NFL sources sense Giants leaning towards edge rusher with No. 11 pick in 2021 NFL Draft

Ralph Vacchiano
·5 min read
Kwity Paye ready before snap in white Michigan jersey
Kwity Paye ready before snap in white Michigan jersey

There's a good chance that when the Giants make their first pick April 29 in the 2021 NFL Draft that one of Alabama's two explosive receivers -- DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle -- will still be on the board. There's even an outside chance that both of them will still be there at 11.

But even if that happens, the Giants might still take an edge rusher instead.

Nothing is set in stone with two weeks to go until the draft in Cleveland, but multiple NFL sources told SNY they sensed that the Giants were leaning towards taking a pass rusher in the first round of the draft. Whether they really would pass on Smith and Waddle isn't completely clear, but one source said the Giants have "done a lot of work on" the top edge rushers who could go in Round 1.

They are believed to be particularly high on Michigan's Kwity Paye and Georgia's Azeez Ojulari, but Miami's Jaelan Phillips and Gregory Rousseau and even Penn State's Jayson Oweh could be in the mix, especially if the Giants do something GM Dave Gettleman has never done -- trade down.

Not everyone believes the Giants would take a pass rusher over one of those receivers. In fact, one team source said Waddle and Smith are among the players the Giants would consider at 11. There was also a report on Friday that the Philadelphia Eagles were looking to trade up from 12 into the top 10, possibly to get in front of the Giants so they could draft Waddle before he gets to 11.

But the Giants did already add a receiver in free agency when they signed Kenny Golladay, and, which John Mara said "takes pressure off of us going into the draft. We don't have to take a receiver in Round 1 or Round 2." That doesn't mean they won’t, but it opened up their options.

And the truth is, they've been searching for pass rusher in the NFL Draft for years. It's such a huge need that they even had some interest in edge rusher Leonard Floyd during free agency back in March, before he signed a four-year, $64 million deal to stay with the Los Angeles Rams. They eventually signed ex-Viking Ifeadi Odenigbo to fill that role, but he had just 3 ½ sacks last season and only signed a one-year deal.

"It's no secret that Dave Gettleman has been looking for that one, dominant pass rusher since the day he took that job," said a rival NFC executive. "He wanted to find a way to get back up for Josh Allen two years ago, even after taking his quarterback (The Giants took Daniel Jones sixth, while the Jaguars took Allen one pick later). And it had to kill him that they fell one loss short of getting Chase Young one year later.

"I don't think any of these guys are on Allen or Young's level. But there's potential. And on the same front with Leonard Williams, they could look pretty good.”

There is no doubt that Gettleman has long been searching for that special pass rusher, which at least partially explains why he traded for Williams, then kept him with the franchise tag and recently signed him to a three-year, $63 million contract in March. Williams had a career-high 11 1/2 sacks this season, but he had little help in the pass rush from anyone else.

Gettleman, of course, remembers how the Giants' dominant front that included Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka powered the Giants to two Super Bowl championships in 2007 and 2011. He's tried to fill that need with his team through the draft (Lorenzo Carter in the third round in 2018 and Oshane Ximines in the third round in 2019) and free agency (Markus Golden in 2019 and Kyler Fackrell in 2020) but so far it hasn't worked out.

After the Giants filled their two other biggest needs in free agency, by signing receiver Kenny Golladay and cornerback Adoree' Jackson, the Giants seem like a lock to try to help their pass rush in the first two days of the draft. The only question may be when.

"It's a tough call," said one NFC scout. "Some of these pass rushers are really second-round talents, and because of that a decent one could slip to the Giants in the second round (at pick 42). So maybe they could take a lineman instead (in Round 1) or one of those two receivers.

"But the flip side of that is there will be some pretty good receivers and linemen available in Round 2, and the talent level at those positions doesn't drop off as fast as it does on the edge."

That might be the crux of the Giants' choice. Do they take what likely will be the top edge rusher on their board or a dynamic receiver instead. There are other possibilities too. They also like Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater, according to a source, and there's always the chance a surprise player -- like Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain -- will slip out of the top 10 and give the Giants an option they didn't expect.

But if Gettleman can finally find that pass rusher he's been looking for …

"I just can't see Dave passing up a pass rusher, if one they like is there," said the scout. "He knows what they've done for the Giants in their history and he knows he doesn't have one. He really might look at that as being his missing piece."