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Why don’t the Giants draft the players you want them to?

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The biggest negative reaction to the New York Giants’ 2024 draft by fans wasn’t that they were unable to move up for Drake Maye. It wasn’t that they chose Malik Nabers over J.J. McCarthy. It wasn’t that they did not draft a developmental quarterback on Day 3.

Rather, much of the angst was over the Giants’ failure to take offensive lineman Christian Mahogany or interior defensive lineman Khristian Boyd in Round 5 or 6. I’ll admit to being surprised by that myself.

There must have been reasons why the Giants passed on offensive and defensive linemen on Day 3. We may never know. It’s possible that neither player was even on Joe Schoen’s big board, whether because of things they saw on tape, scheme fit, injury history, off-field concerns, or even stranger things.

We do know, though, that 198 teams collectively chose not to select Boyd while 209 passed on Mahogany. It wasn’t just the Giants. There is a reason prospects last until late on Day 3. The attention paid to late-round picks is far out of proportion to the probability that any of them will have an impact at the NFL level. It doesn’t mean the NFL doesn’t ever get it wrong and overlook a diamond in the rough, only that they usually get it right. Let’s look at recent drafts to see what the odds of success are for late picks.

We will use the Pro Football Reference weighted approximate value (wAV) metric to identify late-round “steals.” AV is a partly subjective metric that divides up the contributions of individual players to a team’s success over a given season by combining hard statistics (points, rushing yards, sacks, etc.) with “volume” information (plays, starts, games) and things like All-Pro selections. The weighted version emphasizes peak production over a player’s career by assigning more weight to the player’s best seasons and progressively less to his poorer seasons.

As a gross indicator, wAV seems to do a good job of distinguishing good from bad or inconsequential players, but small wAV differences between players should not be considered significant – not only for the reasons above but because marginal players sometimes get significant play time only because the team has no better option (hello, Tae Crowder) and because some players develop over time or only get a chance to play significant snaps after a couple of years. My rough estimate is that an AV of 3-4 in any given season usually identifies players who are good enough to start or at least get significant snaps for their teams, keeping in mind the caveats just stated. Multiply that by number of years in the league for the charts that follow.

Round 7

Courtesy of Pro Football Reference

Nine players drafted in Round 7 in the past three years have become significant contributors for their teams, i.e., there has been about a 10% chance that a team hits on its seventh-round pick in any year. The unicorn is Brock Purdy, who has succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectation.

Other notable features:

  • Two teams have found offensive tackle starters and one a starting guard in Round 7. Though he is a guard, there’s your argument for Christian Mahogany.
  • Someone should hire the Colts’ scouts away from them. They have found a starting player in Round 7 in each of the past three years.

Round 6

Courtesy of Pro Football Reference

A few more useful players have been found in Round 6 than Round 7, but the percentage of hits is only slightly larger because of the larger numbers of comp picks in this round. Other notes:

  • Giants fans will never forgive Dave Gettleman for passing on Trey Smith, although every other team did as well for more than five rounds because of medical concerns that have not resurfaced during his time in the NFL.
  • Jamaree Salyer, another good interior lineman who inexplicably dropped to Round 6, was a life saver for the Chargers, moving to tackle for a while after Rashawn Slater was injured.

Round 5

Courtesy of Pro Football Reference

There is a bigger difference between Round 5 and the two later rounds, with about 22% of draftees becoming significant contributors for their teams. That’s still less than a 1 in 4 chance, but it means that every few years you should find someone useful, maybe even more than useful, in this round. Dave Gettleman found Darius Slayton in Round 5. Joe Schoen found Micah McFadden, a good cautionary tale of not judging draft picks, especially late ones, too quickly. Other notes:

  • Good running backs can be found in Round 5 in this era of pass-dominated NFL offenses. Tyler Allgeier and Kyren Williams are the most obvious recent examples. The Giants have taken Eric Gray and Tyrone Tracy in consecutive years in this round.
  • Puka Nacua was one of those players coming out of college who had a wide range of possible outcomes. That is the kind of player teams take on Day 3. In Nacua’s case, the Rams’ gamble paid off to an extent that no one anticipated.
  • It was frustrating to watch cornerbacks come off the board late in Round 1 and early in Round 2, although the Giants may have gotten a good one in Dru Phillips (yes, he’s a slot cornerback and not a boundary cornerback, but CeeDee Lamb, Justin Jefferson, Cooper Kupp, and Amon-Ra St. Brown among others work mostly from the slot). Sometimes good cornerbacks drop to Round 5, the most recent examples being Riq Woolen and DaRon Bland.

Can we anticipate the Giants’ Day 3 draft philosophy?

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard Joe Schoen preach his “smart, tough, and dependable” mantra I’d be rich. It’s a pretty good philosophy to have. It doesn’t tell us much about which players he decides to draft.

Schoen does a good job of not giving out information. He doesn’t tell us, or his fellow GMs, what kind of player he’s looking for. No one knew who he was taking in Round 1 this year until it happened. And considering that he is a first-time GM, and he only started the job months before he had to conduct his first draft, his ideas may have evolved over time. That’s especially true when you see which of your picks have worked out and which haven’t.

It seems, though, that one message comes through pretty clearly: The Giants under Schoen and Daboll want to be a quick, elusive team rather than a physical, bruising team. It doesn’t determine every decision, but it is a recurring feature of the players he obtains. Consider his biggest free agent and trade acquisitions: Bobby Okereke, Darren Waller, Brian Burns, Jon Runyan, and Jermaine Eluemunor. Here are their relative athletic scores, compiled by Kent Lee Platte:

Courtesy of Kent Lee Platte

Every one of these players tested good or elite on every speed and agility test except Eluemunor’s shuttle result. (Note that RAS numbers are relative to other players at the same position.)

We can see it in draft picks as well. Schoen chose Malik Nabers over Rome Odunze. Both had elite RAS scores (Nabers 9.88, Odunze 9.92 overall), but Nabers’ game is more elusiveness and separation than Odunze’s. His previous wide receiver draft picks were Wan’Dale Robinson (7.36 RAS) and Jalin Hyatt (8.76). His one moderate cost free agent wide receiver, Parris Campbell, had a 9.77 RAS.

Giants fans often wonder why Schoen didn’t take George Pickens (9.37 RAS) over Robinson, but Pickens was coming off an ACL tear, and there were character questions about him as well that have followed him to the NFL. That’s a red flag for Schoen in deciding which players get onto the Giants’ big board. Kadarius Toney (9.00 RAS) was inherited by Schoen and should have been a perfect fit for the type of offense Daboll wants to run, but it only took half a season for the Giants to unload him despite his obvious talents.

In general, the same traits have shown up when Schoen drafts defensive backs:

Courtesy of Kent Lee Platte

This year, though, there was one notable exception to the “rule.” Here’s the RAS for the Giants’ two defensive back picks plus one they did not take but could have:

Courtesy of Kent Lee Platte

The Giants selected safety Tyler Nubin at No. 47, despite a poor Combine showing in speed and especially agility drills. It turns out there was a reason:

Meniscus repair is generally less serious than a torn ACL, so the Giants were apparently willing to lean on the play speed and instincts Nubin showed on film. In the third round, the Giants went cornerback, drafting Andru Phillips. Cornerback is a need for the Giants, but Phillips plays slot rather than boundary. There was a run on cornerbacks late in Round 1 and especially early in Round 2, but T.J. Tampa, No. 50 on the consensus big board and primarily a boundary corner, was still there. Why did the Giants pass on him for Phillips? The chart above shows one possible reason. Tampa scored very poorly on all the speed drills and was better than Phillips only in the shuttle.

The Giants don’t use RAS results to make draft decisions. But for the vast majority of us who don’t watch prospects in person, don’t watch extensive film, or do so with a less trained eye than professionals, though, RAS summaries may give us one clue about why the Giants make some of the decisions they do about personnel.

Unfortunately the speed/athleticism argument doesn’t explain what Schoen has done in drafting offensive linemen up to this point. Evan Neal declined to test at the Combine. He was considered sufficiently athletic in game tape that it did not seem to be a red flag at the time, just a strategic decision by a player not to jeopardize his draft potential when he had nothing to gain. Two years of NFL tape, though, shows a player who among other things is routinely beaten to the outside by edge defenders without ever landing his punch on them. Might agility drills have revealed something?

The other OLs the Giants have drafted have a mixture of RAS results:

Courtesy of Kent Lee Platte

There is no recurring feature in the athleticism of the players the Giants have drafted on the offensive line. The only thing they have in common is that thus far all of them have played poorly more often than well. Mahogany tested better than all of them, so considering that he was No. 101 on the consensus big board, the mystery remains about why not only the Giants but all of the NFL passed on him until Round 6.

It may be as simple as this: The offenive linemen Schoen has drafted may pan out over time, but time is something he doesn’t have. A decision about Daniel Jones has to be made this year. Counting on yet another rookie offensive lineman to step in immediately and play at least adequately is a risk he may not have been willing to take. Thus, five free agent signings to try to ensure at least adequate pass blocking and a fair chance for Jones to show whether he has a higher gear than 2022 when given a potentially elite playmaker.

The defensive line strategy may be different. The Giants are not in as much trouble there as on the offensive line. They arguably have plus players at both edge defender positions and unarguably have one of the best interior linemen in the game. They also have three pretty good linebackers behind them, one of them creeping up on elite status. What they don’t have is an IDL after Dexter Lawrence who scares anyone.

They do have (barely) adequate run stuffers in Rakeem Nunez-Roches, D.J. Davidson, and Jordon Riley, and they signed free agent Jordan Phillips in the off-season. They may not see the field very much in a Shane Bowen defense. Here is how he deployed his Tennessee players last year:

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus

The snap counts indicate that Bowen used primarily a three-man rotation at edge defender plus Jeffery Simmons in the middle most of the time. His 657 snaps came only in a little more than 11 games because of a season-ending injury in game 12. When healthy he was playing most of the time in the middle with no other IDL.

If Bowen plans the same for Lawrence in 2024, the only need for an IDL would be if he provided something the Giants’ existing backup IDLs do not. In the top row below are the RAS results for the Giants’ backup IDLs:

Courtesy of Kent Lee Platte

Nunez-Roches has decent athleticism, while draftees Davidson and Riley are just big bodies with little athleticism by NFL standards. It’s doubtful either one was taken as anything more than stopgap depth pieces. In the bottom row we see that Khristian Boyd’s profile is a lot like those of Davidson and Riley…so why draft another of those unless you see something on tape that distinguishes the player from the ones you already have? For the 10% chance that they will be better? The Giants instead drafted a player with average athleticism, linebacker Darius Muasau (5.73 RAS), who plays a position at which the Giants have no depth beyond their three-starter rotation.

The Giants did make a move at IDL over the weekend, though, signing Elijah Chatman of SMU to the 90-man roster after a tryout at rookie mini-camp. Maybe it was the resemblance of the SMU uniforms to those of the Buffalo Bills. More likely it was the explosive initial step and power that Chatman demonstrated. I’ve included Chatman’s RAS numbers in the chart above. He tested better than the Giants’ current backup IDLs in almost every category. The scouting report from Pro Football Network cited by Ed mentions Chatman as an “athletic freak” with “good movement skills” who “easily changes direction” and “moves well in lateral pursuit.” Chatman may be a better window into what Schoen is looking for than Davidson and Riley were.

I haven’t mentioned the Giants’ other two draft picks, Theo Johnson and Tyrone Tracy. Their RAS results? You guessed it:

Courtesy of Kent Lee Platte

The Giants under Schoen and Daboll clearly have a physical “type” they are looking for. Is it the right strategy? Maybe, maybe not. Puka Nacua had a 5.17 RAS; that’s a good part of the reason he lasted until Round 5. Riq Woolen had a great overall RAS but very poor agility (shuttle, 3-cone) scores. They’ve worked out well to say the least. But if you want to predict who the Giants are going to draft in 2025 rather than who they should draft, start with the consensus big board and then cross off all the players with low RAS scores. It’s as good a first guess as any.

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