New York Giants 2010 NFL Draft Preview: Process and Picks

by Colin Lindsay, Great Blue North Draft Report

Just about every year there comes a point in the draft process when the amount of information and misinformation out there passes a critical point and one is tempted to simply say “Enough! Let’s get to the picking.” We probably hit that point sometime over the weekend and there is still over a week and a half to go until the draft. Indeed, the 2010 NFL Draft has been characterized by as much fluidity as any we have seen in recent years. And while trying to predict how a draft will evolve is usually right up there with herding cats, this year’s is especially hard to get a hold on. On the one hand, the top 5-6 prospects appear to reasonably well set, however, there continues to be a lot of movement pretty much through the rest of the top 45-50 prospects. On the one hand, there are a lot of very talented prospects in the 2010 draft. However, many have some kind of wart or two and as a result there has been a lot of ‘yo-yoing’ going on.

Of course, NFL teams don’t have the luxury of simply throwing up their hands in despair and throwing a dart at the proverbial draft board hoping! Indeed, as we speak, the New York Giants personnel staff, like their counterparts around the league east of Oakland, are putting in 13-14 hour days squirreled away in the team’s war room assembling their final draft board. Starting with the defense and then moving on to the offense, they assign grades to just about every prospect available this year. Then once individual grades have been assessed, the staff will cluster players with equivalent grades into levels or rows. The essence of the ‘Best Player Available’ theory is that teams take a player from the highest level or row which still ha players available.

What makes the whole process so difficult to predict, of course, is that every team will have its own board. And of course the Giants are no exception; indeed, the Giants’ board may actually vary a little more from the consensus board that a lot of other teams. That said, the chart below would appear to be something close to a typical NFL value board at this time, at least based on the thinking of the more respected draft analysts around. Of course one could argue ad infinitum as to which exact row several players belong in, however, the bottom line for the Giants is that picking 15th overall, they’d really like to come away with a player from either of the top two rows. At worst, they will want to come away from the draft with a player from at least the 3rd row, although again, as noted, it is almost impossible to know which particular players the Giants have graded in that level. The one thing one can take to the bank is that the Giants will stay true to their board meaning that they aren’t likely to reach for a player in the opening round simply based on perceived need if that particular player isn’t in the top remaining level on their board.

Row Players #s
1. QB Sam Bradford; DTs Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy; FS Eric Berry 1-4
2. RB C.J. Spiller; OTs Russell Okung and Trent Williams; LB Rolando McClain; CB Joe Haden; FS Earl Thomas 5-10
3. QB Jimmy Clausen; WR Dez Bryant; OT Brian Bulaga; OG Mike Iupati; DE Derrick Morgan, DT Dan Williams; OLB Sergio Kindle 11-17
4. OT Anthony Davis; C Maurkice Pouncey; TE Jermaine Gresham; DT Jared Odrick; DEs Jason Pierre-Paul and DE Brandon Graham 18-22

At the same time, the Giants will also be putting together a short list of players that they really like, either because the player is simply a terrific prospect or would fill a major need or priority or both. Again its hard to know for sure exactly which players are on the Giants short list this year, but it would certainly appear that given the attention they have paid him that Alabama MLB Rolando McClain is on the Giants’ short list, unless they are overly concerned about the Crohn’s issue. In particular, McClain is both a likely top 10 prospect and addresses one of, if not the Giants most pressing remaining issue. Indeed its possible that McClain is the only player on the Giants’ A-list at the time. There is a better than 50-50 chance though that McClain could well be off the board by the 15th pick. Denver at #11, for example, also has a major need at MLB, while neither Miami at #12 nor San Francisco at #13 have totally ruled him out, although both of the latter teams would also appear to have more pressing needs at those respective points in the draft. With Denver looming out there, though, the Giants would almost be forced to try and trade up with Jacksonville at #10 to ensure getting McClain if he was indeed the guy they were targeting. And trading up wouldn’t be cheap as the Giants would likely have to part with at least their 3rd round pick, in what is shaping up to be a very deep draft, to acquire the 10th pick. The Giants, though, have never been reluctant to move up in the past to get a player they had targeted – CB Will Allen in 2001, Shockey in 2002, Eli in 2004, Sinorice Moss in 2006, and Bryan Kehl in 2008 – although to be honest, with decidedly mixed results.

How much the Giants are tempted to move up will be impacted by whether the Giants feel they have a Super Bowl-caliber team and will be primarily looking for a player or two to help them get over the hump at the 2010 draft, or whether they are looking at some major reconstruction that would dictate hanging onto as many picks as possible. That’s something of a tough question to answer for the Giants this off-season in the wake of last season’s disappointing 8-8 season. In particular, did the second half collapse, especially on the defensive side of the ball, reflect a lack of talent or was it primarily a function of the spate of injuries that affected so many units? In fact, no one is really going to know the answer until the season gets underway in September, but the Giants themselves seem to have come down on the side of the injuries, at least as reflected in their free agent activity. They were very aggressive reshaping the deep secondary, which was admittedly a national embarrassment last season after safety Kenny Phillips went down with a career-threatening knee condition – with the addition of veteran free agent safeties Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant – but they have done almost nothing else in free agency to date. If in fact the Giants had real concerns at other positions one would have expected wholesale changes through free agency. In fact, even at MLB the Giants have indicated that they feel that they can get by with the returning cast of characters. Same story as regards the health of injured players other than Phillips. Remember also that the Giants have a small army of medical professionals who work with the players every day so they will have a much better idea than the average fan on the street how all the injured players are actually doing and whether they can reasonably be expected to be back at full speed this coming fall. Of course, the Giants could also simply be waiting until after the draft to see what holes remained before jumping into the free agent market, but in the past they have been pretty aggressive upfront signing free agents when there were holes to be plugged.

Before they make any move up, though, Jerry Reese and company will have to ask and try to answer a myriad of questions that have to be weighed out. If, for example, McClain is gone at #15, are the Giants still likely to get a quality player, preferably off their short list, at that spot? The short answer is that yes there will be some outstanding prospects at that point, although none is necessarily a perfect fit (see below). Second question is if McClain is gone at #15 will the Giants have other options at the position? Indeed, the $64K question heading into the draft is where the Giants have Missouri LB Sean Weatherspoon rated. ‘Spoon’ as he is affectionately known would likely be a popular choice among Giants’ fans; in fact, it wasn’t all that long ago that there were whispers that the Giants actually had the more athletic Weatherspoon rated ahead of McClain. However, Weatherspoon’s stock has reportedly slipped across the league in recent weeks, particularly among 4-3 teams looking to fill a hole at MLB. Weatherspoon, who played almost exclusively on the outside in college, is considered to be more a ‘run-and-chase’ type who is very effective in space, but who may not be as physical taking on blockers and stacking the point of stack. Time will tell whether the Giants fall into the latter category and have down-graded Weatherspoon on their board. The other question to be asked is whether if McClain was gone at #15 could the Giants adwquately address the position in later rounds? Indeed, the major factor in any decision regarding McClain could revolve around whether the Giants think that Penn State MLB Sean Lee would be a decent option in the second round. Lee, the only legitimate top 50 prospect the Giants brought in for one of their 30 allotted out-of-town visits other than McClain, in fact, was once considered to be a top 10 prospect before tearing up a knee. Lee, though, reportedly passed the medicals in pre-draft testing with flying colors; in fact, it’s possible that the Giants might even have to consider trading up in the second round to get Lee if it came to that as he is reportedly one of the fastest risers in this year’s draft class. There are some very good depth at MLBs in the 2010 draft including guys like Donald Butler of Washington, Mississippi State’s Jamar Chaney, Phillip Dillard of Nebraska and Iowa’s appropriately named Pat Angerer, although none would appear ready to come in play a whole lot right away.

And while we’re talking LBs, we’re still not sure what it means, but there appears to be something rather interesting going on with the Giants and the back seven on defense. On the one hand, the Giants appear to have a surfeit of defensive backs. Indeed, they could have as many as 6 starting quality DBs this Fall if Phillips is able to come back at close to 100%. One could even make it 7 as safety Michael Johnson isn’t all that bad when working in the box. On the other hand, the Giants currently really have only one proven starting quality LB (WLB Michael Boley) and, if fact, don’t appear to have a SSLB at all. If the season were to start today, for example, Clint Sintim would presumably be the nominal starter at the position, but he’s a long, long way from being a finished product at the position. Indeed, one would have expected the Giants to have addressed the issue in free agency. Of course, we are just speculating here, but we can count and are wondering if the Giants could possibly be seriously considering using some combination of nickle defense as the base defense. The team already uses a nickle on as many as 50% of snaps and given the fact they put so much emphasis on rushing the passer up front, it wouldn’t be that big a stretch to shift that focus to the back seven. In fact, with so many big safeties in college football these days, we have been a bit surprised that no team to date has experimented with a 4-2-5 defense which replaces their SLB with a big safety, at least on early downs. Obviously, one would be giving up something in run defense with such a move, but the fact is that the NFL has morphed into a passing league whereas the traditional 4-3 defense really has changed little from the 1960s. Again, we are just speculating here, but it is also worth noting that the Giants were the team that worked out Florida State safety Myron Rolle, a 217-pounder who fits the model of combo-buck LB/S. Other players who fit that bill in this year’s draft include 220-pound LSU SS Chad Jones (whom the Giants have had in for a visit), Kam Chancellor of Virginia Tech, Toledo’s Barry Church, Harry Coleman of LSU, Justin Woodall of Alabama and Marcellus Bowman of Boston College. Of course, we are also talking about the Giants here and neither head coach Tom Coughlin nor new defensive co-ordinator Perry Fewell is known as an innovator – in fact both are about as traditionalist as they come – but as we say we can count and right now the numbers just don’t add up!

As well, in this scenario, adding a physical run-stuffing MLB Rolando McClain actually may take on added significance. In fact, it may matter on added significance no matter what the scheme because as mentioned the Giants already use a nickel the majority of the time anyway and if one is only going to have two LBs on the field much of the time then having someone in the middle who can take on blockers and stack the point of attack like McClain takes on added importance.

Then there’s the elephant in the room that we suspect an awful lot of Giants fans really don’t want to acknowledge, but nonetheless is looming over the team’s 2010 draft plans! Indeed, perhaps the greatest difference between fan-think and the way many NFL teams actually approach the draft is that the average fan on the street tends to focus almost exclusively on plugging the most obvious holes in the line-up. In contrast, pro teams, while they will obviously be cognizant of areas of weakness, will also tend to be oriented as much to answering the question “what do we need, or want to do, to get to the Super Bowl?” And the betting here is that the answer in spades in the Giants’ war room is that the one element more than any other that the team really needs to get back to the top of the heap in the NFL is a RDE that minimally can get them 10-12 sacks and ideally would produce 12-14. Indeed one can make the case, with apologies to all the left tackles of the world, that other than QB, RDE is the most critical position on the team. And quite simply the elephant in the Giants’ room right now wears #72. If the Giants feel that there is legitimate reason to expect that DE Osi Umenyiora will get back to playing at his pre-injury level this coming fall then the question becomes rather moot. However, contrary to some popular opinion, we would be very surprised if the Giants are prepared to simply sit back and give Umenyiora another full season to prove himself, not with reputations, not to mention jobs, possibly on the line. Indeed, by now the Giants should have a pretty good sense where Umenyiora is physically and emotionally. He reportedly has sat down and talked with G.M. Jerry Reese; he’s had a long talk with head coach Tom Coughlin; he’s talked with incoming defensive co-ordinator Perry Fewell. Meanwhile, the position coaches will have had several weeks watching him workout. And, Eli Manning’s recent positive assessment aside, if the Giants aren’t confident where Umenyiora is today, then at least minimally they will want to have a better back-up plan at the position than they did last season. Mathias Kiwanuka is a hard-worker who can be a useful guy in the DE rotation, however, through three years in blue he has yet to show either the quickness off the snap or the strength to consistently beat NFL OTs when lining up with his hand on the ground and as such probably isn’t the long-term solution.

In fact, nobody should be totally shocked if the Giants take a DE with an early pick this year; indeed, nobody should be shocked if they use their #1 selection on the pick. Just don’t throw the remote at us! The Giants, for example, have reportedly done a lot of homework on South Florida DE Jason Pierre-Paul, a freakish athlete with as much upside as any player in the 2010 draft. Unfortunately, Pierre-Paul is also as raw as they come having played less than a full season of major college football, making him one of the bigger boom or bust prospects in the 2010 draft (although truth be told every player in the draft is a boom-or-buster.) Like Weatherspoon, though, Pierre-Paul may have seen his stock fall in recent days, although again like Weatherspoon we won’t know until draft day whether that trend extends to the Giants.  Georgia Tech DE Derrick Morgan may also be getting some consideration at #15. Morgan is potentially a better all-around player than Pierre-Paul, who is more a pure edge rusher, but the former likely lacks the explosion and closing speed to be a double digit sacker on a yearly basis at the NFL level, which as noted is what the Giants are probably looking for. Meanwhile, Michigan DE Brandon Graham may also figure in the mix. Most of the attention directed Graham’s way tends to be from 3-4 teams looking for an edge rushing OLB, however, he has Dwight Freeny type size and intensity – although he lacks Freeney’s 4.4-type foot speed. Graham is also a little shorter than the Giants like their DEs. He also has short arms and can be engulfed by big OTs, but he is relentless, has a very quick first step, as well as a nice array of solid pass rush moves. What further complicates the issue further at DE for the Giants is the fact other than the top 2-3-4 prospects at the position, one just isn’t likely going to be able to address the issue much past the first round. Sure there are plenty of potentially useful DEs in the 2010 draft, but other than the guys mentioned, there really aren’t many, if any at all, later round DEs with the quickness and explosion to rate as elite edge rushers.

What would be most interesting next Thursday would be if the Giants got on the clock at #15 with McClain gone, and the team didn’t think any of the DEs were worth going quite that high (if of course they were even seriously interested in the position.) In that scenario the Giants will almost certainly be looking at some very good football players as the first tier of 2010 prospects looks to be 18-20 players deep. What will be interesting to know is how the the Giants have these players rated and whether any are actually on the Giants’ short list. In no particular order these players likely include:

Tennessee DT Dan Williams: Arguably the best DT this year other than top-rated prospects Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy. He’s wide-body, physical NT type who is almost impossible to root off the line of scrimmage who would also be a strong run-stuffing presence in a 4-3 scheme. Williams certainly would also make who ever plays MLB a better player and likely could also contribute to DT rotation right away. He is not overly fast or athletic, but has some short-area quickness and a great motor. He  also has the strength to collapse the pocket, but otherwise isn’t much of a pass rusher and likely would only be a 2-down player in the Giants.

Penn State DT Jared Odrick: Late riser who could be something of a sleeper for the 15th pick. The Giants’ though, tend to live and die by the motto one can never have enough pass rushers and Odrick is one of the top 2-3 pass-rushing DTs in the 2010 draft with a polished swim move and surprising athleticism for a 305-pounder. Rangy sort who needs to work at keeping pads low to anchor when defending the run, but is a high-motor type who will pursue the ball to the whistle. Very similar in style to Chris Canty.

Rutgers OT Anthony Davis: Top 10 physical talent who absolutely dominated Big East opponents last year, but could be available at #15 because of character issues; doesn’t run all that well, but has goo balance and reasonably light on his feet; sets up well and can change direction on the move; also a long way around protecting the pocket with long arms and a devastating punch along with a thick lower body; can also engulf smaller opponents at the point of attack. However, doesn’t always play with passion or intensity; too often leans into blocks rather than exploding off line of scrimmage; also has issues with weight control and and physical conditioning and is thought be very immature.

Idaho OG Mike Iupati: Easily the best OG in the 2010 draft and just maybe the best prospect at the position in the 2000s; physical run-blocker who gets to the second-level as well as any collegiate OG since Alan Faneca; has long arms and athletic feet and could ultimately play OT at the next level, although his technique needs refining. The question for the Giants regarding Iupati, though, would be whether they wanted to invest their highest selection since 2004 on a player who likely isn’t going to play for a year or two and when he does isn’t going to play what is usually thought of as an impact position.

Oklahoma TE Jermaine Gresham: Gresham is another late entry in the top 20 sweepstakes; in fact, was considered to be a possible top 10 prospect before injuring his knee prior to the 2009 season; has been linked to the Giants in some recent buzz, although the fact that the Giants have not brought him in for a final physical flies in the face of that; outstanding pass receiver with soft hands and the speed to get into the seam; also runs good routes, but only an average blocker. Better athlete than incumbent starter Kevin Boss, but plays the same kind of game. Indeed, while the Giants do need a second quality TE, surely they aren’t going to bring in yet another essentially bulked up WR (Shockey, Boss) only to have head coach Tom Coughlin turn him into yet another block first slug.

In fact, a pretty good case can be made that there could be as many as 7-8 players that the Giants could take at #15 that would represent good value at the #15 pick and it would be fascinating to have a peek at their board to see just how they have these guys graded. At the same time, though, it is possible it is not hard to see a scenario in which if McClain were off the board, and the Giants didn’t feel that either Weatherspoon or any of the DEs were full value at that point, that the Giants would find themselves in a situation where they had 3-4-5 players graded relatively equally. In that case they could actually go in the opposite direction and explore trade down options, figuring that at least one of those players will be around for awhile. Of course, it takes two to do the draft-day trade tango, however, there could be some takers because as mentioned the Giants are selecting near the end of the first tier of prospects for the 2010 draft and there likely will teams selecting a little further on down that would like to get a player from that tier themselves.

Whatever they accomplish in the opening round, figure the Giants likely have a number of areas they would at least like to upgrade other than MLB and DE through the draft. Figure, for example, that they would like to add another big DT to the rotation if they don’t end up with a Dan Williams or Jared Odrick in the opening round. The good news is that the 2010 draft is incredibly deep at the position and teams could quite legitimately get a DT who can come in and contribute early on well into the draft’s third day. At the same time, the Giants probably would like to add another safety at some point in the draft, particularly one that can play in the box and push Michael Johnson for the 4-5 safety spot. Same at CB where they probably would like to add someone to compete with Bruce Johnson for the 4-5 CB slot. On the other hand, the Giants appear to have fewer immediate concerns on offense. They probably would like to add some depth on the OL especially inside at OG and C. They probably would also like to bring in some competition at FB and blocking TE, but those are issues that can be addressed in the later rounds or even post-draft rookie free agency.

For the record, here’s what the Giants short list at later round picks might look like (although we include the proviso that we are seldom very accurate with these predictions):

Pick #46 (2nd): LB Sean Lee; CB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah; DB Morgan Burnett and DTs Lamarr Houston and Tyson Aluala

Pick #76 (3rd): S Chad Jones; CB/S Chris Cook; DTs Torrel Troup and Linval Joseph; DE Corey Wootton; LBs Donald Butler and Navarro Bowman; OG Jon Asamoah

Pick #115 (4th): OT Jared Veldheer; DT Earl Mitchell; CB Amari Spievey; DB TJ Ward; DT Boo Smith; LBs Jamar Chaney and AJ Edds

Pick 147 (5th): QB John Shelton; LBs Phillip Dillard and Daryl Sharpton; DTs Nate Collins and Corey Peters; DEs Daniel Te’O-Neisham; RB James Starks; G/T Marshall Newhouse

Pick 184 (6th): LBs Pat Angerer and Travis Goethel; DBs Myron Rolle, Robert Johnson and Terrell Skinner; CB Nolan Carroll; TE Nate Byham; C Eric Olsen

Pick 221 (7th): CB Robert McClain; FB Jameson Konz; PK Leigh Tiffin; SS Harry Coleman, DT Sean Lissimore; OT Thomas Welch; OG Sergio Render

In the end, though, please remember the absolute #1 rule of the draft. And that is that good teams ultimately do not draft positions – they draft players. The Giants are not going to take a McClain or a Pierre-Paul or a Dan Williams with their opening round pick for the sake of taking a MLB, DE or DT. They are going to take a McClain, a Pierre-Paul or a Williams or whomever because they believe that the guy is first and foremost a really good football player with the potential to help get the Giants back to the Super Bowl sooner rather than later. So hang on to those remotes!

(Ed note: Also everyone can do an old draft guy a favor and keep the “I’d prefer so-and-so…” or “I wouldn’t trade up…” comments to a minimum. No disrespect intended, but nobody really cares what ‘you’ would do. Truth be told nobody should much care what I would like to see the Giants do. Nice as it would be, Jerry Reese has never yet taken my advice on draft matters; heck he won’t even return my calls so what I would do is irrelevant. On the other hand, I do care what people think what the Giants will do based on their past track record etc. because after all in the end all that matters is what the Giants actually do! Thanks … cl)