For New York Giants fans, the 2008 season seemed almost too good to be true. Each and every week, the team overcame whatever adversity came their way, suffering only one loss in their first 12 games over the course of the season. Sure the Giants had holes, but nothing could restrain them, as they had an identity. Every opponent knew exactly what the Giants were going to do, they were simply helpless to defend it.
In the early morning of November 30th, The Giants lost that identity when receiver Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg. He was as big a part of Big Blue’s offense as anyone in reference that ever important identity. After he was suspended for the remainder of the 2008 season, it seemed as if the Giants lost that identity.
The team looked defeated, worn out, and at times, lost.
Heading into the 2009 season, one can rest assured that Tom Coughlin has no intention of straying from the very identity which helped The Giants thrive in 2008. He will do whatever it takes, and attain whatever player it takes to establish an unmatched confidence which will catapult The Giants to a championship, and possibly a dynasty.
Whether New York sees a return of Plaxico Burress or not, they will be in the market for a receiver in April’s draft which can contribute on day one of the season. Windows for championship runs are short, and make no mistake about it; The Giants are smack in the middle of one of those windows right now. With few needs, Big Blue must be crafty in their approach to this upcoming draft as they look to build upon their success. One can rest assured though, New York is in great position in this upcoming draft, and with the right moves they can become an even better team than we have seen over the last two years.
While The Giants do have a need at receiver, they are also in a very unique position as a team in regards to their draft approach. Jerry Reese has made it known that he does not feel pressure to draft for “need”. All of this may still lead to the drafting of a wide receiver, as this crop of receivers is the most talented in years, with the likes of Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin, Darius Heyward-Bey, Hakeem Nicks, and Kenny Britt.
The question here is what receiver can help The Giants immediately in this coming draft?
After examining closely each and every receiver prospect there is, one player stands out: Hakeem Nicks.
For Nicks, it isn’t about the measurable qualities though. He stands at six feet, three-quarter inches and ran a 4.5 second 40 yard dash. Neither are overly impressive numbers, but his skill set will make everyone forget about those numbers very soon.
On a consistent basis, Nicks catches the ball with the hands away from his body, using his long arms and strong hands to pluck the ball away from defenders and out of the air. He makes tough catches away from his body, and can also leap for passes in the red-zone. His concentration is unmatched by any receiver in this draft, as he once caught a pass behind his back and attempted to pass it between his legs while on the run with a defender hot on his trail. In that same game, he tipped a pass to himself in double coverage and dragged the defender 15 yards into the end zone with him.
So as one can see, Nicks is adept at making the spectacular play.
Possibly Nicks’ greatest trait though, is going over the middle of the field. Not many receivers even in the NFL can go over the middle and make as many tough grabs as Hakeem Nicks. He also possesses a trait that few on the Giant’s roster currently do, which is the ability to run after the catch. Nicks gets away from defenders at any cost, whether it is spinning, trucking, or jumping, he makes the play.
All of this begs to question; how do any of those said traits make Nicks an immediate contributor? Simply put, they don’t.
Nicks single greatest asset coming into this league is the style of offense that North Carolina played. The Giants themselves run a streak-read offense, meaning that both the receiver and the quarterback both look at the coverage and the openings in the defense as the play develops.
The receiver then essentially selects his route from a grouping of two or three options, and the quarterback is expected to know which route the receiver will run and deliver the ball. If it sounds difficult, that’s because it is. The streak-read is the toughest offense in the league to run successfully and thus it can make life very difficult for receivers coming into the NFL after spending years in a spread or option offense.
Nicks though, spent his college career in an offense where he ran the whole route tree on a consistent basis, as opposes to just bubble screens or fly routes. He is very adept at running the same type of routes that The Giants currently do and his learning cure will be small.
Originally, I questioned the sensibility of drafting a receiver, until I finished my evaluation of all of the players, realizing how talented this class of receivers. Throw that on top of the fact that receiver is in fact a need for the G- Men, and it makes a lot of sense. Make no mistake about it, The Giants are committed to Eli manning and surrounding him with weapons, adding Nicks to the mix of Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon, and Mario Manningham should yield two solid starters with a stud slot receiver. If Plaxico Burress doesn't return, Nicks and Smith would be the perfect playmaker-possession receiver combo, with Manningham a very dangerous slot receiver, as he can not be played physically (pressed) out of the slot. If opponents stack the box with extra defenders, Eli will use that lineup to burn them every time.
In my latest Giant’s mock draft (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/146053-a-stimulus-plan-for-the-2009-new-york-giants) I have the Giants trading up to get Rey Maualuga, and then selecting Kenny Britt with their early second round selection.
I am not getting away from my concept in suggesting that Nicks will be a good pick, it all depends on how Big Blue approaches their second round pick should they select Nicks first. The mix of names here should indicate that while I am very impressed by Nicks and intrigued Maualuga, I am not attached to any one name concerning who the Giants should select, but rather I am attached to the approach.
When a team has dynastic qualities, they are best maintained through building a great defense and running game. So whether they sit at the number 29 slot in round one, or trade up, the second round selection will be the key, whether they choose to sit at that slot or trade up.
There should be some surefire studs that fall out of the first round, as there are every year. With the sudden obsession with drafting offensive tackles, the studs that fall out of the first round this year are sure to be defensive players. Let’s examine who they may be.
James Laurinaitis, MLB, Ohio State- He slid down the board a lot from last season, but he remains very technically sound, good in traffic, and plays with sideline-to-sideline speed (regardless of 40-time). His straight ahead tenacity will be an asset, as will his coverage ability. Brian Westbrook, Jason Witten, and even Chris Cooley at times can give The Giants fits because our linebackers can’t cover well. Laurinaitis can give you that, and he provides the valuable asset that is the ability to play three downs, something that has been questioned among the USC linebackers.
As for his role with the Giants, he can come in and compete for the strong-side job this season, while eventually sliding to the middle with the departure of Antonio Pierce (which I hope is sooner rather than later). He would be asked to do the same thing he did at OSU, which is fight through traffic and make the tackle, as the Giant linemen would eat up majority of the blockers.
Michael Johnson, DE, Georgia Tech- You can never have enough pass rushers. Johnson is 6'7" and ran a 4.49 and Georgia Tech’s Pro Day. Even though The Giants are stacked at defensive end right now, would his presence during passing situations and even on field goal blocks not make Big Blue’s defense the scariest in The NFL?
He could play some strong side linebacker and rotate down into the dirt at times. Johnson has the range and the speed to cover tight ends and receivers and he is a monster pass rusher.
New defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan will certainly have fun coming up with plays for 3rd-and-long situations with the likes of Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Chris Canty, Mathias Kiwanuka, Michael Boley, and Johnson on the field.
Clint Sintim, OLB, Virginia
I really don’t know why, but not too many people have talked about this guy. He may actually be the best fit of any linebacker for the Giants strong side job for years to come.
What Sintim brings is a spectacular set of physical tools to the Giant outside linebacker spot. He can take on blockers, blitz, and drop into coverage. In 2009, even if he doesn’t start at outside linebacker, he is a serious weapon on blitzes and beyond 2009; he has the look of a stud defender in this league. Remember his name on draft day. If New York keeps their eyes on these players, and follows an approach that resembles the aformentioned one, they will be one of the teams to beat in 2009 any for many years to come.