The Giants were supposed to be a Super Bowl contender. But, this year is almost destined to end in disappointment for the injury-ravaged and 1-6 Giants. No team has ever rallied from 0-5 to make the playoffs, and I’d bet there won’t be this year either. That leaves the Giants with the difficult task of finding a silver lining to this disaster. Maybe Roger Lewis or Orleans Darkwa take steps towards being big contributors in 2018. Maybe Mike Sullivan taking over the play-calling will lead to better flow on offense the rest of this year and next year as well. But most importantly, maybe the Giants will be able to turn this losing season into a game-changer in the draft.
With that in mind, I’ve done a little research and compiled a list of the best first-round picks in Giants history. Some you might remember. Some you might have forgotten. Some have bronze statues of their heads in Canton. Here’s my list of the greatest 1st round draft picks in the history of one of the NFL’s most storied franchises.
Sometimes when you put together a list like this, you pick guys from the present day. When you do, sometimes you are accused of not looking far enough back in history. You know, like how 20 of ESPN’s 25 greatest World Series happened in the last 40 years. In this case, I think it’s fair to put JPP on this list. For one thing, the 15th overall pick in the 2010 draft dominated his end of the defensive line in his second season, helping to lead the Giants to their 4th and most recent Super Bowl title. In fact, it was his block of what would have been a game-winning field goal in the finals seconds of a game in Dallas that helped save that 2011 campaign and give his team a shot at the title. For another thing, his second best season came a year after he nearly blew off his hand in an accident involving firecrackers. Eight and a half fingers and all, JPP dominated anyone who tried to block him in leading New York’s defense to it’s highest overall ranking in a generation. So what if he can’t play the piano. He can play a damn good defensive end.
9. Kyle Rote
When the NFL was just beginning to emerge as a national obsession in the 1950’s, no team seemed to push forward the image of a growing sport than the New York Giants. They seemed to always have competitive teams. Many of their stars were on magazine covers and television commercials. And they always seemed to be a factor in December. One of the reasons for this was halfback-end Kyle Rote. The number one overall pick in the 1951 draft, this SMU speedster was a double threat. We all grew up on two-way backs like Thurman Thomas and LaDainian Tomlinson, but Kyle Rote was the prototype. In his 11 seasons in New York, Rote caught 300 passes for an astounding 4,797 yards. That’s an average of 16 yards per reception. Add to that his 48 touchdowns, and you have a legitimate big-play threat. As if that were not enough, Rote also averaged 4 yards a carry when his team put the ball in his hands.
8. Odell Beckham, Jr.
Five years from now, Beckham might be in the top 2 or 3 of this list. But, because we’ve seen only 3-plus seasons from this immensely talented wideout from LSU, he winds up at number 8. A lot of experts thought the Giants had gotten a steal, snagging him with the 12th pick overall. He missed the first few games with a calf injury, but once he started running he never stopped. In 47 career games, OBJ has amassed 4,424 yards and 38 touchdowns. He can catch the ball with one hand or even three fingers. I personally am waiting for the day he grabs one with his helmet. He won’t play for the rest of 2017, so we’ll be deprived of his occasionally tiresome antics but also his incredible gifts.
The University of Miami rarely produces outwardly humble athletes. Jeremy Shockey was no different. He was brash. He was cocky. And he let it be known on his first day that he would not be treated like some common rookie. But, the 14th overall pick in the 2002 draft also caught 74 passes for nearly 900 yards in his first season. He was big, he was fast, and because of that, he was a matchup nightmare. Your average linebacker could no go step for step with him. And your average defensive back wasn’t big enough or strong enough to stop him once he found space. The Giants may never have had a more gifted tight end. He spent six seasons in New York, earning his first of two Super Bowl rings in 2007 (although he was on injured reserve and did not play in the postseason). If his body could have taken the day-to-day pounding, we might have been seeing his bust in Canton.
6. Phillip Rivers
Okay, I know Rivers never played a snap as a Giant. In fact, he never did more than wear a Giants ballcap at the 2004 draft. But the 4th overall pick in that draft was instrumental in bringing 2 Super Bowl titles to New York. And all he had to do was get traded. As you might recall, Rivers and the rights to Shawne Merriman were dealt to San Diego on draft day in exchange for the rights to Eli Manning. While Rivers has had a fine career on the west coast, I think most Giants fans will take the two Super Bowl wins over any possible regrets over the deal. On some lists, you might get an honorable mention. But on my list, you get an honored spot for that awkward moment on draft day when you put on the cap of a team that had already traded you because … well, you are supposed to.
It is hard to top a freshman NFL season that ends with a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl title. But Rodney Hampton did all he could for the next seven seasons. Although the team never matched the success it had during that 1990 campaign, Rodney Hampton’s career was defined by excellence. He had 5 consecutive seasons of 1,000 yards or more and was selected twice to the Pro Bowl. He retired as the franchises all-time leader in rushing yards, and his name resides in the team’s Ring of Honor. Others have worn his number 27 in the years since his retirement, but no one has worn it with the combination of speed, power, and grace of the 24th first round selection out of Georgia.
4. Carl Banks
The Giants had two first-round selections in 1984. They used the 27th pick on offensive guard William Roberts, who helped anchor their o-line on two Super Bowl winners. That, however, pales in comparison to the career of the man who was selected with the 8th overall pick. Carl Banks, an outside linebacker out of Michigan State, was the perfect addition to a team that already possessed a stellar linebacker corp. His speed, toughness, and intelligence made him a dominant force on New York’s Big Blue Wrecking Crew. He recorded over 600 tackles in his 126 career games in New York. He played with broken ribs, broken fingers, and even a fractured wrist. Although he made stops in Washington and Cleveland at the end of his career, his name and number 58 will always ring out loudest in East Rutherford, NJ.
3. Phil Simms
He is likely the only football player out of Moorehead State University that will ever have his number retired in the NFL. He is a gifted color analyst and the father of two men who have taken snaps in the NFL. But first and foremost, Phil Simms was a New York Giant. The 7th overall pick in the 1979 draft, Simms and the Giants fans always enjoyed a love-hate relationship. He played hard but always seemed to be hurt. Some fans never did take to him. But those who did will tell you that after his performance in the biggest game of his life, they could do nothing but love him.
Simms threw for 268 yards and 3 TDs while completing 22 of 25 passes in Super Bowl XXI. Two of those incompletions were drops, and the slow-footed Simms even set an NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback in the Super Bowl that stood for over a decade. That night in Pasadena is one of the reasons why his number 11 is retired. It also may have something to do with the fact that he held virtually every passing record in New York until a certain someone from Ole Miss came along and broke them. More often than not, the Giants won with him under center. If you had asked any of the Giant fans that booed his selection in the 1979 draft that he would lead the team to its first championship in 3 decades, they might have muffled those boos a bit. But, then again, this is New York we’re talking about. They might have just swore at him a bit less. It’s the thought that counts.
Before he became a household name both as the husband of a talk show icon and as one of the voices of Monday Night Football, Frank Gifford was a hell of a football player. The 11th overall pick out of USC could do it all. In his 12 year career, he caught 367 passes for 5434 yards and 43 touchdowns. He also ran for more than 3,600 yards and 34 touchdowns on the ground. Despite nearly being beheaded by Chuck Bednarik and missing the entire 1961 season, Gifford was in many ways the face of the NFL in the 50’s and early 1960’s No offensive player in team history, no matter how great, can compare to the great halfback/wideout from USC.
Was there any doubt? The New Orleans Saints took running back Mike Rozier with the first pick in the 1981 draft. Giants general manager George Young once said that the Giant offices were like a New Years celebration when they realized that New Orleans had passed on what Young called “a once in a generation talent”. That talent was Lawrence Taylor, the fast and ferocious linebacker out of North Carolina. Opposing quarterbacks were often terrified of him, and few opposing running backs were fast enough to outrun him. His long arms and uncommon speed made him nearly impossible to block. It was said that the first words in any defensive meeting of the era before meeting New York were “how do we stop LT”.
He was a 10-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl winner. He was the NFL’s MVP in 1986 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999. He certainly had his demons and has certainly done a lot to hurt his awesome football legacy. But I think the great John Madden said it best of Taylor after he’d hurdled a defender to run down an unsuspecting quarterback during his final season in 1993. “He may have lost a step, but its’ a step no one else who’s ever played this game has ever had.”
If this is to be the kind of season it looks to be, we can all take solace in the fact that the draft always gives teams an opportunity to find true difference makers. This group did it with Beckham. Nearly 4 years ago, Big Blue did it with LT. Maybe all this suffering in 2017 will lead to something so great that we are even grateful for it in the future.