After months of collecting crumbs of data and other information, we’re almost there. The draft is one week away.
This year’s draft season for the New York Giants seems longer than most. Perhaps it had to do with the 3-13 disaster and the directive that ownership sent out back in October for the scouting staff to focus its attention on quarterbacks. Or it could be having the invaluable No. 2 overall pick.
Either way, it’s almost time. Next Thursday night the first round of the 2018 NFL draft will unfold.
The Giants have a chance to get a pretty good player. What they’re looking for is something more -- a generational player, like the one they corralled the last time they picked second overall, in 1981. That netted them Lawrence Taylor.
“When we set the board and have our conversations, [we ask] is that the guy worth being the second pick in the draft? Can we picture him someday maybe putting on a gold [Hall of Fame] jacket?” general manager Dave Gettleman said last month. “You have to think that way. You can’t draft anybody with the second pick hoping.”
With that in mind, let’s get to my prediction for the Giants' first-round pick. We're limiting the field to six this year, given how early the pick is.
When I began doing this exercise in 2014, it started well. Odell Beckham Jr. was on the maiden list. Ereck Flowers was identified early in the process the following year. But I had the Giants pegged for Leonard Floyd or Jack Conklin in 2016 before everything went haywire.
I'll try here to work off the tidbits and scraps gleaned along the way. Usually I’m able to find out who the Giants like and don’t like, not exactly who they are going to draft. Then I deduce the probabilities.
It’s not always a perfect process because the general manager isn’t calling me with information (come on, Dave!) and not everyone in the building likes one specific player. The Giants, in particular, have a lot of cooks in their draft kitchen -- maybe more than most -- and this year they’ve been especially quiet, leaving more uncertainty than ever with a new general manager who could go rogue from a scouting staff that undoubtedly will be reorganized after the draft.
Here goes nothing. My best guesstimate of the likelihood of the top players for the Giants’ pick.
1. RB Saquon Barkley (Penn State): He’s the best player in the draft. He tops the board for many of the teams I checked. “Legit” and “special” are among the descriptions of the explosive running back. If the Giants are intent on taking their highest-rated player and not a quarterback, Barkley is expected to be the choice. If the Browns are the Browns and select Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen No. 1 overall, it would leave the Giants with a dilemma. Do they select potentially their next franchise quarterback (likely Sam Darnold) or inexplicably bypass that need with Eli Manning set to turn 38 before the next Super Bowl? They probably go Darnold in that scenario with their pick of quarterbacks. Surely they believe one of them is a franchise quarterback. It’s just seems unlikely now that Darnold is available. He should go No. 1. That makes Barkley my most likely selection for the Giants at No. 2.
2. DE/OLB Bradley Chubb (NC State): The best pass-rusher in the draft can't be discarded, especially with Gettleman -- known to have an affinity for linemen and pass-rushers -- running the show. There could be some hand-wringing by the Giants between Chubb and Barkley. Some of it will have to do with positional value; getting a running back in the second round who is capable of starting immediately is possible. Finding another pass-rusher is a lot more difficult. Chubb is head and shoulders above the other pass-rushers in this draft.
3. G Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame): The Giants' trade down scenarios are real. Gettleman is in a real position of power sandwiched between a pair of teams almost certain to draft quarterbacks. If the Giants don’t want to go that route, there will be intriguing offers on the table for a team (hello, Buffalo!) craving to get into the quarterback mix with the No. 2 overall pick. Nelson would be the target if the Giants consider the move. He falls right into Gettleman’s wheelhouse and fits the “gold jacket” description. A “generational player,” one source said of Nelson. It might take some creativity from Gettleman to move out of No. 2 and get Nelson though. Maybe even multiple trades -- out and then back into the top 10. But it’s possible. Nelson is a player the Giants think can be great, not just good, for a long time.
4. QB Josh Rosen (UCLA): He edges out Allen in this spot, just barely, if only because he has the better tape. And Gettleman is an admitted tape junkie. Rosen is the most natural thrower in the draft. He’s considered the “most ready” quarterback, which limits the risk. That’s important considering Gettleman warned this offseason that the wrong quarterback could set a team back five years. The knock on Rosen has been his personality, off-the-field interests and leadership concerns. He’s apparently done well to ease those reservations throughout this pre-draft process.
5. QB Josh Allen (Wyoming): He has the most impressive physical tools in the draft. That’s why coaches -- including some with the Giants -- drool over his potential. Some coaches say they can mold that talent into something special, even though Allen didn’t consistently wow at Wyoming. He’s a risk, the most boom-or-bust quarterback prospect after some up and downs on his way to the NFL. One coach said Allen “can be special.” One scout said he was “not a good player” right now. The uncertainty puts him a smidgen behind Rosen on this list.
6. QB Sam Darnold (USC): He’s believed to be the Giants’ first choice at quarterback. He has his supporters in the building; it’s just that the Cleveland Browns seem more likely than not to select him No. 1. If they don't, I'd expect the Giants to take him at No. 2. Darnold has the perfect makeup and demeanor to make him the ideal candidate to replace Manning. He’s thrived and handled the pressure at USC. And he’s talented. Darnold has the arm and mobility to succeed in today’s NFL. Talent evaluators don’t seem too concerned about his throwing motion. Most seem to believe Darnold will only get better, and he'd have the time to with the Giants behind Manning and Davis Webb to start. "If you're willing to wait a year or two, there is some magic in him," one source said. The Giants would be fortunate to have a crack at Darnold.