The New York Giants will soon be on the clock!
Thanks to their 7-9 record and their strength of schedule, the Giants will have 12th slot in the NFL draft.
You want to talk about pressure?
In their last three drafts, the Giants have gotten three starters—cornerback Prince Amukamara (2011), running back David Wilson (2012) and tackle Justin Pugh (2013).
Further, if you look at the Giants' draft classes dating back to 2009, 43 percent of those picks are out of the league. That simply hasn’t been good enough, which team COO John Mara acknowledged in his season-ending press conference.
If New York's front office believes (as it should) that the draft is the backbone of the team’s future, then it can ill-afford to continue its riverboat gambling on prospects with a questionable injury history or whose skills are not a match for the system.
That's why this year, the pressure is on general manager Jerry Reese and his staff to make sure that they start putting together a draft class whose members can be a part of the team's foundation rather than its history.
They'll get six chances to do that, at least as of this writing. The Giants, remember, traded a seventh-round pick to the Carolina Panthers for linebacker Jon Beason.
In a couple of months, we'll learn if the Giants will be awarded any compensatory picks as a result of their 2012 free agency gains and losses.
What direction might the Giants take in the draft? Certainly what they do in free agency could have an influence on their strategy.
As of right now, there’s probably no debate that the offense needs to be the focus, and that includes addressing virtually every position on that side of the ball to help fix a unit that finished 28th in the league.
Here's my attempt at an early mock draft addressing some of those needs.
If you remember the days of the late, former Giants general manager George Young, you no doubt remember his “planet theory.”
Young believed there were only so many big, athletic men on the planet, and that when you find one in the draft, you grab him.
Antonio "Tiny" Richardson (6’6”, 332 pounds) seems to fit that bill of being a large athletic man, despite his diminutive-sounding moniker.
A college left tackle, Richardson could potentially solve two needs along the Giants' offensive line.
How? If Richardson is open to moving to right tackle, that would allow the Giants to move the very versatile Justin Pugh and his legendary short arms inside to guard, where he might be a better fit.
Might Richardson be there when the Giants pick? There's a good chance if you consider that six of the 11 teams picking ahead of the Giants need quarterbacks.
If there was a lesson to be learned from last year's disappointing season, it's that it's unwise to hang on to aging, banged-up offensive linemen one year too long.
Never mind the multiple surgeries Baas had before last year's training camp, or the knee surgery that ultimately ended his 2013 season.
Of concern is the neck injury that has caused him to appear on the team's injury report in two of his last three seasons, an ailment that caused him to miss four games this year.
If Baas' health is a concern moving forward, and if the Giants can’t land a veteran center such as unrestricted free agent Alex Mack of Cleveland, a young center like Travis Swanson (6’4”, 318 pounds) would be an intriguing option.
Per NFL Draft Scout (via CBSSports.com), Swanson is durable—he started 50 consecutive games—and he is strong in pass protection.
If the Giants wanted to let a young center develop to an NFL-level lineman, they could re-sign veteran Kevin Boothe for two years to bridge the gap.
P.S. The last time the Giants picked offensive linemen back to back in the first two rounds was in 1989. That class, part of the George Young era, saw center Brian S. Williams go in the first round and guard Bob Kratch in the second round.
The old guard is finally moving on, as veterans Corey Webster and Aaron Ross are not expected to return in 2014.
Trumaine McBride and Terrell Thomas each will likely get a short-term, inexpensive deal to return to compete against each other for a starting job.
If Jayron Hosley—and that’s a big “if” given his NFL injury history, per KFFL—can stay out of the training room, he could end up competing with Charles James for the nickel corner.
There are too many questions and not enough answers at this position, which is why it would not be surprising to see the Giants reach into the draft.
Enter Stanley Jean-Baptiste (6’3”, 220 pounds), who comes from the same school that also brought Giants fans Prince Amukamara. A converted wide receiver, Jean-Baptiste not only possesses excellent size and athleticism, he was a productive player at Nebraska.
Per the Nebraska football program’s 2013 stats, he posted four interceptions for 134 yards and led the 'Huskers with 12 passes defensed.
You can never have enough cornerbacks or playmakers on your team. Based on his college production, Jean-Baptiste seems to fit both bills.
Just as you can never have too many corners, you can never have too many pass-rushers.
Justin Tuck will be an unrestricted free agent. While the early odds favor his return the Giants, his next contract probably won’t be a long-term deal, given his age and injury history.
Assuming Tuck does return and Jason Pierre-Paul gets back to his “old, old ways” (per Ralph Vacchiano of the Daily News), the Giants, who also have last year's third-round pick, Damontre Moore, should be set with a three-man rotation at defensive end.
The fourth defensive end could be a mystery. Mathias Kiwanuka, who is under contract through 2015, did not have a very good season.
He finished with a minus-28.1 overall grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the worst mark of among 4-3 defensive ends who took at least 75 percent of the snaps for their teams.
Moreover, he’s due to count for $7.05 million against the team’s 2014 salary cap, a high number considering the drop in his production in which he finished with a negative overall grade from PFF in 12 of the team’s 16 games this season.
If Tuck is retained, Kiwanuka’s contract will almost certainly be purged from the books, thereby creating an opening for a youngster.
An interesting prospect would be Kareem Martin (6’6”, 265 pounds). The college senior finished the 2013 season with 78 tackles, 20.0 tackles for loss, 11.0 sacks, 14 quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries en route to earning All-ACC first team honors.
In four years with the Tar Heels, Martin, whose size is in the same neighborhood as Pierre-Paul's, finished with 19 sacks. If selected, he could give the Giants defense another situational pass-rushing threat for 2014.
Besides the offensive line, the running back unit has a lot of uncertainty.
Let’s start with David Wilson, who spent most of the season on injured reserve with a neck injury. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, doctors told Wilson that he faces and increased risk of neck injury if he plays again.
Then you have general manager Jerry Reese, who in his year-end press conference admitted that if Wilson has surgery to address his condition, he might not be ready to play in 2014.
"I think we'll have to have some contingency plans at the running back position,” Reese said. “I don't think you go into the next season saying David Wilson's going to be our No. 1, starting running back. The guy is coming off of a neck surgery, if he decides to have it."
Moving down the list, Andre Brown is an unrestricted free agent who should be back. However, he too has an injury history that includes two broken legs (same leg, different years), and an Achilles injury.
Brandon Jacobs has, of course, already called it a career.
Peyton Hillis is an unrestricted free agent whose return to the team is not a lock, even though he told me on "Baggy Day" that he does want to come back to the Giants.
Lastly, there’s Michael Cox, a speedy runner who, like Wilson, struggled in his rookie season to grasp the pass-blocking concepts required of a Giants running back.
If the Giants don’t secure a running back in free agency (which is the way I think that they will go), a potential draft prospect is James C. White (5’10", 195 pounds). Although just an inch taller than Wilson—and about 10 pounds lighter—White, if drafted, should theoretically be able to do something as a rookie that Wilson could not: Pass block.
In addition to being a pass-blocker, NFL Draft Scout’s report notes that White has potential as a receiver out of the backfield, something that the Giants have not consistently had in a while.
The Giants chose to address their wide receiver corps last year via free agency, acquiring Louis Murphy to complement a group that would eventually include Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Jerrel Jernigan and Rueben Randle.
Unfortunately, Murphy didn’t really work out as many probably hoped. An unrestricted free agent, Murphy probably won’t be back in 2014.
Another unrestricted agent who might not be back in 2014 is Nicks. Although the 25-year-old wide receiver told reporters the day after the season ended that he was interested in returning, his return is by no means a given.
Nicks has had two poor seasons in a row, albeit 2012 was largely a result of foot and knee injuries.
Still, Nicks was supposedly healthy in 2013, though, as NJ.com’s Jordan Raanan noted, an abdominal injury popped up, causing Nicks to miss practice and eventually be deactivated in Week 12 against the Dallas Cowboys.
Although Nicks is still young, his injury history and his lack of scoring production this year makes it very hard to justify giving him a contract that pays him in the same neighborhood as Cruz, who Over the Cap notes, will count for $7.424 million in 2014.
Another thing Over the Cap points out is that Cruz's deal delivers $15.629 million in guaranteed money. Given Nicks’ history—he’s yet to play a full 16-game slate—is he really worthy of that kind of coin?
The other thing to consider is that the Giants might want to get Randle and Jernigan, both of whom showed promise this year, more snaps in 2014.
If Nicks were to return, it would almost be a given that at least one of these young players would see his opportunities come few and far between.
With that all said, I think the Giants will look to pick up a young receiver in the draft, someone they can spend a couple of years developing.
An interesting prospect is Cody Hoffman. The 6'3", 210-pound Hoffman caught 100 passes as a junior, but saw his production as a senior dip to 57 receptions for 894 yards.
He also dealt with an early-season hamstring injury and was suspended one game for reportedly violating team rules.
Hoffman ended his college career with 3,612 yards on 260 receptions and 33 touchdowns.
As an added bonus, Hoffman has experience as both a kickoff returner and a punt returner, roles that the Giants might want to recast for 2014, if incumbents Michael Cox and Randle respectively are projected for larger roles on offense.