East Rutherford, N.J. — After trading offensive catalyst Odell Beckham Jr. and sacks leader Olivier Vernon to Cleveland and losing perennial leading tackler Landon Collins to free agency, the New York Giants are rebuilding heading into the NFL draft.
The question is, where does general manager Dave Gettleman start? He has 12 picks overall, including two in the first round (Nos. 1 and 17), and three of the first 37.
After winning eight games the past two seasons, there aren’t many positions where the Giants don’t need help.
The position fans identify first is quarterback. Two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning is 38, heading into the final season of his four-year, $84 million, and has taken the team to the playoffs once (2016) since winning the NFL title in February 2012. There is no heir apparent on the roster, although Gettleman drafted Kyle Lauletta in the fourth round a year ago.
There are some potential choices in Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, the Heisman Trophy winner, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, Duke’s Daniel Jones, and Missouri’s Drew Lock. Using the ‘Kansas City’ model, all could benefit from learning the ropes from Manning and being ready for a Patrick Mahomes’ type emergence in 2020.
Gettleman recognizes he has other major needs. The defensive line is desperate for an edge rusher or two. The offensive line needs a right tackle. A cornerback, a safety, an inside linebacker and a deep threat at receiver all would help.
If you listen to Gettleman, he is going to take the highest-rated player on his board, regardless of position. He has preferences, though.
When he was hired by the Giants in December 2017, he reminded everyone of something former coach and two-time Super Bowl winner Tom Coughlin once said.
“He said big men allow you to compete, and that’s really just so true,” Gettleman said. “The O-line and the D-line, I believe in the hog mollies. We’ve had some great groups here, had great groups everywhere I’ve been, and we’re going to get back to that. They do allow you to compete.”
His other comment that day was the cliche that offenses score points, and defenses win championships.
The picks will reflect those principals. No one will be asking: “Where’s the beef?”
The last time the Giants took a quarterback in the first round was in 2004. The guy they selected was Philip Rivers with the fourth pick overall. Just as quickly, they shipped Rivers and three draft picks to San Diego for Manning. If the Giants believe there is a franchise maker at quarterback, it would be interesting if they used to same route to get Manning’s replacement. If not, maybe the second round.
The defense switched to a 3-4 scheme last season with new coordinator James Bettcher. It was a struggle. Opponents scored 412 points, averaged 118.6 yards rushing, and held the ball more than 31 minutes a game. A major problem was getting pressure: New York was limited to 30 sacks, with the now departed Vernon leading the team with seven. Six players who are no longer with the club accounted for 13 1-2 sacks. Tackle B.J. Hill (5 1-2 sacks as a rookie) and Dalvin Tomlinson are back. They are going to need help.
Beckham was the major outside threat with his quickness and speed. Sterling Shepard, who signed a $41 million, four-year extension, and free agent Golden Tate will be Manning’s top two targets, along with tight end Evan Engram, who needs to stay healthy. Shepard and Tate are slot guys, though. It would help if the Giants found a burner who could keep the safeties occupied, and there are a few in this crop.
The group gave up 47 sacks last season despite adding left tackle Nate Solder as a free agent and drafting left guard Will Hernandez in the second round. Center Jon Hapalio is back after missing most of last season. Kevin Zeitler, acquired in the Vernon deal, is a solid right guard. Right tackle could use an upgrade. Chad Wheeler filled in after the team gave up on 2015 first-round pick Ereck Flowers.
New York signed 34-year-old Antoine Bethea to fill the major void when Collins went to the Redskins. Michael Thomas, Sean Chandler and Kamrin Moore are expected to fight for the other safety spot. Don’t be surprised if a rookie gets a shot to start.