The 2014 NFL draft isn't for another four months, but it's never too early to start making out a preliminary wish list to address a team's needs.
With the East-West Shrine and Senior Bowl games having been played and the full list of college underclassmen granted eligibility for the draft having been announced, individual player draft stocks will continue to rise and fall as draft hopefuls go through the NFL Combine, which will be next month in Indianapolis, and their respective pro days.
Meanwhile the New York Giants, who are believed to be in the final stages of completing their roster evaluation, have no doubt identified what pressing needs they want to fill this offseason.
Some of those needs will be filled via free agency, while others will be filled via the draft. Some needs could even see a combination of free agents and draft picks as potential solutions to previous deficiencies.
Based on the current information available, here is a look at the Giants' most pressing needs and some college prospects who might be good fits to fill them.
Anyone who sat through the Giants' 2013 season could clearly see that the offensive line was, without question, the weakest unit on a broken offense.
Age and injuries especially caught up with the guards.
Right guard Chris Snee, 32 years old, underwent surgeries on both hips, and is reportedly contemplating whether to try one more season, per ESPN, depending on how he feels as time goes on.
David Diehl, the versatile lineman who gave it his all on every play, has called it a career after 11 seasons.
Age and injury aside, the young depth at that position didn’t exactly inspire confidence moving forward.
James Brewer, the team’s fourth-round pick in 2011 who played seven games at left guard and four at right guard, was inconsistent.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Brewer finished with a negative-8.9 overall grade in this, his third NFL season.
Even more surprisingly was that, despite his ideal size for the position, he was disappointing in run blocking, finishing with a negative-6.3 grade.
Brandon Mosley, showed a little promise toward the end of the season, Stepping in at left guard after Brewer suffered an ankle injury against Seattle, Mosley held up well. However, his season ended against Detroit, when he suffered a broken hand, his second straight season-ending injury.
That brings us to the Giants’ need for depth at the position, which could be filled within the first three rounds of their draft.
Here are a couple of prospects who could fill the Giants’ need:
OL Zach Martin (6’4”, 308 lbs, Notre Dame)
Zach Martin set a school record for career starts with 52, with most of those coming at left tackle. However, he’s listed as having the dreaded “short-arm syndrome” that dogged Giants right tackle Justin Pugh leading up to the 2013 draft.
At the pro level, Martin, whom NFL Draft Scout's Rob Rang described as being “the best player on the field during practices in Mobile” (Senior Bowl week), will likely project to guard.
Best players during Senior Bowl practices were Aaron Donald, Zach Martin and Dee Ford. Same during the game.— Dan Kadar (@MockingTheDraft) January 26, 2014
@Twerley62 Gabe Jackson is good. I still think Cyril Richardson can play (just struggled a little). Zack Martin looked good as advertised.— Larry Dagnon (@Ldagnon11) January 26, 2014
OG Gabe Jackson (6’4”, 339 lbs, Mississippi State)
Gabe Jackson possesses ideal size for the position and, per NFL Draft Scout, has “nimble feet and balance to hold up in pass protection.” The one knock on Jackson, however, is that he doesn’t play with enough explosiveness.
Interestingly, at the Senior Bowl practices, there were numerous reports that Jackson couldn’t handle Pitt’s defensive tackle Aaron Donald, which might have caused Jackson’s stock to drop a bit.
Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald is now feasting on Gabe Jackson in the game after giving Cyril Richardson fits in practice all week. #SeniorBowl— Scott Wright (@DraftCountdown) January 25, 2014
One of the more difficult decisions the Giants are going to have to make this offseason involves starting center David Baas.
Baas, who has two years left on the five-year, $27.5 million contract he signed as an unrestricted free agent in 2011, has had horrible luck staying healthy.
Last year, he had multiple surgeries all over his body, the known surgeries including his hip, elbow and knee, the latter of which ended his season.
He’s also dealt on and off with a neck injury, which, per KFFL, has landed him on the team’s weekly injury report nine times since 2011.
When I last spoke to Baas in November, he said he had planned to continue playing. However, after taking a gamble on aging players coming back from injuries in 2013 that blew up in their face, will the Giants want to gamble on Baas, who will turn 33 in September?
They might have to, at least initially. Per Over the Cap, Baas has a $8.225 million cap figure for 2014, which is currently the fourth-highest total on the Giants’ top 51 contracts. Within that number is a $4.75 million base salary.
It’s unlikely that the Giants will want to plug a rookie into that important spot right off the bat. Free agency is always an option—Cleveland’s Alex Mack and Green Bay’s Evan Dietrich-Smith are two young veterans set to be unrestricted free agents, though per ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, Green Bay could be looking to keep Dietrich-Smith off the market.
If Mack and Dietrich-Smith are too expensive, the Giants might try to squeeze one more year out of Baas, who if he were cut before June 1 would only yield a $1.775 million savings.
If the Giants decide to keep Baas, his base salary would almost have to be reduced given that he’s coming off a season-ending injury.
In the meantime, the team could look to groom a young center to be the anchor of the offensive line for years to come. A couple of intriguing names to look for include:
Travis Swanson (6’5”, 310 lbs, Arkansas)
Widely regarded as the best center in the draft, the durable Travis Swanson, who started 50 games for the Razorbacks, is a two-time team captain who, per NFL Draft Scout, has athleticism to pull in the running game and who has better-than-average balance to hold up in pass protection.
In its scouting report, NJ.com noted that Swanson easily managed to get to the second level; however, he also had his struggles against bigger defensive tackles.
Travis Swanson getting huge push on South DTs during run drill. Tall center @ 6'5". Jordan Matthews showing off release skills on Westbrooks— Chris Trapasso (@ChrisTrapasso) January 22, 2014
Bryan Stork (6’4”, 306 lbs, Florida State)
After starting as a tight end, Bryan Stork has played both guard positions. He also saw some practice snaps at left tackle before finally finding a home at center, where he started 13 games as a junior.
The recipient of the 2013 Rimington Trophy, given to the nation’s top center, Stork has been described as “tenacious and technically-sound” by NFL Draft Scout, who also praised him for his quickness and his ability to maximize leverage.
However, that same scouting report also notes that Stork’s lower body isn’t quite as thick or strong as his top half, the implication being that he would probably need a solid year in an NFL weight room before he could be ready for full-time action.
Bryan Stork very impressive in agility drill. Smooth & balanced— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) January 20, 2014
Wasn't it only a few short months ago when the Giants' wide receiver corps looked like the deepest on the team and the least of their problems?
Indeed it was, but a lot has happened since then.
Hakeem Nicks, who was supposed to have been healthy coming into 2013, apparently wasn’t as healthy as advertised.
Midseason, he revealed to reporters that he was dealing with an abdominal injury “on and off” all year.
Further, antics such as repeatedly being late and missing several treatments didn’t sit well with the coaching staff.
Nor did his production, which once again included not making it through an entire 16-game season and which also saw him fail to record a touchdown reception.
Another receiver who came to the team with a lot of promise was Louis Murphy, whom general manager Jerry Reese, in a team press release announcing Murphy's signing, referred to the receiver as being a “knife” that could “take the top off your defense.”
Despite all the hype, Murphy, who by the third month of the season seemed to be passed on the depth chart by Jerrel Jernigan, rarely saw the field.
He was targeted just 13 times in the passing game, catching six of those balls for 37 yards and one touchdown. His longest reception? A whopping eight yards.
Don’t count on either Nicks or Murphy being re-signed by the Giants. That means that, barring the unexpected, the starters in 2014 will be Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle, and the third wideout should be Jernigan.
That leaves the Giants with an opening for a young receiver prospect chosen from a class that’s said to be very deep in talent. Here are a couple who might be worth a look:
Mike Evans (6’5”, 225 lbs, Texas A&M)
Mike Evans, currently projected as the second-best receiver in the draft per NFL Draft Scout, possesses nice size to go along with a physical style of play that helps him fight through press coverage and to outjump defenders.
He’s also shown himself to have good hands and is not afraid to mix things up as a downfield blocker. He is intriguing as a red-zone target, according to NFL Draft Scout, who also writes of Evans that he “does not possess elite burst but is a smooth accelerator with deceptive straight-line speed, making him a very effective deep threat.”
Sound vaguely familiar? That's very similar to what was said about Nicks when he came out of college.
Got to see #Texas A&M WR Mike Evans train this wk in CA. Knew he was tough & had good hands. Didn't realize he had so much explosiveness.— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) January 18, 2014
Allen Robinson (6’3”, 210 lbs, Penn State)
Allen Robinson, an underclassman, is a former two-sport high school star (football and basketball) who, as a sophomore for the Nittany Lions, finished with a school-record 97 receptions for 1,432 yards in 2013.
Per NFL Draft Scout, Robinson does a good job working his way back to the ball and finding soft spots in zone coverage. He also has the height and the vertical jumping ability to go up for the jump balls and has shown an ability to fight off jams.
He was suspended in the first half of the 2013 season opener for a team rules infraction, which no doubt caused his draft stock to take a hit.
Still, Robinson could be worth a look if he’s there in the later rounds.
I don't love his upside based on limited athleticism but I won't rule out Allen Robinson developing into an Anquan Boldin type possession WR— Ryan McCrystal (@Ryan_McCrystal) January 25, 2014
Allen Robinson's overall catch pct is awful, but take out Hackenberg's wild throws and you see his true potential pic.twitter.com/XWxcchs70I— Ryan McCrystal (@Ryan_McCrystal) January 25, 2014
The Giants have long been of the opinion that you can never have enough of two things: pass-rushers and cornerbacks.
That’s no surprise given that a good pass rush makes life a lot easier for cornerbacks.
The Giants’ cornerback depth needs to be re-stocked.
Longtime veteran Corey Webster is unlikely to return after two disappointing, injury-filled seasons.
Veteran Aaron Ross, who re-signed with the Giants last offseason after spending a year in Jacksonville, is probably not in the team’s plans.
Jayron Hosley, who is entering his third season, has seen his development stunted thanks to a hamstring problem that surfaced in both the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
Trumaine McBride, last year’s starter opposite of Prince Amukamara, was solid, but his 5’9” height will always be a concern, especially when going against taller receivers.
Lastly, Terrell Thomas will be an unrestricted free agent who, if he returns to the Giants, aspires to compete for a starting job.
While he earned another contract after successfully returning from three ACL surgeries, the question remains as to whether he’s lost any speed.
If the Giants are looking for college cornerbacks who have height and playmaking ability, here are a couple who might fit that bill:
Justin Gilbert (6’0”, 200 lbs, Oklahoma State)
If the Giants are looking to kill two birds with one stone, Justin Gilbert, the second-ranked cornerback in the draft per NFL Draft Scout, might just be their man.
In addition to his ball-hawking abilities—he led the Big 12 with six interceptions last season—he’s also a kickoff returner who has six career touchdown returns.
Finalizing game notes on Justin Gilbert (CB-OKState). Would have drafted him over any CB not-named Patrick Peterson in last three classes.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 24, 2014
Stanley Jean-Baptiste (6’3”, 220 lbs, Nebraska)
I’ve been banging the drum for Stanley Jean-Baptiste since I first saw film on him, not only because of his size, but also because he’s a physical corner who seems to thrive in press coverage.
Jean-Baptiste is Optimum Scouting's 13th-best cornerback in the draft. Eric Galko, of Optimum Scouting, who attended the Senior Bowl practices, had some encouraging things to say about Jean-Baptiste:
Stanley Jean-Baptiste drove Josh Huff straight into the ground. Jean-Baptiste sinks, turns well in routes + physical w/ hands. All the tools— Eric Galko (@OptimumScouting) January 22, 2014
While not much is known yet regarding the specifics of new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s offense, the Giants could be looking for a more athletic tight end to replace Brandon Myers, whose contract is expected to void after the Super Bowl.
In all likelihood, the Giants might look to have a veteran, be it Bear Pascoe, who is also an unrestricted free agent, or someone not yet on the roster, to complement Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell.
However, if they want to reinvent that position under McAdoo, it would not be surprising if they re-sign Pascoe for another season given his versatility and look to add another youngster whom they can develop from scratch .
Here are a couple of prospects at that position who might be worth considering.
Arthur Lynch (6’5”, 254 lbs, Georgia)
Arthur Lynch is another player of whom I’ve recently started taking note.
NFL Draft Scout praises Lynch for his in-line blocking ability, noting that he “latches onto defenders quickly,” and that he can get to the second level with little difficulty.
Where Lynch appears to lack is in his speed, which would see to indicate that he probably won’t have a lot of yards after the catch.
However, he provides a nice-sized target for a quarterback who, if he can be hit seven to 10 yards down the field, should be enough to help contribute to moving the chains.
Georgia TE Arthur Lynch had a big day. Several wins in 1-1 redzone period of practice..Clean route runner, strong hands.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 24, 2014
After you get past the bigger names (Donald, Ward, Ford, Carr) no player helped himself more at the Senior Bowl than Arthur Lynch.— Dan Kadar (@MockingTheDraft) January 24, 2014
Jordan Najvar (6’6”, 255 lbs, Baylor)
Jordan Najvar, who competed in both the East-West Shrine and Senior Bowl games, earned himself an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine next month.
Najvar finished his college career playing in 38 games. He caught 35 passes for 311 yards, an 8.2 yards-per-reception average.
If he can demonstrate an ability to block, he could be worth a look as either a low-round pick or a free agent.
RT @NickCanizales: Romeo Crennel said that Baylor Tight End Jordan Najvar stood out this week at practice for the East/West Shrine Game.— Baylor Football (@BUFootball) January 19, 2014
Well watching East West Shrine game on DVR. 1 guy stood out with remarkable catch Jordan Najvar TE, Baylor— Chris Schisler (@footballman58) January 22, 2014
Jordan Najvar TE from Baylor looked very solid. Reminds me of Celek.— Jordan J (@RedskinsCult59) January 19, 2014