An Early Look at the New York Giants 2004 NFL Draft

By Colin Lindsay, Great Blue North Draft Report

Overview… Obviously the 2004 draft is still a long way off, however, our theory here at the Great Blue North is that it is NEVER, EVER too early to be looking ahead to the next draft. Certainly, its not too early to be looking ahead to which players might be available come next April and how the top prospects match up with what will likely be the Giants’ primary needs at the end of the current season. Of course, much can, and will, happen between now and then. In terms of prospects, for example, some will see their draft chances dramatically altered by injuries, off-years, or off-field problems, while others who are currently barely registering on the draft radar screen will emerge as legitimate prospects as the season progresses. Meanwhile, the Giants’ priorities will also no doubt change, and possibly change often, as the year evolves with certain players slumping or stagnating, while others emerge as quality performers. And, of course, what happens in free agency next winter, both in terms of who comes and who leaves, will also have a major impact on the Giants’ needs for 2004.That said, what the Giants’ scouting staff is currently seeing from the potential 2004 draft class has got to be bringing some early smiles to their faces. For starters, as we noted in our Pre-season College Football Draft Report overview published earlier this month, the 2004 draft that is slowing coming into focus looks like it could be one of the better drafts in recent years. In fact, with the caveat that much still depends on how many of this year’s terrific junior class ultimately jumps to the NFL this off-season, the 2004 could be loaded. Even better for the Giants is the impression that the positions that the team is likely to be looking hard at next April all will be very talented. The following is a brief look at how those areas are currently shaping up for next year’s draft…

1a – Linebacker….
Why the Giants will take a LB…Its hard not to look at the Giants current roster and come to the conclusion that LB is the team’s weakest position in terms of both overall talent and depth. Veteran MLB Mike Barrow is still a force, but is clearly on the back end of his career, while OLBs Brandon Short and Dhani Jones are solid enough players, but neither makes many impact plays. That’s a particular problem with WLB Jones because the Giants’ defensive scheme counts on big plays from the weakside guy. Meanwhile, second-year man Nick Griesen provides the only real depth; he’s also the only young LB on the roster who looks like he could eventually move into a starting role. While tough and instinctive, however, Griesen isn’t very fast. And that pretty much summarizes the Giants’ problems at LB, that is, there just isn’t much team speed at the position.

What should be available at LB in 2004…Fortunately, for the Giants, if they ultimately do want to upgrade at LB this coming draft year, they should be in good shape. Indeed, after being something of an afterthought the past several years, the 2004 draft should feature a very strong field at LB. The Giants will almost certainly end up drafting too late in next April’s first round to have a legitimate shot at either Texas junior Derrick Johnson or Miami’s D.J. Williams, the likely two top-rated OLBs this coming April, however, there should be a number of other quality OLBs still on the board in the lower half of this year’s opening round. Indeed, a couple of schools – Auburn and Florida State – have at least two OLBs who fit that bill all on their own. The Auburn defense, for example, will be lead by veteran OLBs Karlos Dansby (6-5, 235) and Dontarrious Thomas (6-4, 240), both of whom are angular types who can really run; indeed, Dansby has toyed with the idea of shifting to SS. The Florida State pairing of Kendyll Pope and Michael Boulware doesn’t have the size of their Auburn counterparts – they both go about 220 pounds – but both can fly to the ball. In fact, like Auburn’s Dansby, Boulware has flirted with the idea of shifting to safety, while Pope, arguably one the top defenders anywhere in the country, simply plays like an extra DB.  Same story for Oklahoma speedster Ted Lehman, another speedster who was all over the field for the Sooners last fall, making plays at the line of scrimmage (112 tackles including 17 for loss) and in coverage (2 picks, 7 pass breakups). Meanwhile, Eric Pauly of Colorado State hasn’t received the national attention of some of his OLB counterparts from the bigger programs, but is another outstanding two-way prospect in his own right, who would be a superb second-round steal.

There is something of a drop-off at OLB among the second-tier prospects, but Josh Buhl of Kansas State, who was more productive than former teammate Terry Pierce, a 2003 second rounder, speedy Keyaron Fox of Georgia Tech and underrated Maurice Jones of South Florida, among others, all have first-day ability.

What makes the above group particularly for pro scouts is, that unlike just about every other position in the 2004 draft class, is that other than Texas’ Johnson, all the top prospects are already seniors, which means that barring injury, they should all be definitely on the board next April. One other junior who could make things even more interesting, though, is Southern Mississippi junior OLB Michael Boley (6-3, 225), another terrific athlete who registered 142 tackles, including 8 sacks, along with 6 pass break ups last fall.

The MLBs aren’t quite as talented as the OLB field, but are still relatively talented compared to recent years at the position. Heading the list is Lance Mitchell of Oklahoma, who combines with OLB Lehman to anchor the nation’s best defense. Mitchell, who will be looking to break 4.5 seconds for the 40 at pre-draft workouts next winter, has the speed to be an every-down player and should also come into play in the late first round area next April. Mitchell, though, could get some competition for the #1 ranking among MLBs from the likes of Rod Davis of Southern Miss, Daryl Smith of Georgia Tech, and Jonathon Vilma of Miami. However, while each is a talented prospect, each also must deal with some questions before draft day next April. Davis, for example, was the most productive LB in college football last fall, racking up 168 tackles, including 10.5 sacks and 23.5 total tackles for loss, but still has to answer doubts about his overall speed. On the other hand, there is no question about Vilma’s speed. Vilma, in fact, has incredible side-to-sideline quickness, and hits a ton when he gets there, but isn’t very big at barely 220 pounds, if that, and may need to play behind a dominating defensive front capable of keeping blockers off of him at the next level. Meanwhile, the multi-talented Smith has been troubled by a shoulder problem of late.

There is also some solid depth at ILB this year, led by Oregon State’s Richard Seigler, a better prospect than former teammate Nick Barnett, the Packers’ #1 pick at last April’s draft, along with Carl Diggs of Michigan, Duke tackling machine Ryan Fowler, rugged Nick Koutouvides of Purdue, athletic Reed Boyd of Texas, underrated Nick Duffy of Northern Illinois and dependable Courtney Watson of Notre Dame. Meanwhile, Rod Royal of McNeese State, an aggressive 250-pounder, is one of the top non-Division 1-A prospects at any position.

1b – Safety
Why the Giants will take a safety…One factor that could mitigate against the Giants using a high pick in 2004 on a LB or two  – indeed its why at this time we are considering LB-DB as a kind of team entry – is the news from from training camp this summer that the team is reportedly considering revamping the nickle and dime packages, if not the base defense period, by pairing current SS Shaun Williams with Barrow in a two-man LB corps and then adding an extra safety or CB replacing the third LB. If that scenario were indeed to emerge as a reality this year, then the Giants primary need would very likely shift to the safety positions. FS Omar Stoutmire and SS Johnny Harris, who would man the two safety positions, are dependable, veteran journeyman, who won’t beat themselves with mistakes, but don’t make many big plays in their own right. And there’s little proven depth in the deep secondary. Indeed, even if the Giants stick
with their base 4-3 defense into the future, the Giants are still likely to be looking at upgrading the safety positions, especially FS, at the 2004 draft, although they would be more likely to use a late first day pick on the position rather than a #1 selection, unless there was simply a player too good to pass up when they did make their choice.

What should be available at DB in 2004…And that safety ‘just too good to pass up’ could in fact be there in junior FS Sean Taylor of Miami. Taylor, at 6-3, 220, hits like a LB and with reported 4.3 speed covers like a CB. In a normal draft year, Taylor would be a strong top 10 prospect, but in what looks to be a potentially very deep draft class could slip into the latter part of the first round. Another junior, Jason Shivers of Arizona State, isn’t as big as Taylor at 6-1, 190, but flies around the field just the same and could also be worth a late-first round pick. Meanwhile, Purdue’s Stuart Schweigert, Brandon Everage of Oklahoma, Etric Pruitt of Southern Miss and Madieu Williams of Maryland head a very good group of seniors safeties, some of whom could also compete for a spot in the late first round, although they are all more likely to be second rounders next April. As well, there is a deep group of second-tier FSs including underrated Eli Ward of Minnesota, Rashad Baker of Tennessee, Dexter Reid of North Carolina, Keith Lewis of Oregon, J.R. Reed of South Florida, Gerald Jones of San Jose State, Medford Moorer of Colorado and Glenn Earl of Notre Dame, all of whom should get first-day consideration.

Underclassmen are also likely to dominate the SS ranks which should be led by juniors Matt Ware of UCLA, Atari Bigby of Central Florida, Jamaal Brimmer of UNLV and Donte Nicholson of Oklahoma. Ware, for example, is a terrific all-around athlete with CB speed – indeed, he’ll play outside this fall – while Bigby and Brimmer don’t get much national attention, but are big hitters with athleticism. Nicholson, a fast, athletic JC transfer, meanwhile, has the physical skills to be the best of the bunch. There is more of a drop-off to the next group of SSs than at FS, but veterans Maurice Sykes of Miami, Guss Scott of Florida, Rashad Washington of Kansas State and Kentrell Curry of Georgia are all solid. Sykes, in fact, would probably grade out as a late first rounder, but he’s a tad small for a prototype safety prospect, plus he’s been battling a shoulder injury.

2 – Defensive line
Why the Giants will take a defensive lineman…Okay, so the Giants chose defensive linemen with their first and second round picks last April, however, the position was so thin to begin with that it wouldn’t be a shock if the Giants go back in that direction again this coming draft. This year, though, we might expect the Giants to take a DE first, especially if there was a potentially dominating prospect on the board when they made their first-round selection, followed by a DT later in day one.

At the defensive tackle, for example, the addition of DT William Joseph, the team’s #1 pick this past April, gives the Giants a potentially dominating 3-man rotation at the position along with veterans Keith Hamilton and Cornelius Griffin, however, they are still just an injury away from being in a similar situation to last year where in which they would have to use the starters on every play or live with a huge drop off in talent if they brought in any reserves. And, of course, Hamilton is no sure thing after coming back from shoulder and achilles’ injuries that kept him out of the lineup most of the past two seasons. Hamilton, who is entering his 12th NFL season, is also no spring chicken, plus he has those off-field problems hanging over his head.

Assuming that 2003 second rounder Osi Umenyiora can contribute, depth isn’t as much as a concern at DE as at DT, particularly with the addition of veteran free agent DE Keith Washington to support starters Michael Strahan and Kenny Holmes. The greater concern at DE is that Strahan, who like Hamilton is well into his 30s, starts to slip leaving the Giants without a dominating two-way DE. Holmes and Washington are solid enough, but are ultimately more journeyman types, while Umenyoira is still raw and unproven.

What should be available along the DL in 2004…Again, fortunately for the Giants, the 2004 draft looks like it will be another very good year for defensive linemen. That will be old hat for the DTs which have pretty much dominated the past couple of drafts. The top DTs like Miami junior Vince Wilfork and Oklahoma junior Tommie Harris, both of whom are considered to be top 10 prospects, likely will be long gone by the time the Giants make their opening selection next April, however, there should plenty of other big, physical DTs with decent athleticism available this year including Maryland junior Randy Starks, our early choice to be this year’s Dewayne Robertson, along solid veterans Marcus Tubbs of Texas, Darnell Dockett of Florida State, and Jordan Carstens of Iowa State. There’s also a very good group of second-tier DTs like Tim Anderson of Ohio State, Chad Pugh of TCU, Hawaii’s Isaac Soponga, Dwan Edwards of Oregon State, UCLA’s Rodney Leisle and Brandon Kennedy of North Texas State, some of whom are likely to slide into the latter part of the second round and might ultimately be more logical options for the Giants given the fact they may have bigger needs in the opening round.

Meanwhile, the DE class should be strong for 2004 after have played something of a second fiddle to their counterparts at DT over the past few drafts. There is, however, still much sorting out to do between now and next April at the position. In fact, at this point there is no clear leader among the DEs; instead, there is a large number of strong DEs with the potential to go relatively highly including juniors Antwan Odom of Alabama, David Pollock of Georgia, and Bill Swancutt of Oregon State; redshirt sophomore Kenechi Udeze of Southern Cal; and seniors Jason Babin of Western Michigan, Claude Harriott of Pitt, Will Smith of Ohio State, and Dave Ball of UCLA, all of whom have either size, speed or both.

Alabama’s Odom and UGA’s Pollock, for example, are two of the very best players in the tough SEC. Odom is a 6-5 angular edge rusher with speed, who also has the bulk to play the run, while Pollack, the SEC’s Player of the Year last fall after posting 14 sacks, brings new meaning to the term ‘non-stop motor’. Meanwhile, Oregon State’s Swancutt, UCLA’s Ball and USC’s Udeze all tended to get lost last fall in the west coast wake of Arizona State’s Terrell Suggs, the 10th player taken at this year’s draft. Each though, put up great numbers of their own with Swancutt, an explosive 260-pound edge rusher, posting 11.5 sacks and 21.5 total tackles for loss, while Ball had 11 sacks and 15 tackles for loss, and Udeze had 7.5 sacks, 16 tackles for loss, and forced 6 fumbles.

Pitt’s Harriott and WMU’s Babin, currently the leading senior DE prospects, aren’t exactly household names across the country, but each is also a potentially dominant pass rusher. Harriott, for example, posted 9.5 sacks and 21 total tackles for loss last fall, while Babin is coming off a 15-sack, 26-tackle for loss season. Babin has decent size (6-4, 265) for the position at the next level, but excels because of outstanding quickness. Babin is also a good all-around athlete who does some blocking in the WMU power sets. On the other hand, Ohio State’s Smith does have a national reputation, but had a disappointing year last fall; in fact, he was actually outproduced – 8.5 sacks to 5.5 – by teammate Darrion Scott. Smith is also something of a tweener at just 6-3, 250, but has the kind of explosive speed of the snap to be an elite pick if he ratches his game up a notch or two this fall. Same story for UVA junior Chris Canty who has imposing size for a DE, but needs more production after recording just two sacks last fall.

In addition, there are several other DEs that could also jump into the lead group including Bo Schobel of TCU who is coming back from a knee injury, Andrew Shull of Kansas State, and explosive, but undersized, Nathaniel Adibi of Virginia Tech. Meanwhile, Isaac Hilton of Hampton, another explosive edge rusher with reported sub-4.5 speed who had 13 sacks and 31 tackles for loss last fall, and Jared Allen of Idaho State, a full-sized DE with long arms and excellent functional strength and decent speed, are the best pro prospects at any position outside Division 1-A.

3 – Offensive line
Why the Giants will take an offensive lineman…The Giants have been living on the edge with their offensive line the past couple of years. Last season, for example, they came up big winners when first-year starters Rich Seubert, Chris Bober, Mike Rosenthal and Jason Whittle, along with veteran Luke Petitgout (who was playing a new position) came together like some ‘New Age Suburbanites’. RT Rosenthal and RG Whittle, though, headed for greener pastures via fre agency leaving offensive line coach Art McNally to try and pull another rabbit out of the hat on the right side with former undrafted free agent types like Ian Allen and Tam Hopkins and 2003 fifth-round find David Diehl. Meanwhile, 2002 3rd rounder Jeff Hatch has the physical skills to be a player, however, the former Ivy Leaguer still appears to be aways away from being able to contribute, if he ever gets there. If, however, McNally finally runs out of majic this year, especially on the right side, the Giants could very well look hard at what could be a superb offensive line cohort at this year’s draft, although in the end, we would guess that if the Giants wanted to seriously upgrade along the offensive front this coming off-season they would be more likely to try and do so by acquiring a veteran free agent or two.

What should be available along the OL in 2004…The 2004 draft could very well be a bonaza for teams looking to load up at either OT or OG. In fact, OT could be the dominant position at the upcoming draft if a number of outstanding juniors leave school early and enter next April’s draft. Indeed, a case can be made that juniors Shawn Andrews of Arkansas, Nat Dorsey of Georgia Tech and Calvin Armstrong of Washington State would each have been the top offensive lineman selected at the 2003 darft if they had been available, while Wesley Britt of Alabama, Nick Kaczur of Toledo, Rob Petitti of Pittsburgh, Michael Munoz of Tennessee, Khalif Barnes of Washington, C.J. Brooks of Maryland, Mike Kracalik of San Diego State, Jammal Brown of Oklahoma and Texas A&M roadgrader Jami Hightower, if he’s healthy, are all just another step or two behind. Even without the juniors, however, there will be some excellent talent at OT at the 2004 draft. And while none of the available seniors likely will qualify as elite prospects, there are a number who should plenty of consideration in the latter part of the opening round including Robert Gallery of Iowa, Tony Pape of Michigan, Brian Rimpf of East Carolina, Max Starks of Florida, and Vernon Carey of Miami.

The OG class also looks to be potentially considerably more talented than its counterparts in the past 2-3 drafts, again, particulary if a number of huge, athletic juniors enter the upcoming draft such as Elton Brown of Virginia, Chris Kemoeatu of Utah, Justin Smiley of Alabama, David Baas of Michigan, and Eyoseph Efseaff of UCLA. Meanwhile, rugged Stephen Peterman of LSU, already a better all-around prospect than another former Tiger, and current Pittsburgh Pro Bowler Alan Faneca, whom the Giants passed on when they selected SS Shaun Williams in the first round of the 1998 draft, leads a relatively strong contingent of senior OGs that also includes Adrien Clarke of Ohio State, Lamar Bryant of Maryland, Shannon Snell of Florida, Washington’s Nick Newton, and Nick Zuniga of North Texas State. And with the exception of Peterman, and perhaps the 355-pound Clarke if he can get in shape, most of the veteran OGs are likely to slip well into the second round of the draft, simply because there is potentially so much talent at other positions.

4a – Running back
Why the Giants will take a RB…If there is a bit of a surprise pick for the Giants in the opening round of the 2004 draft it could come at RB. On paper, the Giants look solid at the position with Tiki Barber, one of the best backs in the NFL backed up by Dorsey Levens, Ron Dayne and Brian Mitchell. However, both Levens and Mitchell are older players, while Ron Dayne, is, well Ron Dayne!

What should be available at RB in 2004After a couple of down years, the 2004 draft should feature a very good RB class. Greg Jones of Florida State, for example, looked all the part of a top 5 pick heading toward the 2003 draft before his season was ended by a torn ACL. If healthy this year, Jones, a 250-pound piledriver, should be back in mix at the very top of the draft board, although some scouts still question his pure footspeed. Noboby, however, questions the footspeed of Michael Turner of Northern Illinois who hasn’t received much national media attention to date, but should be a household name by next April. The 223-pound Turner, has the power to run over people and the speed – he reportedly runs under 4.5 speed – to run around them. What could make the 2004 RB draft class more than special, however, is a very talented group of juniors. Like FSU’s Jones, Auburn junior RB Carnell Williams is coming back from a season-ending injury – a fractured fibula – but if healthy has the speed and moves to be a legitimate Heisman candidate, as well as possible top 5 pick in either 2004 or 2005. The best overall RB prospect in the country eligible for the 2004 draft, however, may be Oregon State’s Steven Jackson, a powerfully built 235-pounder with speed who like NIU’s Turner has that rare ability to either run over or around people. Meanwhile, fellow juniors Kevin Jones of Virginia Tech, Cedric Benson of Texas and Anthony Davis of Wisconsin also have special talent, although there are some questions just how much Benson, who also has some baseball options ‘wants it’, while Davis is a little on the small side at just 190 pounds. Then there’s Nevada junior Chance Kretchsmer, a 225-pounder with a burst, who led all Division 1-A rushers with over 1,700 yards on the ground in 2001, but then missed much of the 2002 season with a knee injury.

There should also be plenty of depth in this year’s RB corps including Clarence Farmer of Arizona, a 225-pound power back who averaged almost 6 yards a carry in piling up over 1,200 yards in 2001, but then missed much of the past season with a knee injury; if healthy, Farmer has some late first round possibilities. Same for Tulane’s Mewelde Moore, perhaps the best all-around back in college football. Mewelde has put together back-to-back 1,000 yard campaigns, the first for the Green Wave in a half century, but what really has caught scouts’ attention is his pass receiving skills after he hauled in 110 passes the past two seasons. Second-round types that might be better a investment for the Giants include Jason Wright of Northwestern, another versatile all-around back, brusing Jermaine Green of Washington State, Chris Perry of Michigan, underrated 235-pound Brandon Miree of Pittsburgh and Rodney Davis of Fresno State.

4b – Cornerback
Why the Giants will take a CB…The other position in which the Giants could surprise in the opening round of the 2004 draft could be CB. The Giants, of course, have a pair of fine young starting CBs in Will Allen and William Peterson, along with a decent cast of young nickle backs and backups. There is, however, the old adage that ‘you can never have enough good cover corners’ and the Giants could quite conceivably decide that another quality CB wouldn’t be just a luxury, especially if they end up using a 3-CB set as part of their base defense sets.

What should be available at CB in 2004Finding a solid, physical cover corner or two seems to be a priority of almost every team in the NFL heading into each draft year. And, after something of a down year at the position, CB should be a position of choice at the 2004 draft. Juniors DeAngelo Hall of Virginia Tech and Marlin Jackson, for example, have the size, speed and skill to break into the top 10 this year, although Jackson’s immediate draft future has been clouded by a recent conviction on an assault charge. Meanwhile, fellow juniors Chris Gamble of  Ohio State, Keiwan Ratliff of Florida, and Ahmad Carroll of Arkansas should battle returning seniors Derrick Strait of Oklahoma and Nathan Vasher of Texas for a spot in the middle of the opening round. There is also a very deep second-tier group of CBs led by Corey Webster of LSU, Vontez Duff of Notre Dame, Lawrence Richardson of Arkansas, Curome Cox of Maryland and Shawntae Spencer of Pittsburgh, while underrated Arnold Parker of Utan and Kevin Millhouse of Hawaii, a pair of big, physical cover corners could also have an early impact this coming April.

5 – The rest of the field
Why the Giants might take a player at another position…not!…The odds of the Giants taking a player at one of the remaining positions, in effect, one of the remaining skill positions – QB, WR and TE – isn’t very high. The one exception might be if there were a catastrophic injury or slump by a key player such as QB Kerry Collins or WR Amani Toomer. The Giants could also be in the market for a pure blocking TE if the current supporting cast for TE Jeremy Shockey doesn’t pan out in that regard, while they could also look to add some more depth at WR, particularly if either/or Ike Hilliard continues to battle injuries and/or Ron Dixon is sent packing. They could also be looking for a development QB if the team’s offensie braintrust comes to doubt whether current #2 QB Jesse Palmer is the best they can do for a backup at the position.

And for the record, the 2004 draft appears that it will have very talented WR, while the TEs will be solid with Maryland’s Jeff Dugan, a mid-round prospect, perhaps coming the closest to a Dan Campbell clone who can block first, but can also contribute more than just the odd catch. Meanwhile, the QB class won’t be reminding anyone of 1983, but the position is deep with second-tier types.

And for the rest of the year…we’ll be stopping by each week with our college “Game of the Week” previews featuring the players to watch for Giants’ draft fans…In the meantime, check out the Great Blue North Draft Report for the latest in draft news and views…