The New York Giants got out of the gates quickly in 2012, winning six of their first eight games and looking like defending Super Bowl champions early on.
But after a 2-5 stretch late in the year, New York's title defense gave way to an early offseason.
There wasn't any area in particular that sunk the Giants in 2012, but a number of them, including on the defensive side of the ball, where New York ranked 28th and 25th against the pass and run respectively. In the end, the Giants would finish 9-7 and miss the playoffs for the third time in four years.
With the 2013 NFL draft fast approaching, here we'll run down the Giants' biggest strengths and draft needs in order for them to return to the NFL throne this coming season.
*All player contract info according to Spotrac.com.
Eli Manning is locked into his contract for the next three seasons and has already won two Super Bowls. The Giants look to be set for the next few years under center.
If there is a concern in the quarterback department, it's that backup David Carr is set to become a free agent this offseason, meaning New York will need to re-sign him or find another viable backup option through the draft or free agency this spring.
The Ahmad Bradshaw era in the Big Apple is over, as the Giants have parted ways with the physical runner, opening the door for David Wilson and Andre Brown, who combined for 743 rushing yards and 13 total touchdowns (12 rushing) in 2012.
Brown is a restricted free agent and Wilson is on the books through 2015. If the Giants can re-sign Brown (who averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2012 before breaking his leg in November) this offseason then they will be set at running back.
Losing a 1,000-yard rusher in Bradshaw is significant, but his departure will present many more opportunities for New York's other talented backs.
The Giants aren't loaded at wide receiver, but they are certainly fine in that department with the youthful tandem of Victor Cruz, 26, and Hakeem Nicks, 25. The only issue here is that three of New York's five leading receivers in 2012 are set to become free agents this spring, including its leading receiver Cruz.
Tight end Martellus Bennett will become a free agent this offseason as well. The 26-year-old played solid in 2012, catching 55 balls for 626 yards and five touchdowns. New York will want to secure him long-term this spring in order to remain steady at the position. If not, the Giants will need to find a new pass-catching tight end in this year's draft. Stanford's Zach Ertz would be a smart pick at No. 19 overall.
Wideouts Domenik Hixon and Rueben Randle both made an impact last season, but only Hixon is set to become a free agent. At age 28, he's worth keeping around for a few more years. He can help out in special teams as a punt returner still.
But so long as the Giants can lock up Cruz and next season, Eli Manning should have plenty of places to throw the ball in 2013.
If there is a major draft need on the offensive side of the ball for the Giants in 2013, it's on the offensive line, where New York struggled down the stretch this past season.
New York's starting left tackle William Beatty and starting left guard Kevin Boothe are both set to become unrestricted free agents this offseason, meaning that the Giants will likely address the left side of the offensive line in the earlier rounds of this April's draft.
Center David Baas, right guard Chris Snee and right tackle David Diehl are all on the books for 2013, but that shouldn't stop New York's front office from targeting some future replacements in the later rounds of the draft.
New York's biggest strength during its last two Super Bowl runs became one its greatest weaknesses in 2012. The Giants defensive line must be addressed this offseason, ideally through the draft.
There are plenty of talented players available at defensive end and defensive tackle this spring, meaning it's almost a guarantee that New York picks up a few defensive line additions this April. Defensive tackle Rocky Bernard is set to become a free agent. Plus, the Giants have already parted ways with defensive tackle Chris Canty and defensive end Osi Umenyiora, whose contract was voided.
Justin Tuck is set to return in 2013, but he will turn 30 in March. Clearly, the Giants must add to their defensive line through the draft this year. Otherwise they risk losing their pass rush all together, with Jason Pierre-Paul representing their only real threat on the edge.
The Giants will pick 19th in the first round, and don't be surprised if they target a defensive lineman there.
The Giants front office has some decisions to make when it comes to the team's linebacking corps. New York already released Michael Boley this offseason, and Chase Blackburn is set to become a free agent.
Mathias Kiwanuka is locked in through 2015, but he can't do it all on his own. It's likely that New York will address their needs at linebacker through free agency this spring. The Giants can re-sign Blackburn, who led the team with 98 tackles this season, and then find a replacement for Boley on the outside, whether it's a player already on their roster or a veteran free agent.
Although they have some moves to make at linebacker, it's not a huge area of weakness for the Giants at the moment.
It's going to be difficult for the Giants to retool their secondary through the draft this spring, considering the shortage of elite cornerbacks coming out of college this year. But free agency is always a solid option.
New York absolutely must address its secondary this offseason. As stated before, the Giants ranked towards the bottom of the league in pass defense last season and surrendered tons of big plays in the passing game late in the year. Starting corners Corey Webster and Prince Amukamara are both set to return next season, but Webster is owed $7 million in 2013, which is disappointing considering his inconsistent play last year.
Safety Antrel Rolle will be back with the team, and most likely Stevie Brown as well after he finished second in the league with eight interceptions in 2012. Brown is a restricted free agent this offseason.
If the Giants add pieces this spring, look for them to target a few corners, as that's where they are weakest in the secondary.
With Steve Weatherford locked into a long-term contract, the Giants are solid at punter. Weatherford's 47.5-yard average ranked eighth-best among NFL punters last season.
The big decision is whether the team wants to bring place kicker Lawrence Tynes back for another season. He's a free agent this offseason but is still reliable at age 34. Tynes connected on a career-high 33 field goals in 2012, converting at a clip of 84.6 percent.
In the return game, running back David Wilson has proved to be an explosive threat, racking up over 1,500 yards on kickoff return duty as a rookie last season. The Giants can target a more dynamic punt return man in free agency this offseason, but they should be in no hurry to address special teams in this year's draft.
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