Apr 012015
 
Share Button
Kenrick Ellis, New York Jets (November 24, 2014)

Kenrick Ellis – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Heading into the offseason, it was clear to many, including team officials, that the New York Giants had to get better on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The once-vaunted defensive line has clearly declined. While the Giants actually finished fourth in the NFL in sacks (47), that statistic was misleading as the team went long stretches without being able to consistently pressure the passer. Worse, the Giants were 30th against the run in terms of yards per game (135.1) and dead-last in the NFL in terms of yards per rush (4.9).

To help rectify that problem, the New York Giants signed 27-year old unrestricted free agent defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis from the New York Jets on March 18. The contract was reported to be a 1-year, $1.65 million deal that included $500,000 in guaranteed money.

Barring injury, the up-and-coming Johnathan Hankins will start at one defensive tackle position. But the second spot appears up for grabs between 34-year old Cullen Jenkins, who is coming off a down season where he was bothered by a troublesome calf injury; 2012 7th-rounder Markus Kuhn, who did little to excite in 2014; 2014 3rd-round Jay Bromley, who mostly rode the bench his rookie season; and journeyman Dominique Hamilton, who spent the year on the team’s practice squad. The Giants could also add another defensive tackle in the 2015 NFL Draft.

The Jamaican-born Ellis is a huge (6’4”, 346 pound) run-stuffing defensive tackle who was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Jets out of Hampton University. Ellis transferred to Hampton after he was dismissed from the South Carolina Gamecocks in May 2008 for repeated violations of team and university drug policies. Ellis also ran into legal problems at Hampton. In April 2010, he was arrested by university police and served jail time after a felony assault charge on another student.

With the Jets, Ellis’ numbers were as follows:

  • 2011: 5 games, 2 starts, 7 tackles
  • 2012: 12 games, 2 starts, 18 tackles (missed four games with a knee injury)
  • 2013: 16 games, 1 start, 16 tackles
  • 2014: 14 games, 0 starts, 12 tackles, 1 sack

So overall, in four seasons with the Jets, Ellis played in 47 games with five starts. He only accrued 53 tackles and one sack during that time. Those are hardly superlative numbers. However, it is important to keep in mind that (1) Ellis was valuable reserve on a very talented Jets defensive line, and (2) his role on the team was not to make plays but to tie up blockers, allowing others to make the tackle.

Ellis was expected to start in 2013, but he was injured in training camp and beaten out by Damon Harrison, an undrafted free agent. In 2014, Ellis only played 158 snaps behind Harrison.

“I am a run-stopper and I like doing it,” said Ellis. “That is the strength of my game. I look forward to helping the Giants get back to their glory.

“I’m a journeyman. I come in and do my job. You don’t get much recognition for it, but you get the job done and it helps out the team. I’ll take on the double-teams and take on the work no one else wants to do. It’s just who I am. I take pride in what I do, which is being a big man in the middle and try to make sure no one runs the ball.”

Despite his low production and his own claims to being a journeyman, Ellis may be more than that. And he has legitimate chance to start for the Giants in 2014. Ellis has the tools. Not only is he naturally strong and huge with long arms, he’s pretty darn athletic for his size. He is also competitive and plays with a bit of a mean streak. Ellis can take on double-team blocks and he is extremely difficult to move off the line of scrimmage. And despite having only one career sack, Ellis does flash explosiveness. The knocks on him coming out of college were his off-field issues, inconsistency, and instincts.

“Ellis is a big human,” said Coughlin. “The young man on our practice squad, Hamilton, is a big human, so I am looking forward to seeing what they can do, too… We realized that big dominating guy in the middle is a good starting point for the D-Line.”

“(The Jets) took a lot of pride in (stopping the run) while I was there, and I want to take the same pride here and start something special,” Ellis said.

Mar 302015
 
Share Button
Maxx Williams, Minnesota Golden Gophers (February 20, 2015)

Maxx Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 2015 NFL Draft Preview: Tight Ends

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

*Below are my published, abbreviated reports via Ourlads Scouting Services, LLC

**A note about Pro Upside Comparisons: These are comparisons that are based on the player reaching his ceiling. It does not necessarily mean I believe the player will “be as good as”.

CURRENT TEs ON THE NYG ROSTER

Larry Donnell – 27 years old – Signed through 2015

Daniel Fells – 32 years old – Signed through 2015

Adrien Robinson – 27 years old – Signed through 2015

Jerome Cunningham – 24 years old – Signed through 2015

WHERE THEY STAND

One could argue the tight end group is the worst on this roster. Donnell showed signs of being a rare player with his ability to get up and after the ball. There is some wide receiver type ability to him and he has the tools to be a dominant player but he will need to enhance his skills and consistency. He was a major source of frustration on different occasions in 2014 and his big plays don’t overshadow that. Behind him there are a bunch of guys that can easily be replaced by better talent. While you could be worse off than Fells at backup, he doesn’t do anything particularly well. Robinson has been a complete non factor his entire career after somehow being labeled the infamous “JPP of TEs” by Jerry Reese. There isn’t anything about his game that warrants him being on this roster. As a matter of fact, Cunningham can likely do more for this team than Robinson. This team is really hurting at the TE position and it’s a spot that could make a significant impact on the hopeful resurgence of this team.

TOP 10 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1 – Maxx Williams – Minnesota – 6’4/249 – 78

Pro Upside Comparison: John Carlson/ARI

Strong Points: Fast and agile player with a great blend of tools and skills. Long with wiry strength. A weapon after the catch that shows the ability to gain yards using a variety of avenues. Can break tackles and fall forward but also wiggle his way out of contact and run away from defenders. Excellent ball skills. Sees the ball in and shows no hesitation in extending his body for the ball. Tough over the middle and in traffic. High points the ball. Can turn and adjust his body in the air with ease. Consistent mechanics as a blocker. Gets his hands inside and keeps his feet chopping. High effort down the field as a blocker in space. Can handle speed and power.

Weak Points: Rounds his routes when turning laterally. Slow to get his head around. Average movement in and out of breaks. Light in the pants, doesn’t generate a lot of strength or power from his base. Doesn’t make a big, physical impact as a blocker.

Summary: Third year sophomore, early entry. 1st Team All American. Son of former 1st round pick Brian Williams, whom played center for the New York Giants for a decade. Williams led the Gophers in receiving both seasons he was on the active roster. He lines up all over the field and has showed the ability to wear every hat a tight end could potentially wear in the NFL within any system. He excels as a down-the-seam receiver where he knows how to use his size, speed, and ball skills in traffic. He is a weapon near the end zone because of the matchup problems that his talents presents. He needs to get stronger to handle life in the trenches, but he has the potential to be a big piece to any NFL offense.

*I don’t see Williams as a first round caliber talent but with this TE class being overly weak, he could sneak in there somewhere. I think he is a tough kid that can make a lot of touch catches, but he isn’t the kind of TE that scares anyone. We aren’t talking about a supreme athlete here and really, he isn’t that good of a blocker. Weak lower body. That would bother me if I brought him in to be a starting TE unless we were talking about an elite athlete and pass catcher.

2 – Ben Koyack – Notre Dame – 6’5/255 – 77

Pro Upside Comparison: Anthony Fasano/TEN

Strong Points: Every down player that was mostly a blocking tight end until 2014. Squares defenders up and locks on to their numbers with knee bend and active feet. Has the strength and power to handle defensive linemen, but also the quickness and body control to stick with linebackers and defensive backs. Has big and strong hands. Easy catcher of the ball, swallows it on contact. Will come down with a lot of passes in traffic. Hard nosed, shows no hesitation over the middle. Can take hits and keep going. Smart route runner against zone, finds the vacancies and shows his numbers to the QB.

Weak Points: Limited athlete. Lacks the top end speed to factor downfield. Won’t get behind a secondary. Struggles to separate from athletic cover men. Limited route tree possibilities with him. Won’t get up over the defender in jump ball situations. Needs to be in proper position to make plays, won’t create on his own.

Summary: Fourth year senior. Played behind some very good tight end prospects throughout his career. Koyack didn’t really receive an opportunity to be the every down tight end and passing game asset until 2014. He took advantage of the throws made his way though, proving to be much more than just a very good blocker. Koyack has some of the most natural, easy catching hands among tight ends in this class. He looks the ball in and consistently shows minimal struggle in doing so. He lacks some of the top tier athletic traits that you look for in a receiver, but his plus ability to block any kind of defender plus his sure hands can get him a starting job in the NFL soon.

*Probably the most overlooked TE in the class. This guy can be a starter and I think he is just a step below Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas. His ball skills were put on display at the combine and Senior Bowl and we all already knew he was a positive factor in the run game. I think NYG could grab him in round 2 or 3 and get the perfect compliment and even backup option to Donnell should he not work out. The improvement needed in the run blocking part of the offense doesn’t end with the linemen. They need more presence out of their TEs.

3 – Nick O’Leary – Florida State – 6’3/252 – 76

Pro Upside Comparison: Garrett Graham/HOU

Strong Points: Does all of the little things exceptionally well. Shows a pop out of his stance when blocking, setting his feet and timing his initial punch to the defender well. All-out hustler no matter what his role is on the play. Can pass block very well when asked to with his quick feet, proper hand placement and strong upper body. Reads the defense with ease and can run the option routes correctly. Can run himself open with consistency. Locates the ball and can alter his body position when going after the ball. Strong and consistent hands. If he can touch the pass, he will bring it in. Accurate ball skills when it comes to timing and location of his hands. Effective in traffic. Knows how to use his body to shield off defenders in traffic. A bruising runner with the ball in his hands. Breaks a lot of tackles. Plays hard through the whistle.

Weak Points: Shorter than ideal. Lacks the size and runaway speed that most are looking for in a top tier tight end. Routes tend to be rounded when running to the outside. Struggles to get behind a defense. His deep speed is average. Doesn’t run away from a lot of defenders. The effort is there as a blocker but his upside there may be limited. Very short arms.

Summary: The former high school #1 tight end recruit and grandson of Jack Nicklaus is favored to with the Mackey Award. An old school football player that shows a complete and versatile style. O’Leary is an all-out hustler that does all of the little things well. His less-than-ideal size and speed rarely show up on tape. He has elite ball skills and might be the most dependable blocker of any tight end in the class. A gritty gamer with the ability to fit in to any scheme right away as a starter.

*The biggest disappointment I’ve seen with O’Leary since the season ended was at the combine. I’m not huge on measurables but they are part of the process. He has the shortest arms among all the tight ends in this class by a wide margin. It’s not a huge deal but it hurt his grade by a point or two. Otherwise, O’Leary is one of my favorites. He is a blue collar guy that you just know will find a way to produce. Maybe he makes a move to H-Back type, possibly even a pass catching full back type. But all I know about him is he is a football player in every sense of the word and he will help a team. Limited upside but he is one of the safest bets in the entire class.

4 – Jeff Heuerman – Ohio State – 6’5/254 – 75

Pro Upside Comparison: Jason Witten/DAL

Strong Points: Tall with long arms and a powerful frame from head to toe. Excels as a blocker in the trenches. Fires out of his stance hard with good knee bend and heavy hands. Gets those hands inside and control the defender upon contact. Can swing his hips in to the hole and keep his feet chopping. Can move defenders, makes the effort to drive them out of the play. Understands body positioning to maximize his presence as a blocker. Has sneaky speed up the seam. Can get past that second level and turn his head around. Soft and big hands, can swallow the ball. Shows the ability to get up in traffic and come down with the ball. Tough as nails. Consistently puts his body on the line.

Weak Points: Lacks an explosive element to his game. Won’t run away from defenders the ball in is hands. Doesn’t miss tacklers or show ability to break free after the catch. Won’t turn in traffic with quickness and precision as a route runner. Wasn’t used a lot as a receiver, limited route tree experience.

Summary: Fourth year senior and three year starter. Heuerman is one of the top all around tight ends in this class. He has top notch blocking ability, showing the potential to move defensive linemen and completely overwhelm linebackers. His technique and strength are both NFL ready right now. Because of the Ohio State scheme, his role as a receiver was diminished. However he produced well when given the opportunity, showing glimpses of being a difference maker downfield and in traffic. He can be a much more productive pro than he was in college while providing a reliable blocking presence at the point of attack.

*There is a high amount of the unknown with Heuerman because of what his role within the OSU offense was. He has upper tier ability to block at the point of attack and in space but when he was asked to run the seam and display ball skills, he consistently delivered. He is a better than advertised athlete and could be a say one starter in the NFL. NYG appears to be ready to give Donnell the long term starting job but even his strongest supporters need to admit he has only showed glimpses. Heuerman, at the very least, presents an every down backup and credible run blocking presence to aid the process of improving the rushing attack.

5 – Clive Walford – Miami – 6’4/251 – 74

Pro Upside Comparison: Dwayne Allen/IND

Strong Points: Big, thick bodied all around tight end that can be on the field every play. Strong upper body with a powerful punch. Good hands catcher, swallows the ball and controls it upon contact. Sneaky acceleration and speed in space, can outrun linebackers and some defensive backs. Reliable and tough in traffic. Good ball reaction. Will put his body on the line over the middle. Shields defenders from making plays on the ball. Good body control and balance. Very stable as a blocker, able to maintain his center of gravity.

Weak Points: Slow out of his stance. Doesn’t have explosive change of direction or agility. Won’t split the seam against a Cover 2 defense. Rounded routes, can be slow in and out of his breaks. Does not live up to the billing as a blocker that his strength suggests he should. Won’t overpower defenders or keep his feet chopping. Lacks the flexibility to bend at his knees and while keeping his chest up. Tore his right MCL late in 2014 but is expected to be out for just two months.

Summary: Former basketball player that played just one year of prep football prior to joining Miami. Walford really started to come in to his own in 2014, proving to be one of the more productive tight ends in the nation. He moved with more speed and quickness than his previous years, showing that the light may be turning on for him. He needs to work on blocking technique and consistency, but the tools are there to be an all around, complete tight end. Teams will need to spend some extra attention examining his knee, but he is expected to make a full recovery.

*Walford has the natural length and thickness to factor as a quality three down tight end in the NFL. He isn’t fast, but he’s fast enough. He isn’t quick, but he’s quick enough. He isn’t a great blocker, but he blocks well enough. He isn’t a big time receiving threat, but he catches the ball well enough. There is a limited upside here but he can work his way in to a starting role down the road. He is still evolving as a football player more so than some of these other tight ends. NYG could be a good spot for him because he won’t be needed right away on an every down basis and he could use the extra time to improve the finer points.

6 – Rory Anderson – South Carolina – 6’5/244 – 71

Pro Upside Comparison: Ladarius Green/SD

Strong Points: Explosive from a standstill. Quick acceleration up the seam and forces the defense to react to him. Shows the ball skills to come down with the pass in traffic. Balanced and full of body control when turning and twisting his body. Aware of where he is on the field in relation to the sidelines and first down markers. Shows the instincts to find the vacant lanes within a zone defense. High effort blocker that shows more presence than his body type would lead you to believe. Shows the mechanics and flexibility to factor in the run game.

Weak Points: Inconsistent pass catcher, will drop easy balls. Let’s the ball in to his body, needs to improve the consistency of hand usage. Doesn’t run crisp routes, will round his lateral turns. Takes too long to come back to the football. Needs to increase leg power so he can be a better in line drive blocker. Has had issues staying healthy and missed some as a result of different muscle-related injuries.

Summary: Fourth year senior and two-plus year starter. Anderson shows athletic-based flashes of being a big time player. With his height and ball skills, he can be a tough matchup for defenses to deal with. Anderson is too fast for the average linebacker, but his size can be too overwhelming for the average defensive back. While his ability to catch the ball is at the top of his resume, he is a better than average blocker. He shows effort and initial pop but will need to get stronger to play in the NFL trenches. His number one issue revolves around both of his triceps being torn and forcing him to both miss games and play hampered in others. If that checks out and he can start his strength training without hiccups, Anderson has very high potential.

*If it weren’t for the two separate tears of his triceps and lingering hamstring issues, Anderson is a top 4 tight end in this class at worst. He has better movement than everyone outside of Williams, and shows enough promise as a blocker to not be labeled a receiving-only player. If he can be had late day three, NYG would be smart to at least give him a long look based on what he can do right now and what he could become down the road.

7 – Jesse James – Penn State – 6’7/261 – 71

Pro Upside Comparison: Levine Toilolo/ATL

Strong Points: Good body awareness in traffic. Can position his large and lengthy frame to shield the defender from making a play on the ball. Reliable and tough in traffic. Willingly puts his body on the line. Strong and reliable hands. Can use his size to get over a defender and come down with the ball. Good leaper that times it well. Quick acceleration when running up the seam. Savvy with the ball in his hands, good vision and tough to bring down for a lone defender. Fires out of his stance low and hard. Reacts to the ball well, adjusts his body and plucks the ball. Works hard as a blocker, takes pride in that part of the position’s role. Can bend well and get his hands inside. Willing to get downfield and make the extra block.

Weak Points: Slow to get his head around when running lateral routes. Doesn’t show that athleticism when getting in and out of breaks. Plays a high game as a route runner. Not a dynamic athlete that scares defenses over the top. Limited speed and won’t run away from defensive backs. Catches defenders when blocking rather than delivering the punch. Doesn’t get a push, won’t drive them out of a lane.

Summary: Junior entry. Long frame with great height and reach. Reliable underneath receiver that creates massive matchup problems. James is a weapon on third down and near the end zone because of his body awareness and ability to get open enough. He is a tough cover in traffic and has proven to be a guy that can come down with a lot of passes when surrounded by defenders. He may not have ideal athleticism but he can make up for it with a savvy and reliable style. Limited, but reliable starter potential.

*I want to like James more than where I have him graded. He is big, tough, and reliable. You know what you are getting out of James each and every play of each and every week. That’s not always easy to find. I just wish he had a quicker twitch to his game when running routes and after the catch. In addition, a guy with this size and strength should be a better blocker. I don’t want to look down on his effort without credible evidence, but I simply question it. If he is a day three option, I think he offers the upside of a starter down the road.

8 – Nick Boyle – Delaware – 6’4/268 – 71

Pro Upside Comparison: Alex Bayer/STL

Strong Points: Every down player with plus size and quickness. Explosive in short areas with easy change of direction and acceleration. Big and soft hands, can swallow the ball upon contact. Adjusts well to passes thrown away from his body. Can reach down, up, laterally for the ball. Shows toughness after the catch. Will run defenders over or jump over them, versatile athlete.

Weak Points: Top end speed is below average. Won’t be a guy that strikes fear in to the secondary. Struggles to work his way up the seam. Not the dominant blocker that a guy at his size playing at a lower level of college football should be. Will get good initial contact but doesn’t stick to his man, lacks consistent technique. Effort appears to be different as a blocker than what I see when as a receiver.

Summary: Fourth year senior. All time leader among tight ends in receptions in school history. All American in 2014 at a lower level of college football. Also has the ability to deep snap. Boyle looks the part and will surprise you with good ball skills and short area quickness. He can plant his foot and make quick cuts, showing consistent ability to get open underneath. He is a limited athlete, however. In addition, he needs to become more physical and play to his size. That transition to the NFL will be tough for him, this he will be a developmental prospect with starter upside.

*Initially this is a guy that is easy to like. He has the thick and long frame to go along with smooth ball skills and a surprising ability after the catch to gain extra yards. The more I watch however, the more I see a guy that really shouldn’t have been playing at a level higher than D-I AA. For a guy weighing nearly 270 pounds, how come he didn’t control defenders as a blocker? That was a little bothersome and factoring that he is a limited upside athlete pushed him down to the day three tier at best.

9 – Tyler Kroft – Rutgers – 6’6/246 – 70

Pro Upside Comparison: Gary Barnidge/CLE

Strong Points: Long and quick twitch athlete with an ideal frame for the position. Runs good routes up the seam. Can keep defenders off balance with last second commitments to his intended route. Runs well, comfortable long strider with the speed to outrun linebackers. Easy catching motion when he’s in space. High effort player. Shows the desire to mix it up in the trenches as a run blocker. Quick release out of his three point stance and from the slot. Can eat up a cushion to the safety fast.

Weak Points: Lacks a physical power presence. Doesn’t control defenders as a blocker, doesn’t give them the initial jolt. Slow reaction to what the defense throws at him. Does not have the speed to outrun defensive backs. Questionable toughness over the middle and in traffic. Doesn’t always extend his arms when going after the ball. Too much of a body catcher.

Summary: Kroft is an easy moving, smooth athlete with a lot of size potential. He has a long frame with good height for the position. That size combined with his speed and quickness when changing directions can make him a reliable short and intermediate receiving option for any offense. He has the leaping ability over the middle. Kroft’s main weakness revolves around his physical nature. He doesn’t control defenders while blocking, nor does he drive second level defenders out of the action. Too often he is found being driven back by his assignment. He needs to add a lot of strength before he can be relied upon as an every down threat. Until then, Kroft can help any offense out with his versatility to line up anywhere to create matchup problems for the defense. He has plenty of potential as a receiver but will need time to factor as a blocker.

*There are a lot of up and down views on Kroft, respectively. He surprised me by coming out early but I can understand why he did. There is a lot of physical talent here, as he may be one of the top 3 athletes at the position in the entire class. He is a developmental player for sure, though. He wont be able to hack it as a blocker early on in his career and we aren’t talking about a receiver that will scare a defense. You could do much worse on day three and NYG does have the time and situation to develop him the right way.

10 – Gerald Christian – Louisville – 6’3/244 – 69

Pro Upside Comparison: Delanie Walker/TEN

Strong Points: Physically gifted athlete. Has the burst out of his stance to gain separation right off the snap. Good change of direction ability. Balanced athlete with the consistent body control and awareness. Big and strong hands. Swallows the ball upon contact. Has eyebrow-raising movement ability with the ball in his hands. Physical and willing blocker that seems to enjoy mixing it up with defenders. Takes pride in owning his man at the line of scrimmage.

Weak Points: Does not run his routes as well as his athleticism says he should. Doesn’t get a push as a blocker. Gets too grabby and will allow the defender to get inside position. Doesn’t extend for the ball in traffic or over the middle. Effort and intensity levels are inconsistent.

Summary: Transferred to Louisville from Florida in 2012. Has the tool set to make his mark as a receiving tight end in the league but didn’t show consistency. Christian will make plays in every game that will cause coaches and scouts alike to think of what may be. He is a gifted athlete that needs to refine his skill sets. High upside prospect.

*NYG likes WRs and TEs with big hands, and Christian has the biggest mitts in the draft among pass catchers. I’m not sure what the deal is with him. He moves as well as anyone in the nation among TEs here and there every time I watched Louisville, but his effort wasn’t always there. And then he put out poor workout times. Maybe there is a motivation issue with him but I just can’t get away from this kid. I see things in him that scream high ceiling. Worth a gamble late in the draft for NYG.

TOP UDFA SLEEPER

A.J. Derby – Arkansas – 6’4/255

*Started off at Iowa as a QB then transferred to a junior college, then to Arkansas. Didn’t make the move to TE until 2014 and he became a highly discussed player among coaches in the SEC. Had be been there since the start of his career, I think Derby is being talked about as a top 45 overall talent. I’ve seen him outrun the Alabama defensive backs and I’ve seen him control the point of attack against their line. Derby has the toughness and awareness to expedite his progression quicker than most that make such a late position change.

NYG APPROACH

Similar to the QB group, this is the weakest I have seen as a whole since I have been grading players. However you don’t need to find an every down starter/contributor at the position for him to factor as a player that will help the team win unlike the approach with drafting a QB. So with that said, even though this class lacks some star power, there is a good enough blend of tools and skills here that can help NYG get more out of the position.

Last year I spoke of Larry Donnell as the lone guy on the roster with legitimate long term upside. He broke out in 2014 with a few solid games and displayed his tools and developing skills. He can do things physically that a lot of TEs in this league cannot. Because we are still unsure about how good of an actual football player he is, NYG would be smart to use a pick on someone that has some long term upside or a player that can take some pressure off Donnell as a blocker. There are some guys lower on my grade list that may be a better fit on this team than guys on the top. I would avoid the TE position for the first two or three rounds and then look for the value of a guy that drops. O’Leary and Koyack aren’t fits for every team, thus I could see them available on day 4 and it would present outstanding value. They could opt to wait until the end of the draft or even UDFA period and give a tools-rich and/or raw prospect a year to sit on the practice squad while Donnell gets another season to show progress, something he earned.

Mar 292015
 
Share Button
J.T. Thomas, Jacksonville Jaguars (December 18, 2014)

J.T. Thomas – © USA TODAY Sports Images

As discussed in our free agent spotlight on linebacker Jonathan Casillas, the New York Giants have been forced to upgrade the linebacker position in free agency because of their failed attempts to do so from the college ranks. After four seasons, the Giants decided to part ways with Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger and sign Casillas from the New England Patriots and J.T. Thomas from the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Giants signed 26-year old J.T. Thomas in March 2015 to a 3-year, $10 million deal that included $4.5 million in guaranteed money and $1 million escalators in 2016 and 2017.

Thomas – a three-year starter at the University of West Virginia – was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. He spent his entire rookie season on Injured Reserve after suffering a hip injury in the preseason. In February 2012, Thomas was arrested on a misdemeanor drug possession charge (marijuana). He played in all 16 games for the Bears in 2012, but did not start and finished the season with six special teams tackles and one forced fumble.

The Bears waived Thomas in August 2013. He was immediately claimed off of waivers by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Thomas played in 15 games with the Jaguars in 2013, starting two contests and finishing the season with 17 tackles (12 solo) on defense and six special teams tackles (third on the team). Thomas also blocked a punt that resulted in a safety.

Thomas remained a back-up at the beginning of the 2014 season, but started the last 10 games of the year at middle linebacker after Paul Posluszny got hurt. He finished the season with 84 tackles, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles.

“I really like J.T. Thomas,” said Jacksonville Jaguars’ Head Coach Gus Bradley after the Giants signed Thomas. “Really, the good thing about J.T. is flexibility. He played at all three positions for us. He can go in at all three positions at any time and play extremely fast, as far as knowing what he’s supposed to do.

“He took really good command of the defense. When (Posluszny) got hurt for us, we were scrambling a little bit. When J.T. came in he settled things down. It’s very important to him. I can’t say enough good things about J.T.”

In the week 13 match-up against the Giants, Thomas finished the game with 12 total tackles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Head Coach Tom Coughlin pointed to that game as a significant factor in the team’s evaluation of Thomas, who also had double-digit tackle numbers in games against the Colts and Titans.

Despite that productivity, the Jaguars still saw Thomas as back-up material as the team signed Dan Skuta from the San Francisco 49ers to start along side Posluszny and Telvin Smith.

“What his role would be for us, with a guy like Puz coming back, it would be more a role where he was a back-up,” Bradley said. “He saw himself more as a starter.”

Right or wrong, the Giants seem to think Thomas can be a viable NFL starter too, ideally at weakside linebacker to replace Jacquian Williams. On the surface, this does seem to be his best position given his size (6’1” and 236 pounds) and overall athletic ability (4.65 speed). The Giants also think Thomas will improve their special teams.

“We think Thomas can be a WILL ‘backer,” said Coughlin. “Casillas is basically the same kind of guy. Both are excellent special teamers. They’ll make contributions in both ways.”

Thomas lacks ideal size, but is a good athlete. In a nutshell, he is a run-and-hit linebacker who is at his best when he is protected and does not have to take on blockers at the point-of-attack. Thomas is intense, instinctive, and involved in a lot of tackles. While Thomas is not afraid to stick his nose into the scrum, he is not a strong or physical player. He won’t shock you as a hitter, and many of his tackles are of the down-the-field variety. Thomas is good in coverage and should help the New York defense deal with the plethora of tight end and running back receiving threats in today’s NFL.

In terms of intangibles, Thomas has some off-the-field issues in his past. Aside from the drug charge, in college, Thomas was arrested for being involved with a stolen laptop. On the flip side, he is known for his charity work with children with medical issues. Thomas also has the reputation for being a hard worker and team leader. His on-field personality is demonstrated when he was mic’d up in a December 7, 2014 game against the Houston Texans.

How does J.T. Thomas fit in with the Giants? He is probably the favorite to start at the weakside linebacker spot though he will face competition from Jonathan Casillas. At worst, he could be a valuable reserve as he can play all three linebacker spots and is a good special teams player. The big question with Thomas is what is his upside? Jacquian Williams was the heir apparent to Michael Boley but he couldn’t handle the job. Is Thomas another placeholder or can  he be a 4-5 year starter at the position? Thomas wanted the opportunity to prove himself, and now he has it. He seems to be a hungry player.

“I am an aggressive player,” said Thomas when he signed with the Giants. “Bang, bang plays, turnovers – that is my thing. I am good at getting the ball back (by) creating turnovers. I think that is what will help us win ballgames, and that is my goal.”

Mar 262015
 
Share Button
Todd Gurley, Georgia Bulldogs (November 23, 2013)

Todd Gurley – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 2015 NFL Draft Preview: Running Backs

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

*Below are my published, abbreviated reports via Ourlads Scouting Services, LLC

CURRENT RBs ON THE NYG ROSTER

Shane Vereen – 25 years old – Signed through 2017

Rashad Jennings – 29 years old – Signed through 2017

Andre Williams – 22 Years old – Signed through 2017

Michael Cox – 26 Years old – Signed through 2016

Orleans Darkwa – 23 Years Old – Signed through 2015

Chris Ogbonnaya – 28 Years Old – Signed through 2015

Henry Hynoski – 26 Years Old – Signed through 2016

Nikita Whitlock – 23 Years Old – Signed through 2016

WHERE THEY STAND

From both numbers and roles perspectives, NYG does not have any need for an additional running back on the roster. Vereen is this year’s “big” free agent signing and I think he will perform well in a pass catching role. He has more talent than any other RB on that list and there is plenty of youth to him. Jennings is likely the every down back that will receive the majority of the carries barring injury. He is solid between the tackles. Williams is another inside bruiser with limited ability in space. He won’t ever be a big time pass catcher. He is an easy guy to like but I can’t say he impressed beyond the preseason in his rookie year. He will get his fair share of carries. Cox has been given more than enough opportunity and he hasn’t capitalized, he won’t be around much longer. Darkwa, Ogbonnaya, and Whitlock are guys that are here for training camp purposes and nothing more. Hynoski is an above average fullback but is still limited in what he can offer.

They are in good but not great standing. The committee approach is probably the safest way to go because of the amount of injuries RBs suffer on a yearly basis. If one of these guys goes down, there is enough depth without a huge drop off in talent to still be okay.

TOP 10 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1 – Todd Gurley – Georgia – 6’1/222 – 83

Pro Upside Comparison: Adrian Peterson/MIN

Strong Points: Elite blend of size, speed, agility, and power. Thick lower body that creates tremendous drive and power. Fires out of a cannon upon contact with the ball. Has that burst from a dead stop position to top end speed. Breaks tackles consistently and is almost always falling forward to pick up the extra few yards. Can drag tacklers with his strength but also makes them miss with late movement. Agile and quick when changing direction. Runs with great lean and a low pad level. Aware of where and when he plants his feet in relation to where the bodies are around him. Quality blocker and receiver out of the backfield, a true three down back.

Weak Points: Coming off a torn ACL. Played through a lot of minor injuries prior to the knee. Drags plays out with his aggressive style and leaves himself prone to extra hits. Pad level is inconsistent, exposes too much of his body and legs to defenders. Inconsistent receiving mechanics, will body catch the ball.

Summary: Junior entry. Bell cow back that doesn’t need to be taken off the field in any situation. Was suspended and injured in 2014, shortening his quest for the Heisman Trophy. Gurley has the size and movement ability to be a dominant three down back in the NFL. He can pick up the tough yards between the tackles but also break free in to open space and run away from defenders. Very smart running back that is aware of the defense and game situations. If he can return to full strength after tearing his ACL, Gurley can be an elite back in the NFL. All the tools are there.

*Gurley would have been a top 4 player in this draft class if it weren’t for the torn ACL. He fits on the NYG roster if he falls to the 2nd round pick. RB may not be a need but I don’t think this kind of player can be passed on if he is there unless there is another guy there at or very near his grade.

2 – Jay Ajayi – Boise State – 6’0/221 – 82

Pro Upside Comparison: Marshawn Lynch/SEA

Strong Points: Relentless runner that consistently breaks tackles and falls forward. Well put-together frame that carries a dense 222 pounds. Has plenty of lower body wiggle and flexibility. Can make the late movement to miss the meat of a hit and finagle his way in to space. Can see the action in front of and around him at the same time, making quick decisions and reactions. Shows elite balance in traffic, constantly able to change his path with a power presence. Excels between the tackles with his blend of movement ability and strength. Willing and able blocker. Will deliver a pop to the defender and mirror him. Reliable pass catcher on the move, natural to see it in and tuck the ball. Three down ability and skills.

Weak Points: Struggles to reach the edge against fast defenses. Will take too long to make decisions. Tries too often to cut his way out of traffic rather than putting his head down and gaining positive yards. Runs sloppy routes of the backfield. Has had issues with ball security after initial contact with defenders.

Summary: Fourth year junior entry. Has made several All American teams for his dominant performance this season. Finished second in the nation with 28 rushing touchdowns in 2014. Ajayi brings everything to the table that the NFL wants out of a running back. He has size and open field speed to runaway from defenders, but also shows a quick change of direction and smooth agility in traffic. Ajayi can break tackles several ways, consistently gaining extra yards. He is a true three down back that could be starting in the NFL his rookie season if the situation presented itself.

*Even though he has a close grade to the injured Gurley, the urgency to take him if he is there in round 2 isn’t as high. He would add another Jennings/Williams type runner to the backfield. I like this kid a lot though. If you want toughness in your backfield, you want this guy.

3 – Duke Johnson – Miami – 5’9/207 – 82

Pro Upside Comparison: LeSean McCoy/BUF

Strong Points: Complete back with the tools and skill set to play every down. Jitter-bug type quickness in a phone booth. Can be hard for a defender to touch, let alone tackle. Elite burst and acceleration, can go 0-60 in just a few steps. Always has his feet under him, good balance and body control. Can see what’s going on around him in space. Sets defenders up to whiff as they are closing in on him. Easy pass catcher with strong hands. Can make the acrobatic catch. Sees the ball in and can get going right away. Physical blocker that delivers a pop. Takes pride in protecting the quarterback..

Weak Points: Not a big back. Played at over 200 pounds for the first time in 2014. May not have the frame to take a lot of hits in the NFL. Vision in traffic as he approaches the line of scrimmage is delayed. Will try too hard to dance around defenders trying to break off a big run instead of moving north and getting the sure yards. Season ending ankle injury in the 9th game of 2013.

Summary: Junior entry. Former elite high school recruit delivered right away as a freshman on 2012 as a kick returner. His performance as a running back started to take off in 2013 before a season ending ankle injury. Johnson added weight and speed prior to 2014 and it paid huge dividends. He showed that he could handle every down duty with his versatile tools and skill set. He is an elusive ball carrier that can break off the big runs once he gets in to space. Just as important, his ability as a receiver and pass blocker are both NFL-ready from a physical standpoint. If he can continue to add strength while maintaining his ability to move, Johnson can be a back that never needs to come off the field.

*Like I said with Ajayi, Johnson grades out close to the injured Gurley and as much as I like his ability to catch the ball, I’m not sure he can warrant a 2nd round pick. If size concerns bump him down to round 3 however, I bring this kid here in a heartbeat and let him play his way in to the rotation while adding dynamic KR/PR ability.

4 – Melvin Gordon – Wisconsin – 6’1/215 – 81

Pro Upside Comparison: Jamaal Charles/KC

Strong Points: Tight skinned, well developed back that doesn’t need to come off the field in any situation. Top tier vision and instincts. Can see things around him that most backs cannot. Can create something out of nothing. Exceptional when running to the outside. Consistently makes guys miss in space. Will not hesitate to lower his shoulder and force the pile to move north. Can follow blockers through space and sneak through lanes. Has the extra gear in space to runaway from defenders. Can maintain his agility and body control while moving at full speed. High effort blocker that makes an impact. Tries hard and produces when it comes to protecting the quarterback. Easy hands catcher when he had the opportunity.

Weak Points: Will run with a high pad level when approaching the line of scrimmage. Will try to get cute too often rather than getting the sure yards. Lacks the lower body girth that most want out of an every down back. Had a fumbling issue late in 2014.

Summary: Junior entry. Doak Walker Award winner. His 7.79 yards per carry over his career is an all time record. Gordon’s statistical accolades have piled up over his career. His blend of size and speed to go with his instincts and vision have helped mold him in to a top tier talent. He can do everything a team wants out of a running back; rush, receive, and block. In an era where finding true three down backs can be difficult, the demand for Gordon will be high. He is a young kid that loves the game and has shown a tremendous work ethic during offseasons. While his body type and running style may not be ideal, his production and versatile game cannot be overlooked. This is an extremely high ceiling type player.

*This is a back that I would be slightly afraid to draft, but just as afraid to see a division rival draft. I don’t see NFL-type dominance here when it comes to his style of play but his talent cannot be denied. If the toughness is there and he can stay healthy, he has as much upside as any RB in this class.

5 – Tevin Coleman – Indiana – 5’11/206 – 80

Pro Upside Comparison: DeMarco Murray/PHI

Strong Points: Strong between the tackles, fast in the open field. Shows the power and leg drive to push tacklers back, consistently falling forward. Several big runs displaying the ability to run away from defensive backs. Reaches the line of scrimmage quickly, showing the burst to reach top speed with just a few steps. Cutback runner that shows good vision and the explosion to get through the open crease. Quality hands as a receiver with a smooth catching motion. Looks the ball in and tucks it before running upfield.

Weak Points: Upright running style that leaves his legs almost completely exposed. Suffered an ankle injury that forced him to miss three games in 2013. Does not have the late wiggle to miss contact from defenders, takes a lot of hits. Can be a better blocker in blitz pickup.

Summary: Junior entry. Finished as the number two overall rusher in 2014 with 2,036 yards, finishing behind only Heisman hopeful Melvin Gordon. Only the 18th player in history to breach the 2,000 yard mark and he did so with very little help around him. His record setting 2014 season includes a 300+ yard game against Rutgers. Coleman has ideal size and speed for the position. At his best in a north/south type running scheme where he can use his downhill speed and power. Some of the finer, more detailed aspects to the position need to be worked on. His routes out of the backfield, pass blocking technique, and ball security are raw around the edges. However when it comes to talent and big play ability, Coleman has the potential to be a star at the next level.

*Coleman wasn’t getting the attention he deserved throughout the season. He is big and physical but also shows elite ability to explode out of a cannon and run away from defenders. He can likely carry more weight on his frame without losing speed. I wish he ran with a more consistent pad level and would show more concentration and awareness. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit to see him out-shine every other RB in this class.

6 – David Cobb – Minnesota – 5’11/229 – 79

Pro Upside Comparison: Frank Gore/IND

Strong Points: Thick from the bottom up. Carries his weight behind his pads when approaching the action. Has the short area burst and quickness to accelerate through the running lanes with a short shelf life. Decisive and confident in his approach. Quick vision and reaction. Will consistently gain yards after contact, tough ball carrier for a lone defender to bring down. Can make himself low and slippery. Elite balance that can allow him to twist and turn his body on the move without losing much speed.

Weak Points: Lacks the explosive element to his game. Struggles to run away from defenders in the open field. Tight hipped and won’t move with fluidity in space. Doesn’t make defenders miss, will take a lot of contact. Doesn’t have presence or power as a blocker. Limited receiving ability and skills.

Summary: Fourth year senior that was a non-factor until 2013. Led the Gophers in rushing two straight seasons, including his school-record 1,626 yards in 2014. Cobb won’t wow anyone in workouts or on the highlight reel. He doesn’t have the long speed and he doesn’t shake tacklers out of their cleats in space. However Cobb can run between the tackles with quick vision and reaction along with above average power and force. Cobb is quick and efficient in short space. Keep him between the tackles and he can really produce. He isn’t an every down back and he may be limited, but put Cobb in the game when you need tough yards and he will earn them.

*I’ve been higher on Cobb than most of what I see out there. There are things about his game that will turn people off. He isn’t a superb athlete in space and his movement in traffic could be viewed as average. He lacks the “sexy” that a lot of people want out of a RB but plain and simple, I think he’ll be a gamer that can be relied on to get tough yards and keep chains moving. He is smarter and more aware than a lot of backs that have superior physical ability.

7 – David Johnson – 6’1/225 – Northern Iowa – 78

Pro Upside Comparison: Rashad Jennings/NYG

Strong Points: Quick off the snap, can eat up a 10 yard window in a blink. Natural feel with the ball in his hands, runs with good awareness and vision. Shows balance and body control in traffic. Can change direction with ease. Elite ball skills as a receiver. Can reach for the ball away from his body on the move. Has the speed to run away from defenders in space. Aggressive, physical presence as a ball carrier and blocker. Plenty of yards after contact.

Weak Points: Runs with a high pad level. Lacks the lower body thickness to take the amount of hits he will surely encounter with his height and running style. Will take a lot of extra hits. Doesn’t always fall forward, doesn’t drive his legs to move the pile inside.

Summary: Fifth year senior. Rushed for over 1,000 yards three straight seasons and leaves Northern Iowa with almost every school rushing record. He also caught 141 passes. Johnson is an upright runner with good speed and receiving ability. He doesn’t show the quick twitch and reaction between the tackles, but he has a high ceiling considering his tool set and ability to change direction with balance. His future may reside as a third down back and return specialist with the upside to be much more.

*Johnson is one of those guys I wish never got to play at the Senior Bowl because I had him on my radar before then. He performed well there and then all of the sudden everyone was all over him, almost to the point where it’s almost too much. I think he can be a really good third down back if he can learn how to block. An every down guy? Maybe down the road but his top heavy frame isn’t really built for it.

8 – Javorius Allen – USC – 6’0/221 – 77

Pro Upside Comparison: Chris Ivory/NYJ

Strong Points: Complete, every down back. Has the power, size, and running style to perform the role as a shirt yardage back. Can also catch the ball out of the backfield like a receiver and block oncoming pass rushers with consistent success. Strong and well developed lower body. Has the vision in space to create angles and take advantage of potential cutback lanes. Easy runner past the second level, has runaway speed. Equally effective inside and outside. Breaks a lot of tackles and will gain yards after contact on almost every carry. Relentless pursuit of more yards.

Weak Points: Inconsistent pad level when approaching the inside runs. Will leave his lower body susceptible to too much contact, some of which is unnecessary. Vision between the tackles doesn’t match his vision in space. Will be late to see running lanes on the straight ahead runs. Isn’t always as assertive as he should be. Will too often look for the big play rather than sure yards. Balance after cuts is inconsistent.

Summary: Fourth year junior entry. Put together a season and a half of very good, well balanced production. Allen may be one of the top all around backs in this class because his game really doesn’t have a standout weakness. He can run, catch, and block all at a high level. He is a hard nosed runner that will play through the whistle, but also has the finesse and vision of a space back. His frame will allow him to hold up for a lot of touches in the NFL, but even he needs to learn how to economically use his body. If he takes the amount of extra hits with his high pad level in the NFL as he did in college, he will have a hard time staying on the field. With that said, he has the upside to be a productive starter in the league.

*Hard guy not to like. He plays really hard and has a lot of talent, plain and simple. He can be a bruiser between the tackles but he’s one of those backs that can be faster than the guy chasing him. I always have an extra liking for those kind of backs. For where I think you can get him, he may be right up there with Cobb as the best value opportunity at the RB spot.

9 – Mike Davis – South Carolina – 5’9/217 – 76

Pro Upside Comparison: CJ Anderson/DEN

Strong Points: Short and stout with a low pad level. Hard target for the tackler to zero in on. Great quickness prior to contact with defenders. Misses the meat of a tackle and consistently falls forward. Savvy runner. Great vision and cutback ability. Dangerous in traffic and in the open field, can see things before they open up. Can set defenders up and plays a step ahead mentally. Good receiver out of the backfield. Effective in the screen game. Able to hide behind blockers and has the short area burst to accelerate past defenders in a pile. Breaks plenty of tackles several different ways.

Weak Points: Lacks the breakaway speed in the open field. Doesn’t have the extra gear after his initial acceleration. Doesn’t show loose hips to move laterally and miss defenders. Lacks experience as a blocker. Loses track of ball security in the open field.

Summary: Junior entry. Two year starter with proven ability to help both the rushing and passing attacks. Davis is a pure running back that is equally effective inside and outside of the tackles. He is a no-nonsense, very decisive runner that explodes through the hole with aggression and body control. He misses big contact often with his ability to shake and cut prior to meeting the tackler. He breaks tackles and consistently falls forward. He is a versatile offensive weapon that can be counted on to catch the ball and move north right away. A ball carrier with this kind of vision fits in to every system. He is built to handle the physical nature of the NFL. While the athletic upside may be a bit limited, he appears to be one of the most pro ready backs in this class.

*I’m not sure about Davis having the highest of ceilings but part of me is more confident he’ll be a reliable contributor than a lot of the guys above him on this list. He stepped in for Marcus Lattimore at South Carolina and just produced more and more. He may have the most natural hands and vision of all the backs in this class. He is a great mid round value if he drops a bit.

10 – T.J. Yeldon – Alabama – 6’1/226 – 75

Pro Upside Comparison: Arian Foster/HOU

Strong Points: Tall, big, and fast. Quick acceleration out of the backfield and good approach to the line. Shows the patience to allow the action to transpire in front of him. Agile hips and quick feet. Good body control. Anticipates running lanes and has good vision. Will run with a good pad level and lean, allowing him to get the most power out of his strong lower half. Has the last second change of direction to miss the meat of a tackle. Good runaway speed. Good pass catcher with soft hands. High effort blocker that will stifle the blitzing linebacker. Excels as an inside and outside runner. Understands game situations and when to pick up necessary yards, runs with altering styles.

Weak Points: Has a fumbling issue. Does not secure the ball high and tight. Will drag plays out and loosen the ball’s attachment from his body. Will get too indecisive with his approach the point of attack. Hangs out behind the line of scrimmage with the ball in his hands for too long. Will create a high target for defenders. Minor durability issues.

Summary: Junior entry. Productive career that showed the versatility to be an every down back in the NFL early on. Has the physical ability to wear a few hats out of the backfield. Runs hard and fast with the quick burst and open field speed. A weapon as a receiver with a lot of production in the screen game in addition to being a good blocker. Yeldon has all the tools to be a star running back in the NFL, but he will need to shore up his ball security, which has been his Achilles heal all three seasons. High upside, versatile back.

*If you asked me where Yeldon would be drafted last year and/or the year before, I would have said 1st round no question. I wouldn’t say his value dropped but this is such a stacked RB class and Yeldon also failed to really take his game to the next level. I still like his game but there are a couple things like a lack of assertiveness and ball security that bothers me. He is uber-talented though.

NEXT 10

11 – Tyler Varga – Yale – 5’11/222
12 – Ameer Abdullah – Nebraska – 5’9/205
13 – Marcus Murphy – Missouri – 5’9/195
14 – Josh Robinson – Mississippi State – 5’9/215
15 – Cameron Artis-Payne – Auburn – 5’10/210
16 – Jeremy Langford – Michigan State – 6’0/205
17 – Gus Johnson – Stephen F. Austin – 5’10/215
18 – Karlos Williams – Florida State – 6’1/230
19 – Thomas Rawls – Central Michigan – 5’10/217
20 – Malcolm Brown – Texas – 5’11/225

NYG APPROACH

I think the NYG backfield is in good shape, especially after the signing of Vereen. I can’t say I was disappointed in that signing but it did leave a sour taste in that it may force NYG to hold off on a RB in this draft. There simply may not be room on the depth chart to warrant a selection with one of their first 5 picks. Like I said, this is probably the best RB class I’ve seen as a whole since I’ve been doing this and I even think some of my grades are on the conservative side. There are a few guys with legit superstar potential and at least another handful of guys that can be every down starters.

I understand the notion is that RBs can always be “found in the later rounds” but nothing leads me to think that is any more true that other positions. Take some time and look at how many teams have spent a 1st or 2nd rounder on the RB position. It’ probably more than you think. And it proposes this question: Are the current NYG RBs actually good enough to warrant passing on a really good value at RB in this draft if the opportunity presented itself? I lean towards no. If RB is the right value when NYG is on the clock in round 2, I may have to bite.

Mar 252015
 
Share Button
Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, NFL Combine (February 21, 2015)

Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 2015 NFL Draft Preview: Quarterbacks

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

CURRENT NYG QBs ON ROSTER

Eli Manning – 34 years old – Signed through 2015

Ryan Nassib – 25 years old – Signed through 2016

Ricky Stanzi – 27 years old – Signed through 2015

WHERE THEY STAND

Could be it be that the NYG brass is going to let the 11 year starter enter the final year of his contract without an extension? That appears to be the case. I would put the heavy odds on him being here for at least another 3-4 years but even the most faithful of Manning supporters need to admit that the post-Eli plan needs to be thought about. Franchise QBs are incredibly hard to find, I get it. When you have one, you need to hold on tight and pay market value if not more, I get it. Manning had one of his best overall seasons in year one of a new offensive system, I get it. The issue here is a simple case of economics; is Manning worth a $20+ cap number as he enters the final years of his contract? With the amount of holes on this roster, a credible case could be made for either direction. Nassib hasn’t showed enough during preseason games to warrant confidence for down the road. Perhaps he shines during practice and we have no idea. Stanzi is a training camp body. But to say NYG needs a fresh, young QB on the depth chart is far from inappropriate.

TOP 10 GRADES

1 – Jameis Winston – Florida State – 6’4/231 – 80

Upside Pro Comparison – Ben Roethlisberger/PIT

The necessary talent is there. Winston has all the physical tools you want out of a QB. His size, presence, arm strength, accuracy, and mobility to warrant the first round grade. Would I consider him an elite thrower? No. An elite mover? No. However one thing he does have (and NYG fans will understand the importance of this) is the poise he maintains through tight situations. Winston proved he is a winner. He can have a horrid first half but his short memory allows him to come out firing in the fourth quarter and look unstoppable when the team needs him most. His off the field maturity issues are well documented, however. It may even cause some teams to cross him off their board entirely. When I see him play, I think a Big Ben type with less arm power. If his head is on straight, he can be a guy that teammates love, a guy that wins, and a guy that fans will cling to over time. The grade includes a few points off due to his character problems.

2 – Marcus Mariota – Oregon – 6’4/222 – 79

Upside Pro Comparison – Robert Griffin III/WAS

Last fall I viewed Mariota as an elite level (90+) QB prospect that I would want on the NYG roster as soon as round 1. I love his ability to move. He can change the game with his mobility. He is more than just an athlete too. He has some zip on his balls with a quick release and most importantly, his accuracy on the move is spot on. I’ve seen every 2014 game tape of Oregon and I have to admit I jumped the gun on him. He remains uncomfortable in the pocket and the simple throws were routinely missed. His mechanics as a pocket passer are flawed and his experience starting under center is as limited as it gets. There is something about QBs that rely on athletic ability that just screams “No” to me as well. Mariota doesn’t have the Cam Newton body type. I can’t see him taking an extra 10 hits per game and lasting, a la Robert Griffin. He’s a mature kid and he does make plays, but there is more development that needs to occur here thus a larger margin for eventual error. I would still take Mariota on this team but not before round 2, he’ll be long gone by then.

3 – Brett Hundley – UCLA – 6’3/226 – 74

Upside Pro Comparison – Cam Newton/CAR

Another spread formation, shotgun-only signal caller that has the athletic tools to be the guy in this class. Hundley has a thicker body type than Mariota and has just as much ability to make a difference running the ball. His inconsistency is maddening, however. He is a good thrower short and intermediate but his accuracy throwing the ball downfield is poor. He is another guy that needs to sit at least a year. Is there upside here? Sure. But I would put odds on him being the backup type that will bounce around the league but disappoints.

4 – Garrett Grayson – Colorado State – 6’2/213 – 73

Upside Pro Comparison – Matt Moore/MIA

Really good athlete, underrated speed and quickness. Some QBs have that sixth sense in the pocket and have the extra level of quickness within the tackle box. Grayson has that. He can throw deep with power and accuracy. There is a WR from Colorado State that will be draft eligible next year…some are labeling him a top tier prospect. He’s good, but Grayson made him look a lot better. He can throw guys open, throw to a spot…etc. If I have a void at QB when it comes to youth, I think Grayson is the mid-round value I am going after.

5 – Jerry Lovelocke – Prarie View A& M – 71

Loved what I saw out of him at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. He has a really smooth, quick, strong, powerful release and arm. A guy this big can be worked with when it comes to a dual threat player. Lovelocke is and always will be a passer first/runner second, but his size and presence makes him a dual threat. He is likely a practice squad guy because of how raw his footwork is and he didn’t play in a complicated system in college, but for where you can get him I like the value.

6 – Sean Mannion – Oregon State – 6’6/229 – 71

Upside Pro Comparison – Mike Glennon/TB

Illustrious career including 45 starts, leaves school as the Pac 12’s all time leading passer with over 13,000 yards and 11 OSU passing records. The 3 time team captain shows all the intangibles you want in a Quarterback. Loves the game and works hard on and off the field to make himself better. The fifth year senior received a 3rd round grade from the Advisory Board last year after his record setting Junior campaign. He took a step back in 2014, playing with less talent around him. This classic pocket passer has the tools and intangibles to be a starter or primary backup at the next level but he is a limited-ceiling type player. The lack of athletic ability is certainly troubling and you know it’s only going to get worse as he gets older. You don’t need to be a superb athlete, but Mannion looks stuck in mud sometimes. That’s tough to accept out of such a young player.

8 – Bryan Bennett – SE Louisiana State – 6’2/211 – 69

Upside Pro Comparison – Tyler Thigpen/CLE

Was at Oregon for awhile but once he figured out that Marcus Mariota was….well Marcus Mariota…he left for SE Louisiana to pursue the NFL dream. He played well there but didn’t dominate the way you want a small school QB to. With that said, Bennett is a very good athlete and has the strongest arm of any QB in this class. He can really spin it. Hits guys on the move. I like how Bennett looked for extra work at the Combine. He was always the guy getting extra throws in. His accuracy on the move and downfield is poor and some guys say that can’t be corrected. I’d take a chance on him in the later rounds.

9 – Bryan Bennett – Baylor – 6’3/230 – 69

Upside Pro Comparison – Rex Grossman/RET

Petty comes from a spread-style offense, always in the shotgun, minimal reads…etc. Every year these guys are becoming more and more common. It’s not a huge deal. But I really didn’t like what I saw out of him at the Senior Bowl and it matched a lot of what I don’t like on tape. He misses a lot of easy throws. He gets overly-trigger happy under pressure. He loses sense of his throwing mechanics. What I do like here is the blend of toughness and leadership, however. Coaches/Players/Support Staff and the scouts I get the opportunity to speak with all rave about his daily approach to the game. I want that out of a young QB. He doesn’t lack talent at all. He can throw, he can move. I just hate that I see the same mistakes over and over again with him. Still worth a late round pick if NYG is looking for a QB and he falls.

10 – Anthony Boone – Duke – 6’0/231 – 67

Upside Pro Comparison – Tarvaris Jackson – SEA

I’ve been wanting to like Boone for over a year now because he shows glimpses. One of the strongest arms in the draft. Has easy arm power, can put that ball on a line for 20+ yards with little effort. Drives the ball downfield, generates a lot of zip from his lower body, fluid throwing motion. Can throw the ball well from unorthodox positions. Good runner, shows the ability to see the action around him and make proper cuts to pick up extra yards. Struggles to make multiple reads. Too quick to tuck the ball and scramble. Accuracy is woefully inconsistent, doesn’t hit his target often enough on the run. He is so inconsistent and its bothersome but man, he has talent that a lot of good QBs simply do not possess.

NYG APPROACH

This draft class has the weakest group of QBs I have seen since I’ve been doing this. There isn’t an elite prospect. There isn’t a lot of depth. And there aren’t any guys in the later rounds that I can say with confidence will far-exceed their draft slot. Drafting QBs in the middle to late rounds is more of a crapshoot than anything, however.

I don’t think NYG is going after a QB with one of their 8 picks. Could they go after an UDFA to have in training camp? Sure. But when it comes to where this team is and where they are heading, unless a great value falls to them they should opt towards using their selections on other positions. Put me in the camp of people that thinks this team should NOT give Manning a blank check. Yes it exposes long-term risk at a position that makes or breaks success in this league, but it is going to happen soon anyway. Ideally Manning signs a 3-4 year deal at the same level he is being paid now, and the replacement project gets put in motion in another year or two.

And if Mariota falls to #9 overall….final answer is no. I’ve been back and forth a few times, but it’s just not worth the risk of passing on guys that are graded higher.

Mar 242015
 
Share Button
Dwayne Harris, Dallas Cowboys (November 23, 2014)

Dwayne Harris – © USA TODAY Sports Images

When the free agent period officially opened on March 10, the New York Giants moved quickly to sign five players. Wide receiver and returner Dwayne Harris of the Dallas Cowboys was one of the five. And surprisingly, Harris’ 5-year, $17.5 million deal was by far the largest in terms of the number of years and overall value. Harris also received the largest amount in guaranteed money ($7.1 million with a $4 million bonus).

On the surface, that appears to be a lot of money for Dallas’ 4th wide receiver/back-up slot receiver and punt/kickoff returner.

The 27-year old Harris was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Cowboys. In four seasons with the Cowboys, Harris has played in 52 regular-season games with three starts, catching 33 passes for 418 yards and three touchdowns. Harris finished 2014 with just seven catches for 116 yards and no touchdowns, down from nine catches in 2013 and 17 catches in 2012.

Harris also averaged 9.2 yards per punt return and 24.7 yards per kickoff return in 2014. Those decent but not stellar figures were 9th- and 13th-best in the NFL last year.

So why the big bucks for a guy who has been only a good role player to date?

“Harris is a well-kept secret to a lot of people, except the teams in NFC East,” said General Manager Jerry Reese. “He is one of the top all-around special teams players in league and a solid third or fourth receiving option.”

Harris indeed was far more impressive on special teams in 2013 as he averaged 12.8 yards per punt return and 30.6 yards per kickoff return. Those figures were 3rd- and 2nd-best in the NFL that season, helping him to earn “NFC Special Teams Player of the Week” twice, including once against the Giants.

Harris also won another another “NFC Special Teams Player of the Week” honor in 2012 against the Philadelphia Eagles. That season, Harris averaged 16.1 yards per punt return, 2nd best in the NFL. Harris returned punts for touchdowns in both 2012 and 2013. Bringing him on board strongly suggests that the Giants do not want to risk Odell Beckham on punt returns.

On the downside, he Harris six career fumbles on punts, including four in 2014. Ball security has been an issue for him going back to his college days at East Carolina.

Harris’ contributions on special teams are not limited to the return game. Harris is an excellent coverage man on special teams. Indeed, it was Harris’ coverage work against the Giants on opening day in 2013 that earned him the “Special Teams Player of the Week” award. In that game, Harris made three special teams tackles and forced a fumble that was recovered by Dallas. In 2014, Harris was credited with 18 special teams tackles – a very high number.

“I am a physical player,” Harris said. “I think all of the Giants fans are going to find that out soon. I am a physical player and I like the physical nature of the game. I like being the guy who hits players. I take a lot of hits during the game. It is always fun to return the favor.”

But $17.5 million with $7.1 million in guaranteed money still seems like a lot of money for a special teams player. Could the Giants see Harris as a bigger contributor at wide receiver than his 33 career catches to date indicate?

Assuming everyone stays healthy, the top three receivers on the Giants should be Beckham, Victor Cruz, and Rueben Randle. Since Harris is experienced playing the slot receiver position, the Giants may consider Harris to be an insurance policy if Cruz struggles or re-injures himself. Preston Parker was the reserve slot guy in 2014, finishing with 36 catches for 418 yards and two touchdowns. Parker also returned both punts (6.6 yard average) and kickoffs (24.2 yard average) for the Giants in 2014. The Giants might see Harris as an upgrade over Parker not just as a returner, but as a receiver.

Heading into the offseason, the Cowboys felt they could re-sign wide receiver Cole Beasley or Harris, but not both. Harris provided more special teams value, but Beasley is the primary slot receiver for the Cowboys. Dallas re-signed Beasley with a 4-year, $13.6 million contract that included $7 million in guaranteed money and a $4 million signing bonus. As soon as that deal was done, Harris was sure to sign elsewhere.

Harris has flashed at receiver. While he is not a big (5’10”) or exceptionally fast (4.5 range) target, Harris is a solid 202-pounder with good quickness and run-after-the-catch ability. He is tough and physical and an excellent blocker for the ground game, something repeatedly mentioned by those who followed him in Dallas.

“This was just a perfect fit for me with what (the Giants) do,” said Harris. “They are going to give me a chance to play my old team, the Dallas Cowboys, twice a year.”

Mar 222015
 
Share Button
Marshall Newhouse, Cincinnati Bengals (November 30, 2014)

Marshall Newhouse – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It was anticipated by many New York Giants fans that the team would aggressively pursue one of the more highly regarded (or recognizable) names in free agency for the much-maligned offensive line. There was speculation that the Giants might attempt to sign guard Mike Iupati (49ers), tackle Bryan Bulaga (Packers), or guard/tackle Orlando Franklin (Broncos) among others. But those players did not seem to appear on the team’s radar scope as there were no reports of visits or even interest.

In the end, the Giants did move quickly to sign one offensive lineman on the opening day of free agency. However, it was a surprise candidate and one that did little to excite: Marshall Newhouse, who was signed to a 2-year, $3 million contract from the Cincinnati Bengals.

The scouting reports on Newhouse coming out of college in 2010 were mixed. He was a three-year starter at left tackle at TCU. While Newhouse has good bulk (325+ pounds), he lacks ideal height (under 6’4”). Newhouse tested very well athletically for a big man, tying for the best three-cone time (7.4 seconds) at the NFL Combine, demonstrating very quick feet. However, because of his “dumpy” body and lack of functional football strength, combined with his lack of proper technique and leverage, Newhouse was regarded as a mid-to-late round “developmental” prospect.

The most severe pre-draft criticism was that he was a soft, passive, and inconsistent player who alternated between good and poor play. Some thought his best position might be guard, while others thought he might be over-drafted based on his measurables and not his on-field performance.

The Green Bay Packers drafted Newhouse in the 5th round of the 2010 NFL Draft, being picked 169th overall. Newhouse did not play in any games as a rookie. But the “developmental” prospect became a factor quicker than expected in 2011 when he ended up starting 10 games at left tackle for the injured Chad Clifton and three games at right tackle for the injured Bryan Bulaga. While Newhouse had his issues at times in pass protection, he played better than expected for a team that finished the regular season 15-1 before being knocked out of the playoff by the Giants in the NFC divisional round.

“I think (Newhouse) has the personality makeup to (be our left tackle of the future), the athletic ability to do that, the feet and the smarts to be a very, very solid left tackle for us,” said Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers in December 2011.

In 2012, Newhouse started all 18 of the Packers’ regular-season and post-season games at left tackle. But the Packers were not thrilled with Newhouse’s play and the plan was to upgrade at that position by moving shifting 2010 1st round pick Bulaga to left tackle. Newhouse simply wasn’t a very physical run blocker and he was still making too many mistakes in pass protection, resulting in sacks, pressures, and holding penalties.

Entering the 2013 training camp, it was anticipated that Newhouse would have a good chance to win the starting right tackle job. But he lost the job to undrafted second-year man Don Barclay. And although Bulaga tore an ACL in training camp, the Packers chose to start rookie 4th rounder David Bakhtiari at left tackle instead of re-installing Newhouse at the position. Newhouse became the primary back-up at both tackle spots, though he did start two games at right tackle in November, including one against the Giants.

In 2014, Newhouse signed with the Cincinnati Bengals as an unrestricted free agent. He did not win a starting job but became the primary back-up tackle. However, Newhouse struggled when forced to start at right tackle for three games due to an injury to Andre Smith and was benched due to his poor play. In particular, Marshall was terrible in a Week 10 game against the Cleveland Browns where he almost got Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton killed. Bengal fans felt it was an upgrade for their offensive line when he signed with the Giants.

Overall, Newhouse has played in 62 regular-season games with 36 starts (26 of those starts coming at left tackle in 2011-12). But it is important to note that he lost starting tackle jobs with the Packers during the 2013 preseason and the Bengals during the 2014 regular season. And both fan bases were glad to see him sign with other teams. Newhouse remains the what he was coming out of college: an intriguing size-athletic physical specimen who is simply too finesse a run blocker and too inconsistent a pass blocker.

On the plus side, Newhouse does bring versatility to the table as he can play either tackle position. And despite being only 26 years old, he has already has a lot of starting experience. Ben McAdoo was also on the Packers’ coaching staff during all four years of Newhouse’s stay with Green Bay, so one would assume McAdoo still sees something in the offensive lineman.

“(McAdoo) was a big part (of my decision to join the Giants),” Newhouse said. “It is good to always have familiarity, and he knows what I can do. I am just looking forward to proving him right and then some.

“I can do both (play either tackle). I have played plenty of left. I have started over 20 games at left and I have played plenty at right. I can do whatever they need me to do.”

“Newhouse is another guy who brings starter experience and depth,” said General Manager Jerry Reese. “He can play tackle on either the left or the right side.”

So what will Newhouse’s role be on the Giants? It is most likely that Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin envision as the primary reserve tackle behind Will Beatty at left tackle and Justin Pugh (or whomever starts) at right tackle. In effect, he has replaced James Brewer on the roster. But Newhouse failed miserably in that same role with the Bengals when called upon to play in 2014. It remains questionable at best if Newhouse can reinvigorate his career with his third team in three years. Inconsistent veterans usually don’t become more magically consistent. And soft linemen hardly ever change their stripes and become tougher and more physical players. The Giants signed offensive tackle Charles Brown in free agency last offseason. He was supposed to provide veteran depth too, but the Giants ended up cutting Brown in November. Hopefully history doesn’t repeat itself here with Marshall Newhouse.

Mar 192015
 
Share Button
Jonathan Casillas, New England Patriots (December 14, 2014)

Jonathan Casillas – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Linebacker has been a sore spot for the New York Giants for quite some time. The Giants have had to rely on free agent acquisitions and a trade to beef up a unit that the team has been unable to satisfactory address in the draft. After four seasons with the team, the Giants apparently have given up on 6th round draft pick Jacquian Williams and undrafted rookie free agent Spencer Paysinger. To fill these vacancies, the Giants signed unrestricted free agents J.T. Thomas from the Jacksonville Jaguars and Jonathan Casillas from the New England Patriots.

The 27-year old 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 New Orleans Saints (2009-11), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2013-14), and Patriots (2014). In 2014, Casillas played in five games for the Buccaneers before being traded to the Patriots in late October. In eight games for the Patriots with three starts, Casillas accrued 28 tackles and forced one fumble.

Casillas is a local talent, having been born in Jersey City and going to high school in New Brunswick. He has played on two Super Bowl championship teams: the Saints (2009) and Patriots (2014). After arriving in New England in mid-season, Casillas was mainly a back-up pass coverage specialist and core special teams player for the Patriots. Casillas signed a 3-year, $8 million contract with the Giants on March 10. He has already been given Paysinger’s #54 jersey number.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Casillas said. “After so much time away and playing ball in New Orleans and Tampa and New England, being able to come back home and be able to play in front of your home crowd and my family is really a blessing.”

In five seasons, Casillas has played in 64 regular-season games with 18 starts. He missed the entire 2010 season with a foot injury that he suffered in the preseason.

At 6’1”, 227 pounds, Casillas is an undersized linebacker. But he is an excellent athlete with good speed and agility for the position. Indeed, when he came out of college at the University of Wisconsin, there was some talk he might be better suited to the safety position at the pro level. As you would expect for such a linebacker-safety ‘tweener, Casillas is good in pass coverage and special teams. Against the run, while he has good instincts and range, he is not a physical player and he can have trouble at the point-of-attack due to his lack of size. He is a solid tackler.

Casillas only has three career sacks, all three coming in 2011 with the Saints. Despite being very sound in pass coverage, Casillas does not make many plays on the ball. He has never intercepted a pass at the pro level and only has five career pass defenses.

As for his role with the Giants, Casillas will compete for a starting outside linebacker spot, but he most likely will be a situational pass coverage linebacker. That is an important role in today’s pass-happy NFL that features athletic receiving threats at running back and tight end. He is a guy who can match-up against tight ends and backs split out wide or in the slot.

Casillas should also become one of the Giants’ better special teams players. He has 22 career special teams tackles in 70 regular- and post-season games. He recovered an onside kick in Super Bowl XLIV.

“The Giants are getting a real football player,” Casillas said. “Since I’ve been in the league, I’ve been under the radar, and I’ve accepted that. I’ve found a way to make plays and contribute, and also to make a healthy contribution to the city I’m in by doing things in the community. I try to do things the right way.”

Mar 172015
 
Share Button
Shane Vereen, New England Patriots (October 16, 2014)

Shane Vereen – © USA TODAY Sports Images

As the New York Giants entered 2015 NFL free agency, it was anticipated that the team would pursue a quicker, shiftier running back with pass receiving skills in order to compliment the bigger bruisers, Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams. The Giants signed arguably the best candidate on the open market in Shane Vereen to a 3-year, $12.35 million contract that included $4.75 million in guaranteed money.

“Vereen gives us lots of versatility as a receiver and runner,” said General Manager Jerry Reese.  “He is one of the best as a receiver out of the backfield or detached. He is very hard to handle for most linebackers. And he has big game experience.”

Vereen has been favorably compared to another former Patriot all-purpose back: Kevin Faulk. For Giants fans unfamiliar with Faulk’s body of work, think David Meggett, who ironically signed with the Patriots as a free agent in 1995. While many remember Meggett for his special teams kickoff and punt return exploits, Meggett was also a major component in the Giants offense from 1989 to 1994. On a team that did not emphasize the short passing game, Meggett not only rushed for 1,228 yards and five touchdowns, but more importantly he caught 231 passes for 2,194 yards and 10 touchdowns. He kept the chains moving for Phil Simms and Jeff Hostetler, and at times provided the big play.

If he stays healthy, Vereen should put up bigger numbers for the Giants. In the last two seasons in New England, Vereen caught 99 passes despite missing half the year in 2013. In the Giants West Coast-style offense under Ben McAdoo, the running back is a featured component in the passing game, not only as a check-off option when other targets are covered, but as a primary receiver. The West Coast offense is designed to exploit the field not only vertically, but horizontally, exploiting holes in defensive coverages. Vereen is a smaller, shiftier back who is a match-up problem for most linebackers. If teams focus their attention on Odell Beckham and Victor Cruz – as they should – then Vereen could feast against the underneath coverage.

What makes Vereen such a good receiver is not just his athletic ability and hands, but he is a precise, trustworthy route runner. He doesn’t make mental mistakes. And his skill set allows him to not only catch shorter passes on dig, drag, swing, and screen passes but also deeper routes where his split out wide like a conventional wide receiver. Indeed, there are times when the observer will understandably initially confuse Vereen for a wide receiver because of his route-running and pass-catching adeptness. He is like having another legitimate wideout on the field. Vereen has pass receptions of 83, 50, and 49 yards in the past three seasons.

What will be interesting to see is how the Giants use Vereen. Under Kevin Gilbride, Vereen probably would have been limited to a third-down back. But in Ben McAdoo’s system, although Vereen won’t be a conventional “starter”, he should see the field much more on first and second down, depending the opponent and game plan.

There are those who say it does not matter how good a pass catcher Vereen is because Eli Manning doesn’t have a good feel for throwing to running backs. While this certainly isn’t the strength of Manning’s game, the numbers don’t support that argument. When Eli had Tiki Barber, Barber was a favorite target of Eli’s, catching 54 passes in 2005 and 58 passes in 2006. Derrick Ward caught 41 passes from Eli in 2008 and Ahmad Bradshaw 47 passes in 2010. Despite being limited to 11 games with just nine starts, Jennings caught 30 passes from Manning in 2014. What these figures demonstrate is that even in an offense that was more vertically-oriented, Manning has productively thrown to running backs when the talent is there.

Another important component to Vereen’s game is that he does a good job or recognizing and picking up blitzes despite his lack of size. He has only fumbled twice in his pro career, losing one.

Vereen usually will not wow you as runner. He has good quickness and speed, but he is not a dynamic breakaway threat. His longest run from scrimmage at the pro level is only 21 yards. And at 5’10 and 205 pounds, he is not going to run over a lot of defenders. But Vereen can be a factor in the running back, especially out of the shotgun formation that McAdoo likes to employ. In his last two seasons in New England, Vereen ran the ball 140 times for 599 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.

Perhaps the biggest negative on Vereen is that in three seasons, he has only played a full 16-game schedule once. And that was in 2014. He missed 11 games in 2011 with hamstring issues, three games in 2012 with a foot injury, and eight games in 2013 with a fractured wrist. Obviously, for a New York Giants team that has been ravaged by injuries in recent years, Vereen’s injury-plagued past is a bit disconcerting.

But if Vereen stays healthy, it is not unreasonable to project him as a 50+ catch target in the New York offense. He should become a key figure in keeping drives alive and therefore increasing overall offensive productivity and scoring. Keeping drives alive will allow more opportunities for Manning, the wideouts, and the running backs. In the simplest terms, Vereen will make the New York Giants a much better offensive football team.

Mar 152015
 
Share Button
Jonathan Casillas, New England Patriots (December 14, 2014)

Jonathan Casillas – © USA TODAY Sports Images

By no means is an NFL roster anywhere near finalized by mid-March. There will be additional free agent signings and re-signings. Teams may cut players who the New York Giants have an interest in. And of course, the most important offseason personnel activity remains: the NFL Draft in April. But with the initial flurry of intensive free agency activity over, and almost all of the top free agents now off the market, let’s assess what the Giants have and have not accomplished at each position on the roster.

Quarterback: As expected, the status quo remains here. Eli Manning is the unquestioned starter and Ryan Nassib is the primary back-up. The Giants could still add another cheap arm for training camp.

Shane Vereen, New England Patriots (February 1, 2015)

Shane Vereen – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Running Back: The biggest free agent acquisition looks to be Shane Vereen (3-Years, $12.35 million). While Vereen will likely not start, he should become a critical role player in Ben McAdoo’s West Coast-style of offense as a dynamic and trustworthy pass receiver out of the backfield. Ideally, he should catch 50 passes, ranking him around the #3 or #4 receiver on the roster. In terms of the big picture, barring injury, it looks like the running back position is already largely settled heading into the 2015 season with Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams, and Vereen being the top three backs. The Giants also re-signed Chris Ogbonnaya, who will compete with Michael Cox and Orleans Darkwa in training camp for possibly a spot on the 53-man roster. The team cut Peyton Hillis.

Fullback: The Giants re-signed Henry Hynoski to a 2-year, $2 million deal. He will likely remain the team’s sole fullback on the roster.

Wide Receiver: The key characters still remain. Odell Beckham is the #1. Hopefully Victor Cruz is the #2. Rueben Randle should be the #3. Assuming Cruz can regain much of his old form (a big “if”) and the flashes Randle demonstrated late in the season were not a mirage (another big “if”), then really the main questions are who are the #4 and #5 guys on the roster. Almost assuredly, one will be newly-acquired receiver/returner Dwayne Harris (5-Years, $17.5 million), leaving one game-day active spot on the 53-man roster. Will that spot be for a 2015 draft pick (possibly as high as the first-round pick)? Or will the final spot go to Preston Parker, Kevin Ogletree, Marcus Harris, or Corey Washington?

Tight End: No change. Larry Donnell remains the #1 tight end. Some expect big things from him, others do not. Daniel Fells remains an unrestricted free agent who could be re-signed. The disappointing Adrien Robinson enters the final year of his rookie contract. Jerome Cunningham is a raw but intriguing receiving-type tight end. The Giants could use another body or two here, especially someone who is a reliable blocker.

Offensive Line: Many expected for the Giants to pursue one of the top free agent linemen. They did not. The Giants signed the CFL’s top offensive lineman, center/guard Brett Jones; re-signed journeyman center/guard Dallas Reynolds; re-signed wildly inconsistent guard John Jerry; and signed tackle Marshall Newhouse, a huge lineman who can play both tackle spots but who has also been benched twice by two different teams. The team also cut 2014 starting center J.D. Walton.

For the starting five, as it stands now, Will Beatty will remain the left tackle and Weston Richburg will be the new center. Geoff Schwartz will start at one of the two guard spots. Justin Pugh will start at right tackle or the other guard spot. Unless Newhouse (2-Years, $3 million), Jones, or Jerry surprise, many fans hope the final starting spot will be the first- or second-round pick from the 2015 NFL Draft. They also hope Newhouse is a big upgrade over James Brewer, Jones is an upgrade over Walton, and Jerry stops making so many mistakes. How good the starting five will be, and the overall depth situation, remain huge question marks.

Defensive Line: The Giants franchised Jason Pierre-Paul, released Mathias Kiwanuka, and re-structured Cullen Jenkins’ contract. But no new bodies have been added yet. Will the Giants and JPP be able to agree to a long-term deal? Or does this situation turn ugly? Who will start at end opposite Pierre-Paul? The candidates include Damontre Moore, Kerry Wynn, and Robert Ayers. Will the Giants sign a veteran? Or do the Giants take a defensive end early in the draft? Inside at tackle, Johnathan Hankins will start. Jenkins could remain a starter or be demoted to backup. Does Jay Bromley make a push for serious playing time? Mike Patterson remains unsigned and Marcus Kuhn is still on the roster. There are a lot of open questions at this position.

J.T. Thomas, Jacksonville Jaguars (December 18, 2014)

J.T. Thomas – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Linebacker: For better or worse, things are clearer at linebacker. The Giants and Beason agreed to a contract re-structure so he will have one more chance to prove that he can stay healthy. The Giants did not cut Jameel McClain before he was due a $400,000 roster bonus on March 12, so he will be back. The team re-signed Mark Herzlich to a 2-year, $2.6 million deal with a $400,000 bonus. Meanwhile the Giants seemingly have decided to replace unrestricted free agents Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger with J.T. Thomas (3-years, $10 million) and Jonathan Casillas (3-years, $8 million). Factoring in impressive rookie Devon Kennard, on paper, the Giants appear to have six linebacker spots already locked up. Of course someone could be drafted who might push one of these veterans off of the roster.

Defensive Backs: What a difference a year makes! Last year at this time, the secondary appeared to be the strength of the team and many were saying one of the best in team history. Now there are a lot of question marks. Corner is not quite as settled as some think. Barring injury, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara form a very strong starting duo. But Amukamara is entering the final year of his contract. In addition, with Walter Thurmond leaving for Philadelphia (1-Year, $4 million), who becomes the all-important nickel corner? And who is the first guy off of the bench if one of the starting two get hurt? The main backups are now Trumaine McBride, re-signed Chykie Brown (2-years, $2 million), Mike Harris, and Chandler Fenner. Not exactly an imposing group. Don’t be shocked if the Giants take a corner high in the draft.

Safety is in far worse shape. Gone is Antrel Rolle to the Bears (3-Years, $11.25 million). Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps remain unsigned, and questionable talents at best even if re-signed. Unless former 5th rounders Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe surprise, the Giants have glaring holes at this position. There isn’t much left available in free agency, and the draft is supposedly weak at this position.

Special Teams: Both kickers remain under contract. The Giants did add kick/punter returner Dwayne Harris, who also is a very good gunner. J.T. Thomas and Jonathan Casillas should help on specials as well.