EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants are sitting pretty in the 2021 NFL draft, which begins Thursday in Cleveland (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/ESPN app). There should be tremendous value ranging from some shiny new toys for quarterback Daniel Jones to a top offensive lineman to perhaps the best defensive player. Not bad for the No. 11 pick.
A potential top-five player falling outside the top 10 picks should land in New York's lap. No wonder it appears unlikely general manager Dave Gettleman makes his first trade back in what will be his ninth draft as the person in charge.
Working to narrow the list of first-round selections for the Giants, the possibilities seem endless.
"They have to take an edge rusher, right?" That is the question multiple league executives have asked about the Giants' first-round pick over the past few months.
The answer is yes ... but not necessarily at No. 11. In fact, a pass-rusher is more likely to come via a trade up for another pick in the first round or on Day 2.
The value just doesn't seem to be there at that position that early. Unfortunately for the Giants, there are no Chase Young-type players in this draft, but they have flexibility after solidifying some of their biggest needs (wide receiver and cornerback) in free agency.
That doesn't mean they won't double up. Far from it. That's why wide receiver is still among the top options at No. 11. Cornerback is not far behind.
"You're always looking to upgrade every position, doesn't make a difference," Gettleman said last week. "Whether it's wide receiver, tackle, whatever ..."
Last year's first-round selection, offensive tackle Andrew Thomas, was second on that list behind fellow tackle Tristan Wirfs. That followed a 2019 I'd like to forget, when Jones was a surprise pick at No. 6 overall and New York selected defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence at No. 17.
While nobody is telling me who the Giants will take at No. 11, there have been enough bits of information obtained from sources inside the Giants and around the league to decipher who the team is interested in and provide an informed guess.
These are the players in the mix this year, ranked in order of the most likely to be selected at No. 11:
1. Waddle, WR, Alabama: The Giants think highly of him and there seems to be a better than 50% chance he's available at No. 11. The word scouts used most to describe Waddle was "explosive." Seems fair considering he averaged 44.5 yards on his 17 career receiving touchdowns at Alabama. He also provides special teams value having averaged 24.4 yards per punt return in 2019, the third-highest since the FBS and FCS split in 1978. Most scouts I talked to seem to think Waddle can line up inside and outside despite not possessing great size (5-foot-10, 180 pounds). "Just a good football player," according to one scout. Waddle missed a good chunk of 2020 with an ankle injury, but it's not expected to be a problem.
2. Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama: Just a really good, clean, safe player who the Giants hold in high regard. Not much of a risk. Size (6-2, 208), speed (4.41 40-yard dash), production. And good value at No. 11 for the Giants. He might be the pick if they stay true to the board. "Cleanest guy," a longtime evaluator said of Surtain. Picking between Surtain or South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn seems to be splitting hairs for most.
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3. Rashawn Slater, OL, Northwestern: Some have him rated as the draft's top offensive lineman, ahead of Sewell. It's believed the Giants have them both highly graded. "Tape is really good," according to one executive. Slater allowed a ridiculous two pressures (0.6%) at left tackle and shut down Young (at Ohio State) in 2019, before opting out in 2020. Concerns about Slater's arm length were overblown. He measured at 33 inches during an impressive pro day. The belief by most seems to be Slater (6-4, 304) can thrive at guard or tackle. But Slater's trainer Duke Manyweather and former NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz think his traits say he's a tackle. Still, Slater would give the Giants options, and bolster a group that has questions at almost every spot on the line. They like him a lot.
4. Smith, WR, Alabama: The only reason he isn't No. 1 is because there is a good chance he's gone before pick 11. The Giants would likely go Smith over Waddle if given the opportunity. Smith was the best player in college football this season. His route running and body control are incredible. His size (6-0, 166 pounds) would be the concern as it would make him an outlier as a top receiver, but it doesn't appear to be a problem for the Giants. "There are plenty of smaller guys that have been very successful in this league, just like there are plenty of huge guys that have been successful and everyone in the middle," Gettleman said recently. Imagine an offseason where running back Saquon Barkley comes back from injury, receiver Kenny Golladay is signed as a free agent and Smith is drafted. That would give Jones some serious playmakers. The key pick to watch regarding Smith is the Miami Dolphins at No. 6.
5. Horn, CB, South Carolina: The son of former NFL wide receiver Joe Horn plays physical and would fit with the Giants' desire to play man defense and blitz from all over the field. Much like Surtain, Horn has the size (6-foot-1, 205 pounds), speed (4.40 40-yard dash) and production combination. Horn can be "grabby" at times, according to one executive. He is behind Surtain on this list because there has been a lot of talk about him being the favorite of the Dallas Cowboys at pick No. 10. He might not be available.
6. Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan: He's a disruptive player. Paye was second in the FBS this past season with a 21% pressure rate, even though he finished with two sacks. "Violent, explosive, natural power and leverage," were some of the comments from evaluators. Perhaps what separates him from Miami pass-rusher Jaelan Phillips is there are not the same medical concerns for him. Paye isn't quite the reach at No. 11 some seem to suggest. "I'd take him at 11," said one executive whose team doesn't pick near the top of the draft.
7. Phillips, OLB, Miami: Just about everyone I spoke with agreed he is the draft's best pass-rusher. "Nasty, most talented and legit." Those were the kind of things spoken of Phillips, along with "risk." If not for multiple concussions and a short-lived retirement at UCLA (before transferring to Miami), Phillips would be much higher on this list. This was one of the two pro days coach Joe Judge attended. But at last check, the Giants still had some reservations. Phillips is a risky proposition at No. 11 overall. Then again, this team needs a pass-rusher and we've seen some out-of-character moves from the Giants this offseason, signing players considered injury risks such as Kyle Rudolph, Adoree' Jackson and Golladay.
8. Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State: Parsons is the kind of explosive athlete the Giants can use all over the field. It's easy to see how some have fallen in love. He has 4.39 speed in the 40-yard dash and is 245 pounds, but there are concerns about his character and motivation. Parsons is "a lot about Micah" is how one source explained it. As with Phillips, it would be an out-of-character move from the Giants to take this risk.