New York Giants' 2016 NFL Mock Draft, Pre-Free Agency
Don’t look now, but it’s that time of year.
Yes, New York Giants fans, the draft winds, however so gentle at the moment, are going to start picking up speed over the next several weeks, particularly as scouting events such as the Senior Bowl and combine, and the individual pro days churn on.
Although I have always been of the belief that in order to do a mock draft it’s important to wait until after the initial free-agency rush—there are always surprises that happen in free agency that could end up addressing a need—in response to the questions received on Twitter, I’m going to attempt a very, very, very early Giants mock draft.
This draft is based on six picks because the Giants do not currently have a seventh-round draft pick after trading that to Pittsburgh for punter Brad Wing, per ESPN’s Dan Graziano. This mock draft is also based on their projected needs versus the perceived strengths of the current crop of college prospects.
So without any further ado, here is my six-round Giants mock draft.
Round 1: DE Shaq Lawson, 6’3”, 270 Lbs., Clemson
It’s obviously too soon to say if the Giants’ pattern of trying to build the defense from the inside out is going to change, but if it doesn’t, then clearly the place to start would be at pass-rusher, where the current cupboard is bare.
Of a defensive end group that has just Kerry Wynn, Owa Odighizuwa, Brad Bars and Stansly Maponga under contract, the Giants need pass-rushers.
With the Giants, who per my own projections could have upward of $50 million of cap space to spend, having so many needs, it doesn’t really make sense to spend roughly 30.8 percent of the cap space on a player whose permanently damaged right hand may or may not allow him to be the player he was in 2011.
One of many potential solutions to the defensive end position is for the Giants to re-sign Robert Ayers, Jr. to no more than a two-year deal and to consider drafting Shaq Lawson out of Clemson with the No. 10 pick.
At 6’3”, 270 pounds, Lawson’s size aligns with what the Giants have traditionally sought from their defensive ends. NFL Draft Scout’s Dane Brugler and Rob Rang note that Lawson’s “compact frame and power” allow him to play both the run and the pass well.
An initial review of some of his tape shows that he anticipates well, gets off his blocks and has the range to chase down ball-carriers in pursuit. Lawson also uses his hands well to prevent tackles from latching onto him, which in turn allows him to be a disruptive force.
Per College Football Focus, Lawson has amassed 16.0 sacks, 13 hits and 36 hurries for the Tigers. He’s also added 57 stops for zero or negative yardage and has missed three tackles.
With Pierre-Paul’s future in question, a potential pass-rushing trio of Ayers, Lawson and Odighizuwa would certainly be a step in the right direction regarding restocking the pass-rusher cupboard.
Round 2: OLB Darron Lee, 6’1”, 235 Lbs., Ohio State
If the 2015 playoffs have taught us nothing else, it’s that the linebacker position is very much a key to having a successful defense.
Unfortunately, the Giants, for whatever the reason, have eschewed drafting a linebacker in the first two days of the draft every year since 2009, when they rolled the dice on Clint Sintim, a 3-4 college defensive end who struggled to convert to outside linebacker before a knee injury prematurely ended his career.
A good place to start in rebuilding this unit would be to add Ohio State’s Darron Lee to play the strong-side position and to move Devon Kennard, the starter at the strong side, to the middle.
Lee is a two-year starter from a 4-3 defensive scheme, which of course is what the Giants run under current defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
Dane Brugler of NFL Draft Scout notes that Lee, a former safety, has “above average range, speed and athleticism,” which would suggest that maybe he might be able to keep up with tight ends in coverage, something the Giants linebackers have struggled with for several years now.
Lee is also an intelligent player who diagnoses well and reacts with speed and quickness. Per CFB Film Room, Lee has the best sack/stuff percentage (19 percent) of the top prospects at linebacker.
As for Kennard, per NFL Draft Scout's scouting report of him from two years ago, he was projected to play either inside or outside linebacker at the NFL level.
As an outside linebacker, he’s shown the ability to rush the passer, having recorded 4.5 sacks as a rookie but zero sacks in his second season, a season in which he lost six games due to assorted injuries.
As a backup plan, given Kennard’s injury history, re-signing veteran Jasper Brinkley, who did a decent job when asked to step into the middle, would be a wise investment of cap dollars.
Round 3: FS Jalen Mills, 6’0”, 194 Lbs., LSU
The Giants might have a bunch of young and unproven talent at the safety position, talent that was largely wiped out due to injury, but whether they have a legitimate free safety among a group that includes Nat Berhe, Mykkele Thompson, Bennett Jackson and Justin Currie is another story.
If LSU’s Jalen Mills, projected to be a second- to third-round draft pick by NFL Draft Scout, somehow makes it to the Giants in the third round, he might be hard to pass up.
Mills suffered a broken leg that cost him a few weeks of the 2015 season, but the injury is presumably healed and shouldn’t be an issue as far as affecting his speed or his ability to turn and run with receivers.
Mills’ tape shows him playing receivers tight and taking smart angles to minimize the yardage gained. Per College Football Focus, Mills has a two-year NFL Rating of 84.4 in coverage, having allowed two touchdowns in 79 pass targets against him.
He also has some experience with covering the slot receiver, which just so happens to be another position of need for the Giants, which could boost his value to the team if he’s there in the third round.
Round 4: OT Joe Haeg, 6’6”, 307 Lbs., North Dakota State
Years of failed draft picks along the offensive line are a big reason why the Giants have had to turn to free agents like John Jerry, Marshall Newhouse and Dallas Reynolds to provide depth.
It’s time, however, the Giants begin thinking about planting some homegrown offensive line talent, especially at offensive tackle.
An interesting prospect who might be sitting there in the fourth round is Joe Haeg, a mammoth-sized offensive tackle who’s quick and athletic on his feet and who can play either tackle position (though as of right now, he probably projects more so to right tackle).
Haeg is a four-year starter, having spent the first two seasons at right tackle and his last two at left tackle. An athletic type, Haeg does a nice job off getting into his initial block and then quickly getting out to the second level to pave the way for the running game.
According to Dane Brugler of NFL Draft Scout, an unidentified NFL scout had high praise for Haeg: “Joe has the feet of a dancer out there, setting up and cutting off rushers with his natural quicks. … Definitely shows skills that we can work with on our team."
With the Giants likely to address the starting right side of their offensive line—second-year man Bobby Hart figures to be in the mix for either guard or tackle if the Giants do move on from Geoff Schwartz, Will Beatty and Marshall Newhouse—Haeg would probably bring more upside and potential as a backup tackle than what the Giants currently have at the position.
Round 5: WR Paul McRoberts, 6’2”, 202 Lbs., Southeast Missouri State
As Giants fans know, New York’s 2015 receiving corps pretty much was Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham, as good as he is, can't do it by himself. Per Inside Football, despite Beckham topping his rookie yardage production, he and the rest of the Giants receivers combined to catch just 2,855 of Eli Manning’s 4,432 passing yards—64.4 percent, which is a drop from the 3,140 yards caught by the receivers (71.2 percent) in 2014.
Certainly it would be a surprise if the Giants don’t address the receiver position in both free agency and in the draft.
Assuming the Giants do land a solid complement to Beckham, looking to draft at this position sometime on Day 3 would make sense.
Before going into the reasoning, it would be surprising if Rueben Randle and Hakeem Nicks are back in 2016. Myles White, Ben Edwards and Geremy Davis are all in line to compete for playing time, and Dwayne Harris will probably have just as big of a role in the offense as he did last year.
Victor Cruz? He’s already missed nearly two seasons of football and is in no way guaranteed to be the same player he was prior to his initial knee injury.
Even so, with his salary-cap figure continuing to rise, and with Cruz set to turn 30 in November, the Giants will probably want to restock with some younger talent via the draft.
One such prospect who fits the Giants’ classic mold regarding receivers with good size and height is Paul McRoberts of Southeast Missouri State, who stands 6’2” and weighs 202 pounds.
On tape, Roberts is a long strider who moves well and who seems to have a taste for the physical part of the game and who uses his hands well to fight off the jam.
He also uses his height in going for the ball at the high point but, as Lance Zierlein of NFL.com notes, Roberts has trouble with some of the lower balls and needs to run crisper routes.
Despite his rawness, McRoberts, who last year posted a team-leading 940 yards on 76 receptions in 11 games with nine touchdowns and four 100-yard games, appears to have enough upside to where if he’s willing to work at his craft at the next level and absorb coaching, he might just develop into a solid NFL receiver.
Round 6: CB Jonathan Jones, 5’9”, 178 Lbs., Auburn
Assuming the Giants re-sign Prince Amukamara, they should be set as far as their starting cornerbacks are concerned. Trevin Wade is signed through 2016, per Over the Cap, but the chances of Jayron Hosley and Trumaine McBride returning next year are unlikely.
While the Giants are probably going to add another veteran cornerback to the mix, they also might want to add some new homegrown talent at the position.
Jonathan Jones out of Auburn might be someone worth taking a flier on. Although not very tall and although having seen his production drop off a bit from 2014 to 2015, Jones, per Jamie Newberg of NFL Draft Scout, offers “good speed and hands” and is capable of performing in man or zone coverage.
A physical cornerback who plays bigger than his height, Jones could very well make for a nickelback in a defense, as he is not afraid to bump receivers coming off the line.
Per College Football Focus, Jones finished last season with an 82.7 NFL Rating, allowing two touchdowns in 77 pass targets. One of the biggest concerns with Jones, besides his size, is his tendency to play a little too aggressively; in the film clips viewed, he doesn’t always turn to look for the ball while it’s in the air.
Jones' tackling technique is in need of some work. He tends to dive at ball-carriers, which leaves him whiffing on plays he should otherwise be able to make.
If he can clean up some of those issues, he could offer solid depth at a position that needs restocking.
Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced.
Follow me on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.