The Giants actually did it. In the days leading up to the start of this NFL draft, reports surfaced that Big Blue—owner of the no. 6 and no. 17 overall picks, and a team in the market for Eli Manning’s successor—was targeting Duke quarterback Daniel Jones with one of its two first-round selections.
There were a couple of reasons to be skeptical of these rumblings. For one, draft season is notorious for the spread of misinformation, as team executives knowingly circulate falsehoods to throw rivals off their scent. And two, although the Giants weren’t expected to have a chance to select Kyler Murray, the Heisman Trophy–winning QB whom the Cardinals picked first, they were thought to have interest in Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins—whose college production and prospect résumé were far superior to Jones’s—at no. 6. Haskins finished his final college season with a 70.0 percent completion clip and a 9.1 yards-per-attempt average; Jones ended 2018 at 60.5 percent and 6.8 yards per attempt, respectively.
But when the Giants made their first selection, Jones was the guy. Eleven picks later, New York nabbed Clemson nose tackle Dexter Lawrence. Then general manager Dave Gettleman traded up to no. 30 to snag Georgia’s Deandre Baker, who was the first cornerback taken. Collectively, the Giants’ decision-making throughout Thursday’s first round was baffling. It added more questionable moves to an offseason that’s been riddled with them.
Let’s start with the Jones pick, which is the single biggest story to emerge from the draft’s opening round. Jones isn’t the first flawed QB prospect to be taken in the top 10, and he certainly won’t be the last. But the difference between Jones and a player like Buffalo’s Josh Allen, who went no. 7 overall last April despite scouts’ voicing some major concerns about his game, is that Allen had elite physical traits. If the Bills’ rationale was faulty, it was at least understandable how the team could look at someone with Allen’s blend of arm strength, athleticism, and occasional wow throws and decide that its coaching staff could mold him into a quality NFL quarterback.
Jones has a prototypical frame for an NFL QB (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) and impressive mobility for a player his size, but that’s essentially where the Allen comparison ends. At Duke, Jones showed accuracy on intermediate throws and attempts to the underneath areas of the field, but nothing else made him seem worthy of a top-10 pick. Murray and Haskins closed out the last college football season ranked second and fourth in passer rating among qualifying quarterbacks; Jones was 66th. Yet a year after passing on Sam Darnold in favor of running back Saquon Barkley with the no. 2 overall pick, Gettleman anointed Jones as the heir apparent to Manning.
Gettleman claimed that Jones’s MVP performance in the Senior Bowl ultimately sold him on the passer, telling reporters that after three series he “was in full-bloom love.” It’s always good when a few drives in an all-star game outweigh the 36 starts a quarterback has made in his college career. Gettleman also suggested that Jones could sit behind Manning for as many as three years. Even by recent Giants standards, that seems like a cruel joke.
The Jones pick will dictate the future of both Gettleman’s GM tenure and the Giants’ franchise, but it wasn’t the only curious move the team made Thursday night. In March, Gettleman dealt superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.—a player the Giants gave a $20 million signing bonus last August as part of a five-year, $90 million contract extension—to the Browns for the 17th overall pick and safety Jabrill Peppers. That pick has now turned into Lawrence, a massive run-stuffer who should bolster Big Blue’s defensive line. Since his time serving as the Panthers’ GM from 2013 to 2017, Gettleman has developed a reputation for drafting defensive linemen, so the Lawrence pick is about as on-brand as they come. But it reveals a complete lack of understanding of positional value in the modern NFL. Swapping one of the most dynamic receiving talents in football for a package featuring a massive, run-stuffing defensive tackle amounts to playing with Play-Doh while everyone else is playing chess.
When Gettleman traded former All-Pro nose tackle Damon Harrison to the Lions in October for a fifth-round pick, it seemed as though the franchise grasped that paying a run-stopper about $9 million per season wasn’t a prudent use of resources in 2019, no matter how effective that run-stopper was. The NFL is a passing league now, sparking an offensive revolution that became the defining theme of last season. Six months after that trade, though, Gettleman used a first-round pick on a player whose ceiling is ... being as good as Snacks Harrison.
More than any individual choices, the most frustrating part of the Giants’ recent stretch has been the lack of a cogent plan. Trading Beckham and starting a small-scale rebound may have been reasonable under the right circumstances, but not when the franchise followed it up by handing 30-year-old slot receiver Golden Tate a four-year, $37.5 million deal with nearly $23 million guaranteed. The same goes for the trade up to secure Baker with the 30th pick. To move from no. 37 to no. 30, Gettleman traded away his second-round pick (no. 37) and fourth- and fifth-rounders. That’s not a prohibitive price relative to other draft-day trades, but it doesn’t make sense considering New York’s team-building timeline. Gettleman acquired the fourth-round pick in that deal (no. 132) by trading cornerback Eli Apple to the Saints in October. Like the Harrison trade, that move was justifiable in that it gave the Giants more draft capital; like the Harrison trade, it also seems to work in direct contrast to the move that came afterward. The point of accruing draft picks for veterans is to stockpile draft assets to get a bunch of cheap talent on rookie deals. It’s not to burn those assets to make the sort of move that historically fails far more often than it’s successful.
By now, this is what we should expect from the Giants. In a league where passing efficiency has become the most important factor in determining team success, Gettleman has spent first-round picks in consecutive years on players whose main value is derived from the running game. Rather than snagging a QB who threw 50 touchdown passes in the Big Ten last season, Gettleman elected to go with the guy who threw 52 touchdowns in three seasons. With Beckham gone and Manning nearing the end of his career, this was supposed to be the draft that helped shape the Giants’ future. In the end, it may have been. But it’s probably not the future they wanted.