Giants’ NFL Draft priority has created weakness free agency can’t fix

Giants’ NFL Draft priority has created weakness free agency can’t fix

A lack of homegrown talent is one of the first problems general manager Dave Gettleman identifies when he looks at how far the Giants defense has fallen since the last Super Bowl win.

Spending $80 million in free agency over the life of four contracts, as the Giants did last month, will plug some holes, but it won’t reach the root. Only spending premium NFL Draft picks will get the next wave of Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul and Corey Webster for development.

“It’s really important to have homegrown,” Gettleman said at the NFL Combine. “We had done a lot of work on those guys. All the film that I’ve watched … it gives you an indicator of who he is: How is he competing when the team is losing?”

Keep those words in mind when picks No. 4 and No. 36 are on the clock, beginning with Thursday’s first round.

Since winning Super Bowl 46 in February 2012, the Giants have used seven of their 10 first-rounders and four of their seven second-rounders on offense. Of the six defensive players selected, only Dalvin Tomlinson and two of last year’s three first-rounders, Dexter Lawrence and DeAndre Baker, remain. None of the other three re-signed.

No wonder the Giants ranked No. 24 or worse in total defense in six of the last eight seasons.

It’s as good of a reason as any to reverse the trend of prioritizing offense and take do-it-all defender Isaiah Simmons at No. 4, despite the consensus the Giants will use their first selection on an offensive tackle.

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“I absolutely think they should go offense there in the first round,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said.

“They’ve got to get better up front. I know all the holes on the defense. I can spout out all the numbers about where they rank – and it’s not good. But they need to protect Daniel Jones, and they can get a two-fer … it’s also going to be a big benefit to the best player on your team in Saquon Barkley.”

The Giants’ projected starting defense includes six former first- or second-round picks and six homegrown draft picks, but only one career Pro Bowl selection (Leonard Williams). A difference-maker opponents game-plan around is missing.

NFL scouts say Williams was the Giants’ best defensive player last season (over unsigned free agent Markus Golden), after he was acquired in a midseason trade.

Isaiah Simmons
Isaiah SimmonsIcon Sportswire via Getty Images

Maybe one of the marquee free-agent signings, James Bradberry or Blake Martinez, surpasses Williams, but all three were deemed expendable in their prime years over the last seven months by their original teams.

“There is still more work to be done,” Gettleman said last week on the state of the defense. “We are excited about the draft. There are some good players there. We are just going to continue to get better.”

The risk with Simmons is flexible coaching is required to capitalize on a hybrid linebacker/safety skill set. Penciling him into one position is wasting his uniqueness.

The Giants were not happy with the degree of difficulty for youngsters in learning former coordinator James Bettcher’s scheme. Enter replacement Patrick Graham and head coach Joe Judge promising to adapt the scheme to personnel.

“Everybody is wowed by Simmons’ athleticism,” SiriusXM NFL analyst Brady Quinn told The Post. “I worry people are going to have a hard time figuring out how to use him. That’s my only concern.

“You want him to be a little bit like Troy Polamalu, but that [Steelers] defense was really experienced playing together. They had to be. Same thing with Isaiah Simmons. If he is freelancing, they have to have a good understanding of what the system is requiring.”

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