This is the biggest NFL Draft around here in a long time. Probably ever.
As strange as it feels to write this, given how poorly managed both teams have been for the last decade or so, they seized the opportunity in Thursday’s first round. Four smart top-10 picks and then a big move by Jets general manager Joe Douglas to get back into the round and snag a fifth impact player. And the Giants’ Joe Schoen proved himself a better general manager than Dave Gettleman before the 10 p.m. news.
What a world. What a wild night. There is football life around here again. Some morning-after thoughts:
This could be a franchise-changing night for the Jets. Sauce Gardner feels like one of the safest picks in the draft and gives the Jets a clear No. 1 cornerback. Garrett Wilson is the big-play receiver Zach Wilson needs and he makes more financial sense than a Deebo Samuel trade. Wilson also makes more practical sense than waiting on Jameson Williams’ ACL recovery. And Douglas deserves kudos for waiting the board out and then giving up little to trade back into the first round and snag pass rusher Jermaine Johnson — a guy many thought would go in the top-5.
If all three picks pan out — no celebrations yet, remember the 2019 Giants — and Wilson makes a big jump, this feels like a potential playoff team in 2022 and a real contender in 2023. And getting three top-10 caliber talents at premium positions on rookie deals in cadence with Wilson’s could be transformative. Not to get carried away here, but that is how you win Super Bowls in the modern NFL.
Kayvon Thibodeaux is a major statement. The Giants didn’t get scared away by Thibodeaux’s big personality and off-field interests — far from a given since the franchise still has ongoing Kadarius Toney issues and Odell Beckham Jr. scars to grapple with. And they finally addressed an issue they have inexplicably neglected for far too long. The Giants win Super Bowls when they have elite pass rushers. Former general manager Dave Gettleman failed to realize this despite walking past photos of Tom Brady being terrorized on a daily basis. Thibodeaux can be the dominant sack threat they have not had for far too long.
Joe Schoen had a great first night. There was a little — OK, a lot — of luck involved. Don’t put him in the Ring of Honor yet. But Schoen masked the Giants’ targets and had a plan. And when things fell perfectly for him, he capitalized by grabbing Thibodeaux at No. 5 to protect against a rival trading up with the Panthers at No. 6 while knowing he would have two of the three offensive tackles available at No. 7. We’ll see if Schoen made the right call with Evan Neal over Charles Cross, but that will take some time to play out. The new GM passed the first-round with flying colors for now.
Day 2 will be big for Daniel Jones. Yes, the offensive line will be better. But Jones still has Saquon Barkley, a shaky group of receivers — and who knows if Darius Slayton and Kadarius Toney will be around by Week 1 — and no tight end. That is not exactly the supporting cast you would handpick if your career was on the line.
The Giants had to pass on Jones’ fifth-year option. He has done nothing to suggest he is a franchise quarterback and picking it up would have been salary cap malpractice. But the decision-makers — Daboll, Schoen and co-owner John Mara — continue to say all the right things about Jones. If they truly believe he is capable of of more than he has shown during his first three injury- and turnover-prone seasons, they will put him in position to succeed during this make-or-break year. And that means getting him a plug-and-play weapon or two. Otherwise Jones’ long-term outlook will continue to feel a tad doomed.
Also of note on the Jones front: The Giants did not trade off the No. 7 pick and get an extra 2023 first-round pick in return. Jones has to like that, although he may not be out of the woods yet. Schoen could still turn the No. 36 pick into a future first-rounder if someone decides to make a move for Liberty quarterback Malik Willis or another target they feel strongly about.
Mekhi Becton just got a vote of confidence. If there is one second-guess to make with the Jets, it’s that they didn’t grab Ikem Ekwonu at No. 4. He wasn’t just the top offensive lineman in the draft, but he would have protected the Jets against Becton becoming a full-fledged bust. By passing on Ekwonu, Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh signaled they trust Becton will stay in shape and produce.
This and that. The Jaguars were in a tough spot holding the No. 1 pick in a lackluster draft. But Travon Walker feels like a big risk. … The run on wide receivers makes sense given the exploding contract market, but it’s a tough position to project (or has been in recent years). We could look back and view a lot of these picks as disastrous. … The Patriots taking a guy from Chattanooga most had pegged as a third-rounder is peak Bill Belichick. … It was a bit surprising no one traded into the back end of the round to take Willis. Just because if you like a quarterback as a second-round prospect, getting the fifth-year option feels like enough value to move up. … The Jets are still much closer to contention than the Giants, who are still going to stink this year. Schoen did great, but he can’t turn things around with one pair of first-round picks.
One what-if for the road. It would have been fascinating to see what the Giants would have done had the Jets taken Ekwonu at No. 4. There was plenty of pre-draft buzz that Schoen and company loved Gardner. Would they have taken the corner at No. 5? And if Carolina had still taken an offensive lineman at No. 6 (Cross or Neal), would the Giants have gotten the other tackle or stuck with Thibodeaux? The direction Schoen took would have said a lot about how real of a chance Jones has to stick around beyond this season. But we’ll never know.