To say that Giants general manager Jerry Reese drafts on the basis of best available player does not give him enough credit.
Reese sees holes in the lineup developing before most others, and he uses a matrix of best available, current need and upcoming need in each draft selection.
To predict exactly who the Giants will draft, though, is nearly impossible. In terms of football being a chess match, Reese is looking at a game that has not yet even started. There could very well be needs in the draft that fans and analysts are unaware of. Zach DeOssie has had some back troubles; does that mean Reese must start planning for a new long-snapper? Only Reese knows which of his free agents he is going to go after.
Perhaps he does not feel LB is a need because of the crop of rookies from last year, along with the return of Jonathan Goff and Terrell Thomas, allow for a run-busting nickel the team didn't have last year. Only Reese knows.
Although, we can use his previous drafts to explore his tendencies and if he does realistically draft best available. Or need. Or a mix.
Prince Amukamara eyes Aaron Rodgers.
Defensive backs have a short shelf life in the NFL. Do not let players like Charles Woodson and Ed Reed fool you, they are truly remarkable players and very unique in their ability to sustain their amazing careers into their 30s.
Look instead towards the Giants' own Deon Grant, who will soon turn 32 years old and may not have a home at the start of the 2012 season.
Grant was an instrumental part of the Super Bowl run in the 2011 season, but he started the year at home, unsigned. The Giants' plan was to use Terrell Thomas in a hybrid safety/corner position to replace Grant, placing Aaron Ross at corner opposite Corey Webster. Of course, when Thomas was injured, they re-signed Grant.
Injuries have been a problem in the Giants secondary, seemingly like 1998, when Jason Sehorn broke his leg.
Defensive backs are always a need for every single team in the NFL.
"You can never have too many pass rushers," has now become a common cliche in the NFL, but just as important is having someone on the back end who can cover the insanely-talented WRs around the league.
This is why four of 10 of Reese's first and second-round picks have been DBs.
Aaron Ross, Kenny Phillips and Prince Amukamara have all been first-rounders, and Terrell Thomas was a second-rounder who started to look like an absolute steal before going on season-ending IR last season.
If there is a player with the perceived talent and skills of anyone aforementioned, it would never look like a reach to add depth to the defensive backfield. If Reese sees a player in the first or second round who could turn into a Darrelle Revis, no fan could fault him for adding him to the Giants.
"Project Pick" Jason Pierre-Paul
The Giants have built their defensive unit around being able to pressure opposing QBs by rushing just four. So it's not surprising that pass-rushers are always a need. This is why three of 10 picks in the first and second rounds have been used to gather more pressure creators.
That said, many people were shocked, some angry, when Jerry Reese "wasted" a first-round selection on Jason Pierre-Paul, especially since the roster already included three tremendous pass rushers in Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka. Couple that with the fact that Mike Iupati (G) and Sean Weatherspoon (LB) were still on the board, both high-quality players of positions that were perceived as more of a need than DE.
Although both Iupati and Weatherspoon have turned out to be good players, neither were the force that JPP was in 2011.
Jerry Reese say something in JPP that was rare and possibly freakish. His athleticism outweighed how raw he was; his strength and explosiveness outweighed his lack of knowledge of the game. Now, looking back, this pick has cemented Reese as a Giant fan favorite. It is also the pick that caused people to say Reese will always select best available over need.
It wasn't only JPP's talents that caught Reese's eye, though. DE was actually a need. And nobody knew that except Jerry Reese.
Umenyiora and Reese have a tumultuous relationship, one where Reese never wants to give him more money. It is because of this Reese knows the Giants are in danger of losing him at any time. Along with the drama that always surrounds Umenyiora, Mathias Kiwanuka suffered a neck injury, and his full-strength return was questionable. Even if he returned, he may be shifted to LB.
There was an outside chance that, had Reese not drafted JPP, the starting DE's in Week 1 could have been Justin Tuck and Dave Tollefson, who is a great backup and rotational player but a huge drop-off from JPP, Osi or Kiwi.
Add to the first two rounds Marvin Austin and Linval Joseph, who were also a mix of best available and need, as the Giants needed to replace a mostly ineffective Jay Alford and an aging Fred Robbins. Again, these selections were disguised as best available talent picks, but in reality, they were also needs.
Joseph had a good season last year; at times, he showed flashes of brilliance. Austin spent the year on IR, but in limited preseason action, looked like an animal who will eventually stand alongside Joseph as the future of the Giants interior defensive line.
Hakeem Nicks: first rounder out of North Carolina.
In the second round of Reese's first draft, he picked up Steve Smith from USC. Known for being sure-handed, a good route runner and with high football intelligence, it was a pick to provide Eli Manning with a stable receiver with which to grow. His role grew the closer the team got to the Super Bowl that year.
The following year, Smith had become Eli's safety net in an offense that is demanding and rewarding to its slot receivers. Amani Toomer and Plaxico Burress were starting, and Mario Manningham had been drafted (third round) to eventually take over for a rapidly-slowing Toomer. Smith looked steady in the slot; he was a need pick. The security a young QB needed.
For a third year in a row, in 2009, Reese again drafted a WR in the first three rounds. This time in the first round, he selected Hakeem Nicks. Again, a need. A very dynamic, talented need pick. Burress was now in jail, Manningham was still slow in learning all of the offense and Toomer was on his way out.
It could be said there were other positions that the Giants needed more than WR at the time. Looking back, though, it's hard to imagine Reese drafting any better than Nicks, and Smith before him.
As far as linebackers, Reese has opted for the middle rounds and free agency. The only first or second-round LB he has drafted was Clint Sintim (second round, 2009, after Nicks in the first round).
Sintim has yet to make his mark on the Giants, and after spending the previous season on IR, he may not return to the team. It is tough to write him off a bust, but if he does not drastically turn things around for himself in the 2012 season, that is exactly what he will be. A bust.
Jonathan Goff: 5th rounder from Vanderbilt.
The case could still be made that Reese is picking talent first. DE wasn't a perceived need by many when he was selected in the first round. Prince Amukamara was selected a year after Cory Webster, and Terrell Thomas put together an outstanding combined season. If you do believe that Reese is all best available, the middle rounds should prove otherwise.
From the third to fifth round, there has only been one DE/DL selected in Jay Alford, who never played up to expectations for the Giants when he was with them. Reese left pass-rushing off his list of middle rounders, choosing to go for glaring needs instead.
Three of the 14 picks were used for WR's. Ramses Barden was a stretch, selected as a low risk because he was taken the same year as Nicks. The upside for him has always been great due to his size and fluidity in and out of breaks. The vote is still out on him; he has a tough time making the game-day roster because he isn't very effective on special teams.
As previously mentioned, Manningham was selected in the third round. Jerrell Jernigan was drafted last year for several reasons: depth, as a kick-return specialist and to compete for the third WR spot behind Manningham and Nicks. Remember, nobody knew that Victor Cruz would emerge the way he did.
In many ways, Jernigan was selected to replace Manningham, which seems even more likely now than it did last season.
Reese has used the middle rounds to take four LBs, which is more than any other position. It has been the position the Giants need the most help in since Reese has taken over at GM. Goff became a starter after Antonio Pierce retired and was stout against the run. Phillip Dillard (fourth, round 2010) was released last year after a crop of even later round draft picks outplayed him in the preseason.
Zach DeOssie was also in that group, although he was drafted primarily as a long snapper.
The next largest group was three offensive linemen, a growing need as the Giants Super Bowl line from 2007 aged and have slowly started falling off into retirement. Mitch Petrus (fifth round, 2010) and James Brewer (fourth round, 2011) will both compete for starting jobs in 2012, while Will Beatty (third round, 2009) began the '11 season as the starting left tackle.
Seven of 14 picks at the perennial need positions of LB and OL. Add two TE's (Kevin Boss and Travis Beckum), and that makes nine picks of direct need over the moniker of "best available."
Ahmad Bradshaw runs away from the Patriots D.
The portion of the draft where Reese is improving most seems to be later in the rounds. He did, however, start off hot in 2007, when he used his last selection to take Marshal RB Ahmad Bradshaw.
2008-2010 did not prove to be very fruitful in the last two rounds of the draft for Reese, but he did take chances, which is exactly what the GM should do. Who knows when the next Tom Brady falls into your lap?
That's exactly what he had hoped when he selected punter Matt Dodge (seventh round, 2010). It is always risky to draft a kicker, and Dodge showed why. He displayed his huge leg, but more often than that, he flashed his inconsistency, which is why he lost his job the following year.
In last year's draft, Reese added Tyler Sash (S), Greg Jones (LB), Jacquain Williams (LB) and Da'Rel Scott (RB). Other than Scott, all of the players were thrust onto the field early and often. The group features at least two future starters. Many feel that Scott could take over at second RB in the upcoming season depending on if the Giants re-sign Brandon Jacobs or not.
While Reese still explores LBs and pass-rushers late, he has taken more DBs than any other single position (four out of 12.) If there are players late with blazing speed or flashes of greatness but problems with consistency in college, this is where they end up, the late rounds.
All GMs take chances late. The players here are immediately in danger of losing their spot anyway.
Staying true to form, Reese will draft with the same need/best available matrix that has brought him success so far. It will shake down like this:
Rounds 1 and 2: It comes down to two positions, LB and OL. The players still on the board will determine the selection. If Reese believes there is a LB on the board who is better than any lineman on the board, he will take a defensive player, and vice-versa.
Comparing LB and OL is like comparing apples and oranges, so Reese will be criticized regardless of his selection.
He wants these rounds two rounds to be players who can start right away, or at least quickly find their way to the field while putting up a preseason fight for a starting job. There is an outside chance the Giants spend their pick on a TE or RB Doug Martin. Although an RB is likely to be selected later rather than sooner, Martin looks like a Reese type of player should he still be available late in the second round.
Rounds 3-5: If Reese has not taken a TE by this point, he will in the third round, especially if James Hanna is still available. Hanna may be the exact reason Reese will not take a TE in the first two rounds. In a weak TE class, Hanna had probably the best combine performance.
WR, DB and OL are all likely in these rounds as well. If there is a future pass-rusher still on the board, they will get attention, but Reese needs to add depth elsewhere this year.
Why DB? Because Reese knows a team can never have too many corners, and they make for very good special teamers as well.
Rounds 6 and 7: Reese will look to add a dynamic return man, as he has tried for years. At best Aaron Ross would have been a Pro-Bowl corner; at worst, Reese felt he could be a very dynamic returner. Neither happened, but each draft, Reese spends one pick on a player he feels could be a Ted Ginn-type returner.
He may also look at a QB. David Carr is a free agent, and Ryan Perrilloux is not a suitable backup to Eli. Reese did take a shot on Rhett Bomar (seventh round, 2010), and he may turn around and do it again if he sees a QB worthy of Eli's clipboard.
Overview: Jerry Reese will fill needs in this draft. They just may not be the needs that everyone from the outside looking in perceives. Although, in time, at least four out of his six picks will make perfect sense.