5 Potential Draft Picks That Could Be Opening Game Starters for the NY Giants
Now that we’re inside of one month to go before the 2014 NFL draft, teams have no doubt begun the careful process of assembling their final draft boards for the three-day player-selection extravaganza that will run May 8-10.
While there’s pressure every year to make sure that the draft class produces building blocks for the short- and long-term future of the club, this year’s New York Giants rookie class will especially be under the microscope after team CEO John Mara, in his 2013 season-ending comments to reporters, acknowledged that the team “missed on some guys,” especially in the middle rounds of the draft.
Although the draft process is a crapshoot in which oftentimes a highly projected candidate will turn out to be a bust while a lower-round pick or undrafted free agent will turn out to be a steal, if a team thoroughly does its homework, it should be able to find a high number of prospects who can contribute right out of the chute.
Here’s a look, then, at five potential prospects who, based on my analysis of the Giants’ positional needs, could be instant contributors on Day 1. These prospects are presented in no particular order.
Receiver Marqise Lee, USC
One thing the Giants haven’t really done just yet is replace Hakeem Nicks—the 2011 version, not the shell we saw in the last two seasons.
While it’s certainly possible that Rueben Randle could be the answer, it’s somewhat unsettling that after two seasons, general manager Jerry Reese, in comments made to reporters at the NFL combine, admitted that the “jury’s still out” on Randle.
“I think he’s a good player. 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,” Reese said, per Pro Football Talk.
Also of interest is that Reese as well as head coach Tom Coughlin, the latter of whom spoke to reporters at the NFL owners meetings late last month, both commented about Randle needing to become a better professional.
“We continue to expect him to grow and be a more mature player and be a strong contributor for us,” Reese said during the combine.
“Rueben has to continue to develop, continue to become a better pro—focus, concentration, production on the field, consistency, day in and day out,” Coughlin noted, per ESPN.com.
While both men are optimistic that Randle will continue to develop—and truthfully I wouldn’t expect them to express any other opinion publicly—that doesn’t mean that the Giants should rest on their laurels at receiver.
That’s why it wouldn’t be surprising if the Giants dip into the deep receiver class early in this draft.
A player who has seen his stock rise of late is USC’s Marqise Lee (6’0”, 192 lbs), whom NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks predicted as far back as December 2013 would end up as the best receiver in this year’s draft class.
At the end of it, Marqise Lee will be the best receiver in the draft when it comes to playing because he is so explosive. He has the ability to score from anywhere on the field. We got a glimpse of how special he was in the Vegas Bowl when he was healthy. You saw the Marqise Lee that lit up everyone in 2012. I think he has the ability to be a difference-maker for any team in any role at the next level.
With Clemson’s Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans also making strong cases for top-10 status, it’s possible that Lee, who had an injury issue with his leg last season, could fall down to the Giants at No. 12.
If Watkins and Evans are gone by then, Lee, whom NFLDraftScout.com favorably compares to Victor Cruz, would appear to make too much sense for the Giants to pass up if they want an instant contributor for their offense.
Tight End Arthur Lynch, Georgia
The Giants need to find a tight end who can step in and be a starter from Day 1.
While it’s possible that someone from a quartet that consists of Adrien Robinson, Larry Donnell, Daniel Fells and Kellen Davis could emerge from the shadows like Jake Ballard did in 2011, the Giants would be shortsighted to bank on that being a certainty.
When we speak about the Giants’ tight end position, one variable that is not yet known on the outside is what kind of tight end new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo wants for his offense.
Do the Giants want a pure pass-catching receiver such as Eric Ebron out of North Carolina? Or do they want a player who is also proficient in blocking, such as Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas (6’7”, 270 lbs) or Georgia’s Arthur Lynch (6’5”, 258 lbs)?
Based on the clues that have come out through various press reports quoting head coach Tom Coughlin as well as based on McAdoo’s conference call with reporters in late February, it sounds like the Giants are still planning to stay committed to a power running game, which would suggest the need for a tight end who can function as a run-blocker.
In that instance, it probably makes more sense for them to look at Lynch, who should be there in Day 3 and who could be an instant contributor to an offense that needs some firepower.
Offensive Lineman Zack Martin, Notre Dame
Despite having signed four free-agent offensive linemen so far, a legitimate argument can be made that outside of Geoff Schwartz, no one from the group, which also includes center J.D. Walton and tackle/guards Charles Brown and John Jerry, is likely a long-term solution.
In addition, Chris Snee’s projected return from hip and elbow surgeries is far from being a sure thing—even if he does return, there are questions as to whether he’ll be able to make it through a 16-game schedule.
That’s why the offensive line is far from being settled and why it would not be surprising if the Giants’ first-round draft pick is an offensive lineman who can immediately step in and be a Day 1 starter.
A prospect that I really like because of his versatility is Notre Dame’s Zack Martin (6’4”, 308 lbs). Listed as a college tackle, NFLDraftScout.com believes that Martin’s NFL future lies inside at guard, which is where the Giants appear to have the greater need.
With the Giants having added Jerry and Brown, two veteran prospects who could step in at left tackle if Will Beatty is not ready to go physically when camp starts, this eliminates the need to move Justin Pugh and/or Schwartz around.
Thus, with the tackles set, the Giants can then focus on finding the best solution for their right guard spot, whether that’s a healthy, but aging Snee; one of the young veterans from an underwhelming group that includes James Brewer, Brandon Mosley and Eric Herman; or a rookie draft pick.
Getting back to Martin, whom NFLDraftScout.com compares to New England’s Logan Mankins, there are two other things to like about him.
The first is his ability to get to the second level, something the Giants didn’t always have last year in their offensive linemen.
The second is his ability to play with what scout Rob Rang describes as “controlled aggression,” another characteristic that wasn’t always obvious in the play of the Giants’ offensive linemen last year.
Outside Linebacker Anthony Barr, UCLA
If you blinked last summer, you probably missed Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell’s short-lived experiments with some 3-4 alignments that were designed to take advantage of the wealth of talent the team had.
“We’ll be very multiple,” Fewell told reporters during the team’s 2013 training camp. “We’re experimenting. We don’t actually know if we’re as versatile as we can be, so we’ll find out in some of these preseason games, but we’d like to think we’re more versatile.”
As Fewell soon found out, thanks to injuries and other circumstances, the Giants weren’t able to be as versatile as they probably hoped to be.
The shoulder injury suffered by Damontre Moore, which cost him most of training camp and the preseason, hurt, as Moore was projected to be the “Joker,” a position that Tom Rock of Newsday pointed out Moore played while at Texas A&M.
The slow recovery of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul from back surgery was another issue that probably limited just what Fewell was able to do.
Fast-forward to 2014, where the defensive mantra could very well be, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”
The Giants have lost defensive end Justin Tuck to free agency and signed Robert Ayers to presumably compete with Moore and Mathias Kiwanuka for Tuck’s old starting job, a position that could end up seeing a committee staff it rather than a full-time regular starter.
So where would that leave Moore if he doesn’t emerge as the winner of that competition? His pass-rushing ability is hard to ignore, and certainly he could probably find a place on certain sub-packages, such as the NASCAR package.
Another way the Giants might be able to make use of Moore’s talents, assuming he shows the instincts and speed in space, is as a 3-4 outside linebacker, where he can be sent in on a blitz as well as dropped back into coverage.
If the Giants are instead looking to have Moore exclusively work as a down lineman—he’ll have to work on his run defense this year to bring that up to speed if he’s to have a chance of becoming an every-down player—another option they could look at for that Joker role is UCLA’s Anthony Barr (6’5”, 255 lbs).
Barr, whom NFLDraftScout.com has compared to former Cowboys defender DeMarcus Ware, is a former running back turned outside linebacker who, per NFLDraftScout.com’s Rob Rang, has the “burst and bend around the corner make him [sic] an immediate threat as 3-4 rush linebacker.”
On the downside, NFLDraftScout.com notes that Barr, for all the athleticism he possesses and for his “extraordinary burst off the ball and explosive closing ability,” is still raw to where he might be limited to a situational pass-rusher in his rookie season, this because of his limited experience on the defensive side of the ball.
Still, there appears to be enough upside and promise in Barr to make him worth a look if the Giants aspire to once again experiment with some 3-4 looks.
Running Back Bishop Sankey, Washington
Although the Giants have signed Rashad Jennings to presumably be their No. 1 running back, the rest of the depth at this position is far from being settled.
For starters, there’s the question regarding David Wilson and when (or if) he might be ready to return to the field.
Recently, head coach Tom Coughlin, in an interview with the team’s official website, said that he’s “counting” on Wilson for 2014, but he didn’t sound so sure when or if it would actually happen.
“All in due time with David,” Coughlin said, reiterating that he wouldn’t expose Wilson to the dangers of the game until he was convinced that Wilson is no longer in danger of reaggravating his surgically repaired neck.
“Just pray, you’re praying that he has a return to excellent health and that the doctors are totally convinced that he is recovered and ready to go. When that time comes, you’ll have another contributor who, if he gets a step, he’s gone,” Coughlin said.
Behind Jennings is Peyton Hillis, who last year fared well considering he came in cold off the couch and didn’t have the benefit of a full offseason with the team.
Hillis, who signed a two-year deal in March, also showed an ability to pass block and can probably play a little fullback in certain sets.
Also on the depth chart is Michael Cox, last year’s seventh-round draft pick who started one game for the Giants after a rash of injuries affected the depth in front of him.
That Cox barely got an opportunity to carry the ball after making his lone start in Week 5 could be related to possible struggles to learn the pass-blocking part of the playbook.
If the Giants want a running back who is a good runner, who can catch balls out of the backfield, who can pass block and who has the durability to hold up to the violent nature that comes with playing the position, they might want to look at Washington’s Bishop Sankey (5’10”, 209 lbs).
While not possessing ideal size, Sankey has been the very picture of durable despite receiving over 650 touches in the final two years of his collegiate career.
Per NFLDraftScout.com’s Rob Rang, Sankey “possesses subtle quickness as would-be tacklers arrive to slip and slide through contact and is too strong for arm tackles.”
He also does a good job to cover the ball with two hands to protect it from defenders trying to jar it free, something that is sure to please head coach Tom Coughlin, who all too often saw Wilson and Da’Rel Scott not employ that technique.
As a pass-blocker, Rang notes that Sankey shows “subtle power and quickness to quietly get the job despite less than ideal size [sic]. Quick to step up in pass protection, showing good technique to deflect, slide and anchor, as necessary, rather than slamming into bigger pass rushers.”
As an added benefit, Sankey has shown that he can be a receiver out of the backfield, having caught 67 passes over his three-year college career for 567 yards.
Based on his production, Sankey appears to be a nice fit for the Giants as a potential No. 2 back.
If the Giants are, as Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post reported, “firmly committed to the running game,” it probably wouldn’t be surprising if they try to pick up a running back as soon as Day 2 of the draft.