Determining How Every New York Giants Draft Pick Might Contribute in 2014
Wouldn’t it be great if after a handful of shaky drafts, this year’s New York Giants class was able to step in and contribute in some way?
To quote a favorite saying of general manager Jerry Reese, “Never say never.”
Realistically, though, the amount that a rookie draft pick contributes will largely depend on how quickly he takes to the Giants playbook and, in many cases, how well he does on special teams.
Other factors, such as injuries to the guys in front of him on the depth chart factor into the equation as well.
So what can we realistically expect from these new Giants, assuming that there are no injuries and the rookies progress in their understanding of New York's offensive and defensive systems?
Let’s take a look.
All quotes and information obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats are from NFL.com and Pro Football Focus (subscription required) unless otherwise noted.
Round 1: Receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Ever wonder why teams are using more of the nickel defense?
That’s because the league has become a passing league, and the three-wide out set has become a staple of that trend.
What does that all mean for receiver Odell Beckham Jr. the Giants’ first-round draft pick?
It means that unless he gets injured or completely bombs in training camp, he’s probably going to see the field a lot.
Beckham told reporters earlier this week that he’s been trying to learn one spot first and then expanding that process to include the entire play.
“I kind of taught myself the X right now and learned the Z as well, so when they’re in the two-minute and you don’t switch sides you know exactly what’s going on,” Beckham told reporters.
“And then you move on to the inside because coach says he would love for me to go inside and do some things. Kind of just learning it all day by day.”
Beckham’s presence in the lineup should certainly go a long way toward helping to take some of the attention away from Victor Cruz, who last year was smothered by defenses.
If Rueben Randle takes the leap that the coaching staff is looking for and becomes a more consistent player, the Giants wide out position could resemble the 2011 group (Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham) that combined for 197 receptions for 3,251 yards and 20 touchdowns.
To put those numbers into clearer perspective, they represented 54.8 percent, 65.9 percent and 68.9 percent of quarterback Eli Manning’s pass completions, passing yards and touchdowns.
Round 2: Center Weston Richburg
There is little doubt that second-round pick Weston Richburg out of Colorado State is the Giants long-term answer center.
However, he's probably be a year away from being ready to make the protection calls for the Giants offensive line, which is why I think J.D. Walton, if healthy, will be the opening-day center.
As I noted in my last article, Walton told reporters this week that he’s been working at center. Assuming he stays healthy, there’s no reason why he can’t be effective as a starter.
There’s another factor to consider. Tom Coughlin told reporters after Day 2 of the draft that in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s offense, the center will have more responsibility with making the protection calls.
When I asked Richburg about that aspect of the game during this past week’s media session, he said it was something he did in college, but added, “We’re probably reading the defenses a lot more here as centers. That’s the adjustment I have to make.”
It won’t happen for the rookie overnight, even though he’s highly intelligent and therefore probably better able than some at his position to pick things up quickly.
Still seeing it in film and seeing it on the field are two very different things. Thus, it probably makes more sense for the Giants to go with the more experienced Walton at center and let Richburg compete for a starting job at right guard with Chris Snee.
When Snee was in his prime, his mobility was second to none. However age and injury have robbed him of that, and while the surgeries he had might have helped to restore some of his agility, at this point there has to be a concern as to whether he can make it through a 16-game season.
Richburg, interestingly, revealed during media day that the coaches told him he’ll be seeing some work at guard. And given his athleticism, he’d probably be an ideal candidate to play that right guard position for the start of the new season.
The biggest advantage for Richburg if he does play right guard is that it would give him an opportunity to get his feet wet and start to learn how to read live defenses at the NFL level without shouldering the responsibilities of making protection calls.
Round 3: Defensive Tackle Jayson Bromley
Defensive tackle Jayson Bromley, the Giants’ third-round draft pick, becomes the latest in a mostly long line of promising defensive tackles to be drafted within the first four rounds, joining Johnathan Hankins (R2, 2013), Linval Joseph (R2, 2010) and Barry Cofield (R4, 2006).
Like those aforementioned names, Bromley is probably going to be limited in his first season, asked to do the things that he does well naturally, which at this point is rushing the passer.
Behind the scenes, Bromley is about to undergo a transformation. For starters, Giants vice president of player evaluation Marc Ross spoke about the 6'4" Bromley, who estimated himself currently to be “around 303-304" pounds, adding more bulk.
“We’ll see what time has,” the former Syracuse defensive lineman told reporters, confirming that the 315- to 320-pound range was his target. “If I can ball at this weight, then they really can’t say anything so I really just have to do the best I can at this weight and be as strong and fast as possible.”
As for the expectations he’ll need to fulfill, Bromley enthusiastically expressed a desire to rush the quarterback. However, he knows that if he’s going to become a starter in this league, he’s going to have to do a lot more than be a situational player.
“I know in order to do (rush the passer), you have to stop the run, which I know I’m more than capable of doing,” he said.
What does it all mean for the former Orange team captain?
Between adding bulk to withstand the battles inside the trenches and learning both the 3- and 1-technique spots, it probably would be accurate to say that he’s a work in progress.
It’s also likely that we may not see much of him initially but and that his playing time will increase around the middle of the season, as was the case with Hankins last year.
Round 4: Running Back Andre Williams
Remember the days of “Earth, Wind and Fire,” the moniker given to the Giants’ three-pronged rushing attack from 2007-2010?
Yeah, me too.
Unfortunately, the only “Earth, Wind and Fire” to grace the halls of the team’s headquarters the last few seasons has been the occasional tune by the musical group.
Well good news Giants fans.
Like the musical group, who last September released its first new studio album in eight years, the Giants are hoping to take the wraps off their latest combination of those three elements and showcase a powerful rushing attack in 2014.
If Wilson is indeed ready for training camp—a big "if"—the Giants' new potential three-pronged rushing attack would consist of Rashad Jennings, Wilson and Williams, with the fourth spot up for grabs between Peyton Hillis and Michael Cox.
Orr also pointed out that in Green Bay, where Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo recently coached, and in Denver, the power running game helped bring a potent dimension to both teams' respective offenses.
For now, let’s focus on Williams.
Last season, he was the bell cow for Boston College, carrying the ball 355 times for an amazing 2,177 yards and 18 touchdowns.
While not known as a receiver—he finished his four-year college career with 10 receptions for 60 yards—it’s Williams’ between-the-tackles style that the Giants really haven’t had since the days of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.
Before we get too excited however, Williams will need to show the coaches that he has the ability to pass block, something he had minimal experience doing at the collegiate level.
Williams believes that part of his game will fall into place.
“I know I’m going to have to be a lot cleaner in terms of pass blocking fundamentals but I’m using a lot of the same protections now that I used in years past,” he said during this week’s media day.
Besides the pass-blocking aspect, which during a February conference call McAdoo cited as being key for any running back to master if he wants to get on the field, Williams will probably have to work on his pass-receiving skills so that he doesn’t become a one-trick pony.
“They’re not really going to handicap me at all,” Williams said of the need for him to become a more effective receiver out of the backfield. “I have to be just as effective passing and running as the other running backs in the group. It’s something that I’m definitely working on.”
He’s also working on his fundamentals, another key element that McAdoo wants from his players.
“I think once you get the fundamentals down once the pads come on and you’ve been repping it so much, and the way they build it up in phase one, two and three, and you build towards the pads, it kind of just falls into place,” Williams said.
Williams was asked what kind of opportunity he thinks he has in this first year, and of course, he offered the standard safe answer:
I think the opportunity is just to come in and compete and get better. Being around the guys in my circle, the running back group, and the whole offense as a whole, everybody’s really together, there’s a good feeling in the locker room about the offense.
Initially, Williams might see a touch here and there, but as he begins to demonstrate a proficiency in pass-blocking, there should be no reason why he won’t move up the depth chart.
Round 5: Safety Nat Berhe
With Will Hill’s appeal process still ongoing and Antrel Rolle entering the final year of his contract, the Giants decided to forge ahead in replenishing talent at the safety position.
Enter Nat Berhe, the first of their two fifth-round draft picks. Berhe, who was a hybrid linebacker-safety at San Diego State, told reporters that he’s currently lining up at free safety for the Giants and that he hasn’t yet been introduced to any three-safety packages in which he’d have to play the role of a linebacker.
You know what they say about taking baby steps before you can walk? Well that’s how Berhe sees things and so far he’s enthused by how his role is shaping up as a free safety.
“I think that’s a good fit me for me on this defense,” he said. “It gives me the ability to do a lot of things, which I’m used to. So it’s a pretty good deal.”
Part of the reason why his new responsibilities seem like such a good fit for him is because, as he did in college, he’s being asked to cover tight ends.
“I spent a lot of time on tight ends in college,” he said. “Technique just comes in. You just take them where they want to go and just make a play on the ball.”
Berhe, who said he’s learning the pro game from Rolle, is also going to be a special teams candidate. Assuming Hill’s appeal is denied, the safety group looks like it will be Rolle, Quintin Demps, Stevie Brown and the winner of the Berhe-Cooper Taylor competition.
The good news for Berhe and the rest of the rookies is that despite not having a rookie minicamp this year, they’re still getting a crash course designed to get them caught up with the veterans.
“With all of the extra meetings that we do, the veterans have the day off and the rookies come in and we still meet,” he said. “I think it’s helped a lot with our progression of us learning all of the new stuff.
“We’re putting stuff in every day, so every day you kind of have to be on your toes. Having the playbook and bringing it home, it’s just how much you want to put into it really.”
So how will he fit in? Truthfully it’s hard to say because he’s versatile enough to be an option as a hybrid linebacker, a deep safety and a special teams gunner.
Given that there are so many different personnel packages being used by today’s defensive coordinators, it remains to be seen what kind of niche Berhe carves out for himself, but given his intangibles, he’s too intriguing of a player to ignore.
Round 5b: Linebacker Devon Kennard
Like his fellow linebackers, Devon Kennard, the second of the Giants’ two fifth-round draft picks, will need to learn two positions.
“They want me to learn the middle linebacker spot and the (strong-side) spot,” he confirmed, adding that as of right now, he probably feels more comfortable at the strong-side spot.
The coaches, however, apparently are hoping that Kennard can become as comfortable and adept in the middle, where the current backup to starter Jon Beason is Mark Herzlich.
Kennard, interestingly, named Beason and outside linebacker Spencer Paysinger as two teammates to whom he’s attached himself. Considering that Beason and Paysinger were the two steadiest performers at linebacker last year, the rookie is making smart move in following after them.
While there doesn’t seem to be a starting spot available for Kennard to pursue, so like most rookies who come around after the fourth round, he’ll compete for a backup spot and for playing time on special teams.
His primary competition is Herzlich, who is entering his fourth season after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2011.
While Herzlich has NFL experience on his side, Kennard brings something to the table that Herzlich does not: The ability to play with his hand in the dirt, which he did at USC and which is something he remains open to doing for the Giants.
“I’m here to do whatever the coaching staff wants me to do, whatever they see for me,” Kennard said. “If that’s what they want, I feel like I’m definitely capable and that’s something that I would like to do.”
He’ll also have to demonstrate proficiency on special teams, an area in which Herzlich played well last year, leading the team with 14 tackles.
Kennard, however, isn’t intimidated.
“I feel like I can play with the best. I’m just trying to learn the defense and earn my teammates’ respect and the coaching staff’s respect. I’m ready to do whatever the team needs so we can win,” he said.
That "whatever" will probably be backing up Beason as well as contributing on special teams.
Round 6: Cornerback Bennett Jackson
Sixth-round draft pick Bennett Jackson comes to a Giants team where he’ll potentially have to beat out Charles James for the final spot on the cornerback depth chart.
That seems to be just fine with Jackson, who played his college ball at Notre Dame.
“I feel like there are three parts to a team: offense, defense and special teams,” he said. “Everybody wants to play defense or they want to play offense. Especially when you get to the NFL, you’ve just got to make the roster and help the team the best you can.
“I’m going to go out and work and try to get on whatever I can. I enjoy playing special teams. I have a great time with it. I feel like it’s an extremely important part of a game and how the game is determined so it’s extremely important to time.”
It’s certainly possible for a player to make a career in the NFL solely on special teams. Receiver David Tyree did so for most of his career as did linebacker Chase Blackburn and defensive back Reyna Thompson (1989-1992), who was special teams Pro Bowler in 1990, Bill Parcells’ last season as head coach.
While Jackson hopes to contribute on defense—he did admit to me that it could be a struggle in the beginning to balance special teams with learning his position—he has an opportunity to help the team on a special teams unit that last year was in dire need of more playmakers.