Dave Gettleman was wrong to draft a running back with the second pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. However, he was right to pass over several highly touted quarterbacks available, even given incumbent quarterback Eli Manning, who is clearly past his prime. Instead, the New York Giants general manager should have selected offensive guard Quenton Nelson, whom the Indianapolis Colts picked at sixth overall.
Though it’s possible that this argument benefits from hindsight, there are two reasons why it was clear at the time that drafting Nelson should have been a higher priority for Gettleman. First, a running attack was already devalued by modern football analytics. This renders the selection of a running back with a high draft pick wasteful, even if it’s the “generation talent” that Gettleman described Saquon Barkley as. Analytics suggest that a passing-oriented offense is the most efficient way to score points and win games. While it may seem that this supports drafting a promising young quarterback, I argue this was more reason for Gettleman to fortify the offensive line.
This also leads to my second point. The team’s offensive line was horrendous on and off the field in 2017. Remember Bobby Hart and Ereck Flowers? Part of the reason Manning struggled at the end of his career was because of a lack of protection. As a quarterback without the ability to scramble out of the pocket to extend plays, Manning became gun-shy whenever he felt pressure, thus forcing him to either throw the ball away or check it to a nearby running back for at best a minimal gain.
A line anchored by Nelson would have given the two-time Super Bowl MVP, under contract for two additional years, more protection to stay in the pocket, allowing top receivers like Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard more time to get open. If this happened, Manning potentially would have looked less old and finished.
Entering the draft with the game plan of drafting Nelson would have allowed the Giants to be better constructed for the future. They still would have been in position to take Daniel Jones, who was projected as a late first rounder at best, in the 2019 draft. Additionally, Jones showed enough with his play that there’s no guarantee he won’t be as good or better than most of the 2018 prospects.
Yes, Josh Allen took the Buffalo Bills to the playoffs in 2019 and Sam Darnold can look dynamic at times for the New York Jets. However, both have been prone to questions regarding health, accuracy and turnover tendencies. Early signs of promise don’t guarantee long-term success. Do I have to remind you of Mark Sanchez, who took the Jets to the AFC Championship game in his first two seasons and then bottomed out? Then there’s Josh Rosen, who couldn’t beat out Ryan Fitzpatrick for the starting job on a bad Miami Dolphins team, his second organization in his two-year career.
Gettleman shouldn’t even feel too much regret for passing on Lamar Jackson. No team, including the Baltimore Ravens, knew he would be as dynamic as he has been. If Baltimore did know, they wouldn’t have waited until their second pick of the first round to draft the future MVP.
Gettleman thought the free agent additions of offensive tackle Nate Solder and offensive guard Patrick Omameh, combined with the selection of guard Will Hernandez with a second-round pick, would have strengthened the line. However, Solder hasn’t lived up to the hype after signing a record-setting contract, and Omameh only lasted half a season of the three-year deal before getting cut. While Hernandez has been solid, he hasn’t been as good as Nelson, who has already turned in two First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl seasons.
The Giants would have been better off drafting Nelson instead of Barkley and running back Nick Chubb instead of Hernandez. (Chubb was selected one pick after Hernandez by the Cleveland Browns.) Plus, planning on taking Nelson would have negated the need to sign Omameh, thus allowing that money to be used on stopgap quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. With his higher potential, Bridgewater would have been a more useful backup option in case Manning proved to be washed up.
The Barkley versus Darnold debate will be discussed in New York sports for years and will likely define Gettleman’s tenure as the Giants’ general manager. However, considering that winning is all that matters in New York, the real debate should be Barkley versus Nelson, especially if Gettleman continues to fail at building an adequate offensive line.