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New York Giants ‘leaning towards’ specific position with No. 11 pick, potential targets

Matt Johnson

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The New York Giants are making their final preparations for the 2021 NFL Draft, with big plans at the No. 11 pick. In a year that could see five quarterbacks taken in the top 10, New York will be in a great spot to land a premium talent.

Credit to the Giants for addressing many of their needs in free agency. Seeking a No. 1 receiver to help Daniel Jones take the next step in his NFL career, New York signed Kenny Golladay. In addition, they re-signed Leonard Williams, improved at tight end with Kyle Rudolph and found their No.2 cornerback in Adoree Jackson.

Just days away from making their first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, it seems general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Joe Judge might already have an idea which direction they will go with the selection.

According to SportsNet New York’s Ralph Vacchiano, the Giants are leaning towards drafting an edge rusher at No. 11 overall, even if wide receivers like DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle are available.

Related: 3 ideal New York Giants 2021 NFL Draft trade scenarios

Many fans would love to see this team strengthen its receiving corps. While the talent is impressive, adding a playmaker like Waddle or Smith would put it over the top. New York would have a loaded cast of weapons, making life easy for Jones under center.

But this year’s draft class is deep at receiver, giving the Giants flexibility to address other positions. While trading down is on the table, Gettleman simply doesn’t do that. So, let’s examine which edge rushers New York could target.

New York Giants mock draft: Full 7-round 2021 NFL Draft projections with trades

New York Giants draft Kwity Paye

The 2021 NFL Draft isn’t particularly strong at edge rusher. That’s both a good and bad thing for New York. On the one hand, it means the Giants shouldn’t see any pass rushers drafted before they are on the clock. But, on the other hand, it also speaks to the concerns about this draft class.

Kwity Paye, the No. 2 edge rusher on our 2021 NFL draft board, is an athletic marvel. During a pre-draft workout, he posted a 6.71-second time in a three-cone drill and there are rumors he ran it faster before the season. That would have been the second-fastest time among all players at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine. For comparison, Myles Garrett recorded a blistering 6.86-second time in the same drill a few years ago.

This is a 6-foot-3, 260-pound edge rusher with outstanding agility, explosiveness and speed. He didn’t turn those physical traits into a lot of production at Michigan, but that might be a greater reflection of the Wolverines’ coaching. All of the physical tools to be a dominant edge rusher are there, he just needs a lot of NFL coaching. If the Giants can turn him into a star, they’ll have one of the NFL’s best defenses in 2021.

Roll the dice on Jaelan Phillips

If draft grades were based entirely on talent and potential, Jaelan Phillips wouldn’t be available to the New York Giants at No. 11. A former No. 1 overall recruit, Phillips can be a perennial 10-sack player at the next level. He proved his dominance this past season with the Miami Hurricanes and his Pro Day showed he’s a more impressive athlete than Gregory Rousseau.

The problem is medicals. He suffered a concussion that forced him out for the majority of the 2018 season. Due to a variety of injuries, including some suffered when he was hit by a car, Phillips medically retired. He eventually transferred to Miami and returned to football in 2020.

Recording 15.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks in 10 games is impressive. Just as noteworthy, his stellar testing numbers from Miami’s Pro Day. But COVID-19 prevented him from going through medicals checks recently in Indianapolis, leaving those alarming red flags. Taking Phillips at No. 11 would be a huge gamble, but the rewards could be gigantic.

Related: NFL defense rankings – Outlooks for top 20 defenses entering summer

Azeez Ojulari drafted by Giants

Our highest-graded edge rusher in the 2021 NFL Draft. If the Giants are determined to find someone who can cause problems for an opposing quarterback, Azeez Ojulari is the guy. Georgia’s 6-foot-2 defensive weapon loves nothing more than coming around the edge and hitting the quarterback.

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Ojulari is lightning-quick off the snap and that helps him beat offensive tackle with ease. Whether it’s making first contact to pop them backward and then putting on a move or just beating them to their inside or outside shoulder, he gets the job done. Plus, as NFL.com notes, Ojulari became a team captain as a freshman and he is lauded for his work ethic and character. Those are all qualities that Gettleman loves and even if Ojulari primarily serves as a pass rusher, he can make a strong impact in New York’s front seven.