September 27, 2022

NFL Draft 1st round rumblings: Giants gossip, notes and more

The NFL Draft is set to start Thursday, April 28 in Las Vegas. (John Locher/AP)

A lot of teams want to trade back in this week’s NFL Draft because they don’t see clear value at their first-round picks. The question is whether they can find a dance partner to trade up.

The Houston Texans, at No. 3 overall, are a flash point in the top five. League sources believe GM Nick Caserio is game to trade back. He also could stay and draft his best player available, likely at offensive tackle or corner.

Panthers GM Scott Fitterer, at No. 6, and Giants GM Joe Schoen, at No. 7, also are trade back candidates to acquire more capital. Seahawks GM John Schneider, at No. 9, has a track record of moving down, too.

And several teams in the back of the first round wouldn’t mind sliding back into the second round, either. Chiefs GM Brett Veach said recently that he only has 16-18 players with first-round grades. This is commonplace throughout the league.

The trade-up scenarios aren’t as clear as some other years because there aren’t many consensus can’t-miss prospects and no obvious star quarterbacks.

The New Orleans Saints (picks No. 16 and 19) could trade up for a quarterback or offensive tackle. The Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 20) could move up for a quarterback. An unexpected team could charge up for a specific position player they love, too.

There has been chatter about the Dallas Cowboys moving up for Oregon edge Kayvon Thibodeaux if he falls, for example, but going from pick No. 24 all the way to No. 7 or No. 9 seems like a far and expensive leap.

At the back of the first, meanwhile, with so many teams looking to trade down, there could be a run on quarterbacks from teams trading up seeking a fifth-year option on the contract.

Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, Ole Miss’ Matt Corral and UNC’s Sam Howell are some of the names to watch in the back first and/or second round.

The Giants did due diligence on this year’s QBs. They have shown no signs of planning to draft one, but there is still outside curiosity about whether they would grab one at the right value given the teardown they have either done or considered on parts of their roster around Daniel Jones.

Some sources, by the way, don’t think the fifth year is terribly important to acquire on quarterbacks anymore, because teams have the franchise tag to retain player rights and tend to get star QBs signed to extensions once they’re eligible after their third year anyway.

— League sources continue to tell the Daily News that the Giants like Cincinnati corner Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and that he’s in play at No. 5 overall. Alabama OT Evan Neal and Mississippi State OT Charles Cross could be the pick there, too. I’m skeptical that Neal will be available, and I also know the Giants love Cross, and for those two reasons I frequently end up giving him to Schoen in mocks. If Neal is not the Jaguars’ pick at No. 1, there is a good chance he would be the Texans’ guy at No. 3 if Caserio didn’t trade back (unless Houston took Gardner, who several sources believe would be the best corner fit for Lovie Smith’s defense).

— Don’t rule out Oregon edge Kayvon Thibodeaux and Florida State edge Jermaine Johnson for the Giants, either. Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, in theory, would prefer to get a corner and figure out his blitzes than to pick a stud pass rusher and leave holes on the back end. But I know the Giants haven’t closed the door on Thibodeaux after doing a ton of homework on him, and Johnson is a Senior Bowl standout and a clean prospect with good projections and upside at a position of need. If the Jets pick N.C. State OT Ikem Ekwonu at No. 4 overall – as Daily News Jets writer DJ Bien-Aime reported might happen — Johnson probably will still be on the board.

— Schoen, in one scenario, could pick the corner Gardner at No. 5 and then try to trade back from No. 7 into the teens and look for an offensive lineman like Northern Iowa OT Trevor Penning. That would be another way to fill the team’s needs while also acquiring more draft picks. Deciphering the Panthers’ plans at No. 6 in between the Giants’ picks could have a lot to do with whether Schoen goes defense or tackle at No. 5. Carolina is a candidate to trade out, which creates an unknown, and some believe they would take an offensive tackle if they stay.

— The Giants could package James Bradberry and/or Kadarius Toney in draft weekend trades. The Daily News reported during the NFL owners meetings that the Texans, Chiefs and Colts were the most likely landing spots in a Bradberry trade. Caserio and the Texans hold picks No. 3 and 13 in the first round, No. 37 at the top of the second round, and two third-round picks. Maybe there is a way the Giants can kill two birds with one stone and off-load their corner while drafting another.

— As a reminder: the Giants aren’t just taking calls. They’re making them, too, contrary to what you might read elsewhere. Unless you believe their April phone bill will arrive as one long incoming call log. That would be strange, right? When teams want to entertain options but protect player relationships in case trades don’t occur, they sometimes try to make it appear they initiated nothing, only listened. This is the business of trying to manage optics.

— Most sources believe it’s between Georgia edge Travon Walker and Michigan edge Aidan Hutchinson for the No. 1 pick to Jacksonville. I personally think new coach Doug Pederson would do well to draft another offensive lineman, like Alabama’s Neal, to solidify protection for franchise QB Trevor Lawrence. GM Trent Baalke drafts freakish traits. That’s Walker on defense and Neal on offense. But ownership supposedly has some love for Hutchinson, too. We’ll see. I still think it’s Walker because multiple trusted sources told me he is “the best pass rusher in the draft.” And if that’s true, he belongs at the top.

— Just as some believe Walker is the better pass rusher but Hutchinson might be drafted first, there is lots of love for LSU’s Derek Stingley as the top corner, although those same sources believe Gardner will likely be the first one off the board. Stingley’s recent injury history complicates the projection. His 2019 tape makes evaluators salivate. “He’s the one,” one source said. He is the better man-to-man corner in the view of many, while Gardner projects more in zone, although some teams, like the Giants, believe he can be a lockdown man corner, too.

— I project eight wide receivers in this year’s 32-pick first round. Why? 1) Receiver might be the strongest position group in this draft (alongside edge rusher); 2) Several rookie first-round wideouts have produced at high levels in recent years, from the Minnesota Vikings’ Justin Jefferson and Dallas Cowboys’ CeeDee Lamb in 2020 to the Cincinnati Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase and Miami Dolphins’ Jaylen Waddle in 2021; 3) So many veteran receivers are getting paid big money now that teams view it as more important to get a productive wideout under cost control in the draft. Miami’s Tyreek Hill, Las Vegas’ Davante Adams and Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs are the latest to cash in after Christian Kirk’s inflated $72 million free agent contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars turned the receiver market on its head.

— Deebo Samuel’s trade demand with the 49ers and the Giants’ recent shopping of Toney only makes the receiver market more dramatic and intriguing this draft weekend. Niners GM John Lynch and the Giants’ GM Schoen could try to preempt a receiver-strong draft by making their respective trades before Thursday’s first round hits. Or they could consider packaging the player in a draft weekend trade. If wideout Darius Slayton is available, as The Athletic reported, then he would apply to this line of thinking, too. Schoen also invited and listened to trade conversations on Saquon Barkley earlier this offseason. He’s open for business.