May 072006
 
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Colin’s New York Giants 2006 NFL Draft Review

by Colin Lindsay, Great Blue North Draft Report (and big Giants’ fan!)

First things first…a question!… Just wondering if anyone else out there had one of those “What the…!!!” moments when the Giants’ selection of Boston College DE Mathias Kiwnauka was announced as their first round pick at last weekend’s draft. In fact, in the minutes leading up to the announcement we were feeling very good about things after the Giants had made a very nice deal with Pittsburgh, picking up not one, but two mid-round picks while only moving down 7 spots in the draft order. And while the Giants really didn’t have any real pressing needs to fill with the pick, adding yet another DE to what may be the NFL’s best group at the position already seemed a tad like overkill.

Why a DE???… The number of Giants’ fans still trying to answer that question is probably legion, however, not to be facile, the simple answer is that the Giants, didn’t draft a DE, or at least almost certainly didn’t set out to take a player at the position when putting together their draft board, but rather took a particular player, in this case, Kiwanuka (henceforth known as BC94). We obviously weren’t in the Giants’ war room, but figure that it went down something like the following.

Like most teams in the NFL, the Giants set their value board up as a pyramid, or layers, or roles with players of relatively equal value grouped together in descending order. This year, for example, Reggie Bush and likely Mario Williams were likely on the first or top row with D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Vernon Davis, A.J. Hawk, and Michael Huff likely in the second row etc. Teams also flag players in each row at positions of preference in that draft so when their pick comes they logically take a tagged player from the highest row in which there still are players. My guess is, however, that when the Giants got on the clock at the 25th pick, the only player left in the highest row was BC94. Since they didn’t need a DE, and because it seemed clear that there would still be tagged players available in the next row if they moved down, the Giants quiet happily accepted the Steelers offer to swap the 25th and 32nd selections. Only problem, of course, is that when the Giants got back on the clock with the 32nd pick, BC94 was still there. At that point, one can just imagine G.M. Ernie Accorsi looking around the room and asking “well, can we use the guy?” And when the answer came back “You can never have enough pass rushers!” BC94 became a Giant.

Certainly, lets hope this venture into pure ‘Best Player Available’ land works out better than the 1998 selection of Shaun Williams did, although that didn’t work out because the Giants went BPA over need, but rather that Williams himself didn’t workout. And now that he is with the Giants, there are several possibilities regarding a role for BC94 with the Giants in the near future.

First, while it is a bit of a cliché, there is a certain element of truth to the notion that “You can have too many push rushers” especially in this day and age when pass coverage rules are so severe that the only real way to stop a passing attack is to get after the QB. And while Strahan, Umenyiora, and Tuck, may be the best 1-2-3 DE combination in the NFL the Giants were still just one minor injury away from not having an outside pass-rush rotation. Plus, with four – hopefully – quality players at the position, the Giants will be able to keep everybody all that much fresher. That could be especially relevant with respect to Strahan who obviously isn’t getting any younger; indeed, the case could be made that not having to play every down could add a year or two to his career.

Second, the addition of BC94 has several other implications relating to Strahan. On the one hand, while BC94 comes to the Giants as a 260-265-pounder, the consensus is that he has the frame to add anywhere from 15-20 pounds without losing much in the way of speed or quickness. And that would make him the more likely successor to Strahan at LDE, where the ability to stop the run as well as get after the passer is key, than Tuck who appears to be best suited to playing at around 265 which may be too light for LDE. The acquisition of Kiwanuka also helps cover off the Giants at LDE if the 34-year-old Strahan starts to noticeably slow down in the next couple of years such that his high salary becomes a drag on the salary cap.

The guy who has to be the most excited about the acquisition of BC94, as well as a player like LB Lavar Arrington, has to be defensive co-ordinator Tim Lewis who has a whole bunch of new toys to play with. Indeed, the Giants have the opportunity to really get outside the standard NFL pass-rush box with their complement of guys who can get upfield. One comment, we heard, for example, was that you can’t have four DEs on the field at the same time. To which we respond: Why not! The Giants have had some success lining up Strahan at DT on passing downs; in fact, they also had some success doing the same with Tuck last fall. Line up Arrington just behind the four and opposing offensive linemen are going to be under a lot of pressure to account for everybody, especially if the Giants also do a lot of stunting. We could also see an unorthodox 3-3 type formation, again in passing situations, with William Joseph on the nose, Strahan and Umenyiora at the DEs, and Arrington, Tuck and BC94 standing up just off the line of scrimmage, being potentially very disruptive.

There have also been some concerns raised about the likelihood of losing one of BC94 or Tuck to free agency 2-3 years down the road if both turn out to be indeed solid players. The fact is though that 2-3 years is a lifetime in terms of the NFL what with injuries and vagaries. In fact, my guess is the Giants would be very happy to have such a situation that far down the road, because it means almost by definition would have had 2-3 years with a decent pass rush. And if comes to that, the reality of running a team in the NFL these days is that good players go free agency every year and teams survive.

All this, of course, is dependent on BC94 being a player. Certainly, he has the physical skills to be an impact player at the NFL level. Indeed, we had him rated as the #3 prospect overall for the 2006 at this time last year. However, a couple of injuries – he suffered a high ankle sprain in BC’s season opener which bothered him all year, then strained a knee late in the campaign – likely had a major impact on his overall draft grade. When healthy, though, BC94 was considered the best natural pass rusher in the 2006 draft class. He is tall, rangy DE with a huge wingspan, is a long strider with excellent closing speed, possesses good lateral range, and is technically sound using his hands and arms to disengage from blockers; he is also a character kid who comes to play and goes all out until the whistle. BC94, though, does need to work on keeping his pads down as he will get too high allowing blockers to get into his legs, especially defending running plays right at him. In the end, the Giants can only hope that BC94 is in fact the second coming of Tampa Bay DE Simeon Rice, with whom he has been compared physically, and, of course, whom the Giants missed out on at the 1996 draft.

While the surprising selection of BC94 got most of the attention, it says here that the Giants actually had a very good draft this year. Certainly, there weren’t any more “what the…?” picks. Indeed, with the exception perhaps of the 5th round selection of Alabama DB Charlie Peprah, our initial gut reaction to every other pick was more along the lines of “great pick…!” In fact, we have been more than a little surprised that the Giants’ draft hasn’t gotten a few more props from the national media. In our humble estimation, the Giants did as well as any team in the league in rounds 2-thru-7 so we are puzzled by the fact that the Giants’ draft seems to have been lumped with those of teams like Kansas City and Minnesota. The Chiefs, for example, really did reach for a DE (Tamba Hali) with the 20th pick overall with several quality DBs still on the board, while their 2nd and 3rd round picks – DB Bernard Pollard, a big, slow safety who will do little to help their lousy coverage teams and QB Brodie Croyle, a weak-armed development type who likely will never be more than a backup – made little sense at all, either in terms of the Chiefs’ needs, or on the overall value board. Meanwhile, the Vikings got LB Chad Greenway in the first round, a player the Giants likely would have liked to grab themselves had he been available, but then reached big-time in the second round for the likes of C Ryan Cook and small-school QB Tavaris Jackson. In fact, whereas most analysts rated the Giants’ draft in the mid-Cs, we would have given the Giants at least a B, if not a B+ with the only thing keeping them out of the As, the fact that BC94 didn’t fit an immediate need area.

There were a couple of general things we really liked about the Giant’ draft. On the one hand, the Giants really upgraded their team speed and athleticism with their picks pretty much across the board. WR Sinorice Moss and CB Gerrick McPhearson, the team’s 2nd and 7th round picks respectively, for example, were both among the fastest players period in the 2006 draft class, while DT Barry Cofield and OT Guy Whimper, a pair of 4th rounders, are both 305-310-pounders who run under 5.0 seconds. Meanwhile, BC94, and 3rd round LB Gerris Wilkinson are also considered to have above average physical and athletic skills for their respective positions.

Secondly, the Giants also added several very versatile players in this draft. Wilkinson, for example, can play all three LB positions, while DT Cofield could also play DE in the regular defensive scheme in a pinch, as well as work as a 3-4 DE if the Giants wanted to use that scheme on occasion. Meanwhile, DB Peprah is nominally a SS, but played CB early in his career at Alabama and has the smarts and experience to also fill in at FS in a pinch.

We especially liked the Giants’ haul in the 3rd and 4th rounds including LB Wilkinson, DT Cofield, and OT Whimper. While other teams made headlines grabbing ‘name’ players who slipped, the Giants went with guys who were athletic, smart and hard-working with the physical potential to develop into very good players. Wilkinson, for example, who quietly outplayed better known LB like Chad Greenway and DeMeco Ryans at the Senior Bowl, looks like he could eventually be a perfect fit at WLB; he’s another rangy type with speed quickness, and aggressiveness, although his instincts, especially in coverage, need to be honed. Meanwhile, Whimper is a converted former TE and DE who has only played one year at tackle, however, he is another very athletic player with quick feet and long arms; plus, while he’s listed at just 305 pounds, Whimper has the frame to get into the 320-pound range. As one of the few athletic LT prospects in the 2006 draft, Whimper could be the key to the draft if he shows the potential to ultimately replace Luke Petitgout on the left side of the line. On the other hand, the only pick we aren’t really excited by was that of DB Peprah, although as mentioned above, he is a smart, aggressive, versatile player who was a four-year starter at Alabama and should provide another layer of quality depth in the secondary, although he lacks prototype speed or size.

And comin’ on down the road… As we say at the GBN it is never, ever to early to look ahead to next year’s draft even if its 355 days away. Of course, much can and will change between now and then, both in terms of the Giants’ potential needs, as well as the strengths of the 2007 draft. At this time last year, for example, the 2006 draft looked like it would be one of the best in years at OT, while it would be a wasteland in the secondary. By the time the draft rolled around, however, injuries had significantly diluted the talent at OT, while the infusion of a small army of outstanding underclassmen made the secondary a real strength this year. Ironically, it looks like it could be ‘back-to-the-future’ at those two positions as the OTs look like one of the strengths of the 2007 class, while there doesn’t look like there will be much talent in the secondary, especially at CB.

And both situations could impact the Giants’ plans for the 2007 draft. CB, for example, looks like it still could be the team’s most troublesome position this fall. Newly signed Sam Madison was a nice pickup, but he’s still more of a stop gap, while 2005 second rounder Corey Webster is still unproven on the other side. At this point, though, it doesn’t appear that CB will be a major position of choice at next April’s draft, where Arizona junior Antoine Cason could rate as a top 10 prospect, while Pittsburgh junior Darelle Revis and California senior Daymeion Hughes could sneak into the late first round, although Hughes in particular has just average speed.

For a team like the Giants, though, the story at OT is much more promising. The Giants will obviously live with banged up Luke Petitgout at LT once again this fall, however, if a younger player like Whimper doesn’t show some potential the Giants could again be looking at the position next April. The good news, though, is that everything else be equal, there should be a number of top OTs available. Figure that star OTs like Joe Thomas of Wisconsin, Justin Blalock of Texas, and Levi Brown as well as juniors Jake Long of Michigan and Sam Baker of USC could be off the board before the Giants pick, but they still should get a look at players like 330-pound Aaron Sears of Tennessee, Andrew Carnahan of Arizona State and athletic Doug Free of Northern Illinois, a former TE with great feet. Plus it appears there will be plenty of depth at the position in 2007.

The top position at the 2007 draft, though, should be the WRs if underclassmen like draft-eligible South Carolina sophomore Sidney Rice and juniors Ted Ginn of Ohio State, Dwayne Jarrett of USC and Calvin Johnson of Georgia Tech jump early to the pros. And even with the acquisition of WR Sinorice Moss with their second round pick this year, the Giants could be in the market for another big receiver, especially with Amani Toomer starting to show some age. Again, assuming the Giants play reasonably close to their potential this coming season, figure that the top receivers, each of whom is a top 10 prospect, will be off the board by the time the Giants make their pick, however, they should get a shot at a decent second-tier of receivers which could include players like Notre Dame’s Jeff Samardzija and Iowa State junior Todd Blythe, a pair of 6-4 more athletic Joe Jurevicius types, along with Jason Hill of Washington State, another very productive with nice size although he lacks that extra gear, and Southern Cal’s Steve Smith. And again, there is some solid depth at the position.

Meanwhile, the Giants could also still be interested in an OLB to man the WLB spot down the road. Its likely won’t be a great year at LB, but there should be several good players who could fit that bill including H.B. Blades of Pitt, Rufus Alexander of Oklahoma and Ole Miss’ Patrick Willis. The pickings could also be a little slim (literally not figuratively) at DT, although several huge undeclassmen including 320-pound Texas junior Frank Odam and 325-pound Michigan junior Alan Branch would be more than tempting if they were still on the board when the Giants made their pick.

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