The 2021 NFL Draft will begin on April 29 with a level of certainty. It would be a shock if Trevor Lawrence, currently -10000 to be selected with the first overall pick, did not end up a Jacksonville Jaguar. Zach Wilson brings a shade less certainty at -5000 to go second overall, but those odds still indicate that he is the heavy favorite to become a New York Jet in a few weeks.
The draft truly begins with the San Francisco 49ers and the third overall pick. Surely, that selection will also be a quarterback, given what San Francisco had to give up to jump nine spots in the draft order. The subsequent debate between Justin Fields, Mac Jones and Trey Lance has dominated pre-draft coverage to this point.
I don’t want to want to continue to belabor that decision. Instead, I want to take a deeper look at several high-leverage selections beyond San Francisco’s pick that could shape the remainder of the draft. That’s what I’ll be doing over the next week — evaluating the options on the table for several teams with top-12 picks in the 2021 NFL Draft.
View PFF's 2021 NFL Draft position rankings:
The New York Giants are one of the teams well-positioned to benefit from the early run on quarterbacks that will push premier talent at other positions down the board. As NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah so eloquently put it, Dave Gettleman is unlikely to trade back. And with Daniel Jones secure as the starting quarterback for at least one more season, the Giants don’t seem likely to trade up, either. So what will their options look like at No. 11 overall?
Option No. 1: Continue to invest draft capital in the offensive line
There are now major concerns up front. Pocket awareness isn’t one of Jones’ strengths, but New York’s 32nd-ranked pass-blocking unit wasn’t doing him any favors in 2020.
Highest percentage of pressured dropbacks since 2019 | 32 qualifying quarterbacks
|Quarterback||% of dropbacks under pressure|
The Giants spent a first-round pick on Andrew Thomas, a third-round pick on Matt Peart and a fifth-round pick on Shane Lemieux a season ago to bolster the offensive line. Thomas struggled early but showed signs of improvement down the stretch, Lemieux ended the season with a 16.9 pass-blocking grade and Peart played just 150 snaps.
Nate Solder‘s return to the right tackle spot along with another year of development for the younger players should lead to improvement, but it still projects as a bottom-tier unit compared to other offensive lines across the league.
If he is available at Pick 11, Rashawn Slater would certainly give New York a better alternative at guard in 2021, but he also has the potential to either remain at guard or kick back out to tackle in the future. USC offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker could also be under consideration to fill a similar role.
Option No. 2: Continue to add receiving talent
New York has already made a concerted effort to add talent to its receiving corps in free agency. The addition of Kenny Golladay was the clear headliner, but the Giants also brought in both Kyle Rudolph and John Ross to round out the group. A wide receiver like Jaylen Waddle would add a different element to the receiving corps, though.
Jaylen Waddle should be viewed as a top-15 talent despite concerns with his size (5-foot-10, 180 pounds).
Waddle's speed/explosiveness is rare, and his short-area quicks/lateral agility is an even bigger separator for him in the 2021 class. pic.twitter.com/wBFdIUtFnL
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) December 29, 2020
Waddle clearly has the speed to threaten defenses vertically. His slipperiness in the open field, something he regularly put on display as a return man, is equally impressive.
PFF’s Austin Gayle recently named Waddle the best YAC receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft, which is no surprise given that the Alabama product put up over 10.0 yards after the catch per reception in both his true sophomore and true junior seasons.
Neither Golladay, Sterling Shepard nor Darius Slayton profile as a game-changing threat with the ball in their hands. No team’s wide receivers collectively averaged fewer yards after the catch per reception than the Giants’ unit in 2020 (3.0). The addition of Waddle would help change that. Of course, he may not even be available when the Giants are on the clock, given the growing buzz that he will come off the board before teammate DeVonta Smith.
Option No. 3: Find a consistent edge rusher
The Giants have done a decent job of building their defense over the last two offseasons, but there is still room to add a few key pieces. Edge rusher is the biggest of those needs. Nearly all of New York’s pressure in 2020 came from the interior, and replacing Kyler Fackrell with Ifeadi Odenigbo isn’t likely to improve much.
Most pressures generated by a Giants defender in 2020
Yes, those are all interior defenders, which is a truly impressive feat given the typical distribution between edge and interior pressures across the NFL. The aforementioned Fackrell was the first edge rusher to appear on the above list, and he managed just 19 pressures. It’s a need that New York should address at some point in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The biggest issue with going edge defender at 11th overall is that it likely means the Giants are making the first edge selection in a crowded and uncertain draft class.
Kwity Paye is the first edge defender on PFF’s big board at 24th overall, closely followed by Jayson Oweh (25th), Jaelan Phillips (27th) and Azeez Ojulari (30th). The value isn’t great in the top half of the first round, with some uncertainty lingering as to who the best player available is. It becomes a better option if the Giants trade down.
The other player I’ll throw into this conversation is Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, who can contribute as a pass-rusher off the edge in addition to playing off-ball. It all comes down to how much weight New York gives to the off-field concerns hanging over Parsons heading into the draft. However, he does profile as an intriguing fit next to Blake Martinez from an on-field perspective.
Option No. 4: Build out one of the best secondaries in the NFL
The other potential path for the Giants is adding to the cornerback room with a player such as Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II or South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn. The Giants made a big splash last offseason when they brought in James Bradberry from Carolina. They also added Logan Ryan and Xavier McKinney in the same offseason. More recently, New York signed Adoree’ Jackson to a three-year, $39 million deal after his release from Tennessee. They are already heavily invested in the secondary.
The argument for drafting cornerback at No. 11 overall is that Surtain and Horn could both be difference-makers in this defense at a valuable position, and you need three good cornerbacks in the modern NFL. The Giants do have three safeties who will be vying for playing time (Ryan, McKinney and Jabrill Peppers) in addition to younger players who could line up in the slot (Darnay Holmes and Julian Love). That makes this option the least appealing of the four highlighted in this piece.
My thoughts: Improve the offensive line for Daniel Jones
This is the season for the Giants to determine whether Jones is the team’s quarterback moving forward. The aggressiveness in free agency indicates that they seem to understand that. Adding additional receiving threats such as Golladay and Rudolph will help, but the offensive line still stands out as a potential excuse should Jones post underwhelming numbers again in 2021. New York needs to do everything in its power to eliminate that excuse.
Slater would be ideal at No. 11 overall, but I would not fault the Giants for selecting someone like Vera-Tucker if Slater is off the board. There is potential for New York to trend toward average up front if Thomas takes a second-year leap and Solder helps solidify what was a disastrous right tackle position last year. Adding an early draft pick to the group would only improve those chances, and there are starting-caliber YAC threats and edge rushers that can be found on Day 2.
The Giants shouldn’t let underwhelming rookie campaigns for their 2020 rookie offensive line class deter them from continuing to bolster arguably the biggest weakness on this team heading into next season.