Life After Rolando McClain: Reviewing the New York Giants' Draft
The NFL draft is one of the most schizophrenic times of the year for fans. One round they love the pick their team made. The next they’re convinced the front office has absolutely no idea what’s going on.
On top of that, for some reason or another fans become attached to players before the draft even begins, with the hopes that their team will select them.
This is exactly what happened to me with Rolando McClain in this past year’s draft.
After watching the Giants turn in one of the most embarrassing performances in their storied history during the end of the 2009 season, it was obvious that defense was the number one concern heading into the draft.
Making matters worse, the Giants had a gaping hole at middle linebacker after releasing veteran Antonio Pierce earlier in the off season.
Enter my pre-draft infatuation with the best middle linebacker available, Rolando McClain. Not only was he the unquestioned leader and playcaller for one of the best defenses in college football this past season, McClain possesses a rare combination of talent and intangibles.
NFL players can be very good for a number of seasons relying on skill alone. But when you combine the skill level of McClain with his leadership and decision making abilities, you have a guy who will anchor your team’s defense for the next decade.
Foolishly, I listened to the experts who said that McClain would be available when the Giants picked in the middle of the first round.
I ignored rumors that the Raiders were interested in the Alabama linebacker and ignored reports a few days before the draft that the Giants confirmed they had C.J. Spiller’s phone number if they needed to contact him on draft day.
As far as I was concerned, if the Giants didn’t get McClain it would be a complete failure of the draft regardless of who else they got. Because I had hinged my enjoyment of the draft on one pick, I was essentially miserable for the rest of it after the Raiders took McClain with the 8th pick.
A week later, I’ve gotten over my McClain hangover and have been able to look at the Giants draft in a better light.
Going into the draft experts said that it was going to be unpredictable, and this was the one of the only things they got right.
Before the Giants picked at No. 15 overall, there was a safety that went in the top five, a corner that went in the top 10, three defensive tackles taken and two playoff teams from a year ago had traded up into the top half of the draft.
By all accounts I heard the Giants were interested in drafting Rolando McClain, Earl Thomas, C.J. Spiller and potentially Joe Haden if he had fallen.
None of whom were available by the time the Giants picked.
Of course, the Giants could’ve traded up to get one of these players, but general manager Jerry Reese places a very high value on later round picks, so this was essentially out of the question.
They took Jason Pierre-Paul, a defensive end from South Florida who has freakish athleticism but is very raw.
Initially, I hated the pick because the Giants already have three very good defensive ends on the roster with Jason Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka and Osi Umenyiora all returning.
Now that I’ve had some time to think about the pick, I’m ok with it.
Looking at the other guys who were available with the 15th pick I honestly didn’t even know who I wanted the Giants to take.
They could have went with an offensive lineman like Mike Iupati or Bryan Bulaga, but that wasn’t an entirely pressing need. They could have filled a pretty big need with Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams but after the Giants second round pick, it’s obvious they were eyeing a number of guys at that position later in the draft.
Other than that, taking anyone else would’ve been a reach 15, which Reese rarely does.
They ended up taking Pierre-Paul over another defensive end Derrick Morgan, essentially because the Giants like Pierre-Paul’s upside more.
Some have questioned the Pierre-Paul pick but the Giants were in a pretty tough spot considering what had already transpired, and getting a guy who may turn into a phenomenal pass rusher down the road is a nice consolation prize.
Looking at the Giants add another defensive end this high in the draft seems somewhat unnecessary at this point, but if there’s one thing the Giants have done the past few seasons, it’s effectively utilize many different pass rushers.
Not to mention, there’s always the chance that Tuck, Kiwanuka or Umenyiora get hurt, in which case Giants fans will be glad they have a youngster like Pierre-Paul.
In the second round the Giants took the opportunity to address their interior defensive line when they drafted Linval Joseph out of East Carolina.
After the free agent signings of Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard didn’t turn out like they expected, the Giants decided to go with a younger guy who could fill up the middle and help stop the run.
Joseph seems like he will able to do just that, at 6’4’’ and nearly 330 pounds he certainly has the size necessary to make a difference in the trenches.
He possesses great strength (39 reps on the bench press) and has a surprising amount of athleticism for a player his size (30-inch vertical jump).
The Giants could’ve taken Terrence Cody here but he’s more of a defensive tackle for a 3-4 defense and also has considerable questions about his weight.
Overall, despite not knowing much about Joseph going into the draft because he played at a smaller program, the more I hear about him the more I like him.
The Giants third round pick was safety Chad Jones and initially I was pretty mystified at why they would take a safety with a relatively high pick considering the Giants now have Antrell Rolle and Kenny Phillips.
But the more I hear about Kenny Philips' knee the less I think he will be able to make an impact this year.
With so many other needs, it’s clear with the selection of Jones that the Giants are not optimistic about Phillips either.
The Jones pick seems a lot better, as he has proven himself to be a very balanced and a steady safety at a big time program like LSU. He has good size and athleticism and is capable of both laying a hard hit and making a play on the ball.
At this point in the draft the Giants had yet to address the middle linebacker position, but they finally did so with their fourth round pick of Phillip Dillard.
Although he’s not a household name, Phillip should be able to help the Giants and compete for snaps to start the season. Dillard has decent size for an NFL middle linebacker and can play all three downs. He is solid against both the run and covering players out of the backfield.
Dillard is a sure tackler who is instinctive and known for his toughness while playing at Nebraska.
As is necessary with the middle linebacker position, Dillard is a smart player who is quick to recognize different offensive formations.
No, he’s not McClain but he looks like a hard worker who could turn into a solid player.
The Giants fifth round pick was Mitch Petrus, an offensive guard who played his college ball at Arkansas.
There’s no doubt that Petrus loves football.
After not being recruited out of high school, he walked on to the Razorbacks determined to make the team. Petrus clawed his way onto the team and wound up on the offensive line, opening holes for both Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.
What really stands out about Petrus is that he’s a hard worker who will do whatever he needs in order to be successful. Petrus also has shown that he’s one of the strongest players in the entire draft class by tying the combine record of 45 repetitions on the bench press.
This strength was on display at the Senior Bowl where Mitch impressed scouts with his performance in one-on-one drills. If he works as hard in the NFL as he did at Arkansas I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start for the Giants.
The Giants bolstered their defense by taking Adrian Tracy from William and Mary, continuing Reese's tradition of taking guys from smaller schools in the later rounds, hoping to find a diamond in the rough.
With their seventh and final selection they added punter Matt Dodge from East Carolina to possibly take over for the recently retired Jeff Feagles.
There’s no doubt that the middle linebacker position comes into the season as the Giants biggest question mark.
But just a year ago we were thinking the same thing about the wide receiver position after the Plaxico Burress incident.
A year later, it looks like the Giants have one of the best young receiver trios in the league with Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Maningham.
In much the same way I talked myself into thinking the Giants would absolutely get Rolando McClain, I’ve talked myself into thinking the Giants had a good draft. Hopefully I’ll be right on one of the two.
I may be wrong on both, but I’d rather be optimistic this time of the year than be down on my team before mini-camp starts.
If that were the case, I’d just move about 90 miles south and become an Eagles fan.
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