New York Giants 2002 NFL Draft Needs

Listening to most pundits, you would think the Giants shouldn’t even bothering showing up to play in 2002. They have lost too many players. They can’t sign anyone because of the salary cap. Michael Strahan and Ike Hilliard want out of New York. There is a rift between Tiki Barber and the defense. Yadda, yadda.

The truth of the matter is that the Giants really haven’t lost anyone of consequence and they are not in as bad of salary cap shape as everyone makes them out to be. The Giants’ biggest off-season priority was to keep Shaun Williams and they locked him up for seven years. Jessie Armstead played well in one game last year and was invisible in 15 others. His whole game is based on his wheels and those wheels are breaking down. Sam Garnes was steady, but never did anything to get noticed. Who is crying that Lomas Brown, Glenn Parker, Dave Thomas, and Jack Golden are gone? Joe Jurevicius never developed as hoped. He wasn’t a deep threat and really never shined as a possession receiver. Greg Comella, Ron Stone, and Emmanuel McDaniel will leave soon too. Comella, while a nice player, wasn’t the blaster at the point-of-attack that the halfbacks need. Stone played like crap in 2001 and seems to be sliding. McDaniel is easily replaceable (probably by Ralph Brown).

The cap? The cap is a problem in the short-term because of the intransigence of Michael Strahan and Kerry Collins. These two account for 25% of the 2002 salary cap. If they lower their demands and re-sign, then the Giants will have a lot of room to sign free agent bargains in May and June. If they do not, then the pressure is squarely on these two to perform on the field. It is unlikely that Strahan will top his performance from last year. And being a year older and in an ever tightening fiscal market, the Giants may find the best thing they can do is wait. Strahan will be on the wrong side of 30 and has a history of back problems. As for Collins, his temerity to look for such a huge contract after the Giants original generosity in 1999 and his poor on-the-field performance in 2001 is appalling. Collins’ career history is an inconsistent one and 2002 will go a long way in determining whether the Giants should keep him or move on to Jesse Palmer or another veteran option. If Collins walks after 2002, there will be no salary cap hit and a lot of room to maneuver.

The short-term cap picture may be depressing, but the Giants have not mortgaged their future. There is no Ravens- or Jaguars-like purge on the horizon. Keep in mind that this team is only one year removed from its NFC Championship and, despite everything that went wrong last season, was two last minute Donovan McNabb drives from winning the NFC East again.

The 2002 draft will help. But more immediate help will come from the 2000 and 2001 drafts and rookie free agent acquisitions. Now is the time for guys such as Will Allen, Will Peterson, Ralph Brown, Brandon Short, Dhani Jones, Cornelius Griffin, Cedric Scott, Ron Dayne, Ron Dixon, Rich Seubert, and Chris Bober to shine. It is these classes – not the 2002 class – that will make the biggest immediate impact. Fans may be surprised to find out how much talent is actually still on the team aside from the obvious big-name players.

Let’s take a look at the roster and determine what the biggest needs are:

FRONT SEVEN DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: The heart of the Giants has been their defense and the front seven in particular. However, Jessie Armstead is gone. Their best players -Michael Strahan, Keith Hamilton, and Mike Barrow – are over 30 years old. Plus, we still do not know how the Strahan contract situation will play out. Strahan could be re-signed by next off-season, franchised, traded, or simply allowed to walk away. There is some promising youth with the likes of Cornelius Griffin, Cedric Scott, Brandon Short, and Dhani Jones, but much more is needed. There is a strong need at defensive end (where the futures of both Strahan and Kenny Holmes are in doubt). Competition at weakside linebacker is a must as is greater depth/special teams performance at linebacker. Don’t count out a defensive tackle either. Griffin has the tools to play at end if the Giants need a body out there and better depth would be ideal regardless. I could very easily see a front seven defensive player being the Giants’ first pick.

WIDE RECEIVER: The Giants still haven’t had an impact player at wide receiver since Homer Jones was traded in 1969. It looked like Amani Toomer was ready to reach the next level, but he was disappointing in 2001. Ike Hilliard may only be 26, but the hits have taken their toll and who knows if his toe condition is chronic? He also says he wants out of New York (he’ll probably sign with the Skins next offseason). Joe Jurevicius never developed as hoped and has signed with Tampa Bay. Ron Dixon has great speed and could still be a factor, but his time is running out. Jonathan Carter is speedy, but raw. What it comes down to is who scares opposing defenses? No one really. The potential is there in Toomer, Dixon, and Carter, but there are too many question marks. A speed receiver who isn’t so brain dead that he can’t learn to run NFL routes would do wonders for the offense. It would help out both Collins and the running game. I guarantee that the Giants will draft speed at wide receiver again this year in the hopes of striking gold finally.

OFFENSIVE LINE: All teams have to decide where to spend their salary cap dollars. Every position simply cannot be addressed adequately and hard choices have to be made. For better or worse, the Giants’ hierarchy has made the conscious decision to spend the big bucks elsewhere on the roster than the offensive line. One gets the sense that Ernie Accorsi looks at teams such as the Broncos and sees a well-coached, low draft pick line that outperforms almost everyone in the league. It’s not that the Giants don’t have some quality talent on the line. They do in Luke Petitgout (former first rounder) and Dusty Zeigler (one of the better centers in football). The big question is can guys like Rich Seubert, Jason Whittle, Chris Bober, and Mike Rosenthal be long-term solutions? Whittle has played quite a bit the last two years and doesn’t look bad. Seubert actually has a chance to develop into a quality player. Most fears surround the left tackle position. Does Bober have the feet to face such guys as Hugh Douglas and Bruce Smith? Or should the Giants flip-flop Bober and Petitgout? Or should they bit the bullet and draft a tackle high? Regardless, better depth and competition is needed all along the line.

FULLBACK: Greg Comella is an unrestricted free agent and, somewhat surprisingly, they apparently have absolutely no interest in re-signing him. One hears whispers that they want a more physical blocker. Perhaps that and the fact that the Giants don’t want to pay veteran-level money at a limited position are the reasons. There is also the possibility that the Giants think that Anthony Green and Adam Wright have some talent. Fullbacks aren’t usually drafted high and this isn’t a strong year in the draft for fullbacks.

FREE SAFETY: With Shaun Williams moving to strong safety, there is a big hole at free safety that needs to be filled. The good news is that Omar Stoutmire is a veteran with starting experience with both the Cowboys and Jets. The smallish DeWayne Patmon is a very smart and instinctive player who could surprise. But adding some quality competition would be wise. Ideally, what the Giants need is a ball-hawk with speed.

TIGHT END: Much depends on this key question: is the Giants lack of focus on the tight end position since 1998 due more to the lack of receiving talent or the predisposition of Offensive Coordinator Sean Payton? If it is the former, then taking a tight end high makes sense. If it is the latter, then it doesn’t. What we do know is this: in 1998, when Jim Fassel was calling the plays, Kent Graham was the quarterback, and Pete Mitchell was the tight end, the tight end was a big part of the offense. However, since Kerry Collins and Sean Payton took over, it has not. Pete Mitchell was hurt in 1999 and was allowed to leave. If the Giants draft a tight end high and actually use him, it will open up things for the receivers and provide Collins another option – especially on third down. There are a lot of fine receiving-type tight ends in this draft, but not many who can block well. Because of that, Dan Campbell still has an important roll on this team.

QUARTERBACK: This is the big wild card in the draft for the Giants. Much depends on just how strongly they feel about Kerry Collins. They obviously aren’t happy with his contract demands and one hears whispers that only his late-season performance saved him from possibly being waived. Publicly, the Giants stand behind him. My best guess is that the team wants to see how he performs in 2002 before making an ultimate decision. Collins has one good year and one bad year behind him – 2002 is the rubber season.

So how does this affect the quarterback position and the Giants in the upcoming draft? We know they like Jesse Palmer. Do they add another young arm and risk going with a lot of inexperience behind Collins or do they re-sign Jason Garrett? Accorsi is on record as saying you can’t pass up a great talent at quarterback. What if Joey Harrington slips or a guy like Patrick Ramsey (one of my favorites) rocks their boat?

CORNERBACK: If Jason Sehorn recovers well from off-season knee and ankle surgery, then the Giants are alright at this position with him, Allen, Peterson, and Brown. They could always find some late round/free agent player for insurance.

HALFBACK: Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne make this a position of strength. Damon Washington, Antonio Warren, Delvin Joyce, and Aaron Kernek will vie for the third down back spot.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Giants are likely to go into camp with P Rodney Williams and PK Owen Pochman the leading contenders for the kicking jobs. If either falters, a vet can be added late in camp. But the Giants still need to add some head hunters to the special teams coverage units. These guys usually come from the linebacker and defensive back positions.