New York Giants 2014 NFL Draft: Fact or Fiction
If there's one thing that we can say for certain about the New York Giants' 2014 draft plans, it's that we don't know what we think we know.
Forget that the Giants are coming off an impressive (on paper at least) free-agent spending spree. They appear to have addressed needs at cornerback, offensive line, linebacker and running back.
Certainly after a 7-9 season, changes had to be made. For all the personnel miscalculations made by general manager Jerry Reese throughout the years in the draft, he realized that he had to find a better way to use free agency to set up the upcoming draft.
Speaking of the draft, where exactly are the Giants regarding what direction they'll take?
The depth of this year's class happens to be deep in receivers, tight ends and offensive linemen—three positions that the Giants could use an upgrade in talent.
However, that's my take, and if there's one thing I've learned in all the years I've covered this team professionally, it's that the draft promises to be an anything-can-happen event.
Let's look at some of the popular Giants draft theories and rumors that have been floating around cyberspace and try to arrive at a conclusion as to whether they're fact or fiction.
The Giants Will Draft a Tight End in the First Round: Fiction
The Giants' depth chart at tight end is unsettling.
They have a pair of third-year players, Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell, who have combined for three NFL receptions in two seasons.
They also have older veterans Daniel Fells, who was unable to stick with the tight end-starved New England Patriots last year, and Kellen Davis, who despite appearing in 15 games for the Seahawks last season (with four starts), also recorded just three receptions, one of which went for a touchdown.
Despite this shaky-looking picture, I don't think the Giants are going to draft a tight end in the first round and certainly not North Carolina's Eric Ebron.
As I noted earlier this week, in head coach Tom Coughlin's tenure, you'd have to go back to 2004 to find the last time a starting tight end led the Giants in any of the three major receiving categories.
That season, Jeremy Shockey led the Giants in receptions (61), receiving yards (666) and touchdown catches (six). In addition to being a solid receiver, he could also block.
Ebron, for as good as he might be as a receiver, has drawn criticisms about his blocking from draft analysts, including Bleacher Report's Matt Miller in the video above and NFL.com's Bucky Brooks, who notes of Ebron, "At this point, I think he's a better athlete than receiver."
If the Giants are looking for a receiving threat who offers solid value for the passing game, they would probably be better off picking a receiver in the first round ahead of a tight end.
The Offensive Line Remains a Top Draft Priority: Fact
The offensive line might have the numbers, but as we've seen so many times before, quantity doesn't always equal quality.
Indeed, the Giants have a handful of questions that have made settling the offensive line far from being done.
Will left tackle Will Beatty, who is recovering from a broken leg suffered at the end of last season, be ready?
How about projected starting right guard Chris Snee, who’s coming off hip and elbow surgeries?
Do the Giants have enough quality depth at tackle? Guard?
Can Dallas Reynolds get it done as the backup center/swingman at guard?
That’s a lot of questions and not many answers. And we might not get the answers for a while yet.
That’s why it would not be shocking to see the Giants draft two offensive linemen this year, especially given the depth of this year's rookie class.
Sure, it would be nice for them to add a receiver or tight end in the first round. However, what good does adding firepower to the offense at that point in the draft do if quarterback Eli Manning has to run for his life on almost every play, as he did last season?
That's why I keep coming back to the offensive line as a unit that is likely to dominate the makeup of the Giants' 2014 draft class.
One pick might very well be the starting center of the future, perhaps Bryan Stork or Travis Swanson, either of whom should be there on Day 2.
The first-round pick could be a guard/tackle swingman like Notre Dame’s Zack Martin, who should be sitting there at No. 12.
Whatever order the Giants choose to address the offensive line, you can count on the team adding at least one young prospect via the draft to shore up this still shaky unit.
The Giants Will Trade Up to Get Projected Top-10 Player: Fiction
Wouldn’t it be awesome if the Giants were somehow able to land a projected top-10 talent like South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson or Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews?
If you’re holding out hope of that happening, you might end up being disappointed. Outside of one of those top-10 talents slipping down the draft board, the only way for the Giants to get one of them is to trade up from the No. 12 spot.
Outside of 2004, when they traded up to get Eli Manning, their franchise quarterback, the last time the Giants traded up in the first round to get a player other than a quarterback was in 2002.
That year, they sent their first- and fourth-round pick to Tennessee to grab tight end Jeremy Shockey at No. 14.
So why don't I think that the Giants, who had a very productive free-agency spree this offseason that presumably addressed several needs, would consider parting with a pick or two to move up to the top 10?
A trade might make sense if the Giants were one or two players away from fielding a contender. However, many people would agree that this team still has a number of unsettled issues on both sides of the ball, including in no specific order: running back, outside linebacker, offensive line (center, tackle) and tight end.
The Giants need to have a strong draft, which means they have to be careful about giving away picks to move up on Day 1 or even on Day 2.
It Makes Sense for the Giants to Trade Down in the First Round: Fact
The last time the Giants traded down in the first round of the NFL draft was in 2006.
Per Behind the Steel Curtain, New York and Pittsburgh swapped first-round picks, with the Giants holding the 25th pick and the Steelers holding the 32nd pick. New York also received the Steelers' picks in the third round (No. 96 overall) and fourth round (No. 129 overall).
The Giants turned all those picks into Boston College defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, Georgia Tech linebacker Gerris Wilkinson and East Carolina offensive tackle Guy Whimper, in that order.
Might they be open to trading down this year?
It could happen depending on how the first 11 picks go and their impact on the teams that draft in the bottom part of the first round.
Let’s say, for example, there’s a run on quarterbacks, which could be the case since at least six of the teams ahead of the Giants appear to be in need of that position.
That would mean that several quality players, who in any other year might be top-10 picks, would slide down to slots 11-20, making those draft slots even more valuable to teams that rare drafting in slots 21-32 that might have their eye on a blue-chip prospect.
A possible trade partner for the Giants is San Diego, which sits at No. 25 and needs cornerback help.
If Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert is on the board at No. 12, could the Chargers be willing to give up a bounty of draft picks to go up and get him?
If the Giants can acquire extra picks while still getting the player they want this year—again the class is deep at receiver and offensive linemen, two of their main needs—they can use extra picks to move around in the middle part of the draft if there’s a player they have a really high grade on but who seems out of reach.
Wide Receiver Is Not a High Priority: Fiction
After two injury-filled seasons spent in San Francisco, receiver Mario Manningham, a hero from Super Bowl XLVI, is back with the team that made him its third-round draft pick in 2008 out of Michigan.
The question is what, if any, role will he fill on the Giants receiving corps.
It’s probably unlikely that he will move into the starting lineup, where a vacancy exists thanks to the departure of Hakeem Nicks.
While the Giants apparently felt comfortable enough with Manningham’s surgically repaired knee to give him a one-year contract, it remains to be seen if he’s anywhere close to having the speed and burst that he had prior to the injury.
Rueben Randle, meanwhile, is projected to move into the starting lineup. While general manager Jerry Reese told reporters at the scouting combine in February that the club continues “to expect him to grow and be a more mature player,” even Reese wasn’t sure what the immediate future held for Randle.
“I think he’s a good player,” Reese said, via Pro Football Talk. “I’m not sure if he’s a one, if he’s a two, if he’s a three, but I think he can contribute to our receiving corps.”
With the Giants not sure of what they have in Randle after two seasons, they’d probably be foolish to rest on their laurels, given the current depth at receiver.
That’s why I think they will dip into the deep receiver class for a prospect who could potentially challenge for a fair share of the game snaps.
I also would not be shocked if the Giants look for a receiver at some point in the first three rounds.
The Giants Still Need Help on the Defensive Side of the Ball: Fact
In looking at the Giants’ free-agency activity, they signed/re-signed 12 defensive players to replace the four they lost via free agency—defensive end Justin Tuck, defensive tackle Linval Joseph, safety Ryan Mundy and linebacker Keith Rivers.
The newcomers include Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who will start opposite Prince Amukamara, nickel cornerback Walter Thurmond and safety Quintin Demps, who can also serve as a return specialist.
Defensive end Robert Ayers will probably replace Tuck as the starter opposite Jason Pierre-Paul. Mike Patterson will provide depth at defensive tackle as he did last year, with second-year man Johnathan Hankins projected to move into Joseph’s starting role.
Lastly, Jameel McClain will presumably replace Rivers as the strong-side linebacker, assuming an unforeseen competition.
While it's easy to get excited about the changes made to the defensive secondary, the front seven remains a little iffy.
The Giants will almost certainly look to add another defensive end and defensive tackle to the mix, with the latter probably the bigger need of the two.
As for outside linebacker, McClain, much like center J.D. Walton, signed a two-year deal that, per Rotoworld, will pay him to start this season. However in 2015, McClain's contract includes a $400,000 roster bonus and a $9,375 per-game roster bonus for each game he’s on the active roster in 2015.
Might that suggest that they are looking at him as a stopgap solution and have their eye on a linebacker in the draft?
That could be the case, especially if Damontre Moore isn't ready to play that joker pass-rusher position that defensive coordinator Perry Fewell experimented with last year.
The Giants Are Set at Running Back: Fiction
At the end of last season, Jerry Reese did something rare.
He publicly admitted during his year-end press conference that the Giants were going to seek help at a specific position: running back.
Certainly, it didn’t take a high-level team official to confirm the obvious.
David Wilson’s season-ending neck injury was likely going to result in him having surgery and an uncertain recovery period, even though both Reese and head coach Tom Coughlin have expressed optimism every time they’ve been asked about Wilson returning at some point in 2014.
In the meantime, they addressed the position this offseason by signing Rashad Jennings from Oakland and re-signing Peyton Hillis, who performed well for them in limited action last year.
As of right now, those two would presumably be No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
They let Andre Brown walk—he’s now with the Texans. They also have Michael Cox, who barely saw the field on offense last season, getting ready to compete for the third running back spot.
So on paper, Jennings, Hillis, Cox and, at some point, Wilson would give the Giants all they need at the running back spot, right?
Not so fast.
While Reese and Coughlin have expressed optimism regarding Wilson’s return, both have also continued to add disclaimers that suggest they're not going to rush Wilson back onto the field.
Those disclaimers are the reason why I would not be surprised if Wilson opens training camp on the physically unable to perform list despite reports of him making progress or self-posted videos of him doing backflips on a concrete walkway.
As for Hillis, a look at his injury history is a good reminder that the shelf life of an NFL running back is precarious, especially once a player has been exposed to a concussion.
Cox? The number of snaps he received on offense last season—38, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required)—and the fact that he didn’t get on the field more often once the injuries started eating away at the depth in front of him could suggest that he had his share of issues grasping the playbook.
That’s why I don't think the Giants are finished adding to the running back spot and why they will look to draft a young prospect perhaps on Day 3.
I continue to like Wisconsin’s James C. White, whom NFL Draft Scout declared to be “the Badgers’ best all-around back” in the fifth round.
White, 5’9”, 204 pounds, might not have ideal size for the position at this level, but since he showed a willingness to be a competitive pass-blocker at the college level, he might not be averse to playing that key role in the NFL.
The Giants Will Draft the Best Player Available, Regardless of Need: Fact
Hey, some things, like the Giants' organizational philosophy of drafting the best player available, will probably never change so long as general manager Jerry Reese is in charge.
Still, wouldn't it be fun to be a fly on the wall of the Giants' war room if they're on the clock at No. 12 and one or more of the top quarterbacks are available?
Unless otherwise noted, all draft prospect scouting profiles and rankings are via NFL Draft Scout.