During every draft, General Managers face the question of drafting for need versus drafting the best player available. Although the offensive line seems to be the biggest need for the New York Giants, General Manager Jerry Reese may look towards the theory of selecting the best player available for each round which could equal many surprise picks in this year's draft.
That means all those players mentioned in various mock drafts you might have already read, could slip right by New York in favor of a player you never thought would be lining up for the Big Blue for the 2011 NFL season.
With that in mind, here are five sleeper picks the Giants could make this upcoming draft.
1. Justin Houston
Can you ever have enough pass rushers? With Mathias Kiwanuka a free agent, Osi Umenyiora being shopped for trades last year, and the Georgia product showing up at 270 pounds at the draft, the Giants could make the move for another pass rusher and surprise draftniks everywhere.
Houston's newfound weight gain along with his ability to maintain his speed and athleticism will allow him to remain a playmaker off the edge in the 4-3 defense. He showed good strength to take on bullish offensive linemen, and along with Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck could give the Giants a young three-man pass rushing attack. Do I think it will happen? No. But have I been shocked before? Of course.
2. Drake Nevis
The Giants selected Linval Joseph in last year's draft, signed Chris Canty to a huge deal as a free agent two years ago and have been said to be intent on keeping Barry Cofied. However, they seemed to miss former defensive tackle, Fred Robbins' pass rushing ability from the inside of the line and Nevis could fill that role.
The LSU graduate is an explosive pass rusher and can put pressure on the quarterback in the pocket. His quickness is what will allow him to succeed in the NFL, but his 6'0" height and 300-pound weight is going to make it difficult for him to stop the run. If Joseph can fulfill the role of run-stuffer, Nevis might just be an option in the middle rounds of the draft.
3. Greg Jones
The Michigan State thumper seems almost tailored for the 3-4 defense, but that hasn't stopped the Giants before (see Clint Sintim). Current starter at middle linebacker, Jon Goff, is clearly a two-down linebacker and must work on his cover skills over the offseason in order to have a long stay on the starting unit. Jones also has to work on his cover skills, but was clearly a better sideline-to-sideline linebacker in college.
At 6' 0," Jones sometimes has problems at the point of attack, but his speed should make up for that. Although the New York coaching staff has continued to back Goff and rave about last year's fourth round pick, Phillip Dillard, they could easily end up selecting Jones and giving him a chance to supplant both in the near future.
4. Kelvin Sheppard
Sheppard would likely have not been on the Giants' draft chart last year as he doesn't have the physical talents and potential their actual picks do. Instead, his intangibles and awareness when reading the opponents' offensive plays is what will allow him succeed in the NFL. Sheppard may never have the career Illinois linebacker, Martez Wilson, has, but he could quickly become part of the linebacker rotation with his high IQ and his ability to locate the ball.
At LSU, Sheppard was the unquestionable captain for LSU and was a model of consistency day in and day out. He will likely never be a great playmaker, but he could easily be an eight to ten year starter in the NFL for his career.
5. Ras-I Dowling
The Giants have four cornerbacks who deserve playing time during the season; those being Corey Webster, Terrell Thomas, Aaron Ross, and Bruce Johnson. However, Ras-I Dowling has been shooting up draft boards and could even make his way into the first round by the end of April.
At almost 6'2 with 4.4 wheels, the Virginia alumn has as much upside as anyone in the draft. His high backpedal and bad tackling angles are worries, but he has a reputation as a hard worker and his ball skills and ability to explode upon impact in run support is what will have teams salivating.
With Jerry Reese surprising fans and "experts" everywhere by selecting Pierre-Paul, Joseph, Chad Jones, and Dillard in the first four rounds, he proved he was not going for need, but rather upside. With starters entrenched at most positions on the team, he can easily do so once again or go against last year's grain and look for players that can automatically contribute, but may never become stars. Either way he will surely be making some picks that will put some mock drafts to shame.