New York Giants 1997 NFL Draft Review

FIRST ROUND — WR IKE HILLIARD, FLORIDA: Boy, do the Giants ever know how to keep a secret! Leading up to the draft, speculation amongst draft prognosticators, the media, and the fans on who the Giants would take in the first round centered upon OLB’s Dwayne Rudd and James Farrior, LT Walter Jones, and WR’s Rae Carruth and Yatil Green. Also rumored on the eve before the draft were OLB Jamie Sharper, WR Reidel Anthony, and TE Tony Gonzalez. Well, all of those players except for Walter Jones were available when the Giants make their first round selection and the Giants chose Hilliard instead. “If we like a guy we’re going to keep quiet about it,” said Giant Head Coach Jim Fassel. There was talk that the Giants were interested in trading up to the #4 spot with Baltimore. Who the Giants would have taken with that pick — DE Peter Boulware or LT Walter Jones — we may never know. Most reports seem to indicate it would have been Boulware. Ike Hilliard lacks blazing speed, but may be the most well-rounded WR in the draft. He is very quick, can cut sharply, runs good routes, is a good runner after the catch, has good hands, and is a clutch receiver. He plays tough and is not afraid to go over the middle. Hilliard is only 20 years old and was super-productive in school, catching 57 passes for 1,008 yards and 15 touchdowns in 1995 and 47 passes for 900 yards and 10 touchdowns in 1996. The negatives? He is not very big (6-0, 185lbs) or very fast (4.55 in the 40-yard dash). I like the pick, but not at the #7 spot. I would have preferred the Giants to have traded down a few spots before taking Hilliard. However, according to several reports in the New York press, the Giants did try to trade down with several teams, but found no takers. Moreover, some teams were very high on Hilliard and the Giants were afraid if they traded down too far, they would lose the chance of selecting him. Of all the wide receivers he worked out with, QB Troy Aikman of the Cowboys thought he was the best in the draft. It is known that both the Cowboys and Vikings were very interested in taking him in the first round. Hilliard was the receiver Florida QB Danny Wuerffel looked to first and foremost in the clutch. Dave Brown is sure to do the same. Unlike recent Giant first round picks, there is a good chance that Hilliard will make a dramatic impact his rookie season. Plus, he is a much more refined receiver at the present time than Carruth, Green, and Anthony. Jim Fassel’s hand prints are all over this selection. “I think he’s perfect for the kind of offense we’re going to run,” said Fassel. “The difference between him and the others is he moves quickly into areas and he adjusts to the ball well…The key thing was he was productive in an outstanding program, and 23 percent of his catches went for touchdowns. He can get the ball into the end zone. You talk about making yards after the catch and that can only happen when a quarterback is accurate with the football. And in this stadium, with the winds and everything, you need to have a receiver who can adjust to the ball on the run. Hilliard is very good at that.” According to General Manager George Young, “We thought he was the most complete receiver. He can make all of the catches that you need. He can run the fade pattern, catch the ball under pressure, and his blocking is pretty good. He can make the adjustments on the poorly thrown balls. One of the things that struck me was that he was very consistent. He was Danny Wuerffel’s go-to guy at Florida, the guy he looked for in the clutch.” Asked if it was possible that Hilliard would crack the starting line-up his rookie season, Fassel responded, “Absolutely.”

SECOND ROUND — HB ATIMI KIAMBU “TIKI” BARBER, VIRGINIA: Coming into the draft, the Giants’ offensive needs were wide receiver, left tackle or left guard, and a 3rd down back. Well, in the second round, the Giants got one of the best potential 3rd down backs in the draft as well as a guy who does a great job returning punts. But more than that, and despite his size (5-10, 200lbs), Tiki has proven to be one of the most productive backs running the football in the country over the last two years in a VERY competitive conference filled with tough defenses. He carried the ball 265 times for 1,397 yards and 14 touchdowns in 1995 and 250 times for 1,360 yards and 14 touchdowns in 1996. He also caught 44 passes for 474 yards and 2 touchdowns over the past two years. And all of this despite the fact that Virginia had a very poor passing offense and most teams facing Virginia loaded up to stop Barber. Barber is both fast and quick and has the ability to go the distance every time he touches the ball. He has very good instincts, vision, and balance. He has the excellent elusiveness that one looks for in a 3rd down back. The Giant coaches will love Tiki — he is smart, a hard worker, and a solid citizen off the field. Though not a natural receiver, he can catch the ball and makes a good effort in picking up the blitz, although his lack of great size does limit him there. He’s not a power player and he will fumble some, but he’s an explosive athlete who, along with Ike Hilliard, should help to dramatically improve the Giants’ woeful 3rd-down conversion percentage. I like the pick. If Tyrone Wheatley is not careful, Tiki Barber could challenge for some serious playing time in 1997 and beyond. He’s that good a runner. “When I look at this guy on film, the thing that floated through my eyes was Dave Meggett and Larry Centers,” said Fassel. “He’s a bright kid, bubbly, and an uplifting, positive type of guy…There is a guy every draft who you sit there and eyeball, and hope you can get. This is that guy…The only debate we had was on how long he would last.” Fassel also mentioned on ESPN that he expected Tiki to go in the first round. Fassel said that Tiki would become a great security blanket for Dave Brown in the passing game.

THIRD ROUND — OLB RYAN PHILLIPS, IDAHO: After addressing the offense with their first two picks, the Giants finally turned to the defense in the third round. Phillips is an interesting selection and somewhat of a project and a projection. In college, Phillips played a hybrid position where he was moved from DE to OLB to MLB depending on the game situation. With the Giants, he will be looked at strictly as a strongside outside linebacker, where the Giants had a need. First the positives. Ryan has excellent size (6-4, 250lbs) for the position and is a very athletic man for his size. He is strong, quick, and has good speed (4.63 in the 40-yard dash). Phillips is also a good pass rusher. Just as importantly, he has top intangibles. He is smart, tough, competitive, intense, and instinctive — the coaches will love working with him. Like Hilliard and Barber, he was also super-productive in college. In 1995, he picked up 60 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, and 11 sacks. In 1996, he picked up 65 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, and 8 sacks. The negatives? Phillips is a little bit of a ‘tweener, meaning that he may struggle somewhat when having to play in reverse at the pro level. In college, he was primarily a forward moving player, rarely having to cover running backs and tight ends. Thus, he will be a project and will take some time. Ryan also has to be a little bit more tougher and stronger in taking on the running game. He has had some injury woes with his hamstring this past year, but the Giants feel that this isn’t a big concern.

THIRD ROUND — P BRAD MAYNARD, BALL STATE: With this selection, the Giants look like they have their punting position set for a least the next decade. Maynard was clearly the best available punter in the draft and one of the best punting prospects to come along in a long, long time. Though not big (6-1, 182lbs), Maynard has a super-strong leg and can punt for distance, hang-time, and direction. An added bonus is that he has experience kicking in cold weather and is a great athlete to boot. How good is Maynard? He was named his conference’s overall MVP and defensive MVP in 1996 while averaging 45.8 yards per punt. In 1995, he averaged 46.5 yards per punt. In fact, he has been timed in the 4.6 range in the 40-yard dash. Provided the pressure doesn’t get to him, there is a very good chance that Maynard could develop into a Pro Bowl-type punter very quickly. With field position being ever so important in football, getting Maynard late in the 3rd round was quite a coup for the Giants.

FOURTH ROUND — MLB PETE MONTY, WISCONSIN: Somewhat surprisingly, the Giants turned once again to upgrading their linebacking corps. Like Ryan Phillips, Pete Monty is a true football warrior. Not blessed with outstanding athleticism, Monty was the heart-and-soul of the Badger defense amassing an amazing 137 tackles in 1995 and 165 tackles in 1996. Monty has good size (6-2, 252lbs), strength, and quickness. He isn’t very fast (4.82) or athletic, but he is a power player who plays with great intangibles. He is smart, hardworking, instinctive, relentless, physical, and a hard hitter. He does need to improve his play at the point-of-attack, but he is a very solid prospect and represent excellent value in the fourth round for the Giants. He should seriously push starter Corey Widmer and along with Doug Colman, will give the Giants superb depth at the MLB position.

FIFTH ROUND — S SAM GARNES, CINCINNATI: The Giants again stay defensive, looking to upgrade the depth and talent at their safety position. Garnes is an interesting prospect and somewhat of a gamble for the Giants. Garnes is a huge player (6-3, 225lbs) and has good speed for his size (4.62). Because of his size, he’s not real agile and will struggle more than a smaller player in pass coverage, especially man-to-man defense. Though he is a top hitter, at the beginning of the 1996 season, Garnes had a number of games where he looked like a horrible tackler. However, as he worked on his technique, he improved his tackling dramatically as the season progressed. He must continue to improve in this area if he is to make the Giants’ squad. Regardless, Garnes is a smart football player, a good athlete, and plays the game with a passion. He had 6 interceptions and 100 tackles in 1995 and 3 interceptions and 69 tackles in 1996. He has also played both strong and free safety.

SIXTH ROUND — QB MIKE CHERRY, MURRAY STATE: If the Giants were going to take a quarterback in this draft, it figured to be a late-round developmental type like Mike Cherry. Cherry has great tools to work with. He has the size the Giants look for in quarterbacks (6-4, 220lbs) and very good arm strength. He also has a quick release. He knows how to run an offense and has good leadership qualities and is tough. The negatives? The level of competition is a concern. He needs a lot of work in the technique department, but this is something that Jim Fassel and QB Coach Rod Dowhower can work with him on. He’s not real mobile and needs to improve his overall accuracy. He forces the ball more than he should. Cherry is very raw and will need some time to develop, but has some very interesting down-the-road potential. “He’s a bright guy, an energetic guy,” said Fassel. “I think this guy right now has a potentially big upside.” His selection probably spells the end of Stan White’s career with the Giants.

SEVENTH ROUND — DT MATT KENELEY, USC: The Giants drafted a DT from USC, but unfortunately it was not Darrell Russell. Keneley was Russell’s teammate at USC. Like many of the Giants’ other selections, Keneley has top intangibles. He is a smart, hardworking, relentless, and instinctive ball player. He does have decent size (6-4, 285lbs). However, Matt is very much limited due to his poor athletic ability. He’s cut fairly tall and has difficulty staying low. He’s not that agile, fast (5.33), or explosive and he needs to improve his overall strength and flexibility. Strictly a run player due to his athletic deficiencies, Keneley at times struggles in run defense because he plays too high and needs more strength. Matt had 58 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, and 4 sacks in 1995 and 66 tackles, 9 tackles for a loss, and 5 sacks in 1996. Matt will be lucky to make it as a back-up on the Giants. With DT’s Jason Ferguson, Myron Elzy, and LeLand Taylor still available at this point, I am not crazy about this selection. Other possibilities included LT Scott Rehberg, OG Donnie Young, and OC Billy Conaty.

Rookie Free Agent Signings

OC DEREK ENGLER (6-3, 295lbs, 5.40, Wisconsin): Has played both guard and center though the Giants will probably look at him at center. Tough, hard-working player who lacks athletic-ability. Will compete with Adam Schreiber for the back-up center postion, but probably doesn’t have the tools to make it.

OG CAYETANO “MANNY” CASTRO (6-6, 305lbs, 5.40, Wisconsin): Has played both left tackle and right guard, but is more of a pro prospect at guard. Very good size with decent feet. Team leader. Not that physical or tough in the running game. Inconsistent. Struggles somewhat in pass protection. Has the tools but hasn’t put it all together.

OT DAVE RILATT (6-7, 310lbs, 5.15, Maine): We have very limited information on this prospect.

FB MATT CALHOUN (5-11, 240lbs, 4.6, Ohio State): Part-time player while at Ohio State. Tough, hard-working player who blocks well. Not a very good runner. Has a good chance to make the squad as a back-up fullback to Charles Way.

FB ERIC LANE (6-2, 215lbs, 4.64, Tennessee): Part-time player while at Tennessee. Decent run skills but needs to improve as a blocker. Tall, but needs more bulk. Will compete with Calhoun for back-up fullback spot.

WR BRIAN ROBERSON (5-8, 165lbs, 4.55, Fresno State): Small but extremely productive receiver in college. Can return punts. Not very fast, but has excellent quickness. Can be explosive. Good hands. Elusive and good runner with the ball in his hands. Not physical and will struggle with the bump-and-run. More talented than your average rookie free agent — could seriously challenge for a roster spot.

WR JOHN WASHINGTON (5-9, 165lbs, 4.50, Texas Christian): Another small but productive receiver in college. Very quick and decent speed. Can return punts. Has decent hands but body catches too much.

WR VAN JOHNSON (6-1, 188lbs, Temple): We have very limited information on this prospect.

DE HAROLD GRAGG (6-3, 265lbs, 4.80, Wake Forest): Decent pass rusher who has good tools to work with. Not as productive as he should be — hasn’t put it all together yet.

DE CHARLES ESTES (6-3, 257lbs, Army): We have very limited information on this prospect.

DE RYAN SMITH (6-4, 263lbs, Idaho): Teammate of third rounder OLB Ryan Phillips at Idaho. Other than that, we have very limited information on this prospect.

CB KORY BLACKWELL (5-10, 175lbs, 4.54, Massachusetts): Good athlete who lacks size and pass coverage technique. Not a strong run player. Has some developmental potential.

CB MARC WILLIAMS (5-9, 173lbs, 4.60, Oregon State): We have very limited information on this prospect.

FS TYPAIL McMULLEN (6-1, 190lbs, 4.65, Middle Tennessee): Good size and range. Instinctive against the pass and makes a lot plays. Not a strong run player. Needs to improve his footwork against the pass.

FS JAMES JOHNSON (6-0, 180lbs, Nevada): We have very limited information on this prospect.

PK/P Brion Hurley (6-4, 215lbs, Iowa): We have very limited information on this prospect.