Biggest Questions New York Giants Must Answer over Draft Week
The New York Giants, who pick 12th in the 2014 NFL Draft, are not yet on the clock, but time is still ticking away. Now, just days away from the biggest offseason event in pro football, the Giants must find answers to a few lingering questions regarding their team and the fast-approaching draft.
The Giants are a team that finished just 7-9 in 2013, behind the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East. The losing season was New York's first since 2004, the year head coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning landed in town. The poor finish served as a wake-up call for a team that has been content toiling around a .500 winning percentage as of late, due to two recent Super Bowl victories.
In response, the Giants have enjoyed their most active offseason in quite some time. First, an old-guard offensive coaching staff was dismantled, as longtime offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride was replaced with a fresh-faced Ben McAdoo from Green Bay. Then, a flurry of transactions on the open market left the Giants with 17 new free agents (and counting) to fight for roles in 2014. Now, New York is about to act on its highest draft position in 10 years' time.
Before then, the Giants must hammer out any last details concerning this year's draft.
This slideshow will highlight the four biggest questions New York must answer by the end of this week.
Is O-Line Still the No. 1 Priority?
By the time New York's 2013 season came to a close—and even before that—it was evident that the Giants offensive line was in desperate need of an overhaul. Many considered the selection of an O-lineman in the first round a near-certainty.
But then free agency happened, and the Giants combed the open market for the best it had to offer (for a reasonable price, of course). They came away with guards Geoff Schwartz and John Jerry, tackle Charles Brown and center J.D. Walton.
However, with two of the three returning starters—Chris Snee (hip) and Will Beatty (leg)—still recovering from major injuries, how stable are the Giants along the offensive line?
Perhaps not stable enough to warrant passing on a quality O-line prospect in the first round.
Auburn tackle Greg Robinson projects to be the first off the board, and ESPN's Todd McShay curiously predicts Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews to go in the top 12 (not top 11 or 13, as Tom Rock of Newsday pointed out on Twitter). Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan and Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin, on the other hand, are much more likely to be available when the Giants pick at No. 12 overall.
Consider this: If either Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans or Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald—the No. 2-ranked players at their respective positional units by NFL.com—are also available, would it be worth passing on a Lewan- or Martin-caliber offensive lineman?
The Giants will play out several scenarios much like the one I just mentioned, and after careful assessment, the hunt for a franchise O-lineman may or may not still top their list of priorities.
Can an Immediate Starter Be Found at TE?
The Giants need a new starter at tight end, and former Seattle Seahawk and Chicago Bear Kellen Davis does not project to be that player. Davis is a solid blocker, but he has not proven himself as a pass-catcher through six NFL seasons.
So the Giants must turn to the draft for a tight end.
While some fans pine for the first-round selection of North Carolina's Eric Ebron, the truth of the matter is that other players at more valuable positions—such as offensive line—will be there for the taking when New York picks at 12th overall. This is unfortunate for the Giants, as Ebron may be the only tight end, from a receiving perspective, ready to step in and start Day 1.
The second question New York must answer this week: Can any of the tight ends in the 2014 draft class, after Ebron, be an immediate starter with the Giants?
The next four tight ends, in order, ranked by NFL.com, are Notre Dame's Troy Niklas, Texas Tech's Jace Amaro, Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz. New York will likely draft one of these players to be its starter for 2014.
I highlighted Niklas last week as the ideal candidate for the job. He is an all-around tight end with exceptional size (6'6", 270 lbs), and his willingness as an in-line blocker—not just a pass-catcher—is what makes him the perfect man for the job. Notre Dame has a history of pumping out starting-caliber tight ends, too (Tyler Eifert, Kyle Rudolph, Anthony Fasano).
Amaro's receiving statistics in college were eye-popping, but they won't be easily replicated at the NFL level, unless he is utilized mostly in the slot. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, on the other hand, has character issues that take away from his promising potential.
Fiedorowicz is the dark horse in this race. Right now, Fiedorowicz is buried beneath the aforementioned prospects, but he could wind up a mid-round steal to start.
How Late Can the Giants Draft a Quality WR?
The only sure thing New York has at wide receiver is Victor Cruz.
Maybe Ruben Randle develops into the outside receiving threat Hakeem Nicks was in his prime; maybe Mario Manningham, in his second tour with the Giants, reassumes his role as a viable third receiver; maybe Jerrel Jernigan builds off his late-season explosion in 2013.
Maybe they don't.
The Giants need to shore up this positional unit with a quality wide receiver. And with an extremely deep group of wide receivers headlining this 2014 draft class, New York may be able to wait this problem out for a few rounds.
But how late in the draft will this pool of pass-catchers dry up?
That's the question the Giants must be asking themselves as they examine this rising crop of receivers.
With Clemson's Sammy Watkins likely to be selected within the first few picks, Texas A&M's Mike Evans—a 6"5', 231-pound pigskin vacuum—is the best receiver likely to be within the Giants' range in Round 1. Evans is a player who can get into the mix right away, a valuable insurance policy just in case the Randle, Manningham and Jernigan projects don't work out.
Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin (6'5", 240 lbs) and Mississippi's Donte Moncrief (6'2", 221 lbs) have similar size to Evans, but neither player is guaranteed to be available when the Giants pick again in the second round.
Several other high-end prospects—such as Oregon State's Brandin Cooks (5'10", 189 lbs), as well as LSU products Odell Beckham (5'11", 198 lbs) and Jarvis Landry (5'11", 205 lbs)—are smaller receivers, perhaps raising questions about their reliability to make plays along the sideline.
Nicks always played bigger than his listed height, but Eli Manning could use some size on the outside. If the best players available in the second/third rounds are these sub-6-foot receivers, the Giants may be best off waiting it out for Alabama's Kevin Norwood (6'2", 198 lbs), Clemson's Martavis Bryant (6'4", 211 lbs) or even Rutgers' Brandon Coleman (6'6", 225 lbs), all of whom project to be available in the fourth round or later.
What Is the Biggest Need on Defense?
The focus this offseason has been on New York's offense, which ranked 28th in the league last season, per ESPN.com.
While New York's defense was the more solid of the two major platoons last season, that's not to say there's no room for it to improve. This was illustrated by the signings of defensive backs Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond and Quintin Demps earlier this offseason.
So where do the Giants need the most help on defense?
The position that always creeps into the conversation at this time of year is linebacker, but 2013 is a little different. Sure, the Giants could use a young, promising linebacker, but he might not find the field as a rookie. Middle linebacker Jon Beason was an instant hit in New York last season, and former Baltimore Raven Jameel McClain looks to make an impact beside him next season. To earn playing time, the rookie would have to beat out both Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams, who have devoted the past three seasons to carving out roles in Big Blue's defense.
On the line, things are a bit less certain.
The loss of longtime Giant and defensive captain Justin Tuck leaves a gaping hole at defensive end. Mathias Kiwanuka appears to be in decline, Jason Pierre-Paul has struggled with injuries and second-year man Damontre Moore had his work ethic called into question by none other than Tuck, according to a tweet by Steve Serby of The New York Post. That leaves just newly signed Robert Ayers, a former first-round bust with the Denver Broncos, to hold things together at D-end.
In the interior, Cullen Jenkins is proven, but he's also on the wrong side of 30. Recent draft picks Johnathan Hankins (2013, Round 2) and Markus Kuhn (2012, Round 7) have flashed potential despite little production. If neither of them catches on, the Giants will be forced to shove Mike Patterson, a serviceable reserve, into a starting role.
Even the defensive backfield is no longer a sure thing with Will Hill in trouble again and 2013 fifth-rounder Cooper Taylor the only other safety on the roster signed through 2015.
My favorite prospects at each position:
End: Scott Crichton of Oregon State is a powerful guy that can develop into a strong D-end, but he will need some polishing.
Tackle: Aaron Donald of Pittsburgh will make plays in the backfield and is absolutely worth the 12th overall selection, if New York opts against O-line.
Linebacker: Christian Jones of Florida State has the versatility to fit into several roles.
Cornerback: Stanley Jean-Baptiste of Nebraska fits the mold for the highly desirable big corner at 6'3", 218 pounds and is likely to be available as a mid-round selection.
Safety: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama should be considered in the first round, as the league places a premium on top-shelf defensive backs to shut down monster tight ends.