Position U | Where the Giants Have Found Their Key Players

Patricia Traina

Ever wonder about the various college programs and if a specific school is a factory for a particular position in the NFL?

SI.com’s Reid Foster and Gary Gramling did, and in doing so, they put together ten years of data in developing a scoring system to arrive at final grades for each school at each unit.

How do the Giants currently stack up? Let's take a look.

Quarterback U

The Giants last year dipped into Duke University to find their franchise quarterback in Daniel Jones (R1, No. 6, 2019). And despite having the legendary David Cutcliffe, who worked with Peyton and Eli Manning back int he day, at the helm of that program, Duke didn’t even crack the top 10 of Foster’s research.

That honor went to Oklahoma, followed by Florida State, with Reid also finding that six of the 14 top are current or former Big 12 programs.

A closer look at the top prospects to come from Oklahoma reveals two Offensive Rookies of the Year winners (Sam Bradford of the Rams and Kyler Murray of the Cardinals). That group of quarterbacks also includes Baker Mayfield of the Browns and Landry Jones, formerly with the Steelers and a guy who was most recently with the XFL.

Of those quarterbacks, Murray right now is the "it" guy at quarterback, with Mayfield looking to quiet his critics and prove that he has some staying power int he league as well. But don't sleep on Jones, as despite not hailing from any of the top-producing college programs for quarterbacks, his pedigree cannot be ignored.

Running Back U

Saquon Barkley (R1, 2018) was and still is considered a generational talent or, as general manager Dave Gettleman likes to say, a “gold jacket” prospect. Meanwhile, the Giants another homegrown draft pick, Wayne Gallman (R4, 2017), came from Clemson.

Of those two, Barkley is firmly part of the team’s foundation. In contrast, Gallman’s chances of sticking around this year appear to be growing slimmer each day, especially with the Giants having added Dion Lewis in free agency.

But neither of their respective college programs made the top 10 of Running Back U. The runaway winner was Alabama, who scored 50 points (Georgia was second with 34).

But fret not, as the Giants running backs coach, Burton Burns, served in the same capacity for several years at Alabama and was instrumental in developing top NFL running backs such as Mark Ingram, Eddie Lacy, and Derrick Henry.

Tight End U

What do Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo both have in common? Yup, they both played their college ball at Stanford, which just barely edged out the University of Miami 9Florida) for the Tight End U honors.

Stanford also produced Zach Ertz of the Eagles, free agent and one-time Colts tight end Coby Fleener, and Austin Hooper of the Browns.

But what about Ole Miss, which groomed Evan Engram, the Giants’ top draft pick in 2017?

That program didn’t even crack the top 10 when it came to producing top NFL tight ends.

Wide Receiver U

Draft picks Darius Slayton (R5, 2019) played his college ball at Auburn while Sterling Shepard (R2-2016) played his football at Oklahoma. But neither of those two programs topped Reid’s list.

That honor goes to Clemson, who scored 54 points (Ohio State finished second with 46 an LSU, which brought Giants fans Odell Beckham Jr, was third with 40 points).

Clemson has produced top receiving talent such as DeAndre Hopkins, traded by the Texans to the Cardinals; Sammy Watkins of the Chiefs; and Mike Williams of the Bucs, while Ohio State’s most significant product was two-time All-Pro Michael Thomas of the Saints.

But there is good news in that there are some receivers from the top-3 college programs found to have produced wide receiver talent over the last ten years, including Justin Jefferson (LSU) and Tee Higgins (Clemson), to name a couple.

Offensive Line U

This one was a close race between Notre Dame and Wisconsin, with the Fighting Irish just barely edging out the Badgers by a point according to the study.

The Giants passed on a chance to draft Zack Martin out of Notre Dame in 2014, instead of going for Beckham with Martin falling to the Cowboys a couple picks later. And they could have had Quenton Nelson in 2018 had they not gone for Saquon Barkley in that draft.

The Giants do have a player from the Badgers, right guard Kevin Zeitler. It will be interesting to see if they add center Tyler Biadasz, also from the Badgers, to their offensive line from as their future center.

As the Cowboys offensive line has long been considered the gold standard around the NFL, it's worth noting that up until last season, two of their starters came from the top two programs (Notre Dame and Wisconsin), those being Martin and now retired center Travis Frederick respectively.

Defensive Line U

Nick Saban's Crimson Tide was once again a winner by a landslide, edging out Clemson (73 points) and Georgia (65 points) with a healthy score of 85 points.

But in breaking down the defensive line into interior and edge, Alabama, Clemson and Pittsburgh took home the top three spots while Wisconsin, Georgia, and Missouri were the top there at producing edge rushers.

Coincidentally, the Giants have, at least recently, dipped into those various talent pools. Interior defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson (Round 2, 2017) played his college ball for Saban, the top program for defensive linemen, both interior and edge.

New York also has homegrown players from the runners-up, those being Dexter Lawrence II, whose Clemson Tigers placed second overall and second in the interior linemen race, and edge Lorenzo Carter out of Georgia, the school that finished second in terms of producing edge rushers.

Linebacker U

Once again, Alabama takes the top spot in the study, followed closely by LSU and then the one-time Linebacker U champ, Penn State.

The Giants haven't had much luck with their off-ball linebacker selections., as they moved on from BJ Goodson (Round 4, 2016) out of Clemson, who didn't finish in the top 10 schools. They did appear to strike gold last year with Ryan Connelly (R5, 2019) out of Wisconsin, but the Badgers also didn't place in the top 10 programs.

Although the Giants had no draft picks from the schools designated as top producers of off-ball linebackers, they did have a couple of athletes--Kelvin Sheppard (Round 3, 2011) out of LSU and Nate Stupar (Round 7, 2012) out of Penn State--recently on their roster.

Defensive Backs U

The LSU Tigers scored the highest of any "Position U" program in the study, qualifying for a whopping 103 points. They were followed by Alabama (96 points) and Florida (71 points).

In terms of position breakdowns, LSU was the top producer for cornerbacks followed by Alabama, Ohio State, and Washington, while Alabama took the title for sending safeties to the NFL, followed by LSU, Florida, and Texas.

Yet none of the Giants' current safeties or corners hail from any of those top programs, though they did have two--cornerback Janoris Jenkins (Florida) and safety Landon Collins (Alabama), both of whom were Pro Bowlers, while Eli Apple, their first-round pick in 2016 who unfortunately didn't work out for them as a long-term prospect, came from Ohio State, a top-3 program

While that in itself isn't a reason why their defensive secondary struggled--look at the youth factor and the questionable teaching and roles the players were asked to play as your main culprits--the jury is still out on just how good the Giants defensive backfield can become.

Final Thoughts

The entire Position U study was undoubtedly an interesting exercise, but it's also in no way a definitive guide to how a team should draft. 

The study, for example, doesn't appear to take into consideration coaching changes and hence scheme changes. And it limits itself to NFL games played, without regard to production (which in many cases is also scheme dependent).

With that said, it will be interesting to revisit the study once the draft is over to see if the prospects do their schools' reputations proud.