The opening round of this year's NFL Draft couldn't have gone any smoother for New York Giants rookie general manager Joe Schoen. With a pair of picks inside of the top-10, he first drafted Oregon edge-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, at No. 5 overall. And just two selections later, Schoen and New York decided to improve the offensive line, taking Alabama star tackle Evan Neal, at No. 7.
Although time and patience are required for teams to properly evaluate young players at the NFL level, reputable league analysts and scouts recognized the Giants as major first-round winners. At varying points in the pre-draft process, both Thibodeaux and Neal were discussed as potential first-overall selections, and received elite prospect grades by Next Gen Stats. In fact, Schoen wasn't confident about the chances of Thibodeaux falling to them, back in March.
"Going into the NFL Combine, I would've said 'no way.' But as the steam built for a couple of the other players, I was happy. I was real happy he was there," Schoen explained to The Zach Gelb Show on Wednesday. "Because, when I went to the Combine, the two players we took, I thought it was a pipe dream that either of them would be there when we picked... When I went to the NFL Combine, I was trying to find seven players...
"And those were two guys who, I put the clicker down, and I was like, 'Yeah, don't even worry about it -- they're not going to be there,' pre-Combine. But, personally, when we have February meetings, we like to set the board based off football. Their ability to play. It's before pro days, the Combine... That way, whatever changes -- from February to April for some of the players -- doesn't really have to do with what's on the field, and what they produced on film."
Thibodeaux -- listed at 6-foot-4 and 254 pounds -- entered the NFL Draft as the second-best edge-rusher and seventh overall prospect on Pro Football Focus' big board. In 10 games last season, the 21-year-old recorded 49 total tackles (35 solo) with 46 pressures, 7.0 sacks, and a pair of forced fumbles. Across three years at Oregon (30 games), Thibodeaux racked up 19.0 sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss. And in 2021, he was a finalist for the Bednarik and Nagurski awards, which are given to the nation's best defender.
New York, which finished 4-13 for last place in the NFC East last year, should immediately see Thibodeaux disrupt opposing offenses inside the trenches. His presence and athleticism will only improve the Giants' pass rush, as they ranked 22nd in the NFL in sacks (34), 27th in quarterback knockdowns (41), 27th in pressures (134), and 24th in hurries (59). The franchise has finished with double-digit losses in seven of the last eight seasons.
The entire Giants conversation between Schoen and Gelb can be accessed in the audio player above.
You can follow The Zach Gelb Show on Twitter @ZachGelb and Tom Hanslin @TomHanslin.