4 Bold Predictions for New York Giants 2014 NFL Draft Class
If recent history has taught us anything it is that the New York Giants' rookie draft class will be unpredictable.
Take last year as an example. On the positive side—despite being a first-round pick—no one could have predicted that Justin Pugh would not only start all 16 games at right tackle for Big Blue, but also be the team’s best offensive lineman, according to his 7.1 Pro Football Focus rating (subscription required). Negatively, Damontre Moore appeared to be a strong candidate to have an impactful rookie season after his first preseason game last August.
However, he didn’t register a sack in 136 defensive snaps and saw his only highlight come on special teams.
We can even go back several years to 2007, when a diminutive running back named Ahmad Bradshaw was selected in the seventh round and initially stayed true to his draft position by gaining only 39 rushing yards as a third-stringer over the first 14 games of the season.
Bradshaw, though, burst out of the shadows with a memorable 88-yard touchdown run in Week 16 against Buffalo that all but sealed a Giants playoff berth. He went on to play a key role in Big Blue’s playoff run to a Super Bowl title with 208 yards rushing and one touchdown in four postseason games.
The point of this mostly pleasant look back is that some of the seven players New York drafted last weekend will perform better or worse than their draft position. In rare cases, it may be a drastic swing one way or the other.
The following four slides are my take on which players will surprise. The slides are ordered based on the boldness of the prediction—from least to most bold.
Weston Richburg Will Start All 16 Games at Center
This may seem like a very bold prediction on the surface, but it really isn’t once we take a look at all the facts.
For starters, Weston Richburg doesn’t have a lot of competition to beat out at the center position. His main threat is J.D. Walton, who hasn’t played since early in the 2012 season due to a severe ankle injury and wasn’t that effective even when he was on the field. In 2010 and 2011 with the Denver Broncos—his only two full seasons in the NFL—Walton posted minus-15.9 and minus-31.9 PFF ratings, respectively.
The other competitor is 30-year-old Dallas Reynolds, who did start 14 games at center for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012, but—like Walton—wasn’t good with a minus-8.7 PFF rating. Reynolds played only 103 snaps last season at guard and center in his first year with New York.
Richburg also happens to play a position that is one of the easier to become a rookie starter at in the NFL. For example, Travis Frederick started all 16 games at center for the Dallas Cowboys last season as a rookie. In 2011, Mike Pouncey matched Frederick’s feat with the Miami Dolphins.
Most importantly, though, Richburg projects to be a very good pro, especially given the blocking scheme the Giants implement.
The Colorado State product was considered one of the top two or three center prospects in the draft. Two of his main strengths are his intelligence and quickness. These are key attributes for a center in the Giants' zone-blocking scheme, which requires a heady player with the ability to move and block in space.
And if you were wondering about Richburg’s durability to hold up over a 16-game season, there is little to worry about here. The 22-year-old started all 49 games in his college career, even when he had a broken hand in 2011.
Odell Beckham Jr. Will Be a Top 10 Punt or Kickoff Returner
It is not uncommon for a rookie to be a top-10 punt or kickoff returner (based solely on yards per return).
Last year, Cordarrelle Patterson of the Minnesota Vikings was first in the NFL in kickoff return average, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Eric Page placed 10th. There was one rookie in the top 10 for punt returns—the Green Bay Packers' Micah Hyde, who placed fifth with a 12.3 return average.
It is still an impressive feat, though, even for a player like Odell Beckham Jr., who excelled as a returner in college. The Giants' first-round pick averaged 9.3 yards per punt return and 25.1 yards per kickoff return in three seasons at LSU. He also had two touchdowns as well—as a punt returner in 2012.
The reason why this prediction is bolder than Richburg playing 16 games is due to the competition Beckham Jr. must face to win either or both jobs.
For kickoff and punt returns, the Giants have Trindon Holliday on the roster. The fifth-year veteran wide receiver was fifth in the NFL last season as a kickoff returner and 17th in punt returns. He also scored a touchdown on each unit.
As insurance, safety Quintin Demps can also be used on kickoff returns. He was actually even better than Holliday last season, placing third in the NFL with a 30.1-yard return average and a touchdown for good measure.
I’m pushing my chips in Beckham Jr.’s corner, though, because he is faster and more explosive than both of those players, in my opinion. Also, Holliday appears in danger of being a training-camp roster cut based on the sudden depth at wide receiver that the presence of Beckham Jr. brings.
New York better hope this prediction comes true if my next prognosis is correct as well.
But Beckham Jr. Will Only Be the Giants' Third Leading Receiver
In the Eli Manning/Tom Coughlin era, which started in 2004, the Giants have never had a rookie wide receiver place better than third on the team in receiving yards. The closest was Hakeem Nicks in 2009, when he was third behind Mario Manningham by a mere 32 yards.
Beckham Jr. will be hard pressed to break this trend in 2014, given the presence of Victor Cruz and, gasp, Rueben Randle. Yes, Randle—the same player who was much-maligned for being the target on eight of Eli Manning’s interceptions in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Many forget that the 23-year-old also led the team in receiving touchdowns with six and was second to the departed Hakeem Nicks in yards per catch (14.9).
In his third season, Randle should naturally take a step forward, especially in new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s system. Cruz explained to Bill Pennington of The New York Times back in April how it differs to the system McAdoo’s predecessor, Kevin Gilbride, implemented:
Your route is your route. You can dictate that off the coverage and you know what you have, and Eli can find you within different holes in the secondary.
But it’s a lot less dependent on what my body language is and Eli reading that. It’s more about him reading the coverage and finding me in those open holes.
Miscommunication was a big problem for the Manning/Randle tandem last year, and not just in the interception department. It was also a big reason that only 53.9 percent of the passes by the signal-caller in Randle’s direction were completed. An acceptable rate of completions on targets is 60 percent or better.
McAdoo’s system should help alleviate this problem since it puts the onus more on the quarterback, whose job it is to read defenses and react on every play.
Even with history and Randle’s presence working against Beckham Jr., it is still quite surprising that a wide receiver selected in the top 15 picks of the draft wouldn’t even rank second on the team in receiving yards.
However, it is not quite the boldest of these predictions.
UDFA Kelcy Quarles Plays More Defensive Snaps Then 3rd-Round Pick Jay Bromley
An undrafted free agent playing more than a third round pick—now we’re getting really bold!
Despite the large disparity in how teams valued Jay Bromley and Kelcy Quarles, they are actually pretty similar players—both in style and talent.
Bromley had nine sacks in 2013 at Syracuse, while Quarles had 9.5 with South Carolina. Both use quick first steps to get in the opponent’s backfield, but they also struggle with pad level—which hurts their leverage—especially against double teams.
The one difference is character, which is likely a big reason that Quarles dropped out of the draft and Big Blue reached to get Bromley with the 74th overall pick.
Bromley was a team captain his senior year in college and is generally considered to be a high-character person. On the other hand, Quarles had a few incidents at South Carolina that make one question his character.
From what I’ve seen on film, Quarles has a higher ceiling. I think he is more explosive off the snap than Bromley and closes better on ball-carriers and the quarterback. I’m going to trust that the leadership of Tom Coughlin and his staff can get Quarles to stay out of trouble and realize his true potential.
Let’s not forget that Bradshaw wasn’t exactly a choir boy at Marshall, and he turned out fine once he became a Giant.