The NFL draft has officially moved to the national forefront with the start of the Scouting Combine on Thursday.
While free agency and player cuts have received most of the headlines in recent weeks regarding the Giants, the draft may be the most important aspect of Big Blue's offseason. With 27 free agents and limited cap space, New York will need to use the draft as an inexpensive way to reload after a disappointing 2012 season.
The following slides break down ten players the Giants can realistically select in the first three rounds of the draft. All of the players covered reside on defense or the offensive line since these are the major need areas for the team (despite what Mel Kiper Jr. thinks).
Linebacker is arguably the Giants' biggest need position. With Michael Boley getting cut, the Giants only legitimate player on this unit is Mathias Kiwanuka. And Kiwanuka isn't even a natural linebacker.
Ogletree would be a great first round pick at 19 for a few reasons. First, he has tremendous speed, both in a straight line and sideline to sideline, which is something New York desperately lacks in their linebacking corps. He is also an explosive, violent tackler, which would bring a nasty edge to a defense that played soft for most of 2012.
Another positive factor is his versatility. He played inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense for Georgia so he can certainly play outside linebacker for the Giants. His speed and experience playing inside, however, makes him an obvious choice to start at middle linebacker.
On the downside, Ogletree does have some character issues. He had several off-the-field issues at UGA, including one just last week. His inability to stay out of trouble has to be a concern for Jerry Reese and company, especially considering that he would be the team's top pick.
If the Giants don't select a linebacker with the 19th pick, the popular consensus is that they will look to solidify the back end of their defense. Cornerback was a major issue for the team last year with the sudden despise of longtime mainstay Corey Webster.
With Webster's best days behind him and Prince Amukamara not exactly a shutdown corner, the Giants need an impact player at this position.
Rhodes' talent suggests that he could be that player.
The former FSU standout's size is impressive. At 6'1", 217 pounds, Rhodes is built to handle the large, jump-ball style receivers that are increasingly dominating the league. He also has good speed for his size though he will not be a good matchup for small, quick wideouts such as DeSean Jackson or Percy Harvin.
In addition, Rhodes can be overly physical at times which may get him in trouble in today's NFL, where cornerbacks get called for pass interference when they breathe on a receiver.
Despite some obvious weaknesses, Rhodes is clearly the second-best cornerback in the draft, behind Alabama's Dee Milliner. He would be a great first-round selection for Big Blue.
If the Giants are intent on selecting a linebacker in the first round, and want a safer choice than Ogletree, then Minter makes a lot of sense.
He should make a smooth transition into the middle linebacker spot for New York, since he played that position in a 4-3 scheme at LSU. He also has a lot of experience playing against top competition on the big stage, with the SEC being the toughest, arguably most popular conference in college football.
One big negative with Minter is his athleticism. While Minter is fundamentally sound and has excellent instincts, he does not possess great strength or speed.
The combine will be telling for Minter, as a good showing should quiet some of the poor press surrounding his athleticism.
It also could bump him from his current early second-round projection to mid-to-late first round, which would avoid the Giants having to explain why they "reached" for him at 19.
It would surprising to see the Giants address the offensive line given their woes on defense. If they do decide to go this route selecting a right tackle would make the most sense. With David Diehl having a subpar, injury-plagued 2012 season and Sean Locklear a past his prime free agent, the Giants could use an upgrade at this position.
Fluker projects to be a tremendous run-blocker at the next level, with an imposing 6'5", 355-pound frame. He would be a huge boost, pun intended, to a Giants ground attack that ranked a pedestrian 14th in the NFL in yards per game and struggled to maintain any consistency in this facet of their offense.
On the downside, Fluker is not great in pass protection, specifically against speed edge rushers. He also missed four games this season due to a groin strain and cited this injury, along with calf issues, as reasons why he couldn't participate in the Senior Bowl.
Given his size, injuries could continue to be an issue for him in the NFL.
The Giants' second-round pick, 49th overall, is likely where they will start considering offensive lineman.
Bakhtiari played both tackle positions for Colorado but he is projected as a guard at the next level due to his size (he is only 295 pounds, which is small for the tackle position by NFL standards). He would be a good replacement in waiting for Chris Snee, who admittedly is looking at his future in the league on a year-by-year basis.
Bakhtiari does not have a dominating characteristic but projects to be solid both as a run and pass-blocker. He is also adept at getting to the second level of the defense, which could come in handy with the speedy David Wilson running behind him.
New York looks pretty solid at defensive end with Jason Pierre-Paul being one of the best in the league and Justin Tuck still formidable despite two down seasons in a row. Also, the Giants have the option of moving Kiwanuka back to defensive end if they address their linebacking issues in the draft and through free agency.
Still Big Blue never seems content with their depth at this position and for good reason. A driving force behind both of their recent Super Bowl runs has been the pass rush generated by their edge rushers.
If they want to continue their trend of stockpiling defensive ends then Simon makes a lot of sense as a second-round pick. The former Buckeye has a tremendous motor, excellent energy and an obvious passion for the game. His two-year run as captain in college also shows that he has the leadership qualities that every coach loves to see in an impact position like defensive end.
Right now he is projected to go late in the second round or early in the third. This is ideal for the Giants because a strong combine would likely bump him up to the middle of the second round. On the flip side, a poor combine may move him into the middle of the third round. Since New York picks in the middle of each of these rounds they should have an opportunity to grab him regardless of how his stock changes after the combine.
Warford is another player that the Giants should have the opportunity of grabbing in either the second or third round. He is an alternative option to Bakhtiari as a future replacement for Snee.
Warford should be an elite run-blocker on north-south rushing plays in the NFL but lacks the speed to adequately pull on runs to the outside. As a pass-blocker he is adept at handling the blitz but he struggles against quicker defensive tackles.
If you're looking to predict Warford's potential for success based on how other Kentucky offensive lineman have fared in the NFL you'll have to go back a few years. He will be the first offensive lineman drafted out of Kentucky since 1993.
Alonso is an intriguing player, though one who carries some substantial risk. He played inside linebacker in Oregon's 3-4 scheme so he could play outside or middle linebacker for the Giants.
His talent level is on par with Ogletree and surpasses Minter's, which means New York could get a first-round talent in the third round (Alonso is actually currently projected to go early in the fourth round).
Why isn't he being put in the same class as Ogletree and Minter then?
Injuries and off-the-field issues are the two big reasons. He missed the entire 2010 season due to a torn ACL and skipped the Senior Bowl because of a lingering wrist injury. His reckless style of play suggests that staying healthy could be a problem for him and his new team at the next level.
Alonso has also had numerous run-ins with the law. He was charged with a DUI in 2010 and arrested on numerous charges, including burglary, for a 2011 incident that according to John Taylor of CollegeFootballTalk:
stemmed from a non-sober Alonso pounding on the door at a woman’s residence very early in the morning. After the woman had called 911 and left the residence, Alonso broke down the door. Police, who said their was no relationship between the woman and Alonso, arrived to find the Ducks player inside the residence.
On the bright side, Alonso has played nice since this incident so this may be a case of youth getting in the way of good judgement.
Despite some glaring question marks, Alonso is worth taking a chance on with New York's 89th pick.
Another high-risk, high-reward player that should be on the Giants' radar in the second or third round.
Amerson was projected to go in the first round heading into the 2012 season after a sophomore campaign that saw him intercept a ridiculous 13 passes. However, he inexplicably struggled in his junior year, seeing his interceptions drop down to five and demonstrating a propensity for giving up big plays.
He is now projected to go in the middle of the third round though he has first-round talent. His 6'2", 194-pound frame is perfect for covering the many big receivers in the NFL and he also has good speed for his size.
The combine could significantly swing his draft position since he was so highly touted just six months ago. A good showing might mean he jumps a full round, forcing the Giants to select him with the 49th pick if they are intent on getting him.
The Giants will likely wait until the middle rounds to address the interior of their defensive line. If they want to focus on this area a round or two early though, Williams is an enticing consideration.
He is strong against both the run and pass and figures to still have some upside considering that he has only played organized football for five years. Since the Giants struggled to defend the run last season (25th in yards allowed) and only mustered 33 sacks, Williams can address two problems in one player.
His big downside, and the main reason he is slipping into the third round, is due to a lack of consistency. This weakness has been tied to a poor focus and work ethic.
Both of these areas are fixable, especially in a young player, but all to often these issues have plagued talented players throughout disappointing NFL careers.
Given their needs at other positions New York would be wise to wait on picking a defensive tackle or hope that Williams' reputation pushes him into the fourth round.