Giants GM Jerry Reese must address a wide variety of positions, both in the draft and through free agency.
The New York Giants better hope that their wishes become reality this offseason because they have a variety of positions that need to be addressed after registering the franchise’s first losing season in nine years.
No less than six positions are in need of new talent and that is not even including running back and defensive end, which both underperformed in 2013.
The former is excluded because last year’s leading rusher Andre Brown appears to be in the fold for 2014, despite his unrestricted free agent status. Also, David Wilson, who was the starter coming out of training camp last August, is under contract, even though he is far from a sure thing following neck surgery.
As for defensive end, the Giants will have a formidable tandem if unrestricted free agent Justin Tuck, who led Big Blue in sacks with 11 last season, is re-signed and Jason Pierre-Paul returns to form after two consecutive disappointing seasons. Damontre Moore and Mathias Kiwanuka are also likely to contribute, though the latter could be a cap casualty.
Neither of these positions can currently be considered a strength, but at least there are viable options on the team to fortify them in 2014. This is not the case with the six positions that will be discussed in the following slides.
Before we get started, let’s lay out the framework. The positions will be listed in ascending order of priority. Therefore, the first position will be the Giants' biggest priority while the sixth position will be the least. Options in both the draft and free agency will be discussed to address each position. For free agents, only the unrestricted variety will be considered since restricted free agents rarely leave their current team.
The Giants are fine at one cornerback spot, where Prince Amukamara is coming off his best season as a pro. The 24-year-old played in all 16 games for the first time in his three-year career and also registered a solid 4.0 Pro Football Focus rating (subscription required).
However, the starting spot opposite Amukamara contains a bunch of question marks. Trumaine McBride played well in that position for a majority of 2013, posting a 6.6 PFF rating, but the 28-year-old was a mere journeyman before last season and is also an unrestricted free agent.
Along with McBride, Terrell Thomas and Aaron Ross are also UFA’s. That leaves Corey Webster, who was injured for most of 2013 and looks done at 31 years old, and the underachieving Jayron Hosley as the only other viable cornerbacks on the roster.
The Giants need to find a starting-caliber cornerback in the draft or in free agency not only to fill out the spot next to Amukamara, but also to add some much needed depth.
Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech – The Giants have more pressing needs than cornerback so they’ll have to address this position after the first round, if they are to do so in the draft.
Fuller is a first round talent that, as of right now, can be had as late as the third round. He has good size at 6’0”, possesses excellent quickness and is already a solid tackler, which is an underrated trait in a cornerback. However, he is coming off sports hernia surgery, so health is already a concern for the 21-year-old.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska – Jean-Baptiste is big, standing at 6’3”and 220 pounds. He perfectly fits the prototype of the cornerback that is the rage in the NFL nowadays. The 23-year-old is not particularly fast and is actually not as physical as his size would suggest.
Other Notables: Pierre Desir, Lindenwood; Louchiez Purifoy, Florida
Brent Grimes, Miami Dolphins - After tearing his ACL in 2012, Grimes had a standout season last year. He played in all 16 games, had four interceptions and registered a 16.4 PFF rating, which was second only to Darrelle Revis among cornerbacks.
Even at 30 years old, he won’t come cheap, but he shows no signs of slowing down and would instantly become Big Blue’s best cover man.
Tarell Brown, San Francisco 49ers - Brown is definitely a less expensive option than Grimes, as he is coming off a modest three-year, $9 million deal. He is solid, though, registering a regular season PFF rating north of 7.0 in each of the last three seasons.
The 29-year-old is also more durable than Grimes, having missed only five games in his last six seasons.
While the linebackers, as a whole, performed well in 2013, the unit lacks a true playmaker.
The four players who manned this position last season—Jon Beason, Spencer Paysinger, Jacquian Williams and Keith Rivers—only had a combined two sacks, one interception and no forced fumbles.
Outside linebacker is where a playmaker on this unit usually resides. Also, free agent Beason was the team’s best linebacker, registering 93 tackles in only 11 games played. He seems like a good bet to re-sign, especially since he’d love to return.
Therefore, New York is better off letting fellow free agent Rivers walk and fill his position with one of the following players through the draft. Unfortunately, free agency is not a good avenue to find an outside linebacker this offseason since all of the quality players available work best in a 3-4 scheme.
Telvin Smith, Florida State – Buffalo’s Khalil Mack would be the ideal choice to fill this role. However, it’ll take a first round pick to get him and there are a few positions the Giants are better off addressing with the 12th selection. Also, the Giants haven’t taken a linebacker in the first round since they made Carl Banks the third overall pick in the 1984 draft. Yes, 1984.
Smith is a solid choice, based on his talent and the fact that he may be available as late as the third round. The 22-year-old is light for a linebacker, weighing a packed-out 218 pounds, despite standing 6’3”.
He is extremely fast, though, and the playmaker Big Blue desires. In 2013, Smith had seven pass defenses, three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, and two sacks.
Jordan Tripp, Montana – Competition is an issue for Tripp, since Montana plays in the FCS (formerly Division I-AA), but there is no denying that he is exactly what the Giants desire in an outside linebacker.
Tripp is a nice combination of size and speed and has a nose for the ball, registering 100 tackles and three interceptions in 13 games his senior season. He also could be available as late as the fourth round.
Other Notable: Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA
Anquan Boldin is a winning player.
Jerrel Jernigan is a better fit as a slot, or Z, receiver. Rueben Randle fits the prototype as an X receiver, but his inexperience and struggles getting on the same page as Eli Manning are troubling. Combined, both receivers only have 92 career receptions.
Therefore, looking for a starting wide receiver in the draft or through free agency is a must for Big Blue. Here are their best options.
Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State – A theme with the following four receivers is that they are all big and physical. With Manning’s propensity to be inaccurate high and New York’s need for dependable red-zone targets, size should be a huge (pun intended) factor in choosing a new starting wide receiver.
Benjamin certainly has size, standing at an imposing 6’5”. While he is still a bit unpolished, his talent alone would make an option to start right away—or at worst, a few games into the season. The Giants, however, will likely need to use their first round pick to get him. There is a chance, however, that he lasts until the second round since currently he is tabbed as a late-round pick.
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt – First of all, he is Jerry Rice’s cousin, which is certainly not a bad thing. He is not super athletic, but he is a healthy 6’3” and possesses great hands. Also, his production in college is impressive, capped by an outstanding senior season that saw him haul in 112 receptions for 1,477 yards and seven touchdowns in the ultra-tough SEC conference.
Best of all, right now Matthews can be had in the second round.
Other Notables: Mike Evans, Texas A&M; Marqise Lee, USC
Eric Decker, Denver Broncos – Decker has arguably the best quarterback in the NFL in Peyton Manning throwing to him. He has played in all 32 games the last two seasons and has been tremendously productive. His combined regular-season stats during this time frame are 172 receptions, 2,352 yards and 24 touchdowns. This is despite sharing targets with the likes of Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas.
The 26-year-old will certainly command a long-term, big-money contract on the open market, but he certainly seems worth it. The Giants would be getting a guaranteed starter opposite Cruz and someone that is a bona-fide red-zone target.
Anquan Boldin, San Francisco 49ers – Boldin is a shorter term answer, due to his age, but could be just as good as Decker in 2014. The 33-year-old had 85 catches for 1,185 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013, despite the fact that his quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, only threw for 3,197 yards and 21 touchdowns.
He also has a knack for making the postseason, having played in the playoffs in five of the last six seasons on three different teams. In addition, his production in the second season is impressive. Boldin has 1,033 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 14 career playoff games.
For a fourth year in a row, the Giants are in the market for a new starting tight end.
Brandon Myers, last season’s starter, has a voidable contract and was a disappointment in his first and, probably, only season in New York. The 28-year-old only had 28 first downs and four touchdowns in 2013, making him an underwhelming third-down and red-zone target. He is also a poor run-blocker, which only serves to extenuate his ineffectiveness as a receiver.
There isn’t a replacement on the roster, with free agent Bear Pascoe a mere backup, if he is re-signed, and Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell both unproven.
Big Blue can once again look for another stopgap in free agency or try to find an option for the next half-decade through the draft. Here are the players they should target to execute either plan.
Eric Ebron, North Carolina – It’s no secret I’m a fan of Ebron and strongly believe he should be the Giants first-round pick. While the 20-year-old still needs to develop as a blocker, his size and speed makes him comparable to the likes of Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates and Vernon Davis.
Simply put, there is a strong likelihood he’ll be a top five tight end within his first two seasons in the NFL and a mainstay on the Giants for the next five to 10 years if they draft him.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington – If Big Blue misses out on Ebron, Seferian-Jenkins would be a fine consolation prize. The former Huskie stands a monstrous 6’6”, 276 pounds and has soft hands to go with his big body. While he lacks the speed to make plays like Ebron, the 21-year-old would instantly become a viable third-down and red-zone target for Manning.
Right now, he is slotted to be a second-round pick, though he is much more enticing to the Giants as a third-round selection.
Other Notables: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech; Troy Niklas, Notre Dame
Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers – There are no long-term options on the free-agent market for the Giants to address tight end (forget about Graham as a player that will be available), but there are two solid stopgaps to consider.
Finley is the first and most talented. The 26-year-old has the speed to stretch the defense and size at 6’5” to be a factor in the red zone. While a bit of disappointment in his six-year NFL career, Finley does have three seasons in which he’s amassed 600 or more receiving yards and two where he’s had at least five touchdowns.
However, he is a significant injury risk after a career-threatening spinal injury that cost him 10 games in 2013. While he is almost certain to come back, much like David Wilson, there is no guarantee the injury won’t recur again. Finley is a huge risk, but doesn’t figure to command a high-dollar, long-term deal because of his health, making him a potential steal for New York in free agency.
Scott Chandler, Buffalo Bills – Chandler presents the less-talented, safer option to Finley.
The 28-year-old has only missed three games in his last three seasons and presents a nice target at 6’7”. He also has steadily increased his receiving yards each year since 2011, and has 14 touchdowns during this span for a below-average Bills passing attack. In addition, while Chandler is not a great run-blocker, he is certainly better than Myers.
Now it’s time to take a look at easily the biggest area of concern for the Giants this offseason—the interior offensive line.
We’ll start with center, which does not currently have an obvious starter for 2014. David Baas is still under contract, but the 32-year-old missed 13 games in 2013 due to a knee injury and is a potential cap casualty (more on this in a second).
The other option is Jim Cordle, who started seven games in Baas’ absence. However, the 26-year-old also suffered a season-ending knee injury last season and is probably best used as a backup anyway, when healthy.
To make matters worse, it appears that the draft is the only viable way to find a starting center. Sure-quality options like the Cleveland Browns’ Alex Mack and the Chicago Bears’ Roberto Garza are free agents this season. However, as Jordan Raanan of NJ.com details, cutting Baas won’t open up much cap room for Big Blue:
Cutting Baas would only save $1.775 million against the salary cap if done before June 1. He would count for over $6 million against the salary cap, and the Giants would receive nothing in return in the '14 season.
Now, dumping Baas post-June 1 looks good here, but it also comes with negatives. The $5 million the Giants will save against the salary cap will not be available until after June 1. That means it won’t help them this year to sign free agents (both their own and from other teams).
It is hard to justify paying a guy like Mack or Garza when the Giants will be carrying over $6 million on the cap if Baas is cut. The Giants have too many holes to fill to allot two multimillion dollar contracts to the center position.
The good news is that the draft has a few centers available that look like Week 1 starters in 2014.
Bryan Stork, Florida State – Stork was an integral part of the Seminoles championship team this past season and looks to be the type of player that can start on the Giants for the next five to seven years. His physicality and run-blocking ability are particularly impressive, while he also holds his own as a pass-blocker.
Best of all, since center is usually an overlooked position in the draft, and Travis Swanson as well as Weston Richburg are more highly regarded, Stork could last all the way until the fourth round.
Travis Swanson, Arkansas – Swanson projects to be a better player than Stork, simply because he is a more accomplished pass-blocker. He also faced stiffer competition in the SEC, widely regarded as the toughest conference in college football.
However, it will take a second-round pick to get him, if he even makes it to New York at the 43rd pick. That may be too high for a player that is not significantly better than Stork.
Other Notable: Weston Richburg, Colorado State
Jon Asamoah is this year's best free agent guard.
The Giants guard play was atrocious in 2013, racking up an unsightly minus-50.5 PFF rating over 2,076 snaps.
Changes at the team’s worst position are already underway, as long-time Giant David Diehl has officially retired. Also, Kevin Boothe is an unrestricted free agent and Chris Snee will likely be cut due to his bloated cap figure.
That leaves James Brewer as the only other guard on the roster that received significant playing time in 2013. Despite a manageable contract, he shouldn’t be a realistic option to start for Big Blue next season.
The 2011 fourth-round pick was barely able to get on the field in his first two years in the league. Last season, his minus-8.8 PFF rating over 406 snaps at guard doesn’t lend much confidence that he can help solidify the position going forward.
Without a viable starter on the roster, the Giants need to fill both guard positions in the draft and through free agency. Here are their best options.
Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA – Su’a-Filo is an exceptional athlete. His quickness allows him to excel as a pass-blocker and in a zone-blocking scheme (the system the Giants predominantly used under former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride). At a somewhat light 305 pounds, he is not overpowering and does not figure to be a dominant run-blocker. He will certainly be adequate at worst, though.
The 23-year-old is currently rated the second-best guard in the draft and is slated, as of now, to go early in the second round. He may not make it to the Giants, but if he does, it will be hard to pass up the former Bruin.
Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State – Jackson is not as pro-ready as Su’a-Filo, but he may end up being a better pick in the long run. The reason why is his size, as the 22-year-old weighs in at a hefty 340 pounds, yet possesses good feet and strong mobility. If he gets more of a nasty streak he will be a dominant run-blocker in the NFL, while also excelling as a pass-blocker.
Jackson also may last until the third round, making him a potentially better value than Su’a-Filo.
Other Notables: David Yankey, Stanford; Cyril Richardson, Baylor
Jon Asamoah, Kansas City Chiefs – Asamoah is easily the top guard available in free agency. The 25-year-old has posted a regular season PFF rating north of seven in each of the last three years. He was also durable up until this past season, in which he was limited to only 682 snaps, due mainly to calf and shoulder injuries.
Asamoah may not match the six-year, $46.8 million contract Andy Levitre received from the Tennessee Titans last offseason. He’ll likely get close, though, given his level of play and the fact no other guard approaches his combination of youth and talent on the free agent market.
John Jerry, Miami Dolphins – If the Giants miss out on Asamoah, Jerry makes for a decent lower-cost fallback. While the 27-year-old posted a minus-2.9 PFF rating in 2013, it was still significantly better than the minus-26.5 PFF rating Diehl put up in only 11 games.
Jerry is also durable, having logged more than a 1,000 snaps in each of the last two seasons.
Other Notable: Chad Rinehart, San Diego Chargers
*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.