Although we’re a little closer to April 28, the date we find out who the Giants will be selecting as their first-round draft pick, there is still little clarity regarding the direction they plan to pursue because of the uncertainty that exists at picks one through nine, those ahead of the Giants.
On Monday, I looked at offensive tackle, a position that I’m fairly certain will be added at some point given the lack of depth on the team.
In this installment, I’m going to look at another position that is sure to be represented in the Giants’ 2016 draft class: cornerback.
Why It Should Be a Cornerback
The Giants are set as far as their starting cornerback duo, projected to be Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Beyond that duo, however, there are a number of question marks concerning the depth.
The remaining corners on the Giants roster include third-year veteran Leon McFadden, second-year corner Tramain Jacobs and fourth-year cornerback Trevin Wade.
Much like the safeties, there’s not a lot of regular-season game experience among that group, with Wade, the slot cornerback last year, having played in 799 snaps and McFadden and Jacobs having only contributed on a limited basis on special teams.
Like the safeties, McFadden and Jacobs might very well step up and show they can be better than outgoing and unsigned unrestricted free agents Trumaine McBride and Jayron Hosley.
But if there’s an injury to Jenkins or Rodgers-Cromartie, do the Giants really want to have two inexperienced defensive backs at safety and cornerback on a defense that is trying to climb out of the cellar from last season?
There’s one other factor that needs to be considered when making the argument for a cornerback at No. 10, and that is Rodgers-Cromartie.
While he has only missed just one game since signing as an unrestricted free agent in 2014, he’s had some nicks and bruises that have limited him over the last two years.
Per Pro Football Focus, Rodgers-Cromartie hasn’t taken more than 82.7 percent of the defensive snaps since joining the Giants.
Among those cornerbacks who, like Rodgers-Cromartie last year took at least 75 percent of their team’s coverage snaps, the Giants cornerback’s total of 523 coverage snaps tied him for 38th (with Houston’s Jonathan Joseph) out of 41 eligible cornerbacks for fewest snaps taken.
If Rodgers-Cromartie is the team’s No. 1 cornerback, there is no other reason for him not being on the field for every defensive snap other than the fact that he’s getting a blow to help keep him fresh.
To further prove that a shutdown cornerback is usually on the field for the majority of the team’s snaps, Jenkins has played in an average of 95 percent of the Los Angeles Rams’ defensive snaps prior to jumping over to the Giants earlier this month.
By adding the heir to Rodgers-Cromartie, who has two years left on his contract after this season (and an $8.5 million cap hit in each of those two years, per Spotrac), the Giants will put themselves in a position where the passing of the baton should be a smooth one.
Why It Won’t Be a Cornerback
If the goal is to get your first-round pick on the field from Day 1 early and often, then you probably better have an opening somewhere that will allow that kid to get on the field on a regular basis.
Such was the case with the Giants' last three picks—Ereck Flowers (2015), Odell Beckham Jr. (2014) and Justin Pugh (2013).
Whereas in the past the Giants would ease their first-round pick into the mix when the kids were ready, this is one of the practices that the team has quietly changed over the last three years—one that has worked, by the way.
Barring a freak injury, the Giants are set as far as their starting cornerbacks are concerned. And as noted, although Rodgers-Cromartie is getting up there in age, he probably can give the Giants another two seasons at best before they have to make a decision on him.
With that potentially being the case and with Jenkins having just been signed, a cornerback chosen in the first round would potentially be looking at playing part time for two years, which is not what you want to see from your first-round pick, let alone the 10th overall pick in the draft.
The X-Factors: Bennett Jackson and Mykkele Thompson
Although it’s a long shot given their lack of experience and the likelihood that the coaches will keep them both at safety, the duo of Bennett Jackson and Mykkele Thompson have experience playing cornerback in college.
Remember, the Giants initially drafted Jackson as a cornerback/special teamer out of Notre Dame. He only began to make the transition to safety last year before an ACL injury ended his season.
If he can stay on the field and earn a roster spot, he could be one of those swing men the Giants usually carry in the defensive backfield.
The same could be said of Thompson, whom NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, reminds us can play corner or safety. Thompson didn’t get enough of a chance to show what he could do as an Achilles injury suffered early in the preseason put the kibosh on his audition for the 53-man roster.
Regardless of whether one or both of these young talents see time as a swingman, the cornerback position is virtually certain to be on the Giants’ shopping list.
And the Pick Is…
I’m going to give you two names, the first one whom I think makes the most sense for the Giants at No. 10 (since this article is about the Giants’ first round pick) and then a second choice whom I think offers better value, even though he’s not a first-round pick.
If it’s going to be a cornerback at No. 10 for the Giants, my pick is Ohio State’s Eli Apple, 6’1”, 199 pounds. If the Giants are looking for an heir to Rodgers-Cromartie’s spot, Apple gives them that ideal size—he’s just an inch shorter than Rodgers-Cromartie but is six pounds heavier.
Apple is also a thumper in run defense, something that Rodgers-Cromartie hasn’t really been since signing with the Giants. According to NFL Draft Scout’s Dane Brugler, Apple is an "aggressive run defender" who needs a little work as far as his tackling goes.
College Football Focus would appear to support this opinion. It lists Apple as tied for 29th (out of 64 cornerbacks who played in a minimum of 60 percent of his team’s run defense snaps) in run-stop percentage and 47th out of 52 corners having played in at least 75 percent of their team’s defensive snaps for combined tackling efficiency (run and pass).
Although this article is about the No. 10 pick, I’m going to throw in one more name, a name I think could fall to the Giants in the second round and would be a better value pick: William Jackson III (6’0”, 189 lbs, Houston), whom Brugler projects as a Day 2 pick.
For all the weaknesses that Brugler outlines Jackson as having—transition technique, press coverage, tightness in the hips, etc.—these are all things that can be developed while Rodgers-Cromartie plays out his string.
The bottom line is that while the Giants need depth at this position, they don’t need a starter. (Yes, they can get by with Wade as the nickel if need be.)
This is why I would be surprised if a cornerback is their top pick, though as I always say, the Giants see their needs and those who can potentially fill them differently than those of us who don’t draw paychecks form the organization.
Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced. Advanced stats courtesy of ProFootballFocus.com.
Follow me on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.