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May 26, 2019

Forget the QB talk, all signs point to Giants going defense in the draft

March 16, 2019

So consider these realities as everyone wonders whether the Giants will draft a quarterback with their No. 6 overall pick.

They need one. They could take one if they fall in love with a player in the next month. But frankly, the odds are against them taking a quarterback at No. 6.

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And the reason is because no matter how experts rank these QBs, there is near-universal agreement that the best player available at the Giants’ first pick will not be a quarterback.

I spoke to dozens of sources over the course of almost seven full days in Indianapolis, and not one person steered me away from that conclusion.

The Giants still could go QB anyway, as the Arizona Cardinals appear prepared to do with Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray — the worst-kept secret of this busy NFL spring.

But it just doesn’t add up, especially considering the Giants’ many needs on the defensive side of the ball, where coordinator James Bettcher needs players if he’s going to complement the offense’s “Kansas City model” with a defensive “Arizona model” of his past Cardinals success.

Do a mock draft on The Draft Network, for example, and hypothetically give Murray to the Cardinals at No. 1, Alabama DL Quinnen Williams to the Niners at No. 2, Ohio State edge Nick Bosa to the Jets at No. 3, Kentucky edge Josh Allen to the Raiders at No. 4, and LSU linebacker Devin White to the Bucs at No. 5.

Defensive players still on the board for the Giants would include Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver, Michigan edge Rashan Gary (who said Friday he is visiting the Giants), and Mississippi State edge Montez Sweat.

Michigan defensive lineman Rashan Gary is just one of many defensive studs that could be available to the Giants at No. 6. (Michael Conroy / AP)

And if one of the top five teams drafted Florida offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor or traded out with a team moving up to get a QB, it would bump another defensive stud like White into the Giants’ laps, too.

(I am willingly ignoring the presence here of Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson, who is just about the most Pat Shurmur player I think I’ve seen at an NFL Combine the last two years. And I’m also remembering that Oklahoma offensive tackle Cody Ford is on the Giants’ radar, too.)

Now, since the Giants also have the No. 17 overall pick from the Odell Beckham Jr. trade, perhaps Gettleman could be swayed off his best player available philosophy at six. I just don’t see the GM budging on how he believes players should be scouted.

Duke quarterback Daniel Jones
Duke quarterback Daniel Jones (Michael Conroy / AP)

It’s his expertise. It’s what he knows best. If anything, it’s more likely in my mind that Gettleman would take Duke’s Daniel Jones at No. 17 than Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins at No. 6.

So unless the Giants fall in love with a QB, defense is the most likely pick at six. And it makes even more sense with Eli Manning coming back to play quarterback and the Giants still trying to win now.

Gettleman unfairly blamed a depleted defense for some late-season losses after trading starters Damon Harrison and Eli Apple. But the GM can’t point the finger at that side of the ball and then not significantly upgrade Bettcher’s personnel.

Trading Olivier Vernon and letting Landon Collins walk were big headscratchers for that reason. Now, at least, Gettleman is providing more players suited to Bettcher’s scheme.

The GM demanded the Browns include strong safety Jabrill Peppers in the Beckham trade, and he signed free safety Antoine Bethea, defensive end Markus Golden and defensive tackle Olsen Pierre (Linden, N.J.), ex-Cardinals who’ve played for Bettcher.

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Of course, Kareem Martin proved last year that experience with Bettcher doesn’t guarantee success. But what the Giants’ three new defensive players have in common is versatility. They all can play multiple positions, and unpredictability was a staple of Bettcher’s best work in Arizona (2015-17). It enabled his defense’s trademark aggressiveness.

Bethea said Thursday that he and Peppers can play both safety positions so “we can disguise the coverage and make a quarterback think post-snap rather than pre-snap.” Golden said Friday that in Bettcher’s scheme, “you’re playing linebacker, not just defensive end.” And he had 12.5 sacks for the Cardinals in 2016 before tearing his ACL in 2017 and “getting my legs under me” last season.

So Golden’s one-year, $4.75 million deal with $2.25 million guaranteed, per a source, is an affordable risk on a player with upside at a position of severe need.

That doesn’t solve the Giants’ need for a pass rusher, though, especially with Vernon gone. Go back even to November, when Bettcher explained the typically steady process of developing a young pass rusher like rookie Lorenzo Carter, who didn’t factor much early defensively but took on more through the year.

“I see a young player at a position that not often do you see high production out of young players at that position,” Bettcher said. “This year we’re seeing it out of the young man in Denver from N.C. State. That’s a rarity to see that kind of production.”

That young man he was referring to was Bradley Chubb, who went for 12 sacks and 60 tackles after Denver selected him No. 5 overall. And there are now a bevy of ferocious defenders waiting for the Giants in a draft at least one GM thinks could go down in history on that side of the ball.

And Gettleman doesn’t reach. He aims to draft the best player. It all points to defense.

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