Team Giants


Special Report

Sent: 05-14-21

Dave Klein was the Giants' beat writer for The Star-Ledger from 1961 to 1995.
He is the author of 26 books and he was one of only three sportswriters to have covered all the Super Bowls up until last year. Dave has allowed TEAM GIANTS to reprint some of his articles.

(In this review of the Giants 2021 draft, our Scott Landstrom offers high praise for most
of the selections plus unusually high praise for the architect, general manager Dave Gettleman.)

By Scott Landstrom
Well, it is now time to survey the talent that "Trader Dave" Gettleman obtained in the 2021 NFL draft, while gaining an extra first round pick next season from Chicago, as well as an extra third round pick from Miami. In the meantime, our GM got extraordinarily lucky with who was still "on the board" by the time his delayed selections came to be made. The additions were as follows:

Round 1: Kadarius Toney, WR Florida: 5-11 5/8- 193: There has been quite an incredible reaction to the selection of this superb wide receiver out of Florida with the 20th pick, obtained from Chicago.

Jaguars' head coach Urban Meyer claimed to be "heartbroken" that the Giants nabbed Toney before Jacksonville's second first-round selection came up five spots later, calling Kadarius "human highlight reel." ESPN Analyst and 11-year NFL player Nate Burleson filmed a video claiming that Toney was "the steal of the first round" in the 20th spot.

Toney comes from a background of being a second-team All-State QB in Florida in high school, so it is unfair to look at his time with the Gators without realizing he was learning the WR position, at which he never took a snap at in his high school career.

Don't believe me? Just queue up the tape on the final three games of his SEC career (he opted out of Florida's bowl game, as did fellow star TE Kyle Pitts). Against the Vols, all he did was catch seven passes for 128 yards. Against LSU (then the defending national champion), he went off for eight catches for 182 yards, and ran for 56 more as well, for a total offensive yardage sum of 238 yards.

Finally, against soon-to-be 2020 national champion Alabama, and going against the top-rated cornerback in the nation in Patrick Surtain, all Toney did was hang eight catches for 153 yards on him. While running a 4.39 in the 50-yard dash gives you a feel for his blazing speed, the surprising thing about Toney is how "strong" he runs with the ball, breaking tackles like a running back.

Looking at Toney's metrics in the jumps, which is a clear measure of "explosiveness," his vertical was 39.5 inches and his broad jump was 11.3 feet. Going back to the 2019 NFL Combine (the last time one was held), out of 81 tested receivers, Toney's vertical would have been fourth, and his broad jump second of all receivers tested.

Burleson is such a fan that he said the following: "Look, you may think me crazy, but you look at the receiving options they have put around Daniel Jones, and you have Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton and Evan Engram (who made the Pro Bowl in 2020), and now you add the fastest receiver in the NFL in John Ross, you add the NFL touchdown receptions leader from 2019 in Kenny Golladay, which was his last healthy season (and he also made the Pro Bowl that year), and now you add an electric playmaker like Toney to that group? The Giants might have as good a bunch of receivers around "Danny Dimes" as there is in the entire NFL, if they can stay healthy!"

Yes, it is true that 78 percent of Toney's 2020 snaps came from "the slot" position, where we like Shepard a lot, but it is felt that Toney has the size and burst to play any of the two receiver positions: "X" or "Z".

Draft Grade: A+: Getting a "game breaker" like Toney who can play running back on "Jet sweeps," the "slot" or go out wide, and then ALSO getting the Bears 2021 fifth, their 2022 first and their 2022 third round selections - ALL for the Giant's original 11th selection is like highway robbery, in my estimation.

Round 2: Azeez Ojulari, OLB/Edge, Georgia: 6-2- 249: Trading down eight spots in the second round, from 42 to 50, and still finding Ojulari on the board had to be like Christmas morning for Gettleman and head coach Joe Judge.

Reports indicated that this was the player they were going to take had they "stood pat" with the pick they had, and by trading back, they got an additional 2022 third round selection from Miami, which makes this yet another "home run" transaction for New York. Ojulari was rated the SECOND best OLB/Edge Rusher in the entire draft class, and in our annual E-GIANTS draft contest, he was one of my selections to be taken with the 11th overall pick in the draft.

That is how explosive he is, representing just the kind of perfect "outside pressure" capability to complement "inside" pass rushers Leonard Williams (62 QB pressures, 11.5 sacks) and Dexter Lawrence (29 QB pressures, 4.5 sacks).

In fact, Pro Football Focus gave Ojulari the highest pass rushing grade (91.7) of any Edge rusher in the draft and noted that he was going up against elite offensive tackles such as Alex Leatherwood of Alabama and Stone Forsythe of Florida almost every week.

The reason he dropped from being a candidate to be taken at No. 11 (in my view), to a player who was still "on the table" at 50 were rumors of his knee tendonitis from a high school ACL injury. Given he did not miss a single game, or even a single practice, according to Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, and given that he was checked out by world-famous knee guru Dr. James Andrews and given a "green light," I think Gettleman and the Giants got an absolute "steal" at this point in the draft.

Having Andrews examine and bless Azeez is like having Stradivarius evaluate your violin playing and classify you as a "prodigy" so I feel the "bet" on Ojulari's knee is a solid one - especially with the season he just had not missing a single practice.

Moreover, his time in the 40 at his Pro Day of 4.62 would put him in the 82nd percentile of Edge rushers in the draft - certainly doesn't sound like the young man is having ANY problems with that knee. Put it this way - one of the "Next Gen" stats is "Initial Burst" for pass rushers, which is their speed after their second step of their rush. Ojulari merely topped the entire draft class in this metric for his position despite weighing 249 pounds, so color me exuberant to have him on the roster, given Gettleman's former seeming disdain for "speed rushers" in past seasons.

Add his 28 reps on the bench press, his unusually long 34-inch arms for a man of his stature, and the fact that his "dip and rip" move was judged by Carl Banks as being "clearly the most unstoppable pass rush move in all of college football" and I think New York will be happy he is on their roster in 2021.

Draft Grade: A: The only aspect keeping this from an A+ is slight concern for his knee in the longer term. Getting the single most dominant pass rusher (arguably) in the draft at 50 is just stupid-lucky.

Round 3: Aaron Robinson, CB, UCF : 6-1, 193: Robinson began his collegiate career at Alabama, playing for Nick Saban, but then decided for whatever reason that the big school environment was not to his liking. At 6-1 and 193 with 4.38 speed in the forty, he is simply a physical specimen.

Going back to the 2019 NFL Combine, only four out of 62 cornerbacks ran sub-4.40 forties, and the number who were that fast and concurrently had at least Robinson's height and weight (or more) was exactly ONE, so he is a unique combination of stature, weight and speed for his position.

His draft profile points out that he is a "willing" tackler in run support, which one would hope for at his size. While Robinson had a respectable total of 16 "passes defensed" his last two seasons as a starter at UCF, his total interceptions was only one - so New York needs to get this kid to use all that ability to compete for the football in space.

Draft Grade: B+: If you graded this pick on physical attributes, it would be off-the-charts, but the combination of playing in the American Conference at UCF and only intercepting one ball in his college career indicates he probably needs some "coaching up" to flourish in the NFL.

Round 4: Elerson Smith, OLB, Northern Iowa: 6-6, 252 pounds. At Smith's size and length, one must project him as a defensive end in the NFL, since having a guy that size falling back into pass coverage seems both problematic and a waste. Put it this way - in 2019, the last season that Smith played at UNI due to the fall season being cancelled, only two players in the nation had more than Smith's 14.0 QB sacks: Chase Young at Ohio State and Gregory Rousseau at Miami.

Moreover, his 63 "tackles for loss" and his 5.0 forced fumbles both led the country. At his Pro Day, he ran a 4.69 forty, which at his size is over the 90th percentile, and also put up 26 reps in the bench press. With his frame, I could easily see him increasing muscle mass to carry 265 - 270 pounds in the NFL.

Thinking about him pass rushing from one "edge" of the line, Williams creating "inside pressure" and Ojulari crashing in from the opposite "edge" has me drooling in anticipation. Smith had questions associated with his level of competition at Northern Iowa, but then he showed up at the Senior Bowl and wowed the coaches by beating some very reputable offensive tackles from premium football programs with both "speed" and "power" pass rush moves.

Draft Grade: A+: Smith is a perfect complement to second round selection Ojulari as they are both physical "freaks" but in different ways, so what an offensive tackle has to do to block one will likely meet with little success against the other.

Round 6: Gary Brightwell, RB, Arizona: 5-11, 218. I personally would have liked to see the Giants help themselves at this point in the draft on the offensive line by taking OT William Sherman of Colorado, as the Patriots did with the very next pick, but they went with a running back who will not see much time on the field as long as Saquon Barkley remains healthy. Granted, Brightwell was a star special teams player at Arizona, an attribute which we know Judge values, but as a running back, his 4.62 forty time is largely unimpressive.

Draft Grade: C-: As mentioned, Gettleman could have taken one of two blue-chip offensive linemen (Sherman of Colorado or Landon Young, a 6-7, 321-pound tackle out of Kentucky who New Orleans took later in the round), but instead chose a running back who is a special teams "ace."

Round 6: Rodarius Williams, CB, Oklahoma State: 6-0 1/8-189: Older brother of Cleveland CB "Greedy" Williams who took a few years off before beginning college, and thus graduated two years after his younger brother was taken in the second round in 2019. Good coverage instincts that had Big-12 teams throwing to the other side of the field, largely, but lacks elite speed (4.52 forty time).

It is worth reflecting that it was just two seasons ago, in 2019, that the Giants were so thin at cornerback that they twice picked up players off the waiver wires and had them taking meaningful snaps by their second week with the team. Now they seem infinitely deeper at this position with free agent signees James Bradberry and Adoree Jackson joining 2020 draft choice Darnay Holmes and 2021 picks Robinson and Williams to make a pretty freaking deep unit at this point.

Draft Grade: B-: Williams has size and athleticism, but his quickness is a question mark at this point.

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