The unheralded players who should be on Giants’ radar at Senior Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. — As Joe Judge begins the arduous task of finding players to improve a Giants roster lacking in so many areas, he can look back on a young coach who one year ago made the same trip to the Senior Bowl and came out the other side in spectacular fashion.

Judge and the staff he has assembled to date — including all three of his coordinators — will spend the week scouting most of the best college seniors eligible for the 2020 NFL Draft in late April. It was at this event two years ago the Giants fell in love with Will Hernandez, a burly guard from Texas-El Paso, and made him their second-round pick.

Judge inherits a team that went 4-12 this past season. There is plenty of evidence teams in the NFL can turn their fortunes around quickly, but that evidence is not evident with the Giants; they are 3-13, 5-11 and 4-12 the past three years.

A year ago, then-39-year-old Kyle Shanahan was coming off a 4-12 season, his second as the unproven head coach of the 49ers, as he gathered his staff to coach the South team at the Senior Bowl. Lo and behold, Shanahan and his crew found two players during that week – wide receiver Deebo Samuel and linebacker Dre Greenlaw – they turned into draft picks. The 49ers selected Samuel in the second round and Greenlaw in the fifth round. Both made the All-Rookie team and, more importantly, were first-year contributors on a team that pulled a stunning one-year reversal, winning 13 games in the regular season and pummeling the Packers 37-20 in the NFC Championship game to advance to Super Bowl 2020 in Miami against the Chiefs.

The Giants can look at this and, if not outwardly stating “Why not us?” perhaps inwardly draw inspiration from how the 49ers turned themselves around. Judge, 38, and his staff are not coaching one of the teams but they will be on site, trying to validate opinions, uncover hidden gems and kick-start the most vital process in talent procurement.

Underclassmen usually get most of the hype around draft time. Discounting what goes on here this week is unwise, though. Last year, 93 Senior Bowl participants were selected in the 2019 NFL Draft, 40 in the first three rounds and 10 winding up as first-round picks.

For Jason Garrett, the freshly hired offensive coordinator, it is back to beating the bushes, as he no longer is the established Cowboys head coach, having lost that position after a decade. Judge is entrusting Garrett with the keys to the Giants offense and the work begins now to find players to augment the new system. Offensive line is always in demand and the Giants no doubt will be paying close attention to Trey Adams (Washington), Josh Jones (Houston) and 6-foot-7 Prince Tega Wanogho (Auburn).

There are no edge rushers at the Senior Bowl to make anyone forget Ohio State’s Chase Young. The Giants need one and new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham should be on alert this week for Terrell Lewis (Alabama), Zack Baun (Wisconsin) and Josh Uche (Michigan).

Last year, Daniel Jones from Duke capped a big week with a big game and was named the Senior Bowl Most Valuable Player. This more than piqued the interest of the Giants, interest that blossomed into infatuation and made Jones the No. 6 pick in the 2019 draft. There is a solid crop of quarterbacks this year, even with LSU’s Joe Burrow — the presumptive No. 1 pick of the Bengals — declining an invitation to attend. Justin Herbert (Oregon), Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma) and Jordan Love (Utah State) will all attract loads of attention from many teams but not much from the Giants, who have a 23-year old starter and need to surround him with better players.

Judge has been working in the building getting his staff in order. This will be the first time he is out in the field representing the Giants after eight years as a Bill Belichick assistant with the Patriots. It is all new for Judge, and it starts this week in Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

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