When a team has its first-round pick in the top half of the NFL draft, obviously that’s not a good sign relating to the current state of the roster from the year before—unless of course, the team was fortunate enough to land in that spot in a trade.
Nevertheless, that’s exactly where the New York Giants find themselves this year in the draft, where they will have the 12th overall pick in Round 1 for the fourth time in franchise history, per Pro Football Reference.
What prospects stand to join the likes of halfback Phil King (Vanderbilt, 1958), defensive tackle Lou Cordileone (Clemson, 1960) and halfback Joe Don Looney (Oklahoma, 1964) as the 12th overall draft pick to wear a Giants uniform?
Here’s a look at five potential candidates and positions, in no particular order, who could end up being in the Giants’ sights for the first round of the draft.
Unless otherwise noted, all salary information is from Over the Cap, and all pro statistics and player grades are from Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The normally secretive Giants rarely tip their hand regarding what positions they’re going to target in free agency or the draft.
However, anyone with two eyes and a functional understanding of pro football could see what was painfully obvious: The offensive line was a major liability and is in dire need of new talent.
If the Giants are going to fix their “broken” offense, the first thing they’re going to have to do is make sure that the skill position players can do their jobs.
To do that, they need to be kept upright and have holes and blocks at the point of attack, and space in the second level to exploit. That’s why offensive line is the early favorite to be the top priority in this draft.
David Diehl has retired. He could be followed into retirement by Chris Snee. Per Conor Orr of the Star-Ledger, Snee is supposed to let the Giants know of his intentions before the combine.
Center David Baas has been recovering from all of his surgeries, but his age and injury history, combined with his high salary cap number, don’t exactly make his return a sure shot.
If the Giants want to minimize the turnover on the offensive line, they could leave the tackle combination of Will Beatty and Justin Pugh as is and focus on improving the quality of guards.
An interesting first-round prospect whose stock continues to rise is Stanford’s David Yankey (6’5”, 314 pounds), whom B/R’s Matt Miller, in the video above, notes is “pro ready.”
Besides possessing the intelligence level that the Giants look for in their offensive linemen, Yankey has good size, good mobility and above-average athleticism, especially in pass protection.
Per NFL Draft Scout, Yankey can pull with ease and has “above average instincts and awareness,” two additional traits coaches like to have in an offensive lineman.
When you think about all those times the Giants weren’t able to run a successful screen, often times that was a result of offensive linemen either being too slow to get into their blocks in space and/or lacking awareness.
Adding an athlete like Yankey to the offensive line could very well be just what the Giants need in order to restore that aspect of their game, something they really haven’t had since Snee was in his prime.
The cornerback spot really didn’t get much attention for its dwindling depth since the defense played much better than the offense.
Still, the fact remains that this unit suffered from the same fate as the offensive line: age and injury.
Corey Webster and Aaron Ross not only are both on the wrong side of 30, but because of injuries, each player only managed to appear in four games last season. Neither will be back with the team in 2014.
Jayron Hosley, the promising young player whom they drafted in the third round of 2012, was once again slowed by injury, missing five games in 2013 after not playing in four games as a rookie.
Terrell Thomas made his triumphant return to the field after missing the last two years with an ACL injury.
Currently an unrestricted free agent, Thomas told WFAN radio that he wants to return to the Giants, presumably to compete for his old starting job.
Meanwhile Trumaine McBride, the diminutive journeyman, opened quite a number of eyes with his play. However, his 5’9”, 185-pound frame is always going to be a concern against bigger, physical receivers.
Just look at how the coaching staff limited his defensive snaps in Week 6 of last season against the Chicago Bears when visions of McBride defending 6’4”, 230-pound Brandon Marshall or 6’3”, 216-pound Alshon Jeffrey created uneasiness.
To summarize the current situation, Webster’s contract has been voided, ending his Giants career. Thomas and McBride are both unrestricted free agents.
Both will also be 29 years old by the time the season gets fully underway, which casts doubt as to whether either is the long-term answer to start opposite of Prince Amukamara.
The Giants have historically placed a high premium on corners. In Jerry Reese’s tenure as general manager, which began in 2007, the Giants have spent six draft picks on cornerbacks.
Four of those six picks—Hosley (R3-2012), Amukamara (R1-2011), Thomas (R2-2008) and Ross (R1-2007) were selected in the first three rounds.
If a plum pick at this position is there at 12, it might be very difficult to pass up a chance to fortify this unit.
An interesting prospect who could offer value as both a shutdown corner and as a kickoff returner is Justin Gilbert (6’0”, 200 pounds) out of Oklahoma State.
Although NFL Draft Scout notes in its analysis that Gilbert remains “a bit lax in his technique,” that is something that can easily be fixed.
The positives, meanwhile, far outweigh the negatives. Gilbert has good size and range, and he has the speed to keep up with receivers in man-to-man coverage.
In addition to his acceleration and ball skills, he has six touchdown returns on kickoffs, having amassed 2,681 kickoff return yards in his four-year college career.
With David Wilson unlikely to ever return a kickoff again for the Giants—barring an emergency, of course—how nice would it be to have a return specialist with the speed, acceleration and vision to run to daylight?
When the season ended, the defensive end position initially didn’t seem like that big of a concern. However, recent events have pushed it closer to the top as far as needs go.
The first thing that is a concern is the recent news of Damontre Moore’s shoulder surgery, which was reported by Conor Orr of the Star-Ledger.
While it’s not known exactly when Moore had the “minor” surgery, he expressed optimism to Orr about being able to train and add on 15 pounds of muscle to his frame, even if he’s not cleared to lift weights just yet.
Then there was the news to come out during Super Bowl week about Justin Tuck’s plans to test the free-agency market.
“I’ve never been in this situation before, and it’s a great opportunity for myself,” Tuck told Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post. “I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t see what the market is, and I will.”
As Hubbuch pointed out in his article, Tuck’s sudden curiosity about testing the free-agent market is a “far different cry” from what Tuck told reporters at the end of the season when he said that he wanted to retire as a Giant.
Tuck, who had planned to meet with general manager Jerry Reese after Reese gave his year-end press conference to reporters, must not have liked what Reese had to say.
It also wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that Tuck’s turnaround was probably a result of that discussion.
Then there is Jason Pierre-Paul. At the end of the season, Pierre-Paul, who missed the final five games of the season with a shoulder problem, hadn’t ruled out surgery to fix his issue, telling reporters that if he were to have the surgery, he’d do so by the end of January.
The end of January has since come and gone, and apparently Pierre-Paul’s plan to rest and rehab has him on the right track.
Still, one can’t help but wonder if that strategy was merely a temporary bandage and if Pierre-Paul might be susceptible to additional injury once he starts playing again.
Speaking of Pierre-Paul, did I mention that he's eyeing a big year in his contract season?
Let’s not forget about Mathias Kiwanuka, who is signed through 2015 and currently has a $7.05 million cap figure that includes a $4.375 million base salary.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Kiwanuka graded out with a -28.1 overall mark, ranking him 34th out of 36th among 4-3 defensive ends who took 50 percent of their team’s snaps on defense in 2013.
During Reese’s tenure, the Giants have spent three draft picks on defensive ends: Pierre-Paul and Adrian Tracy in 2010, and Moore last year.
With this unit facing so many question marks, it’s probably a good time to start developing some more young depth to complement Moore and, for the time being, Pierre-Paul.
If Clowney isn’t there, I like Missouri’s Kony Ealy (6’5”, 275 pounds) if he’s there at No. 12. B/R’s Matt Miller notes in his video review (above) that Ealy has more upside than former Mizzou outside linebacker Aldon Smith, now with the 49ers.
Ealy possesses a long, muscular frame, has natural power and uses his hands well to disengage.
What might really appeal though to the Giants is—you guessed it—his versatility.
Per Miller’s assessment, Ealy is scheme-versatile in that he could play as either a defensive end or as an outside linebacker.
So if the Giants manage to re-sign Tuck, if Moore turns out to be OK, and if Pierre-Paul has his big year and ends up re-upping with the Giants, wouldn’t it be nice if New York had the flexibility to move either Moore, who like Ealy can play standing up, or Ealy, if they get him, around according to the scheme’s needs?
I debated whether to include this position in this write-up for a couple of reasons.
First, the Giants have two young tight end prospects in Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell, whom they have been trying to develop.
The debate for me was whether they want to develop a third youngster, even if that youngster is regarded as a blue-chip prospect.
Remember, both Robinson and Donnell are entering their third seasons, the two of them combining for a very uneventful 110 snaps on offense so far.
On the other side of the argument, it probably makes more sense for the Giants to get a veteran tight end who fits into whatever scheme new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo might be devising.
That strategy, to be honest, makes the most sense given that the offensive line is being renovated because the last thing they probably want to do is field a starting tight end who’s rough around the edges as a blocker.
If the Giants are contemplating taking a tight end in the first round, North Carolina’s Eric Ebron (6’4”, 245 pounds) is, as of this writing, the prospect they should be looking at.
Compared by NFL Draft Scout to Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers, Ebron has better than average speed that has drawn comparisons to that of a wide receiver. He’s fluid in getting in and out of his cuts, is able to separate and is reliable as a receiver.
The lone drawback to Ebron’s game is that he’s not a blocking tight end.
Thus, if he’s whom the Giants are eyeing in Round 1, they’ll probably want to hang onto Bear Pascoe, who is a blocking tight end, unless Donnell and/or Robinson finally take that next step in their respective developments.
Offensive tackle is a position that I initially was convinced the Giants might be looking to fill via the draft. While I still think they’ll do so, I don’t think they’ll go for a tackle in the first round.
As I noted previously, the offensive line is going to go undergo a massive overhaul, particularly among the interior.
Meanwhile, Will Beatty, despite his broken leg suffered in the 2013 regular-season finale, and Justin Pugh will both be back to fill their respective tackle spots.
While there is always the possibility that the Giants could move Pugh inside to guard if, when their turn to pick comes, they have a tackle who has a better grade than a guard, I'm not sure this is their first preference.
Pugh, remember, is versatile enough to play anywhere along the offensive line, and there are still those critics who believe that his wingspan makes him better suited for the interior than it does at tackle.
However, he not only finished with a solid 7.1 overall grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) last year, he rarely received chip blocking help from the coaches and still finished with a -1.6 pass blocking grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
That grade, although a negative mark, was still head and shoulders above the -14.3 pass-blocking grade that the more experienced (and higher paid) Beatty received.
If the Giants are contemplating taking a tackle in Round 1, Auburn’s Greg Robinson (6’5”, 320 pounds) is intriguing.
Although Robinson played left tackle in college, if he were to be drafted by the Giants, he would probably project to the right side for several reasons.
First, Beatty isn’t moving to the right side because, despite his disappointing showing last season, he’s still the team’s best fit for the left tackle spot. He's not the mauler that teams typically like to have on the right side.
Second, as NFL Draft Scout points out, Robinson has limited experience as a tackle—he started just two years in college and, “played in a relatively simple collegiate system.”
Possessing the power to maul his man, Robinson sounds like a prospect who can be molded to play right tackle.
However, the most glaring deficiency in his game, per Matt Miller’s video review, is his limited experience in pass protection, which could affect his draft stock in the coming weeks and months.