Corey Webster's ability to bounce back in 2013 is a major question for New York
The New York Giants have several key questions that must be answered leading up to the NFL draft on April 25. While teams put most of their focus on collegiate prospects this time of year, there is an underlying importance to the process of evaluating your own players under contract.
An absence of salary-cap resources handcuffed general manager Jerry Reese from addressing all of New York's needs during free agency.
This year's draft will be an important one for the Giants. Tom Coughlin's team has managed to win 10 games just once in the past four years, despite winning a Super Bowl in that span. With several key veterans on their way out of town, Big Blue will look to transition in a positive direction with some new (and younger) faces.
The NFL draft has always been a hallmark of success for Jerry Reese.
The foundation for winning football teams is often built within the walls of Radio City Music Hall. Before that process can take place, however, teams must evaluate where their weaknesses are, and which players are capable of improving that weakness. Here is a look at the biggest questions facing the New York Giants as we near the start of the 2013 NFL draft.
The Giants need Justin Tuck to be more than a mentor next season
The simple answer to this question is, "You can never have too many pass-rushers." Because of this fact, the Giants are in the market for a young defensive end this spring.
Two important pass-rushers have left New York in recent years. The franchise's fourth all-time sack artist, Osi Umenyiora, and Dave Tollefson were each important cogs to the team's defensive end rotation.
Another factor in discussing New York's once-vaunted defensive line is the future of Justin Tuck.
After recording 11.5 sacks in 2010, Tuck has combined for nine sacks in the past two seasons. With his age now north of 30, the Giants defensive leader must find ways to make a larger impact next season.
Jason Pierre-Paul is the one constant for New York when analyzing the defensive line.
Finding a third defensive end to bookend with Pierre-Paul in the future is a key draft priority, and one the Giants are surely happy to engage in considering their success in the past.
With plenty of quality in this year's defensive end class, the Giants may be lucky to snag a talented player in the second round.
LSU's Sam Montgomery and Florida State's Cornellius "Tank" Carradine are two prospects who could easily be first round selections later this month. If either were to slip, however, the Giants will be well on their way toward restoring their tenacious pass rush.
The man they call "Princey-poo" in some circles, must step up in 2013, oh boy...
The Giants front office has been tasked with improving a pass defense which ranked 28th in the NFL in 2012. A failure to do so could cost the team dearly next season.
There are two unique components to the problems New York faces in its secondary.
In selecting Prince Amukamara and Jayron Hosley, Jerry Reese has spent two early round picks on cornerbacks in recent years. The raised expectations placed on these players could mean the Giants will not address the secondary early in April's draft.
Another lingering issue few thought they'd ever see again is the decision to re-unite Corey Webster and Aaron Ross this offseason.
Webster and Ross have each taken their fair share of licks from fans over the years. Regardless, both of these players have played important roles in the past two championships won by New York.
The combination of youth and experience comprising the secondary presents a riddle, wrapped in a mystery for the Giants.
There are concerns over the turbulent end to Webster's 2012 season. Hosley will need to show more consistency from the slot in nickel coverage. Finally, Amukamara must brace for life as a top cornerback as he faces No. 1 receivers on a weekly basis.
Despite all the questions surrounding New York's cornerbacks, there are plenty of opportunities for success in 2013. Reese has done an admirable job providing depth at the position this spring. Along with Amukamara, Hosley, Webster and Ross, there is the improbable third comeback attempt from Terrell Thomas on the horizon. Thomas' ability to contribute for the Giants could be an X-factor for the club.
Sean Locklear could have the upperhand at right tackle if he recovers in time
The argument made for shuffling New York's offensive line is an untenable one. The Giants allowed the fewest sacks (20) in the NFL last year.
Realistically, Jerry Reese will only need to find a solution to the right tackle position this spring.
With Will Beatty and Kevin Boothe each returning in 2013, the Giants have four of the five offensive line spots secured. If it wasn't for Sean Locklear's gruesome knee injury suffered toward the end of last season, all five spots would be locked up.
The current front-runner to take the job is James Brewer. There is very little evidence to support the formality of Brewer as a starter, however.
James Brewer is penciled in almost by default at this point. The attrition at right tackle is evidenced by David Diehl and Locklear's prospects to start in 2013.
Diehl struggled in protection throughout the second half of last season. Playing a step too slow, the 32-year-old may serve the Giants best as an extra blocker.
The wild card to take over at right tackle is the aforementioned Locklear.
It may be too much to ask for Locklear to recover and prove he is healthy by the time training camp begins. If he can do so, the job could be his for the taking.
Kevin Minter could be New York's first selection on April 25.
Truthfully, the Giants have question marks across the board at the linebacker position. Heading into the draft, however, the question of who will be starting at middle linebacker in 2013 is most prevalent.
Chase Blackburn's team-high 98 tackles in 2012 will be difficult to replace this offseason.
Dan Connor was a solid free-agent signing in terms of adding depth, but New York will experience similar struggles to last year if it does not add youth and athleticism into the fold.
Similar to Blackburn, Dan Connor is best suited in defending the run. If Connor fails to improve against the pass, he will be a major liability for Perry Fewell's defense.
The days of ground-and-pound running are becoming obsolete, increasing the importance for New York to draft linebackers who can make plays all over the field.
In terms of finding a three-down linebacker in April's draft, look no further than Georgia's Alec Ogletree. This prospect possesses all the tools to have a successful career in the NFL. He also can be ushered along as a starting outside linebacker next season in order to develop and hone his skills.
While the Giants would boost their linebacker corps instantly with Ogletree, there are several prospects that can also make a positive impact.
LSU's Kevin Minter is a prospect who is also on the Giants' radar. Minter may not be as polished as Ogletree in man coverage, but he is capable of playing three downs and should develop into a tackles machine.
A late-round pick to keep an eye on is Virginia Tech's Bruce Taylor. If New York fails to select a middle linebacker early, Taylor could be a steal with his all-around ability and work ethic.
Marcus Lattimore will be a fan-favorite in the NFL
The numbers posted by Ahmad Bradshaw over the years have always been solid. The attitude and outright nastiness this player brought to the offense had a far greater impact.
Bradshaw's refusal to accept defeat was an exceptional quality which will be hard to replace.
While Eli Manning rightfully received the credit in 2011 for leading several impressively wild comebacks, Bradshaw has always been a key toward maintaining the spirit and passion of New York's offense.
Andre Brown is the top candidate to restore New York's reputation of having a physically and mentally tough backfield.
Brown rushed for 5.3 YPC last season, gaining 385 yards with eight touchdowns. It isn't a question of "if" Ahmad Bradshaw's production will be matched in 2013, but rather "how" it is matched.
The Giants will rely on Andre Brown to be violently imposing early and often. After suffering a broken leg last season, there should be an effort to add another dimension of nastiness to the backfield.
With apologies to David Wilson, who is a dynamic and explosive back, the Giants will be vulnerable at running back if Brown suffers another injury.
South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore is a running back prospect who embodies a "refuse to lose" spirit. Though he has suffered debilitating injuries to both of his knees, Lattimore is a dedicated football player who possesses the type of attitude GMs crave.
There is a belief that Marcus Lattimore will not suit up for an NFL team until 2014, leading to the notion that selecting him is a gamble. While there are added risks involved with drafting a player with durability issues, Lattimore's heart and dedication are unrivaled, which makes him a risk worth taking.