New York Giants: Players to Watch at the Combine
The NFL combine, also affectionately known in some circles as the Underwear Olympics, since the athletes being evaluated are doing everything but actually playing the sport for which they hope to play at the NFL level, is underway in Indianapolis.
A contingency from the New York Giants will be on hand to observe the drills and, perhaps more importantly, conduct the interviews with prospects they might be eyeballing to place atop their draft wish list.
Who might draw the team’s interest? Here’s a look at one player at each of the top positions of need (presented in no particular order) for the Giants who just might draw Big Blue’s attention.
DE Noah Spence, 6'2", 254 lbs, Eastern Kentucky
Noah Spence doesn’t fit the Giants’ prototype for pass-rushers as far as his size is concerned, but he has a good burst off the line of scrimmage and is athletic enough to chase down ball-carriers. Per NFL.com draft analyst Bucky Brooks (via Chase Goodbread), Spence has the makeup to be Von Miller 2.0.
There are two major questions involving Spence. The first is whether he would fit the Giants' 4-3 defensive scheme—if he did, it could be as an outside linebacker rather than a true defensive end, given his size and physical makeup.
Of course, the big question mark regarding Spence is his off-field issues, which include being treated for a substance addiction, being banned for life from Big Ten after two failed drug tests in 2013 and 2014 and a May 2015 arrest for alcohol intoxication and second-degree disorderly conduct, per Lance Zierlein of NFL.com.
The Giants can ill-afford to take a gamble on a player who is going to insist that he be allowed to march to the beat of his own drum. However, Spence deserves a chance to explain his issues and address what he’s doing to become a more responsible citizen both on and off the field.
OLB Jaylon Smith, 6'3", 229 lbs, Notre Dame
The Irish’s Jaylon Smith, whom NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock opined is about as complete of a linebacker prospect as Carolina’s Luke Kuechly (h/t Chase Goodbread) has the skill set to be effective in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense.
Until tearing both his ACL and MCL in his left knee in late December, Smith was all but certain to be a surefire top-10 draft pick.
So where does the injury leave him now, and would the Giants take a chance on him if he’s there at No. 10?
Depending on his rehab, there is a chance that Smith might not be ready to contribute until late in the 2016 season, if at all. Rookies need time and reps to get acclimated, and there would certainly be questions as to whether Smith could step in on a Giants defense that is in dire need of help from front to back and contribute.
If the Giants are looking to reload, waiting on Smith might be a luxury they can ill-afford to take—unless of course they manage to re-sign Jasper Brinkley to a short-term deal and hope that oft-injured Devon Kennard finally shakes the injury bug.
The bottom line is that Smith might just be one of those players that the team would have to wait on to reap the rewards. If he checks out medically to be on schedule, he could be worth the wait.
Bralon Addison, 5'10", 190 lbs, Oregon
The depth at receiver is above-average in this year’s class, so much so that the Giants, who are in need of a No. 2 receiver to complement Odell Beckham Jr. and a slot receiver, could dip twice from this group, were it not for the glaring needs on the other side of the ball.
The most likely scenario is the Giants will address the No. 2 receiver spot via free agency and potentially look to add a slot receiver in the draft.
Bralon Addison isn’t the prototypical tall receiver that the Giants seem to prefer, but if you’re talking about speed, this player, whom NFL Draft Scout projects to be a third- to fourth-round prospect, has it. That’s despite having suffered a torn ACL in 2014, an injury from which he came back on his way to recording a career-high 63 receptions for 804 yards and 10 touchdowns while also returning punts.
The biggest question, as Rob Rang points out, is if Addison’s production is more of a result of the scheme in which he played, a scheme that limits the route-running tree.
However, if he’s viewed as a slot receiver—Victor Cruz’s status is up in the air for 2016—Addison could end up being one of those value picks the Giants seem to crave.
Javon Hargrave, 6'1", 309 lbs, South Carolina State
The Giants defensive interior is another position that will likely have a new face or two, as free-agents-to-be Markus Kuhn and Cullen Jenkins are both unlikely to be back.
The Giants might be able to get Barry Cofield, who joined the team in November, back on a one-year minimum deal to serve as part of a rotation with Jay Bromley and Johnathan Hankins. Louis Nix III, who bounced on and off the practice squad last year, will also get a chance to compete.
If the Giants are looking to add to this group, the good news, at least according to NFL Network Mike Mayock (h/t Liz Clarke of the Washington Post) is that this year’s defensive tackle class is knee-deep in talent to where second-round quality might be had as late as the fourth round of the draft.
Given the Giants’ tendency to usually wait until the third round or later to draft a defensive tackle, this would bode well for New York if it shares Mayock’s assessment of the defensive tackle class.
Javon Hargrave might be one such potential fit who could be there to start Day 3, according to NFL Draft Scout.
CBS Sports analyst Dane Brugler notes that Hargrave has a quick step that can catch blockers by surprise and that he moves well given his size. However, he does tend to stop his feet when he’s stonewalled, though this is something that coaching can correct.
Brugler also notes that Hargrave can anchor against the run, which is what the Giants desperately need given their issues in the run game last year.
Justin Simmons, 6'2", 194 lbs, Boston College
The Giants have an interesting decision to make at safety.
With Brandon Meriweather and Craig Dahl both unlikely to be brought back, New York finds itself in the same boat as last offseason, when it had a lot of youth brimming with potential and not much experience.
The most experienced of those under contract is Landon Collins, last year’s second-round pick, who should be much improved in year two of the system and in the league. Alongside of him, however, is a gaping hole in which the Giants could use a true free safety.
Will New York gamble on one of Mykkele Thompson, Nat Berhe and Bennett Jackson filling that role?
All three of those players never made it out of training camp due to injuries suffered in the preseason.
The most likely scenario for the Giants is they will add a veteran free agent. Perhaps Cleveland’s Tashaun Gipson will draw a look, since Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reports that there have been no talks between Gipson and the Browns and that the safety is expecting to move on.
If the Giants sign a veteran free-agent safety, then the chances of them drafting a safety drop, given the presence of Thompson, Berhe and Jackson.
If, however, the Giants believe that two knee surgeries for Jackson is enough and they want to add to this group at some point in Day 3, Justin Simmons out of Boston College, who is projected by NFL Draft Scout to go in the sixth round, might be worth a look.
Per Rob Rang’s initial analysis, Simmons also has experience in the slot. His height makes him a good matchup against the taller players that teams generally like to plug in as their slot receivers these days.
Simmons has shown that he is a ball hawk who has good hands—he finished seventh among all draft-eligible safeties who took at least 60 percent of the defensive snaps with his five interceptions last year, per College Football Focus. He also does a good job of jumping routes and is a student of the game.
Simmons is also a solid tackler—he posted 114 tackles over the last two seasons, 42 of which were for zero or negative yardage, per CFF.
Tavon Young, 5'9", 180 lbs, Temple
Cornerback is another position where the Giants could use multiple new faces. If Prince Amukamara leaves via free agency, which is a real possibility given that he revealed in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio earlier this month that the Giants would allow him to test the market (h/t Pro FootballTalk.com), New York will need a starter opposite of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at the bare minimum.
If this scenario plays out, look for the Giants to pursue a veteran to replace Amukamara and to the draft to replenish some of the depth they’re likely to lose if they let free-agents-to-be Jayron Hosley and Trumaine McBride walk out the door.
Fortunately for the Giants, the cornerback class is one of the more solid ones in this draft. If the Giants don’t pluck a young safety who can double as a slot cornerback, then perhaps Tavon Young out of Temple might be a solid option in the fifth round.
A starter as a true freshman, Young drew rave reviews from Jamie Newberg and Dane Brugler of NFL Draft Scout, who describe him as a “feisty player and a good teammate who has displayed leadership skills, especially the past two seasons.”
While not particularly tall, which would put him at a size disadvantage against taller slot receivers, Young holds his own in both coverage and run support.
In coverage the last two seasons, Young has a 66.2 NFL rating, having allowed just 52.9 percent of the pass targets against him to be completed, per College Football Focus. In that period, he allowed three touchdowns while picking off four balls and breaking up 14 passes.
Although having limited experience in the slot, Young is a feisty player who battles, regardless of the competition across from him. The Giants could use a few more scrappy types on the defensive side of the ball.
Willie Beavers, 6'4", 324 lbs, Western Michigan
It took the Giants a little longer than anyone would have liked, but eventually they began rebuilding their offensive line in 2013, starting with the drafting of Justin Pugh. They then proceeded to add additional pieces such as Weston Richburg (2014), Ereck Flowers (2015) and Bobby Hart (2015).
Along the way, they tried to add Geoff Schwartz to the mix, but unfortunately injuries got in the way, leading to the team terminating his contract. With Will Beatty also gone, the Giants need to address the right side of their offensive line, with Hart being in the mix for the starting right guard spot.
The starting right tackle spot is up for grabs. Will the Giants sign a pure veteran right tackle in free agency to plug in, or will they potentially sign a left tackle and move Flowers from the left side to the right?
Regardless of what New York does, the fact remains that this team needs some good young depth for the coaches to begin developing so that when the Giants move on from Marshall Newhouse and John Jerry, the cupboard at tackle isn’t bare.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to be a strong draft class at tackle, though there are a few late-round types who could be there for the taking.
One such prospect is Willie Beavers (Western Michigan), who is projected to go in either the fifth or sixth round, according to NFL Draft Scout.
Beavers’ flaws, which include overextending and balance, are all things that coaching can fix. What can’t be coached, though, is size and agility, both of which Beavers has in spades.
If you’re looking for a value-added prospect who can play both tackles, Beavers appears to have the feet necessary to hold down the blind side, according to Jamie Newberg of NFL Draft Scout. While he’s in need of polish, Beavers appears to have a solid enough foundation to build upon.
Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced.
Follow me on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.