NFL Draft 2019: Giants’ best first-round options if no quarterback is worth a top pick
Giants fans looking ahead to the draft in hopes of finding the heir apparent to Eli Manning aren’t unjustified, but there might not be a quarterback worth taking near the top of the first round in 2019.
If Oregon’s Justin Herbert returns to school, there probably won’t be.
But, for a team that’s gone 4-20 over its last 24 games, quarterback isn’t the only problem.
Let’s identify the logical first-round pick candidates for the Giants as they undergo a rebuilding process under GM Dave Gettleman and are seemingly bound for a top-five selection in the 2019 Draft. We’ll start by pinpointing a few other holes that may be created over the next few months to clear cap space.
Potential cap casualties
DE Olivier Vernon
If the Giants are beginning a complete teardown, once prized free-agent acquisition Olivier Vernon would likely be on the chopping block. He’s set to represent a $19.5 million cap hit in 2019 with just $8 million in dead cap if he’s released. The Giants could designate him as a post-June 1 cut, which would spread his dead cap hit over two years, leaving his 2019 dead cap hit at just $4 million while giving New York $15.5 million in savings.
The 28-year-old has been a quality pass-rusher for the Giants but has 16 sacks in 31 games played and that $19.5 million cap hit next season would be tied for the fourth-highest figure among edge-rushers.
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CB Janoris Jenkins
One of the Giants’ other big free-agent adds in the 2016 offseason was Jenkins, and he was paid as an elite corner. Like Vernon, Jenkins has been good for New York but hasn’t lived up to his massive contract, a back-loaded deal that features a $14.75M cap hit in 2019 with just $7 million in dead cap if he’s released.
New York already moved 2016 first-round pick Eli Apple, and cutting (or trading) Jenkins would be in line with the standard protocol of the early stages of a rebuilding process.
RT Chad Wheeler
The veteran right tackle has been an enormous liability on the Giants’ porous offensive line. Even with a cap hit of just $651,000, it’s hard to envision a scenario where he’s brought back to start in 2019.
If he’s released in the offseason, New York would save $645,000. Nate Solder’s been disappointing on the left side, there’s no doubt about that. But his contract basically prohibits the Giants from moving on from him until — at the earliest — 2020, and the Giants can’t go into next season with an issue on the right side as well.
TE Rhett Ellison
Ellison was signed in the 2017 offseason, and he’s been a serviceable backup H-back who’s actually had more value this year than last, given Evan Engram’s injuries.
But next year he’ll be 31 and represent a $5.7 million cap hit with just $2.5 million in dead cap if he’s let go. Ellison’s currently playing just over half of the offensive snaps. Releasing him would be an easy way to save $3.25 million.
First-Round Pick Candidates
Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Bosa would be a home run pick for the Giants as an instant replacement for Vernon on the outside. As a prospect, Bosa is the most polished, NFL-ready edge-rusher to enter the draft since his brother came into the league in 2016. (That’s my go-to sentence on Bosa.) He plays with power, burst, bend, and an arsenal of pass-rushing moves much more advanced than the vast majority of collegiate defensive linemen.
While Bosa wouldn’t be as sexy as a top-five selection on a quarterback, he’d be the next best thing in terms of a franchise foundation. The Browns absolutely made the right choice at the top of the 2017 Draft when they selected Myles Garrett, who’s become one of the best outside pass-rushers in the AFC. He’s currently tied for the second-most sacks in the NFL with eight. Bosa could have a Garrett-type impact in New York right away in the spot opened by Vernon’s departure.
Greedy Williams, CB, LSU
If Jenkins isn’t on the roster in 2019, the Giants will have gigantic holes — yes, multiple — at cornerback, although they do have 2018 supplemental pick Sam Beal waiting in the wings. Considering Gettleman’s draft history in Carolina, a long, rangy corner would likely be picked over a smaller defensive back. In 2016, Gettleman picked Samford’s 6-1 corner James Bradberry in the second round. Bradberry had the second-longest arm length among cornerbacks at the combine that year.
At around 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3, Williams undoubtedly fits the profile Gettleman seemingly prefers at cornerback. And the LSU star is as fluid as they come when in coverage. His ball skills are impressive too. After a six-pick, 10 pass breakup 2017, Williams has two interceptions and four passes defended just about halfway through 2018.
Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia
Baker is less likely to go to to the Giants in the first round because he lacks the size of Williams, but the 5-foot-11, 185-pounder has the best mirroring skills in college football and is ready to be a No. 1 cornerback from Day One in the NFL. Since becoming a starter for the Bulldogs in 2016, Baker has seven interceptions and 22 pass breakups.
If Jenkins is released or traded, cornerback would certainly be in play for the Giants in first round, but the earliest Gettelman ever drafted a corner in Carolina was Bradberry in the second round in 2016.
Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama
Williams is the most fundamentally sound offensive linemen I’ve watched in college football this season. From the speed and balance in his kick slide in pass protection to the timing and accuracy of his punch to his grip strength and anchor, Williams is an offensive line coach’s dream.
As a freshman in 2016, he played right tackle and totally locked down that side of the line for the Crimson Tide. He’s since played left tackle but theoretically could go back to the first position he played at the collegiate level once he gets to the NFL. I actually thought his 2016 was better than his 2017, but his 2018 has been tremendous. He isn’t a big, lengthy tackle that Gettleman seemingly liked while he was calling the shots in Carolina. He’s a technician of a blocker who plays with more power than you’d think he could back into his 6-5, 301-pound frame.
Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
Oliver has a different body type, but like now former Giants defensive tackle Damon Harrison, he’s an elite run-stopping defensive tackle. The Houston product has the quickest first step at the position in college football — it’s remarkable to see on film every week even though I know it’s coming — and he’s started to lean on pass-rushing moves more often.
Gettleman added well-rounded defensive tackle B.J. Hill in the third round of the 2018 Draft, and the rookie has fared well early in his NFL career. I don’t know if he’ll ever been a high-caliber pass-rusher. Beyond his run-stopping prowess, Oliver has the athleticism to consistently get after the quarterback. During his time in Carolina, Gettleman undoubtedly prioritized the defensive tackle spot — he picked Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short in the first and second round of the 2012 Draft. Oliver, Hill and second-year pro Dalvin Tomlinson would formulate an awesome interior defensive line trio.
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