Linebacker? Offensive Tackle? Cornerback? Receiver? Safety?
Let’s face it: Trying to figure out what position the New York Giants will deem the “best available” in the first round of this year’s draft is about as simple as trying to figure out the winning Powerball numbers.
Not only is the pick’s identity dependent on what happens in the first nine slots of the first round (assuming of course the Giants don’t trade up or down), no one outside of the organization truly knows the grades assigned to the numerous prospects on their board.
As the Giants work toward setting their draft board, they’ll stick to “best available.” But what happens if two or more players have similar grades? Then it becomes a matter of need.
With that said, in this installment of “Making the Case,” let’s look at the pros and cons of selecting a wide receiver at No. 10.
Why It Should Be a Receiver
The Giants tend to evaluate their needs a lot differently than the media and the fans. While occasionally everyone is on the same page, the personnel department and coaches have more resources such as film, face-to-face meetings with players to gauge their football IQs and detailed scouting reports as to how guys might fit into the team’s system.
All of that could very well be why the Giants haven’t, at least to anyone’s knowledge, made a big push to acquire a receiver during the initial free-agency crush.
The organization likely feels confident the collection of receivers they currently have behind Beckham—Dwayne Harris, Myles White, Geremy Davis, Ben Edwards and Anthony Dable—can be just as effective as even the sexiest group of receivers found in the NFL.
That appears to be the opinion of new head coach Ben McAdoo, who, at the NFC Coaches Breakfast meeting with reporters, told Tom Rock of Newsday he is "comfortable with the receivers" currently on the roster.
Is his faith justified?
Yes and no.
Starting with Davis, it was concerning that this 6’3”, 216-pound sixth-round draft pick only saw the field for 36 snaps on offense, according to Pro Football Focus.
It was also concerning that as the season wore on, Davis was a healthy scratch in the team’s last six games of the season instead of seeing his opportunities increase.
Typically, when a healthy player doesn’t get a game uniform, all signs typically point to that player either failing to grasp the system or showing he can't get it done during practice.
Whether Davis found himself in over his head last year in the classroom or on the field is a question that needs to be asked once the players are made available to the media.
However, Davis was one of the young players McAdoo mentioned as one he's looking to "make a jump" this year, according to Rock.
Harris? The Giants tried him a number of times as a slot receiver, but there were a few things that were concerning regarding his production.
Per Pro Football Focus, Harris had five dropped passes—the most among Giants receivers who took at least 25 percent of the team’s offensive snaps last season.
When a receiver has more drops than touchdowns (four), that’s never a good thing to see.
Second, Pro Football Focus credited Harris with creating just two missed tackles, which would indicate he’s not very elusive in terms of changing direction on a dime—something his 3.9 yards-after-the-catch average would seem to support.
(Side note for those wondering if this last stat contradicts Harris’ abilities as a return specialist. In watching his best returns on tape, many of them have him primarily running straight ahead rather than slicing and dicing his way toward daylight.)
Edwards? His rookie odyssey saw him latch on with the Giants as an undrafted free agent out of Richmond until a hamstring injury suffered during the final day of the mandatory minicamp last season ultimately led to his receipt of an injury settlement.
He of course not only found his way back to the team, but he also earned a game-day uniform in the final two games of the season where he did a nice job lining up as a slot receiver. He can also return punts.
White? Considering he came into training camp late, he saw 172 snaps for the Giants, many of them as a slot receiver.
His biggest issue was a lack of consistency. Last year, White caught seven of 18 pass targets with two dropped passes.
His yards-after-the-catch average was a paltry 1.3 per reception as he created zero missed tackles, according to PFF.
As far as his production on the entire route-running tree, Pro Football Focus’ breakdown shows White was at his best when he ran patterns of 20 or more yards—the deep ball not necessarily a staple in the Giants passing offense. (More on that in a moment.)
Dable’ will be a rookie this year, a guy who, per the Giants’ web site, is listed at 6’5” and 215 pounds. There is limited tape available on him, but he’ll be someone worth watching this offseason.
One final point in favor of drafting a play-calling receiver in the first round is that the Giants got a taste of what life without Beckham was like in 2015 for one game: the Week 16 contest against Minnesota when the Pro Bowler had to serve a one-game suspension.
Why It Won’t Be a Receiver
To some, the Giants' passing game is its bread and butter, but there is a reason why McAdoo and, before him, Tom Coughlin, preach the importance of a balanced offensive attack.
In the last two seasons in the modified West Coast offense, the Giants are 3-5 in games in which they pass for more than 300 yards and 1-1 in games in which they pass for more than 400 yards.
Those stats lead to one of the biggest arguments against taking a receiver: the glaring needs elsewhere.
The offensive line, for instance, is still very much unsettled, particularly on the right side where second-year man Bobby Hart figures to compete for one of the open jobs (probably guard).
Meanwhile, the identity of the right tackle remains a mystery (as mentioned in “Making the Case for an Offensive Tackle,” Marshall Newhouse is most likely the fallback plan if the Giants can’t find a right tackle this year they like).
Agree or not, if the offensive line can’t pass protect or run-block, it won’t matter who the skill players are.
The short-passing game does help if the offensive line struggles to pass block, but it's only to an extent as if an opposing defensive coordinator spots a trend in which there aren’t many downfield shots being taken, he can increase the number of guys he plays closer to the line of scrimmage.
Let’s look at the number of deep shots the Giants took last season. Per Pro Football Focus, Eli Manning threw just 65 of his 618 pass attempts for 20 or more yards.
In 2011, the last time the Giants won the Super Bowl (and a year in which they were in a different offense with a more settled offensive line), 123 of Manning’s 752 pass attempts were of the deep-ball variety.
What’s been the difference? Again, it starts up front, as illustrated in the following table.
|QB Eli Manning: Average Time in the Pocket (2011 vs. 2015)|
|Season||To Throw||To Attempt||To Sack||To Scramble|
|Source: Pro Football Focus|
The takeaway from this data is that Manning had less time to throw or attempt a pass in 2015 than he did in 2011.
So if it comes down to a receiver and an offensive lineman having similar grades, it’s probably a safe bet to assume the receiver will not be the pick.
The X-Factor: Victor Cruz
The Giants are hoping as far as Victor Cruz is concerned, the third time will be the charm.
Cruz, of course, hasn’t played in a regular-season game since October 12, 2014, when he suffered a potentially career-altering torn patellar tendon in his right knee.
If he makes it to Kickoff 2016, that means he will have been away from the regular-season playing field for 23 months.
Cruz, an undrafted free agent out of UMass, who, through hard work and perseverance, made himself into a household name, proactively and aggressively attacked his rehab following surgery on his knee.
Vowing to be back on the field for the start of the 2015 training camp, one can flashback to a summer practice in which he was running his routes particularly hard, cutting and moving like he never went away.
In retrospect, it’s hard not to wonder if that practice led to what Jordan Raanan of NJ Advance Media reported was a torn fascia in his left calf—a rare injury on top of the torn patellar tendon, which was also rare for a NFL receiver.
“Supposedly after you get it fixed, it'll be 100 percent,”Cruz told Raanan during Super Bowl week. “It's a soft-tissue injury, so it should heal pretty well on its own.”
Maybe so, but just as the Giants were reluctant to put all their eggs in Cruz’s basket last year, they should be just as careful about doing so this year.
Two major injuries in consecutive years to a receiver’s most valuable asset—his legs—is not a promising development.
It raises—and justifiably so—questions about whether Cruz will be able to recapture that one-time breathtaking explosiveness that helped catapult him to stardom.
Moreover, it’s not just about speed—can he change direction, separate and gain yards after the catch?
These questions will ultimately answer themselves if Cruz can get and stay on the field.
And the Pick Is…
If the Giants decide to go with a receiver at No. 10—and I'm not convinced they will at this spot—the name to watch at that position is Mississippi’s Laquon Treadwell—the top-rated receiver, according to both NFLDraftScout.com and NFL.com (the latter of which also gives Notre Dame’s Will Fuller an identical grade to Treadwell’s).
What’s to like about Treadwell? Although he’s not the fastest receiver out there—his pro day 4.63 40-yard dash results apparently raised some concerns—NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein notes Treadwell has good size and length, as well as instincts, in getting after the ball.
He has also figured out how to use his height to out-jump opponents, he does a nice job of tracking the ball in the air and he has a feel for finding soft spots in zone coverage to make plays.
The question mark Zierlein raises is Treadwell’s ability to defeat press coverage, which he’s sure to see a lot of at the next level, especially against smaller cornerbacks.
Dane Brugler of NFL Draft Scout also notes Treadwell "wasn’t asked" to run the full route tree in college.
Per College Football Focus, Treadwell posted nine dropped passes to 11 touchdowns, with the dropped balls appearing to verify Zierlein’s observation about Treadwell having a tendency at times to take his eye off the ball and start his running before securing it (much like Cruz tended to do earlier in his career).
Personally, I think if the Giants are going to add another receiver, they'll do so in the later rounds where the value might be a bit better. One name to watch for is Jordan Payton of UCLA, whom NFL Draft Scout projects as a third-round prospect.
The Giants are sure to add faces to the receiver position, if for no other reason than to pad the numbers for training camp and the preseason.
Whether any of those new receivers are Treadwell or a No. 1 draft pick remains to be seen.
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 Pro Football Focus.
Follow me on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.