Isaiah_Simmons_Jeffrey_Okudah
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Michael Strahan mentioned that the New York Giants need some “dogs” on the roster, and they could certainly draft one in the first round.

Ryan Honey

Since their playoff loss in January of 2017, the New York Giants haven’t nearly returned to their winning ways. As a ballclub that’s conjured up just 12 total victories in three seasons, Big Blue requires improvement in so many departments.

Their secondary needs to develop, their offensive line must improve, more legitimate pass rushers have to emerge. Needless to say, the list goes on.

This past week, legendary Giants defensive end Michael Strahan was asked about what he thinks needs to be done in order to fix this losing organization.

“Can’t have a bunch of nice guys and win,” the Hall of Famer said, per David Marchese of the New York Times. “It doesn’t work. We need to find some dogs.”

He’s not wrong, especially when discussing the defensive side of the ball. Looking up and down that group, you’d be hardpressed to find someone who’s a legitimate leader for New York. Someone who can influence and motivate those around him. Someone who’s — as Strahan puts it — a “dog.” It’s a big reason why the Giants finished 25th in total defense and 30th in scoring defense last year.

When breaking it down, there are actually two groups within the defense that really lack an inspirational player: the secondary and the inside linebacker spot. The Giants defensive backfield finished 28th in passing yards allowed per game last year. The inside backer position, on the other hand, dealt with numerous injuries.

Luckily — with the No. 4 selection in the upcoming draft — the Giants could find a “dog” very early on for one of the two aforementioned positions.

First, let’s discuss the possibility of drafting Ohio State cornerback Jeffrey Okudah.

Overall, the Giants secondary has been weak but is young and fresh now that they’ve parted ways with Janoris Jenkins. Of course, the “young and fresh” title comes with the exception of Antoine Bethea, who will turn 36 prior to the start of the upcoming regular season. Nevertheless, t’s still unclear what the Giants front office will do with him heading into 2020.

If the Giants aren’t confident in Sam Beal or Corey Ballentine moving forward but still want a young guy to help grow with this group, then a cornerback could be the way to go. And when it comes to that position, there’s arguably no better name in this draft than Okudah.

This past year, the Buckeye racked up 34 total tackles, three interceptions, nine passes defended, and one forced fumble. He was unanimously selected a First-team All-American and also earned First-team All-Big Ten honors.

When looking at Okudah’s film, you can tell almost instantly that he has a knack for locating the football. He additionally possesses great technique when blocking passes with his inside hand while keeping his outside arm on the receiver in order to make the tackle if the catch is made.

As far as stopping the run is concerned, Okudah shows physicality and aggressiveness, two qualities he’ll absolutely need if he wants to thrive in the pros.

There are multiple reasons why the Giants may not take him though. For one, he could end up going No. 3 overall to the Detroit Lions. The Lions finished last in the NFL in 2019 with 284.4 passing yards allowed per game. That being said, there’s a strong chance they will choose a defensive back with their top choice.

And second, Giants general manager Dave Gettleman may be reluctant to draft a cornerback in the first round in consecutive years. Last April, the Giants used their No. 30 overall pick  — acquired via a trade with the Seahawks — to select Deandre Baker, who struggled mightily for the majority of the year.

Baker seemed to not show a whole lot of effort on some plays and was clueless on others. The stat sheet supports either of those claims. During his inaugural season in the pros, quarterbacks combined to complete 61.4% of passes for 850 yards, six touchdowns, and a 116.2 rating when targeting him.

Think of it this way: drafting Okudah and parting ways with Bethea would mean a secondary including the rookie, Baker, Jabrill Peppers, and Julian Love. It’s an extremely young group, but so was the “Legion of Boom” at one point. I’m not saying that’s what this potential defensive backfield could become, but you never know.

Nonetheless, if the Giants don’t (or can’t) take that route, there’s another potential impact “dog” they can look towards, and that’s Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons.

As far as the inside linebacker group goes, the Giants possess Ryan Connelly, Alec Ogletree, and David Mayo. Connelly proved to be the better one of the group in 2019 prior to his season-ending ACL tear in Week 4. As for the others, Mayo may not be the most reliable option and Ogletree is certainly aging.

Since coming over to the Giants prior to the 2018 season, Ogletree has missed three games in each of his first two years in blue. In 2019, he averaged 6.15 tackles per game, the lowest per-game mark of his career. Ogletree is also poor in pass coverage. Quarterbacks combined to complete 83% of throws for 373 yards, three touchdowns, and a 107.0 rating when targeting him last year.

Needless to say, Ogletree hasn’t been a defensive influencer nor leader for Big Blue.

Fortunately for Giants fans, Simmons succeeds in both pass coverage and playing up near the line of scrimmage.

During this past campaign for the Tigers, Simmons totaled 104 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks, three picks, eight passes defended, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. His efforts earned him a unanimous First-team All-American selection, a First-Team All-ACC selection, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year Award, and the Butkus Award for the nation’s top linebacker.

The great thing about Simmons is that it’s tough to decipher if he’s better in coverage or up in the box. He contains the size of a linebacker but the athleticism of a defensive back.

Just watching the film, the highlights clearly line up with the success on the stat sheet as well as the award shelf. Simmons is as physical as it comes, portraying tenacity when rushing the passer. He’s also extremely athletic, showing off valuable talent in the secondary on pass plays.

Additionally, Simmons is fantastic in the open field and possesses good enough footwork to bring down the ball carrier when alone on an island. That’s something this defense will need, being that the Giants missed a total of 106 tackles in 2019.

Simply speaking, Simmons can do it all and is all over the field. That’s the type of player who can become of influence to an entire defensive group. That’s the “dog” this Giants team needs.

If Simmons is the ultimate choice, the eventual parting of ways with Ogletree won’t be extremely harmful to the Giants in a financial sense. The veteran carries a dead cap hit of $3.5 million and $1.75 million in 2020 and 2021, respectively. He’s set to be a free agent after the latter campaign.

A linebacking core including Simmons and Connelly for years to come? Sounds like something that could benefit this organization in a multitude of ways.

All-in-all, one of the more talented individuals this organization has ever employed believes the current team needs some “dogs” in order to win games. The Giants could begin to solve that problem with the fourth pick in April’s draft.

If they do decide to trade back (which is a legitimate possibility), they could still end up choosing one of the two aforementioned standouts due to the fact that the team they’d trade picks with will likely be looking for a quarterback.

But either way, the ball is in Gettleman’s court. It’s ultimately up to him to make it happen.

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