Giants go heavy O-line, Jets focused on pass rush

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Ikem Ekwonu/George Karlaftis Treated Image
Ikem Ekwonu/George Karlaftis Treated Image

There are three-plus months left until the NFL draft and the eight teams that hold the Top 10 picks are currently searching for four head coaches and a general manager between them.

So yeah, it’s a little early in draft season to really know what’s going on. But it’s never too early to give it a shot, especially since the draft tends to be one of football’s biggest events around the New York area. So, with the help of some NFL scouts and other sources, here’s a way-too-early-look at the 2022 Top 10:

If they don’t re-sign LT Cam Robinson, they’d have to think about a left tackle to protect QB Trevor Lawrence, but they have the cap space for that. They could use some weapons for Lawrence too, but probably not with the top pick. The top of this draft, as one NFC scout said, “is all about the trenches.” So they’d be crazy to pass on the best edge rusher in the draft, considering their 32 sacks put them near the bottom of the NFL.

2. Detroit Lions: Michigan EDGE Aidan Hutchinson

They need a quarterback and playmakers, but again, this isn’t the draft to address those this high. So the Lions will turn to one of their many other needs – an edge-rusher who can improve on their 30 total sacks. Dan Campbell will be happy with whichever one of the top two land here.

Lord knows what this crazy franchise will do next, but the league-wide belief is they’ll find a way to dump Deshaun Watson on somebody else and then either stick with David Mills as a temporary solution at quarterback or trade down in this draft, accumulate picks, and grab a QB later. Whoever ends up at QB needs to be protected, of course, so they can’t pass on the 6-foot-7, 350-pound Neal who for the moment is the consensus best OT in the draft.

4. JETS: Purdue DE George Karlaftis

Now that Joe Douglas‘s offensive line is looking better, the Jets can turn their attention to Robert Saleh’s preference – the defensive line. They could give a long look to LSU CB Derek Stingley here, but his injury issues make him a risk and the Jets seem genuinely excited about the young corners they have. Their pass-rushers, though, need improvement. They’ll get Carl Lawson back next season and if they can pair him with this 6-foot-4, 275-pounder, they’ve got something. He’s also got the versatility to rush from the inside, too.

5. GIANTS: N.C. State T Ikem Ekwonu

With no GM or head coach, there’s just no way to know what the Giants will do here, especially since they have no salary cap space to address their many needs in free agency. But if they are hiring a GM with a brain, he’ll see how big an issue the offensive line is. Basically, they’ve got left tackle Andrew Thomas and four big holes. The 6-foot-4, 320-pound Ekwonu can fill a big one at right tackle (or left, if the new head coach wants to flip Thomas instead). Ekwonu supposedly has 154 “pancake” blocks in college, which is going to get the attention of a lot of scouts.

Nobody loves the QBs in this year’s draft, but that’s likely to change as the draft gets closer, especially for QB-needy teams. And the Panthers are definitely unsettled at that spot. They traded for Sam Darnold last year, looked at the QBs in the 2021 draft, nosed around Watson, and signed Cam Newton. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Pickett had a big year, has a strong arm and is a really tough runner. Several scouts believe he’s going to win over skeptics in the pre-draft workouts.

7. GIANTS (via Chicago Bears) – Iowa C Tyler Linderbaum

I know, where’s the pass rusher, right? The problem is they can’t justify taking the fourth best at one position with the seventh overall pick. Besides, perhaps you’ve noticed, they still have a huge hole on their offensive line even if they use the fifth pick on a tackle. Imagine how much different their offense could look next season with all their weapons presumably healthy and a line that features Thomas and Ekwonu at tackle and this 6-foot-3, 290-pounder in the middle (maybe flanked by Shane Lemieux and Nick Gates at the guard spots). Centers don’t usually go this high but some scouts think he’s one of the best center prospects to come out in years.

8. Atlanta Falcons – LSU CB Derek Stingley Jr.

They’re in a fascinating spot because they need to find a successor to Matt Ryan, but probably know this isn’t the year to do it. They also need help at receiver, especially if – as many expect – they trade Calvin Ridley this offseason. But receivers can always be found later in the draft and not a lot of people seem to think there’s a Top 10-worthy one here. This 6-foot-1, 190-pound lockdown corner, though, is Top 10-worthy, as long as you can get past his injury history and assuming his medical evaluation checks out.

9. Denver Broncos – Ole Miss QB Matt Corral

They have been in on every quarterback available for several years, whether it’s been free agency or the draft. And even though John Elway isn’t running the football ops anymore, he still has a big influence and he loves to collect QBs. It’s take-your-pick after Pickett, but the 6-foot-1, 198-pound Corral really improved over the past year and cut down on his interceptions. He’s a tough, smart runner, too.

10. JETS (via Seattle Seahawks) – Ohio State WR Garrett Wilson

It’s too early to know anything, but I’ve heard rumblings that the Jets prefer to trade this pick if they can. And while they could use it to bring back a player (like, maybe a No. 1 receiver), I think it’s more likely they trade down and see if they can pick up an extra No. 1 pick for next year. If the quarterbacks start to fall – as many predict they will – teams will start to hyperventilate and will start offering a lot to move up (like the Bears did with the Giants last year), so Douglas could take advantage.

Also, there’s no consensus No. 1 receiver on the board and no slam-dunk like Ja’Marr Chase a year ago. When that happens to a position group, players fall, so the Jets could drop to, say, 16, where the Eagles may want to move up with one of their three draft pics and the Jets could still get one of the top two receivers on the board. But since it’s too early for any of that, for now I’ll give the Jets a 6-foot, 190-pounder who had 70 catches for 1,058 yards and 12 TDs last year.

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