With the realization of a disappointing campaign and the failure to participate in the postseason for the second straight season, fans of the New York Giants are looking optimistically at what success 2011 can bring.
With the uncertainty surrounding the collective bargaining agreement and the possibility of a disrupted forthcoming season looming ever-larger, only one thing seems set in stone. The NFL draft will take place on April 28th, and that is a certainty.
Bearing this in mind, it seems Giants general manager Jerry Reese has plenty to ponder over the coming seven weeks, so what really is needed in order for Big Blue to return to winning ways?
Poor quarterback play on the part of franchise quarterback Eli Manning led to league-high 25 turnovers in 2010, however, this is one position that could not be more stable. The typical sports fan is as fickle as they come, that being said, you simply don’t toss your Super Bowl MVP triggerman by the wayside in the prime years of his career. Improvements in the passing game are required for a successful year ahead, however this is something that must be delivered by Manning, and no one else.
Looking into the Giants backfield on the other hand, shows a different story entirely. Over recent years, the Giants have established themselves as a dominant force with their power-rushing ground game. The three-headed attack of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw epitomized this flawlessly throughout the 2007 and 2008 campaigns. The self named Earth, Wind and Fire trio ran for over 2,400 yards collectively in ’08, during which time the Giants offensive unit was one of the most potent in professional football.
Since, however, the trio has dismantled, and to say things haven’t run smoothly would be an understatement. Brandon Jacobs decline through the opening weeks of September led to Bradshaw prevailing as New York’s feature back. The Giants' problems mounted furthermore with Bradshaw’s reluctance to safely handle the football, leading to a crisis at the position.
With the contract of the talented and agile Bradshaw nearing expiration, it may be time for Reese and the Giants to look to the future of their running game. One option for the Giants is to use up a middle-round pick on a promising back, with the general consensus being that Auburn University's Mario Fannin would be the perfect fit, whilst being a steal if still on the board in the 4th Round. The back’s ability as a power runner, coupled with his elite speed (40-yard dash time of 4.38 at the combine) could see him become a force to be reckoned with when exploding out of the backfield.
With their first-round pick it seems the Giants will be very reluctant to pass up on a dominant offensive lineman to sure up their injury-plagued line.
One unsurprising pick in the trenches, allowing for the foundations of the once-dominant rushing game’s rebirth, would be University of Florida offensive lineman Mike Pouncey. The versatile brother of the Steelers centre Marquise would provide options at both the guard and center position, whilst injecting some much-needed youth into a rapidly aging offensive line. Pouncey’s explosiveness off the line earned him All-American honors and an All-SEC selection during his college career.
However, put me in the shoes of Jerry Reese on April 28th, I would be looking no further than promising offensive tackle out of Boston College, Anthony Castonzo. With plenty of experience from his years with the Eagles, Castonzo became the first true freshman to start on the Boston College offensive line in over ten years. Progressing to become an All-American in the ’07 and ’08 seasons, the dominant force clearly has the required skill sets to immediately jump into the Giants line when required. Earmarked as one of the top players in his class, it seems if he falls to the Giants at pick 19, he is the smart selection.
With the offensive line seeming the logical start point for Reese in this year’s draft, possibly the only obstacle between Castonzo and a big blue future would be Tyron Smith. The USC prospect seems the only obvious preferable offensive tackle in the draft, yet the likelihood of the Trojan dropping to 19 seems unlikely, with Smith being taken by the Lions at 13 on many experts' boards.
Despite a dramatically improved defensive display from the 2009 to 2010 campaigns, there do appear to be issues which remain in need of addressing. One problem spot heading into last season was inevitably at linebacker. With the loss of defensive captain Antonio Pierce, a dominant middle linebacker was required to step into the void.
The opportunity was grasped by youngster Jonathan Goff, who despite initial skepticism made the position his own. Whether he is to be a long-term fixture in such a dominant defensive position however, remains to be seen. Bearing this in mind, I would not be at all surprised to see a second- or third-round pick utilized in the selection of a solid linebacker. Doing so would provide competition for Goff at middle linebacker, whilst the selection of an athletic outside backer could provide the answer to the starting role currently occupied by aging veteran Keith Bulluck.
With plenty of depth at the linebacker position available in the draft, the Giants would be ill-advised to reach in order to fill their need. Early hot choice Akeem Ayers has somewhat faded from the limelight after a poor athletic performance at the combine, leaving Reese with plenty of options at the position in both the second- and third-rounds. Greg Jones, the athletic linebacker from Michigan State is dynamic enough to play wherever required in the backer spots within the Giants 4-3 defense, and the two-time All American should not be passed upon lightly.
With glaring issues to be addressed, Giants fans, players and staff alike will be under no illusions that a strong draft class is required for a successful 2011 and beyond.
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