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New York Giants 2009 NFL Draft – 50 Years and Counting

by Colin Lindsay, Editor, Great Blue North Draft Report

Ed. Note I: Of course, there is still a ton of football to be played in the 2008 season, but our motto here at the Great Blue North is that it is never ever too early to be looking ahead to the draft. While it is still way too early to be identifying ‘the’ guy for the Giants this year, this is the time to be watching a range of prospects for the upcoming draft. And watching is the operative word as there is nothing that drives us crazier than hearing someone say ‘I’d prefer so and so’ when you just know that they have never actually seen the guy play on tape. Below is a quick preview of how the 2009 draft is starting to shape along with some of the players the Giants will likely be looking at as we head towards next April.

Ed. Note II: We don’t want to date ourselves, but this is a really big year here at the GBN as it marks our 50th year as a Giants’ fan. Indeed, we go back to the historic 1958 NFL championship game against Baltimore. To mark the occasion, we’ll be heading done to New York for our very first home game – match against Baltimore this Sunday – and hopefully, we’ll be able to touch base with folks at the game when we are in town.

Ed. Note III: We also want to remind people that the GBN also has a weekly Giants newsletter with lots of analysis and commentary on the passing Giants’ scene with more than a little passing focus on the draft. Here’s how to order.

Draft looks to be clear as mud… With the college football season starting to wind down, normally by this time of the year the upcoming draft is starting to come in to focus. That is not necessarily the case, though, this fall. What makes the 2009 draft rather difficult to assess at this point is that fact that so many of the top-rated prospects for the upcoming draft are underclassmen who may or may not ultimately decide to leave school this winter. At QB, for example, SEC juniors Matthew Stafford of Georgia and Florida’s Tim Tebow, along with Oklahoma red shirt sophomore Sam Bradford are likely the only players at the position to be considered legitimate first-round prospects this year, although to date neither of Stafford not Tebow have necessarily had a particularly great year to date throwing the ball. There is even a more interesting story at WR where the top two receiver prospects are super sophomores Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech and Jeremy Maclin of Missouri. In fact, seven of the top 10, and 9 of the top 13 prospects, overall prospects on our ‘Big Board’ are underclassmen.

The other factor complicating the question as to what just areas the Giants might be looking to address at the upcoming draft is that, at least at this time, the Giants don’t appear to have any major ‘must-fill’ weaknesses at this time, although there are a number of areas they likely will look to upgrade at the 2009 draft.

The Giants, for example, could look to upgrade at LB this coming April, although it is important to remember that the team’s best SSLB is playing DE this fall, while 2008 second rounder Bryan Kehl appears to have the physical tools to be a disruptive weakside backer. In fact, it says here that if the Giants have a major concern at LB it is in the middle where Antonio Pierce has not had a great year to date. Pierce does lead the Giants in tackles, but has really struggled to get off blocks this fall and just hasn’t been around the ball enough. And even at MLB, though the Giants have a decent young prospect in 2009 5th rounder Jonathan Goff, while veteran reserve Chase Blackburn has shown when given the chance that there isn’t necessarily that big a drop-off at the position.

Meanwhile, it says here that the one thing the Giants could use to really separate themselves from the rest of the NFC pack is a true #2 WR with big-play capacity. And the potential need at receiver is heightened by the fact that Amani Toomer isn’t getting any younger, while the enigmatic Plaxico Burress is always a threat to blow-up off the field. At the same time, though, the Giants don’t have enough roster spots for all the receivers they do have, so will want someone who can come in and play right away rather than filling a developmental role.

There is also a potential issue at TE. Kevin Boss is progressing nicely as a pro receiver, however, the Giants‘ other TEs are primarily blockers such that if Boss was out for any extended period there would be a problem. It also says here that it wouldn’t hurt to have quality H-back type of receiver, just to make the Giants that much more difficult to match up with.

The Giants also haven’t had a true dominating DT since the days of Keith Hamilton, although Fred Robbins is close. There also isn’t much depth at the position. The Giants, though, may not be all that interested in using a very early pick on a big run stuffer type who might never be a 3-down defensive lineman. Indeed, if they were to draft a DL early, they might look at a big DE who could play inside on 3rd downs as well as provide depth on the outside.

And while the Giants have the league’s best offensive line, they could always use an early pick to select a true LT as David Diehl, while solid enough, will struggle at times to stay with quick outside pass rushers and appears ultimately better suited to RT or even OG. For now, though, everyone on the OL is signed at least through the next several years so there is no rush to force a pick at the position and true shut-down LTs don’t often make it to the end of the opening round. Indeed, there is the old adage that you can never have enough guys who can rush the passer which could have the Giants looking at this year’s potentially outstanding DE class; the other old adage to keep in mind is that one can also never have enough fast guys who can cover at both corner and safety. In particular, while 2008 first rounder Kenny Phillips has added an element of speed and range at safety, neither of incumbent starters James Butler and Michael Johnson are very fast at all.

In the end, the Giants may simply be able to use their opening round pick on the best player available at any of a number of positions and then look to stockpile good young developmental types with the rest of what is expected to be a bunch of picks at the upcoming draft. And in some ways the draft may play into their hands.

Certainly, if the Giants want to add a quality TE in the draft to complement Kevin Boss this should be the year to get it done. On the one hand, there are a number of very good senior pass receiving TEs including Travis Beckum of Wisconsin, Chase Coffman of Missouri, Cornelius Ingram of Florida and Shawn Nelson of Southern Mississippi, although each is more a bulked up WR than prototype two-way TE, while Beckum and Ingram both have injury issues. In fact, the best all-around senior TE in the country is 260-pound Brandon Pettigrew of Oklahoma State, who came to college as primarily a blocking TE but has developed into a very good receiver who should finish his college career with over 100 catches. Pettigrew, though, has some off-field issues to address. Meanwhile, other veteran TEs worth a look in later rounds include Ryan Purvis of Boston College, Branden Ledbetter of Western Michigan, Bear Pascoe of Fresno State and David Johnson of Arkansas State.

What could make this year’s TE class something really special would be if juniors like Jermaine Gresham of Oklahoma, Dennis Pitta of BYU, and Jared Cook of South Carolina enter this year’s draft. Gresham is a 260-pounder who can block, but still runs like a wideout. Meawhile, BYU‘s Pitta doesn‘t get much national exposure, but is one of the best receivers in college football period, while Cook is another converted WR with sub-4.5 speed and special athleticism.

The 2009 draft should also have an unusually strong MLB class highlighted by All-Americans James Laurinaitis of Ohio State and Southern Cal’s Rey Maualuga. Both are likely to be long gone by the time the Giants make their first round pick this coming April, although that may not necessarily be a bad thing though as it says here that both are somewhat overrated as a pro prospect. No question both are tough as nails and have great intangibles, however, neither is real fast for a MLB, while Maualuga also isn‘t overly athletic or agile. In fact, there is more than one pro scout there who rate Florida juniorBrandon Spikes as a better overall prospect. The better news for the Giants, though, is there is also some decent depth at MLB this year with a class that also includes players like South Carolina’s Jasper Brinkley, a 65-pounder who can run who is back 100% after missing most of the 2007 season with a knee injury, rugged Scott McKillop of Pittsurgh, and athletic Darry Beckwith of LSU, while Dave Philistin of Maryland, Josh Mauga of Nevada, are Dannell Ellerbe of Georgia are solid second tier types who would be good value in the middle rounds.

There is also some excellent talent at OLB starting with Aaron Curry of Wake Forest and USC’s Brian Cushing, both of whom are likely to be gone when the Giants make their first pick this year. Tyrone McKenzie of South Florida, a tackling machine who can really run, though, might be a nice consolation prize with one of the Giants’ two second round picks while Ohio State’s Marcus Freeman also can really run, but isn’t as physical. Also don’t be surprised if the Giants were to take a long look at a player like Virginia’s Clint Sintim, arguably the best pass-rushing OLB in college football these days. Overall, though, there isn’t a lot of depth at OLB in this year’s draft class so teams won’t want to wait too long if it is a need area.

The position that is expected to dominate the early going at the 2009 draft, though, are the OTs. Indeed, Alabama junior Andre Smith andf Ole Miss’ Michael Oher are currently considered top 5-10 prospects for this year‘s draft, while Virginia’s Eugene Monroe and LSU junior Ciron Black aren’t that are behind. Meanwhile, Jason Smith of Baylor and Jamon Meredith of South Carolina aren’t quite as well known nationally but have been moving up draft boards around the league all fall. Neither is all that big though and may not really fit the Giants parameters as strong drive blockers. Meanwhile, Oklahoma road grader Phil Loadholt of Oklahoma and Ohio State’s Alex Boone head the second-tier OTs, although Loadholt probably lacks the athleticism to play LT, while Boone isn’t very physical or inconsistent. In fact, the talent at OT drops off rather quickly at OT so again teams looking to upgrade there aren’t going to want to dither.

If any position is going to rival the OTs at the 2009 draft, it could be the DEs, although the position is also in some flux at this time. In fact, the position was originally expected to be the strength of the 2009 draft in large part because of what was supposed to be a terrific junior class at the position including the likes of Maurice Evans of Penn State, Greg Hardy of Ole Miss, Greg Middleton of Indiana, and George Selvie of South Florida, and Lawrence Wilson of Ohio State. However, both Evans and Hardy spent the first month of the season on the sidelines, Evans after local police found marijuana in his house, while Hardy had a stress fracture in his foot; in fact, Hardy, who may have as much natural talent as any player in this draft class, has also consistently frustrated his coaches with a lack of consistent effort. Meanwhile, Ohio State‘s is out for the year for the second year in a row with an injury while neither of Selvie nor Middleton has had quite the expected year this fall. Add in the fact that Michael Johnson of Georgia Tech, who many pro scouts felt had top 10-15 physical potential, although he hadn’t played all that much earlier in his career, has also really struggled and what was once a very promising crop at DE has red flags waiving all over the place. Indeed, the top DE prospect may end up being disruptive Brian Orakpo of Texas, although he also is currently sidelined with a knee injury.

In contrast to the DEs, there aren’t many DT locks to be first rounders this year. Auburn junior Sen’Derrick Marks, for example, is very quick, but isn’t all that big at barely 290 pounds, while 325-pound B.J. Raji has the size, but lacks the speed to be much of a factor rushing the passer. However, there isn’t much in the way of elite talent at DT, there is some depth including players like Fili Moala of USC, Ole Miss’ Peria Jerry, Vance Walker of Georgia Tech and Ziggy Hood of Missouri each of whom has decent size and quickness and would be a nice addition to an NFL DT rotation out of the later first day picks.

It also doesn’t appear likely that it will be a particularly good year at WR. While sophomores Crabtree and Maclin are special talents, there are as many questions as answers at the rest of the positions. Percy Harvin of Florida and Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland, a pair of juniors with warp speed, are also considered potential first rounders, however, Harvin has never been able to stay healthy, while Heyward-Bey still isn’t all that polished catching the ball or running routes. Meanwhile, there are some solid, productive senior WRs out there including Penn State’s Derrick Williams, Brian Robiskie of Ohio State, Juaquin Iglesias of Oklahoma, Rice’s Jarrett Dillard, Louis Murphy of Florida and Demetrius Byrd of LSU, but none is a sure top-2 receiver at the next level. Indeed, if the Giants had their druthers they might be very happy to get a shot at junior Kenny Britt, a local product from Rutgers who has a very nice size/speed combination.

Overall, though, the 2009 draft has plenty of questions at the skill positions. Indeed, there will likely be a major drop-off at QB from the underclass troika of Tebow, Stafford and Bradford. Several veteran QBs Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell and Missouri’s Chase Daniel have put up huge numbers, although both are more system passers who lack the size and arm strength to be considered more than second-tier type passers. Indeed, the top-rated senior QBs could ultimately be guys like former Oklahoma recruit Rhett Bomar, who transferred to Sam Houston State after being involved in some financial irregularities, and unheralded Nathan Brown of Central Arkansas, although neither stands all that tall in the pocket.

There is a similar story at RB where Ohio State junior Chris ‘Beanie’ Wells and Georgia redshirt sophomore Knowshon Moreno are projected to be the top prospects at the position this year, although the 230-pound Wells has been slowed by a toe injury, while Moreno isn’t super fast. After those two guys, though, there is a major drop-off to the likes of Michigan State senior scatback Javon Ringer, who is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball, but has had a couple of serious knee injuries in the past that will have some teams wary on draft day.

It also looks like it could be something of an up-and-down year in the secondary. There are several elite DB prospects including CBs Malcolm Jenkins and Illinois junior Vontae Davis, along with safeties Will Moore of Missouri and USC’s Taylor Mays. There is also some real speed among the second-level Cbs including Alphonso Smith of Wake Forest, Mike Mickens of Concinnati, and Darius Butler of UConn, all of whom run the 40 in under 4.40. There is a drop-off after the top 10 or so cover corners, although keep an eye on Jackson State’s Domonique Johnson who has nice size and exceptional speed. There isn’t as much depth at safety, although the Giants might show some interest in a player like Mississippi State FS Derek Pegues, a sometime CB, who has the speed and agility to cover slot receivers. Rutgers’ Courtney Greene and Rashad Johnson of Alabama are other later round safeties with speed.

See you Sunday!!!

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