New York Giants: 7 Positions New York Can Upgrade in the Draft or Free Agency
They may be reigning Super Bowl champions, but they have the toughest schedule in the NFL in 2012, and will have a target on their back.
The New York Giants are a solid team all around, but that's not to say there's no room for improvement.
Here are seven positions the Giants could address, whether it's in next week's draft or in the last wave of free agency.
On the roster: Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips, Tyler Sash, Stevie Brown, Chris Horton, Chad Jones
Rolle (FS) and Phillips (SS) are the obvious starters, but some depth would be nice. And while they currently have six safeties on the roster, only three are locks to make the final 53-man. Sash was mostly confined to special teams in his rookie year, but the Giants are very high on him and he could take over the third safety job if Deon Grant does not return. Brown played in eight games for the Colts last season, and is merely a special teamer. Horton had a nice rookie year in 2008 with the Redskins, but injuries have derailed his career since then, and he spent 2011 out of football. He'll be given a chance to make the roster as a special teamer, but don't hold your breath. Jones is a great comeback story, as he is close to returning to football after breaking his fibula and tibia in a car accident in June 2010 after the Giants selected him in the third round of that year's draft. Still, even if he makes the team, he could be moved to linebacker.
Draft prospect: Blake Gideon, Texas
Gideon is a 6'1 free safety known for his ability to get at the ball. His shining achievement during the 2011 season was playing well against Baylor's Robert Griffin III and Kendall Wright. He is expected to be a late round pick, and if Grant is indeed not re-signed and Sash moves to the third safety role, Gideon could fit in as the fourth safety/special teamer.
Notable free agents: O.J. Atogwe, Yeremiah Bell, Deon Grant, Jim Leonhard, Bob Sanders, Melvin Bullitt, Brian Dawkins
What a great free agent class this would be if it were 2007. The fact is most of these guys' best years are behind them. Grant would certainly be welcomed back, though. His play on the field has steadily declined, but he is viewed as one of the locker room leaders, and was a good enough third safety in 2011, although he was better in-the-box than in coverage. Leonhard could be a nice bounceback candidate. Dawkins has still played at a consistently high level, but a neck injury has him undecided if he'll continue playing in 2012.
On the roster: Chris Snee, David Diehl, Kevin Boothe, Mitch Petrus, Chris White
Guard isn't a huge need, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Giants add someone. Snee remains elite at the RG position. Diehl did not look good playing LG last season, and could be moved back outside. Boothe has been impressive as a role player all over the line, but guard is his most common position. It's not hard to imagine him keeping the LG job he held down for so long in 2011. Petrus flashed a lot of potential as a fill-in last season, and could be in for an expanded role. White is a camp body.
Draft Prospect: Art Forst, Rutgers
Forst is a New Jersey native, having graduated from Manasquan High School. During his time at Rutgers, he was a solid run blocker. The Giants likely won't be targeting a guard in the early rounds of the draft, and Forst projects as a late-round pick with sleeper appeal who could even go undrafted. If he falls to the 7th round, he could be worth a flier.
Notable free agents: Stacy Andrews, Eric Steinbach, Anthony Herrera
A surprisingly deep guard market that once included names like Ben Grubbs, Carl Nicks, Evan Mathis and Steve Hutchinson is now pretty much bone dry. If any of the guys listed above are signed, it would likely be on a non-guaranteed deal.
#5: Inside Linebacker
On the roster: Michael Boley, Chase Blackburn, Greg Jones
Following the Giants' trade for Keith Rivers, Boley is tentatively expected to move inside, with Rivers and Mathias Kiwanuka manning the outside. If Rivers falters or gets injured, however, Blackburn would likely take over middle linebacker duties, keeping Boley and Kiwanuka on the outside. Jones started 11 games at the position last year, but didn't look great, hence the late season addition of Blackburn.
Draft prospect: Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
Countless mock drafters had Burfict going to the Giants with the last pick in the first round after a nice season at ASU, but Burfict has had a miserable offseason. His dreadful 40-time (5.09) and poor interviews with teams have caused rumors to come about that he could fall to the 7th round, or even go undrafted. The Giants have never been a team that brings aboard players with character concerns, but it might be hard to pass up Burfict if he's available with a low-risk 7th round pick, or if he goes undrafted.
Notable free agents: Jonathan Goff, E.J. Henderson, Gary Brackett
With the Giants' severely limited cap space, it's extremely difficult to imagine them signing another free agent inside linebacker, especially after re-upping with Blackburn. Goff will find more playing time elsewhere and Brackett is an injury concern. Henderson is just a couple of seasons removed from a Pro Bowl year, so he could be a nice bargain pickup, but probably not with the Giants.
#4: Wide Receiver
On the roster: Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Jerrel Jernigan, Domenik Hixon, Ramses Barden, Dan DePalma, Isaiah Stanback
Obviously the Giants are not in need of a starting wideout; Nicks and Cruz combined for 2,728 yards last year. Still, Mario Manningham's presence as a dangerous #3 WR will be missed. As it stands right now, Jernigan, Hixon and Barden will all compete for the #3 job. The favorite is probably Hixon, who has shown nice receiving skills when healthy. Jernigan was held without a catch in his rookie season, but after drafting him in last year's third round, the Giants clearly see something in him. The same can be said for Ramses Barden, who despite playing in just 17 games in his first three seasons, seems to have the backing of the coaching staff. DePalma and Stanback spent 2011 on the practice squad, and will likely be there in 2012 too.
Draft prospect: Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers
Another New Jersey native, Sanu emerged in a big way during the 2011 season. His previous single-season receiving record was 639 in his freshman year. In 2011, he caught 115 passes for 1,206 yards. Still, that's only 10.5 YPC, and he seems ticketed for a slot receiver role in the NFL. The Giants had Sanu in for a visit earlier in the offseason, so they could conceivably take him in the late second round if they feel strongly about him.
Notable free agents: Plaxico Burress, Braylon Edwards, Roy Williams
All of these guys could be decent options as a third receiver if the price is right. A Burress reunion would sure be interesting, but as long as Tom Coughlin is in town, unlikely. Expect the Giants to either stick with what they've got, or look in the draft.
#3: Offensive Tackle
On the roster: David Diehl, Will Beatty, Kevin Boothe, James Brewer, Sean Locklear, Selvish Capers, Joel Reinders
Diehl looked lost when playing guard last season, so chances are he'll return to one of the tackle positions. A natural LT, depending on how things go in camp, he could move to RT. Will Beatty seems to have the unwavering confidence of the coaching staff, so he'll get a shot at reacquiring the LT job after ending last season on IR. Boothe could see time at the tackle positions, but guard is where he really belongs. The Giants think highly of Brewer, so he'll have a chance at grabbing the RT job. Locklear is not guaranteed a roster spot, but will likely make the team as insurance. Capers and Reinders will be camp bodies.
Draft prospect: Mike Adams, Ohio State
Adams is expected to be a late-first round pick, which coincides with where the Giants pick. Adams had a nice career at OSU, and could fit in nicely either on the left or right end of the Giants' offensive line. His draft stock took a hit after a weak performance at the bench press at the Combine, so he could fall to #32 overall.
Notable free agents: Kareem McKenzie, Marcus McNeil, Max Starks
McKenzie had started every game he played for the Giants since joining them before the 2005 season, and it seems that he'll be let go, as the Giants have told him to "go shopping." That being said, it's highly unlikely the Giants sign any free agent tackles, especially after signing Locklear.
#2: Tight End
On the roster: Martellus Bennett, Bear Pascoe, Travis Beckum, Jake Ballard, Christian Hopkins, Ryan Purvis, Larry Donnell
All eyes will be on Bennett this year. A former second round pick of the Cowboys, Bennett never received much time to shine with Jason Witten in front of him. The Giants signed him early on in free agency, and will give him the chance to prove himself. He's shown flashes of brilliance in the receiving game, and Eli Manning does like to use his tight ends. The Giants will try hard early to incorporate him into the passing game. Pascoe will also be important in 2012, but more as a blocker than anything else. Still a valuable piece to the puzzle. Beckum is recovering from ACL surgery, but claims that his recovery is going swimmingly, and he may even be ready for Week 1. Ballard is almost a lock to start the season on the PUP list, and can't be expected to be a major contributor until at least 2013. Hopkins, Purvis and Donnell are all camp bodies.
Draft prospect: Dwayne Allen, Clemson
With Bennett only signed for one year and the futures of Ballard and Beckum highly uncertain, tight end is a position the Giants could very well draft in the first round. Coby Fleener of Stanford is the top tight end prospect, but he probably won't make it to 32nd overall. Allen was a terrific red-zone threat for Clemson, catching eight touchdowns in 2011. If the Giants do take a tight end in the first round, it'll probably be him.
#1: Running Back
On the roster: Ahmad Bradshaw, D.J. Ware, Da'rel Scott, Andre Brown
Perhaps I'm the minority on this one, but I think the Giants' first priority should be to get another running back. They already had the 32nd ranked running game in the NFL in 2011, and now Brandon Jacobs is in San Francisco. Behind Bradshaw (who himself is an injury question mark), there is just Ware, Scott, and Brown, the latter of whom is suspended for the first four games of the season. If/when Bradshaw misses time with an injury to his troublesome feet, that would leave Ware, Scott or Brown to start a game. That's a little scary. Bradshaw is a fine NFL running back, but he needs someone behind him. He has very little forward power, and relies on his speed and elusiveness for success. Ware works best as a third-down back, not a back-up. Scott has shown explosive speed, but is young and undersized. Brown will miss the first quarter of the season, and has very little experience at the professional level.
Draft prospect: Doug Martin, Boise State
Martin had a terrific career at Boise State, averaging 5.56 yards per carry in four seasons. He's certainly not Trent Richardson, but he's probably the second or third best back in the draft (he could be flipped with Virginia Tech's David Wilson). His measurables are a little concerning (5'9", 223 lb), but he has still shown considerable burst to go along with his speed, and while he would serve as Bradshaw's back-up initially, he has the makings of a potential starting running back. Plus, he's expected to be a late-first round pick. If he's available at #32 overall, he could very well be taken by the Giants.
Notable free agents: Ryan Grant, Joseph Addai, Tim Hightower, Justin Forsett, Cedric Benson, Ronnie Brown, Thomas Jones, LaDanian Tomlinson
Most of these guys are veterans past their prime, but could be serviceable as potential backups to Bradshaw. Ryan Grant could be an interesting pickup. His career began with the Giants (although he never appeared in a game), but the past couple of seasons in Green Bay haven't been too kind to him. Perhaps that's because they've become a major pass-first team. Hightower, 25, is appealing because of his age and potential, but injuries have made him a huge red flag. Forsett, 26, is also young and could be available on the cheap.