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As I watched the Giants' pick get closer and closer in this B/R Featured Columnist mock draft, I was ready to pick UCLA DT Brian Price. Defensive tackle is not the most pressing need for the Giants (that would be safety and middle linebacker), but Price is considered to be a top-end talent and is arguably the best player available on the board, and that's how good teams draft. So Price is the smart pick, right?
And then I noticed something about Jerry Reese's drafts. In 2007, the Giants' biggest need was cornerback, and Reese drafted Texas CB Aaron Ross. In 2008, the biggest need was safety, and Reese drafted Miami S Kenny Phillips. In 2009, the biggest need (or so they thought) was wide receiver, and Reese drafted North Carolina WR Hakeem Nicks.
Not only have all of Reese's first round picks filled major needs for the Giants, but they all had productive and prolific college careers. In 2005, Ross earned Big-12 and All-American first team honors as well as the Big-12 Defensive Player of the year award and the Thorpe Award for the nation's top defensive back. Phillips was named to the ACC first team and All-American second team for two straight years. Nicks earned second team ACC honors as a sophomore and first team ACC honors as a junior, and he holds 14 school records.
Texas safety Earl Thomas plays a position that is of the greatest need for the Giants. In 2009, Thomas was an AFCA First team All-American as well as the recipient of the Defensive Back Trophy, part of the College Football Performance Awards. He is a ballhawk and a playmaker, demonstrated by his eight interceptions and two touchdowns in 13 games in 2009. He has great range and can cover very well, which is something that the Giants desperately need from their safety core. His unofficial 40-yard-dash times were 4.53 and 4.44, which is good, although his "game speed" is better than his straight line speed because of his instincts. NFL Network's Mike Mayock referred to Thomas as the most instinctive safety to come into the league in 10 years.
The biggest knock against Thomas is that he is a smaller player, although he arrived at the combine bigger than expected: 5'10"-and-a-half, 208 pounds. This size frame is certainly not impossible to overcome. Ever heard of Troy Polamalu
? He's 5'10, 207 pounds: one pound lighter than Thomas, and about five of those pounds are probably accounted for in his hair (which he enriches with Head & Shoulders).
You could argue that middle linebacker is actually the biggest need for the Giants, but unless Rolando McClain is available at pick 15, I don't see another MLB worth taking in the first round. I'd rather address linebacker in free agency or trade up for Brandon Spikes in the second round. Defensive tackle could use an upgrade, but the Giants can make due with the players they have now or add another tackle later in a draft deep at defensive line talent.
Another highly regarded safety prospect is USC's Taylor Mays, who wowed scouts at the combine with an unofficial 4.24 forty yard dash (which was mysteriously changed to an official time of 4.43). But despite his straight line speed, I would stay away from him if I were Giants GM given that he has trouble in coverage and may need to move to linebacker. Comparisons to former Cowboy safety Roy Williams are enough to scare me away.
I've heard a lot of people say recently that smart teams draft players on talent as opposed to need. That is to say, the smart general manager drafts the best player available instead of reaching for the next best player at a position of need. But Jerry Reese, thanks to his great drafts, has earned himself a reputation as one of the smartest GMs in the game.
I understand that this is not an exercise to predict who the team's real GMs will select; I am supposed to pretend that I am general manager of the New York Giants and select the player I would like to see my favorite team draft. But I have so much respect for Reese's drafting abilities, as his track record so far leads me to believe that his method (selecting NFL ready talents at positions of need) is the way to go. I believe that Earl Thomas is the player that can best help fill the Giants' glaring hole at safety, both this year and for years to come.
Although, if it were allowed, I'd trade this pick to one of the many QB-needy teams (Seahawks
...) for a gaggle of draft picks so that they can draft Sam Bradford, who is inexplicably still available. But I'll just have to settle for Earl Thomas.
Mock Draft Recap