Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Finding Day 3 gems in the draft can make a huge difference
The EDGE position has been one of the more evasive aspects of the New York Giants since the glory days of Justin Tuck, Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, and Jason Pierre-Paul. While those memories are fond, they seem to be quite distant, and the lack of success from that unit has left a doleful aura that has surrounded this franchise for far too long.
Can free agency in March fix this feeling? Possibly, or it could end up as Oliver Vernon 2.0. The likes of Jacksonville’s Yannick Ngakoue, Dallas’ Robert Quinn, Tampa’s Shaq Barrett, or even the Rams’ Dante Fowler Jr. do peak some interest, but the price tag for these players will be costly.
Then I think of players from the previous drafts like 2019’s Raiders’ selection Maxx Crosby, Houston’s Charles Omenihu, or 2016 Ravens’ selection Matt Judon (also a free agent this year). These players all have something in common. They were all selected on Day 3 of their respective NFL Drafts. Finding and harnessing value from Day 3 can turn a mediocre team into a Super Bowl contender.
Much-maligned general manager, Dave Gettleman, did a great job on Day 3 last year. He drafted WR Darius Slayton and LB Ryan Connolly in the fifth round. Former Giants general manager Jerry Reese significantly struggled with landing talent on Day 3. Gettleman cannot afford to miss on many picks, especially after the ill-advised trade of a third-round pick for an impending free agent. This fact, combined with the factors of the dearth of talent on the Giants’ roster at EDGE, the free agent status of Markus Golden, and the Giants more than likely missing out on Ohio State’s Chase Young, forces Gettleman to either A). Spend big at EDGE in March or B). Invest heavily in the EDGE position during the draft, or a little bit of column A and a little bit of column B. The issue with 2020’s draft is the scarcity of quality talent at the EDGE position, so uncovering any kind of gems at any point of the draft would be huge for the Giants. Finding these gems in the later rounds is a recipe to cook up success in the Big Apple, so let’s go through some potential targets that the Giants may explore on Day 3 of the upcoming NFL Draft.
Darrell Taylor, Tennessee
There’s a good chance that the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Taylor is selected before the fourth round, due to the lack of talent at the position, but crazier things have happened. Judging by the tape I saw, I can envision Taylor going much higher than the 100th selection. He showcases an ability to lock out and not be bullied against the run, while flashing very good bend around the edge to corner against the pass. He has good lower half flexibility and exceptional overall explosiveness. His versatility draws a lot of interest, for he can play as a base 4-3 end or as a base 3-4 OLB in space. He was asked to play man coverage often against RBs out of the backfield and he did so valiantly. He hit his landmarks in zone coverage while playing in a two-point stance and he’s not lost breaking down to tackle in space here either. His versatility would be excellent in Patrick Graham’s multifaceted fronts where Taylor can line up on the line of scrimmage, or as a floating LB/EDGE in passing situations. There’s a lot to develop with Taylor; he’s still not refined as a pass rusher. I saw him attempt a few inside counter moves while also trying to employ a hump move with his inside arm. He used good leverage in both of those reps that I witnessed, but he still has more to learn about rushing the passer. Taylor also ran into some trouble back in 2017 when he was suspended indefienlty by his coach Butch Jones. According to Jones, Taylor kicked one of his teammates in the face during practice which is not an ideal thing for any player to do, so a suspension levied and Taylor missed most of the season. In fact, Taylor really hit his stride after that suspension where he played 11 and 13 games in 2018 and 2019. Twenty-one tackles for a loss and 16.5 sacks later, and we’re talking about Taylor being one of the steals of the NFL draft at the EDGE position. There’s a lot of upside with Taylor, and he has shown a lot of ability against the run, the pass, and in space, so here’s a fit with the Giants that may make sense.
In this video, Taylor displays his ability to create separation to the field side against his tackle. His angle up the arc is a bit elongated, but he does show solid bend at the top through the contact. The second clip shows Taylor to the boundary side on a third-and-1. He does an excellent job setting the edge and flowing outside, which forces the punt. A solid display from Taylor in both aspects of the game.
Kenny Willekes, Michigan State
A former walk on who was a two-time first team All-Big 10 selection. the 6-foot-4, 252-pound Willekes made a lot of money during the Senior Bowl week. Showing a relentless nature and an ability to dominate 1-on-1s, while also being a very vocal leader on the field. Willekes’ motor and ability to attack from the backside was really evident whilst a Spartan. In three years, he had 49 tackles for a loss and 23.5 sacks, while finishing his senior season with 15.5 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks. I talked about his unique stance on Big Blue View; he starts with his butt high in the air, outside arm cocked back like some sort of snake ready to attack, and inside arm way out in front of his body. The stance limits the surface area of his chest, which obstructs offensive linemen from gaining and maintaining their blocks easily on him. He has elite competitive toughness, a good tackling radius, solid explosiveness, and can play with his hand in the dirt, as well as in space. He’ll make an excellent backside defender and he has solid strength at the point of attack. Check out these three clips of No. 48 below:
Willekes made it known that he will dominate tight ends at the point of attack, and he did just that at Senior Bowl practice day 2 when he drove Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins back into the pocket on an outside zone run to the other side. Willekes crashed it so hard, showing so much lower leg drive and determination, that it nearly resembled the first clip of this video. One could easily hear the crowd take notice of that rep because Willekes’ motor, combined with his explosiveness and low center of gravity, are very hard to block, especially for tight ends. The clip against Michigan shows that strength at the point of attack against a tackle; Willekes keys the play and sees the outside run, so he gets to the outside shoulder of the tackle, locks out, and spills the run towards the contain defenders towards the field side. He restricted the rushing lane, stayed low, and disengaged well. The third clip is a nicely timed inside rush move, inside club/arm-over, against a tackle that overset too far outside. Willekes then locates quarterback Jordan Love and violently throws him to the deck. Willekes is a high effort prospect that will endear any coaching staff that selects him. Is he consistently strong enough to be a three down player in the NFL, probably not at the moment, but he has a lot of traits that will allow for him to earn a role in the NFL as a rookie.
Alton Robinson, Syracuse
Robinson, 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, has had a turbulent last few years on and off the field. 2018, his junior year, was his best campaign with 17 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks, but he failed to repeat these numbers in his senior season, due to a lot of attention being paid towards his side. He had 4 sacks and 9 tackles for a loss in 2019, but he still showed positive traits; he has quick feet and flashed explosiveness, but his motor wasn’t always in high gear. His first step explosiveness, combined with violent, heavy, hands are two intriguing qualities about his game. I saw a solid run defender that was an adequate athlete for the position, so he’s not a perfect prospect, hence the Day 3 grade. I watched a lot of his 2018 tape and a lot of the plays that he made were designed unblocked plays from the backside or plays where he was the quarterback’s read on options or zone-reads. Robinson’s quickness and decisive nature led to big hits and huge plays for Syracuse’s defense in these situations. As you see in the video below, he is also equipped to defeat tackles with speed and power:
First clip is in 2018 against Pitt, a close game. Robinson’s ability to time the snap, along with his quick first step, automatically put the tackle in a disadvantageous situation. Robinson attacks the half man, dips his inside shoulder through the outside shoulder of the tackle, gets his hips flipped towards the pocket, and bends through the contact of the tackle. He displays very good lower half flexion, explosiveness, and relentlessness on this rep. Second clip is a pure bull-rush where Robinson gets underneath the pads of a tackle with poor technique, and uses pure lower leg drive to dominate the line of scrimmage and drive the tackle back into the pocket, which forces the fumble. While his game isn’t always consistent, one can tell that he possesses unique tools that can be molded by the right environment and coaching staff.
Robinson also has a unique background; he was a JUCO transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. Robinson was accused of stealing in high school, along with a physical altercation against an ex-girlfriend. Once pursued by many Power-5 schools, he was forced to go the JUCO route, due to immature actions. To his credit, Robinson, by all accounts, seems to really focus on himself and football, despite the level of competition. His contrite nature and attitude led to him landing with Syracuse in the ACC. Robinson’s not the best athlete at EDGE, nor is he overly refined in the nuances of stringing multiple moves together to defeat tackles, but he has quality traits, an NFL type body, and I feel he could be a value later on in the draft.
Jabari Zuniga, Florida
I spoke about Zuniga, 6-foot-3, 253 pounds, and his teammate Jonathon Greenard’s very solid weeks down in Mobile for the Reese’s Senior Bowl. Greenard is not on this list because I feel he’s a much better prospect than Zuniga, and he may be selected sometime in the mid to late third round, so the Gator is Zuniga for this article. Zuniga had 33 tackles for a loss and 18.5 sacks during his four year stint in Gainesville, but he only played 6 games in 2019. He suffered a high ankle sprain in September and then re-aggravated the injury later on in the year. Frustrating, yes, but it does not take away from his skill-set as a solid pass rusher and a good run defender. Zuniga can convert speed to power on the edge and has the ability to play in a four point stance, and then stand up as a blitzer in passing situations. Showed powerful hands and strength at the point of attack. His versatility along the Gators’ front was shown quite often, and he played a lot of positions at a solid level for Dan Mullen’s team. My issues with Zuniga come down to processing; his get off was slow, not due to a lack of explosiveness, but a struggle with timing. Zuniga is still somewhat raw when it comes to the mental aspect of the game. He hasn’t yet mastered the ability to string moves together and his pass rush plan is somewhat suspect. Zuniga must also lower his pad level. I feel like my issues with this player are correctable with the right coaching staff that teaches, sound like anyone you may know? I don’t think he’ll blow up the combine and his lower body flexion won’t be great, which was very apparent on film, but he has the strength, hand pop, versatility, and explosiveness (when aware) that can be molded into an adequate NFL player.
Both of the plays he makes are from a more interior position; the first clip, he’s a 3-Technique on the outside shoulder of the guard, and he totally takes advantage of a tackle that sets way too poorly. The guard doesn’t help the tackle on the Zuniga and he capitalized by getting into the backfield to force a tackle for a loss. The second clip shows Zuniga as a 4i technique. Zuniga is still a bit slow off the snap, but beats the tight end’s down block, something he does well, and forces the tackle for a loss. He’s a good run defender with versatility. There are limitations to his game, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that he’s not maximized and he can grow into an adequate NFL player.
Carter Coughlin, Minnesota
I used to write for a MinnesotaGophers’ page and I watched a ton of Carter Coughlin tape. His senior season was relatively underwhelming from a statistical standpoint (9 TFL, 4.5 sacks), but there was a precedent set on the senior. During his sophomore and junior seasons, Coughlin, 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, recorded 26.5 TFLs and 16 sacks. Coughlin was down at the Reese’s Senior Bowl, but did not stick out in 1v1’s or team periods, which was a let down. Nevertheless, Coughlin is a solid overall athlete that possesses very quick feet and lateral agility. The Gophers’ used him at linebacker and as a predominant edge rusher, using that explosive first few steps to gain an advantage on tackles. He’s smart, distinctive, and was a key member of the Gophers’ defense during their remarkable season, filling the void as the leader, along with Antonie Winfield Jr. after the departure of Blake Cashman in last year’s draft. My issues with Carter Coughlin land in the run phase; he lacks the necessary sand in his bottom to hold up against quality college tackles, let alone NFL ones. At this point, I don’t trust Coughlin to set an edge and maintain his responsibilities as a run defender against NFL competition. This can of course improve after a year in an NFL weight room, but as of now it’s a concern, as it was for Oshane Ximines last season. I wish he was a bit more bendy as well, but this is one of the reasons why he will be available in the later rounds, because he has those other traits mentioned earlier that are enticing.
The three clips above showcase some of the versatility that Coughlin possesses. The athletic ability and foot quickness to play in space, a solid get off, and an ability to maximize the get off by bending through contact up the arc. The team that selects Coughlin will get a relentless worker, who at worst will be a core special teamer with the upside to develop into a situational pass rusher in year one. I believe he has the ability to assimilate into Patrick Graham’s defense in year one, due to his ability to play off ball, as you see in the first clip above, and in space, which is something that Graham asks of his players in third down situations. It’s a low risk selection late, that I feel can pay off in the ways I listed above.