Jerry Reese and John Mara will need to collaborate to address many needs in May's NFL draft.
The New York Giants must address a variety of areas in May’s draft, and all of them do not reside on an offense that ranked 28th in the NFL in 2013. The defense has its share of holes as well, particularly at linebacker and in the secondary.
The Giants must use their six selections to solve the issues at some, if not most, of these areas. The following slides will detail the five most critical units that need to be addressed, in order of importance.
One note before we get started. Where the Giants should, or will end up, drafting a player doesn’t dictate where they fall on this list. For instance, if linebacker ranks third and a position in the secondary is fourth, that doesn’t mean the Giants must address linebacker with a higher pick. Many factors decide when a position is addressed, including who is on the board and the depth of players available. Need is an important part of this equation, but it is definitely not always the deciding factor.
Prince Amukamara is the Giants' only starting-caliber cornerback.
Here’s a spoiler—defensive end is not one of the positions in this slideshow. Cornerback narrowly beat it out for a few reasons.
First, the Giants are actually in very good shape at defensive end if three things happen this offseason. Most importantly, Jason Pierre-Paul needs to enter the 2014 season healthy and ready to return to the form he displayed in the 2011 season. If he even provides 90 percent of what he brought that year, the Giants will suddenly gain a premier pass-rusher who’s been missing for two seasons.
Close behind is inking unrestricted free agent Justin Tuck to a new deal. Dan Graziano of ESPN.com believes Big Blue can retain him with a three-year deal around $5.5 million per year. That is a contract New York should feel comfortable offering, considering Tuck had 11 sacks in 2013 and will turn 31 in March, which is relatively young for a defensive end.
Finally, Damontre Moore must emerge as player who can be counted on for 500 defensive snaps in 2013, especially as a sack specialist in obvious passing situations. He showed flashes during his rookie season, mainly on special teams, so it may just be a situation where the 21-year-old simply needs more of an opportunity.
Cornerback, however, has a glaring need for a starting-caliber player opposite Prince Amukamara, and it doesn’t appear that it can be fixed with anyone on the roster. Trumaine McBride played like a starter in 2013, with a 6.6 Pro Football Focus rating (subscription required), but the 28-year-old was merely a journeyman during his first six NFL seasons. Believing that last season was a career year for McBride is more logical than thinking the former 2007 seventh-round pick suddenly came into his own. Besides, he, like Tuck, is an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Luckily for the Giants, the depth at cornerback in this year’s draft suggests that a quality starter can be had as late as the third round. Particularly intriguing is Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller. His senior season was marred by a sports hernia that will keep him out of the Senior Bowl on Jan. 25. When healthy, though, he is a first-round talent who possesses excellent quickness and superior tackling skills. He would form a solid starting duo with Amukamara.
The Giants linebacking corps was a big question mark entering 2013, but they actually ended up being a competent group. A big reason they didn’t disappoint was the play of Jon Beason, who was second on the team in tackles with 93, despite joining Big Blue in early October after being traded from the Carolina Panthers.
The play of the outside linebackers was also solid, as Spencer Paysinger, Jacquian Williams and Keith Rivers all had PFF ratings above zero. However, the collective play of this group highlighted one disturbing fact—the Giants lack a true playmaker at linebacker.
The four players mentioned above combined for only two sacks and one interception. In addition, they didn’t force a fumble all season.
New York should let Keith Rivers walk in free agency and attempt to fill his spot with a playmaking outside linebacker in the draft.
The ideal choice would be Khalil Mack, who racked up 23 sacks, 11 forced fumbles and four interceptions in his four seasons at Buffalo. The Giants, though, will likely need to use their first-round pick to get him, which would be better spent addressing the areas of concern coming up in this slideshow.
Therefore, focusing on Florida State’s Telvin Smith or Montana’s Jordan Tripp, who will probably be available somewhere in the second, third or even fourth round, is more likely for a team that rarely drafts a linebacker in the first round anyway.
Wide receiver is suddenly a questionable position for Big Blue after being a major strength during the 2011 Super Bowl run.
Victor Cruz is under contract and coming off a third consecutive strong season, but any confidence in this unit starts and stops with the Salsa King.
Hakeem Nicks, who has been a starter in New York since midway through the 2009 season, appears to be headed elsewhere in free agency come March, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. That leaves Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan, who, combined, only have 92 receptions in their careers, as the only other players on the roster who can be considered legitimate NFL wide receivers.
Jernigan is a better fit as a slot, or Z, receiver, which is redundant to Cruz’s role. Randle has the physical build to be an X receiver, Nicks’ current position, but his lack of experience and propensity to be involved in interceptions thrown by Eli Manning early last season makes him a risky choice as a starter in 2014.
If the Giants prioritize wide receiver as their top need in the draft, Kelvin Benjamin of Florida State should be their choice. He is a physical receiver who possesses great length at 6’5”. He would be an excellent target for a quarterback in Manning who can be inaccurate high. While still a bit raw, his sheer talent would make him a viable option to start opposite Cruz in 2014.
The depth at this position, though, is impressive, so a quality player can be had in the second or third round. Jordan Matthews of Vanderbilt is one such option who has the skill set to adequately replace Nicks, though he doesn’t appear to be a plug-in starter like Benjamin.
Eric Ebron is the prototypical big-play tight end.
Wide receiver looks rock solid compared to the uncertainty surrounding this position.
Last year’s starter, Brandon Myers, is set to be an unrestricted free agent due to a voidable contract and likely won’t be back. He was an underwhelming pass receiver in his one season in New York, and his poor run-blocking made him a liability anytime he was on the field during a rushing attempt. His small stature and lack of physicality fits better in a West Coast offense, which very well may be the predominate system in new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s scheme. However, despite these fortunate circumstances in Myers’ favor, the Giants should still move on.
It’s hard to envision a replacement on the roster. Bear Pascoe is also a free agent but just a mere backup even if he is re-signed. Larry Donnell and Adrien Robinson both have talent but only three career NFL catches between them, all by Donnell.
Therefore, a strong case can be made that the Giants should use the 12th overall pick to draft a tight end. That case is fortified when you consider the breathtaking talent of North Carolina’s Eric Ebron, who currently tops the draft ranks at the position.
The junior underclassman is a tremendous talent, combining excellent speed and agility with a 6’4”, 245-pound frame. His ability is so impressive that he is already getting buzz as the NFL’s next great tight end. Like Benjamin, he would give Manning a big target and someone who will likely be a reliable third-down option.
The ultimate goal of any draft is to land a game-changing player at a need position. This is that player for New York, and he should be snatched up if he is sitting on the board when the Giants are on the clock in the first round.
When a reliable starter is not apparent at three positions on arguably the most critical unit of a team, it easily makes it the biggest draft need.
The interior of the Giants offensive line is in shambles. The guard play was awful in 2013, racking up an unsightly minus-50.5 PFF rating over 2,076 snaps. It is probably good news, then, that both Kevin Boothe and David Diehl are unrestricted free agents this offseason and Chris Snee is a good bet to be cut due to his bloated $11.75 million cap number.
That leaves James Brewer as the only guard with any NFL experience who is under a manageable contract with New York in 2014. He is, at best, a backup when you consider he barely played in his first two seasons with the Giants and garnered a minus-8.3 PFF rating in 406 snaps at guard last season.
The situation isn’t much brighter at center, where David Baas, like Snee, is a potential cap casualty. The other center option, Jim Cordle, only has seven career starts and is coming off a season-ending knee injury.
Even with all these holes to fill, the Giants would be wise to wait until the second round of the draft to start addressing them. The main reason why is that no guard or center is currently projected to go earlier than late in the first round. With that said, New York should use two of its first four picks to solidify these positions.
Some good targets at guard are Xavier Su’a-Filo of UCLA and Mississippi State’s Gabe Jackson. Su’a-Filo projects to be a better pass-blocker, while Jackson could be a true road-grating run blocker if he can find a nasty streak.
As for center, Arkansas’ Travis Swanson tops the pack, but a selection with more value is Bryan Stork from Florida State. Swanson currently projects as a late first-round, early second-round pick, but from what I saw in film, Stork looks to be more physical and a better run blocker.
Stork could last until the fourth round since center is usually an overlooked position, and Colorado State’s Weston Richburg is also a player who will generate interest.
*All stats, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and Pro-Football-Reference.com. Contract information, unless otherwise noted, is courtesy of Spotrac. Draft information, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of CBSSports.com.