EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Just one year ago, New York Giants general manager Joe Schoen flew to Eugene, Oregon, for a first-hand look at Kayvon Thibodeaux. It seemed par for the course at the time, a first-year general manager with the fifth and seventh picks in the NFL draft scouting a highly regarded player.
Schoen couldn’t get to the Alabama pro day several days later to watch offensive tackle Evan Neal in person because of the NFL’s annual meetings, but the Giants did have Neal in for dinner and a Top 30 visit prior to the draft. They also had similar meetings with most of their other nine draft picks.
Thibodeaux and Neal were selected by the Giants fifth and seventh overall, respectively. It was a hint that these interactions matter, especially with this regime.
“Not to show my hand in the future but, yeah, we want to feel comfortable with the individuals, as well as the player,” Schoen said after his first draft with the Giants last year. “And I think pretty much all these guys we spent [a] significant amount of time with.”
This year, the Giants spent the pre-draft circuit traveling the country and doing dinners with the top receivers. All four of the projected top receivers -- Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Boston College’s Zay Flowers, USC’s Jordan Addison and TCU’s Quentin Johnston -- dined with multiple individuals from the organization throughout this process. Schoen and Daboll were known to be at the dinners for Njigba-Smith and Johnston.
The No. 25 pick is a spot that could match need with value for a New York team which didn’t have a single receiver finish with 60 catches or 800 yards. ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay each have three receivers ranked between the 10th and 31st best players on their big boards.
“It’s a good group of receivers at the top of the draft depending on how you have them ranked,” Schoen said. “Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.”
McShay and Kiper do have different opinions on the top-ranked receiver; Kiper has Flowers, McShay favors Smith-Njigba. One current NFC executive surveyed had Johnston at No. 1, while former Giants vice president of player personnel Marc Ross likes Addison best.
“Refined route-runner, has the skills and explosion. He’s all that,” Ross told ESPN of Addison.
Smith-Njigba still finished first on five of the eight rankings of the draft’s top wide receivers from a panel that included ESPN draft analysts, current and former executives and a scout.
But most agree this isn’t an especially strong draft, and wide receiver is no different. The consensus was that Garrett Wilson, that last year’s No. 10 overall pick by the New York Jets and Offensive Rookie of the Year, was a better prospect than any wide receiver this year.
Most believe this year’s crop has mostly complimentary receivers, not a true No. 1, which is what the Giants need. Smith-Njigba may be the exception, but he caught just five passes last season because of a hamstring injury.
It’s entirely possible that by the time the Giants pick, the wide receiver of their choice is no longer available. The best available player late in the first round could be at defensive line or cornerback, also positions of serious need for the Giants.
While almost all the evaluators agree that the draft as a whole isn’t especially strong, most are high on the cornerbacks. It’s believed to be a deep cornerback draft into Day 3.
Center is a major need, but it's also a position where it may be best for the Giants to wait. Minnesota’s John Michael Schmitz and Wisconsin’s Joe Tippmann are the consensus top two at the position. Multiple league sources expect them to be taken in the second round.
The Giants have the 57th overall pick in the second round. They also have one third (No. 89), a fourth (128) and two fifth-round picks (160 and 172). A quality center can likely be drafted into the fifth round of this year’s draft.
McShay looks at Schmitz, Tippmann and Ohio State’s Luke Wypler as plug-and-play prospects who can start this season. He also sees Michigan’s Olusegun Oluwatimi and Arkansas’ Ricky Stromberg as NFL starters.
“It’s rare to have five guys that I can honestly say that all five of them will be starters in the league and I think pretty good to really good starting centers in this league,” McShay said. “Again, it has been overlooked in this class, but it really is a strength of this year’s group.”