(CBSNew York) — The New York Giants went 4-12 in the 2019 season and parted ways with head coach Pat Shurmur. In his two unimpressive seasons, Shurmur turned in a 9-23 mark and fared no better than in his last head coaching stint with the Cleveland Browns. Soon after, the Giants hired the unsung Joe Judge, a former New England Patriots special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach, to be head coach
Despite the losing, the turnover, and the relative unknown at the helm, the Giants have reason for optimism. The young players who stepped in for departed (or departing) veterans showed progress last season. Rookie quarterback Daniel Jones, who took over in Week 3 for the now-retired Eli Manning, silenced many of the doubters. Rookie wide receiver Darius Slayton stepped up after the departure of Odell Beckham Jr. and the team’s early-season injuries to the receiving core. And Saquon Barkley showed again why he’s one of the NFL’s best running backs.
While a few of the Giants’ offensive cornerstones are now in place, the team remains a distant third in the NFC East and far from a legitimate contender. The offensive line is a mess, and the defense lacks game-changers along the line, at linebacker and in the secondary.
The upcoming NFL Draft, currently still scheduled for April 23 – 25 in Las Vegas, Nevada, offers opportunities to address some of their many weaknesses. The Giants will have the fourth pick in the first round, along with the fourth pick in the second round (#36) and a compensatory 35th pick in the third round (#99). Let’s look at who the Giants might select in the first round to fill one of their many pressing needs.
Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
Jones was sacked 38 times, fumbled 18 times and threw 12 interceptions last season. The first two numbers are unnervingly high for a rookie quarterback. All three could be significantly reduced with better protection on his blindside. The Giants need a left tackle to help keep Jones upright and on the field. In fact, they probably need a right tackle too, given how lacking they were at the position in 2019.
Tristan Wirfs, at 6’5″ and 322 pounds, would certainly shore up the left tackle spot for the Giants. The former Iowa Hawkeye played at least 10 games at tackle in each of his three college seasons. As a junior, Wirfs was a second-team All-American, first-team All-Big Ten and a semifinalist for the Outland Trophy, given to college football’s top interior lineman.
Wirfs was already likely to be selected among the top offensive linemen in the 2020 NFL Draft. But his NFL Combine performance may have pushed him into the top 10 overall. His 36.5-inch vertical set a position record; his 4.85-second 40-yard-dash time actually bested three tight ends. He showed an agility not normally seen even among top athletes his size.
Mekhi Beckton, OT, Louisville
Mekhi Beckton is a very large man, the largest at the recent Combine, as a matter of fact. The offensive tackle out of Louisville measures 6’7″ tall and tips the scales at over 360 pounds. But, believe it or not, not the slowest at the Combine; he ran a 5.10 40 yard dash. His combination of size and athleticism make him an intriguing prospect for a Giants team with multiple spots to fill on its offensive line.
Beckton was a three-star recruit coming out of Highland Springs, Virginia who logged significant time at left tackle spots during his three collegiate seasons at Louisville. He started at least 10 games each year, eventually earning All-ACC honors as a junior. The giant tackle can play the run and the pass, though he would need some seasoning in the pro game. That said, his physical gifts and overall potential make him a likely top-10 pick.
Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State
With the Giants coming to terms with Carolina Panthers cornerback James Bradberry (three years, $45 million), the cornerback position becomes a less pressing need. Still, were they to continue to focus on their defensive backfield, Jeff Okudah would be the ideal pick.
The 6’1″, 203-pound cornerback from Ohio State is the top corner in the NFL Draft. He was a five-star recruit out of high school and contributed in each of his three years with the Buckeyes, improving every season. Okudah was routinely matched up with the opposing team’s top receiver, and managed to be penalized just once in his last season. (That penalty, for the record, was for a late hit.) In his junior season, he was an All-American, All-Big Ten and a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the game’s top defensive back.
His performance in the recent Combine (4.48-second 40 yard dash, 41-inch vertical) only solidified his standing as a top pick.
From size to speed to agility to technique, Okudah has all the necessary traits to become a shutdown corner in the NFL. And he comes in ready to be put on that island almost from day one. Ohio State is a factory for top NFL corners, and Okudah looks poised to join the list.
Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
Isaiah Simmons is generally listed as a safety or linebacker for the upcoming NFL Draft. And at 6’4″ and 230 pounds, his skillset allows him to play either position. Simmons transitioned from safety to linebacker back in 2017, but his responsibilities on Clemson’s defense took him all over the field. He played the run, he blitzed, he covered opposing tight ends and running backs out of the backfield.
An all-purpose defender, Simmons was the first Tiger to win the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker. He was also a unanimous All-American and ACC Defensive Player of the Year, among other honors. His athleticism was apparent at the Combine, where he logged a 4.39-second 40 yard dash (the fastest among linebackers) and a 39-inch vertical.
The Giants need help in the pass rush, and they need help covering tight ends. Simmons would fill those needs coming in and many more.