Giants’ draft class: NFL executive breaks down Kayvon Thibodeaux, Evan Neal, more

We know that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is a fan of the Giants’ first-round picks in this year’s draft. Jones inadvertently revealed the Cowboys’ player rankings on the first night of the draft, which showed outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux and offensive tackle Evan Neal as the top two prospects on Dallas’ board. The Giants landed Thibodeaux with the fifth pick and Neal with the seventh pick.

To get a better understanding of how the Giants’ 11-player draft class is viewed around the league, I solicited an assessment from an executive with another team. Here’s a deeper look at the Giants’ draft haul with Dane Brugler’s scouting reports, the executive’s evaluations and my projections for each rookie’s role this season:

OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux

First round • No. 5 overall
Height: 6-4 • Weight: 254
College: Oregon • Age: 21

Brugler’s scouting report (No. 3 OLB, No. 8 overall): A three-year starter at Oregon, Thibodeaux lined up as a boundary pass-rush linebacker in former defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter’s 3-4 base scheme. The highest-ranked recruit in Oregon history, he helped the Ducks to three consecutive Pac-12 championship games (two wins) and led the team in tackles for loss and sacks all three seasons, becoming the fourth unanimous All-American in school history as a junior. Although he needs to continue filling out his frame, Thibodeaux is physical versus the run and rushes with up-field urgency and cornering skills to skirt blockers. His go-to move is a powerful jab step that helps open up his options, but he is still learning how to efficiently patch together his rush moves. Overall, Thibodeaux isn’t a fluid mover, and his impact runs hot and cold, but he understands how to create leverage as a pass rusher with his length, flexibility and hand strength. He draws comparisons to Jadeveon Clowney with NFL teams and has the talent to develop into a high-end starter if he stays committed.

Executive’s take: Since Thibodeaux has been a top recruit and a top draft prospect, there’s a perception that he has extraordinary athletic gifts. The executive doesn’t believe that’s the case.

“I think it will be a matter of expectation,” the executive said. “He’s not an athletic freak. He’s a good athlete, he’s not a great one. Really more of a technical rusher. So I think he’s going to be productive. I just don’t know if he’s this Von Miller double-digit sacks, Jevon Kearse out of the gates, like, ‘How do we block this guy? He’s taking the world by storm.’ I think he’s just going to be a really steady six-to-eight-sack guy that’ll be a productive pass rusher in this league, primarily because of his hand use. He’s got a long arm and he understands how to work off his long arm. He’s got some polish as a rusher.”

The executive said questions about Thibodeaux’s on-field motor are overblown. And while there is no denying that Thibodeaux has a big personality, the executive doesn’t see that as a concern.

“I think he’s certainly here for the limelight,” the executive said. “He doesn’t shy away from it. But playing for the Giants now, maybe that’s a good thing. It’s not going to be too big for him. I think he’s smart enough to know that as much as he allegedly cares about his brand, he needs to perform on the field for that to come to fruition.

“I think he’s going to immediately have endorsements, so he’s putting pressure on himself just by virtue of if he doesn’t perform, everyone is going to point to, ‘Told you so,’ rather than it just being the standard transition from college to pro. And that goes back to him not being a freak. It’s a matter of expectation.”

Projected 2022 role: Thibodeaux will have a major role immediately. He’ll step in as a starting outside linebacker and will be expected to quickly become the team’s top edge rusher. Thibodeaux may not dominate as a rookie, but he’ll be a major upgrade at a position that was a weakness.

OL Evan Neal

First round • No. 7 overall
Height: 6-7 • Weight: 351
College: Alabama • Age: 21

Brugler’s scouting report (No. 2 OT, No. 3 overall): A three-year starter at Alabama, Neal started at left tackle as a senior in offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien’s offense. After starting every game at left guard as a freshman and at right tackle as a sophomore, he kicked out to left tackle this past season and played his best football as a junior, earning consensus All-American honors. A smooth athlete for a massive blocker, Neal bends well in pass protection and continues to rework his feet into position, using controlled hand exchange to keep rushers contained. In the run game, he has strong hands and does well at initial contact as a drive blocker, but his balance and sustain skills start to fade as the play progresses. Overall, Neal lacks elite lateral agility and needs to clean up his leaning, but he is an effective blocker thanks to his rare mix of size, athleticism and flexibility. He projects as an immediate NFL starter with Pro Bowl potential and multi-position versatility.

Executive’s take: The executive likes that Neal has the proven ability to play tackle and guard.

“Evan Neal is a solid player,” the executive said. “He’s going to be able to fail at four positions, worst-case scenario. Higher floor, lower ceiling than the other tackle prospects because he’s not a premium athlete. But he can (play) and has played three positions. That’s why I like the fit because Andrew Thomas gets to stay at the blind side, and you solidify the right tackle spot with Evan Neal.”

Hearing Neal described as something less than a premium athlete was surprising considering his No. 1 ranking on Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks list” last year.

“He’s not this sudden, quick-footed, ballerina dancing bear type of a left tackle,” the executive said. “He’s more of a controlled athlete rather than a quick-twitch explosive athlete. But ultimately it doesn’t really matter because there’s more than one way to win, and he’s won consistently in the SEC.”

There were whispers of injury concerns surrounding Neal in the pre-draft process. The executive said Neal wasn’t “entirely clean” medically, but the tackle was still on the team’s draft board.

Projected 2022 role: Neal will take over as the starting right tackle from day one. He should be a major upgrade over Nate Solder, although there figure to be some rough patches as a rookie.

WR Wan’Dale Robinson

Second round • No. 43 overall
Height: 5-8 • Weight: 178
College: Kentucky • Age: 21

Brugler’s scouting report (No. 14 WR, No. 105 overall): A one-year starter at Kentucky, Robinson worked primarily out of the slot in offensive coordinator Liam Coen’s scheme (a discipline of Sean McVay). After two mediocre seasons with Nebraska, he transferred back home for the 2021 season and had the most prolific receiving season in Kentucky history, setting school records for catches (104), receiving yards (1,334) and 100-yard receiving games (six). Robinson is hyper-quick and slippery to create pockets of separation out of his breaks and elude pursuit after the catch. He has excellent field awareness with the ball in his hands, but his routes are a little rough, and he has more career drops (11) than receiving touchdowns (10). Overall, Robinson is undersized and more quick than fast, but he is a catch-and-go creator with outstanding vision and athleticism in the open field. He has the potential to be a starting NFL slot receiver and return man.

Executive’s take: Robinson was widely projected to be picked in the third round or later, so it surprised some that he went early in the second round. But the executive was more surprised initially that the Giants targeted a wide receiver with the 43rd pick.

“That one surprised me just because they’re financially tied to (Kenny) Golladay, (Kadarius) Toney, Sterling Shepard is still there, albeit coming off injury,” the executive said. “As soon as you heard of Toney and (Darius) Slayton being available via trade, then you were wondering what they think of those players. I think Wan’Dale ends up being their version of Cole Beasley, maybe a more dynamic version. I think a lot of what the slot does for the quarterback in their offense is a lot of sight adjustments, a lot of locate and settle, pre-snap and post-snap adjustments and reads. So maybe they trust Wan’Dale’s ability to do that more than Kadarius.”

There were other higher-profile receivers on the board, but none of those players fit the Giants offense as well as the shifty Robinson.

“Instant separation,” the executive said. “They’re not going to hesitate to spread you out in empty, they’re not going to hesitate to play with 10 personnel (four wide receivers).”

The obvious concern with Robinson is his 5-foot-8, 178-pound frame.

“I think you know too small when you see it,” the executive said. “He’s pretty well put together. He’s 180 pounds at 5-8. He’s one of those guys that’s short and short-limbed, but he’s not small, if that makes sense.”

Projected 2022 role: The Giants took Robinson early in the second round because they have a clear vision for how he’ll fit in their offense. Expect him to get on the field frequently even with a crowded wide receiver room. Robinson’s versatility will allow the coaches to line him up all over the formation, and it’s easy to scheme touches for a player with Robinson’s skill set. Expect a lot of catches around the line of scrimmage.

OG Joshua Ezeudu

Third round • No. 67 overall
Height: 6-4 • Weight: 308
College: North Carolina • Age: 22

Brugler’s scouting report (No. 8 OG, No. 101 overall): A three-year starter at North Carolina, Ezeudu played primarily at left guard in offensive coordinator Phil Longo’s RPO-based spread scheme. A high school offensive tackle, he had never played guard before college but cross-trained at both left and right guard in Chapel Hill while also filling in at left and right tackle when needed. With his initial quickness, Ezeudu is able to hit his landmarks and pass-set angles to out-leverage defenders. He has eager hands and a clear desire to finish, but he needs to be more disciplined, especially post-contact. Overall, Ezeudu is still developing the tricks of the trade to be a more consistent sustain blocker, but he gives defenders a battle with his athleticism and hand strength to wear down his opponent. He has starting upside as an NFL guard who can also fill in at tackle in emergencies.

Executive’s take: The executive wasn’t impressed by Ezeudu, who spent time at guard and tackle at UNC.

“I think their plan is clearly to play him inside and I think that’s where you’re going to want him,” the executive said. “I just didn’t think he was a no-brainer. I didn’t like his foot discipline. I just didn’t really care for the athlete.”

Projected 2022 role: Ezeudu enters a crowded left guard competition. The Giants have plenty of veteran options, with third-year pro Shane Lemieux the early favorite to start. That should allow Ezeudu time to develop as a backup initially. He could progress toward a starting role based on his development and how Lemieux performs.

CB Cor’Dale Flott

Third round • No. 81 overall
Height: 6-1 • Weight: 175
College: LSU • Age: 20

Brugler’s scouting report (No. 24 CB, No. 169 overall): A two-year starter at LSU, Flott was the starting nickel cornerback in defensive coordinator Daronte Jones’ 4-2-5 base scheme. He played across the secondary in college, including outside corner, in the box and as a split safety, but he spent most of his time in the slot, where he produced several quality tapes as a junior. Flott is a lean-framed corner with the foot speed, movement and mentality of a classic man-to-man corner. Despite limited busted coverage reps on film, he lacks ideal burst and acceleration out of his transitions and he would benefit from more plays on the football (never had more than four pass breakups in a season in college). Overall, Flott has slick hips to turn and run on command with inside-outside versatility, but he trusts his athleticism more than his technique with below-average size and questionable playmaking instincts.

Executive’s take: Like Robinson, Flott was picked earlier than expected. But he may be a prospect with a better reputation among scouts than draft analysts.

“Flott, where they got him, was a good pick,” the executive said. “He’s an instinctive player. I think he does his best work in the slot. I think he can cover, and it fills a need. I think he can play man.”

Also, like Robinson, there are concerns about Flott’s size.

“There’s certainly some durability and functional strength concerns from that lean frame, especially when he’s going to have to come up and tackle people,” the executive said.

Projected 2022 role: Flott will compete with Darnay Holmes for the starting slot corner job. It will be tough for Flott to win the job out of camp, especially with concerns about his size. But coaches can find ways to get defensive backs on the field, so Flott’s playing time could grow if he performs well in a limited role early.

TE Daniel Bellinger

Fourth round • No. 112 overall
Height: 6-5 • Weight: 253
College: San Diego State • Age: 21

Brugler’s scouting report (No. 7 TE, No. 136 overall): A three-year starter at San Diego State, Bellinger was the Y tight end in offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski’s run-heavy scheme, lining up primarily inline. Although his targets steadily increased each season, his lackluster receiving production stands out, never reaching 360 receiving yards in a season and surpassing 65 yards receiving in a game only once (out of 43 career games). Even though he lacks instincts as a route runner to easily uncover, Bellinger is an above-average athlete for his size with natural body control and hands to cleanly catch the football. As a blocker, he is balanced and strong-minded to execute his assignments, but he lacks people-moving power in the run game. Overall, Bellinger has unimpressive receiving production and doesn’t always play up to his timed speed, but he has natural ball skills and a detailed approach as a blocker. With his toughness and versatility, he projects as a backup Y tight end with upside.

Executive’s take: The Giants needed a traditional tight end to round out their depth chart after signing veteran receiving tight ends Ricky Seals-Jones and Jordan Akins as they rebuilt the position from scratch. Bellinger will fill that role.

“He’s a legitimate inline tight end,” the executive said. “He’s just kind of a spot route runner. You’re going to have to scheme him open. He’s a No. 3 in this league, but he’s a legitimate inline player. He’s a good blocker.”

Bellinger’s athletic profile in pre-draft testing suggests upside as a receiver, but his lack of production in college and tape that doesn’t match his testing numbers leave the executive skeptical that there’s untapped potential there.

“He’s not going to produce in the passing game in the NFL, either,” the executive said. “He’s not a very good athlete. He’s kind of a lumberer.”

Projected 2022 role: Bellinger has a clear path to a role as the traditional inline blocking tight end. The Giants don’t figure to spend much time in two-tight end sets and they’ll run plenty of four-receiver formations with no tight ends on the field. That will limit Bellinger’s playing time, and most of the tight end receiving share will go to Seals-Jones and Akins. Bellinger can be a reliable receiver with more of an impact as a blocker.

S Dane Belton

Fourth round • No. 114 overall
Height: 6-1 • Weight: 205
College: Iowa • Age: 21

Brugler’s scouting report (No. 15 safety, No. 190 overall): A three-year starter at Iowa, Belton played the “cash” position in defensive coordinator Phil Parker’s scheme, lining up as a hybrid strong safety and outside linebacker. He was a first-team All-Big Ten performer in 2021 and was one of only seven Power 5 defenders with at least five interceptions last season. Belton plays with heady reaction skills, and his eyes lead him to the catch point where he can make plays on the ball naturally. However, he lacks sudden twitch in his movements and lacks consistency down the field. Overall, Belton doesn’t play as explosively as his testing numbers might suggest, but he floats naturally with the instincts and ball skills for underneath zones. He projects best as a down nickel safety in the NFL, although he needs to develop his strength and be more consistent versus the run to see steady playing time.

Executive’s take: The executive didn’t study Belton extensively, but he viewed the selection of a safety as the Giants addressing an obvious roster need.

“He probably adds some competition where they might feel like they have two starters,” the executive said. “Solid depth player with special teams value.”

Projected 2022 role: There’s a major opportunity for Belton, with only Xavier McKinney and Julian Love ahead of him on the depth chart. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Giants add a veteran safety before the start of the season, so that could limit Belton’s role. But he could fill a specific role as a third safety in big nickel packages, with an ability to blitz that fits coordinator Wink Martindale’s defense. He should also be a core special teamer.

LB Micah McFadden

Fifth round • No. 146 overall
Height: 6-1 • Weight: 240
College: Indiana • Age: 22

Brugler’s scouting report (No. 15 LB, No. 185 overall): A three-year starter at Indiana, McFadden played the middle linebacker position in former defensive coordinator Charlton Warren’s 4-2-5 base scheme. The lowest-ranked non-kicker in the Hoosiers’ 2018 recruiting class, he led the team in tackles for loss three consecutive seasons and was one of the few bright spots on a bad Indiana defense in 2021 (led the team in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles as a senior). McFadden is a physical, tough-minded player with outstanding blitzing skills. However, he struggles to play ahead of blocks, and his lack of range limits his NFL upside. Overall, McFadden is well strapped together and one of the better downhill linebackers in this draft class, but his athletic and coverage limitations hurt his pro evaluation. His ability on special teams can help him lock down a backup job.

Executive’s take: The executive didn’t study McFadden closely enough to offer an evaluation.

Projected 2022 role: Tae Crowder, who has started 23 games over the past two seasons, is ahead of McFadden on the depth chart. If the new regime was sold on Crowder, McFadden likely wouldn’t have been selected, so there’s an opportunity for him to win a starting job next to Blake Martinez. McFadden figures to open the season as a backup and core special teamer, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he takes over for Crowder at some point.

DT D.J. Davidson

Fifth round • No. 147 overall
Height: 6-3 • Weight: 327
College: Arizona State • Age: 24

Brugler’s scouting report (No. 20 DT, No. 278 overall): A three-year starter at Arizona State, Davidson played over both interior gaps in former defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce’s front. Although his first three years after high school didn’t go as planned, he showed steady improvement over the next three seasons, including a standout senior season where he was one of the better run-defending linemen on the West Coast. When he stays low off the ball, Davidson has the base strength and lateral quickness to out-leverage blockers and accurately respond versus the run. Despite his age, he offers upside as he continues to develop his hand use and counters. Overall, Davidson will never be known for his pass-rush prowess, but he has a stout anchor and nose for the ball as a steady-flowing run defender. He will appeal to multiple schemes as a rotational nose.

Executive’s take: As a run-stuffing defensive tackle, Davidson wasn’t a sexy pick. But the executive believes he’ll be a useful addition.

“He’s exactly what you think he is,” the executive said. “He’s a two-down zero-technique nose, A gap to A gap. But he’s a strong body. He’s an early-down run defender. He actually has more range than you would anticipate at 328 pounds. If you needed a big body, it was a good pick.”

Davidson turns 25 in September. His advanced age can be viewed as a negative in the draft process.

“I go back and forth on this,” the executive said. “Unless you’re 29, it doesn’t really matter. If you think about it, if all of your draft picks make it through their rookie contract, then you’re winning. He’s 24, going to be 25 years old. He’ll be 28 at the end of the contract. Then you just let him go, and it’s not that big of a deal.”

Projected 2022 role: To the point about Davidson’s age, the Giants didn’t take a soon-to-be 25-year-old with some long-range development plan. They have to believe Davidson can contribute immediately. He should get playing time as a backup behind veteran nose tackle Justin Ellis.

OG Marcus McKethan

Fifth round • No. 173 overall
Height: 6-6 • Weight: 340
College: North Carolina • Age: 23

Brugler’s scouting report (No. 23 OG, No. 284 overall): Marcus McKethan was a three-sport star at Barnwell High (S.C.), lettering in basketball and winning the discus state title as a junior (151’6″). He was a three-year starter at offensive tackle and didn’t allow a sack as a senior. A three-star recruit, he committed to North Carolina prior to his senior year and started 37 of his last 38 games at right guard for the Tar Heels (he was a right guard only at UNC). McKethan is a wide, burly blocker with bear-claw hands and the strength at contact to be a people-mover in the run game, but he will fall off blocks and lose connection because of below-average contact balance. He jars rushers at contact when he properly times his initial punch, but he is heavy in his shuffle and his recovery quickness will be challenged by NFL athletes. Overall, McKethan looks straight out of central casting with his frame, length and power, but the key to him locking down an NFL roster spot will be developing his reactive athleticism.

Executive’s take: Day 3 of the draft is a time to take a swing on players with NFL-caliber traits. McKethan’s size will translate to the NFL, although there are questions about his athleticism.

“He’s a big body and he shows up well in metrics,” the executive said. “He’s above average in height. He actually had a pretty good broad jump — 9-2 at 340 pounds is impressive. But his short shuttle, his vertical jump, his speed were all below average. But he is a big body. He’s got 35 1/2-inch arms, he’s almost 6-7, 340.”

McKethan’s advanced stats suggest there’s potential as a pass blocker.

“He was a pretty consistent low-pressure player,” the executive said. “He had three seasons below 5 percent. The last two, he’s averaged 2.9 percent pressure in the ACC. That’s a stable metric that projects to the NFL fairly well.”

Projected 2022 role: McKethan is a developmental piece as the Giants rebuild their offensive line. McKethan can serve as a backup at guard and tackle. He doesn’t figure to see action this season unless there is a rash of injuries on the line.

LB Darren Beavers

Sixth round • No. 182 overall
Height: 6-4 • Weight: 237
College: Cincinnati • Age: 22

Brugler’s scouting report (No. 11 LB, No. 115 overall): A three-year starter at Cincinnati, Beavers played weak-side linebacker in defensive coordinator Mike Tressel’s 3-3-5 base scheme. Not many athletes spend time at safety, linebacker and defensive end over their college careers, but that functional experience helped morph him into a do-everything backer who is coming off a career year in 2021. Beavers is a big, physical defender with NFL-ready discipline and diagnose skills that will endear him to coaches. Although he has versatile experience, the term “Jack of all trades, master of none” comes to mind while watching his hybrid skill set. Overall, Beavers doesn’t have elite anticipation to mask his average body twitch and range, but he moves well for his size with the instincts and tackling skills suited for in-the-box work. He projects best as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme with some value outside as an edge rusher as well.

Executive’s take: The executive didn’t study Beavers closely enough to offer an evaluation.

Projected 2022 role: Beavers was another addition to upgrade the depth at inside linebacker. He should have a role on special teams immediately, while he could carve out a role in sub-packages on defense as the season progresses.

The Giants also signed 15 college free agents after the draft. Of that group, four were ranked in Brugler’s top 300: Safety Yusuf Corker (No. 184), tight end Austin Allen (No. 247), defensive tackle Chris Hinton (No. 276) and running back Jashaun Corbin (No. 286).

(Photo: John Jones / USA Today)

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