Tom Coughlin needs several Week 1 starters from the draft if he is going to help get the Giants back into the playoffs in 2014.
Finding a player in the draft that can start Week 1 of the upcoming season is normally the goal for an NFL team. Given the number of holes the New York Giants have on both sides of the ball, it is imperative that several of their draft selections are able to accomplish this impressive achievement.
Big Blue would benefit from finding rookie starters at any of the following positions—guard, center, wide receiver, tight end, cornerback and outside linebacker. The following slides will determine seven players at these positions that have the talent and refined skills to become immediate starters for New York.
A few important points to cover before revealing and discussing the players. First, the slides are in descending order by the round the player is currently projected to be drafted. Therefore, potential first round selections that can be instant starters won’t be covered until the end.
Also, only players the Giants can realistically pick are included. For instance, if a draft prospect is currently slated to go at the end of the first round, New York likely won’t take him, unless, of course, they trade down or severely reach with the 12th pick. In addition, surefire top 10 picks won’t be mentioned either. In other words, don’t expect to see Jadeveon Clowney.
With the disclaimers out of the way, let’s get started.
The Giants must address the guard position this offseason as it is arguably the biggest need on the team. Therefore, waiting until the fourth round to select a guard is a risk, since getting a Week 1 starter at this interior offensive line spot in the draft is imperative.
However, Anthony Steen has all the attributes of an immediate contributor at right guard and looks destined, at this point, to be a mid-round pick, according to CBSSports.com.
The 23-year-old is a bit undersized at 6’2”, 310 pounds, but he makes up for it with toughness and a workman-like attitude. He also possesses good feet and a nasty streak when run-blocking.
His pass-blocking is still a work in progress, as he doesn’t move great laterally, which makes him susceptible to quicker defensive tackles. Also, he is coming off shoulder surgery on a torn labrum that prevented him from playing in the Sugar Bowl for Alabama and the Senior Bowl in late January. He was relatively healthy in college prior to the injury, though, so potential durability issues in the NFL shouldn’t be too much of a concern with Steen.
While guard may be Big Blue’s key offseason concern, center is not far behind. With David Baas and Jim Cordle the only options on the roster to play center in 2014, New York would be wise to find a starter in the early rounds for the most overlooked position on the offensive line.
While focusing on getting a guard, wide receiver and tight end in the first three rounds is preferred, snatching up a center in the fourth round is necessary to get a player that can legitimately start right away.
Heading into the combine, which starts on Feb. 22, CBSSports.com’s top three centers are Travis Swanson, Weston Richburg and Marcus Martin.
Those three players will probably be gone by the end of the third round. I believe, though, that Bryan Stork can be every bit as good as any member of that group, including Swanson—widely believed to be the best of the trio. This makes Stork a great value since he should be available in the fourth round.
Stork was a key member of Florida State’s juggernaut offense in 2013. His strength and leverage make him an excellent run-blocker, but he is also an adequate pass-blocker. These attributes were on display at the Senior Bowl, where his performance drew high praise from former Cleveland Browns GM Phil Savage, per College Football 24/7 writer, Chase Goodbread.
Stork should continue to impress in the lengthy evaluation period leading up to May’s draft. He could slip past one of the aforementioned three centers and into the third round. Even if he does, it may be worth getting him, as he has the potential to not only start for the Giants right away, but also for the next five years.
Even though the Giants need a legitimate starting cornerback to play opposite Prince Amukamara, they are probably better off finding that player in free agency, since offense figures to dominate the first three rounds of the draft for New York.
However, if the Giants can find starters at tight end and wide receiver in free agency, then Kyle Fuller would make a great second-round pick.
The 21-year-old has all the attributes to start right away, which is not an easy feat for a rookie cornerback. He has nice size at 6’0”, 194 pounds. His ball skills and closing speed are tremendous, and he is a sure tackler—an underrated, yet critical skill for a position where a missed tackle can easily lead to a touchdown.
With all of these positives, why then is Fuller not getting first-round buzz? Well, he is coming off a sports hernia that required surgery, which cost him five of his final six games and the Senior Bowl.
While it is a risk selecting a player in the second round that is recovering from a significant injury, Fuller did not have any other major health issues in college. Also, his talent at a position that is notoriously tough-to-fill makes him a gamble worth taking.
If Gabe Jackson is available when the Giants are on the clock with the 43rd pick in the second round, they should not hesitate to snatch him up. As it stands now, he should be.
The former Bulldog is a massive presence at 6’5”, 348 pounds and would bring some much-needed girth to a New York offensive line that was routinely pushed around in 2013.
Jackson, though, is not a plodder, despite his size. He is surprisingly agile and possesses the reaction skills necessary to pass-block against quick defensive tackles and blitzing linebackers.
He is also extremely durable, having not missed a game in four years at Mississippi State.
Like Stork, Jackson caught the eye of Savage at the Senior Bowl, per Chase Goodbread of College Football 24/7. New York better hope he doesn’t impress enough between now and May 8 to bump himself up into the late first round or early second.
While outside linebacker is not the Giants top priority in the draft, it cannot be overlooked.
Therefore, the Giants must consider taking Telvin Smith in the second round, despite the fact they have other pressing needs, since the former Seminole looks like he’ll be a true playmaker in the NFL.
Describing Smith’s talent is simple—he is exceptionally fast—which is a big reason why he wreaked havoc to the tune of seven pass defenses, three interceptions (two of which were pick-sixes) and two sacks in 2013.
The concern with him is that he is only 218 pounds, despite being 6’3”. This makes him a potential candidate to move to safety, though Smith is opposed to switching from his natural position, per Mike Huguenin of CFB 24/7.
It’ll be interesting to see how the 22-year-old performs in strength drills at the combine. If he proves stronger and more physical than his wiry frame suggests, the Giants will have a hard time passing up on him with the 43rd pick, especially if free agency provides them with starting talent at their needed offensive positions.
Then again, concerns about Smith’s size could persist, even with a strong combine showing. That could push him into the third round, making him an even more tempting target for GM Jerry Reese and company.
As we move into the first round, the Giants should definitely make one of these last two players their top pick, assuming they are both not already off the board.
With Hakeem Nicks likely headed elsewhere in free agency, per Around the League writer, Marc Sessler, New York is in need of a starting wide receiver opposite Victor Cruz. Mike Evans is exactly the player qualified to fill this role.
In previous draft columns this year, I have been high on Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin. While Benjamin should be a solid pro, I was mistaken in favoring him over Evans.
The 20-year-old has the potential to be a faster, more explosive version of former Giant Plaxico Burress. Evans stands 6’5”, 225 pounds and plays to his size—routinely out-jumping and muscling cornerbacks for 50-50 balls. He also gains enough separation on long throws, mainly by having a knack to beat press coverage, that he can be considered a deep threat capable of big plays.
More importantly for New York, though, he is a player that can be depended on in the red zone—an area where the offense struggled mightily to score touchdowns in 2013.
The latest mock drafts of both Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN.com (Insider subscription required) and Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller have Evans going to the St. Louis Rams at 13. While he could slip into the top 10, it is more likely he lands somewhere between 11 and 15.
Therefore, the Giants should have the option to draft him. However, there is one player worth taking over Evans that is likely to be available at number 12 as well.
With last year’s starting tight end Brandon Myers all but gone after his contract was automatically voided on Feb. 7, Big Blue will have to find a new starter at this position for the fourth year in a row.
They should make sure they don’t have to fill it at all for at least the next four years by drafting Eric Ebron, assuming he’s available at the 12th pick.
The reason I favor Ebron over Evans is that the former has a legitimate chance to be one of the top two or three pass-catching tight ends in the NFL during his career. While Evans should be very good, he does not have this ceiling.
Ebron is not super-imposing at 6’4”, 245 pounds, but his athleticism is surreal. He has the speed to outrun safeties and the strength to win position inside against linebackers.
He’ll be the type of player that Eli Manning can target regularly on third down and in the red zone. In addition, he can stretch the middle of the field with his speed, which should provide Victor Cruz and the rest of the wide receiving corps more room to get open.
Getting a true impact player is the ultimate goal for any team in the first round of the draft. Even though tight end is not usually a position addressed in the first 15 picks, Ebron is worthy of bucking this trend, because he will instantly make the Giants offense more dynamic and explosive.
Both Kiper Jr. and Miller have Ebron going just outside the top 15 in their latest mocks, at 16 and 18, respectively, so Big Blue should have the chance to prove these draft experts wrong.
*Draft information, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of CBSSports.com.