Giants’ search for stud pass catcher to elevate offense kicks off in Mobile

MOBILE, Ala. — Princeton wide receiver Andrei Iosivas stood out this week against Power-5 school competition at the Senior Bowl, stopping on dimes, twisting in the air and catching almost everything.

“I think it went well,” the 6-2, 212-pound Iosivas, who doubles as a decathlete and Ivy League track star, said Tuesday. “I was focused, I showed up. I was physical. I was fast. I caught the ball well.”

Giants GM Joe Schoen agreed. He’s actually had Iosivas on his radar since the team’s late-season courtship of Odell Beckham Jr. when OBJ’s agent, Zeke Sandhu, pulled up “a little YouTube clip” as they were “having lunch in the cafeteria.”

“I’ve known about him since early December,” Schoen said Wednesday. “He [Sandhu] brought him up. And I thought he showed really well yesterday. He’s a big, good-looking kid. And he caught the ball well.”

The Giants need a dude, a stud, a No. 1 wide receiver. Especially if they’re going to sign Daniel Jones to a long-term contract extension, this offseason’s top order of business otherwise must be to find Jones a go-to guy in the passing game.

That’s why Schoen walked down behind the end zone of Hancock Whitney Stadium on the University of South Alabama’s campus Tuesday to watch the receivers up close and make notes as Iosivas and the other prospects showed their stuff.

Finding a transcendent talent like Justin Jefferson, Tyreek Hill, or Davante Adams is rare. The Giants’ franchise has been mostly starved for a dominant and elite receiver, outside of Plaxico Burress’ 2005 free agent signing and Beckham’s 2014 draft selection by former GM Jerry Reese.

This year, no one in the NFL seems to be salivating over any pass catchers as clear stars in this year’s draft. The free agent class isn’t sexy, either.

Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins, a terrific player, seemingly is available via trade. But he’s 30 years old, he’s played in only 19 of 34 regular season games the past two years, and the Giants would have to surrender assets to obtain him.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t quality in the draft, though. And multiple scouts said if the Giants need a receiver, they don’t need to take a wide receiver. What about a tight end?

Notre Dame junior tight end Michael Mayer (6-4, 265 pounds) would be a dream pick as a well-rounded target and blocker if he fell to the Giants’ first-round pick at No. 25 overall. It’s hard to imagine he would still be on the board.

Oregon State tight end Luke Musgrave (6-5, 255 pounds) generated a lot of buzz this week in Mobile, Ala., too. Some evaluators considered Musgrave the highest-ceiling receiving prospect on the Senior Bowl field, even though he played in only two games for the Beavers last season due to injury.

Look no further than the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce in this year’s Super Bowl as a reminder of what a star tight end can do to open an offense, give a quarterback easier completions and — if he’s athletic enough — extend plays like a wideout would.

There are some intriguing wideouts to evaluate, as well.

In the late first round, TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnson (6-4, 215 pounds), a Horned Frogs junior, profiles as a potential stud with NFL size and 4.4 speed.

USC’s Jordan Addison (6-foot, 175 pounds) and Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba (6-foot, 198) also could go in that range, though they are smaller targets.

But remember; Schoen comes from the Buffalo Bills, where top receiver Stefon Diggs is a 6-foot, 191-pound former fifth-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings.

Schoen also maneuvered around the draft board in last year’s second round to get Wan’Dale Robinson, a 5-8, 185-pound gadget receiver from Kentucky.

This is the hardest work: digging through a class with no obvious rock stars for that diamond in the rough that Schoen maybe can use a third or fourth-round pick to snag.

There are bigger name, big school prospects like Iowa State’s Xavier Hutchinson (6-1, 207 pounds), a first-team AP All-American, who drew attention at Tuesday’s first practice — including Schoen’s — with consistently solid route-running and strong hands.

Hutchinson, a Jacksonville native, is the first player in Big 12 history to lead the conference in receptions for three straight seasons, capped by a Cyclones record 107 receptions in 2022.

He also came off as humble, respectful and quietly confident, admitting his first practice was “not as clean as I wanted” even though he impressed observers.

“You’re not gonna get many opportunities, so when you get the opportunity to have the ball thrown to you, you have to come up with it,” Hutchinson said when asked how to stand out at a showcase. “Or you have to make a big block to spring something. Just the little things I feel like are what can separate me from a lot of people.”

Then there is Princeton’s Iosivas, an FCS prospect projected as an early day-three selection whose stock could rise after he looked like the total package in Mobile.

Iosivas, a Hawaii native, was first-team All-Ivy and second-team AP All-American in 2022, leading the league with 66 catches, 943 receiving yards and seven TDs. He is sixth all-time at Princeton in receiving yards (1,909) and third in TD catches (16).

He stormed onto the scene Tuesday with a back shoulder catch against long Kansas State corner Julius Brents, a comeback on Oregon State’s Rejzohn Wright and a leaping TD catch over Stevenson with Schoen standing close by taking notes.

Then he made his highlight reel catch on Wednesday: a twisting back-shoulder grab on the left sideline against Miami’s Tyrique Stevenson, one of the top corners at the showcase.

“There’s a lot of pressure,” Iosivas said of the importance of this week. “The bus ride here I was getting a little bit anxious. But once I got on the field and got comfortable I was like it’s just football. The Ivy League, the SEC. It’s still football.”

Schoen said watching Iosivas or any receiver on the field is just one component of projecting his place in the draft, though. A major component is trying to figure out how large of an adjustment the player will be making from his college’s offense to pro.

“To me it’s how far away are they in terms of their football foundation and knowledge,” Schoen said. “Were they signal-based at Princeton or did they actually huddle and have huddle calls? ‘Cause that’s the biggest difference especially at those skill positions when they go college to pro is these play calls are — I mean I can’t remember them — they’re like 10 words long.

“That’s the biggest thing,” Schoen said. “Physically you can get a good feel for that this week, watching them against corners for big schools, how they compete and match up. And then the biggest thing will be how long is it going to take them to learn it and go out and execute it [in the NFL].”

Iosivas, a first-team All-American in the heptathlon as an Ivy League track star, seems to have the work ethic to go along with his physical gifts.

The Tigers captain said “every day after I train, I watch 1-on-1 reps the whole day” of previous year’s Senior Bowls to pick up tips and get mental reps.

“I was watching guys similar to my size, guys like [the Green Bay Packers’] Christian Watson,” he said.

The Giants, obviously, had several underrated receivers step up this season into key roles to help them reach the playoffs, from Darius Slayton to Richie James to Isaiah Hodgins.

At tight end, rookie Daniel Bellinger was opportunistic, and Lawrence Cager came on late as an exciting developmental threat in the pass game.

James could be back at the right price in free agency. Hodgins can be retained as an exclusive rights-free agent. Slayton’s negotiation is more complicated after leading the team in receiving despite being forced to take a pay cut.

The Giants own nine total picks in April’s draft, too, though, including two third-rounders – one of which they acquired in the Kadarius Toney Chiefs trade.

That will help them hit major needs at corner, inside linebacker, offensive line, defensive line and maybe running back, among others.

Paying Jones at quarterback, though, demands a significant investment in his pass-catchings weapons to upgrade Brian Daboll’s offense in 2023.

Maybe it will be Iosivas. Maybe it will be Hutchinson or Musgrave or Johnson. It is on Schoen to find his guy as the players do what they can.

“I just gotta do my thing,” Iosivas said. “I just got to play to my abilities, play the way I know I can, and hopefully it should show for itself.”