By Ernie Palladino
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A number of mock drafts have the Giants taking North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron with their 12th pick on May 8. And they may be right.
That won’t necessarily put a smile on Victor Cruz’s face, or that of defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.
Ask Cruz for his input, as the Daily News did the day the Giants reconvened for their offseason training program, and he’ll tell you they could use a field-stretching, big-play wide receiver. And though Fewell likes to keep his cards covered, he probably wouldn’t be displeased with a pass-rushing defensive end.
Guess what? They’re both right.
The Giants have needs at both spots, perhaps even more than tight end. They only have two legitimate pass-catching threats on the roster right now in Cruz and Rueben Randle, and the latter has shown much inconsistency between his flashes of brilliance. But even if Randle evens out, the Giants won’t get by with just two wide receivers in Ben McAdoo’s incarnation of the West Coast offense. Eli Manning needs at least one more young, fast receiver, if only to present a real downfield threat to open up the more important swing throws and medium middle routes where he’ll make his real living this year.
“I think that’s something we need back in this offense,” Cruz said, noting the permanent absence of Hakeem Nicks. “An outside guy that can do the job and help fuel all the other receivers in the locker room and put some fire under them and get them where they need to be.”
Cruz’s pick would be Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans, the guy on the receiving end of so many of Johnny Manziel’s throws. At 6-foot-5, 225, he’d not only make for a nice, big target in traffic, but another Plaxico Burress-like “Throw it up and let him get it” type on the end zone fade.
Then there’s defensive end. That may seem surprising, but the Giants have never seemed shy about taking pass rushers high. Ernie Accorsi did it when he made Mathias Kiwanuka his No. 1 in 2006 despite the book-ended presence of Hall of Famer Michael Strahan and strip-sack artist Osi Umenyiora in the starting lineup.
“You can always use pass rushers,” Accorsi said then.
Last year, Reese pulled Damontre Moore in the third round. But this year, despite the replenishment of Justin Tuck’s departure with Robert Ayers and Jason Pierre-Paul’s presumed return to health, Fewell can still use another bat for his front-line of hitters.
Also consider that no one knows how JPP will respond after two subpar years of battling back and shoulder injuries. He has trimmed 15 pounds off his 6-5 frame, the better to get his now-270 pounds around the faster, younger tackles he’ll encounter. Still, one must wonder why any 25-year-old player should need anything but minor physical alterations to return to his old form.
The answer could be that he’s never going to be the same old JPP, pain-free or not. There’s a lot of tread on that body. And his history of back problems doesn’t bode well for his game, which is predicated on torque and leverage.
Therefore, the defensive front does have a need. Despite spending most of the $116.3 million offseason expense account on building up the defense, free agents can’t fill in every hole. Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond, and Quintin Demps are going to shut down the passing lanes for Fewell. The re-signed Jon Beason and newcomer Jameel McClain will add a few sacks, along with run-stopping ability, to the line backing corps.
But the majority of the pressure they’ll need to move quarterbacks out of the pocket and into mistakes must come from up front. For that, they’ll need a productive JPP. If, for whatever reason, Pierre-Paul plays more like 30 than 25, it won’t hurt to have a young, hungry gun ready to step in. So don’t be surprised if the Giants trade down for a pass-rusher like Auburn’s Dee Ford or Missouri’s Kony Ealy.
Or, they could just stay put at 12 and take Ebron if Carolina doesn’t get him first at No. 10.
That’s the beauty of the draft. Everything is possible.
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