Tulane WR Ryan Grant could be the next Giants' sleeper.
A sleeper does not receive the pre-draft airtime that a sure-fire first-rounder enjoys. When a sleeper reaches the NFL, however, his value supersedes the hype surrounding him coming out of college. Sometimes, if the drafting team gets lucky, that value will be greater than that of his first-round counterpart.
For the purposes of this article, I will highlight five players projected to be selected in Rounds 5-7 in the 2014 NFL draft. Each player has the potential to become a late-round sleeper if drafted by the Giants.
The Giants have a track record of selecting running backs with high upside late in the draft; they have done so with mixed results.
Ahmad Bradshaw, a seventh-round selection in 2007, was an essential cog in New York's two most recent Super Bowl victories—he provided the game-winning score in Super Bowl XLVI. Da'Rel Scott, a seventh-rounder in 2011, never fit with the Giants and recorded less than 100 yards before he was cut midway through last season.
The jury is still out on the future of fellow seventh-round running back Michael Cox, who was selected in the final round of last year's draft.
And if Cox isn't the man, Isaiah Crowell of Alabama State might be.
Crowell was once the SEC Freshman of the Year (2011), but the former Georgia Bulldog was dismissed from the team following his breakout campaign due to an arrest on weapons charges. Crowell played each of the past two seasons at Alabama State, and he was listed among Saturday Down South's top 10 SEC recruiting busts of the past decade (via Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
While Crowell's collegiate career may not have gone as expected (he came to Georgia as the top-rated running back recruit in the nation), he could resurrect his all-star career at the next level if the Giants choose to draft him in one of the later rounds. Bleacher Report's Curt Popejoy ranked Crowell 11th out of 15 draft-eligible running backs back in October.
Last season, as a junior, Crowell rushed for 1,121 yards and 15 touchdowns. Now, to get ready for his jump to the pros, Crowell is reportedly prepping for the NFL Scouting Combine with South Carolina's Jadaveon Clowney, per Mike Huguenin of NFL.com—the most talked about prospect in this year's draft.
It's no secret that the Giants are in dire need of help along the offensive line, so reeling in a stud tackle in one of the later rounds would be nothing less than a blessing from above.
Late-round O-line projects have failed New York in the past. James Brewer, a fourth-round selection in 2011, has largely been a disappointment in his three seasons with the team. Fellow fourth-rounder Brandon Mosley (2012) earned just one start last season, as the Giants floundered to keep an aching offensive line afloat.
Selected after Mosley in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, Matt McCants was cut and subsequently signed by the Oakland Raiders before he ever made an impact in New York. And there's also Eric Herman, a seventh-rounder in last year's draft who was too raw to ever be promoted from the practice squad.
If the Giants decide, once again, to experiment with a late-round O-lineman, they can do so with confidence if the selection is Billy Turner of North Dakota State.
Turner has turned many heads early this offseason. After anchoring the Bison through three consecutive FCS championships, Turner (6'6", 314 lbs) is ready to take his talent to the next level. The burly, bull-dozing blocker has the athletic tools to make the leap to the professional ranks.
Turner put forth a dominating performance in the 2013 FCS Championship, which earned him a trip to the Senior Bowl. Some scouts in attendance believe he has many Pro Bowls in his future, according to WDAY Fargo. Like many other small school prospects, however, Turner must improve his technique to thrive in the NFL.
With the assistance of the Giants' coaching staff, this sleeper could fine-tune the inadequacies in his game. He could eventually become a driving force in New York's offensive turnaround.
Like they have at running back, the Giants have also taken several linebackers with late-round draft selections.
Bryan Kehl and Jonathan Goff were fourth- and fifth-round selections, respectively, in the 2008 draft, but neither player developed into a longtime starter. Two years later, Phillip Dillard was selected in the fifth round, but the Nebraska product was a bust in the pros.
Sixth-round selections Adrian Tracy (2010) and Greg Jones (2011) each showed promise early on, but both 'backers eventually fizzled out. Now, despite multiple injuries, Jacquian Williams (sixth round, 2011) is the only late-round linebacker selection still surviving in New York.
In Montana linebacker Jordan Tripp, the Giants could finally bring in a difference-making linebacker with a late-round selection.
An attacking FCS-level linebacker, Tripp (6'3", 237 lbs) is considered one of the top small-school prospects in this year's draft, according to Gil Brandt of NFL.com. He is a "fluid, impressive athlete" that can make plays on the edge, leading Bleacher Report's Matt Miller to believe Tripp's best fit in the NFL is as an outside linebacker.
Tripp could fit perfectly as a strong-side linebacker for the Giants, as this sleeper seems to possess the qualities that New York's many previous late-round selections at the position have lacked.
The Giants do not typically spend late-round picks on wide receivers.
Hakeem Nicks (first round, 2009) and Rueben Randle (second round, 2012) were both Day 1 draft selections. Then there's Jerrel Jernigan (2011), Ramses Barden (2009) and even Mario Manningham (2008), who were all third-round selections. Victor Cruz joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 2010.
So while the Giants don't typically locate receiving talent in the later rounds, the 2014 draft wouldn't be a bad place to start, especially with a player like Tulane's Ryan Grant expected to be on the board.
While at Tulane, Grant (6'1", 191 lbs) was a prolific receiver who hauled in 119 passes for 1,730 yards and 12 touchdowns. In the NFL, however, Grant may be able to kick that production up a notch. His play during the week of Senior Bowl practices had many pro scouts taking notes, according to The Sports Xchange.
With strong hands and precise route-running, Grant possesses the skills to succeed as a professional. After having sports-hernia surgery during his junior season, the Green Wave wideout returned to lead his squad to a bowl appearance as a senior. He uses that experience as a motivator to overcome adversity, such as possibly making it in the NFL as a late-round selection.
If the Giants select Grant, he will be on a level playing field with the rest of New York's receivers, who will all be learning a new offense under coordinator Ben McAdoo's fresh scheme. If he gets an early jump on the playbook in training camp, Grant could become New York's next big sleeper pick.
The Giants need a tight end, as soon-to-be free agent Brandon Myers couldn't quite cut it in 2013.
In 2009, the Giants drafted Wisconsin product Travis Beckum with a third-round pick. Originally tabbed as a matchup nightmare, Beckum was thought to be too fast for a linebacker to cover and too big for a safety to cover. That wasn't the case, as Beckum caught just 26 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns in four years of service.
The case of Beckum and the Giants may have been one of the franchise's all-time greatest missed connections—an intriguing talent that didn't quite fit in New York's offense at the time. Because Beckum was not a strong blocker, he wasn't the all-around tight end that the Giants were used to fielding.
Under McAdoo, however, the Giants may utilize an H-back as opposed to a true fullback or tight end in some future offensive sets. Beckum would have been a good fit for this role, but he is no longer with the team. Instead, the Giants should look to draft another Wisconsin Badger tight end, Jacob Pedersen.
Pedersen (6'5", 240 lbs) is almost identical in size to Beckum. The All-Big Ten honorable mention caught 17 touchdowns during his collegiate career, but that number could really inflate at the NFL level. Although considered undersized, he was a solid blocker for the Badgers, according to WalterFootball.com.
Selling Pedersen as a hot tight-end prospect while also comparing him to one of the Giants' biggest draft busts at the position in recent memory isn't easy. Remember, however, that New York's offense will look a little different next season, and a certain type of player that did not fit before could become an essential contributor moving forward.