Joe Schoen wants more room.
Looking back on the now-completed NFL draft with the Giants, running the show for the first time as a team’s top football executive, Schoen felt confined by the constraints of the job. Well, not the job per se, but the room.
There were rows and rows of seats and tables inside the draft headquarters for co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch, all the personnel guys, the scouts. Coaches filtered in from time to time. There are so many people involved in what goes down for the three nights and days during the draft and space was at a premium.
“I may want to change that a little bit,” Schoen said. “There was a different board this year, and I kind of like more of an open area in the middle, I’m a big pacer, where I can go to the scouts and talk to them. That’s something we’ll work on next year.”
If the lack of pace space was the only major hiccup for Schoen in Draft 1.0 the Giants will be able to swallow with ease his debut. He selected the largest class for the franchise in 19 years, an 11-player haul that ran the gamut, from potential greatness up top, some risk-taking later on and, at the back end, mostly, filling roster holes with varying degrees of prospects that figure to take up so many spots on the depth chart in Brian Daboll’s first season as head coach.
Taking edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux at No. 5 and offensive tackle Evan Neal at No. 7 were easy picks for Schoen. He inherited valuable first-round real estate and plucked the top players on the Giants’ board, smartly (and fairly obviously) taking the last premier pass rusher before addressing the glaring need on the offensive line. He is believed the Giants had Ikem Ekwonu and Neal ranked 1-2 — in that order — and were going to be thrilled with either player. When the Panthers took Ekwonu at No. 6, the Giants went for Neal, with no regrets.
It is on Day 2 where Schoen got cute. He prioritized gaining two extra picks over addressing the need at cornerback, trading down twice in the second round to gain one extra pick in the fourth and fifth rounds.
Clearly, Schoen did not value the players and potential starters available between picks 36 and 43 — corners Roger McCreary, Kyler Gordon, Andrew Booth and safety Jalen Piter — more than he felt the need to fill up the bottom of the roster with inexpensive rookie late -rounders. With the two newly acquired picks, the Giants added linebacker Micah McFadden from Indiana and safety Dane Belton from Iowa. Time will tell if either Big Ten product pans out.
The response by the Giants after moving down from 36 to 43 could be the make-or-break move of Schoen’s first draft. He took one of the smaller players in the draft, 5-foot-8 receiver Wan’Dale Robinson from Kentucky and then insisted this is not a duplication with Kadarius Toney. Schoen passed up Trey McBride, the top tight end prospect, and more prototypical receivers John Metchie III and Skyy Moore, to land Robinson.
That Robinson was predicted to go in rounds 4-5 in many pre-draft publications will eventually be an indictment of Schoen (if Robinson does not emerge as a significant player) or prescient (if Robinson makes it big).
It unquestionably was not the safe pick. Schoen at pick No. 81 in the third round took skinny LSU cornerback Cordale Flott. After Day 3, when he bulked up with the selections of two linebackers, a defensive tackle and a guard, he joked “After Wan’Dale being undersized and Flott, I figured I better go big guys.”
As this was Schoen’s first draft in charge of everything — he was previously the assistant general manager in Buffalo — there was no track record on what he would do. Now there is. He wants to be as familiar as possible with the players he takes. Public interest meant real interest. Defensive tackle DJ Davidson, the No. 1 147 overall pick, was brought in by the Giants for a top-30 visit. So was safety Dane Belton, the No. 114 overall Tight end Daniel Bellinger, a fourth-round pick, had dinner the night before his Pro Day at San Diego State with Brandon Brown, the assistant general manager.
“A lot of these guys — not to show my hand in the future, but you guys are good at tracking this stuff — but, yeah, we want to feel comfortable with the individuals as well as the player,” Schoen said, “ And I think pretty much all these guys we spent significant amount of time with, whether it was coming here or going to see them.”
This is good to know for the 2023 draft. By then, we will have a better idea how Schoen fared with his large 2022 class.