Free agency is done and dusted, or thereabouts. Money spent, players acquired, holes filled.
Dave Gettleman and his front office staff attacked the first day of ‘legal tampering’ by spending the majority of their available riches on two players, cornerback James Bradberry and middle-linebacker, Blake Martinez.
Whatever the general consensus is about the successes or shortcomings or the Giants’ foray into free agency, the team has changed, with certain areas being more in glaring need of attention than others as April 23rd draws closer, Day One of the 2020 NFL Draft.
So after going to war with 31 other teams, and finding a few treasures along the way, how does the Giants depth chart stack up as of today?
More importantly, given the Giants currently own picks numbers 4, 36, 99 and 110 (amongst others), we take a look at the positions most in need of upgrading due to frailties in standards/lack of options, and how they can address it.
Additions: Cameron Fleming (Dallas Cowboys)
Departures: Mike Remmers (released)
One in, one out for Big Blue, after allowing starting right tackle and former Minnesota Viking, Mike Remmers, walk this past month, freeing him up to sign a deal with the Super Bowl winners, Kansas City Chiefs. Having started all 16 games for the Vikings in 2018, the Giants signed Remmers up to a 1-year/$2.5 million deal and got 14 games out of him all being told. His performances were so-so, but certainly not below the expectation of a 30-year-old tackle who came into the season pretty banged up and already on the eight-team of his career (counting his return to the Vikings as two stints).
Coming the other way through the door was swing-tackle, Cameron Fleming. A two-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots and still just 27-years-old, Fleming has started just 26 games across six seasons in the NFL. That averages at about 4-5 start a season. Fleming, a capable back up to the Dallas offensive line that already boasted three Pro Bowl starters, was well thought of in Arlington as a role player but was let go after the Cowboys decided to void the second year of his two-year deal.
Is Fleming a direct replacement for Remmers? Highly unlikely.
With Nate Solder, like it or not, still tied to the Giants through a monumental cap hit if he were to be cut, front office attention will certainly be on providing more insurance for young quarterback Daniel Jones in the early rounds of the draft.
If they go for a tackle at #4, you’re looking at Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs (although most analysts view him as a guard in the NFL), Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, or Louisville’s 6ft 7in, 370lb man-mountain, Mekhi Becton. According to the NFL’s Draft Prospect report, the belief is that Wills is the top man in the draft for tackle-needy teams, followed by Becton, Thomas and then Wirfs (as per NFL Draft Tracker).
Wills and Becton make the cut of players believed to be ‘Year One starters’, with Thomas and Wirfs viewed as a little way behind their fellow draft prospects. If we’re talking second round and the #36 pick, look out for USC’s Austin Jackson, and Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland, two players who are both expected to be just about NFL ready come September. Your wildcard pick for this position is Houston’s Josh Jones, who has flitted between the bottom of the first round and the top of the second round according to most mock drafts.
Additions: Blake Martinez (Green Bay Packers), David Mayo (re-signed)
Departures: Alec Ogletree (released), Deone Bucannon (released)
A middle linebacker than can cover, that’s how it should read. Stopping the run is something the Giants did pretty well last season, particularly from the midway point of 2019 when they acquired Leonard Williams from city rivals, the Jets. A shrewd free agent picks up from the G-men in the early part of last season, David Mayo too impressed with his ability to put the squeeze on running backs, earning himself a three-year deal as a result.
The trade to bring in Alec Ogletree from the Rams is still looked on in dismay after the former first-round pick failed to light up the Giants defense like they hoped when they gave up a fourth and a sixth-round pick for his services in 2018. Cutting him this season saved Big Blue over $8 million in cap space, but as a result, leaving an even bigger gaping hole in the middle of the defense. Without Ogletree, the Giants only had two middle linebackers on the staff; Mayo, who was a cheap snag off the 49ers practice squad, and 2019 fifth-round rookie Ryan Connelly, who admittedly did impress in his first couple of games before going down with an ACL injury against Tampa Bay.
Enter Blake Martinez, the man who made the second-most tackles in the entire NFL in 2019, who signed a 3 year/$30 million contract after leaving Green Bay.
A solid tackler with a nose for the football, Martinez excels in the run game, but his criticisms lie in his ability to cover passing routes, hence the need for a bonafide ball hawk at the linebacker position.
If that’s what the Giants want, and value above all, they’re just in luck, as the most talented player in the entire draft according to analysts that could be available at pick #4 is the swiss-army knife starlet, Isaiah Simmons, Clemson. He has it all, speed, height, length, the ability to cover your favorite NFL receiver both across the middle and deep. Viewed as a future Pro Bowl player by the NFL Draft Tracker, Simmons is as close to a home-run hit as the Giants can manage in the draft.
Outside of Simmons, at #36 or even perhaps #99, you’re looking at a player like Jordyn Brooks at Texas Tech, Willie Gay Jr from Mississippi State, or perhaps Malik Harrison of Ohio State. The wildcard at still being available come the early part of the second round, Patrick Queen, LSU. A tenacious now-National Champion who ran a 4.5 at the NFL Combine, draft analyst Lance Zierlein described on Queen’s strengths as ‘sudden lateral quickness to close down passing lanes’. That’s something the Giants definitely don’t have.
Departures: Antoine Bethea (released)
With the emergence of Julian Love in the back half of last season, in their minds, the Giants may have their starting safety duo of Love and Jabrill Peppers set. Peppers’ mid-season injury was a huge blow, given the fact that his undeniable athletic talent was just starting to win over skeptics who wondered why Cleveland was so willing to let go of one the most highly recruited high school players of his age.
Hate him or love him, 35-year-old Antoine Bethea was an experienced body at the free safety position, a body that is now gone. This now leaves the first back-ups on ESPN’s depth chart as Sean Chandler, an undrafted free agent out of Temple in 2018, and Rashaan Gaulden, Carolina Panthers’ 2018 third-round pick, who was released from his four-year deal after just one season, and signed to the Giants’ practice squad. Michael Thomas, meanwhile, a key player on special teams, has seemingly been let go too.
Many people were surprised to see the Giants not take a punt on a one-year contract for an experienced free agent safety like Ha-ha Clinton Dix (1yr/$4mill from Dallas), Karl Joseph (1yr/$2.5mill from Cleveland), Andrew Sendejo (1yr/$2.25mill, also Cleveland) or DJ Swearinger (1yr/$1.1mill from New Orleans). That just names a few, and with many people doubting whether the Giants would offer up a short term deal to the likes of Damarious Randall, Tavon Wilson or Eric Reid, all of which remain unsigned, the focus is surely through the draft.
While the value isn’t there at #4, the interest will peak early in the second round, where LSU centre-fielder Grant Delpit may just find himself after his stock seemingly took a hit in recent weeks for one reason or another, much like fellow Tiger Greedy Williams’ did last year. Delpit is NFL ready, possessing great ball-hawking awareness and speed, despite not performing at the combine due to injury. With Alabama’s Xavier McKinney viewed as the best safety in the draft and a late first-rounder, the second-highest ranked option could be there for Big Blue at #36.
According to NFL Draft Tracker, that man is Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield Jr, who was the pick of the bunch on both sides of the ball for the phenomenal 2019 Gophers. Winfield boasted seven interceptions, three sacks and two forced fumbles with the Outback Bowl winners last season and would be the true backfield talent the Giants have been looking for as he looks to follow his father into the NFL.
Later round picks for perhaps the third or fourth round include Jeremy Chinn (Southern Illinois), Julian Blackmon (Utah) or Antoine Brooks Jr (Maryland). A player with late-round potential could be Clemson’s K’von Wallace, who should still be available by the sixth round.
Additions: Kyler Fackrell (Green Bay Packers)
Departures: Markus Golden (released)
I’m going to try and rap this one up a little bit shorter and sweeter. The Giants have seemingly let go of their one-year project, Markus Golden after his short-term deal reaped great rewards with his 10 sacks in 2019. The view was that if the G-men wanted to keep Golden in New York, they’d have to tie him down to a longer deal with a high annual salary. As of March 28, Golden remains unsigned, which begs the question, if the market for him has dried up, why aren’t the Giants checking in with him to offer him another short term deal? Maybe they are, only time will tell.
Their replacement for a one-year reclamation project like Golden? A reclamation project, like Kyler Fackrell. Golden was signed for one reason, his 2016 sack total. Before suffering a serious ACL injury, Golden finished the 2016 season with 12.5 sacks. His 2017 and 2018 were hampered by injuries, so the Giants took a punt on him, and reaped the rewards as he neared Pro Bowl consideration. Fackrell, just seven months Golden’s junior, had a terrific 2018 where he recorded 10.5 sacks while starting just seven of the 16 games he played in that year. However, he was a victim of a defensive shakeup in 2019 when the Pack spent big on the duo of Za’Darius and Preston Smith, leaving Fackrell to play just a bit part on the team, not even starting a single game.
So, where does that leave the Giants pass-rush situation? Operating on the basis of a 3-4 formation, they have three outside linebackers; Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines and now Fackrell.
Ximines and Carter had 4.5 sacks apiece in 2019 as they split snaps, with Carter getting the majority.The third-round picks in 2018 and 2019 respectively have both contributed to the teams chase of opposing QB’s, with patience perhaps wearing a little thinner for Carter, as Ximines not only came out of a small school like Old Dominion but managed, as aforementioned, 4.5 sacks during limited playing time as a rookie.
The odds seem in the favor of adding a pass rusher in the first four rounds of the draft, and with the value seemingly dropping out of the first round (excluding Chase Young), Wisconsin’s Zack Baun will be the man most teams will be sniffing around come Day Two. After an exhilarating combine had analysts purring around the league, Baun had a sensational 2019 in the Big Ten, recording 12.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss. Baun does have latter first-round potential but may sneak his way into the second. Edges Julian Okwara (Notre Dame), Josh Uche (Michigan), Terrell Lewis (Alabama) and Curtis Weaver (Boise State) should all be available by the Giants’ second-round pick.
If they wait until pick #99, there is still value there, including players such as Darrell Taylor (8.5 sacks with Tennessee in 2019), Bradlee Anae (13 sacks with Utah in 2019), and Khalid Kareem (26 career college tackles for losses with Notre Dame).
As for the fourth round, look no further than Alex Highsmith, the senior out of the University of Charlotte who recorded a jaw-dropping 15 sacks last season.
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