Giants' projected picks in first round of NFL draft? Tackle, cornerback top list

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- General manager Joe Schoen has stressed the New York Giants' multitude of needs every time he's spoken publicly over the past month. He has insisted that will allow New York, which holds the No. 5 and No. 7 overall picks in the 2022 NFL draft, to take the best player available on Thursday in Las Vegas (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/ESPN app).

Usually, those kinds of comments can be brushed off as typical GM speak, specifically during the pre-draft process. However, in this instance it really does seem to apply.

"I think where we are in our roster, there's several needs," Schoen said last week. "To put a finger on what exactly the biggest need is would be difficult. If you can find two really good football players at [Nos.] 5 and 7, that's how we stacked the board. Let's just throw need, whatever [the] perceived need is, out. Who are the best football players in this draft?"

That is only possible because the Giants have enough needs -- at premium positions, no less -- to fill their entire draft board. Offensive line, edge rusher and cornerback all could use an influx of talent. We can also add safety, tight end, running back and most likely, quarterback, to the list.

Luckily for the Giants, the top of the draft is filled with players at most of those premium positions (sans quarterback). The top 10 could include two offensive tackles (likely three), four edge rushers and two cornerbacks.

It's perfect for Schoen and coach Brian Daboll. It gives them options, even if multiple sources within the organization and around the league have insisted they want to land an offensive tackle at pick No. 5.

Wanting, however, doesn't mean it needs to happen at all costs. In this case, it could depend on Alabama tackle Evan Neal. Discussions with sources over the past few months indicate he is the top offensive lineman on their board, ahead of Mississippi State's Charles Cross.

Which brings us to what has become an annual exercise: providing a list of prospects who make sense for the Giants with an informed projection of the most likely to be selected by New York in the first round.

This process has produced pretty respectable results -- in five of the past eight drafts the Giants' scheduled first-round picks have appeared on this list. Twice they have been the projected pick -- offensive lineman Ereck Flowers in 2015 and running back Saquon Barkley in 2018. The big whiffs came with New York's picks in 2016 (cornerback Eli Apple at No. 10) and 2017 (tight end Evan Engram at No. 23). Last year was an outlier because the Giants traded back from No. 11 to No. 20.

So let's take another crack at it. Here are the prospects most likely to be selected by the Giants at No. 5 and No. 7 overall on Thursday:

Pick No. 5

OT Evan Neal (Alabama): It feels like a coin flip between Neal and Cross here, but Neal has a higher grade and fewer flaws to nitpick. The biggest question seems to be whether Neal or Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner will be selected at No. 3 by the Houston Texans. That is the pick to watch. But Neal makes a ton of sense for the Giants. You can plug him in at right tackle, where he played a season for Alabama. He's strong, good in the run game, and moves well for his size (6-foot-7, 337 pounds).

2. CB Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner (Cincinnati): Another player whom sources have said the Giants are really high on. Gardner is widely considered the best and safest cornerback in the draft. Again, this marries need and evaluation. New York needs to add to its secondary, especially if top cornerback James Bradberry is traded this weekend, and Gardner is a strong option. He didn't allow a single touchdown reception in three seasons for the Bearcats.

3. OT Charles Cross (Mississippi State): It's too hard to ignore all the smoke connecting Cross to the Giants, especially considering sources have told ESPN there are people in the building who "love" him. There is also the seemingly ideal fit in Daboll's offense thanks to his pass-blocking prowess. However, at one point this offseason there was a belief among some in the organization that he was more of a mid-first-round pick. To be selected at No. 5 seems like quite the jump, but the fit makes sense. "Athletically, he's got everything you need," a scout said. "Best pure pass-protector in the draft," offensive line consultant Duke Manyweather added. The Giants need to keep quarterback Daniel Jones upright and Cross would certainly help.

4. Ikem Ekwonu (NC State): Here we are back at offensive tackle with a third option. Ekwonu is ranked the lowest of the three tackles here because he likely has the best chance of the tackles to be selected in the top four picks and isn't an ideal fit. He's more of an "elite run-blocker," according to multiple evaluators. Still, several teams have Ekwonu rated as their top offensive lineman. It just doesn't seem the Giants are one of them.

5. Travon Walker (Georgia): Had to include him on this list for pick No. 5 because he made it to the Giants in our annual NFL Nation mock draft. It's hard to see that happening on Thursday though. Walker is considered the favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick at the moment. There seems to be a really strong likelihood he goes in the top two selections. But a front-seven player with his ability, strength and versatility sure would fit well in defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale's system.

Pick No. 7

1. Gardner: The question with Gardner is whether he makes it this far. There has been some buzz about him going third overall to the Texans. If he makes it to No. 5, the Giants can likely wait to take him with their second pick because the Carolina Panthers will go in another direction after selecting cornerback Jaycee Horn at No. 8 overall last year. However, waiting to take Gardner at No. 7 could allow someone to trade up and snag him before the Giants. Risky? Sure, especially after the Philadelphia Eagles did it last year to get receiver DeVonta Smith one pick in front of New York. It's the game of chicken that Schoen must ponder.

2. Edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II (Florida State): This is a name that has been gaining a lot of traction of late. He seems destined to be chosen in the top 10, so why not No. 7? The Giants have a massive need for a high-end edge rusher, and several evaluators believe his skills translate to the point that he will ultimately be the best pass-rusher in this draft.

3. Cross: Can the Giants wait until No. 7? Maybe. If at least two of the top three offensive tackles are available at five, Schoen can be patient and potentially still grab Cross at seven.

4. Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon): There has been a lot of talk about Thibodeaux's motivation and his focus on his personal brand. That could create some hesitation to have him in New York, but the Giants have done a ton of work on him, and don't appear turned off by that stuff. His perceived fall from the top five picks has more to do with potentially being a good (not great) player. Thibodeaux, however, does have the ideal first step and pass-rush production to make this a pick the Giants need to make. Schoen didn't fly across the country to attend his pro day for no reason.

5. Cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (LSU): He has all the skills, and some believe he will be the best cornerback in the draft. There is just a little too much risk for Stingley to be higher on this list. He hasn't played at an elite level since his freshman year at LSU in 2019, and missed most of last season with a foot injury. But he's a really good player with a high ceiling at a position of need whom the Giants like. Don't completely count him out.