The New York Giants 2021 NFL Draft class is complete, which means it’s time to review the picks. General Manager Dave Gettleman and Head Coach Joe Judge have made constant upgrades to this NFC East squad. In a rare move, Gettleman traded down twice within the first two rounds and received three picks for the 2022 NFL Draft, giving the New York Giants flexibility after the 2021 season.
The Giants went through the draft without a 5th-round selection. They traded their 2021 5th-round pick in a packaged deal for New York Jets’ defensive end, Leonard Williams, in 2019. When Big Blue traded down with the Chicago Bears, they received the 164th pick. However, they traded it to the Denver Broncos in order to move up five spots in the 3rd round. The team made six selections, which were as follows:
- First-round, 20th overall: Kadarius Toney, wide receiver, Florida
- Second-round, 50th overall: Azeez Ojulari, defensive end, Georgia
- Third-round, 76th overall: Aaron Robinson, cornerback, UCF
- Fourth-round, 116th overall, Elerson Smith, defensive end, Northern Iowa
- Sixth-round, 196th overall, Gary Brightwell, running back, Arizona
- Sixth-round, 201st overall, Rodarius Williams, cornerback, Oklahoma State
New York Giants 2021 NFL Draft Grade: 7/10
New York Giants 2021 NFL Draft Review
The Best Player: Azeez Ojulari
Going into the NFL Draft, many teams rated Azeez Ojulari as the best pass-rusher in this class. Injury concerns regarding his knee dropped him on many team’s boards. Many rushers such as Joe Tyron, Odafa Oweh, and Jaelan Philips were taken before Ojulari. After the Eagles selected Landon Dickerson, the Giants traded their 42nd overall selection to the Miami Dolphins for the 50th overall selection and a 2022 3rd-round pick, drafting Ojulari with pick 50.
Ojulari comes in at 6’3″, 240lbs. Though his knee injury was a concern from the beginning, he recently stated his knee feels fine and was cleared by Dr. James Andrews. Other than possibly Jaelan Phillips, Ojulari is the best pass rusher in a weak pass-rushing class. He led the SEC with 9.5 sacks in 2020 while recording four forced fumbles, 31 tackles, and 12.5 tackles for a loss. His best game was against Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl, while his weakest games were against Florida, facing Stone Forsythe, and against Alabama, facing Alex Leatherwood. Unfortunately for the Giants, both him and their fourth-round selection, Elerson Smith, are weak against the run. His lack of anchor disturbs his ability to maintain his ground. The Giants will have to coach him up to fix his woes.
With Lorenzo Carter coming off an Achilles injury, Azeez Ojulari may be the best pass-rusher on the Giants squad at the moment. Oshane Ximines was limited in snaps in 2020 before his season-ending injury. Carter Coughlin and Cam Brown are still blooming. Ellerson Smith played in a lower level of competition and did not play in 2020. Also to note, before the New York Giants picked up Ryan Anderson, the Washington Football Team refused to give him playing time for four years. Knowing how Patrick Graham utilized his rushers with the string of injuries to the position later in the year, Ojulari should have some speed bumps but sprout nicely as a rusher in his rookie year. Ojulari is a potential steal for the Giants from the 2021 class.
The Head-Scratcher: No Offensive Line Help
Before the draft, Joe Judge expressed his immense faith in the young hogs they have on the offensive line. The Giants spent three draft picks on the offensive line in 2020, selecting tackles Andrew Thomas & Matt Peart, and guard Shane Lemieux. Though this offensive line class was very shallow in terms of plug and starter talent, the Giants could rethink their decisions quickly, based on the success of the 2021 season.
This is Daniel Jones‘ prove-it year as the franchise quarterback. The rotating offensive line finished at the bottom of the league in pass protection but finished the middle of the pack in run blocking. Lemieux and Will Hernandez happen to be the run maulers of the group. Rather than worrying about the tackle position, many are concerned about the talent at guard. The Giants released their best offensive lineman in Kevin Zeitler during the off-season to free up cap space. Big Blue signed Zack Fulton to fill the void, though he is coming off a season where he allowed 11 sacks. While Shane Lemieux and Will Hernandez work well in the run game, their woes are in pass protection, effectively putting Jones on his back.
The unit has also gone through three different coaches in the past year alone. Assistants Pat Flaherty and Ben Wilkerson should be able to assist Rob Sale in his first time as an NFL offensive line coach, however.
Shane Lemieux, Matt Peart, and Will Hernandez need to play up to expectations in 2021. The Giants have secured picks for next year’s draft in case this coming season goes awry. However, if these picks do not follow through, Dave Gettleman is likely forced into early retirement.
The Surprise: Kadarius Toney
Many were shocked when the New York Giants traded down from the 11th overall selection. Many more were shocked when the Giants selected Florida wide receiver, Kadarius Toney, at the 20th pick. The Giants brass met with Toney at this year’s Senior Bowl. Both Gettleman and Judge were pleased that Toney made it to 20. If Big Blue did not select him, the Jacksonville Jaguars would have taken a shot with Toney at 25th overall.
Kadarius Toney adds to a stacked wide receiver core the New York Giants built on this off-season. Toney can play the slot, in the backfield, and on the outside. He is a dynamic receiver that knows how to break out of tackles. Though it seemed like Kyle Pitts was the focal point of the Florida Gators’ offense, Toney hauled in 11 total touchdowns for the Gators in 2020. Analysts’ claims he had drop issues only became an issue at the Senior Bowl. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett needs to use Toney’s versatility creatively for this offense to do better than a year ago.
This pick forces pressure on fellow Giants wideout Sterling Shepard. Throughout his career, Shepard has had multiple injuries that keep him out of key games for Big Blue. His 2016 and 2018 seasons are the only seasons where he played 16 games. Not to mention, Shepard’s cap hit in 2022 is $10.5M. Darius Slayton is not likely gone since he only had one down season as a fifth-round pick, he plays mainly on the outside, and he is still on a cheap rookie deal. With Daniel Jones in a prove-it year for Big Blue, he needs the most weapons possible. Kadarius Toney is the finishing touch on that receiving core.
The Steal: Aaron Robinson
Many anticipated the New York Giants passing on a cornerback since they signed Adoree Jackson to a long-term deal. However, the Giants took that path twice in this year’s draft. They traded up for Aaron Robinson in the third round and selected Rodarius Williams with their final pick in the sixth round.
Robinson played both in the slot and on the outside at the University of Central Florida. His time in the box makes him more versatile for the New York Giants. Robinson is aggressive and very physical in man coverage. However, receivers cook him on deep routes when he is too agressive. He provides an excellent presence in the run game, being able to tackle and defend the D-gap, recording 6.5 tackles for a loss in college.
While a surprise, Robinson could prove to be a steal for the Giants secondary. The addition of Robinson and his strengths will make Patrick Graham’s task easier as the defensive coordinator. Due to a hole at the second cornerback spot last year, the Giants ran a lot of zone coverage. When the pass-rush did not get to the quarterback, there were gaps in the secondary. The addition of Robinson likely increases the chances of Isaac Yiadom and Julian Love not being on the team in 2020.
Most Likely To Turn Heads In Training Camp: Elerson Smith
The New York Giants stocked their outside linebacker core with two picks from this draft class. Azeez Ojulari in the second round and Elerson Smith in the fourth round.
It is unfortunate that Smith’s conference – Missouri Valley Conference – did not play this fall. If they had, his stock would have risen, based on his production in 2019. That season, Smith recorded 63 tackles, 14 sacks, 62 pressures, 21.5 tackles for a loss, 5 forced fumbles, 4 pass deflections, and 2 blocked kicks. Smith’s weakness, like Ojulari, happens to be defending against the run. At times, he is unable to shake a blocker with his strength at the point of attack.
With the Smith pick, the Giants filled the pass rusher spot. Pending injury, Lorenzo Carter and Azeez Ojulari are automatic roster locks as of right now. The rest of the room consists of Ryan Anderson, Carter Coughlin, Cam Brown, and Oshane Ximines. Ximines is likely to go since he did not play much before his season-ending injury last year. It also does not help he comes from a different coaching staff. Anderson may stay for a veteran presence a la Kyler Fackrell. Coughlin showed promise on defense, while Brown showed promise on special teams. If Smith goes into training camp with the same fitness and skillset as 2019, he is likely to knock out one of the younger rushers in the room.
The New York Giants spent their last two picks on Arizona running back Gary Brightwell and Oklahoma State cornerback Rodarius Williams. Both fill spots in need of depth.
The Giants brass met with Brightwell at this year’s Senior Bowl. Brightwell, if he makes the roster, is likely to fill the RB3 void. Brightwell needs to work on pass protection and ball security. However, when he keeps the ball in his arms, Brightwell is a powerful runner, measuring 218 lbs. He will compete with fellow backs Sandro Plutzgummer, Jordan Chunn, and Taquan Mizzell for the third running back spot.
Big Blue added another defensive back in the sixth round by picking Rodarius Williams, the older brother of Greedy Williams. While at Oklahoma State, Williams competed well against the 50/50 ball, giving receivers trouble deep. He also is a good tackler and prevents receivers from gathering yards after the catch. However, Williams needs to get more physical in press-man coverage. If the Giants intend on playing him at some point, he would fit a zone-oriented theme. Williams also had trouble tracking the deep ball on occasion, which is something he will need to fix in reps at the next level.
If Williams impresses the staff, he will likely knock out Julian Love or Isaac Yiadom. Love played sub-par at safety in 2020, though he finished the season nicely at cornerback. Yiadom played better than expected as the second cornerback in 2020. However, if the Giants want to switch to a man-oriented defense, Yiadom may have trouble against number two wide receivers.