Breaking Down the Most Important Pro Days for the New York Giants
While the Giants could still be looking to add a few more veterans before the start of training camp, they’ve also been making time to attend the various college pro days to take another look at draft prospects of interest.
While every pro day is important as far as the Giants—who explore every option—are concerned, there are some they might be paying extra attention to because those schools have a player they believe fits the team's needs.
Here’s a look at five pro days, presented in chronological order, and some of the key prospects at each that might be on the Giants' radar.
March 3: Pittsburgh
In nearly 20 years I’ve covered the Giants, I have found that they’re usually good for one or two draft weekend surprises.
That’s because they sometimes see their needs much differently than those of us not part of their player personnel department. They're also thinking ahead to the future in terms of inflated veteran contracts that need to be replaced with younger talent.
So let’s assume the Giants are not planning to go offensive line in the first round, as I believe will be the case. Let's assume they're planning to address defensive tackle.
It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to think that. Linval Joseph has departed to the Vikings, and Johnathan Hankins, last year’s second-round pick, is projected to replace him.
If we look to the future, veteran Cullen Jenkins will be at the end of his three-year contract in 2015.
Jenkins played very well in his first season as a Giant, lining up at both tackle and end. There is no reason to think that will change in 2014.
The question becomes who on the Giants roster is in line to replace him?
The current depth is virtually nonexistent. Shaun Rogers and Mike Patterson are both unrestricted free agents, though of the two, Patterson probably has the best chance of returning on another one-year deal before training camp.
Markus Kuhn is also under contract, but his development stalled last year after he spent more than half of the season on the PUP list.
That brings us to the draft. If the Giants are queasy about the short- and long-term future of their defensive line and are willing to take a gamble on picking up an offensive lineman later in the draft, they could maybe look at Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald (6’0”, 285 pounds) if he’s sitting there at No. 12.
All Donald has done of late is drive up his stock. He's been cited by NFL Draft Scout as having a quick first step off the ball, with an ability to split double-team blocks in the pass rush.
While his smaller size creates some issues for him against the run, the thought of a potential 2015 defensive line consisting of Jason Pierre-Paul and Damontre Moore at end, and Hankins and Donald at tackle would probably make for one scary-looking defensive front.
Another Pitt prospect who might make for a solid Day 3 pickup is receiver Devin Street (6’3”, 198 pounds), the Panthers’ all-time receiving leader with 202 receptions.
NFL Draft Scout, which projects Street as as a fourth- or fifth-round prospect, also describes him as a “smooth athlete with natural body control and foot quickness to create some space and work the middle of the field.”
March 5: Texas A&M
Another position that the Giants haven’t really addressed in free agency so far is wide receiver.
That’s not completely accurate, as the Giants did sign two players—Mario Manningham and Trindon Holliday—who are listed as wide receivers. However, it's highly unlikely that either of those two are being considered as a potential replacement for Hakeem Nicks, who signed with Indianapolis.
Manningham, who spent the last two years with San Francisco, has seen his career take a hit thanks to a severe knee injury suffered in Week 17 of the 2012 season.
He started 2013 on PUP before ending up back on injured reserve when his knee still wasn’t right.
Holliday is a 5’5” receiver whose primary purpose will be as a return specialist. He may contribute periodically on offense, but it certainly won't be in Nicks' old role.
So what about the rest of the depth? Victor Cruz is locked into the starting lineup so long as he’s healthy. Beyond Cruz it’s not known if Rueben Randle, whom Jerry Reese sounded unsure about regarding what kind of role the third-year receiver might play in 2014, or Jerrel Jernigan will be the complement.
If the Giants are looking for a good-sized option to potentially replace Nicks, Mike Evans (6’5”, 231 pounds) might be too hard to resist if he's available in the first round.
Evans has excellent height and strength for a man his size and is a sure-handed possession receiver, especially in traffic.
If the Giants think they can draft a receiver later on—and certainly it’s possible given the depth of the receiver class—another prospect out of Texas A&M that might be there at No. 12 is offensive tackle Jake Matthews (6’5”, 308 pounds).
NFL Draft Scout notes that Matthews has lived up to all the hype accompanying his pedigree—his dad is Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, who was a 19-year NFL offensive lineman.
If left tackle Will Beatty, who is recovering from a broken leg suffered in the regular season finale, isn’t ready for the start of training camp, it would not be a stretch if they moved Justin Pugh to the left tackle spot and possibly plug Matthews in there on the right side.
March 18: Florida State
Based on my assessment of the Giants’ needs, I believe they will look to acquire at least two offensive linemen in the draft.
Their biggest needs remain along the interior, particularly at center.
New York signed veteran J.D. Walton to replace David Baas as the starter. However, the signing, at least on paper, raises some concerns.
Walton, who entered the NFL in 2010, has played in just 36 games at center, missing last season due to complications resulting from an ankle injury he suffered early in 2012.
Clearly he checked out physically, otherwise the Giants wouldn’t have given him a contract that. His deal, per Spotrac, is for two years and $5 million.
Speaking of his contract, if the Giants believed Walton was a long-term solution they likely would have offered him a longer deal.
Walton might still turn out to be the long-term solution, but the Giants might be looking at taking a different direction given the structure of the contract.
With Jim Cordle not currently in the team’s plans—he could still be added before camp if his knee is healed and there is a need. The Giants could look to acquire some depth at this position on Day 3, such as Bryan Stork (6’4”, 315 pounds).
Stork, whom NFL Draft Scout describes as "technically sound," possesses exceptional athleticism and a nasty disposition.
Compared by NFL Draft Scout to unsigned unrestricted free agent Brian De La Puente of the Saints, a free agent whom according to multiple press reports were said to have some early interest, Stork would provide a cheaper, long-term option if he builds up the lower half of his body.
If the Giants are looking for some firepower in their receiver unit, Kevin Benjamin (6’5”, 240 pounds), who is projected to be a late first-round, early second-round pick by NFL Draft Scout, would give the Giants a player with the size of a tight end and the quickness of a receiver.
If the Giants are truly convinced that one or both of Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell will develop into the tight end they need for their offense, a player with Benjamin's measurables would offer exceptional value if he’s sitting there in the second round.
March 20: Notre Dame
For as impressive of a haul the Giants have made so far in free agency, the position they have yet to address is perhaps one of the most glaring: tight end.
Of that group, Finley might be the most appealing, but there remain questions as to when he’ll be cleared to return following the neck surgery he had last year.
While a majority of Giants fans would probably rejoice if North Carolina's Eric Ebron landed with the Giants, that would probably have to happen in Round 1, a scenario I don’t think happens given the unsettled state of the offensive line.
Instead, the Giants will look at getting a tight end on the second day of the draft; a prospect they might be eyeing is Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas (6’6”, 270 pounds).
As I noted in my most recent mock draft (which has since been blown to smithereens thanks to the team’s free agency activity), Niklas has exceptional size for the position and, per NFL Draft Scout, has experience playing multiple roles.
If new Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is looking for versatility, Niklas, a former defensive player and nephew of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, would be a perfect fit given his ability to fight and win many of his one-on-one matchups.
Another Irish prospect that could fit the Giants is offensive lineman Zack Martin (6’4”, 308 pounds), who lined up at left tackle in college but projects to left guard in the NFL.
Although the Giants signed Geoff Schwartz to fill the left guard spot, as I previously noted, the offensive line is far from being settled.
While there is optimism left tackle Will Beatty “should be ready” for the start of training camp (per Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News), that remains to be seen.
If Beatty is not ready, the Giants will need to move their line around. A likely scenario could see Justin Pugh sliding over to left tackle, a position he played at Syracuse, and Schwartz moving to right tackle, a position he played for the Panthers during the 2009 season.
If the Giants were to grab Martin, who appears to have the tools to be a Day 1 NFL starter, he would probably project to that left guard spot.
If Beatty turns out to be ready, the selection of Martin would be a nice fallback plan should right guard Chris Snee’s comeback attempt fall short. In that instance, Schwartz could move to right guard with Martin still stepping in at left guard.
April 19: Virginia Tech
Defensive tackle wasn’t the only front-four spot to take a hit this offseason.
The departure of defensive end Justin Tuck, who headed west to Oakland, created a significant void in the Giants’ depth at the position.
Damontre Moore, who logic dictates is the heir apparent to Justin Tuck’s starting job, is coming off shoulder surgery, as reported by The Star-Ledger.
While he’s expected to be ready for camp, a concern that comes with any athlete rehabbing from a recent surgical procedure is how much time he will actually get to train versus how much is needed to rebuild lost strength.
The Star-Ledger also reported that Jason Pierre-Paul, who had set a Jan. 31 deadline for himself regarding whether to have surgery on his ailing shoulder that cost him the final five games of last season, decided to skip the procedure after making progress in his ailment by resting it.
Given all of this information, the defensive end situation isn't very settling, is it?
While the Giants will probably add a veteran defensive end at some point during the second or third waves of free agency, it would be surprising if they also don’t address this position via the draft.
If they’re looking to take a flier on a young prospect, Virginia Tech’s James Gayle (6’4”, 259 pounds) might be worth a gamble.
Although Gayle doesn’t have ideal size, he’s powerfully built and has a natural explosiveness off the edge, observes NFL Draft Scout.
However, Gayle also was described as being stiff when asked to drop into space and needs to build up his repertoire of pass-rushing moves.