Inside Giants’ NFL Draft: How New York filled three key needs by being aggresive

The Giants went into the NFL Draft with three obvious needs: A top receiver and starters at cornerback at center. There was no mystery about their intentions. The entire league knew what they wanted to find.

So imagine how surprised Giants general manager Joe Schoen might have been if someone had told him before the draft that he’d land all three, all with arguably first-round talent, and all in the first three rounds.

“Yeah,” Schoen said after the draft was over. “I would’ve liked to know how you’re going to do that, probably.”

The way he did it was with a remarkable combination of aggressiveness, flexibility, and a willingness to listen to both his coaches and the rest of his front office staff. He salvaged a first round where the Giants watched a run on receivers happen just before they picked by trading up one spot to make sure he wouldn’t miss on the cornerback his defensive coordinator wanted (Maryland’s Deonte Banks). He then patiently waited in the second round, passing on a speedy receiver, to take the top center on his draft board (Minnesota’s John Michael Schmitz).

And then, knowing he couldn’t push off a receiver any longer, he got aggressive in the third round, even letting coach Brian Daboll take the lead on trade talks, and eventually moved up 16 spots to grab the receiver he almost took in Round 2 (Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt).

All that action and that haul on the first two days left a very good feeling inside the Giants franchise, where a team source said the approach kicked off a new era where they’d no longer be “stuck in the mud”. Schoen made it clear the Giants, from now on, would always be willing to at least try to do what was necessary to get the players they loved.

“If you want it and you have the resources to get it, go get it,” Schoen said. “I’ve been on the other side, when you’re sitting there kicking yourself for not doing something and you don’t like the subsequent result from not doing what you could have done.”

That’s a feeling the Giants know well from the last few decades. Jerry Reese, the Giants GM from 2007-17 (a run which included two Super Bowls), approached the draft like a scout, treating the draft picks like gold and doing his best not to stray from his board for any reason. Dave Gettleman, who ran the Giants from 2018-21, treated picks the same way and was slow to move even when he became fixated on a player he wanted.

The result for both was that the Giants were often leap-frogged by teams that knew who which player they were going to pick, and knew the Giants weren’t going to be aggressive enough to move up to get them. Like in 2016 when the Titans traded up to 8 to take tackle Jack Conklin and the Bears jumped to 9 to get linebacker Leonard Floyd — two guys the entire league knew Reese wanted — leaving the Giants to scramble and take cornerback Eli Apple at 10. Or like in 2021 when the Eagles jumped to 10 to grab receiver DeVonta Smith — Gettleman’s target — one spot ahead of the Giants, who then traded down and ended up with troublesome receiver Kadarius Toney.

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Schoen wasn’t going to let that happen in his second draft as the Giants’ GM, though for a time it seemed to be headed that way. The Giants intended to take one of the draft’s best receivers with their first-round pick, according to a team source, and they were fearful there could be a run on the best four before the Giants were on the clock at No. 25.

But Schoen didn’t exactly sit still waiting for that to happen. According to a league source, the Giants had conversations with several teams in an attempt to trade up “into the teens”. One source said USC receiver Jordan Addison was Schoen’s target, though others said that with all four receivers still on the board until 20 all that they were sure about was that he wanted one of them.

Regardless, Schoen couldn’t pull the trigger on a deal before the run happened. Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba went 20th to Seattle. TCU’s Quentin Johnston went 21st to the Chargers. Boston College’s Zay Flowers went 22nd to the Ravens. And then Addison finally went 23rd to the Vikings, which is where at least one member of the Giants’ braintrust feared he would go all along.

As that was happening, Schoen said “I would say it got pretty tense” in the Giants draft room as their board was “getting depleted.” He began having conversations with teams lower in the first round — like Buffalo at 27 — about trading down.

But instead, he shifted his focus to cornerback, where three of the top ones — Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon, Mississippi State’s Emmanuel Forbes and Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez — had already been taken. There was one still ranked high on the Giants’ board, though — Banks — and it happened to be one that defensive coordinator Wink Martindale loved.

After the receiver run ended, the Jacksonville Jaguars were on the clock at 24. Schoen didn’t sound like he was worried about the Jaguars taking Banks. But earlier in the day he had set up a contingency deal to trade up with the Jaguars, so he knew their GM Trent Baalke was open to trading down. And there was a real fear, according to a team source, that the Chiefs (at 31) or Raiders (who had the fourth pick of the second round at 35) had their eyes on trading up for Banks.

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So rather than risk having to move on to a Plan C at another position, Schoen made his move, sending a fifth- and a seventh-round pick to Jacksonville to move up one spot for Banks — a move that ended with Schoen in a bear-hug from Martindale who was ecstatic to get the cornerback he wanted most.

“You take a lot of that into account, risk versus reward,” he said. “Didn’t want to get greedy. ‘Hey, this is a player we like, we covet, (so) don’t get cute. Let’s just take him, and then we’ll move on to day two of the Draft.'”

Who knows what the Giants would’ve done if they had missed on Banks too? One source said they liked Schmitz enough that he could’ve been at least in the discussion had the Giants traded down in the first round. They certainly hoped the center would still be there when they made the 26th pick of the second round (57th overall).

But in this case, Schoen didn’t trade up. He just relied on something he is admittedly not very good at.

“Patience, I wouldn’t say is one of my strengths,” he said. “I often get tested this time of year.”

His patience — and that of his head coach  —paid off when they were able to draft Schmitz. But he wasn’t willing to push it any farther. The Giants still were desperate to find their receiver — so much so that they even considered taking the speedy Hyatt over Schmitz in Round 2.

“We were joking around after we took the center,” Schoen said. “We were like, ‘Hey, wonder if we can get them both.'”

He did more than just wonder. He almost immediately got on the phones. Even Daboll joined in, texting some of his contacts around the league — including one with the Los Angeles Rams. He sent them a proposal that set the stage for the Giants to send a fourth-round pick to L.A. when they were on the clock at 73 so the Giants could move up 16 spots (from No. 89) to get the game-breaking receiver they knew they couldn’t leave the draft without.

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That was the fourth trade Schoen had made in his two drafts. In 2022, he traded back twice knowing acquiring more picks was his priority. This offseason, coming off an unlikely playoff berth and a 9-7-1 season, he knew he had the freedom and need to be more aggressive. He started that approach in mid-March when he traded a third-round pick to the Las Vegas Raiders for tight end Darren Waller.

In all, he’s given up four picks this offseason — a third, fourth, fifth and seventh. But look what he’s gotten in return: A tight end who is capable of 80 catches and 1,000 yards if he stays healthy. A starting, NFL-ready corner. A receiver with 4.3 speed.

It’s hard to imagine anything they could’ve gotten with those departed picks would’ve meant more to them the next few years than that.

Still, Schoen understands that it all looks good now and the praise he’s getting “lasts about two days.” He knows that “You don’t win games in April. It’s about what we do this fall.”

But at least this April, for a change, there’s no talk about the players the Giants missed because they were too unwilling to act. Patience, as Schoen noted, isn’t necessarily one of his virtues. But that can be a good thing.

He’s shown that when this Giants regime sees a player it wants, they’re not going to be afraid to strike.

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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“New York’s Aggressive Moves in the NFL Draft Satisfy Three Essential Demands for the Giants”

The New York Giants made big moves to secure their top three targets in the NFL Draft: a top receiver, a center, and cornerbacks. Despite fears of missing out on the top receivers, Giants general manager Joe Schoen salvaged the first round by trading up one spot to take the cornerback his defensive coordinator wanted. He then patiently waited to take the top center, and moved up 16 spots in round three to get the receiver he wanted most. Schoen’s aggressiveness, flexibility, and willingness to listen to both coaches and the rest of his staff set a new era for the Giants moving forward.

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