Keidel: 10 Best Giants Draft Picks Since AFL-NFL Merger

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The New York Times recently ran a piece with the headline, "Everything Is Closed, Except the NFL.”

Football has been remarkably resistant to this virus, even if the NFL is just lucky that it can do business while keeping 6 feet apart. So while thoughts of the NFL draft fuel the faint pulse of sports, let's look at the top 10 draft picks by the New York Football Giants since the AFL-NFL merger. (With all due respect to Sam Huff and Frank Gifford, it's not likely today's fans were around to debate their athletic splendor.) 

Giants linebacker Brad Van Pelt in 1981Manny Rubio/USA TODAY Images

10. BRAD VAN PELT

A linebacker out of Michigan State, Van Pelt was selected by the Giants in the second round of the 1973 draft. Van Pelt may not have won many (or any) rings, but he was a five-time Pro Bowl selection during his 11 years with the Giants, and was perhaps the team's best player in the 1970s. Since the ’70s are such a black hole for Big Blue, Van Pelt doesn't get the reverence he deserves. But he at least belongs on this list. 

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is sacked by Giants defensive end Justin Tuck in Super Bowl XLVI.Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Images

9. JUSTIN TUCK

Talk about value. The Giants grabbed Tuck in the third round of the 2005 draft. A vital part of the rugged pass rush that vanquished Tom Brady twice when it mattered most, Tuck played nine seasons for Big Blue. He recorded 60½ sacks and 451 total tackles with the Giants and was a two-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champ. Tuck was among the more muted stars on those Giants defenses that also featured Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, letting his combination of size and speed do the chatting for him. Tuck finished his stellar carer in Oakland but will be forever branded in Big Blue. 

Giants tight end Mark Bavaro fights for yardage against the Denver Broncos during Super Bowl XXI.George Rose/Getty Images

8. MARK BAVARO

This, too, is just as much about value as impact. The Giants bagged the muscular tight end out of Notre Dame in the fourth round of the 1985 draft. A local kid with obscenely large arms, a modest mien and a mean streak on Sundays, Bavaro is best known for a particular play in San Francisco. On Dec. 1, 1986, he caught a pass down the middle, and as he rumbled down the field, a gaggle of 49ers defenders jumped on Bavaro like cats on a full-grown elephant. Bavaro carried them for about 10 yards and sparked the Giants overcoming a 17-0 deficit. The play still lives in lore. 

Giants linebacker Carl Banks in 1991RVR Photos/USA TODAY Images

7. CARL BANKS

Selected by the Giants in the first round of the 1984 draft, Banks was a tackling machine and vital cog of the club's first two Super Bowl wins. Banks didn't spend his entire career as a Giant, but his impact and legacy are indisputable. Banks recorded 627 tackles as a Giants linebacker, and the only reason we don't talk about him as the best or second-best linebacker in team history is because he was sandwiched by them, in Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson.

 

Tiki Barber in 2004Andy Lyons/Getty Images

6. TIKI BARBER

Tiki Barber was drafted out of Virginia in the second round in 1997. A three-time Pro Bowl selection, he leads the G-Men all-time in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Former coach Tom Coughlin revived Barber's career by teaching the halfback how to hold the football, which curbed his fumbling issues. Sadly, Barber retired just before the Giants won Super Bowl XLII. He would be higher on the list -- and closer to the Hall of Fame -- had he bagged at least one Lombardi. 

Giants QB Phil Simms looks to pass against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 5, 1993, at Soldier Field. Jonathan Daniel/Allsport

5. PHIL SIMMS

Can you name all the NFL players drafted out of Morehead State over the last quarter century? There aren't any. In fact, there's only one player ever picked in the first seven rounds of the NFL draft from the small Kentucky school. That would be No. 11, who was picked by the New York Giants with the seventh overall pick in 1979. 

Few knew who Phil Simms was, other than a tough kid with blinding blonde hair. After three seasons, Simms' record was 14-20. He missed the truncated 1982 season with a knee injury and sat most of the 1983 season. In 1984, he began to play for second-year coach Bill Parcells. From 1984 to ’86, Simms led the Giants to a 33-15 record, culminating in the Big Blue’s first Super Bowl title in 1986. Simms played perhaps the greatest game for a QB in Super Bowl history, completing 22 of 25 passes for 268 yards with three touchdowns and was named the game's MVP. 

Simms is also the only Giants QB to retire with a career record at least 30 games over .500 (95-64). The primary reason Simms gets no Hall of Fame chatter is he was injured during the club's Super Bowl run in 1990. After leading the G-Men to an 11-3 record and leading the NFC with a 92.7 passer rating, Simms broke his foot in Week 15, leaving Jeff Hostetler to finish the season and get most of the glory. Simms has since become a household name and face of NFL broadcasts with CBS and for his role as the team antagonist on "Inside the NFL."

Michael Strahan celebrates after becoming the Giants’ all-time sack leader against the Philadelphia Eagles at Giants Stadium on Sept. 30, 2007. Nick Laham/Getty Images

4. MICHAEL STRAHAN

 Someone should get a gold star for scouting and drafting a defensive lineman from Texas Southern — hardly a college football factory — with the 40th pick in the 1993 draft. Strahan was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and was named first-team All-Pro four times and AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2001. Known as a vocal leader who was renowned for talking smack and the signature gap between his front teeth, Strahan was a rabid pass rusher who sealed his place in history with 141½  sacks and as the old lion on that fierce defensive front that battered Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLII. 

If you can get past that staged sack handed to him by Brett Favre — which gave Strahan the NFL’s single-season sack record — he earned his place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in 2014. And if you thought his magic trick with Favre was neat, consider that Strahan, who was not always chummy with the press, parlayed his playing career into an astonishingly successful career in — you guessed it — the media. 

Giants quarterback Eli Manning passes the ball against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field Dec 9, 2019; Philadelphia, PABill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

3. ELI MANNING

All the drama in Manning’s career came before he took a single snap for the Giants, when he demanded a trade from the Chargers during the 2004 draft. After then, Eli was all Big Blue, blue-collar business. He neither missed nor tapped out of an NFL game because of injury despite the savage pounding he took over his 16 seasons. He retired in January as the team's all-time leader in passing attempts, completions, yards and touchdown passes.  

If winning Super Bowls is the main metric for an NFL club, then Manning has to be considered one of the all-time great Giants. Folks point to his pedestrian 117-117 regular season record, saying Manning was a two-trick pony who got hot for eight games and bagged two Lombardi Trophies. But it's hard to imagine plowing a more rugged road than the two Super Bowl runs the Giants made in 2007 and 2011, each time winning as a wild-card entrant. And it's not as if Manning was just there to watch — he was named MVP of both games while beating Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. 

It's easy to turn Manning into a caricature. It's also wrong. Jim Plunkett is the only starting QB to win two Super Bowls and not reach the Hall of Fame. Eli will not be the second. Maybe it will take some time, but all fans will someday salute Manning as much more than Peyton's kid brother. 

Harry Carson in 1988Mike Powell/Allsport/Getty Images

2. HARRY CARSON

More value. The Giants plucked Carson in the fourth round of the 1976 draft, back when the team was truly awful. Carson made the All-Rookie Team and then was named to the Pro Bowl nine of the next 10 seasons. For the first half of his career, Carson was the best player on a listless club. Then, after Big Blue added Taylor and Carl Banks, Carson became part of the best linebacking corps in the league. Though he didn't stick around for the team's second Super Bowl, he was on the best team in modern Giants history (1986), leading the defense with 118 tackles. Carson was snubbed so many times by the Hall of Fame that he wanted his name removed from the ballot. Good thing he wasn't obliged, as Carson finally got the call in 2006 from Canton, where he belongs and lives forever. 

Lawrence TaylorUSA TODAY Images

1. LAWRENCE TAYLOR

The greatest defensive player in NFL history, Taylor owned the field the moment he was drafted by the Giants with the second overall pick in 1981 out of North Carolina. In 1981, Taylor was named Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. He was a 10-time Pro Bowler and an eight-time first-team All-Pro selection and is the only defensive player in history to win NFL MVP (1986). He won Super Bowl rings in 1986 and 1990 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999. 

Perhaps LT’s magnum opus came in New Orleans in Week 13 of the 1988 season -- appropriately named "The Pain Game -- when he tore ligaments in his shoulder and had to wear a harness just to keep it in place. Playing in writhing pain, Taylor recorded seven tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles. Even the ornery Bill Parcells took a moment to marvel at his linebacker.  Despite his notoriously late Saturday nights, no defender ever played harder, or better, on Sundays than Lawrence Taylor.

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel.