The Giants and Jets, both selecting early in the first round once again, plan to use the N.F.L. draft to keep rebuilding.
The Giants pick fourth overall after compiling a 4-12 record in 2019, a season that ended the era of Eli Manning at starting quarterback. They fired Coach Pat Shurmur and replaced him with Joe Judge, who had no head coaching experience, and have used previous drafts to lock in starters at quarterback and running back. Building around those stars could position the Giants for a quick rise in the N.F.C. East, an underperforming division last season.
The Jets (7-9 last season) own the 11th overall pick, with less of a discernible strategy than the Giants. The team sputtered early in 2019, lost quarterback Sam Darnold to a bout of mono for an extended stretch during the season and never got the production they’d hoped for out of running back Le’Veon Bell, before missing the playoffs for the ninth straight season. It was still their best finish since 2015. Coach Adam Gase, who was thought to be in hot water in the middle of the season, is starting his second season with the team.
But even with that core in place, the team still finished in the bottom third in the league in offensive yards per game (338.5, 23rd in the N.F.L.) and middle of the pack in scoring (21.3 points per game, tied for 18th), with both Jones and Barkley missing games because of ankle injuries last season. Behind an ineffective offensive line, Jones ranked in the top 10 in sack percentage for the year. Protecting those two players and giving them time to operate will be a high priority.
“It’s very, very difficult for Saquon to run the ball if he doesn’t have holes,” General Manager Dave Gettleman said on a conference call with reporters last week. “It’s going to be difficult for Daniel to throw the ball when he’s on his back. We’ll continue to build the offensive line.”
Offensive tackles are top targets in this year’s draft, with the headlining prospects expected to have an instant impact for their franchises. Alabama’s Jedrick Wills and Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs are projected early first-round picks based on their college output. Wills is a strong and dynamic right tackle who allowed only one sack in his senior season. Wirfs, who rose to a starting position during his freshman year at Iowa, can play both left and right tackle.
With such a high pick, there’s also the chance that Gettleman could take the best available talent. The linebacker Isaiah Simmons from Clemson University is a versatile star who lined up at five different defensive positions in college and possesses a wide receiver’s speed: He ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash. The Giants allowed 28.2 points per game last season, third-most in the N.F.L., and having Simmons, who can drop into coverage or defend in space, could help stanch the scoring.
The Giants could also trade their top pick in favor of multiple picks in other rounds. Later in the draft, expect the Giants to be focused on picking a safety, center and wide receiver in a particularly deep year for receivers.
Jets: Helping Sam Darnold
The Jets have four picks in the top 79, their most since 2000. Their goal will be to give Darnold a target or two after his top receiver, Robby Anderson, signed with the Carolina Panthers in the off-season.
This year’s draft is loaded with playmaking wide receivers who are expected to be available outside the top 10. Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy is expected to be the first receiver off the board, but his college teammate, Henry Ruggs, could be available with not much of a drop-off in talent. Ruggs averaged 18.7 yards per catch last season, with 746 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. But at 5-foot-11, he could be bypassed by teams looking for size at the position. At 6-foot-2, Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, who had over 3,000 receiving yards in his three college seasons, could be an alternative.
It’s also a deep draft for linemen, though the best of the bunch are expected to be selected in the top 10. But for a Jets team that allowed 52 sacks last season, the fourth-most in the N.F.L., they may do well to pick from the second tier of tackles and wait to land a receiver. That strategy could leave them choosing between Mekhi Becton, a 6-foot-7, 364-pound option from Louisville or Andrew Thomas, Georgia’s 6-foot-5, 315-pound lineman.
Cornerback and edge rusher are also focal points for Jets general manager Joe Douglas.