Giants help O-line in draft, all other picks on defense

After drafting Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas with the fourth overall pick in the NFL draft, New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said he was going to fix the offensive line once and for all.

He wasn’t kidding.

Gettleman used three of New York’s first five picks on young men with a lot of starting experience in trying to build an offensive line to keep quarterback Daniel Jones upright and to make holes for halfback Saquon Barkley.

Beside Thomas, the Giants drafted tackle Matt Peart of Connecticut in the third round and guard Shane Lemieux of Oregon in the fifth.

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Their other picks in this remote draft were all linebackers and defensive backs, to shore up a defense that was ranked 25th overall last season, giving up an average of 377.3 yards and 28.18 points.

“The theme of the day for defense was speed,” Gettleman said. “We really felt we had to improve our team speed.”

Coming into the draft, the big issue for the Giants was the offensive line. It allowed Jones to get hit too many times in his rookie season and it did not open enough holes for Barkley.

The big need was a tackle to play with left tackle Nate Solder, who was coming off a bad season. Mike Remmers, who started on the right side, signed with Kansas City as a free agent.

Getting Thomas with the fourth pick quickly solved the problem. Drafting Peart two rounds later gave New York a big raw talent, while Lemieux is a tough guard, who is going to be cross-trained as a center. Starter Jon Halapio went down with an Achilles tendon injury in the final game.

Guards Will Hernandez and Kevin Zeitler are returning along with Nick Gates, who can play center, guard and tackle.

“I feel real good about it,” Gettleman said about fixing the line once and for all. “Two tackles and a guard we feel that we feel real strong about. Adding them to what we have, we are very pleased with this.”

Alabama safety Xavier McKinney should make the biggest impact on defense as a second-round pick. He’s versatile, can quarterback the defensive backs and can play in the box.

Most of the other draftees probably will fill roles. Fourth-round pick Darnay Holmes of UCLA is a smart, pressing cornerback who might play the slot and be important on special teams. He had eight interceptions in three seasons. He graduated in 2 1/2 years.

In the last two rounds, the Giants drafted four linebackers: Cam Brown of Penn State in the sixth and Carter Coughlin of Minnesota, TJ Brunson of South Carolina and Tae Crowder of Georgia in the seventh. They were the kind of guys new coach Joe Judge wanted. Productive, smart, versatile team players who can play in many schemes.

Crowder was the 255th and final pick of the draft, making him this year’s “Mr. Irrelevant.”

The selection was announced at the end of the draft by Melanie Salata Fitch, whose father, former NFL receiver Paul Salata, started the award in 1976. There is usually an Irrelevant week in Newport Beach, California, but she did not say whether the event would be held this year with the coronavirus pandemic forcing the cancellation of many events.

Crowder was a key player on Georgia teams that won 11 or more games three straight seasons, won three straight SEC East titles, and played in three straight New Year’s Six bowls. He was part of a senior class that won 44 games, tied for most in school history. The Bulldogs finished with the nation’s top-ranked scoring defense and were ranked No. 1 in rushing defense. Crowder had 122 career tackles and two interceptions.

The Giants had two other ‘Mr. Irrelevants’: running back John Tuggle in 1983 and quarterback Larry Wanke in 1991. Tuggle played for the Giants for a season. He died of cancer in 1986 at the age of 25.

Running back Jim Finn was drafted by the Chicago Bears with the last pick in 1999. He was on injured reserve when the Giants won the Super Bowl in the 2007 season.

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