There is no straighter path to reach success in the NFL than to get it right in the NFL draft. Up high in the early rounds, down low in the late rounds and right smack dab in the middle rounds, teams can find players to fill various slots on a depth chart, selections that will directly affect winning and losing for a franchise.
Some of these draft galas are bigger, more crucial than others and the one that arrives Thursday night feels as if it will shape the future of the Giants for years to come.
Too much? Not in the eyes of Joe Schoen as he takes the reins for the first time as an NFL general manager. He is tasked with finding nine players — two of them in the top seven, which is unprecedented for the Giants — to present to Brian Daboll as reinforcements in his first season as an NFL head coach.
“Yeah, very important,’’ Schoen said. “Integral. For Brian and I, it’s our first two picks as New York Giant head coach and general manager. In terms of foundational pieces, in terms of being good players, the type of people we want, it’s very important.’’
A general manager always remembers his first pick and, in this case, Schoen will forever be linked to these two first-rounders, separated only by the Panthers sitting at No. 6. Does Schoen deliver the answer to the offensive line’s decade-long prayers with a 10-year starter at right tackle? Does he add an elite pass rusher or shutdown cornerback as a building block for the next menacing Giants defense?
Is 2022 looked back on as the beginning of the climb out of the depths of the league — over the past five years, the Giants and Jets share the NFL’s worst record at 22-59 — or does this draft perpetuate the losing for another cycle?
Schoen said he “absolutely’’ feels the weight of responsibility that Giants ownership has heaped on him.
“I want to get it right,’’ he said.
It will be difficult for the Giants not to come out of the first round without Day 1 starters at premium, value positions: offensive tackle, cornerback or edge rusher. This hefty draft capital is the only advantage Schoen inherited out of the mess he was handed. Not only does he own draft gold in the first round, he also has a high pick (36th overall) in the second round and two picks in the third round, giving the Giants five of the top 81 picks.
“Where we are in our roster, there’s several needs,’’ Schoen said. “To put a finger on what exactly the biggest need is would be difficult. If you can find two really good football players at five and seven. Let’s just throw need, whatever perceived need is, out. Who are the best football players in this draft?’’
Ah, good question, and the answer will vary wildly from team to team in a year when a consensus — even about who should be the No. 1 overall pick — is difficult to find. There is no doubt the Giants want to come out of the first day with a starting right tackle and they should be in good shape with either Evan Neal (Alabama) or Ickey Ekwonu (North Carolina State) and also possibly Charles Cross (Mississippi State).
There is also no doubt Schoen will be willing to trade down from No. 7, as long as the return is an extra first-round pick in 2023. That would position the Giants nicely a year from now in case Daniel Jones does not come up big in the final year of his contract and the franchise is once again in the quarterback market. More teams will be looking to trade down than move up, though. With a trade down, the Giants could land massive offensive tackle Trevor Penning from Northern Iowa if they do not address the line at No. 5.
“We still want to compete today and build for tomorrow,’’ Schoen said. “Playing both sides of that, if it’s picks this year or picks into the future, getting those are cost-controlled assets, young players that could really help us set the foundation here. I’d be open to either/or.’’
The No. 7 pick is a prime spot to take cornerback Sauce Gardner if he is available — though he probably will not be there. Another corner, Derek Stingley Jr., underwent foot surgery this past season at LSU and how that affects his draft status (likely not much) will determine where and when he goes.
If possible, the Giants want to come out of Day 1 with an edge rusher, with polarizing Kayvon Thibodeaux and ascending Jermaine Johnson players to watch.
There is far more to any draft than the overhyped first round, but for the Giants, and Schoen, how they fare with two high, coveted picks could set the new regime up for years to come.