Four players buzzing loudly around Giants’ 2020 NFL Draft pick at No. 4
The Giants have a lot of options with their No. 4 overall pick on April 23 and a ton of needs on their roster, so they can rationalize going in a lot of different directions.
But the Big Blue buzz around a few prospects has grown louder than others, especially the offensive tackles, and it’s time to zero in and try to decipher where the Giants may be leaning.
Here are four names among those standing out (listed in no particular order) based on the Daily News’ reporting, complemented by the scouting analyses of NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell and Pro Football Network draft analyst Tony Pauline and insights from experts at Pro Football Focus, The Athletic and the NFL.
There is more uncertainty in this draft than ever since the scouting process was compromised by the coronavirus pandemic. The Giants by nature are conservative. They value clean, productive, big school prospects with their premium picks.
GM Dave Gettleman prioritizes big men up front. And there is more reason than ever with a top-five pick in 2020 to take a known commodity who is guaranteed to make an impact both on day one and in the long-term.
Many view Brown as that player, and the best player available, at this spot.
“He’s been the No. 2 player on my board since January,” Pauline said. “It’s Chase Young and Derrick Brown. If he’d been in last year’s draft he would have been a top-10 pick. He plays all the time. Always shows up. In a day and age where players often bypass their bowl games, he played in the Outback Bowl for Auburn against Minnesota. I think people are sleeping on him in a ridiculous way.”
NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah has Brown as his No. 4 overall prospect and calls him “a complete player capable of dominating on all three downs.”
Brown has his college diploma. His father was in the Army. He has a one-year-old son. And his parents both graduated from Mississippi State, Joe Judge’s alma mater. Judge also made it to Auburn’s pro day before the college circuit was shut down.
The Giants’ defensive line may appear deeper and more promising than other position groups, but they still were not stopping the run effectively or getting to the QB by the end of 2019. Gettleman’s plan in signing linebacker Blake Martinez could be to draft Brown, team him with Dexter Lawrence, dominate up front, and keep their MLB clean to be a tackling machine.
When Gettleman said at the NFL Combine that “all three teams in our division have inside power on their defensive line,” he was not only describing how he intends to build from the inside-out on his offensive line; he was also shining a light on where the Giants are not yet disruptive enough on defense.
Cosell, who is often reluctant to rank prospects, steps out of himself to call Brown “one of the best overall prospects at any position in the 2020 draft class, with a chance to become one of the most complete defensive tackles in the NFL.”
“[One thing that] stood out was his competitiveness and effort making pursuit plays well outside the box,” Cosell said. “Brown can line up anywhere along the defensive front including defensive end and be a force. There are no limitations from an alignment or front standpoint with Brown."
Cosell said two players came to mind when evaluating Brown: the Rams’ Michael Brockers and the Bears’ Akiem Hicks. He believes Brown needs more moves and growth as a pass rusher, and that his development there will ultimately determine Brown’s worth in the league.
But Pauline believes Brown is “an outstanding pass rusher” and calls Brown “the type of player [opposing teams] game plan around.” And Gettleman believes the pass rush begins inside.
Of course, defensive tackle is not the position group the Giants appear to be spending most of their time on. That would be offensive tackle.
Andrew Thomas, OT, Jr., 21, Georgia (6-5, 315)
The Giants are digging in on all four of the top offensive tackles, including Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Louisville’s Mekhi Becton and Alabama’s Jedrick Wills Jr. But some sources believe Thomas is their preference.
He and Auburn’s Brown are probably the cleanest top-10, big school prospects at the Giants’ pick. Thomas has flown under the radar since Wirfs and Becton wowed in their NFL Combine testing, but Thomas’ stock is rising again as the draft nears.
“Andrew Thomas is the best all-around tackle,” PFF senior analyst Steve Palazzolo said. “The best pass protector. One of the best run blockers. The cleanest pick for the Giants at four if they’re gonna go tackle. He’s played on the left side, on the right side. He’ll fit in right away at right tackle for the Giants.”
Pauline calls Thomas “the most pure left tackle” in this year’s top four that also includes Wirfs, Becton and Wills, a group seemingly every expert has ranked in a different order. PFF ranks Thomas as its No. 1 OT. But The Athletic’s Dane Brugler and the NFL’s Jeremiah both rank Thomas as their fourth tackle (with Wills and Becton as their No. 1s, respectively).
Thomas (13) and Becton (11) are the only two who started more than three games at left tackle in 2019, though. And in Pauline’s opinion, “Becton can’t play left tackle (in the NFL right away). I don’t think Wills can play left tackle. Wirfs may be able to play the left, but he is more of a sure shot at right tackle.”
“Thomas has some Jonathan Ogden in his game,” Pauline says, comparing him to a Hall of Famer, “but also has some downside. He needs more playing experience and confidence in his base in pass protection.”
Brugler says Thomas has “balance issues” and a tendency to “abandon his lower body fundamentals” in pass pro, but still gets the job done and can continue to develop.
“Thomas was execution efficient as both a run blocker and in pass protection, and he consistently played with poise and composure and competitiveness in both areas,” Cosell said. “Thomas played in a predominant zone scheme in 2019, but he has experience in gap schemes, as well … [He]played in a pro scheme at Georgia with a conventional run game and a drop back pass game. Solid chance to be a day one starter at either OT position.”
It bears repeating that the 6-7, 364-pound Becton is also in the Giants’ sights. It’s just that the noise is growing around Thomas more in recent days.
Brugler says Georgia coaches describe Thomas as one of the Bulldogs’ “best leaders.” And a scout told The Athletic’s Bob McGinn, who ranks Thomas as his top tackle: “There’s not one negative about him.” Exactly the type of comments you typically hear about Giants picks.
Tristan Wirfs, OT, Jr., 21, Iowa (6-5, 320)
Wirfs broke the NFL Combine offensive lineman record with a 36.5 vertical jump that was higher than 30 of the 46 wide receivers in 2019. He ran a blazing 4.85 40-yard dash that was the fastest of any lineman in 2019. And his 10-foot, one-inch broad jump tied Raider Kolton Miller’s combine record.
He comes from a Big 10 offensive line factory. Like both Brown and Thomas, he is durable. He never missed a college game due to injury. A clean, “mature” prospect, per Brugler. And the Daily News reported in early March that he was on the Giants’ top-30 visit list and due to work on-field with the Giants ahead of Iowa’s canceled March 23 pro day.
But while he started 29 games at right tackle and four on the left for the Hawkeyes, Wirfs projects to many in the NFL as a guard -- an excellent guard, but a guard.
“Overall, I believe he can survive at tackle, but he'd benefit from playing with neighbors on both sides. I think Wirfs has All-Pro potential at guard,” the NFL’s Jeremiah said.
“The question with Wirfs is whether he is best suited to transition to the NFL as a right tackle or guard, the way former Iowa OT Brandon Scherff did,” Cosell said. “My sense is a move inside to guard would be a good one and projects Wirfs as a day one starter.”
Pauline calls Wirfs a “phenomenal right tackle,” though. And Wirfs’ swing in projections between tackle and guard isn’t necessarily a weakness for the Giants and Judge, who values versatility. The Giants have long-term needs at both tackle positions and center, and they’re also hoping for more growth from Will Hernandez at left guard. So there’s a place for him somewhere.
“Wirfs profiles as an efficient and economical right tackle who’s more than functionally athletic and extremely workmanlike and consistent in his execution,” Cosell said. “In pass protection he played less with fluid athletic movement and more with coiled efficiency defined by excellent balance and body control and poise and composure. Wirfs flashed as a powerful run blocker with leverage and power and the mobility to climb to the second level, but he also must clean up some balance issues as a drive blocker and second level blocker.”
Isaiah Simmons, LB, Jr., 21, Clemson (6-4, 238)
When last season ended, I thought Simmons was going to be the Giants’ pick. And he still might be, especially after his blazing 4.39 40-yard dash at his size. They’re definitely showing interest.
Cosell makes no bones about it: he says if he were Gettleman, “I would take Simmons, because I think he’s a freak. There are not going to be many Isaiah Simmons’ in many drafts.”
Cosell believes Simmons transitions best “as a safety who can be highly effective playing near the box for a foundational single-high defense,” though that is Jabrill Peppers’ role in New York, so drafting Simmons would seem to call Peppers’ role into question.
Jeremiah rates Simmons as his No. 3 overall prospect behind only LSU QB Joe Burrow and the Ohio State edge Young, calling Simmons a “versatile, defensive chess piece.”
There is a thought around the league that teams, the Giants included, might be more comfortable using a top five pick on a player with a more defined role and position — and that Simmons needs to play for a coaching staff that knows how to use him.
Cosell counters by saying defenses now play 60-85% of their snaps in sub packages, and Simmons is “the ultimate sub-package defender.” In 2019 for Clemson he racked up 102 tackles, 16 for loss, eight sacks, three interceptions and nine pass breakups in 15 starts.
“Simmons is at his best as a space and movement player,” Cosell said. “He’s an athletic run-and-chase player, not a confined space box player. (In other words), you want to get him away from the bodies, not align him where the bodies are.”
Pauline has reservations about the certainty of Simmons as a top-five pick, though, even as a draft analyst who had Simmons graded as a second-round pick back in his redshirt freshman season and agreed he’s an “amazing athlete.”
“Isaiah Simmons is a dangerous pick if you don’t have a designated position for him or scheme for him,” Pauline said. “I think he’s like Jabrill Peppers: you’re gonna have to develop an uncommon position for him. He’s sort of like a linebacker in a safety’s body. Amazing athlete. But even if he’s valuable in a sub package, you’re talking about a top-five pick. You want him to be explosive and impactful no matter what your defense is in.”
Couple that with Gettleman already letting a dynamic safety/linebacker walk out of the building in Landon Collins, and there is an easy argument to be made that Simmons is a great player but not the logical pick for this conservative franchise.
That said, Judge and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham value versatility, and that is Simmons’ middle name.