Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images
New York Giants 2014 NFL Draft Review: Eric’s Take
The New York Giants are not reloading; they are rebuilding. And while this rebuilding project does not reach down to the foundational level (head coach and quarterback), the offensive coaching staff was almost completely revamped (three new coaches, two re-assigned); core players have retired or been allowed to leave via free agency; an unprecedented 16 players were added in veteran free agency; and an additional 18 players have been added since the draft started.
Despite all of these roster additions, the New York Giants were not able to address every need in the 2014 NFL Draft. Team leadership was surprisingly candid about this immediately after the draft.
“In personnel, sometimes you can’t get everything,” said General Manager Jerry Reese. “You can’t just waive a magic wand.”
“You get seven picks, and you can’t take everything you need,” said Marc Ross. “You can’t have first round picks at every pick that you want and things that you think you need.”
How does a team that has added 34 players in the past three months still have significant holes? Because for a variety of reasons, too many picks in the last six NFL Drafts have not worked out and are no longer with the team. Hence the need for a major rebuilding project.
So before we look at what the Giants accomplished, let’s look at what they did not accomplish.
Ideally, the Giants would have liked to have added premium draft picks at the offensive tackle, tight end, defensive end, and linebacker positions. But as Reese and Ross said, you can’t do everything you want in one draft when you have so many needs.
Tight end has gotten more attention from fans, but the Giants have a glaring question mark at tackle. Will Beatty is coming off of a bad season and a significant injury that will hamper his preparation for the 2014 season. If he isn’t ready or struggles again, the passing and running games will suffer. Charles Brown, a former 2nd round pick of the Saints who was brought in for depth and insurance, struggled in New Orleans with inconsistent pass protection and penalties. The Giants could shift Justin Pugh to left tackle, but then who plays right tackle? Geoff Schwartz? Even he admits he is a better guard. James Brewer? He hasn’t taken the bull by the horns since drafted in 2011. Brandon Mosley or Stephen Goodin? Still relative unknowns.
Head Coach Tom Coughlin was surprisingly honest about his desire to add a tight end in the draft. “It has to work out for you and all of a sudden, bang, a couple guys were gone in that 2nd round and you say, ‘Wait a minute, how deep is that position and then who?’ Two of them (who we liked) are (drafted by other teams),” said Coughlin. “Yeah it’s a concern.”
So the Giants will have to hope that one of the following step up: journeymen Daniel Fells or Kellen Davis, or the talented but so far disappointing Adrien Robinson or Larry Donnell. I still would not write off the possibility of signing free agent Jermichael Finley if he can pass a physical.
On paper, the strength of the Giants defense seems to have shifted from the defensive line to the secondary. If true, I can’t recall at time when that was ever the case. Now the Giants must pray that Jason Pierre-Paul regains his 2011 form after two bad seasons. They must also pray that Damontre Moore develops into a quality pass rusher. Mathias Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers are not bad players, but they don’t scare anyone. Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck are just memories now. In 2014, the Giants may struggle to rush the passer.
Jerry Reese learned a valuable lesson in 2013: a good linebacker can dramatically improve the entire defense. Jon Beason proved to be an impact addition, not just because of his play, but perhaps more importantly due to his leadership. But Beason has had some significant injuries and the Giants still lack big-time playmakers at the outside positions. In a perfect world, the Giants would have added a top linebacking prospect. Jameel McClain may help, but he was just a guy in Baltimore. The Giants can get by with what they have (Spencer Paysinger, Jacquian Williams), but there is little depth and no special players.
OK, so let’s look at what the Giants did accomplish in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Adding an impact wide receiver was critical and the Giants appear to have done just that with the selection of Odell Beckham, Jr. in the 1st round. Last season, teams simply took Victor Cruz out of the game and dared the other receivers and tight ends to hurt them. They couldn’t. If Beckham develops into the player as hoped, the Giants will have the outside threat they have lacked since Week 2 of the 2012 NFL season when Hakeem Nicks became a shadow of himself. Beckham has it all except height. Since Eli Manning tends to throw the ball high, additional height would help but Beckham is very quick and fast, runs great routes, can make circus catches, and perhaps most significantly in the new Giants offense, is a tremendous run-after-the-catch receiver. Eli Manning has worked with Beckham in passing camps and fully endorses the selection. Unusually, there already seems to be chemistry there. Most encouraging is that there are reports that at least a half-dozen teams were trying to trade up to snag Beckham. He was picked right where the rest of the NFL seems to have expected him to go. Now if Rueben Randle could just develop, the Giants will be in very good shape at wide receiver.
In round two, most fans thought the Giants would draft an offensive tackle or tight end. But many were also thinking guard or center and the Giants arguably picked the best center in the draft with the selection of Weston Richburg. Richburg lacks ideal size, but most NFL centers are in the same size range (6’3”, 300lbs). He has everything else – strength, agility, quickness, smarts, work ethic, leadership qualities. Temperament wise, he has been compared favorably to Richie Seubert. J.D. Walton may start, but Richburg has the look of a 10-year starter. The Giants may even consider moving Richburg or Walton temporarily to guard if necessary. Richburg was expected to be drafted in this area of the draft and the only criticism that can be leveled here is that he was a “luxury” pick given the needs at tight end and tackle.
Fans debated before the draft how big a need was the defensive tackle position, especially given the free agent departure of Linval Joseph. Some said it was a big need. Others said they were relatively comfortable with the players behind Cullen Jenkins and Joseph’s replacement, Johnathan Hankins. But with the selection of Jay Bromley in the 3rd round, the Giants made it clear they wanted to add another quality prospect to compete with Mike Patterson and Markus Kuhn, as well as groom behind the 33-year old Jenkins. Bromley is the most controversial selection by the Giants. Most “draft experts,” and even Bromley’s agent, expected him to be drafted in rounds 4-6. Fans such as myself who have watched YouTube clips of him (always a dubious exercise) have come away with mixed evaluations. Some see a prospect who struggles at the point-of-attack while others have seen a guy who can penetrate and disrupt. Regardless, how Bromley develops or doesn’t develop will be a big factor in how this draft is evaluated years from now. To be brutally frank, the Giants have really struggled with their 3rd round selections (Jayron Hosley, Jerrel Jernigan, Ramses Barden, Travis Beckum, Gerris Wilkinson) not to mention bad luck with others (Chad Jones and Jay Alford). What we do know about Bromley is he is a guy who is easy to root for (see this outstanding New York Daily News article), he’s a New Yorker who grew up a Giants fan, and he does have good quickness and tenacity for the position. In addition, Bromley was a team captain at Syracuse. The Giants feel he can get bigger and stronger without affecting quickness. Jerry Reese went so far as to compare him to a shorter version of Chris Canty. In my personal view, ultimately, for Bromley to work out, he has to play far more stout at the point-of-attack then I saw on the limited YouTube video that I watched.
There was an intriguing post from BigBlueInteractive.com contributor Ross. Through the grapevine, he heard the following from a former employee of the Philadelphia Eagles:
Each year, teams think they found a few guys that are off the radar and can get them later in the draft for various reasons: injury, small schools, overshadowed etc. This year, one of those guys was Bromley. He said there was a buzz about him in recent weeks and thought he would get drafted earlier that the so called draft experts projected. He’s a “sleeper” and thought many teams wanted him. He said that he is the type of guy that no one talks about as so many teams are interested and they hope he slips. He said no one will work harder than him and Giants got a really good player. Said he was a sure 3rd round pick in his mind and also used the Chris Canty comparison as player type. Thought the Steelers or Bears would grab him in the 3rd which means that he didn’t think it was a reach at all.
As disappointed as many fans were with the “reach” of Bromley, they were equally excited about the Giants drafting RB Andre Williams, the nation’s leading rusher and Heisman Trophy candidate, in the 4th round. Name recognition goes a long way in making the average fan happy around draft time. That said, Williams looks like a very good value selection. A little oddly, running back was not perceived as big need by most Giants fans. This probably had to do more with talent issues at other positions than the true state of affairs, especially given David Wilson’s unsure status. In addition, while I’m a fan of Rashad Jennings, it’s still unknown if he can be the “bell cow” at running back. Williams is a throwback. He’s a big, powerful, bruising running back who seems more out-of-style in today’s pass-happy game. The biggest knock on Williams is his hands. He did not have a single reception in 2013 at Boston College. He also needs to hold onto the ball better (10 fumbles in three seasons). The Jennings-Williams duo gives the Giants backfield an entirely different feel. This is a sledgehammer combination that can wear down a defense if – and this is big “if” – the Giants can block for them up front.
Nat Berhe, the first of the Giants two 5th rounders, is an undersized heat-seeking missile who loves the physical side of the game. He is a big hitter and aggressive tackler. He also is another smart guy and former team captain. At worst, he should excel on special teams. At best, he could become the new in-the-box safety/linebacker in Perry Fewell’s three-safety package. “Well, you can compare it to the third safety role, that Deon Grant role as we’ve called it,” said Marc Ross. “That would be the most natural fit. This is what (Berhe) did and this is what that role was (in college).” The biggest knock on Berhe, other than his size, is that does not make many plays on the football in the air (five interceptions in three seasons).
The second 5th rounder, Devon Kennard, is one of those DE/LB ‘tweeners who the Giants have liked to draft in recent years, but who may not be a good fit for a 4-3 defense. Kennard is big, physical, smart, a team leader, and flashes as a pass rusher. But what we don’t know is if he has the quickness, agility, and speed to play linebacker at the pro level against pass-happy NFL offenses. I envision him as the equivalent to Mathias Kiwanuka (when he played at weakside linebacker), but the Giants have talked about him possibly being a candidate at middle linebacker. I question if he has the overall athleticism for that move. Some had projected Kennard to be drafted much earlier than the 5th round so this at least appears to be a good value selection.
The Giants final pick – CB Bennett Jackson in the 6th round – is also a good value pick. He was projected by some to go higher than this as well. Jackson is a former wide receiver who was converted to corner for the last two years of school at Notre Dame. Another team captain, he was limited his senior season by a shoulder injury. He is size-speed project with good intangibles but he faces stiff competition and numbers at the corner position on this roster. His best immediate prospect may be the Practice Squad unless he kicks ass on special teams in the preseason.
As for the 10 rookie free agents signed after the draft, the three most intriguing are TE Xavier Grimble, DT Kelcy Quarles, and DT Eathyn Manumaleuna. Safeties C.J. Barnett and Thomas Gordon also started a ton of games in the Big 10. Even had the Giants not had a huge need at tight end, Grimble would be an interesting signing. He has a nice combination of size, overall athleticism, and hands. His productivity at USC was hampered by injures and Lane Kiffin’s offense. He could surprise. Quarles was expected by some to be drafted as high as the 2nd-3rd round, but some have questioned his maturity and character. Manumaleuna may lack ideal size and athleticism, but he’s a disruptive football player who can play the run. The Giants also loaded up on defensive ends (Kerry Wynn, Emmanuel Dieke, and Jordan Stanton) and linebackers (Dan Fox and Justin Anderson), hoping one may be a diamond in the rough. Interestingly, 9-out-of-10 of the rookie free agent signings were on the defensive side of the football. None were on the offensive line.
Overall, this appears to be a respectable group. The Giants look like they have future starters in Beckham, Richburg, and Williams. Much depends on Bromley. Did the Giants reach again in the 3rd round or find a gem? The Giants will have to wait until 2015 to address their other needs at offensive tackle (unless Beatty rebounds), tight end (unless someone surprises), defensive end (unless Damontre Moore turns into a stud), and linebacker. The rebuilding project continues.