Preliminary Look at the New York Giants 2008 NFL Draft Options

by Colin Lindsay, Editor, Great Blue North Draft Report

Are you ready for some football??? While the NFL teams wrap up their pre-season schedule and get done to the 53-man roster limit this weekend, it’s the opening week for the college football season. And while much is going to change between now and April 26th, the rule here at the Great Blue North is that it is never, ever too early to start thinking about the next draft! As such, the following is a quick look at what are likely going to be the Giants’ main areas of need heading into the 2008 draft, as well as who are some of the top college prospects the team is likely going to be watching this fall so interested fans can scout along.

In fact, the 2008 draft class looks like it could be a very good one, particularly if many of this year’s really outstanding crop of juniors opt to turn to pro this January. And in an entirely shameless plug, we want to remind folks that in addition to the regular internet GBN Report, which for the record is now in its 10th year of operation, we also publish a weekly GBN Giants Draft Report, with ongoing assessments of the Giants’ draft needs and potential options, as well as insightful and pithy comments on the state of the team. Here’s how to order for anyone who’s interested. And for those not quite sure, just drop us a line at the GBN and we’ll send along a preview issue or two.

First things first. Despite the loss of long-time stalwarts Tiki Barber and Luke Petitgout, we have been on record pretty much throughout the off-season as being a whole lot more optimistic about the Giants prospects this coming season than most football observers. Admittedly, we are a tad biased, however, based on the theory of reasonable expectations, we would be very disappointed if the Giants didn’t win at least 10 games this fall and make something of a run in the playoffs, although they may still be a year away from being legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Of course, the wheels can always come off even the best laid football plans what with injuries and funny bounces, however, everything else being equal, we fully expect the Giants’ passing offense to be significantly improved with the return of Amani Toomer and the hopeful emergence of young receivers Steve Smith, Anthony Mix and Sinorice Moss as decent complimentary options. It also isn’t going to hurt if QB Eli Manning continues to play as well as he has in the pre-season, although we’ll reserve judgment as he obviously still has to prove he can be consistent over the long haul.

Meanwhile, it is simply inconceivable, barring a spate of injuries, that the quartet of Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka and Michael Strahan, assuming he does ultimately return, don’t combine for more than 13 sacks this fall as they did in 2006. Indeed, it’s probably not unreasonable to expect the four to get close to 30 sacks this season which in turn would have the effect of making the rest of the defense that much better.

While we are pumped for the upcoming season, as we draft gurus are want to do, we’re already peeking ahead to the 2008 draft with an eye to some of the areas the Giants might be inclined to address this coming off-season. And what has been a little distressing is that the ‘wish list’ we have started to put together this summer has more areas that the team would like to address than there are going to be premium picks. Indeed, there could be as many as a half dozen primary positions that could stand some upgrading this coming spring, although it is always important keep in mind that much will change over the course of the coming months that could alter the situation. For example, the Giants do have some decent young types at a lot of these areas and the development of these players would obviously diminish the need. At the same time, it is also possible that some of the Giants’ older veterans like Toomer and Strahan just keep on playing for the next several years.

Left Tackle: The Giants pretty much have their core players on offense in place (and for the most part signed well into the future). The one exception, of course, is the LT slot vacated when Luke Petitgout and his bad back were summarily released. In a perfect world the Giants probably would have liked to address the situation this past off-season, but there really weren’t many options either in free agency or the draft. As such, they will live and die with converted OG David Diehl manning the position in 2007, but figure that a true shut-down LT will be the #1 priority next off-season.

Help is on the way. It certainly appears that the 2008 draft will be relatively strong at OT, however, our early grades suggest that it may not be quite as deep as originally thought. Michigan’s Jake Long, though, appears to be a lock to be a top 5 pick this year, however, that will also almost assuredly put his well out of reach the Giants who figure to draft somewhere between 15 and 25 this year. Southern Cal’s Sam Baker is also a very good one and could very be in range for the Giants this year, however, at just a tad over 305 pounds, he’s not necessarily the road-grader type that tends to be the Giants’ prototype; plus scouts would like to see more of a mean streak from Baker. The LT field could get richer in a hurry, though, if any of several top juniors like Alex Boone of Ohio State, Ryan Clady of Boise State and Ole Miss’ Michael Oher opt to leave school this winter and it’s likely no team would be happier if they all declared than the Giants.

Meanwhile, there should be plenty of depth in this year’s OT class starting with including Gosder Cherilus of Boston College, Tony Hills of Texas, John Greco of Toledo and Clemson’s Barry Richardson, but there also questions. The 320-pound Cherilus, for example, is a true road-grader who would look good in blue, however, his immediate draft prospects have been clouded by an assault charge stemming from a bar fight which left another man with a broken neck. Meanwhile, the 6-7, 325-pound Richardson looks all the part of a top 10 prospect, but doesn’t always play that way, while Hills isn’t very big and Greco may be better suited to RT. There’s a further level of tackles including several decent developmental LT prospects including Duane Brown of Virginia Tech, one of those athletic converted TEs, Akim Millington of Illinois, a one-time top Oklahoma recruit who transferred because of family reasons, Chris Williams of Vanderbilt and Heath Benedict of Newberry, an athletic 320-pound former Tennessee recruit that could also intrigue the Giants. The rule of the thumb in the NFL, though, is that elite LTs usually come in the opening round so the Giants could be holding their collective breaths this January in anticipation of some of those top underclassmen declaring.

Free Safety: Perhaps the biggest surprise in Albany this summer came early on when James Butler supplanted Will Demps in the first unit secondary. While Butler nominally takes over at SS, the fact is that the Giants incumbent safeties – Butler, Gibril Wilson, and Will Demps – are all similar players in that they’re primary strength is defending the run. As such, the team really needs a ball-hawking FS with range. The fact that Wilson is scheduled to be the team’s only unrestricted free agent this coming off-season and may be tough to resign could also complicate the situation.

Help is on the way. Yeah right! Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the 2008 draft will be particularly strong at safety; indeed, it could ultimately be a downright wasteland. It is possible that, for example, other than perhaps Miami draft eligible sophomore Kenny Phillips, there won’t be any safeties at all worthy of a first round pick this year. And Phillips likely will be long gone before the Giants make their opening round pick. Meanwhile, the few safeties likely to be worth a mid-second round pick, like Tom Zbikowski of Notre Dame, Chris Horton of UCLA and possibly Josh Barrett of Arizona State, are more SS-types. What the Giants would have to hope for is that they could hit on a steal like underrated Quentin Demps of UTEP either late on the first day or early on the second.

Cornerback: Despite the fact that the Giants have invested their first or second pick on the position in each of the past couple of drafts, it’s not hard to see the team being in the market for more speed on the corner this coming April. Veterans Sam Madison and R.W. McQuarters, for example, aren’t getting any younger, or faster, while Corey Webster and Aaron Ross, the team’s top picks the past couple of years, are still very much unproven. And Webster, while he has been one of the team’s most improved players this summer still isn’t very fast at all by current NFL standards for the position. And let’s be honest that while Kevin Dockery and E.J. Underwood have been nice undrafted free agent finds, they are what they are and that’s former street free agents.

Help is on the way. Unfortunately, to some degree, there may be almost as many questions at CB as at safety in the 2008 draft, although unquestionably there is more depth at the position especially in the mid-to-late first day area where the Giants would be expected to be in the market. There are, for example, only a couple of CBs considered to be solid first rounders in Ohio State junior Malcolm Jenkins, a likely top 10 prospect, and Arizona senior CB Antoine Cason, who the Giants have reportedly already been checking out. There are questions, though, about Cason’s pure foot speed, although he did run track for Arizona this spring. Meanwhile, several other junior CBs, including Jake Ikegwounu of Wisconsin, Justin King of Penn State, Brandon Flowers of Virginia Tech and Aqib Talib of Kansas, have the physical skills to move into the first round, but all still have something to prove. There are also some intriguing later first-day senior corner prospects including Dwight Lowery of San Jose State, Chevis Jackson of LSU, USC’s Terrell Thomas, Trey Brown of UCLA and Boston College’s DeJuan Tribble (although he was also involved in the same incident as Cherilus). The better news for the Giants is that there are a quite a number of second day type CBs with real speed including Mike Jenkins of South Florida, Dominique Rodgers of Tennessee State, and Marcus Walker of Oklahoma with the potential to make decent nickel corners.

Linebacker: The Giants will unquestionably be quicker at LB this fall, although truth be told they probably could put uniforms on a couple of cadavers and put them out at OLB and be faster at the position than last season. Carlos Emmons and Brandon Short, the nominal starters last fall, in particular, were both gamers, but injuries had robbed both of whatever limited quickness they had ever had. And with Mathias Kiwanuka, a converted DE, and Kawika Mitchell, normally a MLB, manning the outside spots, the Giants still have one of, if not the slowest LB corps in the NFL. Meanwhile, MLB Antonio Pierce is still a solid run-stuffer, but with the Giants expected to blitz a lot this season, look for other teams to try and exploit him when he’s forced to cover a TE or RB coming across the middle in man-to-man coverage situations. While it may not be a prime need, figure the Giants would still like to add some speed at both inside and outside LB slots.

Help is on the way. Hey, if you liked Penn State’s Paul Posluszny this past draft year, you are really going to like his former teammate Dan Connor this year. Connor, who can play both inside and outside, isn’t quite as big as Posluszny, but is a better all-around athlete. Connor, though, would probably be a reach for the Giants in the opening round, but won’t last to their pick in the second. The good news, though, is that it’s actually a pretty good year at LB, especially in the middle. Rugged Jasper Brinkley, a 262-pounder with 4.65 speed, for example, could ultimately be the first LB off the board this coming April, while juniors James Laurinaitis of Ohio State and USC’s Rey Maualaga along with Vince Hall of Virginia Tech are second round prospects, although none of the latter group is real fast. There is something of a drop-off to the next level of MLBs, although players like Jonathan Goff of Vanderbilt and Ben Moffitt of South Florida are mid-round prospects with intriguing size/speed ratios. On the other hand, if there’s a knock on this year’s OLB corps, it’s that there isn’t a lot of bulk. Players like Keith Rivers of USC, Xavier Adibi of Virginia Tech, Ali Highsmith of LSU and Wesley Woodyard of Kentucky all have the speed and quickness to rate as at least late first rounders, however, none is much more than 225 pounds. Indeed, the Giants could be just as tempted by the second tier of OLBs including Ohio State junior Marcus Freeman, Louisville’s Malik Jackson, Ezra Butler of Nevada, Michigan’s Shawn Crable, and Steve Octavien of Nebraska each of whom is bigger but can also really run, although they need to be a little more productive on the field to up their ultimate draft grades.

Defensive Line: The Giants appear to have plenty of big bodies at DT and should have a decent rotation at the position this fall, however, the team hasn’t had a true dominating interior defensive lineman who could tie up blockers since Keith Hamilton hung them up. And even if Michael Strahan returns this week, there are long-term concerns at DE as Strahan is aging, while Mathias Kiwanuka is playing LB and Justin Tuck, who just maybe has been the Giants’ best player on ‘D’ this summer, is injury prone.

Help is on the way. In fact, DE could very well be the strength at the 2008 draft with as many as 8-10 legitimate first round prospects at the position including tweener types such as Quentin Groves of Auburn, Tommy Blake of TCU, along with juniors Derrick Harvey of Florida and Vernon Gholston of Ohio State. What would have to intrigue the Giants more though would be a number of more full-sized guys like juniors Calais Campbell (6-7, 282) of Miami and 6-5, 285-pound Tyson Jackson of LSU, as well as USC’s Lawrence Jackson (6-4, 270) and 6-5, 284-pound Chris Long of Virginia. In addition, there is excellent depth at the position. Meanwhile, it shouldn’t be a bad year at DT where LSU’s Glenn Dorsey is considered a solid top 10 prospect, while USC’s Sedric Ellis, Frak Okam of Texas, Red Bryant of Texas A&M, Andre Fluellen of Florida State and big B.J. Raji of Boston College all have the potential to be solid late first rounders, however, all also have something to prove as none is coming off a particular dominating season last fall. NFL teams looking to add a stud DT this coming April won’t want to dally as there is something of a gap to the next level of DTs in the 2008 draft class.

Wide Receiver: Rookie second rounder Steve Smith and second-year vet Sinorice Moss have both shown flashes this summer, as has former undrafted rookie free agent Anthony Mix, but with Amani Toomer running out of football years, the Giants will probably be in the market for a big receiver to replace the big former 1996 second rounder sooner rather than later.

Help is on the way. The good news for the Giants is that there likely will be no shortage of big WRs available at the 2008 draft including receivers like Adarius Bowman of Oklahoma State, Limas Sweed of Texas, Louisville junior Mario Urrutia, Oklahoma junior Malcolm Kelly, Marcus Monk of Arkansas, Indiana junior James Hardy, Oregon State junior Jaison Williams and Todd Bythe of Iowa State, each of whom is over 6-4, 220 pounds and collectively would make up a pretty good basketball team. Indeed, Bowman and Hardy both played with their respective college basketball programs. The better news for the Giants might be that none of these guys has yet to really establish themselves as a true elite receiver and most could still be available in the second round. Indeed, in many ways the top receivers in the 2008 draft class are the more smurfish players like California junior DeSean Jackson, arguably the most explosive player in all college football, juniors Mario Manningham of Michigan, Jarrett Dillard of Rice and Davone Bess of Hawaii, along with seniors Dorien Bryant of Purdue and Harry Douglas of Louisville. That group barely averages 5-10, 180 pounds per man, but they also averaged over 70 receptions per player last fall.

Take a deep breath. As we said it’s a long list, however, before anyone goes all apoplectic thinking a team with that many needs has to be in huge trouble, there is a big difference between what would normally be described as a real need or hole to fill and an area that could use an upgrade. As noted above, the Giants already have decent, functional veteran starters at just about every one of those spots, but each one is also an area where the team will still be looking for some kind of talent improvement.

In the meantime, here’s to a great season and we’ll see you April 26th!!