NFL Draft experts always advise that the best time to evaluate a draft class's impact is to wait for three seasons.
The 2018 draft class just completed its third season, and the overall conclusion is that the results are mixed and border more toward the disappointing side than anything.
The Giants' 2018 class was chosen, in part, per the requests of a different coaching staff that might have had different ideas on player deployment.
But let's not use that as an excuse to give a pass on any grades as good coaching staffs--and the current staff led by head coach Joe Judge is a good one--figure out ways to deploy players, even if those ways vary from the original intentions.
So what is the verdict on the Giants 2018 draft class as most of that the group prepares to enter its fourth NFL season?
RB Saquon Barkley (Round 1, No. 2)
Giants fans and media members will debate the wisdom by general manager Dave Gettleman in drafting a running back second overall despite having far greater needs that might have put the team in a better position.
But those who still support the pick point to Barkley as a legitimate generational talent who is a difference-maker and a big-time chess piece on an offense who is particularly dangerous in space thanks to his fine athleticism.
Barkley, at times, is too much of a boom-or-bust type of runner, a player who tends to bounce between cutback lanes in an attempt to make defenders miss and who aims for the home run ball on nearly every run instead of sometimes knowing when to take what's there and call it a day.
Admittedly, Barkley hasn't been blessed with the best run-blocking by his offensive lines, and that he has been able to do what he's done speaks to his ability as a runner.
But a certain degree of patience is needed for this game, and that's something Barkley has continued to work on as a pro.
The other thing Barkley has continued to work on is his pass blocking, which at times has been unacceptable. In three seasons and 175 pass-blocking snaps, Barkley has allowed 17 pressures, seven of those resulting in quarterback sacks.
As he gears up for his fourth NFL season, Barkley will not only need to show he's entirely over his ACL injury but that he's developed into more of a patient runner who isn't a liability in pass blocking.
OG Will Hernandez (Round 2, No. 34)
When Hernandez arrived in East Rutherford, there was hope he could be the Giants next Pro Bowl guard. But after an impressive rookie season in which he allowed 29 total pressures, Hernandez’s star has begun to fade.
In his second season, the number of pressures rose to 31, and the number of penalties doubled (4) despite playing in nearly the same amount of snaps and the same offensive system.
But beyond the subjective numbers, one of the most glaring developments between Hernandez’s rookie season to his second and third seasons was a fall-off in his mental game and an inability to improve his technique.
In Year 2, he was pushed back a little too often for one’s tastes in pass protection and was beaten more often in one-on-one situations highlighted by quicks, situations from which he found himself struggling to recover.
Throw in more stunts and blitzes that came his way (a situation that likely wasn’t helped by the protection calls), and the solid fundamentals Hernandez had shown as a rookie all but vanished.
Things didn’t get much better for him in his third season as he continued to struggle with blitzes and stunts. After recovering from COVID-19, he never did regain his starting left guard job, which Shane Lemieux took over.
What’s gone wrong with Hernandez’s career? Scheme fit could be part of the answer, but a more realistic scenario is inconsistency in technique combined with struggles in the mental game to recognize and adjust to stunts and blitzes.
Put Hernandez in a phone booth, and he uses impressive power to move defenders off their marks. But ask him to pull or fire out to the second level, and he loses something to his game, sometimes showing up late to the point of attack.
Hernandez is entering the final year of his rookie deal in 2021 (like all of his fellow draft classmates). Is there a role on this team for him? Right now, the best guess is he’ll get an opportunity to compete, as has been the case every year, but he’s far from being a lock to regain a starting position.
And therein lies the problem with the pick. If he is relegated to a backup role again this coming season, then the Giants failed to get superior value with a draft pick whose career has regressed every season.
OLB Lorenzo Carter (Round 3, No. 66 overall)
Carter saw a position switch in Patrick Graham’s defense, where he was moved to more of a hunter’s role, in which he flourished. Carter was off to his best start as a pro, recording seven tackles on opening day and showing improvement in his run contain technique, his pass-rushing, and his recognition of plays.
Sadly a ruptured Achilles ended his season in Week 5, just as he was getting started. Carter finished with 15 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, and four quarterback hits in 234 defensive snaps.
The good news—if there is any to be taken from such an injury—is it happened early enough in the season to where Carter should be 100% and ready to go in 2021, where he’s projected to be an every-down power linebacker.
DT BJ Hill (Round 3, No.69)
(Defensive tackle B.J. Hill came to the Giants on a pick New York acquired in their trade of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.)
Hill is yet another 2018 draft pick whose rookie year was very promising. Yet for all that promise he showed as a rookie, the Giants, in not wanting to pass up a chance to acquire Leonard Williams from the Jets, did so, and as a result, Hill was moved to the back burner.
Hill finished second on the team in sacks (5.5) as a rookie, showing some fine mobility for a big man. Hill worked mostly inside at defensive tackle, getting 480 of his 642 defensive snaps inside.
In his second season, Hill saw a reduction in his defensive snaps following the acquisition of Williams from the Jets.
Having gone from a starter to a rotation guy, Hill's production declined, as he only recorded four (out of 16) quarterback pressures, seven (out of 21) tackles, and nine (out of 20) run stops in the second half of the season.
When the new coaching staff came in for his third season, Hill saw time in the rotation, logging 198 of his defensive snaps inside at tackle and seeing a slight uptick at defensive end as he seemed to become a man without a position.
Toss in the fact that the Giants starting defensive front didn't miss any games due to injury, and Hill pretty much had to wait his turn for another opportunity.
Will that opportunity come in Year 4? If the Giants lose Dalvin Tomlinson to free agency, moving Hill to Tomlinson's role could be one potential solution unless the Giants decide to draft to fill that spot.
QB Kyle Lauletta (Round 4, No. 108)
(Quarterback Kyle Lauletta, the No. 108 pick in the 2018 draft, was part of the Jason Pierre-Paul trade with the Bucs, as the Giants and Bucs swapped fort-round picks, New York sending pick No. 102 to Tampa for pick No. 108.)
As Eli Manning inched closer to his 40th birthday, the Giants’ brass soon began to realize that the time was coming sooner than later to replace the legend.
Perhaps after seeing how the Dallas Cowboys struck gold in the fourth round of the 2016 draft with Dak Prescott, they thought they might find similar success in the fourth round with Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta. If not, maybe they could develop him just enough to swing a trade with a quarterback-needy team.
Both hopes never panned out. First, to have a chance even to contemplate swinging a trade with another quarterback-needy team (think the Patriots trade of Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers after the 2016 season), that quarterback needs to see live action.
And as the Giants found out, playing behind an iron man like Manning, that just wasn’t going to happen.
Then there were the red flags that began to seep out and which were revealed about his work ethic, namely his October 2018 arrest for eluding police and driving recklessly.
As details about that story came out, the biggest takeaway was that Lauletta reportedly rushed his morning commute because he was facing the possibility of being late for work, a judgment error that wasn’t an isolated incident.
The successful NFL quarterbacks need to be among the first people in a team’s facility in the morning and the last to leave at night. From all reports, Lauletta didn’t appear to be willing to make that kind of sacrifice until it was too late to salvage his career with the Giants.
DT R.J. McIntosh (Round 5, No. 139)
Former Miami Hurricane RJ McIntosh has appeared in 18 games in three seasons with the Giants—none in 2020, and has 18 tackles, 2.0 sacks, three quarterback hits, and two tackles for a loss in 179 defensive snaps.
That he hasn’t progressed to where he earned any reps in 2020 is both alarming and telling, especially since his skill set is an ideal fit for the 3-4 defensive end role.
Perhaps that resulted from the good health the Giants enjoyed on their defensive front, but it’s certainly worth asking if McIntosh showed enough to the coaches to force their hand.
And judging by the fact that he didn’t get a single defensive snap all year long pretty much answers that question.
Overall Grade: D+
Simply put, there hasn't been enough progress made by this class as a whole across the board.
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