The days and weeks leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft is a time where we can hypothesize about several different scenarios and hope our favorite team does not swing and miss early, while at the same time hoping that our team finds the hidden gems in the third day of the draft. After a tumultuous 2015 season, that saw the end of the Tom Coughlin era in New York, General Manager Jerry Reese found himself on a scorching hot seat. Two hundred million dollars in contracts were given to several motivated players and the emergence of young stars, like safety Landon Collins, threw cold water on the seat and as a result Reese enters his 11th season as General Manager of the New York Football Giants. Reese addressed the wide receiver vacancy by adding Brandon Marshall and added a versatile blocking F tight end in Rhett Ellison, but there is still work to be done to help perfect the roster as the Giants attempt to acquire their 5th Lombardi trophy.
Need #1: Offensive Tackle
The combination of 2015 first round pick Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart has been less than stellar so far. Flowers was tied for the league lead in penalties for offensive lineman with 13, which included 9 holding penalties. In addition, he surrendered 47 quarterback hurries according to PFF. He has consistently struggled with his mechanics and frequently gets beat around the edge, which is detrimental to any QB, but especially an ageing QB that lacks mobility like Eli Manning. The deficiencies with the tackles have been apparent and were the main reason the Giants were the 26th ranked team in points for, while being the 29th ranked team in rushing yards with 87.2 YPG. Stabilizing this position will lead to balance and help the rushing attack, while allowing Manning more time to work through his progressions. I am glad the Giants inexpensively re-signed guard John Jerry and brought in guard/tackle D.J. Fluker from the Chargers, as this adds depth and creates competition, which is the strategy the Giants must employ at tackle. Both Flowers and Hart will only be 23 when the season starts, which makes them incredibly young players, but additions to the offensive tackle position must be at the forefront of the Giants’ mind.
Potential Day 2 picks: Antonio Garcia (Troy), Julie’n Davenport (Bucknell), Taylor Moton (Western Michigan).
Need #2: Pass Rusher
I know it may sound ridiculous with the 85-million-dollar deal to Oliver Vernon and the 66-million-dollar deal to Jason Pierre-Paul, but both of these important cogs of the Giants defense played in well over 90% of the team’s defensive snaps last season. This workload led to a groin injury that required surgery for Pierre-Paul, while tiring out Vernon down the playoff stretch. Former 2015 third round pick out of UCLA, Owa Odighizuwa, showed up to voluntary workouts, despite stepping away from the game, so his status is still up in the air and that leaves former undrafted players Kerry Wynn and Romeo Okwara as the immediate back-ups at defensive end. Both players have had some success at the NFL level, but it is not desirable to have them be a starter should Vernon or Pierre-Paul go down. Another reason it is imperative for the Giants to bring in another pass rusher is not just depth, but the implementation of Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s NASCAR defense. On passing down situations, Spagnuolo likes to bring in speed packages that features 4 quicker defensive linemen who can put pressure on opposing QBs. Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Mathias Kiwanuka saw success under Spagnuolo in 2007, which helped the Giants defeat the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Replace Strahan with Jason Pierre-Paul and Spagnuolo with Perry Fewell in 2011 and suddenly it’s a similar scenario which again ended in Giants glory. Big Blue finished the 2016 season with 35 sacks, which was 14th in the league. It is imperative to find more pass rushers to keep the starters fresh and make the defense much more versatile under Steve Spagnuolo. Reese supposedly coveted pass rusher Leonard Floyd out of Georgia in last years’ draft, but was jumped by the Bears on draft day. The Giants typically look for athletic long pieces to fit into Spagnuolo’s puzzle.
Need #3: Tight End
The Giants have been getting by, for quite some time now, with TEs drafted in the later rounds or not drafted at all. The Giants found success with former UDFA Jake Ballard in 2011 and former 2007 fifth round pick Kevin Boss, but for every one of these successes, there is a failure. We remember the Giants fourth round pick in 2012, Adrian Robinson, out of Cincinnati. He was deemed by Jerry Reese as the “JPP of TEs” and it did not work out. Travis Beckum, third round pick in 2009 out of Wisconsin, who was more of an H-back, did not pan out either. A player that can split the seam vertically against a Cover-2 defense and take the pressure off Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall on the outside would be ideal. This TE draft class is filled with talent and I am not betting on the athletic phenom and top TE prospect, OJ Howard from Alabama, to fall into the Giants lap. With the addition of Ellison, the Giants found a solid blocking TE, but now they need to find someone to challenge the middle of the field vertically, while being a viable option in the short to intermediate parts of the field, and give Eli a plethora of weapons as he enters the twilight of his illustrious career. In 2016, the Giants predominantly rolled out 11 personal, but with Ellison, a possible emergence from Jerrell Adams, and a TE in the draft, they could implement packages that feature more TE sets. Head Coach Ben McAdoo spent 6 years as the Green Bay Packers TE coach (2006-11), and I am sure he would love to find his version of Jermichael Finley. Giants fans have grown to love players like Mark Bavaro, Howard Cross, and even early Jeremy Shockey. They may be in luck because this draft class has a lot of interesting options and I would not be surprised if the Giants pursue one of them.
Need #4: Linebacker
Even though the Giants are a base 4-3 defense, they run most of their snaps out of nickel formations that only have 2 linebackers on the field. Every year, Giant fans seem to put LB at the top of their wish lists during the draft, but it tends to be overlooked. The Giants do sport one of the best defensive lines and defensive backfields in football, so generally the linebacking unit hasn’t been as talented. Jonathan Casillas, Devon Kennard, and Keenan Robinson are all back for 2017 and J.T. Thomas is also coming back from a nasty left knee injury that sidelined him the entirety of 2016, so he could also bring value to the position. All 4 of these players will be free agents after the 2017 season, which is an issue for the Giants and their depth at the position. Bringing in a young LB, like B.J. Goodson from last season’s draft, would promote youth and help fill the void if the Giants decide not to resign Casillas, Kennard, Robinson, and / or Thomas next off-season. Some of the linebackers in this year’s draft have the versatility to play off the ball linebacker on early downs, and then put their hand in the dirt and rush the passer on the edge in passing down situations. Carl Banks was the last linebacker who was selected in the first round by the Giants. That was in 1984.
Potential Day 1 picks: Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt), T.J. Watt (Wisconsin).
Need #5: Running back
It is safe to say the Giants need to find a quality running back to pair with Paul Perkins, after ranking 29th in rushing last season and releasing lead rusher Rashad Jennings. Perkins showed flashes of change of direction ability, suddenness, and agility, while displaying very good jump cuts to create his own yardage. The Giants will also have a healthy passing down running back in Shane Vereen when the season starts and they also signed Shaun Draughn from San Francisco to a one year deal. All the current running backs on the roster are slightly undersized and I can see the Giants trying to add a bigger back. “Thunder and Lighting” was a term used for Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne; as well as Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. Although I do not believe size is the only prerequisite for the Giants at the running back position, if the right situation presented itself during the draft I would not be shocked if the Giants try to establish another dynamic duo and add depth to a position that has a high injury rate.
Potential Day 1 picks: Dalvin Cook (Florida State), Christian McCaffery (Stanford)
This leads me to the quarterback issue. It is not necessarily a “need”, but a position where you would rather be a year too early, than a year too late. Eli Manning is entering his 14th season in the NFL, at the age of 36. 2016 was statistically his worst year in Ben McAdoo’s offense and the Giants brass have certainly shown they are interested in several prospects coming into this year’s draft. If the Giants go in this direction, none of these prospects would be forced to start and they could take the Aaron Rodgers approach and sit behind Manning for the near future. This would benefit DeShone Kizer (potential first day pick out of Notre Dame), Brad Kaaya (potential day two pick out of Miami), Jerod Evans and Josh Dobbs (potential day three picks out of Virginia Tech and Tennessee respectively). The Giants have been doing their due diligence, so there is a possibility we see the successor to Eli Manning being drafted in 2017.
The Draft process is by no means a science and there are many moving parts to the operation. Teams must have a remedy to every situation that can feasibly happen. Big Blue reportedly had a multi-year offer on the table for defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins, but he has signed with the Colts, which leaves a void next to Snacks Harrison. With Hankins gone, The Giants should look at prospects like Chris Wormley (Michigan), Jaleel Johnson (Iowa), Larry Ogunjobi (Charlotte), Montravius Adams (Auburn), or Caleb Brantley (Florida) to possibly fill the void next to Damon Harrison for the Giants.
Despite drafting Eli Apple last year in the top 10, I believe the Giants need to think about addressing the corner spot at some point in the draft. This is a passing league and passing situation sub-packages are used frequently. We all witnessed what happened after Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie suffered a thigh contusion in the playoffs. There is very little depth behind Rodgers-Cromartie, Apple, and Jenkins, so I believe the Giants could look at drafting prospects like Jeremy Cutrer (Middle Tennessee State), Treston Decoud (Oregon State), Jack Tocho (North Carolina State), or Shaq Griffin (Central Florida) in the mid to late rounds of the draft. I know Giant nation is dreaming for a draft like 2007, where nearly every rookie significantly contributed to the Lombardi quest and victory. The current Giants are close and have had a solid offseason, so Giant fans are looking to the draft to hopefully add the necessary pieces to make this dream a reality. Jerry Reese knew his team’s issues in 2015 and corrected them for 2016. I can only imagine the same for 2017.