Apr 132017
 
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David Njoku, Miami Hurricanes (December 28, 2016)

David Njoku – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 2017 NFL Draft Preview: Tight Ends

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

WHERE THEY STAND

Since his rookie season, Eli Manning has always liked to use the tight end. He’s been through several that have achieved more here than in other places. No matter who is there, there are a lot of targets heading their way. Will Tye was the primary starter in 2016 but to no one’s surprise, he averaged 8.2 yards per reception with just 1 touchdown despite getting the third most passes thrown his way on the team. Jerell Adams showed something in his rookie year, albeit limited opportunities. I still like his potential as an extra receiving threat if he can learn the playbook. Rhett Ellison was signed to a long term deal but I’m not sure what their plan is. Fullback/tight end/H-Back? We’ll see.

TOP 10 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1 – David Njoku – 6’4/246 – Miami: 85

Summary: Third year sophomore entry. Former national champion high jumper in high school that actually participated on the Miami track and field squad. Elite level athlete that will wow anyone and everyone in workouts. Njoku is more than a freakish athlete. He performs overly well on the field with pads on and has the makings of a big time playmaker at the next level. The former high school wide receiver is still learning the position, mainly the blocking components, and will need time before he is a factor in NFL trenches. What he can add to a passing game, however, very few in this class can.

*I’ve been on this kid since the fall of 2015. His size and movement jumped off the screen and I followed him very closely throughout 2016. I won’t sit here and tell you he is going to be a good blocker, but I will tell you I think he will be good enough. The reason for drafting someone like Njoku is fully because of his ability to create mismatches as a receiver. He is an incredibly gifted athlete that has shown more than enough skills to warrant high first round draft pick. This kid has some special in him, and I really mean that. He would be the ideal fit for NYG because thy can ease him in to blocking roles while creating the matchup problems from a position Manning loves to throw to.

Upside Pro Comparison: Antonio Gates – LAC

2 – Evan Engram – 6’3/234 – Ole Miss: 84

Summary: Three time 1st Team All SEC tight end and the program’s all time leader in receptions and yards at the position. Ended his career with a 1st Team All American honor. Engram fits the mold of a hybrid tight end/wide receiver that can be moved around in to different starting positions to keep a defense on its heels. His quickness off the like and near-top level ball skills will make him a quarterback’s best friend on third and reasonable. While his blocking impact may not be as high as some of the others, he is no slouch. The two time team captain leaves it all out on the field each week and his weaknesses can be somewhat hidden in most situations.

*During the grading process, I thought there was a legit shot Engram would finish atop this list. He was close and to be honest, these two may be back to back on the overall big board. If Njoku is gone and Engram ends up being the pick, I wouldn’t be disappointed one bit. Engram is essentially a top tier speed WR that weighs 234 pounds. While he is a notch or two below as a blocker from most of these guys, he still got the job done in the SEC against linebackers consistently. In terms of what his role would be long term, think of how the Redskins use Jordan Reed. He has that kind of ability, if not more.

Upside Pro Comparison: Aaron Hernandez – JAIL

3 – OJ Howard – 6’6/251 – Alabama: 82

Summary: Former top tier high school recruit that has been starting since his freshman season. Tools-rich, hard working player that comes from a pro-style offense that saw plenty of time blocking and running routes. Howard has the physical ability and upside to excite anyone and everyone. He poses as a matchup nightmare for defenses because of the size and speed, but also showed flashes of being a capable blocker. He was often overlooked by the Alabama offense and lacked the consistent dose of opportunities to shine. If he can gain strength and power, ultimately leading to an increase in confidence as a blocker, Howard could be a rare weapon in the NFL.

*I’ll likely go in to draft weekend with the same thought I’ve had for awhile, NYG is going to take Howard if he is there. But he’s visited with a few teams in the top 15 and I’d put the odds at 50% or less of him being there. He is a more traditional TE, yes. The size, speed, experience at Alabama are all plus marks. But I have always thought this kid was a bit of an underachiever, like he just didn’t play at the level you would assume he could. I feel this way as both a blocker and receiver. That said, I still have a 1st round grade on him but I’m not sure he will be in my top 23 overall. Upside is there. Talent is there. But does he play like he really wants it? I don’t think so.

Upside Pro Comparison: Travis Kelce – KC

4 – Jordan Leggett – 6’5/258 – Clemson: 78

Summary: Fourth year senior. First Team All ACC in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Mackey Award Finalist in 2015. Leggett leaves Clemson has one of the top tight ends in the storied program’s history. He is a more-than-solid all around player that can offer presence as both a blocker and receiver day one. His strength is currently more present as a weapon in the passing game with his blend of size, speed, and ball skills. The blocking remains a work in progress, but the tools are there and he did show a good amount of improvement over the past year. High ceiling prospect.

*If someone told me Leggett was their top TE in this class, I wouldn’t dispute it. He has the dream tools, the experience, and has made a ton of plays against top tier competition. I’ve always left the Clemson games wishing he had shown more, however. He doesn’t move guys as a blocker despite weighing just under 260 pounds. He has below average strength and presence and simply seems like a guy that doesn’t really get after it. He shows a high ceiling as a pass catcher though. I just can’t shake the thought of Jace Amaro when I watch him.

Upside Pro Comparison: Kyle Rudolph – MIN

5 – Adam Shaheen – 6’6/278 – Ashland: 76

Summary: Fourth year senior that has split his time between two different Division II schools. Shaheen began his career as a basketball player but one year in he transferred to Ashland to play football. Over his final two years, he set several school and national records for the tight end position. He ended his career with a 16-touchdown season. Shaheen has a dream body that moves exceptionally well. He truly does look like someone that came right ff the hardwood. His physical presence and blocking abilities are a step behind, however. He has a tremendous learning curve heading his way but this is a kid that can get you excited.

*I wasn’t turned on to Shaheen until late in the year but once I saw him play once, I got pretty excited. He looked like Gronkowski with his dominating size and soft hands. He was so good at catching the ball in traffic that it didn’t really matter if he could separate or not. Now, that may be a different story in the NFL but the baseline here is higher than almost every TE. If he can develop, he will be a stud. Guys like this are hard to find.

Upside Pro Comparison: Jermaine Gresham – ARI

6 – Jeremy Sprinkle – 6’5/252 – Arkansas: 76

Summary: Fifth year senior that had to wait his turn to really shine, playing behind current Chargers tight end Hunter Henry on the depth chart until 2016. Sprinkle proved to be a very solid prospect himself, especially over the past two seasons. His unique combination of tools give him an upside very few at the position possess. Sprinkle’s size alone make him a friendly target to throw to. Add in the dependable ball skills and long strides, he is a threat that defenses will have to plan around. The blocking is a developing plus.

*I came in to the 2016 season with Sprinkle at the top of my board for the position. He jumped off the screen almost every time I scouted Henry last year with his length, speed, and ball skills. I was hoping for more progression than what he showed, however. Sprinkle has tools but still has a ton of awkward, unbalanced movement to him. He also didn’t always catch the ball with his hands, too often trapping it against his body. All in all I still see the upside but he won’t warrant anything more than a 3rd or 4th round consideration.

Upside Pro Comparison: Martellus Bennett – GB

7 – Bucky Hodges – 6’6/257 – Virginia Tech: 75

Summary: Fourth year junior entry. Originally signed with the Hokies as a tight end, but made the full time move to tight end during his redshirt year. Despite being listed by most at tight end, Hodges essentially played a wide receiver type role in 2016. His experience as an inline blocker is limited and doesn’t grade out well. However what he can do with the combination of athletic ability and size can be a major difference maker in the NFL. He is a potential matchup nightmare for opposing defenses that needs a specific role.

*I’ve been in the discussion with a few of you over the past few months on whether Hodges was a TE or a WR. Things like this happen every year, and what I do is grade the player at both spots and take the higher one. I graded Hodges as a 74 at WR, and a 75 at TE. He has tremendous ball skills and any defender could be in a bad spot for having to cover him. However the fact that he hasn’t lined up with his hand in the dirt at all and that he had trouble blocking cornerbacks, I had to give him the minimum grades when it came to the physical part of the position. The frame is there to improve, but he simply is a guy that doesn’t like contact. The receiving ability is very good though.

Upside Pro Comparison: Ladarius Green – PIT

8 – Eric Saubert – 6’5/253 – Drake: 75

Summary: Fifth year senior that went from an overlooked 185 pound, under-recruited high school senior to arguably one of the top size/speed specimens at the tight end group in this draft class. Saubert, a two time FCS All American, has matchup problem written all over him. If he can learn to hone in his concentration and clean up some technique, his impact will be felt on the passing game. In addition, his approach and effort are already there for the blocking game, just needs to get stronger.

*Saubert may need more time than some of these other prospects in terms of strength and skill development, but his upside rivals everyone above him on this list and I mean that. He can really run and track the ball well. His consistency isn’t there yet as a pass catcher, just dropping too many balls in traffic. That will have to change as does his strength in the trenches. He didn’t stand out in that department among college kids that won’t ever play pro football. Now that he is making the move to playing against grown men, it’s gonna be a lengthy ride to a starting position but he can do it over time.

Upside Pro Comparison: Gary Barnidge – CLE

9 – Jake Butt – 6’5/246 – Michigan: 74

Summary: Four year contributor that found himself on the 2nd Team All American squads in both 2015 and 2016. The team captain was an every down player that is coming from a pro style offense. The torn ACL may delay the start of his pro career, but not by much. Butt’s frame and toughness make him an every down threat once he gets back on the field. While he doesn’t exactly grade out at the top of any particular category of the position, his above average level across the board will get him on the field early and keep him there. Low ceiling, but a higher than normal floor prospect.

*The injury was very unfortunate for Butt, obviously. I think he was heading towards being a top 50 pick. That said, I never had a high grade on him. Without the injury Butt may have been a few spots higher than this, but he wouldn’t have been with Engram/Njoku/Howard. He didn’t impress me as an athlete in space, nor did I think he was plus blocker. When I charted him, he almost always came out with negative blocking scores and for a guy that is considered an every down player and that being one his strengths, that bothered me. I think he is serviceable and will likely fit in somewhere as a 1B type tight end, but I don’t see a very high upside with him.

Upside Pro Comparison: Jack Doyle – IND

10 – Gerald Everett – 6’3/239 – South Alabama: 74

Former basketball player that spent just one year in high school on the gridiron. He spent year in community college before getting noticed by UAB where he had a promising first season with the school. When the program shut down, he transferred yet again to South Alabama where he took off, earning 1st Team All Sun Belt honors two straight years. Everett is a dynamic athlete that is at his best running up and across the intermediate portion of the defense. He catches the ball on the move exceptionally well and can make things happen with the ball in his hands. He is undersized and very raw as a blocker, but he will pose as a threat to any defender covering him right away. High ceiling prospect.

*Everett is very well liked by a lot of scouts. Coaches will see him run routes and catch the ball and start to salivate over what he can be. I’ve seen him 10 times now and I still can’t shake the notion that he is simply a poor man’s Evan Engram. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but when you compare the two, Everett doesn’t do anything on the same level. They aren’t in the same league. What I do like with Everett is that he as moved around a lot in college and he was asked to block often. So there is a baseline to work with there, but I simply don’t see him being more than a situational pass catcher.

Upside Pro Comparison: Jordan Reed – WAS

BEST OF THE REST

11 – Jonnu Smith – 6’3/248 – Florida International: 71
12 – Michael Roberts – 6’4/270 – Toledo: 71
13 – Cole Hikutini – 6’4/247 – Louisville: 71
14 – George Kittle – 6’4/247 – Iowa: 71
15 – Phazahn Odom – 6’8/250 – Fordham: 69
16 – Anthony Auclair – 6’6/254 – Laval: 68
17 – Hayden Pinke – 6’4/264 – UTEP: 67
18 – Blake Jarwin – 6’5/248 – Oklahoma State: 66
19 – Pharoah Brown – 6’6/255 – Oregon: 66
20 – Cethan Carter – 6’3/241 – Nebraska: 66

NYG APPROACH

The biggest hole at the NYG skill positions is at tight end. The receivers are solid, the running backs can get by, and the quarterback shouldn’t be worried about for this season. The lack of talent at tight end has made it a much simpler process to game plan around Beckham. There is no threat of someone bursting up the seam, splitting the safeties, and coming up with a big play. They have been trying to piece together the production from this position with a handful of mediocre talents that simply never sacred anyone. With what they have in-house right now, this team should absolutely draft one of the top guys if they are available. Njoku and Engram would present proper value at 23 and a case could be made for Howard as well. The difference those guys could make in the passing game far outweighs some of the struggles they may have as blockers early on. What I think they should avoid is spending another late pick on a developmental player because they already have Adams here for that. So basically…round 1-2 or avoid the position altogether.

Apr 122017
 
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Corey Davis, Western Michigan Broncos (December 2, 2016)

Corey Davis – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 2017 NFL Draft Preview: Wide Receivers

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

WHERE THEY STAND

This is a pretty simple group to label and breakdown. They have one of the league’s top young playmakers in Odell Beckham. He is off to a historic start to his career and while there have been several maturity-based hiccups, one has to think he is going to be here long term. At this time next year, I believe we will be discussing a long term contract between NYG and ODB. Sterling Shepard finished second among rookie WRs in catches, yards, and touchdowns respectively. He gave NYG exactly what was expected and maybe some more. An overly reliable slot presence that can make plays against one on one coverage downfield. The signing of Brandon Marshall was low risk and at two years, short term. The big-bodied, physical pass catcher could have been very useful at several points in 2016. Beyond them, the youngsters such as Tavarres King and Roger Lewis are solid and deserve opportunities should one of the top 3 go down. I have always liked King since his days at Georgia and Lewis looked raw but was effective in bursts. This team is set up well for the long term but there is room for more competition.

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1 – Corey Davis – 6’3/209 – Western Michigan – 84

Summary: Four year starter that has almost too-many-to-name accolades for his mantle. Davis is an All-American, MAC Offensive Player of the Year, and a three time 1st Team All Conference receiver. In addition, he is the major college football All Time Leading Receiver with 5,285 career yards. Davis did everything he could to prove he was on another level than his MAC opponents, and that he was. His blend of size and speed in combination with his ball skills and toughness make him a threat to be the first wide receiver selected this April. There are some things he needs to be coached up on but the intangibles are off the chart. He will be successful.

*There is still some up in the air for Davis, as he didn’t workout at the NFL Combine or the WMU pro day because of an ankle surgery he underwent in late January. It’s been reported that the surgery will not prevent him from being ready for team OTA’s. Davis brings so much to the table and I think he still has more “rawness” to him than any of these top WRs. He still has a ways to go in terms if progression and if he reaches his upside, he’ll be a top tier WR in the league. Great kid with a great approach and work ethic. I know NYG won’t be looking WR at #23 but this would be a nice spot for him. Sit and learn for a year, which he will get a lot out of because of his maturity, and be ready to rock in 2018. I think he will end up being a top 15 pick though.

Upside Pro Comparison: Allen Robinson – JAC

2 – Mike Williams – 6’4/218 – Clemson: 83

Summary: Fourth year junior entry. 1st Team all ACC a year after breaking his neck week 1 of 2015 after running in to the goal post on a touchdown. After sitting the rest of the season out, Williams came back and proved he was one of the nations top receivers in the country. His standout traits revolve around what he can do in traffic. Williams can beat anyone in the 50/50 situations with his combination of size, strength, and ball skills. He is an asset to any offense immediately but will need to shore up his route running if he every wants to be a true number one.

*It’s easy to see why Williams is so well liked by everyone. Tall, fast, catches the ball in traffic. Playmaker near the end zone. Good route runner for someone that is long limbed. But what you may not know, or even notice, about his game is how well he does after the catch. Williams breaks tackles of smaller, poor tackling defensive backs with ease. He is hungry for more yards and will show surprising quickness in and out of traffic. Williams has the upside of a true #1 WR. At worst, he is a high quality possession WR that can win in traffic more often than not.

Upside Pro Comparison: Brandon Marshall – NYG

3 – Zay Jones – 6’2/201 – East Carolina: 83

Summary: Fourth year senior that has been piling up the catches since day one. The NCAA all time leader in career (399) and single season (158) receptions. The All American and All AAC Conference receiver comes from football blood, with his father, Robert, playing linebacker for the three time Super Bowl Champion Dallas Cowboys and his uncle, Jeff Blake, playing quarterback in the league for 14 seasons. Everyone that has either interacted and/or coached Jones raves about his professionalism and far-along football knowledge. He is not blessed with top end tools but he simply knows how to get the job done in the right role. Maybe never a superstar but he is one of the safest picks in the class.

*Not only do I have Jones pretty high up, but I have him on the same level as Williams and just under Davis. I am a believer. Looking beyond his unreal stat lines (helped very much by the offensive scheme), Jones has most of the traits I look for in receivers. He can get himself open, he has exceptional ball skills, he takes in coaching, and he is tough in traffic. Jones is a favorite of many scouts I have spoken with because of how much he loves the game. He is a practice-all-out kind of kid and we saw at the Senior Bowl and at the Combine that this kid has more than enough talent to be considered this high. While NYG doesn’t need a WR, if he is there on day 2 he would be hard to pass on.

Upside Pro Comparison: Amari Cooper – OAK

4 – Cooper Kupp – 6’2/204 – Eastern Washington: 80

Summary: Fifth year senior that has more accolades and awards than room on his wall. All time leader at the FCS level in career catches, yards, and receiving touchdowns. Kupp comes from a football family with both his father and grandfather having their own careers in the NFL. Kupp is next and may be set up for a career like is grandfather which included multiple pro bowls. The student of the game that is obsessed with details has the makings of an elite slot receiver. He does all the little things right and he is as tough as anyone. If he can get in to the right system, watch out.

*This kid was a secret of mine for 2+ years now but he is out in the public eye now. Kupp is a favorite of many because of how reliable and sure handed he is. I think he is born to play the slot WR in the NFL and at just under 6’2, that can be a problem for the generic NFL nickel corner. He plays strong and exceptionally quick with a next-level IQ. If Kupp is paired with the right QB in the right system, you are talking about a year in, year out 90+ catch player that will make plays with the ball in his hands.

Upside Pro Comparison: Willie Snead – NO

5 – ArDarius Stewart – 5’11/204 – Alabama: 80

Summary: Fourth year junior entry. Came to Alabama under the “athlete” category after an elite running back high school career. He made the full time move to wide receiver and progressed his way in to the team’s top receiver in 2016, earning 1st Team All SEC honors. Stewart plays the game like an animal that was just let free from a cage. He has all the talent and hustle to impact the game in multiple ways. Stewart plays hungry for more and now that his skill set is catching up, he has the makings of a potential star. He can be used as a traditional receiver and gimmick playmaker. Get the ball in his hands and watch out.

*Very few players helped themselves this season via their play on the field as much as Stewart. He started to blossom from athlete to skilled receiver although he still has a ways to go. Stewart didn’t measure in the way I was hoping, but he is an explosive, aggressive football player that could make a case for himself as the best receiver on Alabama in 2016. For an outside receiver, he may be a on the small side but if the right offensive mind gets his hands on Stewart, his versatile ability can be showcased in several ways.

Upside Pro Comparison: Randall Cobb – GB

6 – John Ross – 5’10/188 – Washington: 80

Fourth year junior entry. Pac 12 Offensive Player of the Year. Had a top-tier grade as a return specialist coming in to the 2016 season, having already returned 3 for touchdowns. He was considered a two way prospect as well, having started at CB and WR in 2014, proving to be equally effective on both sides of the ball. After missing 2015 with knee injuries, he came back strong in 2016 and proved to be one of the most explosive, exciting players in the nation. He has sub 4.3 speed that’s shows up on tape. His size may limit him in some areas, but Ross has game changing ability and everyone is always looking for the things he can offer.

*While I am not in love with Ross as a WR from a skill set perspective, his world class speed and proven production is worth the risk. This is the kind of player that can change a defensive scheme with his mere presence. Ross, at worst, will be one of the more dangerous return specialists in the league. He can be a DeSean Jackson kind of impact player without the attitude problems. Think about that.

Upside Pro Comparison: TY Hilton – IND

7 – Chad Hansen – 6’2/202 – California: 79

Summary: Fourth year junior entry. Began his career at Idaho, the only FBS school to offer him a scholarship, before transferring to California in 2015. Entering this past season, Hansen was not well known. However he finished third in the nation in catches per game and fourth in yards per game. He has plenty of pro-ready traits that could fit in to any NFL system inside and outside. His ball skills are top tier and matched with the size and aggression, he could be an early factor for a team if he is put in to the right spot. He may need some time to expand his knowledge of the route running tree, but the arrow is pointing up for this underrated receiver.

*I was a little late to the scouting game on Hansen but once I got two of his games done, I was very intrigued. After getting the next 3 in, I considered him a borderline first rounder. I always get a little nervous with the guys that have just one year of production from the spread offenses, but Hansen has so many traits I look for. He is almost the same prospect as Cooper Kupp across the board, yet I think he can be had a round or two later. I recently spoke with a scout that has him as his top WR in the class, for what it’s worth.

Upside Pro Comparison: Keenan Allen – LAC

8 – JuJu Smith Schuster – 6’1/213 – USC: 79

Summary: Junior entry. Three year starter. After an All American sophomore season in 2015, Smith-Schuster took a step back production wise due to poor quarterback play as a junior. His size and strength make him a tough matchup for anyone at the point of attack and in traffic. When his switch is on, the aggression and power can be dominant traits. The 20 year old is as tough as they come, shown when he broke his hand in 2015 that required surgery two days later, eight inserted screws which did not force him to miss any time. His ability has shown flashes, but his consistency has been very back and forth. High risk, high reward.

*Man, at this time last year I was ready to put this kid at the top of the WR list. He has something special with Kessler last year. The whole process of breaking bones in his hand, getting pins inserted and then never missing a game was something that stood out to me. He is a gamer. However I was disappointed several times this season. I felt like he started to dog it, showing some diva as the USC QB play was suffering early in the year. He proved to be a fairly average athlete as well. All in all, he is still one of the more physical WRs that has come out in the past few years and looks to be a very solid possession receiver type that can make plays after the catch.

Upside Pro Comparison: Anquan Boldin – FA

9 – Dede Westbrook – 6’0/176 – Oklahoma: 78

Summary: Spent two years with the Sooners after two years in junior college. Won Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in 2015 but took things to a new level as a senior. Westbrook took home the Biletnikoff Award and was a unanimous All American. Westbrook’s top tier agility and acceleration combined with his toughness and reliable hands can make him a serious threat from the slot. Once he gets his hands on the ball, watch out. His dominance from October through the end of the season was one of the best stretches we have ever seen at the position. In the right scheme, he is an immediate impact player.

*The question here will be surrounding his ability to adjust to the NFL route tree and complexity of offensive schemes. If that is a smooth transition for him, he can be an immediate factor. Westbrook as the kind of easy burst and agility that makes him a hard guy to touch, let alone cover. I think his upside is through the roof but there is always a concern with me and WRs that are this slight. He may need a specific role and scheme.

Upside Pro Comparison: Emmanuel Sanders – DEN

10 – Josh Reynolds – 6’4/195 – Texas A& M: 77

Summary: Fourth year senior that spent his freshman year at Tyler Junior College. In year one at Texas A& M, he broke on to the scene with 13 touchdown catches, setting a single season school record. Throughout the rest of his career Reynolds proved to be one of the scariest deep threats in the SEC. His downfield speed, body control, and ball skills on the vertical move make him a weapon in any offense right away. His slender body type may not be able to handle NFL hits over the middle, an area he is already weak at, but his vertical presence could be considered elite. If he can shore up some concentration and discipline issues, Reynolds can be one of the best WRs in this class.

*Towards the end of the season, I was asked by Ourlads for an unofficial top 5 at every position to get the ball rolling on the pre-draft process. I put Reynolds at the top of it (the list was seniors-only). He has since been passed by a few guys as the grading process transpired, but I still think there is talent here that could be a major factor in the NFL. His ball skills are top notch in traffic. He drops some easy balls but when he is challenged downfield, few DBs can beat him. Reynolds has such a light frame and is a bit of a long strider, but I still a starting caliber receiver that will pose as a deep threat. He averaged 17 yards per catch and scored 30 TDs over three years and I think the best is ahead. Best part? I think he may be available on day 3.

Upside Pro Comparison: AJ Green – CIN

11 – Amara Darboh – 6’2/214 – Michigan: 76

Summary: Fifth year senior that was forced to redshirt in 2013 because of a foot injury. Darboh has had an unconventional path to the NFL, coming from Africa at the age of 7 before being orphaned. The tools here are what will attract coaches and scouts alike. He is big and tall with all the length and hand size. The mental side of the game began to click for him and he proved he can be a solid all around contributor.

*Athletically, Darboh doesn’t jump off the screen. But at a solid 6’2/214 and combining that with his style, he has reliable possession receiver written all over him. These guys are very valuable in established offenses with dynamic playmakers on the outside. This is a fit that I can very much see happening with NYG if they wait until day 3, where I think he presents solid value.

Upside Pro Comparison: Mohamed Sanu – ATL

12 – Isaiah Ford – 6’1/194 – Virginia Tech: 75

Summary: Junior entry. 1st Team All ACC receiver that has been the go-to guy for the Hokies over the past two years, both of which he finished with over 1,000 yards. Ford is deep threat that combines speed, leaping ability, and ball skills. He makes cornerbacks think twice about getting too close at the point of attack because of his long, track-type speed and explosion. Ford struggles to move with the same fluidity in short space, and may be a bit of a one trick pony at this point. He needs a lot of skill work on the little things, such as getting off press coverage and seeing the ball in to his hands underneath.

*I really thought Ford was going to test better in workouts, but a 4.64 at the combine hurt him a bit. It may not kill him, however, because of how productive he is in traffic. He has great ball skills, leaping ability, and length. He knows how to use all the above and there is just a lot of natural receiver to him. Early day 3 target.

Upside Pro Comparison: Allen Hurns – JAC

13 – Austin Carr – 6’0/200 – Northwestern: 74

Summary: Fifth year senior that began his career as a running back. Wasn’t much of a factor until he exploded on to the scene in 2016, leading the conference cross the board in receiving statistics. The Big 10 Wide Receiver of the Year Award winner truly is a one year wonder but it should be enough for the teams looking to add a slot receiver. He has a lot of pro-ready traits, although limited upside-wise.

*Carr is a favorite of Dan Shonka, director of Ourlads. While the fact he only produced for one year is a red flag, Carr has all the makings of a high level slot receiver. Very smart, quick, and reliable. Has more size to him than some of the other slots. One has to think what his outlook would be if he had gone to a higher-level football program. I bet he out-produces half the receivers taken in front of him.

Upside Pro Comparison: Adam Humphries – TB

14 – Malachi Dupre – 6’2/196 – LSU: 74

Summary: Junior entry. Former blue chip recruit and former triple, long, and high jump state champion. Dupre has deep threat tools dripping off him and showed several glimpses of being a game changer during his career at LSU. Poor quarterback play hampered his consistency and progress, however. He still has some skill work to do and could use more strength on that frame, but the tools are there. High upside prospect.

*One of those guys that jumped off the screen multiple times throughout the year. I never quite saw enough consistency but one has to consider the mess LSU has been dealing with at QB for years. I think Dupre can be a nice deep threat in the league. Long strider that takes a bit to really get moving but he excels at tracking the ball and getting to it at the apex of his jump. Very good leaper.

Upside Pro Comparison: Terrence Williams – DAL

15 – Curtis Samuel – 5’11/197 – Ohio State: 73

Some are labeling Samuel a first rounder. I can see why simply because of the versatility and top shelf speed. Samuel has legit 4.3 speed and I know for a fact some teams are looking at him as a RB and some are looking at him as a WR. Samuel has a ways to go in terms of skill progression and refinement, but he has the kind of baseline anyone would be fortunate to work with. I fear he may be one of those guys that fails to find a true position, however. He is more of an athlete than a football player to me, the kind that have thrived in the Urban Meyer system but not in the NFL.

Upside Pro Comparison: Percy Harvin – FA

BEST OF THE REST

16 – Chris Godwin – 6’1/209 – Penn State: 73
17 – Taywan Taylor – 5’11/203 – Western Kentucky: 73
18 – Stacy Coley – 6’0/195 – Miami: 73
19 – Ryan Switzer – 5’8/181 – North Carolina: 73
20 – Trent Taylor – 5’8/181 – Louisiana Tech: 72
21 – Michael Rector – 6’0/193 – Stanford: 71
22 – Keevan Lucas – Tulsa – 5’9/192: 71
23 – Rodney Adams – 6’1/190 – South Florida: 70
24 – Josh Malone – 6’3/208 – Tennessee: 70
25 – Kendrick Bourne – Eastern Washington – 6’1/203: 69
26 – Fred Ross – 6’1/213 – Mississippi State: 69
27 – Carlos Henderson – 5’11/199 – Louisiana Tech: 69
28 – Speedy Noil – 5’11/199 – Texas A& M: 68
29 – Travis Rudolph – 6’0/189 – Florida State: 68
30 – Kermit Whitfield – 5’8/185 – Florida State: 68

NYG APPROACH

The case can be made there are several needs ahead of the WR group, and I won’t argue against it. However I am not willing to cross off the WRs in this class should a value present itself. 1st round? Most likely not, but after that I think all bets are off. WR can certainly be a spot this team looks to improve. While the top 3 are more than set in stone, one injury separates NYG from being a team in need of more weapons to throw to and in my opinion, that is a spot that can warrant a pick on a new pass catcher. Really what you’re doing is bringing in a body to compete with King, Lewis, and Harris for 5-10 snaps per game and the spot that will replace an injury to one of the top 3. I think you can look at the round 4/5 region and be confident a very good value will be there.

Apr 122017
 
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Jerry Reese, New York Giants (February 25, 2016)

Jerry Reese – © USA TODAY Sports Images

According to Spotrac.com, the New York Giants currently have approximately $9,588,285 in salary cap space, not counting the roughly $4,081,274 the Giants will need to sign their 2017 draft class. Only the top 51 player salaries for a team count against the salary cap in the offseason.

(Note: NFL Player Association records say the Giants have $9,483,626 in salary cap room).

Spotrac.com overview of the New York Giants salary cap situation:

  • 2017 NFL Salary Cap: $167,000,000
  • 2016 Rollover Cap: $1,800,000
  • Adjustment: $157,246
  • New York Giants Adjusted Salary Cap: $168,957,246
  • All Contracts: $166,244,520
  • Top 51 Contracts: $156,269,520
  • 2017 Projected Draft Pool Cap: $5,507,011
  • Dead Money: $3,099,441
  • Total (All): $169,343,961
  • Total (Top 51 Contracts): $159,368,961
  • Cap Space (All):  -$386,715
  • Cap Space (Top 51 plus Draft Pool): $4,081,274
  • Cap Space (Top 51 Contracts): $9,588,285

The top five sources of the dead money are:

  • Wide Receiver Victor Cruz ($1,900,000)
  • Running Back Rashad Jennings ($562,500)
  • Place Kicker Josh Brown ($250,000)
  • Fullback Will Johnson ($200,000)
  • Running Back Andre Williams ($113,400)

The top-10 players currently counting the most against the team’s 2017 salary cap are:

  1. Quarterback Eli Manning ($19,700,000)
  2. Defensive End Olivier Vernon ($16,000,000)
  3. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins ($15,000,000)
  4. Defensive Tackle Damon Harrison ($10,600,000)
  5. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie ($9,000,000)
  6. Offensive Guard Justin Pugh ($8,821,000)
  7. Defensive End Jason Pierre-Paul ($7,250,000)
  8. Wide Receiver Brandon Marshall ($4,468,750)
  9. Running Back Shane Vereen ($4,072,918)
  10. Linebacker J.T. Thomas ($4,000,000)

NFL Player Association listing of the teams with the most salary cap room:

  1. San Francisco 49ers: $73,944,752
  2. Cleveland Browns: $62,368,548
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars: $46,365,024
  4. Tennessee Titans: $38,347,945
  5. Indianapolis Colts: $31,984,977
  6. Oakland Raiders: $31,117,363
  7. Houston Texans: $30,136,680
  8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $28,568,630
  9. Cincinnati Bengals: $23,005,665
  10. Green Bay Packers: $22,378,948
Apr 102017
 
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Dalvin Cook, Florida State Seminoles (December 30, 2016)

Dalvin Cook – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 2017 NFL Draft Preview: Running Backs

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

WHERE THEY STAND

After a solid but unspectacular three year tenure with NYG, the team cut ties with Rashad Jennings. The league’s 29th ranked rushing attack can at least be partially blamed on the offensive line, but the talent running with the ball in their hands wasn’t inspiring to say the least. Paul Perkins flashed in the second half of his rookie season and Shane Vereen averaged almost 5 yards per carry in his limited opportunities. Shaun Draughn and Orleans Darkwa are solid bodies to have on the depth chart. This team lacks power presence in the backfield.

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1 – Dalvin Cook – 5’10/210 – Florida State: 83

Summary: Junior entry. All time leading rusher in Florida State history. 2nd all time in the ACC conference. Unanimous All American in 2016. Cook is a dangerous threat to take it to the house each time he touches the ball. He is explosive in and out of traffic, runs hard through contact, and shows the on-field IQ you want out of an every down ball carrier. His potential his as high as any player in this class. He is an immediate upgrade to most starting running backs in the league.

*Ignore the naysayers that want to tell you he didn’t have a good workout and lacks the ability to be an elite back. Cook was almost always the best athlete in the field when he had the ball in his hand in college, period. The concern with potentially drafting him at 23 if he is there however, is two-fold. One, he is a similar styled-back to Paul Perkins. More talented, yes. But very similar and it’s nice to have some diversity back there. In addition, and more important, is the fact there are some off field concerns with him. He’s had a few run-ins and while nobody can point to a conviction or anything concrete, he isn’t clean away from the field. That said, there is a very small list of players I would take in front of Cook.

Upside Pro Comparison: Jamaal Charles – FA

2 – Christian McCaffrey – 5’11/202 – Stanford: 80

Summary: Junior entry. Son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey and comes from a family full of high-level athletes. Consensus All American in 2015 after setting an NCAA all time single season record with 3,854 all purpose yards. Saw a slight dip in production in 2016, but still finished second in the country in yards from scrimmage per game. McCaffrey will specialize as a third down back type and return specialist in the NFL. He is as dangerous as it gets in the open field and brings the versatility to fill multiple roles for any offense. He may be limited as an inside runner, but otherwise McCaffrey is a threat that defenses need to think about every time he is on the field.

*I don’t like using the term “sure-thing” too often, but I’m confident McCaffrey is going to be a very productive player in the league. His receiving skill set is better than most of the wide receivers and the ability in space is some of the best we have in this class. The lineage and football IQ helps assure that as well. Whoever drafts him needs to make sure they aren’t going to turn him in to a 20 carry, inside the tackles type back. That’s not what he is. A creative playcaller and scheme can make a Pro Bowler out of this kid in year one.

Upside Pro Comparison: Dion Lewis – NE

3 – Leonard Fournette – 6’0/240 – LSU: 80

Summary: Junior entry. After a 2015 1st Team All American season, Fournette came back down to earth partially because of an ankle problem that was pretty much there all year. Running against loaded boxes behind a below average offensive line, his 2016 did not go well to say the least. Fournette has freakish tools and ability, but there are questions revolving around his skill set, quickness, and passion for the game in addition to the lower body injuries. His size and speed will be NFL ready week one, but there is a large gap between his floor and ceiling. Risky prospect from a few different angles.

*Coming in to the year, everyone I knew had Fournette atop this list and in some cases, atop the overall class. I never saw it and as a matter of fact always viewed him as a borderline first rounder. Don’t get me wrong, I still think he is a quality prospect with the upside of being an immediate force. However too often I’ve seen him being that guy that doesn’t create enough on his own, lacks quick change of pace and direction in the backfield, and a guy that doesn’t always play to his true power potential. Fournette just seemed like a guy that didn’t have the consistent motor and effort. Was he protecting himself? Maybe. But I won’t have him as a top 20 player in my class.

Upside Pro Comparison: Carlos Hyde – SF

4 – Kareem Hunt – 5’11/216 – Toledo: 80

Summary: Four year contributor and two time 1st Team All MAC back that leaves Toledo as the program’s all time leading rusher. Hunt has had a bit of an up and down career that included leasing the MAC in rushing despite missing three games in 2014, missing time with nagging injuries and a suspension in 2015, and back to the top of the conference’s rushing ranks in 2016. What is most attractive about Hunt is the ability to change his running style based on situations at the drop of a hat; all of which are at a very high level. Hunt’s greatest trait is the ability to break tackles and with his recent 15 pound weight loss, the athletic ability has taken a step up. He is as complete back as any in this class.

*I’ll tell you what. Gun to my head, I’d have a hard time choosing between Hunt and Fournette. I have had a thing for Hunt all year and once the grading process was over, I realized that Hunt brings to the table what I want out of a back almost across the board. He may not have the athletic upside and he was used a ton in college, but there may not be a back in the class who is better at breaking tackles than Hunt. His balance and lower body strength/stability is on the “rare” level. Considering you can probably get this kid day 2 (maybe even early day 3)…this is someone I want NYG to zero in on. He would be the ideal compliment to add to this backfield. His greatest trait? 1 fumble in 856 carries

Upside Pro Comparison: Mark Ingram – NO

5 – Alvin Kamara – 5’10/214 – Tennessee: 78

Summary: Fourth year junior entry. Began his career at Alabama but after a year of being in the Nick Saban doghouse and looking up the depth chart at current NFL running backs Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, Kamara opted to transfer. In his two seasons on the field with the Vols, he displayed excellent ability in space as a rusher and receiver. He has some of the best hands in the class at the position and his easy moving lower body and burst at 215+ pounds will attract teams looking for a third down back. If he can block better, Kamara is an under the radar candidate for major contributions as a rookie.

*There are more than a few people that say Kamara is the most talented rusher in the class. His smooth movement makes him look like he is on ice skates. He is one of the guys that can make difficult things look easy, just such a natural athlete. The charater red flags factored in a little, but not too much.

Upside Pro Comparison: Melvin Gordon – LAC

6 – Marlon Mack – 5’11/213 – South Florida: 78

Summary: Junior entry. All time leading rusher in South Florida history. Rushed for 1,000+ yards all three years of his career. Mack is a big-play threat that can break off the long run if he reaches space. His size and strength can be a tough task to deal with for second and third level defenders. While he isn’t an every down, between the tackles runner, he will own a roster spot and contribute if he can learn how to carry the ball tighter to his body.

*The more I saw, the more I liked with Mack. He did played in a RB friendly offense with a lot of space, but I think he can translate well to the NFL. Lesean McCoy is my pick for top RB these days, and Mack has some of that in him. Almost unreal stop and go ability with natural instincts. If he can be had day 3 you are talking big time value.

Upside Pro Comparison: Lesean McCoy – BUF

7 – Samaje Perine – 5’10/235 – Oklahoma: 77

Summary: Junior entry. All time leading rusher at Oklahoma. Burst on to the scene right away in 2014, rushing for a Big 12 leading 1,713 yards and 21 TDs. His production steadily declined each season from there, partially because of injuries and partially because of the emergence of teammate Joe Mixon. Perine has had the NFL body since his freshman season. His power and strength between the tackles will be NFL-ready week one. He protects the ball well, blocks well, and has top tier intangibles. You know what you’re getting Perine. Limited, but effective in the right role.

*Since the middle of the season, Perine has been on my short list of guys that I think NYG is going to look hard at. He is probably the best fit for what NYG needs to add to their backfield. Good short area pop, tremendous power, quality blocking. Perine is a top notch kid and I feel like NYG will like the fact that you know what you are getting with him.

Upside Pro Comparison: Eddie Lacy – SEA

8 – D’Onta Foreman – 6’0/233 – Texas: 77

Summary: Junior entry. Striking the iron whiles it’s hot after leading the nation in rushing yards per game and taking home the Doak Walker Award. The All American has a rare blend of size and speed that teams will love to use between the tackles. His burst and ability to run away from defenders in space within that frame just screams upside. Foreman isn’t nearly as physical as his frame would suggest and he is very one dimensional. However with just 10 career starts and just half, if not less, the career touches as most other prospects, one has to think the ceiling here is as high as any back in the class.

*One look at Foreman and you’ll think this is the power back that NYG needs. But after watching him as much as I did, I noticed he is lighter on his feet and looks to avoid contact rather than deliver it. One of the biggest draws here is that he still has a lot of progressing to do and if he can figure it out, the upside is as high as anyone. He has every down potential.

Upside Pro Comparison: Jeremy Hill – CIN

9 – Jeremy McNichols – 5’9/214 – Boise State: 77

Summary: Junior entry. His 43 rushing touchdowns over the past two years combined leads the nation. Every down back that has wide receiver-caliber ball skills and plus-blocking ability. Has the frame to handle a lot of hits. Very smart, savvy back that will see things before they appear. McNichols has been the guy for two years now and proved he can help a team in several ways. His hands, return ability, and blocking alone are worth considering for a roster spot. Add in the production and skill set as an interior rusher and McNichols can make a case for being the most well rounded back in this class.

*The more I saw of him, the more saw former Boise State RB Doug Martin. He is a little stiffer, but I think he is a tougher back to take down and he offers more as a r receiver. Some people have told me my outlook on him is too high, but I am keeping him here. He doesn’t have a lot of sexy” to him but he gets it done and offers a lot of versatility.

Upside Pro Comparison: Doug Martin – TB

10 – Tarik Cohen – 5’6/179 – North Carolina A& T: 76

Summary: Four year contributor, three time MEAC Offensive Player of the Year and the conference’s all time leading rusher. Cohen’s production and accolades fills up the wall. His jump in level of competition will be an enormous one. The quickness and burst on someone that is built so low to the ground screams Darren Sproles. Can he pack on some weight and handle NFL tackling? That’s the question but nobody can doubt the danger he presents when he gets the ball in his hands

*You know, we see this kind of prospect pretty often. Unreal production but very undersized and simply under the minimum requirements for what teams look for at the position. I don’t believe in “minimums” though and Cohen is a guy that I consider a legit 3rd/4th rounder. I haven’t see a guy move like this since Tavon Austin and I think Cohen has more football IQ to him. He needs the right system and role but he can be a game changer.

Upside Pro Comparison: Darren Sproles – PHI

11 –Joe Mixon – Oklahoma – 6’1/226: 74

Summary: Third year sophomore entry. Suspended for the 2014 season after he was arrested for hitting a female student. Whichever team drafts him will have to deal with an abundance of PR-related issues. On the field, Mixon can be called one of the top backs in this class. He has rare movement ability for a back his size and there is some natural vision and reaction ability here that you won’t see very often. He is an every down back that has some questions to answer, but as a player, he can be big time.

*This will be one of the more interesting situations to watch over draft weekend. I do think teams are worried about the PR situation if they draft him but I would be surprised if he got bumped down past the 4th/5th round area. And I still think there is a shot he is a top 100 overall guy. The fact his situation happened years ago when he was early in his college career will help his image a tad. On the field Mixon was my third rated back. I think he can be a very good, every down back. He has it all when it comes to talent and tools.

Upside Pro Comparison: Arian Foster – RET

12 – Wayne Gallman – 5’11/205 – Clemson: 73

Summary: Fourth year junior entry. He could have come out last year after setting the single season rushing record at Clemson, but he opted to come back for his redshirt junior season. Gallman’s overall production dipped, but he proved to be a more complete back. His blocking and receiving skill set were taken to the next level and he further developed his ability to read a defense post-snap. His game is based on speed and aggression, something every team is looking for in their backfield. He can be a valuable part to a committee approach right away.

*Gallman is a pro ready back but I don’t think he is ever going to be a feature guy, which is fine. His ability plant his foot and burst combined with his toughness can make him a dangerous player. He became a much better blocker and receiver this season as well. I wish he could hold on to more weight and protect the ball better, but you could do much worse than having him as your number two back.

Upside Pro Comparison: Fozzy Whitaker – CAR

13 – Deveon Smith – 5’11/223 – Michigan: 73

Summary: Michigan’s leading rusher each of the past two seasons. Smith is a between the tackles specialist that can provide short yardage presence and plus-blocking. His upside is limited, as he simply won’t make a lot of plays in space or create on his own. A team will know exactly what they are getting with him.

*Smith showed me some things in the pre-draft process that Michigan never really put on display. First of all, he is a better pass catcher than most give him credit for and he might be the best blocker in this entire group. Those two things in addition to his power running will get him a lot of looks. What he does with them early in his career will be huge.

Upside Pro Comparison: Christine Michael – GB

14 – Brian Hill – 6’1/219 – Wyoming: 73

Summary: Junior entry. Leaves Wyoming after re-writing the single season and career rushing records across the board. His 4.287 yards over three years trails only Dalvin Cook (Florida State) and Donnell Pumphrey (San Diego State) nationally. The production and notable feel for shifting his way through traffic will get everyone’s attention. His biggest question is, and will be, can he break tackles in the NFL? His lower body needs more power and there are some maturity issues that need to be looked in to.

*A few people I spoke with told me back in October that Hill was going to be a top 5 back in this class. He has impressive vision and feel with the ball in his hands. Can run away from a defense, yes, but what I look for the most in college backs is consistent ability to break tackles. He didn’t do that well enough for my liking but I can see why people like him. He has an impressive frame and was uber-productive. I think he’s off the board before I consider him. Also has some off field problems.

Upside Pro Comparison: Taiwan Jones – OAK

15 – Corey Clement – 5’10/220 – Wisconsin: 72

Summary: Four year contributor that finished his career with a 2nd Team All Big Ten performance after a 2015 that included more lows and than highs. Clement has some durability issues in addition to a questionable off-field reputation. Between the lines he has the upside of an effective inside runner but nothing more. The lack of fluid movement and speed in addition to poor vision may prevent him from any consistent role.

*I was curious to see how this kid would respond to taking over for Melvin Gordon back in 2015. A few things didn’t go his way and he became a poor sport, showing some immaturity that stayed in my mind while evaluating him. Clement is a very good back. Breaks tackles, does a lot of little things well. He is limited to specific duties but I think he can get it done in the right role. Don’t expect every an every down back but give him a short yardage role and I think he will thrive if he can keep his focus.

Upside Pro Comparison: Rex Burkhead – NE

BEST OF THE REST

16 – Christopher Carson – 5’11/218 – Oklahoma State: 72
17 – Donnell Pumphrey – 5’8/176 – San Diego State: 72
18 – Elijah McGuire – 5’9/214 – Louisiana-Lafayette: 72
19 – Anthony Wales – 5’10/195 – Western Kentucky: 72
20 – James Conner – 6’1/233 – Pittsburgh: 70
21 – Jamaal Williams – 6’0/212 – BYU: 70
22 – Matt Breida – 5’10/190 – Georgia Southern: 70
23 – Justin Davis – 6’1/208 – USC: 70
24 – Matthew Dayes – 5’9/205 – NC State: 70
25 – Elijah Hood – 6’0/232 – North Carolina: 69

NYG APPROACH

To be blunt, I think NYG needs to bring in a fresh back somewhere in the draft. The need isn’t immediate or large, but I think it is necessary to bring a new back in. They can be patient and wait for the right value, as I would put a lot of money on someone graded highly will be there in round 4/5. That said, I am taking Dalvin Cook at 23 if he is there and won’t think about it unless one of the few guys I have graded above him are there, which isn’t likely. Ideally NYG brings in a power back so they don’t have to put that role on Perkins shoulders or rely on a Draughn type back. All in all, the OL needs to perform better if any of these backs will be effective, but the overall talent in this draft class is too high for a team that has very little talent in their backfield to pass on.

Apr 072017
 
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DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (November 26, 2016)

DeShone Kizer – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 2017 NFL Draft Preview: Quarterbacks

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

WHERE THEY STAND

Eli Manning will begin his 13th season as the week 1 starter, an accomplishment in its own right. His consecutive start streak remains but even his biggest apologists will have to admit there are numerous signs of him slowing down and losing some of his ability. His throws are lacking some zip and he has had trouble driving the ball downfield. Veterans Josh Johnson and Geno Smith will battle it out for backup duty. Both have had their share of opportunities in the league and offer little long term stability.

TOP 10 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1 – Mitch Trubisky – North Carolina – 6’2/222: 80

Summary: Junior entry. Former blue chip recruit had to wait his turn to get his shot at the helm. In Trubisky’s one full season as a starter, he proved there are top overall pick traits to his game. All of the measureables are there. He throws to the ball hard and accurately, he is a plus-athlete for the position, and he has the strength to take hits and get right back up. His glaring weakness stems from a lack of game experience, always a risky proposition. The lack of quick reactions and inability to see backside coverage could be his kryptonite in the NFL if he doesn’t click. Ideally he is drafted by someone that will look to put him in the mix in 2018. High ceiling prospect.

*Less than 20 career starts is always something that will worry me, thus he finishes with the borderline 1st round grade. I’m glad I’m not a team at the top of the draft looking for a franchise QB because I simply wouldn’t know what to do here. Trubisky was consistent all year…really didn’t have a lot of ups and downs. That steadiness is something that I think will get him drafted in the top 10 but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see him taken in the 20s.

Upside Pro Comparison: Ryan Tannehill – MIA

2 – DeShone Kizer – Notre Dame – 6’4/233: 79

Summary: Third year sophomore entry that was forced in to the starting position week 3 of 2015. Kizer showed immediate talent and upside, but failed to build off a solid redshirt freshman season. His inconsistent play in 2016 put the Notre Dame coaching staff in a position to take him in and out of his role as the lead signal caller. While there were a few outside factors that went against his way, Kizer simply struggled to show a consistent level of play. His talent is undeniable and he is very coachable and intelligent. He needs time to season up his footwork, vision, and pocket presence. Long term upside is there with this kid.

*It took me some time to come around on Kizer. I think he has more “franchise QB” in him than any of the other guys but he was maddening at times in 2016. He caved under pressure and the talent around him was poor. I think he was in a bad situation at Notre Dame and a fresh change of scenery should help. He’s not ready, and won’t be for another year or two. NYG would be a great situation for him, as there are several similarities between him and Manning.

Upside Pro Comparison: Blake Bortles – JAC

3 – Deshaun Watson – Clemson – 6’2/221: 77

Summary: Junior entry. Former blue chip recruit that ended his career being called the “Michael Jordan of Quarterbacks” by his head coach. The 2015 recipient of the Davey O’Brien and Payton Manning awards respectively didn’t quite put the season most were hoping for in 2016, but he did win a National Championship with a stellar late-game performance. Watson has all of the intangibles and physical ability, but his skills as a thrower are lacking when comparing him to past top tier quarterback prospects. His inaccuracy and inconsistent throwing motions could rear their ugly heads in the NFL. He is a developmental player that is at least a year or two away. It would be a tremendous risk to throw all your eggs in this basket.

*For awhile there was a thought that Watson could be the NYG target at #23. I’ve since stepped away from that, as I don’t think he is a 1st round caliber guy. There are too many holes in his game, too many red flags. One thing you know you are getting here though…he’s as good a kid as you are going to find. He has the head and the mindset for New York. And again…a situation that would be ideal for him is 2 years of sitting on the bench.

Upside Pro Comparison: Alex Smith – KC

4 – Nathan Peterman – Pittsburgh – 6’2/226: 76

Summary: Fifth year senior that began his career at Tennessee. Ran in to some tough luck between injuries and the emergence of Josh Dobb, forcing him to transfer. In his two seasons as the starter for Pittsburgh, Peterman showed poise, toughness, and glimpses of domination. He seemed further along than the players he was throwing to and it had a negative impact on his overall numbers. Peterman is smart and aggressive. He understands the little things about reading a defense and moving coverages with his eyes. With more seasoning, he could be a starter in the NFL. He may not possess top tier physical ability, but he has enough.

*There was a time early in the pre draft process where Peterman was in legit contention for the #1 spot on this list. There is a lot of “pro”in him and even though I think his upside is limited, I think he will be a reliable backup in the league. There aren’t enough of these guys and I would be totally fine with NYG using a 3rd rounder on him even though he may never be a big time starter.

Upside Pro Comparison: Matt Moore – MIA

5 – Patrick Mahomes – Texas Tech – 6’2/225: 76

Summary: Junior entry with 2-plus years of starting experience. Led the nation in passing yards and yards per game in 2016, earning him 2nd Team All Big 12 honors. The arm talent of Mahomes is enough to excite anyone, as he possesses the ability to throw the ball 70+ yards in the air. While he may be able to count on one hand how may times he will need to do that in a game over his career, it’s a confirmation that he can throw the rock with anyone. Mahomes comes from the infamous Texas Tech spread attack that will force him in to a full blown student mode for a year or two in the NFL. His mechanics need a lot of work as well, thus he is multiple years away in all likelihood.

*Mahomes is a kid that loves the game, first one in and last one out type. If you had to measure talent with all of these kids, he is probably at the top. But in the same breath I think he is the furthest from being game ready. You will have to commit to him sitting for 2 years and then the thought remains, is that worth a 1st round pick? Tough call.

Upside Pro Comparison: Matthew Stafford – DET

6 – Davis Webb – California – 6’5/229: 74

Summary: Fourth year senior that graduated from Texas Tech early and was able to transfer to California for a graduate season. He earned Honorable Mention All Pac 12 honors in 2017, replacing last year’s top overall pick Jared Goff. Webb took advantage of his opportunity and displayed an NFL ability. His size and easy throwing motion can get you excited, but he has a ways to go in terms of progression and learning. Webb is a couple years away and will have to spend a lot of time correcting elements such as a footwork, lower body mechanics, and reading a defense, among other things. Possible starter down the road, but more likely a backup.

*Webb is a hot name with some of the people I get to talk with…and others think he won’t ever be a starter. Nobody denies the talent, but he has a ways to go. I’ve watched every game of his from 2016 and he does the same things week in and week out that bother me. He has to completely change his game and while I think it is possible, it’s simply unlikely.

Upside Pro Comparison: Brock Osweiler – CLE

7 – Brad Kaaya – Miami – 6’4/214: 74

Summary: Junior entry. Three year starter who missed just one game over his career. Of all the quarterbacks in the class, Kaaya may have the cleanest and most consistent full body mechanics. While he is further along than most in that respect, he may also be closer to his ceiling than the other quarterbacks in this class. His arm strength and athletic ability are limited. His potential to dink and dunk over his career will be harder to accomplish than what he had to deal with in college. He projects as a safe pick for backup duty, but not much more.

*Like Peterman, I like Kaaya but not as a guy as I think will be a big time starter. More like a reliable backup which still has value in the league, but nothing I am going to consider spending a day 2 pick on. I have a hard time liking QBs with such a slight frame and weak arm.

Upside Pro Comparison: Colt McCoy – WAS

8 – Jerod Evans – Virginia Tech – 6’3/232: 71

Summary: Fourth year junior entry. Began his career at Air Force where he tore his ACL in 2013 before transferring to a junior college. Spent one season at Virginia Tech and proved to be one of the top dual threats in the country. Evans is physically gifted with his powerful arm and running ability. He is a ways away from being a professional passer, however. He has a long road ahead but his intangibles and talent can be combined in to a quality backup one day. Higher ceiling than most.

*I really wish this kid went back to school for another year, as I do see some big time traits here. Such an easy, powerful, quick release that you simply can’t teach. Has nice touch on the ball. Big and sturdy frame. Hard worker, very humble. But his learning curve will be as steep as any of the QBs in this class. Huge gamble but huge potential reward.

Upside Pro Comparison: Chad Henne – MIA

9 – CJ Beathard – Iowa – 6’2/219: 70

Summary: Fifth year senior that started for two full seasons. Son of former General Manager Bobby Beathard. The 2015 2nd Team All Big 10 signal caller played in a pro style offense that had him hand the ball off often. He wasn’t challenged that often in terms of having to take over games and lead his team downfield. The game manager shows far-along footwork and overall mechanics, but there is a lack of overall ability and upside. Backup-only type.

*There may not be a QB in the class that had a worse group of players to throw to. Beathard was screwed over by drops and WRs that couldn’t separate all year. There may be something here with this kid that we haven’t quite seen yet. That said, he is a backup type, not a starter.

Upside Pro Comparison: Scott Tolzien – IND

10 – Seth Russell – Baylor – 6’3/213: 68

Summary: Fifth year senior. Both 2015 and 2016 were cut short by severe injuries, one to his neck and one to his ankle. When he was on the field, he was putting out All Big 12 performances in Baylor’s spread attack. His athletic ability and arm strength stand out and could be considered among the best in the class. He will have a steep learning curve and more than anything will need to prove he can recover from his injuries. Late round flier that can make the argument for having as much upside as anyone.

*I simply don’t have a lot to work from in terms of scouting Russell. His tape is limited and these system QBs can be a tough grading process. I will say this about Russell though…he raises everyone’s eyebrows. He may be the best athlete in this group and he throws a really nice ball. I would like to get him in a camp to simply see how he responds to pro style football.

Upside Pro Comparison: Drew Stanton – ARI

BEST OF THE REST

11 – Josh Dobbs – Tennessee – 6’3/216: 67
12 – Chad Kelly – Mississippi – 6’2/224: 67
13 – Alek Torgersen – Pennsylvania – 6’3/230: 65
14 – Wes Lunt – Illinois – 6’5/225: 63
15 – Antonio Pimpkin – Tiffin – 6’1/222: 63
16 – Gunner Kiel – Cincinnati – 6’4/225: 63
17 – Cooper Rush – Central Michigan – 6’3/228: 61
18 – Zach Terrell – Western Michigan – 6’1/209: 61
19 – Sefo Liufau – Colorado – 6’3/232: 59
20 – Mitch Lender – Minnesota – 6’3/226: 59

NYG APPROACH

There isn’t any urgency yet with this position in terms of the draft, but even the biggest Eli Manning fans need to admit the skills and ability are declining. He will be the guy for at least another 2 years, more likely 3 years. But if the decline keeps multiplying as he approach 40 years old, the plan needs to be put in place. I don’t think any of these guys should be a consideration at #23 overall. Too many good players will be available at that spot and I’m not sure I see a sure thing franchise QB in anyone within this group. Once you get to rounds 2 and beyond, I would consider it an option but at the end of that day, I don’t see much here that we won’t see every other year. Kizer intrigues me, I’ll say that. In the right environment, I think he can be the guy. Trubisky has more talent but the lack of experience is such a red flag. I think the approach here should be, if you find someone that looks like a reliable backup type (Peterman/Kaaya) available day 3…I think it’s the best route to take. I would be fine with them overlooking the position in this draft, though.

Mar 072017
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (November 27, 2016)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The New York Giants learned two valuable lessons in 2016: (1) if done wisely, you can dramatically improve the team by spending in free agency; and (2) a team weakness can rapidly become a team strength, and unfortunately visa versa.

Last year at this time, the New York Giants entered free agency with approximately $60 million in salary cap space – the most by far in team history. The goal was to rapidly improve a defense that finished dead last in the NFL. The Giants re-signed defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (1-year, $10.5 million). Then they went out and spent big bucks on cornerback Janoris Jenkins (5-years, $62.5 million), defensive tackle Damon Harrison (5-years, $46.25 million), and defensive end Olivier Vernon (5-years, $85 million). They also gave fairly sizable short-term contracts to linebacker Keenan Robinson (1-year, $3.5 million) and cornerback/safety Leon Hall (1-year, $2 million). The results were exceptional. The Giants improved from dead last in defense to 10th in yards allowed and 2nd in scoring allowed. Pierre-Paul, Jenkins, Harrison, Vernon, and Robinson were all major factors in the dramatic turnaround. 2016 certainly rivals 2005 (linebacker Antonio Pierce, right tackle Kareem McKenzie, and wide receiver Plaxico Burress) as the franchise’s most successful free agent period to date.

But as the defense rose, the offense declined, falling from 8th in 2015 to 25th in 2016, with precipitous drops in both the passing and running games. The decline was an unpleasant surprise and the team now unfortunately has question marks at every offensive position.

A week ago, the Giants had about half as much cap space ($30 million) as they had last year. But the decision to place the Franchise Tag on Pierre-Paul has now reduced their available salary-cap space to $13 million. The situation is fluid as a renegotiated long-term deal for Pierre-Paul could improve the picture. On the other hand, if the Giants are able to re-sign defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, they will not have much operating room.

The Giants are in a bit of an uncomfortable position. This is a relatively young roster with one major exception: the starting quarterback. Eli Manning is most likely in the twilight of his career. Because of that, there is an extreme sense of urgency to put this team over the top right now. But urgency can cause decision makers to make rash, short-term decisions that end up proving costly. The Giants may feel they have to be aggressive and take some risks in free agency, but they also have to be careful. The worst-case scenario would be sacrificing medium- and long-term cap health and then finding out that Manning is already done.

QUARTERBACK: Eli Manning is under contract for three more years. But decisions need to be made in terms of his short-term back-up in 2017 as well as his long-term replacement. Ryan Nassib and Josh Johnson are both unrestricted free agents. Keith Wenning is the only other quarterback currently under contract. The Giants will probably re-sign Nassib or Johnson, and possibly draft a quarterback. If neither Nassib or Johnson are re-signed, the Giants will have to sign a veteran back-up in free agency.

RUNNING BACKS: Unless Paul Perkins is the real deal, this position is a mess. Rashad Jennings was cut. Bobby Rainey and Orleans Darkwa are both unrestricted free agents who probably should not be re-signed. George Winn, Jacob Huesman, and Daryl Virgies are most likely camp fodder. That leaves 3rd-down back Shane Vereen, who tore the same triceps muscle twice in 2016 and who has an injury-plagued history. The Giants will have to draft a running back, but they may look to add a veteran in free agency as well.

FULLBACKS: Will Johnson missed all of 2016 with a neck injury. Nikita Whitlock missed the season with a Lisfranc injury and will not be re-signed. The most important question moving forward here is does Ben McAdoo want to employ a fullback in his offense? If so, they may add another veteran in free agency to compete with Johnson.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Odell Beckham, Jr. is one of the best receivers in football. Sterling Shepard had a very solid rookie season and will remain the team’s top option at the slot receiver position. But the Giants need another viable outside threat opposite of Beckham. Victor Cruz was cut. McAdoo dramatically reduced Dwayne Harris’ playing time in 2016, and he is more of a slot receiver-type too. Journeyman Tavarres King made some noise late in the season. Roger Lewis, Jr. will be entering his second year. Darius Powe and Kevin Norwood are two bigger receivers who face an uphill climb. Much depends about how the Giants truly feel about King and Lewis. If there are doubts, this is another position where the Giants may sign a veteran in free agency.

TIGHT ENDS: This position has been a revolving door for years and the lack of a serious receiving threat has really hurt Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offensive scheme. The blocking here has also been sub-par. Second-year tight end Jerell Adams has the tools to be a decent two-way player, but does he have the mental make-up? Will Tye (re-signed) appears to be more of a role player/back-up type. Matt LaCosse (re-signed) has not been able to stay healthy. Larry Donnell will not be back. There is a major “Help Wanted” sign at this position. The Giants will undoubtedly draft a tight end. But they should also be taking a serious look at all veteran tight ends on the open market in free agency.

OFFENSIVE LINE: The Giants are comfortable with their left guard and center. The big questions here are do they want to move Ereck Flowers from left tackle to another position, and if so where? And do the Giants see Bobby Hart as a legitimate starter at either right tackle or right guard? How the Giants brain trust answers these questions will determine their strategy in free agency and the draft. The bad news is that good left tackles either entering their prime or in their prime rarely hit the open market. So the Giants will have to gamble on an inconsistent player or an aging veteran if they want to move Flowers. The Giants are not likely to re-sign Will Beatty. But they may decide to re-sign John Jerry at right guard and Marshall Newhouse as a reserve, swing tackle.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Assuming the Giants and Jason Pierre-Paul eventually agree on a deal, the big question mark is can the Giants re-sign Johnathan Hankins? If the Giants re-sign both, the team is in good shape on the defensive line. The dilemma with JPP is that he is seeking a big, multi-year contract and he’s a guy who has had trouble staying on the field in recent years. One also wonders about his focus once he signs a big contract. That said, JPP is clearly one of the best defensive ends available in free agency. The Damon Harrison-Johnathan Hankins combo inside was a big reason why the Giants defense improved so dramatically. But the Giants have had a history in recent years of letting quality tackles go in their prime (Barry Cofield, Linval Joseph) and replacing them through the draft. If Hankins departs, unless the Giants are high on Jay Bromley or Robert Thomas (re-signed), then the Giants will have to draft his replacement and/or sign another veteran free agent.

LINEBACKERS: There are no headliners at this position on the Giants. The team probably would like to re-sign Keenan Robinson if his contract demands are reasonable. Robinson had a good initial season with the Giants, but has an injury-plagued history. The team may not make much an effort to re-sign Kelvin Sheppard or Mark Herzlich. The surprise is that the Giants have not cut J.T. Thomas ($4 million cap hit) yet. Look for the Giants to sign one or two cheap veteran linebackers, especially if Robinson and Sheppard leave.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: The Giants are in great shape at cornerback with Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (JPP). But depth is a bit of a concern. Coty Sensabaugh and Trevin Wade are unrestricted free agents. That leaves Michael Hunter and Donte Deayon. The Giants will need to re-sign someone or add additional bodies in free agency and/or the draft. The Giants are set at strong safety with All-Pro Landon Collins. But free safety is a question mark. Darian Thompson (Lisfranc) and Mykkele Thompson (knee) are coming off of serious injuries. Nat Berhe can’t stay healthy and Andrew Adams, Rahim Moore, Eric Pinkins, and Ryan Murphy are guys you don’t want starting. Much depends on the health prognosis for Darian Thompson. Aging veteran and unrestricted free agent Leon Hall could be a short-term option as well.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter Brad Wing and long snapper Zak DeOssie (re-signed) are under contract. Dwayne Harris ($3.8 salary cap hit) is the returner unless the Giants release him for space. But the team has a major question mark at place kicker. 35-year old Robbie Gould is an unrestricted free agent. The Giants will need a veteran to compete with Aldrick Rosas.

SUMMARY: Much of the media and fan focus will be on upgrading the offense this offseason. The Giants may need new veteran starters at running back, wide receiver, tight end, and one or two spots on the offensive line. They also need to settle on a back-up quarterback. The defense looks to be in better shape IF the team is able to re-sign Pierre-Paul and Hankins. But in doing so, much of their available salary cap space will evaporate quickly. Other than these two, the main question marks are whether to re-sign or replace Keenan Robinson and what to do at free safety. The team also needs a place kicker.

Free Agent Wish List:

  • Second-string quarterback (Ryan Nassib, Josh Johnson, or another veteran)
  • Running back who can compete for the starting job
  • Fullback who can compete with Will Johnson
  • Wide receiver who can compete for starting outside position
  • Tight end who can compete for starting job
  • Offensive tackle who can compete for starting job
  • Re-sign or replace John Jerry
  • Re-sign or replace Johnathan Hankins
  • Re-sign or replace Keenan Robinson
  • Re-sign or replace Kelvin Sheppard
  • Re-sign or replace Trevin Wade
  • Re-sign or replace Coty Sensabaugh
  • Free safety who can compete with Darian Thompson
  • Re-sign or replace Robbie Gould

The Giants will not be able to address all of these needs in free agency. Some will have to be handled via the draft. But there is much work to be done in order to get this team to the next level.

Feb 172017
 
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Landon Collins, New York Giants (October 23, 2016)

Landon Collins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The biggest reasons for the New York Giants defense’s dramatic improvement in 2016 was the improved play of the (1) defensive line and (2) defensive backs. The Giants defense went from dead last in 2015 to tenth in yardage allowed and second in scoring allowed in 2016. And while the team’s 23rd-ranked pass defense (251.1 yards per game) does not sound impressive, the unit played at a far higher level than that, as indicated by three defensive backs earning All-Pro honors.

The secondary became a team strength because the Giants signed Janoris Jenkins in free agency, drafted Eli Apple in the first round, and watched second-year safety Landon Collins develop into an impact player at his more natural strong safety position. An inconsistent player in St. Louis, Jenkins became one of the best corners in the NFL in 2016, teaming with Apple and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC) to form perhaps the NFL’s best trio of corners. While Apple had his growing pains, he performed well enough to shut down a number of opponents and allow the coaches to move DRC to the slot corner position. Meanwhile, Collins led the Giants in tackles, was second on the team in interceptions, and third on the team in sacks. The weak spot in the secondary was free safety as promising rookie Darian Thompson and Mykkele Thompson were lost early to injuries, Nat Berhe battled concussions, and undrafted rookie Andrew Adams started the bulk of the season. While Adams didn’t embarrass himself, he did not make many plays either. Late in the season, Leon Hall – who was shifted from corner to safety – took over the position.

THE STARTERS

In his first season with the Giants, Janoris Jenkins had his best season to date, being voted to his first Pro Bowl and his first All-Pro (second-team) selection. Jenkins started every game, except for missing one game due to a back injury, and finished the season with 49 tackles, one sack, 18 pass defenses, three interceptions, and one forced fumble. Jenkins was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. The Giants signed him as unrestricted free agent in March 2016. Jenkins is an average-sized corner with excellent speed and quickness. He is a confident, instinctive coverman who has gotten better each year and has developed into an elite shut-down corner. Jenkins plays well in both man and zone coverage. He plays with swagger.

The Giants drafted Eli Apple in the 1st round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He missed two games with hamstring and groin injuries, but surprisingly started 11 of the 14 regular-season games he played in. Apple finished the season with 51 tackles, seven pass defenses, one interception, and one forced fumble. Apple combines good size with excellent overall athletic ability, speed, and quickness. He flashes as a physical run defender and tackler, but needs to become more consistent in that area. Apple had a bit of an up-and-down rookie season in coverage. While he mostly handled his opponent, there were times when he gave up big plays. Apple makes a lot contact with receivers in coverage and he needs to continue to work on his technique. He has a big upside and looks to be developing into a fine player.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC) had another strong year for the Giants, being named second-team All-Pro. He missed one game with a groin injury but started nine of the 15 regular-season games he played in, taking most of his snaps inside at the slot corner position. DRC finished the year with 49 tackles, one sack, 21 pass defenses, six interceptions, and one forced fumble. Rodgers-Cromartie was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. He was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011 and signed with the Broncos as an unrestricted free agent in 2013 and the Giants in 2014. Rodgers-Cromartie combines superb size and overall athletic skills, including speed, size, and leaping ability. Rodgers-Cromartie is one of the better cover corners in the NFL and capable of shutting down even top wide receivers. He has improved his toughness as a hitter and tackler. Rodgers-Cromartie made the Pro Bowl in 2009 and in 2015, the latter as an alternate. While he has not missed many games, DRC seems to battle a lot of nagging injuries.

In his second season, Landon Collins had a break-out year, being voted to his first Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro. Collins started every game and finished the year with 125 tackles, four sacks, 13 pass defenses, and five interceptions. Collins was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Giants. He is a big, tough, physical safety who lacks ideal quickness and recovery speed. Collins is good hitter and tackler and plays the run very well. He dramatically improved his play against the pass in 2016 and has rapidly developed into one of the best safeties in the NFL.

The Giants originally signed Andrew Adams as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft. Adams was signed to the Practice Squad, and then the 53-man roster in September 2016 after injuries hit the safety position hard. Force-fed into the starting line-up, Adams played in 14 regular-season games with 13 starts. He finished the year with 46 tackles, five pass defenses, and one interception. Adams lacks ideal height and speed but he is a well-built, athletic safety with good quickness. While Adams failed to make many plays on the ball in coverage, he was surprisingly reliable in that opposing offenses did not exploit him as much as would have been expected. That said, Adams saw his playing time decrease at the very end of the season in favor of Leon Hall.

THE RESERVES

Trevin Wade played in every game in 2016 with two regular-season starts. He received about 33 percent of defensive snaps and finished the year with 26 tackles and three pass defenses. Wade was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. He has spent time with the Browns (2012-13), Saints (2013-14), and Lions (2014). The Giants signed Wade to a reserve/future contract in January 2015. Wade is a decent-sized corner with only average athletic ability and speed. He can handle the slot corner position. Wade flashes solid cover skills at times but also gives up a fair share of completions.

Coty Sensabaugh was signed by the Giants in October 2016 after he was waived by the Los Angeles Rams. He played in 10 regular-season games with no starts and finished the year with 15 tackles. Sensabaugh was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans. The Rams signed him to a 3-year, $15 million contract in March 2016. Sensabaugh has played in 72 regular-season games with 29 starts. Sensabaugh is an average-sized corner whose strength is playing the slot nickel corner spot.

The Giants signed Leon Hall in August 2016. The Giants started him off at his usual slot corner position before shifting him to safety when injuries hit that position hard. Hall played in 12 regular-season games with two starts, finishing with 31 tackles, two sacks, two pass defenses, one interception, and one forced fumble. Hall was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. In his nine seasons with the Bengals, Hall played in 121 regular-season games with 105 starts. Hall is nearing the end of a productive career, but his corner cover skills have eroded due to father time and injuries (Achilles’ tendon injuries in 2011 and 2013 and back surgery in 2016). Hall’s final playing days may be best suited for safety.

Michael Hunter spent time on both the Practice Squad and 53-man roster in 2016. He played in two regular-season games and finished the season with four tackles. The Giants originally signed Hunter as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft. Hunter has a nice combination of size and speed. He is a physical, press corner who was up-and-down during the 2016 preseason for the Giants.

Nat Berhe had his second injury-plagued season in a row in 2016. Berhe missed nine regular-season games with two concussions. He ended up playing in seven games with two starts, finishing with 21 tackles, one pass defense, and one forced fumble. Berhe was drafted in the 5th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Giants. He played in all 16 games as a rookie, mostly on special teams. But he missed all of 2015 due to a blood clot in his calf. Berhe lacks ideal size and speed, but he is a smart, physical, and aggressive defender who hits hard. The two concussions combined with his physical style of play cloud his NFL future.

Eric Pinkins was signed to the Practice Squad in October and the 53-man roster in November. He ended up playing in five games, mostly on special teams. Pinkins was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks, who moved him to linebacker. Pinkins was waived by the Seahawks in September 2016. Pinkins has a nice combination of size and speed, but his instincts have been questioned.

PRACTICE SQUAD

Ryan Murphy was signed to the Practice Squad in late December 2016. Murphy was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks waived him in their final round of cuts in September 2015. He spent time on the Practice Squad of the Denver Broncos in both 2015 and 2016. Murphy has a nice combination of size and athletic ability.

INJURED RESERVE

Donte Deayon was signed to the Practice Squad in September 2016 and placed on the Practice Squad/Injured Reserve in October 2016 with an unknown injury. The Giants originally signed Deayon as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft. Deayon is a fluid, dimunitive corner with very good quickness and leaping ability. He is tough and confident, but struggled at times for the Giants during the 2016 preseason.

Having won the starting free safety position in the preseason, Darian Thompson missed virtually the entire season after suffering a Lisfranc foot injury in Week 2. Thompson tried to return in November, suffered a setback in practice, and was placed on Injured Reserve. The Giants drafted Thompson in the 3rd round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Thompson has a nice combination of smarts, maturity, size, and overall athletic ability. Thompson has natural cover skills and makes plays on the football in coverage. It remains to be seen how much the lisfranc injury affects his career.

Mykkele Thompson was placed on Injured Reserve in September 2016 after injuring his knee in Week 2. Thompson was drafted in the 5th round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Giants. He missed all of his rookie season after rupturing the Achilles’ tendon in his right foot during the preseason. Somewhat still raw, Thompson is a former quarterback and wide receiver who converted to cornerback and then safety in college. Thompson is a bit of a corner-safety ‘tweener. He is tall and thin with good speed, but he lacks ideal quickness for cornerback and ideal physicality for a safety. Thompson is versatile and smart. He is a good special teams player who blocked three punts in college. With two serious leg injuries in his first two seasons, his NFL future is cloudy.

Feb 152017
 
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Jonathan Casillas and Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants (September 18, 2016)

Jonathan Casillas and Janoris Jenkins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Ever since the New York Giants moved to the 4-3 defense in 1994, the team has largely de-emphasized the acquisition of linebackers in terms of premium resources. The last time the Giants drafted a linebacker in the 1st round was 1984 (Carl Banks). The last three linebackers drafted in the 2nd round were Clint Sintim (2009), Kanavis McGhee (1991), and Pepper Johnson (1986). From time to time, the Giants have spent big money on linebackers in free agency, including Michael Barrow (2000), Antonio Pierce (2005), and Michael Boley (2009). Not surprisingly, the overall play of the position has declined since its golden era of the 1980s, with the last linebackers to make the Pro Bowl being Pierce (2006) and Jessie Armstead (2001). Now annually, the team’s talent level at the position is usually considered sub-par and the defensive weak spot.

In 2016, of the defense’s three levels, the linebacking corps once again took a backseat to the defensive line and secondary. But while the linebackers were not a team strength, they did play at a more respectable level than their recent predecessors. This is a polite way of saying, “Well, at least the linebackers didn’t suck!”

The surprising headliner was Jonathan Casillas, who arguably had the best season of his career. Keenan Robinson stayed healthy and added more speed to the position. And Devon Kennard finally stayed healthy for a full 16 games. Overall, there weren’t many big plays from this group, but they did a respectable job on a defensive unit that improved from dead last in the NFL to 10th in terms of yardage allowed and 2nd in terms of points allowed.

THE STARTERS

Jonathan Casillas had his best season to date as a pro in 2016. Casillas played in every game, with 15 regular-season starts (72 percent of all defensive snaps), and finished the year with 96 tackles, 1.5 sacks, eight pass defenses, and one forced fumble. Casillas was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the New Orleans Saints after the 2009 NFL Draft. He has played for the Saints (2009-11), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2013-14), and Patriots (2014). The Giants signed him as a free agent in March 2015. Casillas lacks ideal size and has issues against the run at times, but he is a good athlete with fine speed and performs well in coverage. Caillas does not make many impact plays and is not much of a blitzer (6.5 career sacks).

Keenan Robinson officially only started 6-of-16 regular-season games, but he was second in playing time on the team among all linebackers (71 percent of all defensive snaps). Robinson finished 2016 with 83 tackles and seven pass defenses. Robinson was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins, where he missed time in 2012 (four games with right pectoral tear), 2013 (entire season with left pectoral tear), 2014 (three games with a knee injury), and 2015 (four games with a shoulder injury). The Giants signed him as a free agent in March 2016. Robinson has decent size and is a good athlete who runs well. Versatile, he can play inside and outside linebacker. Robinson is more of a run-and-hit linebacker than stout run defender at the point-of-attack. Robinson is solid in pass coverage. He only has 1.5 career sacks and has been injury prone. Robinson does not make many impact plays.

Devon Kennard played in every game with nine regular-season starts, playing in 47 percent of all defensive snaps. He finished 2016 with 61 tackles, one sack, one pass defense, and one forced fumble. Kennard was drafted in the 5th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Giants. He missed playing time in 2014 (four games with hamstring and toe injuries) and 2015 (seven games with hamstring and foot injuries). Kennard is a big, strong linebacker who is a bit of a DE/LB ‘tweener. In fact, the Giants will use him at defensive end in pass rush situations. Kennard plays the run well and can get heat on the quarterback, but he is not as strong in coverage. To date, he has not put up big numbers or made many big plays. Kennard has been somewhat injury prone.

While Kelvin Sheppard started 11-of-16 regular-season games at middle linebacker in 2016, he only received 39 percent of defensive snaps. Sheppard finished the year with 50 tackles and two pass defenses. Sheppard was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. He was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in April 2013 and signed with the Dolphins in September 2014 and Giants in April 2016. Sheppard is more of a two-down linebacker who plays the run better than the pass. While he has good size, Sheppard lacks ideal overall athletic ability. Sheppard does not make many big plays.

THE RESERVES

B.J. Goodson was drafted by the Giants in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He played in 15 regular-season games with no starts, playing in one percent of defensive snaps. Goodson finished his rookie season with nine tackles and one forced fumble. Goodson is a big, strong, physical linebacker who plays the run better than the pass. He is a big hitter and good tackler. To become a complete player, Goodson has to improve his pass coverage. Goodson lacks ideal speed and agility.

Mark Herzlich remains primarily a reserve linebacker and special teams player who occasionally is called upon to play on defense (one percent of defensive snaps in 2016). Herzlich played in 14 regular-season games, missing two with a concussion. He finished with seven tackles on defense. Herzlich was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2011 NFL Draft. He has started 17 regular-season games in his six seasons with the Giants, eight of which were in 2014. Herzlich has very good size but is a sub-par athlete for the position. He is a good run defender, but struggles in coverage and is not much of a blitzer. Herzlich is a good special teams player.

Deontae Skinner was added to and released from the Practice Squad multiple times in 2016. He also was signed to the 53-man roster in October and again in December. Skinner played in four games in 2016 and was credited with five tackles. Skinner was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the New England Patriots after the 2014 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Patriots (2014-2015) and Eagles (2015-2016). Skinner is a big, instinctive linebacker with decent agility but who lacks speed.

Ishaq Williams was signed to the Practice Squad in September 2016 and the 53-man roster in December 2016. He did not play in any games. The Giants originally signed Williams after he impressed as a tryout player during the May 2016 mini-camp. Williams had been out of football since 2013 after being implicated in an academic dishonesty scandal at Notre Dame. Williams has a nice combination of size and overall athletic ability.

INJURED RESERVE

The Giants placed J.T. Thomas on Injured Reserve in September 2016 after he suffered ligament damage to his left knee in the regular-season opener. Thomas was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. The Bears waived him in August 2013 and he was claimed off of waivers by the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Giants signed Thomas in March 2015. In 2015 with the Giants, Thomas played in 12 games with 11 starts, missing four games with an ankle injury. Thomas lacks ideal size, but he is a good athlete who runs well. Versatile, Thomas can play all three linebacker positions. However, he does not many impact plays and is better suited as a reserve. Thomas is a good special teams player.

Feb 132017
 
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Damon Harrison, New York Giants (January 1, 2017)

Damon Harrison – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The New York Giants defensive line underwent a major overhaul in 2016, and the changes were perhaps THE major reason why the team’s defense improved from dead last in the NFL to 10th in terms of yardage and 2nd in terms of points allowed. The Giants went from 24th in run defense in 2015 (121.4 yards per game, 4.4 yards per carry) to 3rd in 2016 (88.6 yards per game, 3.6 yards per carry).

The key to sparking the dramatic turnaround were the high-priced, high-profile free agent additions of defensive end Olivier Vernon (5-years, $85 million) and defensive tackle Damon Harrison (5-years, $46 million). These two were a major upgrade over defensive ends Robert Ayers/George Selvie and defensive tackles Markus Kuhn/Cullen Jenkins. Harrison is arguably the best run-stuffing defensive tackle in the game and earned first-team All-Pro honors after making the switch from a 3-4 nose tackle with the New York Jets to a 4-3 defensive tackle. Vernon was slowed by a serious hand/wrist injury but played virtually every snap and earned second-team All-Pro honors.

Jason Pierre-Paul (JPP) rebounded nicely from a 2015 offseason catastrophic fireworks accident that left him permanently maimed. After a slow start on the pass-rushing front, the line was rounding into peak form until a groin tear/sports hernia injury sidelined JPP for the final four regular-season games and post-season contest. Unfortunately, the dropoff was noticeable. As a unit, the line finished with 24.5 sacks in the regular season (up from 16 in 2015).

THE STARTERS

In his first season with the Giants, Olivier Vernon was slowed early by a serious left hand/wrist injury but he ended up starting every game and playing 94 percent of all defensive snaps. Vernon finished with 63 tackles, 8.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. He was also named second-team All-Pro. Vernon was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Dolphins. The Giants signed him as a free agent in March 2016. Vernon lacks classic size, but he is a very strong, athletic end with long arms and a non-stop motor. He is one of the better two-way ends in football and is equally disruptive against the run and the pass. Vernon can get heat on the quarterback from both the end and tackle positions, and gets a lot of hits on the quarterback.

Jason Pierre-Paul started 12 games in 2016, but missed the remainder of the season with groin and sports hernia injuries that required surgery. He finished the year with 53 tackles, seven sacks, eight pass defenses, and three forced fumbles. Pierre-Paul was drafted in the 1st round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Giants. His best season came in 2011 when he accrued 86 tackles and 16.5 sacks. After not missing a game in his first three years with the Giants, Pierre-Paul has not completed a full season in three of the last four years, including 2013 (herniated disc and shoulder injuries) and 2015 (fireworks accident that permanently maimed his right hand). Pierre-Paul has an excellent combination of size, strength, and athleticism. When healthy and focused, Pierre-Paul can be an explosive, disruptive difference-maker against both the run and the pass. His tremendous wingspan helps him to bat passes down at the line of scrimmage (42 career pass defenses and 2 interceptions). As a pass rusher, he can beat blockers with both power and movement skills. Pierre-Paul is a very good run defender, both at the point-of-attack as well as in backside pursuit.

In his first season with the Giants, Damon Harrison had a superb year, starting every game and finishing the regular season with career highs in tackles (86) and sacks (2.5). Harrison was named first-team All-Pro. Harrison was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Jets after the 2012 NFL Draft. The Giants signed him as an unrestricted free agent in March 2016. Harrison is a strong, mammoth player with surprising athleticism for someone so large. He is a rock against the run, able to hold the point-of-attack against the double-team block. He may be the NFL’s best inside run defender. Though Harrison is a better run defender than pass rusher, he will flash at times getting after the quarterback.

Johnathan Hankins started every game and finished the 2016 regular season with 43 tackles, three sacks, and one forced fumble. Hankins was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. Hankins has excellent size, strength, and overall athleticism. He is a stout run defender who occasionally flashes on the pass rush.

THE RESERVES

The Giants signed Romeo Okwara as an undrafted free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft. Not only did he make the team, but he was a surprisingly-strong contributor as a rookie. Okwara played in every game with four regular-season starts (36 percent of defensive snaps), and finished the year with 25 tackles, one sack, and two pass defenses. Okwara looks the part with excellent size and arm length. He’s a hard worker with a fine motor. While Okwara is a good athlete, he lacks dynamic quickness to excel as outside pass rusher. He flashes more when rushing from the defensive tackle position. Okwara is a solid run defender, but he can still improve his consistency in this area.

Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Giants, Owamagbe Odighizuwa’s has not developed as hoped or expected. Hamstring and foot injuries caused him to miss 12 games of his rookie season. He missed two regular-season games in 2016 with a knee injury and the playoff game with a hamstring injury. In his 18 regular-season games, Odighizuwa has been credited with just six tackles and one pass defense. Odighizuwa looks the part. He is a strong, well-built, and athletic defensive end with long arms and huge hands. Odighizuwa has the ability to play defensive tackle in pass rushing situations. He is a hard worker who simply has not been able to put it together yet.

Kerry Wynn saw his playing time decrease in 2016 (11 percent of defensive snaps). He played in 14 regular-season games with no starts and finished the year with 12 tackles and 0.5 sacks. Wynn was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Giants after the 2014 NFL Draft. He has played in 34 regular-season games, with seven starts, for the Giants in his three years with the team. Wynn has a nice combination of size, strength, and overall athletic ability. Wynn is a better run defender than pass rusher as he lacks dynamic quickness on the outside pass rush. He is able to play defensive tackle in pass-rush situations.

The primary reserve at defensive tackle, Jay Bromley played in 15 regular-season games with no starts. He received 22 percent of defensive snaps and finished the season with 14 tackles and one sack. Bromley was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Giants. He has played in 39 regular-season games with just four starts. Bromley combines decent size, strength, and overall athletic ability. He has improved his play against the run since coming to the Giants but he has not developed into the inside pass rusher hoped for when he was drafted.

The Giants claimed Robert Thomas off of waivers from the Carolina Panthers in September 2016. He played in eight regular-season games with no starts (6 percent of defensive snaps) and finished the year with five tackles and one sack. Thomas was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Washington Redskins after the 2014 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Redskins (2014-15), Seahawks (2015), Patriots (2015), Dolphins (2015), and Panthers (2016). Thomas is a big, strong tackle who plays hard.

PRACTICE SQUAD

Stansly Maponga was signed to the Practice Squad in September 2016. Maponga was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. From 2013-2014, he played in 24 regular-season games with no starts, accruing eight tackles, one sack, and two fumble recoveries. The Falcons waived Maponga before the start of the 2015 season. The Giants signed Maponga off of the Practice Squad of the Falcons in December 2015, and he ended up playing in two games for New York. Maponga is an athletic lineman who flashes on occasion as a pass rusher.

Jordan Williams was signed to the Practice Squad in December 2016. Williams was originally signed by the New York Jets as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2015 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Jets (2015) and Miami Dolphins (2015-2016). He has good size.

Feb 092017
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 11, 2016)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

For quarterback Eli Manning and the entire passing offense, 2016 was a major disappointment. The passing game was once again expected to be THE strength of the team. Instead, the New York Giants fell from 7th in the NFL in 2015 (271.4 yards per game) to 17th in 2016 (242.4 yards per game). Manning’s yards, yards per pass play, and touchdowns were down while interceptions increased. All of this was a significant shock given that Manning was coming off of one of his best seasons in 2015 and was entering his third season in Ben McAdoo’s West Coast Offense. The Giants had problems making big plays. And when they didn’t hit the big play, the Giants had problems sustaining drives and scoring points. This wasn’t supposed to happen given return of Victor Cruz and the addition of Sterling Shepard, not to mention the rest of the offense returning mostly intact.

Once again, pundits and fans have begun to question Eli Manning’s future in New York.

THE STARTER

Entering the third season in Ben McAdoo’s West Coast Offense, Eli Manning was expected to build upon his strong 2015 season. Instead, Manning’s production markedly declined in 2016. While Manning nearly tied his career-high completion percentage (63 percent), his touchdown-to-interception ratio fell from 35-to-14 in 2015 to 26-to-16 in 2016. His passing yards (from 4,432 to 4,027), yards per pass play (from 7.2 to 6.7), and QB rating (from 93.6 to 86.0) also dropped. Worse is what happened to the Giants offense as a team. The Giants fell from 8th to 25th in overall offense and from 7th to 17th in passing offense. Manning was the first player selected in the 2004 NFL Draft and immediately traded to the Giants by the Chargers. The 36-year old Manning owns practically every quarterback record in franchise history. He is 8-4 as a playoff quarterback and a two-time Super Bowl MVP. His best season was 2011 when he carried the Giants to the playoffs, highlighted by eight come-from-behind victories. Manning has excellent size and a strong arm. He is extremely tough and has never missed a game in 13 seasons. He only has a 59.7 percent career completion percentage though that figure has improved with the offensive emphasis shifting from a down-field, vertical attack to the West Coast system. Manning has the perfect temperament for playing in the New York metropolitan area as the intense media spotlight does not seem to faze him. He is very smart and hard-working. Manning excels in the mental aspects of the game. Manning reads opposing defenses extremely well. The coaching staff trusts him to make complicated pre-snap reads for both the running and passing games. Manning makes rapid decisions and gets rid of the ball quickly, one of the reasons why his sack numbers are low. On the negative side, Manning is still guilty of making the ill-advised, head-scratching throw when the smarter decision would be to throw the football away or take the sack. His gun-slinger mentality – which leads to big plays – also causes him to make some risky throws in tight windows. A true pocket passer, Manning is not a threat to harm a defense with his feet. Manning was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2008 and 2011, and played in the game after the 2012 and 2015 regular seasons as an alternate. Given Manning’s age and down season, inevitable questions about his current and future ability as a championship-level passer have started again.

THE RESERVES

Ryan Nassib was placed on Injured Reserve in December 2016 with a right elbow injury that required surgery. Nassib was drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. Since 2014, Nassib has been the team’s #2 quarterback. During that time, he has only seen very limited playing time with all of his regular-season throws (10 total) coming at the end of two blowout losses. Nassib has average height, but he is a well-built quarterback with a good arm and decent mobility. He is very smart and played in two pro style offenses in college. At the college level Nassib was a team leader and clutch player who had a history of winning games late. Nassib has not really developed at the pro level and he struggled during the 2016 preseason, completing only 41 percent of his passes with five turnovers (three interceptions and two fumbles).

The Giants signed Josh Johnson in early September 2016 after he was cut by the Baltimore Ravens. He became the team’s #2 quarterback after Ryan Nassib was placed on Injured Reserve in December. Johnson was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The well-traveled Johnson has spent time with the Buccaneers (2008–2011), 49ers (2012), Sacramento Mountain Lions (2012), Browns (2012), Bengals (2013), 49ers (2014), Bengals (2015), Jets (2015), Colts (2015), Bills (2015), and Ravens (2016). Johnson has played in 29 regular-season games with five starts – the last coming with Buccaneers in 2011. He has completed 96-of-177 passes (54.2 percent) for 1,042 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. In the 2016 preseason for the Ravens, Johnson completed 41-of-57 passes (71.9 percent) for 365 yards, 1 touchdown, and no interceptions. He also rushed for 87 yards and 2 touchdowns on 18 carries. Johnson is a mobile quarterback with good size.

PRACTICE SQUAD

Keith Wenning was signed to the Practice Squad in late December 2016. Wenning was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens. He has spent time with both the Ravens (2014-2015) and Cincinnati Bengals (2015). Wenning has decent size and a good arm with a quick release. He is not terribly mobile. Wenning is smart, hard-working, and tough.