New York Giants: Reassessing Draft Needs After First Wave of Free Agency
It was a relatively quiet first week of free agency for the New York Giants.
No head-turning trades. No mind-blowing signings. The Giants' only spoils, so far, have came in the form of running back Shane Vereen, wide receiver/return specialist Dwayne Harris, offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse and linebackers Jonathan Casillias and J.T. Thomas III, as announced by the team's official website.
These acquisitions, although helpful, do not come close to fulfilling all of New York's needs. While more free agents could be signed in the coming weeks, the most talented targets have all been swept off the open market by their new teams.
It's time to take a serious look at the draft to find out the positions Big Blue must absolutely address.
The Giants didn't have a ton of offensive holes before free agency began, and, after a week on the open market, now they have even fewer.
However, New York's most glaring need—a starting-caliber offensive lineman—has gone unaddressed.
Running back Shane Vereen and wide receiver/return specialist Dwayne Harris seem like luxury signings. So does the Marshall Newhouse pickup, and that's because he's best suited as a backup. The former fifth-round selection wasn't able to hold down a starting job in either Green Bay or Cincinnati.
If you thought Newhouse was the solution to New York's O-line struggles, think again.
At this point, it looks like this position will need to be addressed in the draft—early. The well of talent on the open market is quickly running dry with guys like Mike Iupati signing with the Arizona Cardinals and Orlando Franklin joining the San Diego Chargers. Other guys like Bryan Bulaga and Clint Boling never left home, as Bulaga stayed with the Green Bay Packers and Boling stayed with the Cincinnati Bengals. (All signings confirmed by official team Twitter accounts.)
The Giants officially missed out on the first wave of talent. The second- and third-wave linemen won't be reliable enough to step in and start.
Will New York try to fill the hole with a first-round pick?
It would be the responsible thing to do. Iowa's Brandon Scherff could be the pick. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranks him eighth in his most recent 2015 NFL Draft big board. The former Hawkeye has the flexibility to play either guard or tackle.
After Scherff, there's a pile of pick-your-flavor tackles. Could Florida's D.J. Humphries be the guy? What about Stanford's Andrus Peat or LSU's La'el Collins? Maybe the Giants get lucky and someone like Miami's Ereck Flowers or Pitt's T.J. Clemmings is still hanging around when they pick in the second round.
New York risks leaving a gap in the protection by not picking one of these linemen.
New York has showered the league with interest in a free agent safety, but that's about it.
It began with Devin McCourty during the legal tampering period, as NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported a "hard push" from the Giants before the recent Super Bowl-winner decided to stay with the New England Patriots. Since then, Jordan Raanan of NJ Advance Media has Tweeted about the Giants' interest in Rahim Moore, Ron Parker, Darian Stewart, their own Stevie Brown and "probably a few more" safeties.
Now that Antrel Rolle has signed on with the Chicago Bears (per the team's official Twitter account), there should be a heightened sense of urgency to replace the departed team captain. That means the team needs to stop sending out feelers and pay up for a safety.
There's a very good chance the Giants still land a safety in free agency. However, until they do, the positions remains a major concern and a need in this year's draft.
Unlike offensive line, safety is not a position New York needs to address in the first round. In fact, the only player that might be worth that pick is Alabama's Landon Collins, and he's more of an in-the-box, strong-safety type. The Giants already have a couple young guys of that ilk in Nat Berhe and Cooper Taylor.
What the team really needs is a free safety.
This brand of defensive back should be available throughout the draft, with the best of the bunch being Louisville's Gerod Holliman. If there's a pure center fielder in this year's draft, Holliman is it. He displayed fantastic instincts during his redshirt-sophomore season, tying an NCAA record with 14 interceptions and earning the Jim Thorpe award as college football's best defensive back.
If the Giants are scared away by Holliman's noted negatives (poor tackling and field discipline, according to NFL Media's Lance Zierlein), they can spend a later selection on an undersized player like Fresno State's Derron Smith or an under-the-radar prospect like Penn State's Adrian Amos.
The later-round options will become more likely if New York lands a starting-caliber safety in free agency.
The Giants locked up one defensive end in Jason Pierre-Paul via the franchise tag, but who's going to take over the role left behind by recently departed veteran Mathias Kiwanuka on the opposite side?
Damontre Moore, a 2013 third-round selection, was supposed to step into this role, but he has been slow coming along. We'll see if the D-end, who already has a shoulder surgery on his résumé, can improve on last year's total of 5.5 sacks after being spotted at Texas A&M's Pro Day with his arm in a sling again.
Not all the eggs are in Moore's basket, though. New York still has Robert Ayers Jr. and Kerry Wynn, both of whom flashed potential during the 2014 season.
Still, this cast of characters won't cause opposing quarterbacks to tremble with fear.
New York tried, feebly, to upgrade this position by targeting Brandon Graham. The Giants only offered Graham a one-year deal, according to sources close to Jordan Raanan of NJ Advance Media. The pass-rusher, probably offended by the offer, then settled for Philadelphia's cozy, four-year contract worth $26 million (per Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News).
Perhaps the Giants make a run at restricted free agent George Johnson, as ESPN's Dan Graziano has heard they might do, but that seems like a lot of work for a player who has never started a game and registered only six sacks last season.
This particular need must be tackled in the draft.
If the Giants cross their fingers and hope one of those offensive linemen mentioned on the first slide falls to the second round, they could, instead, pick a pass-rusher with the ninth-overall selection. That's when new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo starts licking his chops.
With the top of the draft laced with enticing prospects—such as Florida's Dante Fowler Jr., Nebraska's Randy Gregory, Missouri's Shane Ray, Kentucky's Alvin Dupree and Clemson's Vic Beasley—the Giants must draft with caution. They must find pass-rushers who fit the 4-3 scheme and avoid reaching for those that do.
The Giants don't have a huge need at defensive tackle, but they can afford to upgrade the personnel they already have on the roster at the position.
Johnathan Hankins and Jay Bromley could end up making a pretty decent pairing along the starting defensive line, but the team may not be so optimistic about their young interior duo. Otherwise, why were the Giants mulling a run at Ndamukong Suh (per Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News) and targeting Dan Williams as an alternative (per Dan Graziano of ESPN)?
New York will survive if they don't find a defensive tackle in free agency. Backing up Hankins and Bromley, the Giants still have Cullen Jenkins and Markus Kuhn. However, these names don't generate the same excitement that a fresh draft pick would.
B/R's Matt Miller ranks Washington's Danny Shelton right in the range of New York's first-round selection. Shelton weighs a whopping 339 pounds and could step in right away as a true nose tackle, if the Giants aren't more inclined to fix the O-line with the ninth-overall pick.
Shelton is just what the Giants need. Considering the team fielded the league's worst run defense in terms of yards per carry in 2014, the Giants could use Shelton to help seal the leaks by clogging up the middle. With the pass-rush production shrinking over the last few seasons, his presence in the middle could help revive it.
Consider Shelton a cure-all for what ails New York's defense.
The consolation prizes are there, but few come with Shelton's all-around appeal. Florida State's Eddie Goldman, for example, would be a welcomed addition for his run-stuffing ability, but only if he slips to the Giants in the second round. Other, leaner D-tackles have potential to get after the quarterback but present a liability against the run.