential off-ball duo of Baun and Connelly moving forward.
Round 3, No. 75 Overall | OC Cesar Ruiz, 6-foot 4, 319 pounds, Michigan
Ruiz is one of two young centers I like in this draft, the other being Tyler Biadsz. While I've mentioned possibly moving Kevin Zeitler to center to open a spot for Nick Gates in the starting lineup, the drawback to that plan is it would require a period of adjustment for Zeitler to get acclimated from guard to center (something I believe he could do, but which would take time).
And much like the Giants need a left tackle of the future, it probably wouldn't hurt if they added their center for the long-term future either.
Round 3, No. 98 Overall | S Kyle Dugger, 6-foot 2, 220 pounds, Lenoir-Rhyne
Dugger comes from a small program, and I'm sure there will be some who will question why I have him so high in my mock. But Dugger is a classic sleeper pick, a guy whose draft stock has been steadily rising given how he's stood tall against his competition.
Former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, in speaking about a small-school prospect he drafted by the name of Osi Umenyiora, once said that if a smaller school prospect dominates his competition, he's someone to whom you want to pay attention.
We all know about how Umenyiora worked out in the end. Might Dugger follow the same path? He has the drive, and he does play a position of need for the Giants, so it will be interesting to see if they take a flier on him.
Round 4, No. 107 Overall | WR Chase Claypool, 6-foot 4 3/8, 229 pounds, Notre Dame
I fully expect the Giants to re-do the bottom of their depth chart at receiver, and while I know they have been linked to Chiefs speedster DeMarcus Robinson, I would rather they dip into the draft pool as this receiver class is one of the deepest in years.
It's so deep in fact that according to the experts I've spoken with thus far, it's feasible to get a Day 2 prospect on Day 3 given the talent. I had one analyst opine that because this draft class as deep, the veteran free agents might have to settle for less than their market value.
This brings me to my "best available" player, who happens to be a receiver: Chase Claypool, a big-bodied target who I think could be the missing ingredient in a receiving corps where the average height seems to be around 5-foot 10.
Claypool finished his senior season with the Irish having caught 66 balls for 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns in 13 games. He ends his college career seventh in school history with 150 career receptions, and his 13 touchdowns in 2019 were the sixth most in a season by an Irish player.
Claypool was NFL.com draft analyst's "biggest winner" of the Senior Bowl practices, with Zierlein even opining that Claypool, initially projected by some to be a late third- to early fourth-round pick, having done enough to improve his stock.
Here's what else Zierlein had to say about Claypool.
"I really enjoyed watching Claypool on tape and couldn't wait to see him perform in person on the Senior Bowl stage. I was not disappointed, and neither were the NFL evaluators in attendance. Not only does he look the part of a big, imposing receiver, but he also showed off how fluid and natural he is with his movement. He snatched the ball away from his frame with strong hands and created separation using his size and athleticism. The easy comparison for him is former teammate Miles Boykin, who had the same type of size and explosiveness, but Boykin went to the Baltimore Ravens at the end of the third round in last year's draft. Claypool may not last that long now.
If Claypool is somehow there at the start of Day 4, here's hoping he has a high enough grade that prompt the Giants to grab him.
Round 5, No. 150 Overall: RB Eno Benjamin, 5-foot 10, 205 pounds, Arizona State
If the Giants aren't going to proceed with Wayne Gallman as Saquon Barkley's backup--and that's unknown as of right now--Benjamin is an interesting prospect to serve as part of that backup committee with a veteran pickup at the back end of free agency.
Benjamin is a dual-threat runner/receiver out of the backfield. As a runner, his three-year career totals include 2,867 yards on 576 carries and 7 touchdowns. He posted back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 2018 and 2019, finishing in the Pac-12's top 3 in both of those seasons in both rushing yards and attempts.
As a receiver, Benjamin recorded 82 career catches for 625 yards and four touchdowns. And in 2018, his best season as a rusher, he finished first in the nation and the Pac-12 with 335 plays from scrimmage
If there are knocks to Benjamin's game that would warrant him falling to Day 3, those would include a lack of elite athleticism and his struggles with breaking tackles.
His pass blocking has also come into question by various draft scouting reports, which would be an issue for any team needing to count on him right away. Benjamin has some tools with which to work, but he's a raw prospect, despite the production, who needs some time to develop at the next level t where he can at least contribute as a pass blocker.
Round 6, No. 183 Overall: Edge Alex Highsmith, 6-foot 4, 242 pounds, Charlotte
By the time I got to the sixth round, I went with the best player available on my board, regardless of position. As things would have it, I went with two edge rushers, one in the sixth round and one with my first pick in the seventh round.
In this round, I selected Alex Highsmith out of Charlotte. According to his school bio, Highsmith received some high praise from the notable competition, including Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney.
Sweeney, before the Sept. 21 contest vs. Charlotte, said of Highsmith, “He’s on all the ‘great player’ lists. I kept watching him and going, ‘Holy cow.’ He looks like Xavier Thomas. He’s physical, fast, disruptive. He’s causing sacks and tips. Really, really good football player. That No. 5 could play for anybody in the country.”
Named to the Chuck Bednarik Award (Defensive Player of the Year) Watch List and as a Burlsworth Trophy Semifinalist (top collegiate player that began career as a walk-on), Highsmith broke school records for sacks in a game (4.5 vs. ODU), season (14.0) and career (20.0) and TFL in a game (5.0) and season (21.5).
He also finished fourth in the nation in sacks (14.0) and 5th in TFL (21.5) while logging a career-high 75 tackles and team-high 8 QBH in his senior season (2019).
Smith, a late-bloomer who initially didn't take football seriously, transformed himself into one of the top players at his position at his level of competition. He finished his four-year career with the 49ers with 185 total tackles, 47.0 tackles for a loss, 21.0 sacks, 5 PBUs, and 4 forced fumbles, having lined up in both a three-point stance on the line and in the two-point stance off the ball.
Like most smaller school prospects, Highsmith likely needs a bit more refinement to his game, but given his drive, he could end up being a Day 3 steal at his position.
Round 7, No. 218 Overall | Edge Chauncey Rivers, 6-foot 3, 275 pounds, Mississippi State
By the time one gets to the seventh round, we're talking about taking fliers on players. As a team can never have too many pass rushers, it might not be a bad idea for the Giants to take a flier or two on players at this spot in the hopes that someone develops into a rotational guy.
Rivers began his college career at Georgia before transferring to Mississippi State. In 25 games, he recorded 67 tackles, 15.5 for a loss and 8.0 sacks, and added two passes defensed and a forced fumble.
Rivers, whose best position is thought to be as a 5-tech defensive lineman, played most of the 2018 season behind Montez Sweat, but still managed to record seven tackles for loss, four QB hurries and 2.5 sacks.
Round 7, No. 238 Overall | LB Jordan Mack, 6-foot 2, 230 pounds, Virginia
Jordan Mack is a solid-hitting, versatile linebacker who can play on the edge and off-ball. He holds his own in coverage on passes in the flats and on other shorter-range passes. Mack offers decent enough speed as a downhill linebacker and takes smart angles to the ball carrier, playing under control.
Mack started as a true freshman, and by the time his four-year career was over, he racked up 289 tackles, including 24.5 for a loss, 14.5 sacks, and six forced fumbles. tHis best season was in 2017 when he logged career highs in tackles (114) in 13 games played.
Round 7, No. 247 Overall | G Drew Richmond, 6-foot 5, 315 pounds, USC
Richmond, a graduate transfer from Tennessee, was the Trojans' starting right tackle. He was a five-star recruit by Rivals and the nation’s 12th overall prospect.
While at Tennessee, he started 11 games over his first two seasons at left tackle before flipping to the right side in 2018.
A highly intelligent player who graduated with a bachelor's degree in psychology and who was pursuing a master's degree in social entrepreneurship, Richmond projects to guard at the next level.
You can hear more about my mock draft selections plus hear from Trevor Sikkema of The Draft Network as he previews the combine on the February 17, 2020 episode of the LockedOn Giants podcast.