The annual NFL Scouting Combine is a job fair like none other.
For an entire week, key front-office personnel from all 32 member clubs will be on hand to observe and interview more than 400 college prospects who have declared for the league’s annual player selection meeting, or "draft," as it’s more commonly known.
With the New York Giants having a load of needs at virtually every position, here’s a look at the positions they might be targeting when they attend the combine.
Unless otherwise noted, draft prospect evaluations are via NFL Draft Scout through CBSSports.com; pro player ratings and stats are via Pro Football Focus (subscription required); and all opinions regarding what the Giants could do are mine and mine alone.
Anyone who watched the Giants last year knows that the offensive line was a major mess.
Besides the injuries, the depth at this position—or lack thereof—was grossly exposed.
It didn’t help that management decided to roll the dice on Chris Snee, an aging veteran who was coming back from offseason hip surgery only to need a second procedure on his other hip, nor did it help when starters David Baas and David Diehl had to have surgeries as well.
So it was no surprise that team CEO John Mara confirmed what anyone with two eyes could see: Fixing the offensive line is a top priority for the club this offseason.
In particular, the offensive interior is in need of a massive (no pun intended) overhaul, starting with guard, which, in my opinion, is probably the highest need on the team at this point.
The Current Situation
Diehl, last year’s starting right guard, has retired while Snee, a mainstay at right guard, could be on the verge of retiring, depending on how well he feels after having surgery on each hip last year.
Kevin Boothe, who finished the season at center after beginning the year at left guard, is an unrestricted free agent who is believed to be on the radar for a return.
James Brewer, who moved in at left guard when Boothe had to go to center, was inconsistent as both a pass-blocker and in run blocking despite entering his third season as a pro.
Brandon Mosley showed signs of potential, but another season-ending injury cut short his audition.
Lastly, Eric Herman, last year’s seventh-round draft pick, couldn’t make it onto the roster until very late in the season when injuries kept piling up and the Giants were virtually out of options at guard.
David Yankey (6’5”, 314 lbs, Stanford) has shown good core strength, sold hand punch and good body control, but sometimes he has struggled with keeping his pad level low and his head up.
Gabe Jackson (6’4”, 339 lbs, Mississippi State) offers a blend of raw power, nimble feet and balance that can get him to the second level.
Cyril Richardson (6’5”, 348 lbs, Baylor) has good size, but he had a shaky showing at the Senior Bowl in which he struggled against smaller and quicker defensive tackles.
If Jackson is sitting there at No. 12, I think he is the pick. Compared to Detroit’s Larry Warford, the 2013 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, based on NFL Draft Scout's report, it sounds like he needs to refine his footwork in order to help him in the second level.
If he can wall off defenders and keep them away from the quarterback right out of the chute, that right there is a significant upgrade from what the Giants had last year.
If the Giants are able to clear some more cap space, I would love to see them try to land unrestricted free agent Alex Mack, a two-time Pro Bowler with a less concerning injury history than David Baas, who is also four years older than Mack.
However, the more I think about it, the less I think that the Giants are going to splurge on any one free agent—that just hasn’t been their style under Jerry Reese. Given how sometimes those big contracts backfire, it’s hard not to blame them.
The Current Situation
Per Over the Cap, Baas is scheduled to count for $8.225 million this year, a figure that includes a $4.75 million base salary.
If the Giants have truly learned a lesson about hanging onto aging, injury-prone guys one year too many, it’s hard to imagine how they can justify keeping Baas in 2014, even though they’d save $1.775 million if they were to terminate his contract.
That move, however, would cost them $6.45 million in dead money in 2014 unless they designate Baas as a post-June 1 cap transaction, at which point he savings would increase to $5 million—money that would be available to the Giants after June 1.
Jim Cordle is a restricted free agent who’s coming off knee surgery. Once inserted into the starting lineup, he showed improvement each week until a season-ending knee injury took him down.
With the Giants having so many other needs to address, it’s probably not practical for the team to give Cordle a "rights of first refusal" tender, which is projected to be $1.389 million, per Joel Corry of CBSSports.com, a former sports agent and NFL salary-cap expert.
As previously mentioned, re-signing Boothe could provide the Giants with some depth at the center and guard positions. The question is whether the Giants can re-sign Boothe for one year or if he's going to want more.
Travis Swanson (6’5”, 310 lbs, Arkansas) is currently NFLDraftScout.com’s top-rated center prospect. A strong pass protector, Swanson, who started all 50 games of his college career, probably would need a year in a NFL weight-training program to improve his strength for the next level.
Bryan Stork (6’4”, 306 lbs, Florida State) converted from tight end, the position he played in high school, to offensive line. That likely means he has better-than-average athleticism among the center prospects.
Weston Richburg (6’4”, 300 lbs, Colorado State) is another durable type who dominated his level of competition. Richburg’s athletic ability appears to be a strength, as per NFL Draft Scout, he’s shown an ability to move around and get his man outside of the tackle box. He also has experience playing guard.
One of the reasons why the Giants haven’t had much success with running screens of late is that they haven’t had offensive linemen with the athleticism to get there with the blocks.
That’s why I think they’ll place an emphasis on athletic types with good mobility. Guys like Stork and Richburg—two guys who as of right now might be under-the-radar types—are prospects who could provide exceptional value in the second or third rounds.
If you look at the Giants' history of their starting lineups, as provided by Pro Football Reference, you’ll see that the last time they plugged a veteran free agent into the starting lineup who wasn't drafted or developed by the team was in 2005 when they acquired Plaxico Burress via free agency.
While I do believe the Giants will address the receiver position via the draft, I’m not so sure it will be a Day 1 or 2 pick, not if the coaching staff believes that Rueben Randle and/or Jerrel Jernigan is ready for the next step.
The Current Situation
I’ve been saying since last spring that I don’t see Nicks returning to the Giants, and not just because of his injury history.
His decision to skip out on the voluntary spring OTAs, which while his right, was handled poorly to where even Nicks would later admit that he could have done a better job communicating with the team that signed his paychecks.
Yes, Nicks is still young at just 26 years of age, and yes, you can blame his drop in performance in 2012 to the knee and foot injuries he dealt with for the better part of the season.
However, considering he played two more games in 2013 than he did in 2012 and his numbers weren’t all that much better, it makes little sense for the Giants to give him a fat contract, especially given the number of lower body injuries he’s had over his career that have kept him from playing a full season.
In addition to Nicks, Louis Murphy is an unrestricted free agent. Despite being touted by general manager Jerry Reese in an interview last year with SiriusXM NFL Radio (h/t Giants.com) as someone who could “add another dimension to our offense,” Murphy apparently didn’t show the coaches much in practice.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he only participated in 11 percent of the Giants’ offensive snaps, 13 of which he was targeted in the passing game.
Ryan Grant (6’0”, 197 lbs, Tulane) had a solid showing at the Senior Bowl. He will need to work on securing the football after the catch.
Brandon Coleman (6’5”, 220 lbs, Rutgers) offers intriguing size and the speed to get open. However, the knocks on him include struggles against press coverage and poor balance, two areas that could make him a low-round to free-agent type of gamble.
There’s something about Grant that I find intriguing, even despite the knock against him regarding his inconsistency in securing the ball, an issue which, by the way, Cruz had his first two full seasons in the NFL.
Grant has a nice burst of speed and does a nice job of using his body to shield the ball from the defender. He could end up as a nice prospect.
The Giants have two young players they’ve been developing for two seasons. Adrien Robinson was the fourth-round draft pick in 2012, and Larry Donnell, an undrafted free agent, was given a handful of snaps last year.
Do the Giants want to add another raw prospect at this position? Without knowing exactly what kind of offense new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo plans to run, it would appear to make more sense for the Giants to sign a veteran to a short-term deal if they feel that either Robinson or Donnell are on the verge of a breakthrough.
The Current Situation
As expected, the Giants have voided Brandon Myers’ contract. Also falling under the “no surprise” category, Conor Orr of the Newark Star-Ledger indicated that, at this time, there are no talks between Myers’ agent and the Giants about possibly bringing him back at a lower base salary:
With Myers, my understanding is no talks between him and the #Giants. Beason, Brown (Stevie) still among top priorities.— Conor Orr (@ConorTOrr) February 10, 2014
Bear Pascoe is set to be an unrestricted free agent, and his is an interesting case.
While the Giants can probably upgrade his spot, the versatility that he brings, along with the fact that the Giants still aren’t sure what they’re going to get from Robinson and Donnell, would, on the surface at least, make the re-signing of Pascoe a higher priority than initially believed.
Jordan Najvar (6’6”, 262 lbs, Baylor) has that good size that the Giants seem to like in their tight ends. What he also seems to have, per NFL Draft Scout, is a reputation as being a solid blocker who can catch the ball as well. However, he lacks ideal speed.
Crockett Gillmore (6’6”, 253 lbs, Colorado State) had a strong showing in the Senior Bowl which, per NFL Draft Scout, helped his stock. Gillmore, who has drawn comparisons to Buffalo’s Scott Chandler, doesn’t possess breakaway speed, but he still might make for an intriguing option as a short-yardage or red-zone target if Robinson doesn't develop in that role.
Najvar is one of the first prospects I’ve liked since I began looking at the 2014 draft class. Historically, the Giants seem to have trouble finding a young prospect scouts say can block. If Najvar is as good as advertised in that department, he just might be worth taking a flier on.
Although the defensive secondary was far from being the biggest of the Giants’ problems in 2013, the unit has reached a point where it’s in need of some fresh talent.
The Giants could use a combination of free agency (both from their own team and from other teams) and the draft to fill out the depth at this position.
The Current Situation
Corey Webster’s contract was voided, as expected, his nine-year Giants career over. Also unlikely to return is Aaron Ross, who was brought back on a one-year veteran minimum deal after a year away at Jacksonville. Ross ended his season on injured reserve with a back ailment.
Prince Amukamara and Jayron Hosley are both under contract; Amukamara is entrenched as a starter, while Hosley’s second NFL season pretty much mirrored his first in terms of injuries.
Trumaine McBride, who finished out the season last year as a starter opposite of Amukamara, is an unrestricted free agent. He played well last year, but his smallish size will always be a concern, especially against taller receivers.
Terrell Thomas successfully returned after two straight ACL injuries, and he now has his sights set on becoming a starter again. He is also an unrestricted free agent.
McBride and Thomas stand the best chances of being re-signed, though I’m not sure they’ll get long-term deals.
Charles James was a late-season addition from the practice squad whose best bet to make the roster in 2014 will likely be as a punt returner and special teamer.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste (6’3”, 215 lbs, Nebraska) is a big, physical safety who uses his hands well at the line of scrimmage. However, he possesses average speed, which could mean a move to safety is in his future.
Pierre Desir (6’1”, 195 lbs, Lindenwood) is a good, physical cornerback with nice size for the position and good turn-and-run skills. As an added bonus, the small-school prospect has experience as a kick returner, something the Giants could definitely use in 2014.
As the NFL continues to place an emphasis on the pass, having physical cornerbacks who are not afraid to jam the receivers and who can stay hip-to-hip with some of these speedsters is essential.
Desir brings all that, plus his special teams return ability would make him an incredible value if he’s sitting there in the middle or late rounds of the draft when the Giants are on the clock.
Last year, the Giants were able to get by with four defensive ends for the majority of the season, this thanks to defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins’ versatility.
There’s a lot of uncertainty at the defensive end position, and the Giants might want to think ahead to protect themselves, even if they pick a prospect who doesn’t contribute much in 2014.
The Current Situation
Justin Tuck is an unrestricted free agent who plans to test the market. I would be surprised if he and the Giants don’t reunite, however, even if it’s on a short-term contract with his role changing to that of a rotational type instead of a guy who takes the bulk of the snaps each week.
Mathias Kiwanuka, who has a $7.05 million cap figure including a $4.375 million base salary, will probably be retained thanks to the recent news of Damontre Moore’s shoulder surgery, as reported by Conor Orr of the Newark Star-Ledger.
Moore, who has shown promise as a pass-rusher, told Orr that he’s not yet cleared to lift weights. Though he didn’t indicate when that date would come, the news creates a bit more concern for the defensive end spot given that the rehab might cut into his offseason training.
Jason Pierre-Paul is trying to recover from a shoulder ailment that caused him to miss the last four games of the season.
Unlike Moore, Pierre-Paul decided not to have surgery for his shoulder problem, the nature of which was not disclosed by Pierre-Paul or the team.
Looking ahead, Pierre-Paul is going to be an unrestricted free agent after the 2014 season. If Pierre-Paul’s numbers come anywhere close to fulfilling his prediction of being unstoppable in 2014 as told to Dan Graziano of ESPN, Pierre-Paul could become a challenge to re-sign once his contract voids after next year’s Super Bowl.
Kareem Martin (6’6”, 272 lbs, North Carolina) seems to be rising up the draft board at defensive end. Compared to Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett, NFL Draft Scout reports that Martin uses his length well and can hold up against the run. He also closes in on the ball well despite having average burst and speed.
Cassius Marsh (6’4”, 260 lbs, UCLA) could be one of those late-draft steals. He has experience playing both end and tackle and, per NFL Draft Scout, has shown himself to have good vision and instincts, two traits that are hard to develop in players. He also has shown value on special teams, having blocked a lock in his college career, but has average speed.
With the Giants likely to have more of a premium on the offensive line, it’s unlikely that Martin will be sitting there later in the draft.
Marsh, however, could be sitting there later in the draft. For a team that likes versatile players, adding a defensive lineman who can play both spots as well as contribute on special teams might make him worth a look.
In the last few years, we’ve learned that rookie running backs rarely get on the field right away for the Giants until they can show an ability to pass block, regardless of what round they’re drafted.
That’s why I think the Giants are going to turn to free agency to fill out their thin running backs corps.
The Current Situation
The biggest question mark is whether David Wilson, who underwent neck surgery on Jan. 21, is going to be ready.
The Giants have expressed optimism that he will be good to go, but at what point that happens is anyone’s guess right now.
Mara on the injured David Wilson: “We’re hopeful that David will be able to play for us again next year. Time will tell on that one.”— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoNYDN) January 9, 2014
Meanwhile, Andre Brown is an unrestricted free agent whose return from temporary injured reserve started out like a lion but ended like a lamb.
He saw his per-game rushing totals decline behind the deteriorating offensive line. He also had some ball-security issues, losing three fumbles in his final four games.
Brandon Jacobs has retired, and Peyton Hillis is an unrestricted free agent who told me at the end of last season that he’d be interested in returning to the Giants if they’d have him.
Michael Cox, who was a rookie last season, will be back and will be seeking a bigger role on offense.
Da’Rel Scott, who finished the year on injured reserve, is a restricted free agent who is unlikely to be retained.
James C. White (5’9”, 206 lbs, Wisconsin) helped his stock by having a solid showing at the Senior Bowl. Although not very big, he has the vision to spot creases and the quickness to exploit them.
I’m not so sure the Giants use a draft pick on a running back, at least not at this point. That’s, of course, subject to change once I see how free agency goes.
If they do decide to draft a running back, I still like White as the option given his vision and ability to slip through creases.
The last time the Giants drafted a linebacker within their first three picks was in 2009, when they took Clint Sintim, a 3-4 defensive end from the University of Virginia.
Unfortunately, Sintim never lived up to his second-round draft status, mainly due to injuries but also because he never really made he conversion to New York's 4-3 defense.
Since then, the Giants have shied away from drafting linebackers before the third round. Their last drafted linebackers being Greg Jones and Jacquian Williams, both in the sixth round in the 2011 draft.
Might the Giants look to replenish their depth at linebacker this year with a mid- to low-round pick? It's certainly possible.
The Current Situation
Jon Beason is an unrestricted free agent and is perhaps the top priority for the Giants as far as guys they want to re-sign.
While Beason has made no secret of his desire to work something out in order to remain a Giant—his agents have, according to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, had preliminary conversations with the Giants regarding a new deal—he told Dan Salomone of Giants.com that he’s realistic as far as his expectations go.
“I hope everything works out,” he said. “Obviously you never know what’s going to happen in the offseason. This is new for me being a free agent, but the stage is set. I want to be here.”
Strong-side starter Keith Rivers is also scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent and is unlikely to be re-signed. Rivers ended up being a two-down linebacker whose primary responsibility was to play contain against the run, a job he did well enough.
Williams, who will compete for the full-time starting weak-side linebacker job, is under contract. So too are Allen Bradford and Marcus Dowtin, two linebackers who were added to the roster after training camp.
Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger are both restricted free agents. Of the two, Paysinger has likely earned a "right of first refusal" tender of $1.389 million given that he shared the starting weak-side duties last year with Williams and will probably compete for the job in 2014.
After heading into training camp last year as the starting middle linebacker following the departure of Chase Blackburn, Herzlich was unimpressive, which is partially why the Giants traded a seventh-round draft pick to Carolina in order to get Beason.
However, Herzlich performed well in his new full-time role on special teams, finishing as the team leader in tackles.
With so many needs, it might not make sense for the Giants to offer Herzlich a right of first refusal offer of $1.389 million.
However, if they do tender him at that level and he doesn’t make the team, the Giants receive full credit on that amount to their 2014.
Kasim Edebali (6’2”, 248 lbs, Boston College) is a German-born and raised college defensive end who, according to NFL Draft Scout, projects to outside linebacker in the NFL. NFL Draft Scout's Rob Rang also noted that Edebali showed an ability to anticipate the snap count during the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, an accomplishment that helped set up sacks and hurries for his teammates.
Devon Kennard (6’3”, 257 lbs, Southern California) is a versatile player who’s played both the outside and inside linebacker spots, and some defensive end. Like Rivers, he’s a solid edge defender against the run with the power to shed blocks, but he lacks foot speed.
Knowing how much the Giants tend to value versatility, I think Kennard probably makes the most sense if he’s there on Day 3.
However, I don't agree with the comparisons some scouting reports have made between Kennard and Rivers, the latter of whom was a legitimate top-10 talent when he came out of college.
All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.