When the Giants finally chose Kadarius Toney, a wide receiver from the University of Florida, with the 20th pick in the N.F.L. draft, the team’s fans in Cleveland took a good 10 seconds to start a slow clap, mouthing undecipherable questions beneath their masks.
It was probably the best reaction that Giants General Manager Dave Gettleman could have hoped for after several seasons of fans calling for his resignation at previous drafts.
Gettleman traded down from the 11th pick, in exchange for Chicago’s spot at 20th, a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft and first- and fourth-round selections next year, a haul that should help him add talent for the future.
Gettleman swallowed his words on trading back — a move he has never made in eight prior drafts as a general manager. Just last week he told reporters that he would refuse to do so because of the chance of “getting fleeced.”
“So,” he said with a laugh after Thursday’s first round in a video call with reporters, “we made a trade back. Obviously it was too good an opportunity. It added too much value, and we felt very comfortable with where our board was, and we felt comfortable with who would be there, who would be available in that slot. So we made it.”
Gettleman admitted that he was hoping for more quarterbacks to go early Thursday to open up Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith, wide receivers out of Alabama who were taken by Miami at No. 6 and Philadelphia at No. 10. Once Philadelphia traded up to the 10th pick, Gettleman, who said he was in talks over the past week with Chicago’s general manager Ryan Pace, made the deal for the Bears to move up to land Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields.
Though Toney did not receive the warmest initial welcome from in-person fans, he offers the Giants a versatile weapon on offense, having transitioned from quarterback in high school to a wide receiver by the end of his college career.
“I really feel like it helped me as far as learning plays, learning the offense, seeing things and defenses, and recognizing coverages on the run and on the move,” Toney told reporters after his selection, adding that he also spent time at running back. “I think it helped a lot in my game.”
Toney, who has been touted for his ability to make plays inside and out, had 70 receptions for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2020. In a pandemic-altered selection process, N.F.L. talent evaluators have relied on rewatching tape, videoconference interviews and socially distanced workouts on college campuses. The Giants met Toney in person at the Senior Bowl in January, which aided in their decision, said Chris Pettit, the team’s director of college scouting.
Since Gettleman took over as the Giants’ general manager in December of 2017, the franchise has gone 15-33: three seasons with double-digit losses. In 2020 under rookie head coach Joe Judge, the team finished with a 6-10 record and contended for its first postseason berth since 2016, because of the weakness of the N.F.C. East division.
In 2018, Gettleman selected at No. 2 Saquon Barkley, who was sidelined in Week 2 last season with an anterior cruciate ligament tear. The team announced Wednesday that it had picked up Barkley’s fifth-year option. In 2019, the G.M. took with the sixth overall pick the current starter at quarterback, Daniel Jones, who has slowly improved his accuracy after taking over for the two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning.
That year Gettleman also drafted Dexter Lawrence and Deandre Baker, who was waived in September 2020, in the first round. Last year, the Giants chose offensive tackle Andrew Thomas, who started 15 games this year.
Perhaps under less scrutiny and still feeling the afterglow of its first A.F.C. championship appearance since 1993, Buffalo (13-3 in 2020) added defensive end Gregory Rousseau from the Miami at No. 30. The Bills have incumbent starters at defensive end, Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison, and can take time developing the 21-year-old Rousseau, who was named the A.C.C.’s defensive rookie of the year as a redshirt freshman in 2019. That year, he had 15.5 sacks — second only to Chase Young’s 16.5 — and won all-conference honors. He was one of many players who opted out of the 2020 college football season amid the pandemic.
“I feel like I really rely on my motor a lot but I’m also going to just keep getting my technique better, and I’m going to just be the best player I can be,” Rousseau told reporters after his selection. “I’m ready to earn the respect of my teammates, my peers, my coaches and everybody in Buffalo — even the fans.”
The Jets also traded up for their second pick in the first round after selecting quarterback Zach Wilson second over all. At No. 14, they gathered Alijah Vera-Tucker, an offensive guard from the University of Southern California, as the team hopes to rebrand its line under new head coach Robert Saleh. They had already traded former starting quarterback Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers earlier this month.