The New York Giants continue to go through their long rebuild as embattled general manager, Dave Gettleman, had another opportunity in the 2021 NFL Draft to push the team to being playoff contenders. Despite being one Washington Football Team loss from the playoffs last season, the Giants were still a ways away from being relevant in the big picture of the NFL with the 31st-ranked scoring and total offense, topped off by a 6-10 record.
The Giants came into the draft looking to add more pieces to their improving defense while giving young quarterback Daniel Jones some more pieces to work with. Here is my breakdown of their 2021 draft class.
Round 1, pick 20: Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
The biggest reason the Giants struggled last season was the lack of playmaking the entire offense produced, especially after running back Saquon Barkley tore his ACL in Week 2 against the Chicago Bears, a game they lost 17-13. Jones threw only 11 touchdown passes and less than 3,000 yards in 14 starts. They needed to bring in another playmaker for Jones despite signing free-agent wide receiver Kenny Golladay, tight end Kyle Rudolph and will have Barkely back for the 2021 season.
The Giants traded their 11th-overall pick to the Chicago Bears for the 20th pick, a first-round pick next year and several mid-round selections after the Philadelphia Eagles traded up over the Giants to select wide receiver Devonta Smith from Alabama. The Giants took speedy-wide receiver Kadarius Toney from Florida to give more help for Jones. Toney is an explosive playmaker the Giants have been lacking since they traded Odell Beckham Jr. go after the 2018 season. He can stretch the field and gain separation from defensive backs, making him a reliable target for Jones going forward. With his speed, he can also make an impact in the return game if injuries arise. This was the pick the Giants needed to make after losing out on Smith as Toney provides the team a home-run threat they need to elevate their offense from being one of the league’s worst.
Round 2, pick 50: Azeez Ojulari, LB, Georgia
Any Giants fan who is upset that the Giants passed on Michigan edge-rusher Kwity Paye in the first round should find solace in their second-round pick, Azeez Ojulari, a linebacker from Georgia. They traded back eight spots with Miami for a future third-round pick and still got a probable Week 1 starter and pass rusher they need to support their franchise defensive lineman, Leonard Williams. Ojulari has a lot of speed and quickness off the edge and can make an impact rushing the passer and in the running game. He has a lot of talent and versatility that defensive coordinator, Patrick Graham, can utilize in many different schemes. Considering he is only 20-years old, Ojulari should develop into a star on the Giants’ defense by the time his rookie contract expires. This is easily one of the steals of the draft.
Round 3, pick 71: Aaron Robinson, CB, UCF
Instead of trading down, the Giants traded up in the third round with the Denver Broncos to bolster their secondary with Aaron Robinson from UCF. The 6-foot-1 transfer from Alabama has a lot of speed (4.39 40-yard dash time) at the cornerback position, on top of his height that can translate well at the NFL level. While cornerback was not a position of need for the Giants with free-agent signing Adoree’ Jackson, James Bradberry and Darnay Holmes, Robinson gives them more depth and options when playing nickel and dime against pass-heavy teams such as the Dallas Cowboys.
Round 4, pick 116: Elerson Smith, LB, Northern Iowa
The Giants, a franchise known for developing pass rushers (i.e. Lawrence Taylor, Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck), took another one with Elerson Smith from Northern Iowa. Smith brings a lot of size to the team (6-foot-6, 252 pounds). He won’t be a contributor immediately with Dexter Lawrence, Ojulari and Ryan Anderson on the edge, but will get a chance to work on his technique and quickness so that he can make an impact for the team in a few seasons.
Round 6, pick 196: Gary Brightwell, RB, Arizona
After Barkley’s injury last season and replacement Wayne Gallman leaving the team for the San Francisco 49ers in free agency, the Giants needed to draft some depth at the running back position. They selected Gary Brightwell from Arizona, a running back with home-run speed that makes him dangerous in the open field (just ask USC about this). His speed makes him a valuable depth piece along with a quality option on special teams, which he often played at Arizona. The Giants will certainly have a use for Brightwell, making him a possible Week 1 contributor, either on special teams or limited action in the backfield to spell Barkely or Devontae Booker.
Round 6, pick 201: Rondarius Williams, CB, Oklahoma State
The Giants’ head coach, Joe Judge, was a former special-teams coach for the New England Patriots, meaning that he emphasizes a strong special-teams unit. This philosophy is exemplified with their final pick in Rondaruis Williams, a cornerback from Oklahoma State who has great speed and can be a sure-fire tackler on kickoff and punt coverage units. In an already crowded secondary, Williams’ only hope for playing time is to become a stalwart on special teams coverage units.
While the Giants made little noise in the later rounds of the draft, their first two picks were excellent, addressing their needs of playmaking on offense along with adding a pass rusher that can make an impact immediately. Toney and Ojulari have the potential to be franchise cornerstones within a few seasons and elevate the franchise to true playoff contenders. There are now no more excuses for the Giants to improve from last season’s 6-10 record and reach around the .500 mark. Jones must take a leap forward this season, or the team may need to look elsewhere for their long-term replacement for Eli Manning. On the surface, however, Dave Gettleman did a good job with this draft.