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Palladino: Giants, Jets Gambled First-Round Money On Buckeyes

By Ernie Palladino
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The Giants and Jets must really believe, as everyone else seemed to, that Ohio State was loaded last year with top-quality pros, since they each picked Buckeyes in Thursday's first round of the NFL Draft.

It wasn't just collegiate pedigree that caused the Giants to choose cornerback Eli Apple at No. 10 and the Jets to call out linebacker Darron Lee at No. 20. There were stats and achievements that also figured into the picks, plenty of them.

But it's hard to overlook the fact that five Ohio State products went in the first 20 picks, starting with defensive end Joey Bosa and running back Ezekiel Elliott going No. 3 and 4 to the Chargers and Cowboys, respectively.

Now, all Giants general manager Jerry Reese and Jets GM Mike Maccagnan have to do is be right.

In Reese's case, that may be the biggest question.

In choosing Apple so high, Reese is banking on the theory that Apple is not just a scouting combine wonder. He might have picked a more highly regarded Vernon Hargreaves III at No. 10, but it was Apple who outshined both the Florida cornerback and Jacksonville's pick at No. 5, Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey, at the combine.

Eli Apple
Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Not only did Apple run a faster 40-yard dash -- 4.40 -- than either of the other two, but he wowed scouts with his footwork, sure handedness, and body control, and turned himself into a first-round pick.

But a top-10 pick?

Reese will have to answer for that if Apple doesn't live up to the approximately $15.2 million he'll accumulate over his slotted four-year rookie contract.

In other words, Reese had better be right about a 6-foot-1, 199-pound cornerback he probably could have gotten later in a trade-down, along with one or two extra picks, especially since the supposed sure thing, Hargreaves, went to Tampa Bay on the very next pick.

Remember, too, that UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, considered the best linebacker in the draft despite a troublesome knee, was still on the board. So was Alabama's multi-faceted inside linebacker Reggie Ragland. By passing on both, Reese kept alive the Giants' streak of not taking a first-round linebacker since George Young tabbed Carl Banks in 1984.

Two of their top-rated tackles, Notre Dame's Ronnie Stanley and Michigan State's Jack Conklin, went to Baltimore at No. 6 and Tennessee at No. 8, respectively. And they passed on Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil, considered the draft's top pick if Tennessee hadn't traded down so the Rams could take Cal quarterback Jared Goff.

Then again, that bong and gasmask picture that came out on Twitter 10 minutes before the draft probably didn't help Tunsil's case with the Giants or anyone else in the top 10. He eventually went to Miami at No. 13.

Considering the five-year, $62 million deal that brought them free agent cornerback Janoris Jenkins, the Giants have invested a lot in Apple. With Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie set as the two starters, Apple will see duty as the third cornerback, with the idea that he'll take the injury-prone DRC's spot at some point, probably sooner than later, in the next three years.

Maccagnan doesn't have a true starting quarterback on the roster, but he passed on Memphis dual-threat Paxton Lynch in an effort to bulk up a pass rush that continues to operate under the uncertainty of franchised defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson's status.

Darron Lee
Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee looks to tackle Oregon running back Thomas Tyner during the national championship game, on Jan. 12, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

He could fit in well standing next to down lineman Sheldon Richardson and last year's first-round defensive end, Leonard Williams, in the Jets' 3-4 alignment. But Lee had just 4½ sacks last year, and he's only played two years of college ball.

Hence the gamble.

Of course, taking Lee over Lynch makes the need to re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick all the more pressing, especially if a post-draft market opens for him.

Lee doesn't present the kind of stretch Apple does, but Reese and Maccagnan will be keeping their fingers crossed from now until January just the same.

They each have one thing going for them: At least this year, Ohio State was the place to go for talent.

Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino

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