Giants, Dave Gettleman crush NFL draft as Joe Judge's influence grows

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- This 2021 NFL draft felt different for the New York Giants. It looked different. It's as if someone flicked the switch at 1925 Giants Drive and all of a sudden there was a light leading the way to the 21st century.

The Giants traded back, not once but twice, uncharacteristic maneuvering for general manager Dave Gettleman.

And by trading down before each of their first two selections, they did something unheard of for this storied franchise, they added future picks -- most notably a first-round selection next year from the Chicago Bears. It is the first time in the common draft era the Giants have made a draft-day trade to acquire a future first-round pick, per ESPN Stats & Information.

This might have been the biggest gain from this year's draft. The Giants began the weekend with six picks and made six selections, two of which were projected first-rounders -- Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney (at No. 20) and edge rusher Azeez Ojulari (at No. 50). In the process, they added first-, third- and fourth-round selections in next year's draft.

No wonder they are receiving rave reviews for their work.

"I'd be lying if I said [acquiring picks for 2022] wasn't a priority," Gettleman said. "It was important to us."

Let's give Gettleman credit for being flexible after his previous rigid ways. He was 0-for-54 in trading back in the NFL draft as a general manager prior to this year. He had never before traded for future picks.

Yet the Giants approached this draft with their future in mind. A future which might not include Gettleman if this season produces another losing record, which would be a fourth straight under his stewardship.

Looking at it from the outside, it has become impossible to ignore the growing influence of coach Joe Judge -- the freshest decision-maker in the draft room. It would be quite the coincidence if the team's philosophical shift wasn't, at least in part, spearheaded by the second-year coach whose voice continues to get louder behind closed doors.

Judge came to the Giants from the New England Patriots, an organization known for trading up, down and all around during the draft under coach Bill Belichick. Judge philosophically believes in trading down to collect more picks.

"There is more involvement [in the draft process] because I wasn't here ... two falls ago," Judge said. "The ability to talk about who is in the draft, who we are targeting, what kind of bodies ... the scheme and further understanding on both sides [of] what we are looking for and how we work together. This time through it was a lot more fluid."

The Giants (from Judge to Gettleman to director of college scouting Chris Pettit) stressed it was a collaborative process. And owners John and Chris Mara, assistant director of player personnel Tim McDonell, assistant general manager Kevin Abrams and director of player personnel Mark Koncz likely provided input on final decisions from the draft room and helped hatch a plan that focused on exploiting what is expected to be a strong 2022 draft class.

"This [2021] draft right now ... you have more unknowns than you can shake a stick at. You have kids that didn't play this year. You have a lot of incomplete medical information. It's really kind of an odd draft class. It's an odd year," Gettleman said. "The NCAA allowed all those players to get another year and a ton of them did. One of the SEC schools, they had 13 kids decide to go back and play next year, 13 kids that could have been in this draft. That was pretty heavy throughout the Power 5 conferences.

"We really have a feeling that next year's draft is going to be really strong, and [adding 2022 draft picks] just gives you options."

The Giants now have tremendous flexibility. Hypothetically, let's say this year is a disaster and quarterback Daniel Jones plays poorly in his third professional season. Well, now the Giants have multiple first-round picks in addition to multiple picks in the third and fourth rounds to make something happen if they need to make a play for a quarterback.

It's likely none of it would have happened if the Philadelphia Eagles didn't jump the Giants for wide receiver DeVonta Smith in the first round on Thursday. The Giants were going to select Smith or fellow Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle if either was available at pick No. 11.

Waddle went No. 6 to the Miami Dolphins and Smith went No. 10 to the Eagles. The Giants' fall back plan, if they had stayed at No. 11, would have been to draft USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, who went to the New York Jets at No. 14.

Instead the Giants, wanting to add another skill player to help Jones, settled on Toney at No. 20 after the trade with Chicago. The move showed tremendous flexibility and netted a player several sources compared to Waddle because of his ability to do damage with the ball in his hands.

So the Giants helped Jones and their future, maximizing the draft process in a way they had never done before.

"To be honest with you, it makes it fun knowing that we have all these [extra] opportunities to take players next year," Pettit said. "With a big class [in 2022], it's going to be a lot of work for us. Our scouts are going to have to be as thorough as ever and really start work earlier.

"We know that, and we are ready to take on the challenge, but now at least we have the picks to hit it out of the park next year again, hopefully."