Apr 072008
 
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New York Giants 2008 NFL Draft Needs

The Giants approach the 2008 NFL Draft being in the fortunate position of having most of their starting roster for the upcoming season already set.In fact, the Giants will not be pressured to find an immediate starter from their 2008 draft class.This will enable the team to not force or reach for a player with lesser ability.The Giants have the luxury of being able to select the best player available.

That said, this does not mean the Giants can afford to have a bad draft.A bad draft or two can quickly turn a good team into a mediocre one.Moreover, with the Giants not being terribly active in free agency in 2007 and 2008, drafting well becomes even more important.

General Manager Jerry Reese and his scouting department hit a home run in 2007.Not only did all eight draft picks make the roster, but seven of them were significant contributors in the Super Bowl Championship run.But one year does not make a trend.Now is not the time to get cocky.The Giants will face a stern test from within their own division in 2008, let alone the rest of the NFC and NFL.The Giants are not guaranteed to make the playoffs.They need to continue to get better.

Let’s take a look at the roster and the positions where the Giants may or may not select players.

Quarterback: Eli Manning enters just his fifth NFL season with a Super Bowl ring and a Super Bowl MVP Trophy.With the weight of the world lifted from his shoulders, look for him to continue to mature into one of the better NFL signal callers by cutting down on his mistakes.But the Giants are not in great shape behind him if Eli gets hurt.The Giants tried to sign Todd Collins from the Redskins, expressed some interest in Cleo Lemons and Trent Green, but were forced to settle for David Carr.Carr only signed a 1-year deal and will likely depart in 2009.Personally, I don’t think he is a lock to make the roster unless he dramatically improves his decision-making and confidence level.Anthony Wright and Jared Lorenzen have the advantage of knowing the Giants’ system, which is not terribly quarterback friendly.None inspire.That said, I personally don’t see the Giants drafting a young quarterback.Manning isn’t going anywhere for at least the next 10 years.Any current or future reserves will most likely be veteran free agents.

Draft Priority: Low.

Running Backs: The Giants arguably have the deepest collection of running backs in the NFL.25-year old Brandon Jacobs missed six games with injuries, but still rushed for over 1,000 yards and averaged 5.0 yards a carry.He has only scratched the surface of his potential.22-year old Ahmad Bradshaw may even be better.He runs with power and elusiveness and can hit the home run.The Giants were very fortunate that an injury-plagued past scared teams away from 27-year old Derrick Ward, who has flashed legitimate NFL starting ability.All three of these backs could start for the Giants without the team missing a beat.The veteran Reuben Droughns will have to fight for his life to make the roster and could be seriously challenged by Practice Squad player Danny Ware or a low draft pick or undrafted rookie free agent.

The Giants are set at fullback with Madison Hedgecock.The 26-year old Hedgecock is signed through the 2012 season.

Draft Priority: Low.

Wide Receivers: The Giants will likely carry six wide receivers, with two of those players being primary special teams players.Plaxico Burress is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL and certainly the best the Giants have ever had in recent memory.He’s a difference maker who demands attention from opposing defenses.Amani Toomer will return for at least one more season.While Toomer no longer scares opposing defenses, he is still a major contributor who has become adept at the clutch catch in key situations.Steve Smith rarely played in 2007 due to injuries, but when he did, such as in the playoffs, he looked like something special.Not because he is a game-breaker who makes a lot of plays down the field, but because the 22-year plays with a veteran savvy well beyond his years and experience level.Smith runs good routes, gets open, and has a knack for making big catches in pressure-packed situations.He may push Toomer for playing time.The Giants have not yet given up on Sinorice Moss, the elusive speedster who has yet to make an impact.But time is running out on him.He will be challenged by Michael Jennings (a speedster who looked like a lock to make the roster last year before rupturing his Achilles in the preseason), Domenik Hixon (another speed receiver who Reese says will be a factor at the competition at wide receiver), and Brandon London (a Practice Squad player with a lot of ability).Super Bowl hero David Tyree is likely – but not 100 percent guaranteed – of securing a roster spot as a special teams player.

Draft Priority: Medium.The Giants do not “need” a wide receiver.If they did not add a single player, they should be much stronger at this position in 2008 with Burress, Smith, and Jennings being healthy.Plus, another camp for Smith and Moss will help tremendously.That said, if Burress were to be lost with a serious injury, this strong group would become very average.And another true difference maker could propel this offense into one of the best in the NFL.Don’t be shocked to see the Giants drafting a wide receiver on the first day, including possibly the first round if the Giants have a high grade on someone.

Tight Ends: Everything depends on Jeremy Shockey.If the Giants have no interest in trading Shockey, then the Giants are set at this position.If they do trade him, this position turns into one of need.There is no tight end in this draft with as much ability as Shockey.Shockey is not only a very good receiver, but he is now one of the better blocking tight ends in the NFL (in fact, he may offer the Giants more value in that area now than as a receiver).So why might the Giants consider trading him?He’s a very beat-up 27-year old who has never been able to finish a season healthy in his six NFL seasons.He is not the same player he was when he was first drafted.How many years does he have left as a top player?In addition, the Giants are not thrilled with his chronic absence during the offseason program.And he and Eli Manning don’t seem to be on the same page.He may not want to be with the Giants.If the Giants are offered a package that includes multiple picks, including a high second rounder, they may listen.

Behind Shockey, the Giants have an up-and-coming player in 24-year old Kevin Boss.Michael Matthews is more of a blocker and he will have to fight off challenges from Darcy Johnson (the front runner for the #2 tight end spot last year before he hurt his knee in camp) and Practice Squaders Jerome Collins and Marcus Freeman.

Draft Priority: Depends on Shockey.If Shockey returns, this is a low priority.If not, this is a high priority.

Offensive Line: The Giants field one of the better offensive lines in the NFL.And once Chris Snee has his contract extended, the starting group will be locked up through at least the 2011 season.David Diehl, a former guard and right tackle, played surprisingly well in his first season at left tackle.Snee and Seubert are two of the tougher guards in the NFL, with Snee being a Pro Bowl-caliber player.Kareem McKenzie is one of the better right tackles in the NFL.Shaun O’Hara, the leader of the offensive line, is very solid.Only O’Hara is over 30.In reserve, Grey Ruegamer has proven to be a valuable reserve, but he has his limitations.Tackles Guy Whimper, Adam Koets, and Na’Shan Goddard, and guard Kevin Boothe have ability.

Draft Priority: Low.The Giants are in good shape at this position.Diehl will be even better with another training camp under his belt.However, with the Giants not having a lot of pressing needs, this is one position where the team could afford to draft for quality if a player with special ability is available when the Giants pick.

Defensive Line: The Giants have one of the very best defensive lines in the NFL.Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck are both young and under contract through the 2012 season.Mathias Kiwanuka, who was moved to linebacker last year, is better suited to defensive end.Dave Tollefson flashed in limited chances.So even if Michael Strahan does not return in 2008, the Giants are in very good shape outside.If he does return, they are in outstanding shape.

Inside, the Giants normally only activate three defensive tackles on game day.Those three will be Fred Robbins, Barry Cofield, and Jay Alford.This is a solid, but unspectacular, group.Manny Wright will spend his first training camp with the Giants and offers greater size and stoutness, but he has had off-the-field issues before arriving in New York.

Draft Priority: Low to medium. The Giants don’t “need” a defensive lineman.But they can afford the luxury of getting even stronger at this position.If Strahan retires and Tuck starts at left end, the Giants will likely look to draft a Tuck-like player who can rush the passer from both end and tackle.They could even take such a player in the first round.Inside, if the Giants were able to obtain a truly special defensive tackle, then this defense would reach an even higher level.The problem is that defensive tackles with special ability are almost impossible to find – especially when picking last in each round.

Linebacker: The Giants are not in as bad a shape here as many would lead you to believe.Antonio Pierce is one of the leaders of the defense and will start in the middle for at least one or two more years, possibly a lot more.True strongside linebackers see the field less than nickel backs.If Strahan returns, Mathias Kiwanuka is sure to start on the strongside while shifting to the defensive line once again in many obvious pass rushing situations.Even if Kiwanuka does play end, Chase Blackburn has played on the strongside before and Zak DeOssie was not drafted to be merely a special teams player but a future starter.The loser of the competition at weakside linebacker battle also figures into the equation as both Gerris Wilkinson and Danny Clark have the ability to man that post as well.A wild card could be someone like Tank Daniels.

The Giants did not make a strong push to re-sign Kawika Mitchell and while the deal he signed with Buffalo was a rich one, it was not outrageous.It seems as if the Giants made a conscious decision – albeit right or wrong – that Mitchell was simply a replaceable cog.It will be interesting to watch as Mitchell did make quite a few plays for the Giants down the stretch.My guess is that the team wanted to get the more athletic and faster Wilkinson on the field and that Clark was signed to challenge him, to possibly be a factor on the strongside, and/or for depth.I could very easily see a scenario where Clark beats out Wilkinson, but I think the Giants are hoping that Wilkinson takes that next step.

Draft Priority: Medium.The Giants don’t “need” a linebacker.If Kiwanuka stays at linebacker, they return two-thirds of the starting corps.And Kiwanuka will be much better in 2008.Wilkinson, who missed most of camp and all of the preseason in 2007, will be better too.He certainly is a better athlete than Mitchell, as is Clark.Don’t completely discount DeOssie or Blackburn.

Also keep in mind that the Giants don’t seem to put a high value on linebackers.The last time the Giants drafted a linebacker in the first round was 24 years ago (Carl Banks in 1984).Since 1992, the Giants have only drafted three linebackers in the first three rounds (Marcus Buckley in the 3rd in 1993, Ryan Phillips in the 3rd in 1997, and Wilkinson in the 3rd in 2006).

That all said, the Giants are sure to draft a linebacker at some point.And if a play-making linebacker is available when the Giants pick at some point on Day One, the team could go in that direction.A linebacker who has the ability to play more than one position is sure to be even more attractive.

Defensive Backs: The Giants’ supposed interest in cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Marcus Trufant seems to strongly suggest that the Giants are not completely comfortable at cornerback.And Steve Spagnuolo’s defense places a lot of pressure on cornerbacks.That all said, if the Giants did not add another player here in the draft (as unlikely as that is), the Giants would not be in bad shape.25-year old Aaron Ross will likely start at one spot.And 26-year old Corey Webster will battle 33-year old Sam Madison for the other spot.The big question mark is Webster.Webster was so disappointing again early in 2007 that he was benched.But in the playoffs, for four consecutive games, Webster played at a high level against some of the very best in the business in the biggest of games.So what version of Webster will we see in 2008?There is a decent chance that the Giants long-term starters at corner are already on the roster in Ross and Webster.Nickel/dime corner Kevin Dockery is a decent player and Madison still is playing at a very acceptable level.But there is room for a corner to push R.W. McQuarters off of the roster and challenge the starters.

The Giants seem to put even less emphasis on safeties than they do linebackers.They would have liked to have kept Gibril Wilson (and under no circumstances should they have considered matching the Raiders’ offer), but they didn’t appear to make a big push for Wilson before he hit the open market.Meanwhile, the Giants seem much more comfortable with James Butler than do many fans.Spagnuolo has publicly praised Butler and the Giants tendered the restricted free agent at the $1.47 million level.Second-year player Michael Johnson runs well and can hit and tackle.He just needs to cut down on mental mistakes.Veteran Sammy Knight should vie for the starting strong safety spot, but he lacks range.The Jaguars, a team looking for help at safety, let him walk.Knight’s biggest contribution may be in the form of tutoring Butler and Johnson, similar to the role that Madison and McQuarters served with the young cornerbacks.Unless Practice Squad player Andrew Shanle really surprises, there is room here for a player who could push all of the aforementioned safeties.

Draft Priority: Medium to high.Again, if the Giants did nothing, they would not be in terrible shape.Ironically, although they appear to be stronger at corner than safety, it was the corner position that seemed to have their greater focus in the offseason.That seems to suggest the Giants will add at least one more corner in the draft, possibly as high as the first round.Most Giants’ fans would say that safety is the primary weakness on this team, but the Giants don’t appear overly concerned.And since this is not a great draft for safeties, I would not be shocked to see the Giants ignore the position until Day Two of the draft.

My gut tells me that the secondary will be an area of focus in the draft.It was the one position that made Jerry Reese nervous heading into the 2007 season.While quasi-emergence of Aaron Ross and Corey Webster may have allayed some of those concerns, I think Reese wants to get even stronger here.And his interest in Hall, Asomugha, and Trufant also suggests the same.

Kickers: Both punter Jeff Feagles and Lawrence Tynes were re-signed in the offseason.Feagles is a lock and the 5-year deal for Tynes seems to suggest that he is as well.

Draft Priority: Low.

Summary: Even the “draft experts” make the same mistake year after year – they automatically assume that teams will draft for NEED.In 2006, Jerry Reese lobbied hard for Mathias Kiwanuka when defensive end was a team strength.In 2007, he drafted Aaron Ross when cornerback was a team weakness.So he has gone in both directions.Obviously, quarterback, running back, and kicker are not going to be a priority and those positions may in fact be ignored during the draft.Tight end will not be a priority if Shockey is not traded.But everything else is fair game.And the Giants can afford to take the best player available on defense, at wide receiver, and possibly even on the offensive line.The important thing is not to reach.If you’re a fan watching the draft, don’t get hung up on positions.

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Eric Kennedy

Founder and owner of BigBlueInteractive.com, which is now entering its 20th season. Follow Eric on Twitter @BigBlueInteract.

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