An Early Look at the 2010 NFL Draft and the New York Giants

by Colin Lindsay, Great Blue North Draft Report

Editor’s Note: Of course, there is still a ton of football to be played in the 2009 season, but our motto here at the Great Blue North is that it is never ever too early to be looking ahead to the draft. While it is still way too early to be identifying ‘the’ guy for the Giants this year, this is the time to be watching a range of prospects for the upcoming draft. And watching is the operative word as there is nothing that drives us crazier than hearing someone say ‘I’d prefer so and so’ in September, especially when you just know that they probably have never actually seen the guy play on tape. Below is a quick preview of how the 2010 NFL Draft is starting to shape along with some of the players the New York Giants will likely be looking at as we head towards next April. Also just to remind everyone that the GBN also publishes a weekly Giants’ newsletter with lots of analysis and commentary on the passing Giants’ scene with more than a passing focus on the draft. Here’s how to order.

Entering the season, the New York Giants appear to have one of the most solid lineups in the league without any particular position that screams ‘must-address’ in the coming off-season either in free agency or the draft. That said, though, there are a number of areas that the Giants will surely look to upgrade their talent level. In no particular order, positions that could be addressed at the 2010 draft include:

Offensive Line The jury is still way out on William Beatty, the Giants second round pick in 2009, who is athletic, but not very strong or physical, as the future at left tackle. And even if Beatty comes on at left tackle after a very inconsistent preseason, RT Kareem McKenzie appears to be starting to break down so a second quality young OT could be on the bill, although incumbent LT David Diehl could ultimately end up on the other side where he‘d actually be a better fit. The Giants could also add some young beef at C and OG as the depth at those positions are all journeyman types

Defensive Tackle The Giants have a lot of bodies at defensive tackle but haven‘t had a real stud that opposing teams have to account for since the days of Keith Hamilton. Plus, like RT Kareem McKenzie, Fred Robbins may be starting to show some wear and tear, while Barry Cofield could be a free agent at the end of the year.

Safety Kenny Phillips looks to be a real keeper, but neither Michael Johnson or C.C. Brown is very good in coverage

Middle Linebacker Antonio Pierce has been slowing down for a couple of years now and has never been much more than a liability in coverage. Meanwhile, Chase Blackburn and Jonathan Goff offer decent depth, but neither is yet a proven front-liner.

Tight End Incumbent starter Kevin Boss has all the physical tools but its time to take off the training wheels or it may be time to look for a true dual-threat at the position.

Then, of course, there are positions like cornerback and defensive end where a team ‘can never have enough’ talent, as well as running back where teams like to keep a fresh supply of young legs on the roster.

The good news regarding the 2010 draft is that it appears there could be a decent match between the Giants needs and what is going to be available, although it is always important to keep in mind that which underclassmen ultimately enter the draft this year will have a huge impact on each position’s final grade. With that in mind here’s a quick overview of the potential strengths and weaknesses of the upcoming draft which overall looks to be a very good, although not quite great, draft class.

No question that the real strength of the 2010 draft will be the defensive line. Indeed, the top individual position could be defensive tackle. Nebraska 300-pounder Ndamukong Suh and Oklahoma junior Gerald McCoy, for example, both have top 5 potential, while there are a number of later first round prospects at the position including 365-pound Terrence ‘Mount’ Cody of Alabama, Arthur Jones of Syracuse, junior Brian Price of UCLA, and Vince Oghobaase of Duke. The even better news at defensive tackle is that there are also several big, strong later first-day types that don’t get the same hype but will still be good value including Geno Atkins of Georgia, Jared Odrick of Penn State, Boo Robinson of Wake Forest, DeMarcus Granger of Oklahoma, Boo Smith of Louisiana Tech, Dan Williams of Tennessee, and Jay Ross of East Carolina, while Baylor junior Phil Taylor, a 355-pound transfer from Penn State who didn‘t play last fall, could also be one of the best of the bunch once he gets back on the field.

Meanwhile, there are a ton of college defensive ends who can get after the passer including tweener types like George Selvie of South Florida, Sergio Kindle of Texas, Greg Hardy of Ole Miss, Brandon Graham of Michigan, Jerry Hughes of TCU, and Brandon Lang of Troy, along with emerging juniors Greg Romeus of Pitt, Everson Griffin of USC and Jason Worilds of Virginia Tech. The top defensive end this year though could ultimately be freakish 6-5, 290-pound Florida junior Carlos Dunlap who could get some serious consideration as the #1 player selected this year. Meanwhile, other bigger DEs to watch include Corey Wooton of Northwestern, C.J. Wilson of East Carolina, Alex Carrington of Arkansas State, and John Fletcher of Wyoming. There are also a couple of lower level defensive ends worth a look, including 6-7 Austen Lane of Murray State (who reportedly runs in the mid-4.6 range for the 40) and James Ruffin of Northern Iowa.

It’s also not a bad year to be in the market for an offensive tackle as Russell Okung of Oklahoma State, Trent Williams of Oklahoma, and Ciron Black of LSU, as well as juniors Brian Bulaga of Iowa and Anthony Davis of Rutgers have first-round potential. There are questions about the overall athleticism of seniors Okung, Williams, and Black, all of whom may be downgraded as more right tackle prospects. Meanwhile, there is some good depth at the position including later first day prospects Charles Brown of USC, Sam Young of Notre Dame, and Adam Ulatoski of Texas, while 315-pound Zane Beadles of Utah is something of a sleeper.

Unfortunately, there isn’t anywhere nearly as much talent this year at either center or guard, although Alabama OG Mike Johnson and Clemson C/G Thomas Austin at least have top 60 potential. Teams looking to add some size at guard, though, should be able to find something in the mid-rounds. Meanwhile, the top interior offensive line prospect could be USC junior C Kris O’Dowd, although he’s currently out with a knee injury.

The 2010 draft will also be relatively strong at both the safety and middle linebacker positions that have tended to get short shrift at the draft in recent years. At safety, for example, both Taylor Mays of USC and Tennessee junior Eric Berry are considered top 5-10 talents. Both unfortunately will likely be long gone by the time the Giants pick this coming April, however. Other safeties to watch include juniors Reshad Jones of Georgia and Georgia Tech‘s Morgan Burnett, along with Darrell Stuckey of Kansas and Nate Allen of South Florida. Jones, in particular, looks like he might be very good value late in the opening round if he opts to leave school this winter.

Meanwhile, at middle linebacker, Brandon Spikes of Florida has the kind of athleticism that kept Rey Maualuga and James Laurinaitis out of the first round of the 2009 draft, while both Alabama junior Rolando McClain and Micah Johnson of Kentucky have excellent size for a mike backer as well as decent speed and agility. And there are a number of other solid tackling-machine middle linebacker types who maybe lack exceptional measurables, but have great instincts and motors including Joe Pawelek of Baylor, underrated Boris Lee of Troy, and the appropriately-named Pat Angerer of Iowa.

On the other hand, it could be something of a down year at outside linebacker. On the outside, Sean Witherspoon of Missouri, a potential mid-first rounder, is the top all-around prospect at the position, although he could get a push from either or both Michigan State junior Greg Jones and Sean Lee of Penn State, who is back after missing the 2008 season with a torn ACL. Meanwhile, South Carolina DE Eric Norwood could attract some early interest as a 3-4 rush LB with a big upside, while athletic Stevenson Sylvester of Utah could be an emerging sleeper. Pro scouts will also earn their keep grading juniors Rennie Curran of Georgia and Navorro Bowman of Penn State. Both are impact defenders, but Curran is undersized at barely 5-11, 220, while Bowman has had an array of off-field troubles.

It could also be something of a down year at cornerback, although the entry of juniors like Joe Haden of Florida and Virginia’s Ras-I Dowling would upgrade things and would provide at least a couple of potential mid-first round candidates at the position. Meanwhile, one player to watch later in the opening round is Trevard Lindley of Kentucky who lacks top-end recovery speed, but is very physical, instinctive, and aggressive and appears to fit the mold of what the Giants look in a cover corner. Other top corners include Syd’Quan Thompson of California, Kyle Wilson of Boise State, Brandon Ghee of Wake Forest, and Javier Arenas of Alabama, who is also one of the top kick returners in college football. But, as noted, it does not look like it will be a particularly strong year at the position.

There is a similar story at both running back and wide receiver, positions that will be especially dependent on juniors at the top of the board at the 2010 draft. Georgia Tech junior Jonathan Dwyer, for example, is the top RB prospect this year, but still likely won’t be rated much higher than the middle of the opening round, while fellow juniors Evan Royster of Penn State and USC‘s Joe McKnight could get some late first round consideration. There should be some pretty good depth at RB this year with speed guys like C.J. Spiller of Clemson, Cal‘s Jahvid Best, and Da‘rel Scott of Maryland; bruisers like LeGarette Blount of Oregon State and Toby Gerhart of Stanford; and productive all-around chain movers such as Charles Scott of LSU, Stafon Johnson of USC, and Chris Brown of Oklahoma.

The leading prospects at wide receivers are also juniors including Arrelious Benn of Illinois, a legitimate top 10 prospect, along with Dez Bryant of Oklahoma State, a potential mid-first rounder, and smooth Damian Williams, who could sneak into the late first round. Meanwhile, LSU’s Brandon LaFell is the top senior prospect at the position, but he may lack the pure foot speed to be more than a second round candidate. Other potential top 60 receivers include Mardy Gilyard of Cincinnati, Jordan Shipley of Texas, Minnesota’s Eric Decker, along with talented juniors Dezmon Briscoe of Kansas and Mike Williams of Syracuse.

The one offensive skill position that could be rated as above average in 2010 could be the tight ends. “Could” is the operative word, though, as Oklahoma’s Jermaine Gresham, the top-rated player at the position this year and one of the better prospects at the position in a while, may be sidelined for a while with a knee injury suffered at practice this week. Meanwhile, juniors Rob Gronokowski of Arizona and Aaron Hernandez of Florida are also solid prospects and likely will be available in the area where the Giants are likely to make their first pick this year. There should be good depth at the position this year, including veterans Dennis Pita of BYU, Ed Dickson of Oregon, Garrett Graham of Wisconsin, and Anthony McCoy of USC.

In the end, though, the top storyline in college football this fall will be the expected year-long dual among star quarterbacks Tim Tebow of Florida, Colt McCoy of Texas and Oklahoma junior Sam Bradford for player of the year honors. And while all three are outstanding talents, there is a wide divergence in their draft prospects. Bradford, for example, who was widely expected to be the first player taken at the 2009 draft before he opted to return to school for another year of seasoning, probably should be plying his trade with Detroit this fall. Meanwhile, McCoy looks to be a solid mid-first round prospect this coming April. Tebow, though, represents something of a major challenge for pro scouts. Tebow will likely go down as one of the greatest college players of all time, but still has yet to convince NFL personnel people that he has the accuracy and mechanics to play the position at the next level. Indeed, Ole Miss junior Jevan Snead currently probably ranks ahead of Tebow as a prospect for the 2010 draft. There is a major drop-off, though, after the top 3-4 QB prospects this year, although there are a number of interesting second-tier types at the position including Zac Robinson of Oklahoma State, athletic Dan LeFevour of Central Michigan, and Tim Hiller of Western Michigan among others.