The Giants began their draft weekend rather awkwardly as they watched two teams jump them via trades to nab players they liked. But once the dust settled, general manager Jerry Reese ended up with a solid draft class that fit specific needs.
Big Blue got caught flat-footed in the first round when both the Tennessee Titans and Chicago Bears leapfrogged them to take offensive tackle Jack Conklin and linebacker Leonard Floyd with the eighth and ninth picks, respectively.
Conklin, of Michigan State, and Floyd, of Georgia, were two targets of the Giants that got away from them – and two guys who would’ve likely been immediate Week 1 contributors, if not starters. Reese recovered nicely, though, when he selected former Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple at No. 10. Apple won’t be a starter, as he’ll have a difficult time surpassing veteran Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and the newly-minted Janoris Jenkins on the depth chart. But since most defenses in today’s pass-happy league are in nickel packages (five defensive backs) almost 70 percent of the time, Apple will likely see immediate action as a nickel back in the slot.
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Reese called Apple and “absolute need pick … [especially] looking at our corner depth. Anyone could see that.”
Safety Darian Thompson was another guy that the Giants expect to be an immediate contributor – and perhaps even a starter alongside Landon Collins. Big Blue patched together safety combinations all last season, to varying degrees of success. Thompson was described by Reese as a “free safety” who can “patrol centerfield for us.” It’s an all-important position for a Steve Spagnuolo defense that relies on one guy on each level of the defense to set the calls and get his unit in the right situation.
The secondary was helped greatly in the draft, but perhaps the best value could be second rounder Sterling Shepard of Oklahoma. The versatile wideout could potentially play opposite Odell Beckham Jr., Week 1 in Dallas, or at the very least be the top slot guy if Victor Cruz comes all the way back from his knee malady.
Shepard, 5-foot-10 and 194 yards, is that rare wideout who could be an impact player on the edges or inside at slot. His final two seasons at Oklahoma, he produced 137 catches for 2,258 yards, and 16 touchdowns. He was the apple of the Giants’ eyes even before he was draft eligible, as the team’s director of scouts, Marc Ross, said he immediately noticed Shepard as an underclassman when he trekked to Oklahoma to scout another player.
Reese has been much maligned over the years – although his past two drafts have included numerous key contributors, and this one has promise. And he managed to fill holes at linebacker, wideout, and running back.
But for the Giants to take the next step and get back into playoff contention, Big Blue will still need to address an offensive line that was ignored during the draft.
Big Blue notes:
- Apple has come a long way since his freshman year at Ohio State, as he was once diagnosed with an iron deficiency that prevented him from going all-out all the time in practices. He’s since concurred that and the Giants expect him to be a solid contributor.
- Apple also had a wild pre-draft process, as he’s the prospect that was in the middle of the firestorm created by an Atlanta Falcon assistant coach who asked him if he liked men. Apple was also the prospect who one anonymous scout said he took him off his draft board because he believed the rookie can’t cook.
- Ross scoffed at the pre-draft criticism: “It was all ridiculous. This guy came from a good family [and] went to college, and we’re asking about cooking? I mean, come on. The guy plays football, shows up to practice, goes to class, has great parents … and cooking came up. It’s not even a factor at all.”
- Thompson broke Eric Weddle’s career Mountain West Conference record for picks with 19, last season, which is the type of ball skills the Giants have been missing over the years since they parted ways with Antrel Rolle.
- Reese is a sucker for the word “measurable,” so it’s no surprise he picked up a linebacker who crushed it at the combine: B.J. Goodson of Clemson. The 6-foot-1 242-pounder topped all players at his position with 30 bench reps at 225 pounds.
- Keeping with that theme, former South Carolina tight end Jerell Adams was timed at 4.64 seconds in the 40-yard dash, which was the best among tight ends at the combine.