New York Giants 2008 NFL Draft: Bowl Prospects Preview (Part Two)

by Colin Lindsay, editor and publisher of the Great Blue North Draft Report

First things first… Here’s to a happy, healthy and safe New Year to Eric and all the BBI family… here’s also to a solid showing in this year’s playoffs!

Heading into the playoffs, though, it’s still very difficult to get a good read on this Giants team. True, they have won ten games this season, but they still haven’t beaten a team with a winning record. At the same time, while most of the other top playoff teams have outscored their opponents by 100 points or more, the Giants scored just 22 more points than their collective opponents this fall. Still, the Giants have the tools to make some noise in the playoffs including a solid offensive line and running game, as well as a consistent pass rush. Meanwhile, a healthier Plaxico Burress would give a boost to the oft-inconsistent passing attack. In fact, the biggest immediate concern we have is just what the emotional toll was from the New England. If the Giants can get by the Buccaneers this coming week, it says here that the Giants are a team that both Dallas and Green Bay would really rather not have to play again if they didn’t have to.

What makes the Giants’ 10-win season particularly hard to gauge is that on any given Sunday the key to winning in the NFL are turnovers and good QB play and the Giants really haven’t gotten either this fall. In fact, the Giants are the only team in the playoffs to be a minus in turnovers this year. And no borderline minus, the Giants are a distant -9. Contrast that, for example, with Tampa Bay, next weekend’s opponent, which is a plus 15; indeed, for all intents and purposes, the only reason the Buccaneers are in the playoffs are those turnovers. Turnovers, of course, are often rather random; if they are forced, it’s usually the result of pressure on the pocket, however, for some reason the Giants seldom were able to translate their often suffocating pass rush into a lot of turnovers this season. The Giants, for example, lead the entire NFL with 52 sacks this fall, but are only 21st in interceptions and 22nd in fumble recoveries.

Meanwhile, despite a very strong game against New England on Saturday, the lack of overall consistent play by QB Eli Manning has to have caused a bunch of alarm bells to go off at Giants’ HQ. This was supposed to have been a breakout year for Manning. Instead, after a reasonably strong start, Manning regressed over the second half of the season. Manning is currently rated a distant 25th among all QBs in the league, behind such luminaries as Joey Harrington, Kyle Boller and Damon Huard. Ouch! Granted, Manning was forced to play 3 games in absolutely dreadful weather and the offense isn’t necessarily all that QB friendly, however, the Giants expect much more when they sent a boatload of picks to the Chargers in order to acquire Manning at the 2004 draft.

What has to have the Giants concerned is that the organization feels that for the most part it has the pieces in place for a serious 4-5 year Super Bowl run. And one of those key pieces, and just maybe the key piece, was supposed to have been Manning, who saw almost all of his numbers fall dramatically over the second half of the season in which he struggled to complete 50% of his pass attempts. What makes Manning’s lack of development difficult to understand, and hard to project into the future, is that few people in the know around the NFL doubt that he has the physical tools to be a very good NFL QB. There is also no question that Manning has the work ethic needed to prosper at the pro level. There have even been long stretches where Manning doesn’t appear to have any trouble with speed of the game, such as the game with the Patriots, the thing that ultimately does in most young players who end up on the QB scrapheap. What Manning just can’t seem to do, for whatever reason, is to keep it together for consistent period of time.

In the end, the Giants are likely to live with Manning for at least another year – remember that even in his 5th season the venerable Phil Simms couldn’t beat out a stiff like Scott Brunner to earn the starting job – but the clock has to be ticking. If the Giants do address the position this winter, one option would be to bring in an established veteran to provide a modicum of competition for the job next season. At the same time, there could be some pressure from inside the organization to consider taking a QB sooner rather than later at the 2008 draft.

If, indeed, the Giants are tempted to look at QBs at the 2008 draft the good news is there will be a strong QB class available. While this year’s top three QBs – Brian Brohm of Louisville, Andre’ Woodson of Kentucky and Boston College’s Matt Ryan – will almost assuredly be gone by the time the Giants make their first round pick, there should be as many as a half dozen players at the position likely to grade out in the second and third round areas including John David Booty of Southern Cal, Colt Brennan of Hawaii, Michigan’s Chad Henne, Erik Ainge of Tennessee, Joe Flacco of Delaware and Dennis Dixon of Oregon. There are also a couple of other lower levels QBs worth a long look in athletic Josh Johnson of San Diego and Ricky Santos of New Hampshire, while Paul Smith of Tulsa, another very athletic type, reminds some of the Cowboys’ Tony Romo, could still be out there early on the second day. Meanwhile, teams looking for a sleeper in the late rounds may take a shot at someone like 6-6 Kevin O’Connell of San Diego State, however, there really isn’t a ton of depth in the 2008 QB draft class past the top dozen or so QBs prospects.

What could put a little added pressure on the Giants to look at QBs early this year in that the 2009 draft does not look like it will be particularly strong at the position. There are some junior gunslingers out there like Graham Harrell of Texas Tech, Chase Daniel of Missouri and Chase Holbrook of New Mexico State, although its still not clear that any is a true elite prospect at this time. At the same time, though, there are some terrific young arms in college and there should be some real top prospects on the board in 2010 and beyond.

Help is on the way… Turns out that most of the QBs that the Giants just might be looking at are scheduled to play in a bowl game later in the week. For the record, Kentucky’s Woodson plays in the Music City Bowl Monday at 4 PM ET against Florida State (ESPN); Tennessee’s Ainge plays in the Outback Bowl against Wisconsin at 11 AM ET on New Year’s Day (ESPN); Michigan’s Henne also plays early on New Year’s Day in the Capital One Bowl against Florida at 1 PM ET (ABC); USC’s Booty plays in the Rose Bowl against Illinois at 5 PM ET on New Year’s Day (ABC); Hawaii’s Brennan helps wrap up New Year’s Day against Georgia at 8:30 PM ET (ABC); while Tulsa’s Smith plays next Sunday in the GMAC Bowl against Bowling Green at 8 PM ET (ESPN).

Given that we’d still be very surprised if the Giants invest an early pick on a QB at the 2008 draft, there are a number of other players we’ll be focusing on in this week’s big bowl games, starting with 6 games on each of Monday and Tuesday. Other than the QBs noted above, players to watch this week with an eye to the Giants’ opening round pick at the 2008 draft include:

Indiana junior WR James Hardy (#82, 6-6, 220, 4.55) and Oklahoma State WR Adarius Bowman (#12, 6-3, 220, 4.55) in the Insight Bowl on Monday at 7:30 PM ET (NFL Network). Its probably still more fashionable to talk about the Giants primary needs this off-season in the defensive back seven, however, as we argued in last week’s report, a pretty good case can be made that, other than QB, the position that maybe could get the Giants closest to the next level is another big-play receiver to take the pressure off Plaxico Burress. And Hardy and Bowman maybe as good as it gets in the 2008 draft class; both are outstanding athletes – indeed, both have also played on top college basketball teams with Hardy suiting up at IU and Bowman once playing at North Carolina – with excellent size and hands and good speed. And just for good measure, check out Indiana CB Tracy Porter (#9, 5-10, 190), a later first-day prospect with 4.35 speed and good ball skills.

South Florida CB Mike Jenkins (#4, 5-11, 200, 4.35) when USF plays Oregon in the Sun Bowl on Monday at 2 PM ET. Jenkins is 1-2 among CBs for the 2008 draft and just could slip into range for the Giants in the low 20s.

USC LB Keith Rivers (#55, 6-3, 225, 4.55) in the Rose Bowl against Illinois; Tuesday, New Year’s Day at 5 PM ET. If you see only one game on the 1st this should be it with Rivers, an OLB who can really run, is the player to watch. (Ed note: One of the real positives of the New England game was the play of OLB Gerris Wilkinson, who came off the bench to replace Kawika Mitchell and showed some quickness the Giants haven’t seen in a long time. As such, it just might reduce the pressure to look at OLBs, at least in the first couple of rounds.)

Kansas junior CB Aqib Talib (#3, 6-1, 205, 4.55) against Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl on Thursday, 8 PM ET. Talib is another very athletic player who also plays some WR. He probably lacks the speed to be a shut down corner at the next level, but is a very physical player who could make a real ball-hawking FS at the next level.

Oklahoma juniors WR Malcolm Kelly (#4, 6-4, 220), OT Phil Loadholt (#79, 6-7, 350), OG Duke Robinson (#72, 6-4, 330), CB Reggie Smith (#3, 6-0, 200) and FS Nic Harris (#5, 6-2, 225) in the Fiesta Bowl on Wednesday against West Virginia. If the Giants had their choice of college teams to draft from the Sooners might be it; any one of the 5 would look great in blue, although Smith, who projects to FS at the next level, may not play because of a toe injury.

Hawaii WRs Davonne Bess (#7, 5-9, 195), Jason Rivers (#84, 6-1, 195) and junior Ryan Grice-Mullen (#1, 5-9, 180) against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day. QB Brennan gets all the headlines, but he has an outstanding receiver corps each of whom can run, get open and catch the ball. Indeed, both Bess and Grice-Mullen had 100 catches this fall, as would Rivers if he hadn’t missed some time with an injury.