The New York Giants' draft strategy will remain the same in some respects following the moves they made in free agency. However, it also has been altered significantly due to what transpired during the last week.
Prior to March 11, it was conceivable that the Giants could draft a cornerback in the first round. In fact, I had two cornerbacks listed among the 16 players I included in a first-round big board for Big Blue back in late February. Now, after New York signed both Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond III, as well as re-signed Trumaine McBride, it is very likely it doesn’t draft a cornerback at all with any of its six picks.
On the flip side, the departures of defensive end Justin Tuck and defensive tackle Linval Joseph suddenly create depth issues along the defensive line that didn’t exist before free agency started.
In theory, the Giants could make more moves on the open market to further redefine the makeup of the roster. With 19 players signed, though, including nine who are new to New York, and cap room slowly dwindling, it is hard to imagine the Giants bringing on another player who would dramatically affect the status of a position.
Therefore, let’s analyze what the Giants' draft strategy figures to be when the first round kicks off on the evening of May 8.
Draft a Tight End in the First Two Rounds
The frenzy of free-agency activity by the Giants has not included inking a single tight end.
They haven’t even retained Bear Pascoe, a reliable blocker and likable player who would at least give the team a veteran at a position that currently boasts only Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell. Those two players have logged only 110 offensive snaps combined in the NFL and have three catches between them, all by Donnell.
This position is dangerously thin, and with the rest of the receiving corps not likely to improve much (more on this later), it is imperative that New York draft a tight end in the first two rounds.
Fortunately, the Giants appeared to lay the groundwork for this strategy well before free agency started. They visited with the top two tight ends in the draft, Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro, at the NFL Scouting Combine last month, according to Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News.
My affection for Ebron is no secret, and if he is available when Big Blue is on the clock with the 12th pick, I think they should snatch him up. If the Giants don’t agree, or if a franchise left tackle, like Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews, somehow fall into their laps, then Amaro would be a fine consolation prize.
The problem with Amaro is that he is likely a late first-round or early second-round pick at this point. Therefore, the Giants would have to reach to get him at 12—obviously not desirable—or trade down later in the round to realize proper value, something that Jerry Reese would consider, per Rich Cimini of ESPN.com.
The other option is to hope he falls to the Giants in the second round, which seems unlikely since they pick near the middle of the round at 43.
Outside of Ebron and Amaro, New York could target Troy Niklas out of Notre Dame. He should definitely be available in the second round, if not the third. Niklas doesn’t have the speed or explosiveness of Ebron and Amaro but he is a better blocker at this point, while still being a reliable pass-catcher.
Despite Upgrades, Offensive Line Still Needs Attention
Even with the Schwartz and Walton signings, the Giants need to draft one interior offensive lineman that has serious potential to start early in his NFL career.
Right guard Chris Snee, who appears to be a starter at this point, is 32 years old and coming off a season where he played only three games due to a serious hip injury. Also, Walton hasn’t played in a game since early in the 2012 season because of a severe ankle injury.
The Giants need to protect against these players going down, or being ineffective, by drafting a guard or center that can be a plug-and-play option early in his rookie season. New York can get away with a backup at one of these positions, if both Snee and Walton can’t or shouldn’t start. Two backups, however, would severely weaken the line.
And if the drafted player deserves to start right out of training camp over either veteran, this is a situation I’m sure Tom Coughlin wouldn’t mind.
Guard is a deep position in this draft. Players like Gabe Jackson, Xavier Su’a-Filo and David Yankey each project to be starting-caliber their rookie season, and they all could go in the second round. Jackson has the highest upside of the three, due to his powerful, yet agile 6’3”, 336-pound frame, while Su’a-Filo appears to be the most polished and pro-ready.
As for center, the story is the same—a lot of depth and future NFL starters. The most intriguing is Marcus Martin out of USC. While he is being drafted as a center, he played guard his first two years in college. At 6’3”, 320 pounds, he has the size to fill in admirably at guard in the NFL if need be.
Address Defensive Line Depth
New York should be ok on the defensive line in 2014, even without Tuck and Joseph.
Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins performed well against the run in his rookie season, with 11 stops and a 9.5 Pro Football Focus rating (subscription required), over 195 snaps. The 2013 second-round pick should be able to clog running lanes almost as well as Joseph, who, despite the $31.5 million contract he received from the Minnesota Vikings, isn’t much of a pass-rusher with only nine career sacks in four seasons.
A healthy Jason Pierre-Paul will go a long way towards making up for the loss of Tuck at defensive end. Damontre Moore, New York’s third-round pick last April, developing into at least a useful rotation player in his second season would help as well.
Where the draft can bolster the front four is with depth that has an eye on 2015 and beyond.
For instance, Cullen Jenkins is 33 years old. He figures to play out the final two years of his contract with Big Blue, at best, before either going to another team or possibly retiring. Therefore, drafting a defensive tackle that can back up both Jenkins and Hankins, and also supplant the former as a starter in a year or two, is ideal. It would be preferable that the strength of this player be the pass rush, since Jenkins had five sacks last season and is the best defensive tackle on the Giants roster at getting after the quarterback.
A perfect player to fill this role is Pittsburgh Panther Aaron Donald, but it’ll take a first-round pick to get him. Other options are Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt, who figures to be available in the second round, and Kelcy Quarles of South Carolina, a potential third-round pick.
At defensive end, 31-year-old Mathias Kiwanuka may see the writing on the wall for his Giants future. He is fresh off a hefty pay cut that he accepted on Monday. While he is under contract for 2015, most of the money can be removed off the cap if he is cut next offseason. Simply put, unless Kiwanuka has an excellent 2014 season, there is a good chance this will be his last year with Big Blue.
To make the future of the position even more unsettled, Pierre-Paul is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2015.
Grooming a new defensive end now is a no-brainer. Since Jadeveon Clowney is a surefire top-five pick, the first attainable player at this position is Kony Ealy.
He projects to be an excellent NFL pass-rusher, but better value lies in North Carolina’s Kareem Martin. The 22-year-old should be available in the second round and could even slip into the third round (Ealy is a virtual lock to go in the first round). At 6’6”, 272 pounds, Martin brings excellent size and strength to the position. He also had a productive senior season in college, with 11.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss, per Sports-Reference.com.
He still needs to become more sophisticated as a pass-rusher, so he isn’t a great option to see significant playing time in 2014. However, he should be ready to blossom once the defensive end position potentially has far more question marks than answers next spring.
No Wide Receiver in First Four Rounds
While Bleacher Report’s NFC East Lead Writer Brad Gagnon disagrees, based on what is on the roster, I think the Giants ignore this position during the premium picks of the draft.
With Tuesday’s signing of Mario Manningham, Big Blue currently has four wideouts under the age of 28 that can all be productive. Of that group, Victor Cruz is a Pro Bowl-level talent, while Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan could prove to have upside with more playing time.
It’s not a great group, but they are certainly serviceable at worst. With an improved offensive line, a dynamic rookie tight end and a better rushing attack behind newly acquired running back Rashad Jennings, the Giants offense can be productive with the receivers presently on the roster.
New York could take a flier on a receiver in the fifth or sixth round, but that is the best-case scenario I envision. Compared to some of the other aforementioned positions, wide receiver on this team contains depth, youth and decent quality.