By now, the New York Giants front office staff and coaches have completed evaluations of their roster to the point that they have a clear picture of what direction they want to pursue in reshaping the roster for 2014.
With this initial process complete, they are also no doubt looking at updated data on college prospects who took part in the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl, as they begin building a database that will ultimately be used to plan their draft board.
The precise draft needs will obviously become clearer once free agency begins, but here’s a quick look at a six-round mock draft—the Giants traded their seventh-round pick to the Carolina Panthers for linebacker Jon Beason in 2013—based on the team’s current projected needs.
If one of the goals of the front office is to restore the shine on the passing game, then quarterback Eli Manning is going to need some nice-sized targets to throw the ball to, especially if Hakeem Nicks departs via free agency, as is expected.
Texas A&M's Mike Evans (6’5”, 225 lbs) is currently projected as the second-best receiver in the draft by NFL Draft Scout. He has the size and strength to fight off jams, which is something that the Giants receivers weren't successful doing last season.
Evans is certainly the type of player who will be a starter if not by opening day, then at some point during his rookie season.
The thought of him teaming him up with Rueben Randle makes for a solid tandem of tall receivers, both of whom possess a physical style of play suited for fighting off press coverage.
Throw in Victor Cruz and Jerrel Jernigan as slot receivers, and the addition of a playmaker such as Evans instantly upgrades the passing game.
There is little doubt that the Giants need to draft at least two offensive linemen this year, given their lack of depth, especially along the interior.
Whereas I thought maybe they would look to draft an offensive lineman in the first round, I'm now thinking that maybe they wait until the second round to start replenishing depth at guard or center.
Not coincidentally, Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson (6’4”, 339 lbs), once thought to be a first-round draft pick, saw his stock slide a bit thanks to his inability to handle Pittsburgh's defensive tackle Aaron Donald at this year's Senior Bowl.
Per NFL Draft Scout, Jackson has “nimble feet and balance to hold up in pass protection.” If he can become more explosive, Jackson could really be a solid contributor on an NFL offensive line.
The Giants are expected to say goodbye to Corey Webster and Aaron Ross, two tallish cornerbacks who were solid contributors in their prime.
Jayron Hosley remains a bit of an enigma considering that he can’t seem to stay healthy.
In addition, Trumaine McBride, who played well as a starter opposite Prince Amukamara, certainly deserves another chance at competing for a roster spot, though his smallish size will always be a concern, especially whenever the Giants go against very tall receivers.
The way to combat this then is to add another tall cornerback. Enter Nebraska’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste (6’3”, 220 lbs), a tall and physical cornerback who excels in press coverage.
As NFL Draft Scout notes, Jean-Baptiste's technique is still a tad raw, but he appears to have all the tools necessary to be an NFL-caliber cornerback.
The news of defensive end Justin Tuck wanting to explore free agency—a reversal from what he said a month ago when he expressed to Newsday his desire to retire as a Giant—puts this position back into the mix as the NFL draft approaches.
Let’s assume that Tuck leaves. The Giants would be left hoping that Jason Pierre-Paul is fully over his shoulder injury; he noted recently that he was 90 percent and that he didn’t think he needed shoulder surgery.
They’d be left with an aging Mathias Kiwanuka, whose performance is declining given his -28.1 overall grade by Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the third-worst mark of all 4-3 defensive ends.
They’d also be left with second-year man Damontre Moore, who, when we last saw him play, flashed some promise as a pass-rusher, but who still needs to find his way against the run.
A potential good-value pick in the fourth round is Virginia Tech’s James Gayle (6’4”, 255 lbs), who was one half of a defensive end tandem with J.R. Collins that was considered the best in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), per NFL Draft Scout.
Although he doesn’t have ideal size for the position, he’s powerfully built and, according to NFL Draft Scout’s Dane Brugler, Gayle has a good burst off the edge. With some additional strength, he might fare better in his one-on-one battles.
I mentioned that the Giants need to come up with at least two young offensive linemen in this draft.
I've already mentioned one guy in this mock, so let me give you a second pick who I think could be there on the third day of the draft: Florida State’s Bryan Stork (6’4”, 306 lbs), who can play guard and center.
The recipient of the 2013 Rimington Trophy, given to the nation’s top center, Stork is, according to NFL Draft Scout, a “tenacious and technically-sound” player who has good quickness and an ability to maximize leverage.
If the Giants decide to hang onto center David Baas for another year—that could be a possibility unless the team acquires a veteran free agent such as Cleveland’s Alex Mack—his presence would allow for a youngster chosen in the later rounds of the draft to fully develop into a solid contributor.
Being that Stork has the frame to add additional bulk—NFL Draft Scout concludes that he would need more strength in his lower body—it just might make sense for the Giants to gradually transition from Baas to a youngster at this key position.
If the Giants are looking for a good-sized, athletic tight end to fit into new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s offense, Baylor’s Jordan Najvar (6’6”, 255 lbs) just might fit the bill.
Najvar had 35 receptions for 311 yards, an 8.2 yards-per-reception average, and he seems to have helped himself in the draft thanks to a strong showing in the East-West Shrine game.
If he lands on the Giants’ draft board, he’ll have to demonstrate an ability to block, but he certainly seems to have the athleticism and the size to be an effective in-line blocker.
All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.