By Paul Dottino
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Giants general manager Jerry Reese knew he had plenty of work to do.
That’s what happens when your team goes 7-9 and misses the postseason for the fourth time in five years – you must figure out how you’re going to turn over the roster. The offseason began with free agency and the signing of more than a dozen veterans who have had plenty of playoff experience – with nearly half of them coming off teams that had been to a Super Bowl.
Reese deserves a tip of the cap for being able to sign a bushel of quality – and mostly young – veterans with a winning pedigree to fill a large portion of the gaps. These were key factors to building a contending atmosphere, given that half of the team was being replaced.
But that was the easy part. Easy because he was able to target who he wanted and needed only to come up with a fair contract to snatch those on his free agent laundry list. Now comes the hard part – hoping he’ll have the chance to select desired players who must escape the clutches of other teams sitting in front of the Giants on the NFL Draft board.
There are several positions of need, although it would appear that the draft is talent-rich in most, if not all, of those areas. Suffice it to say, it’s a good year for the Giants to be sitting in the 12th slot. They will have seven draft choices over three days, having picked up a fifth-round compensatory choice via the NFL’s free agent formula, but losing their seventh-rounder in last year’s trade for Carolina MLB Jon Beason.
The Giants’ most glaring needs are on offense. They must continue to rebuild an offensive line that was allowed to deteriorate over the past few seasons. They also don’t have a proven productive starter at tight end, nor do they have much reliable depth at receiver and running back.
Reese might want to consider fortifying the linebackers and defensive line, although neither ought to be a high priority after what he was able to accomplish in free agency and he may feel as if he can go into the season with what he has at both spots. So, here we go.
The Giants’ system revolves around identifying a cluster of a half-dozen or so players who they think realistically have a chance to be on the board when the team’s name is called. We’ll take an educated guess at the following cluster of early first-round prospects being available when the Giants are up (in alphabetical order): LSU WR Odell Beckham Jr., Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard, Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald, North Carolina TE Eric Ebron, Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert, Michigan OT Taylor Lewan, Notre Dame OT/G Zack Martin.
1. Why Beckham? Is there anybody in the NFL who wouldn’t consider a big-time playmaker who’s virtually pro-ready with sub-4.4 speed? He plays a very physical brand of ball that serves him well in the return game and helping to block for the run. In short, he fits almost every missing element in the Giants’ receiving corps. Why not? There ought to be quality speedy receivers available as late as the fourth round and his size (5-11, 198) does not solve the Giants’ need for a skyscraper.
2. Why Dennard? He’s the perfect prospect for any team that wants to mirror Seattle’s Super Bowl-winning philosophy. Get a fast, physical corner who will get into a receiver’s face and throw off the timing of an opponent’s passing game. Why not? The Giants signed former Pro Bowl CB Dominique Rogers-Cromartie (Broncos) to play opposite Prince Amukamara, and got standout slot CB Walter Thurmond (Seahawks) and wily veteran Zack Bowman (Bears) to accept one-year deals. And they still have Trumaine McBride and Jayron Hosley to compete in camp. Dennard (5-11) also is a bit shorter than fellow prospect Gilbert.
3. Why Donald? Donald is an outstanding athlete with a never-ending motor and the speed to knife into the backfield and short-circuit a play. He also packs good power-by-the-pound. Why not? There is a question about how well Donald (285 pounds) will hold up against much bigger NFL offensive linemen o the inside. To get the most out of him, teams might be best served to play him outside on the early downs.
4. Why Ebron? The Giants badly need a starting tight end who is capable of threatening a defense. Ebron’s receiving skills make him the most dangerous tight end in the draft and he could be a key element in new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s Green Bay-style attack. Why not? What positives Ebron may bring to the passing game downfield – although his hands did not impress at his Pro Day – are negated by his lack of blocking at the line. And the Giants do not have a strong enough offensive line that they can afford to carry a “receiving” tight end.
5. Why Gilbert? This corner has a rare combination of speed, size (6-0), length and a closing burst to the ball that makes him a strong value at No. 12. Good teams just don’t get the chance to draft high enough to get a skill-set like this very often. Why not? Plenty of depth at the position. See Dennard.
6. Why Lewan? Physically, he’s a Robo-tackle – with a large boxcar frame and power, with the potential of being a dominant force for the next decade. And he’s not afraid to scrap, too. Why not? Lewan gets sloppy with his technique, often because he loses his focus and composure – and teams must figure out if these traits have caused him to run into off-the-field issues, as well.
7. Why Martin? The second-best technician among linemen in the draft, nearly matching OT Jake Matthews (who should be gone in the first six picks). Martin has the intelligence and tools to project as a terrific pro at any of the spots along the line, including center. Why not? On pure talent alone, he may be ranked a bit lower than the 12th-best player on most boards, especially if you do not value versatility or should you be married to the idea that skill position players are inherently carry more value.
In this case, value appears as though it will meet need. The Giants must get another stud if they are going to build a contending offensive line – and it truly doesn’t matter what position the prospect played in college. It’s more about how he projects in the NFL. The idea is to get the five best linemen on the field and then worry about plugging them into the best slots. The Giants have done this numerous times with great success – and it’s much easier to do if you’ve got versatile linemen from the outset.
Although a player such as Gilbert or Dennard or maybe even Donald provide solid value at the 12th pick, their grades likely won’t be significantly above Lewan or Martin – the two offensive linemen with the best chance to be available. So we’ll cross off the three defenders. Ditto for Ebron – particularly because there’s no worse time to employ a tight end who needs to enhance his blocking performance than while you are rebuilding your offensive line. We’ll knock off the receiver because, while it’s tempting to grab a game-breaker here – and Beckham would be the best value of the rest of the receivers – there should be plenty of size and/or speed receivers to be had as late as the fourth round.
So it comes down to Lewan or Martin, although it’s possible one of them might could be gone by then. The Giants should pounce on whichever one is available and allow this newcomer to become part of a sturdy line for years to come. After considering the intangibles and the aforementioned value we place on versatility … there’s no reason to change the guy we’ve pegged since mid-March … with the 12th pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the New York Giants select — OFFENSIVE LINEMAN ZACK MARTIN, NOTRE DAME.
KEEP YOUR EYE ON THESE PLAYERS IN THE 2ND ROUND:
If the Giants DO NOT take a tackle at No. 12, have your ears open for versatile Nevada OT Joel Bitonio (scrapper) and powerhouse RT Tiny Richardson (claimed to be at 65 percent last season after knee surgery). Should they get an offensive lineman in the first round, the Giants should be interested in solid value with all-around Notre Dame TE Troy Niklas and speedy and tall WRs Corey Latimer (Indiana), Donte Moncrief (Mississippi) and Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt).
KEEP YOUR EYE ON THESE PLAYERS IN THE 3RD ROUND:
If the Giants still haven’t taken a tackle by this point, watch for Ohio State OT Jack Mewhort. If not the offensive line, watch for Iowa TE CJ Fiedorowicz or pro-style RB Tyler Gaffney (Stanford) and tough RB Terrance West (Towson).
KEEP YOUR EYE ON THESE PLAYERS IN THE 4TH ROUND:
These guys might be good value/need picks, starting in the fourth round: The best blocking old-school tight end in the draft is Arthur Lynch (Georgia), who also is a solid medium-range target. Speedy and tall WRs Martavis Bryant (Clemson) and Kevin Norwood (Alabama) can bring something to the table here as does downhill Boston College RB Andre Williams.
2014 NFL DRAFT SCHEDULE
At Radio City Music Hall: Thursday, first round, 8 p.m.; Friday, second and third rounds, 7 p.m.; Saturday, fourth through seventh rounds, noon.
Giants picks (7): Round 1-Pick 12 (12th overall); 2-11 (43); 3-10 (74); 4-13 (113); 5-12 (152); 5-34 (174)*, 6-11 (187); 7-none, traded for Carolina MLB Jon Beason last season. *Compensatory selection.
Estimating the timing of the Giants’ first three picks (based on last year’s draft): First round (maximum 10 mins. between picks) expected to come approx. 9:15 p.m. on Thursday; Second round (max. 7 mins.) – approx. 7:35 p.m. on Friday; Third round (max. 5 mins.) – approx. 9:30 p.m. on Friday.
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