As the 2021 NFL Draft swiftly approaches, reports and unnamed sources have become a thorn in the side of the traditional draft process; and its annual doings have become an ever-present reality that wears out its tread when April 29 arrives. If history suggests anything, you can throw the rumors of the New York Giants trading back straight out the window.
For New York, the draft has served the franchise well over the last couple of seasons. The last four years have provided a look into the foundation often lambasted general manager Dave Gettleman has placed as the Giants steamroll into their 2021 campaign. Tight end Evan Engram (2017), running back Saquon Barkley (2018), quarterback Daniel Jones (2019), and offensive tackle Andrew Thomas (2020) present a heck of a core with talent abound on the offensive side of the football. However, with the additions of wide receivers Kenny Golladay and John Ross and running back Devontae Booker in free agency, Gettleman’s focus could be centered on the defensive side of the ball with his No. 11 selection. But the talent both on the exterior at receiver and within the interior at offensive line may be just too good to pass up.
With a run on quarterbacks expected within the top-five picks, Gettleman will arguably have a choice between former Alabama receivers DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle, former Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, former USC offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker, or former Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater when New York’s clock begins to tick. Here is how New York should approach their selection, with my top three fits, in order, of who I believe Gettleman has at the top of his board.
Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
For everything Waddle didn’t do this year at Alabama, his projection as a top-10 prospect tells you all you need to know as he comes off a right ankle fracture that ultimately ended his 2020 season. Back in 2014, the Giants took a wiry, uber-athletic wideout from the SEC in a move based on projection instead of pressing immediate production. That receiver? Odell Beckham Jr.
Durability aside, and I understand it could be an issue down the road, Waddle is too special of an athlete to pass up here at No. 11, especially with Jones entering an ever-important campaign in relation to the Giants’ future under center. Golladay’s addition presents the vertical target Jones has lacked in the middle of the field, and with Waddle opposite the former standout in Detroit, the Giants present Jones all the weapons needed to prove he deserves the starting nod for the foreseeable future for head coach Joe Judge’s unit.
Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Gettleman took four linebackers in last year’s draft, all of which came as Day 3 selections in the sixth and seventh rounds, respectively. All of whom, however, are special teams contributors with no clear route to the middle of defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s unit.
Parsons is arguably the most unique linebacker set to enter the NFL in the last couple of seasons, due to his elite skill set as a future face of a pro defense. Like Waddle, Parsons failed to make an impact last season as he opted out due to COVID-19 concerns; but any concern surrounding his playing shape was put to bed after an outstanding Pro Day. Parsons recorded a 40-yard dash time of 4.39 seconds, .01 slower than the record for the fastest ever 40-time recorded by a linebacker at the NFL Scouting Combine by Shaquem Griffin (2018); to appreciate how fast that is, Parsons measured in at 6-foot-3 and 246 pounds, and Griffin was three inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than Parsons. He’s a special, special athlete who is in line to be the next game-changing type of talent within New York’s second-level as both a stout defender in the run, an able athlete in coverage, and as a pass-rusher with surprising tools off the edge. Parsons does it all.
Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
I’m really in the air when it comes to narrowing down to a projection for Andrew Thomas, who has the necessary traits to thrive as an anchor along an NFL line, but he struggled mightily in 2020 where the holes in his game as a collegiate prospect were exposed; so much so that if Thomas was a 2021 prospect, he wouldn’t have been in my top five of tackles in this class. He’s limited both athletically and positionally and has a long way to go in fine-tuning his fundamentals when asked to block the likes of Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, Washington Football Teams EDGE tandem of Chase Young and Montez Sweat, and Philadelphia’s Brandon Graham six weeks out of the year.
Slater, however, is much more of a polished prospect with the versatility to kick inside if Judge has concerns over his 33-inch arms. The scouting standard is 34-inch arms for an offensive tackle, though Oregon’s Penei Sewell (33 1/4) also measured under the NFL threshold. In fact, all six offensive tackles drafted in the first round in 2020 exceeded 34 inches, led by Thomas’ 36 1/8 pterodactyl-like upper appendages. Slater, a prospect with true five-position flexibility, would immediately jolt the Giants line into one of the premier units in the division to fill the loss of Kevin Zeitler.