Analyzing the Experts' Predictions for the NY Giants in Round 1 of the NFL Draft
One of the most intriguing things about the annual NFL draft is also one of the most frustrating things about it.
Yup, mock drafts.
It seems that every analyst has a different opinion as to how teams should draft, especially in the first round.
Sometimes these opinions change based on what a team does in the first two stages of free agency while some analysts lock in on a prospect for a team, regardless. When the draft class is deep in talent, as this year’s class is, trying to forecast what each team will do in the first round is even more challenging.
I’ve long been of the opinion that teams don’t always view their needs the same way as analysts, reporters and fans.
Want proof? Look at how last year the New York Giants, whom many people on the outside believed were in dire need of a linebacker, traded up to get a backup quarterback (Ryan Nassib), about whom general manager Jerry Reese told reporters, "If he doesn't ever play, that would be great."
Go on. Raise your hand if you saw that coming.
Beside how they view their personnel needs, teams often have a different take on the value of some of the big-named prospects who consistently make headlines around this time of year.
For instance, players who are thought to be blue-chip first-round prospects have gone later than initially projected. Anyone remember how current New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith was projected as a first-round talent but who actually fell into the second round?
Despite the hits and misses by analysts—the deeper the talent pool, the likelier there will be more misses—it's still fun to take a look at what others have to say about the draft.
That's what I've done in this slide show. I've looked at the projections of several NFL draft analysts who have published or updated mocks since April 1, and I've honed in on what they think the Giants will do in the first round.
But wait, there's more. I've also analyzed picks of these experts, making an argument for and against the pick. Lastly, I've closed this slide show with the player whom I would choose for the Giants if I were the team's general manager and this player were sitting there when I went on the clock at No. 12.
There's a lot to cover, so let's get started.
Oh, and don't forget to mock away!
Tight End Eric Ebron, North Carolina
Talents like North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron (6'4", 250 pounds) don't come along very often.
He's a nice-sized, smooth-moving athlete who can be dangerous in the passing game thanks to his combination of speed, acceleration and size.
Per his UNC bio, Ebron is the ACC single-season record holder for receiving yards by a tight end (973 yards), which easily surpassed the previous mark of 871 set by Vernon Davis, now with San Francisco.
Ebron's three-year collegiate career totals include 112 receptions for 1,805 yards (16.1 yards per catch) and eight touchdowns.
The Experts' Take
"Ebron's ability to create big yardage after the catch would be a perfect fit in new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's attack." — Rob Rang, CBS Sports
"Ebron just makes a ton of sense for the Giants if they want to improve their overall explosion on offense." — Will Brinson, CBS Sports
"The Giants need more weapons on offense and grabbing the top tight end in the draft would be a good place to start." — Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com
The Case for Ebron
The Giants found out the hard way last season how much not having a viable receiving threat at tight end to draw the safety away from double covering Victor Cruz really hurt their offense.
With no clear cut option to replace Hakeem Nicks, who left via free agency, currently identified, Ebron's unique blend of size, speed and athleticism would make him a perfect option to help open up things for the vertical passing game that head coach Tom Coughlin said will still be a part of new offense.
“(McAdoo) does not describe himself as West Coast,” Coughlin told reporters at the NFL Combine in February when asked about his new offensive coordinator’s philosophies.
“He thinks more in terms of the ball going vertical or down the field if the opportunities present themselves.”
Certainly Ebron would be a perfect fit to help rejuvenate the Giants' vertical passing game.
The Case Against Ebron
If the Giants want to return to the power run game, they're going to need a starting tight end that can block, a trait that's really not one of Ebron's strengths.
Then there was the news that Ebron's pro day didn't exactly wow scouts in attendance. Per NFL.com, he dropped some passes, which aligned with a scouting report by Ricky Henne of Chargers.com, who wrote of Ebron:
One area Ebron needs to work on is his consistency. For every sensational play he makes, he far too often drops easy routine catches. If he is able to cut down on his drops, and becomes a better blocker, many believe Ebron could find himself a perennial Pro Bowler in no time.
The Giants do have plenty of needs and certainly landing a solid tight end is one.
However, in Coughlin's tenure as head coach, the last time a starting tight end led the team in any of the the three major receiving categories, was in 2004 when Jeremy Shockey led the Giants in receptions (61), receiving yards (666), and touchdown catches (six).
That season, the Giants finished 6-10, by the way.
The point I'm trying to make is that in recent years, the Giants have usually targeted their No. 1 and No. 2 receivers more than the starting tight end on the passing game.
Per data gathered from Pro Football Focus' premium stats covering the last four seasons (2010 to 2013), here is the breakdown showing the average number of pass targets thrown at the No.1 and No. 2 receivers vs. the starting tight end:
|No. 1 WR||No. 2 WR||Tight End|
If the Giants are looking to land a solid receiving threat at No. 12, wouldn't it make more sense to draft a wide receiver who's likely to be targeted more frequently and wait until later in the draft to pick up a tight end who can block and hold his own on the passing game?
Wide Receiver Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Receiver Mike Evans (6'5", 231 pounds) from Texas A&M is a big, physical receiver who can fight off jams at the line, use his body to shield the ball from defenders in traffic and block downfield.
Last season, he had four games in which he caught two or more touchdowns, including a four-touchdown performance in a 45-41 loss to SEC champion Auburn.
Evans has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in receiving in each of his two years with the Aggies. In 2013, he more than doubled his touchdown numbers over the prior year, despite playing in one fewer game.
He finished his collegiate career with 151 catches for 2,499 yards and 17 touchdowns in two seasons.
The Experts' Take
"The loss of Hakeem Nicks elevates Rueben Randle in the rotation, but it could prompt GM Jerry Reese to make a play for a prototypical No. 1 receiver like Evans at this point."—Bucky Brooks, NFL.com
"(QB Eli) Manning gets a huge weapon in Evans, who should be a long-term upgrade over Hakeem Nicks."—Bryan Fischer, NFL.com
"Evans is a bit like (Plaxico) Burress in his size and leaping ability, and he’s certainly used to catching footballs from unconventional angles." — Doug Farrar, SI.com
The Case for Evans
Evans' size alone is enough to fall in love with, as he will not face cornerbacks of similar size in the NFL. So, just on physical prowess alone, he will boast a significant advantage over defenders, especially in jump-ball situations.
The Giants also have a history of putting big men at their No. 1 receiver spot such as Nicks (6'1"), Amani Toomer (6'3") and Plaxico Burress (6'6")—all of whom, when healthy, paid dividends for the offense, as Farrar noted:
Many have the Giants taking a tight end with this pick, and though it’s a clear need, it’s also true that Eli Manning has always benefited most when he had a receiver who could go up and grab the ball no matter the defensive coverage. That was (tight end) Jeremy Shockey early in Manning’s career, and Plaxico Burress a bit later.
The Case against Evans
The only argument I can make against taking Evans if he's there at No. 12 is that the wide receiver class is so deep that the Giants could conceivably wait until the second round to get a quality player at that position.
An intriguing option who might make sense for them if Evans is scooped up before they go on the clock at No. 12 is USC's Marquise Lee (6'0", 192 pounds), whom NFL Draft Scout projects to be a late first-/early second-round prospect.
Lee, interestingly, compares to the Giants' Victor Cruz in terms of his build and natural playmaking abilities with the ball in his hands. Talent-wise, he should be a late first-round pick.
However, he had some injury issues and issues with drops last season which could send his stock tumbling.
Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald (6’1”, 285 pounds) out of Pittsburgh doesn’t possess ideal size for an interior defensive lineman.
However, when it comes to being a disruptive force in the backfield, he’s consistently shown an ability to beat his man thanks to an extremely quick first step.
Per NFL Draft Scout, Donald led the country in sacks per game (1.6) and tackles for loss (2.4). Despite his smallish size, he saw his draft stock rise after dominating bigger opponents throughout 2013 and at the 2014 Senior Bowl.
At the Senior Bowl, Mike Loyko of NEPatriotsDraft.com reported that Donald had a number of successes against larger offensive linemen, including Miami (Fla.) guard Brandon Linder (6’6”, 311 pounds), Michigan tackle Michael Schofield (6’7”, 301 pounds) and Baylor guard Cyril Richardson (6’5”, 329 pounds).
Loyko added that Donald’s only struggles during one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl came against Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin (6’4”, 308 pounds) and Tennessee guard Kadeem Edwards (6’4”, 313 pounds).
Hey, you can't win 'em all.
The Experts' Take
"I will keep him here for now after they lost Linval Joseph."—Pete Prisco, CBS Sports
"One-gap penetrators like Donald are very hard to find, especially with his motor. Donald has made 89 plays behind the line of scrimmage between sacks and tackles for a loss. That is 31 more than the next best performance by an inside player in the draft."—Pat Kirwan,CBS Sports
"As the draft's best 3-technique pass-rusher at defensive tackle, Donald would provide the Giants with exactly what Tom Coughlin and co. couldn't find on the free-agent market."—Matt Miller, Bleacher Report
The Case for Donald
Although the Giants’ numbers at defensive tackle look a little better now that they’ve re-signed Mike Patterson to a one-year deal, the quality isn't quite what it was last year, when general manager Jerry Reese made defensive tackle a top priority in free agency and the draft.
Patterson is signed to a one-year deal and will probably remain as a situational player used specifically in goal-line and short-yardage packages.
Cullen Jenkins, who played well last year, is entering the second of his three-year contract. At 6’2”, 305 pounds, the 33-year-old Jenkins offers defensive coordinator Perry Fewell versatility in that he can move outside to defensive end in certain packages.
While it’s unlikely that Jenkins is in any danger of losing playing time this year, it remains to be seen how many more years he has to give the Giants.
The rest of the Giants’ depth at defensive tackle includes second-year man Johnathan Hankins, who will presumably move to Joseph’s vacated starting spot, and third-year player Markus Kuhn, who missed most of last season while recovering from an ACL injury suffered late in his rookie season.
The bottom line is that one year after placing a premium on signing defensive tackles with the goal of shoring up the run, the Giants’ depth still seems far from being settled.
The Case against Donald
Donald’s size (6’0", 285 pounds) raises concerns about his ability to shed blocks at the point of attack, especially in against the run.
With the Giants having finished last season as the NFL’s 14th-best run defense—they allowed opponents 3.84 yards per carry and 109.06 rushing yards per game—they might be willing to gamble on Hankins taking over for Joseph while they search later rounds for another big body to provide depth for their run defense.
Offensive Tackle Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews (6’6”, 308 pounds) will be looking to carry on the Matthews family's NFL legacy, following in the footsteps of this father, Bruce Matthews, a Hall of Fame offensive tackle for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans.
The younger Matthews might not be the most fleet afoot, but he plays with a nasty disposition and can engulf defenders with seemingly little effort.
There’s been some question as to whether Matthews has ideal athleticism and balance to get to the second level, but as a straight-ahead run blocker, Matthews, who’s a classic technician, appears to be ready to make an immediate impact.
The Experts' Take
"Matthews is arguably the safest prospect in this class with his steady, technically sound play style to realistically line up at any spot on the offensive line. His fall could be the Giants' gain as they rebuild the offensive line."—Dane Brugler, CBS Sports
The Case for Matthews
Despite the offseason free-agent additions to the offensive line, which include John Jerry and Charles Brown, the Giants’ offensive tackle situation is far from settled.
We’ll start with Jerry, the former Miami Dolphins guard who was one of three alleged participants named in the Wells Report investigating workplace harassment within the Dolphins organization.
Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News reported that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has not ruled out suspending Jerry, who must, at minimum, undergo a medical evaluation before he’s allowed to play again.
That’s not exactly settling news, considering the Giants, who are set to begin their offseason program on April 21, not only have to bring all of their newly signed players up to speed on the Giants' way. They also have to work on installing a new offense.
Any amount of time that Jerry is forced miss, if it comes to that, could be detrimental to his acclimation to the Giants program.
William Beatty, the current starting left tackle, suffered a broken leg in the regular-season finale, capping an up-and-down 2013 season. While there is optimism that Beatty will be ready for opening day, it remains to be seen just how much, if any, he’ll be able to do in the spring and summer.
Brown started 15 games last season at left tackle, earning himself a -9.2 rating from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which ranked 39th out of 43 offensive tackles who took at least 75 percent of their teams' snaps.
Thus, other than Justin Pugh and Geoff Schwartz, the latter of whom can play tackle in a pinch, the Giants tackle situation appears in need of at least one more candidate.
The Case against Matthews
According to NFL Draft Scout, Matthews is ranked as the second-best tackle prospect in this draft, behind Auburn’s Greg Robinson.
If those rankings match the value boards of NFL teams, the chances that Matthews makes it to the Giants at No. 12 are slim considering that the St. Louis Rams (No. 2) and Atlanta Falcons (No. 6) are in need of a stud left tackle.
Even if Matthews should fall down to the Giants, the team might not have any option but to stick with Beatty, whom last offseason New York gave a five-year deal worth $37.5 million with $19 million guaranteed.
Even if the Giants wanted to move on from Beatty, the soonest they could recoup significant cap savings, according to Over the Cap, is in 2016, at which point they could net $4.175 million, a huge boost from the $550,000 they’d be able to save if they were to cut him in 2015.
While a trade is always an option, there probably wouldn't be much of a demand for an offensive lineman who is not only coming off the worst season of this career, but also a serious leg injury.
Pat's Pick: Offensive Lineman Zack Martin, Notre Dame
Reports from Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin’s (6’4”, 308 pounds) Senior Bowl and pro day workouts were very positive.
We’ll start with the Senior Bowl, where Mike Loyko of NEPatriotsDraft.com named Martin as “the best overall OL.”
Loyko noted that Martin was one of a very small number of offensive linemen who was able to handle dynamic defensive tackle Aaron Donald of Pittsburgh, who otherwise made several offensive linemen look foolish in one-on-one drills.
At his pro day, Martin stood pat on his numbers from the combine, but, according to Dane Brugler of NFL Draft Scout, he did turn in an impressive showing in drills.
So what’s there to like about Martin? Plenty, starting with a low center of gravity that enables him to counter both speed and power. And he has better-than-average quickness off the snap, along with an ability to anchor when he sets up in pass protection.
Per NFL Draft Scout, Martin “shows better athleticism than you might think when blocking on the move,” which bodes well for his ability to pull and get to the second level, two things that the Giants, at least in the past, have asked their interior offensive linemen to do.
Want another reason to like Martin? He plays with a mean streak that drives him to dominate opponents, something of which a team can never have enough.
The Case for Martin
The biggest thing to keep in mind about how New York evaluates its offensive linemen is that the team likes versatility. Having guys who can play two or more positions at a high level gives them the flexibility to try different combinations for a starting unit still unsettled despite the free agents brought on board.
Enter Martin. A four-year college starter at tackle, he likely projects as a guard, though, because of his versatility, would seemingly provide upgrades at both guard and tackle for the Giants.
Until I see otherwise, I don't think John Jerry or Charles Brown are answers at tackle should Will Beatty not be return healthy or if Justin Pugh suffers an injury.
So I present to you a couple of scenarios outlining why Martin would prove his value to the Giants if chosen at No. 12:
First, if Beatty begins camp on the physically unable to perform list, which wouldn’t be a surprise, the Giants could move Pugh to left tackle, the position he played in college, until Beatty is able to return.
As I noted on the previous slide, the soonest the Giants could cut Beatty and really see a significant cap savings is 2016. So they might not have any choice but to wait and see if he is able to regain the high level of play he demonstrated in 2012.
So assuming Pugh moves to left tackle, they could slide Geoff Schwartz to right tackle and plug Martin in at left guard, replacing Schwartz.
In scenario No. 2, if right guard Chris Snee and center J.D. Walton are healthy, that alignment gives the Giants a solid look up front. However, if Snee isn’t ready to go a full 16-game schedule, Martin could probably be groomed to play right guard, where he might even offer an upgrade over Snee, who's well past his prime.
As for the depth behind the starters, I think two out of Brandon Mosley, James Brewer and Eric Herman stick to play guard.
I would then keep one of Jerry and Brown to serve as a swingman guard/tackle. I'm projecting the Giants to draft a center by the end of Day 2 to back up Walton; that draft pick (Bryan Stork of Florida State, anyone?) could also see action as the team's jumbo tight end.
There would then be one additional opening for a Day 3 draft pick, an undrafted free agent or a veteran offensive lineman who comes loose after the draft or after a training camp cutdown date.