Defensive players at all three levels of the draft who might appeal to the Giants
The New York Giants enter the metamorphosis phase of rebuilding the roster’s identity around Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll’s philosophy. Schoen wants to shed $40 million in salary to improve the Giants’ cap situation. The team will likely trade valuable assets for draft capital to start the roster reconstruction.
The primary priority on offense is the line. The Giants haven’t possessed a functional offensive line since I’ve covered this team. The offensive line was a liability through Eli Manning’s golden and waning years. Promises of reliable hog mollies encouraged Giants’ fans, but the assurance failed to betide. The team has one reliable tackle on the left side and no certainties beyond third-year player Andrew Thomas.
New York’s defense was the team’s strength through the Joe Judge era. The 2020 unit overachieved expectations, while the 2021 defense was a bit underwhelming, albeit the circumstances of their inadequate offense hamstrung the efforts of Patrick Graham’s vision.
Graham opted not to return to the Giants. That decision opened the Giants’ door to former Ravens defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale. The two coordinators are different from a philosophical standpoint.
Martindale relies more on exotic pressure packages, simulated pressure, and dictating the terms for the offense. Graham relied more on zone coverage and was content (at times) playing top-down deeper zones, allowing catches underneath and having the defenders rally to the football.
New York’s defense will look different with Martindale, so the personnel will change. As of right now, there are no defenders outside the 2021 rookie class whose contract extends into the 2023 season. The 2022 NFL Draft will include selections that will fit the desires and needs of Martindale’s scheme. Here are the Giants’ selections in the draft:
Here are players from each position group that should fit Martindale’s wishes.
Martindale became the Ravens’ defensive coordinator in 2018. The highest defensive linemen drafted from 2018-2021 was Texas A&M’s Justin Madubike in 2020. He had small hands, average length, was 6-foot-3, 293 pounds, but he was quick in a phone booth, a penetrating defensive lineman who wasn’t a pure nose (that was a roll for Brandon Williams, a necessary one).
The Ravens ran ODD front principles, some TITE; it could be EAGLE or STACK. The fronts were multiple and would use quick slanting 290-ish pound defensive lineman to open up blitz avenues for second-level defenders or to be disruptive. Here are some players that fit Martindale’s style and where the Giants can realistically select them.
DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M
Here’s an excerpt from my evaluation on Leal:
“DeMarvin Leal is a fluid athlete who is a versatile pass-rusher that can disrupt the pocket with his quickness off the snap and his ability to string pass-rushing moves together… Leal’s ability to win as a pass-rusher gives him the potential of being a first-round pick in the upcoming draft.”
He’s not a bad run defender, but anchoring down can sometimes be an issue. Leal was arrested before Texas A&M’s bowl game for possession of marijuana. That doesn’t make him a bad guy or not the right fit, but it’s something that could deter Joe Schoen. Overall, Leal’s ability to penetrate, along with his versatility to align anywhere on the line, is something that would entice Martindale.
Perrion Winfrey, Oklahoma
Winfrey wasn’t maximized at Oklahoma. He is truly his best when he can use his first-step quickness to slant and penetrate. These skills were on full display at the Senior Bowl. Winfrey won Senior Bowl MVP and was constantly harassing the quarterback and abusing opposing offensive linemen. The 6-4, 297-pound, defender has 35½-inch arms – well over the 90th percentile for arm length. He would be a good addition to the Giants with Martindale calling the plays.
John Ridgeway, Arkansas
Ridgeway was impressive at the Senior Bowl. He had impressive size, solid length and brought the power/anchor to a defensive front that is necessary for a player who occupies blocks. However, Ridgeway is more than just a space-eater; he has a strong first step for a 327-pound defensive lineman, and his ability to shed run-blocks allows him to further disrupt rushing lanes. Ridgeway has the size, experience, and power necessary to anchor the nose position for Martindale.
Six other names to know:
Jordan Davis, Georgia
Devonte Wyatt, Georgia
Travis Jones, UCONN
Martindale had a variety of talented pass-rushers who could execute several roles effectively. He essentially prefers SAM type of OLBs that can drop into coverage, stack-and-shed, and pin their ears back with pass-rushing upside. The Ravens selected Odafe Oweh (6-5, 257 pounds) in the first round last year, and he had an impressive first year. Oweh was 82nd percentile in arm length and tested in over the 90th percentile in six of the eight significant tests.
Martindale also had players like Tyus Bowser, who tested very well with 33¼-inch arms. Veteran Justin Houston was a designated pass-rusher with speed to stress tackle’s outside shoulders. Before signing with the Patriots, Matt Judon was a crucial part of Martindale’s defense, but his athletic testing was sub-par. However, Judon possessed heavy hands and great intellect for the game. He ended up being a fifth-round pick before Martindale was the play-caller for the Ravens’ defense. Here are several potential fits for the Giants at EDGE/OLB.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
Recent rumors suggest that Thibodeaux could slide to the Giants selection at No. 5. The talented 6-5, 258-pound, pass-rusher was almost a consensus No. 1 overall pick heading into the 2021 season. He didn’t have an ideal season; he sprained his ankle but still had 48 pressures and nine sacks.
He has to be in serious consideration if he slides to the Giants. New York desperately needs offensive line help, and, if they part ways with James Bradberry, they’ll need cornerbacks. Still, blue-chip prospects like Thibodeaux and Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton must be seriously considered.
Drake Jackson, USC
Jackson can bend – he’s uber-flexible in his lower half, and he has a quick first three steps to stress OTs. Jackson is 6-4, 250 pounds, and he appears to have good arm length. Strength at the point of attack isn’t ideal yet, but Jackson is an explosive pass-rusher who is fluid enough to drop into space.
Jackson saw a lot of attention from Pac-12 offenses. He recorded 26 pressures and had six sacks in 2021. Jackson could still realistically be around when the Giants pick at 36; if that’s the case, he would be an exciting addition to a quick and young EDGE room in New York.
Boye Mafe, Minnesota
Mafe is another player who could be the selection at 36. Like Jackson, Mafe could improve as a run defender at the next level, but he is an explosive pass-rusher with bend. Mafe should test through the roof – he is on Bruce Feldman’s Freak List. Mafe is fluid and can move in space when tasked to cover. He had 42 pressures and seven sacks in 2021, and his stock may continue to rise after a very good performance in Mobile.
Six other names to know:
Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati
Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State
Logan Hall, Houston
Deangelo Malone, Western Kentucky
Tyreke Smith, Ohio State
Tyree Johnson, Texas A&M
The Giants need linebackers. Blake Martinez is a potential cap casualty, and the second-level was a liability last season after his week three injury against the Falcons. Tae Crowder is good enough to play in the NFL, but not to start at his moment – he was Mr. Irrelevant for a reason.
Martindale incorporates many pressure packages that use safeties, cornerbacks, and linebackers. The Ravens selected Patrick Queen in the first round of 2020. He’s fast and exciting but seems to struggle with positioning, spacing in coverage, and the mental side of executing Martindale’s defense. The Giants’ new defensive coordinator could be interested in more developed (from a processing standpoint) athletic linebackers who are effective blitzers – several interesting names fit this description.
Nakobe Dean, Georgia
I would ideally prefer the Giants to select Dean or Utah’s Devin Lloyd after a trade down. They’re both players with translatable traits, but NO. 7 overall is too rich for me. However, Dean’s leadership, movement skills, and physical nature are valuable traits that can set a standard in Martindale’s defense in New York. Dean realistically could just crack 6-feet, which is a problem. He’s not a long player, but he has good intangibles and excellent burst, range, and tackling-pop. If the Giants trade down, Dean and Lloyd should be a realistic option.
Damone Clark, LSU
I haven’t watched the LSU defense in depth yet, but I’ve heard good things about Clark. He had impressive size and good movement skills at the Senior Bowl; he is 6-2, 240 pounds with just under 33-inch arms and 10-inch hands. Clark, and the next player I’m about to write about, could be high upside swings on Day 2 that can eventually start for the Giants with a bit of development.
Quay Walker, Georgia
Dean’s fellow linebacker isn’t the most experienced, but he checks the size/speed boxes. Walker is 6-4, 240 pounds with sideline-to-sideline range. Here’s a part of my evaluation on Walker:
“Quay Walker isn’t discussed as much as some of his teammates, but I hope the Giants can find a way to snag him with one of their third-round selections. Not only does he have ideal size/speed attributes, but he also is a consistent tackler with the ability to affect the run, pass, and harass the quarterback. Walker is a high upside player whose floor isn’t too low; yes, he can be a bit overly aggressive at times, and he’s not very experienced, but he could be a steal in the draft if he slips. The way the NFL values second-level defenders with size/AA, I wouldn’t be shocked if Quay Walker goes well before many anticipate.”
Georgia LB Quay Walker has excellent size (6’4, 240 lbs.) but he can move
A great size/speed option for the Giants who will move up boards if he tests out of the gym (which he probably will)
An option for the Giants at LB somwhere on day two pic.twitter.com/Vnqlw6vhOK
— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) February 19, 2022
Troy Anderson, Montana State
Anderson is a small-school prospect who proved versatile and athletic enough to compete with the top seniors in college football during the Senior Bowl. He can improve stacking and shedding a bit, but he has the coverage skills, pursuit, and processing to be a steal on day three. Anderson was the top defensive player in his conference (FCS level) during 2021, and he has experience at quarterback and running back. The latter points won’t translate to the NFL, but they display his unique ability to absorb information and apply it on the football field. If still available, he could be a target for New York on day three.
Six other names to know:
JoJo Domann, Nebraska
Brian Asamoah, Oklahoma
Christian Harris, Alabama
Leo Chenal, Wisconsin
D’Marco Jackson, Appalachian State
D.Q. Thomas, Middle Tennessee State
Patrick Graham deviated from the defensive style heavily employed in Miami when he laterally transitioned to become the Giants defensive coordinator under Joe Judge. Graham ran more zone in New York than Brian Flores and Graham used in Miami. The 2021 offseason suggested that the Giants may use more man coverage with the additions of Adoree Jackson and Aaron Robinson.
The proliferation of man coverage didn’t seize the defense, but man coverage in the money areas on third down and in the red zone was more effective. However, with Martindale calling the defensive shots, there figures to be more man coverage in first-down situations and much more pressure on the cornerbacks to hold up long enough for extra rushers to get home to the quarterback. New York will be looking for fluid athletes with good man coverage skills and press ability. Here are some in the draft.
Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner, Cincinnnati
Few cornerbacks were as impressive as Gardner in 2021. He combines excellent press ability with fluid hips in a 6-3, 200-pound frame. He can execute man coverage assignments and is excellent with his click-and-close and reading skills in zone.
Two crazy stats Cincinnati CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, who stands at 6-3, 200 pounds:
▪️He didn’t allow more than 13 yards to any receiver in a game this past season
▪️He didn’t allow a TD catch in his *entire* college career
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) February 21, 2022
His name is quickly rising up boards, and he could be an interesting key addition for Martindale’s defense.
Derek Stingley Jr, LSU
Stingley Jr.’s 2019 tape seems like forever ago. He was a dominant freshman corner with tons of upside who helped the LSU Tigers win the National Championship. However, he hurt his foot in 2021, and his 2020 season was a bit rocky.
Stingley Jr. has all the movement skills, the long arms, and technique to press while also showing some of the best potential in the class. The sky is the limit, but obvious concerns must be vetted. The Giants could also show interest in Clemson’s Andrew Booth.
Coby Bryant, Cincinnati
This prospect has a legendary name and is a teammate of Sauce Gardner. Bryant won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2021. He’s another quality press man option who would fit nicely into Martindale’s scheme. He has the necessary ball skills, fluidity, physicality at the line, and spatial awareness to be a good player in the NFL.
Kaiir Elam, Florida
I haven’t watched Elam extensively, but I’ve appreciated the amount that I have witnessed. He doesn’t get the same respect as some of these other players, but I love his stickiness in coverage, his ability to play through the catch point, and his open-field tackling. He jolts receivers at the line of scrimmage with strong hands and good technique at the line. He’s got good size, and could be a nice value sometime on day two.
Josh Williams, Fayetteville State
Williams went down to the Senior Bowl and showed movement skills at 6-2, 193 pounds with 32¼-inch arms. He was disciplined in press, stayed in phase down the field, and was a solid small-school prospect among Power-5 opponents. The Division II prospect could interest the Giants on day three.
Six other names to know:
Tariq Woolen, UTSA
Kyle Gordon, Washington
Alontae Taylor, Tennessee
Kyler McMichael, North Carolina
Gregory Junior, Ouachita Baptist University
Jaylen Watson, Washington State
Martindale had a nice compliment of safeties in Baltimore. They were often used as blitzing assets, box-players, and they were versatile. The Ravens selected Brandon Stephens out of SMU in the third round last year; he was a corner in college who converted to safety for Martindale. Julian Love did the same for James Bettcher in 2019.
Single-high safeties with range are valuable; the Giants have Xavier McKinney who can execute that assignment well, but two players with that ability give you so many deceptive options for unique coverages. Safeties with overhang experience also help, and a few listed below fit that role. Here are safeties that make sense for Martindale.
Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
The Giants should realistically consider Hamilton if he’s available at picks 5 or 7. He’s arguably the most well-rounded prospect in this draft. At the end of the season, Hamilton suffered a knee injury, but it reportedly wasn’t significant. Here are two plays, one against the run and the other against the pass, from Hamilton that are insane.
This play from Kyle Hamilton remains one of the most impressive clips from any prospect this fall.
He’s from another planet. pic.twitter.com/eFkkubbcSJ
— Ryan Fowler (@_RyanFowler_) February 16, 2022
#NotreDame Kyle Hamilton would be a weapon in Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2.
I’ve talked about his coverage skills but he’s a terror versus the run, even when playing deep from 2-high like the #Texans would ask him too. I broke down all of his game here: https://t.co/9xFzUgglk1 pic.twitter.com/mvycGtKGNR
— Jordan (@Texans_Thoughts) February 15, 2022
Safeties aren’t supposed to cover that much ground – that’s rare. Any defensive coordinator would love to work with Hamilton; he provides the defense with so many capabilities, and he still has so much potential to grow.
Daxton Hill, Michigan
I’m not confident that Hill is getting past the first round, but if he’s available at 36, he could be the second safety drafted in that slot by the Giants through three drafts. Hill has excellent eyes and plenty of capability to be a good man covering defender, albeit he struggled a bit in this area during 2021. However, Jerome Henderson can clear up technical deficiencies. Hill’s athletic ability and versatility are great assets to any secondary.
Cam Taylor-Britt, Nebraska
Taylor-Britt was an outside cornerback for the Cornhuskers, but he may be best utilized at safety. He is physically imposing, a player who would terrorize quarterbacks on the blitz while being a plus defender in run support. He would have to be the selection for New York at 110, or if they trade down and acquire early day three picks. Taylor-Britt has a realistic shot to be selected on Day 2, but if he’s available for the Giants on Day 3, a possible transition to safety could make sense.
Six other names to know:
Jalen Pitre, Baylor
Lewis Cine, Georgia
Nick Cross, Maryland
J.T. Woods, Baylor
Bryan Cook, Cincinnati
Isaiah Pola-Moa, USC