New York Giants 2011 NFL Draft Needs

The Giants proved to be one of the NFL’s elite teams in 2007 and 2008. Those Giants’ teams were very balanced offensively and defensively with respectable special teams units. In 2009, the Giants nose-dived to an 8-8 finish after a 5-0 start as the Giants’ defense became a laughing stock. In 2010, the team rebounded to 10-6 and a second-place finish in the NFC East. The defense was vastly improved, but it still came up short at key moments in big ball games, including both games against the Eagles, the second Cowboys game, and the embarrassing defensive performance against the Packers. Special teams were an abomination.

The strength of the team in 2009 and 2010 was the offense. However, the foundation of that offense – the offensive line – is now very much in transition. The running game has solid backs but no one special. A potential top-tier receiving corps could be sabotaged by Steve Smith’s injury status.

The Giants very much have the feel of a team in transition. To have a successful 2011 season, they are going to have to find a way to quickly retool the offensive line, hope Steve Smith hasn’t lost too much mojo, become mentally tougher and physically more talented on defense, and dramatically improve their special teams play. That’s a lot to ask for in one offseason with no free agency.

Quarterback: The Giants are in excellent shape with Eli Manning and Sage Rosenfels. Spending a draft pick on a developmental quarterback seems like a waste.

Draft Priority: Low

Running Back: If the Giants did nothing at running back, they would still be in good shape with Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs, and D.J. Ware. However, it would not be shocking to see the Giants draft a running back high, even in the first round, if the team feels it can acquire a better player than what they have. A truly special running back would make the Giants’ offense very dangerous and none of the current Giants’ halfbacks seem particularly adept in short-yardage or catching the football out of the backfield.

The bigger actual “need” may be at fullback. Madison Hedgecock has had two subpar and injury-plagued seasons in a row. Bear Pascoe was moved to fullback and flashed at times, but also struggled at the position. If the Giants feel Hedgecock is unlikely to regain his 2007-08 form, then fullback is a significant need.

Draft Priority: Medium

Wide Receiver: Much depends on the health status of Steve Smith. The problem is the Giants won’t know if Smith can regain his old form until months from now. My guess is the team won’t go wide receiver high unless someone is clearly ranked very high on their draft board. Other than Smith, the Giants are in good shape with Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, Domenik Hixon, Ramses Barden, and Victor Cruz.

Draft Priority: Low

Tight End: Kevin Boss is a good two-way tight end. The problem for the Giants is a lack of depth. If Boss were to go down with an injury, the Giants would be in serious trouble at the position. Travis Beckum has done very little in two years and really is not a typical, hand-in-the-dirt tight end. Jake Ballard went undrafted and is still an unknown. Bear Pascoe did not look good at the position in 2010.

Draft Priority: High

Offensive Line: Once a strength of the team, this area is now filled with question marks. Starting center Shaun O’Hara has age and injury concerns and it is not out of the realm of possibility that the Giants may cut him before training camp. Rich Seubert looked like he had a couple of more years left in him as a guard/center swingman, but his serious knee injury now very much clouds his future. Adam Koets was respectable, but not stellar, in his limited action at center before he tore up his knee. So the Giants have major question marks at center where Mitch Petrus may have a future.

What we do know is that Chris Snee will start at right guard and David Diehl will start at left tackle, or right tackle, or left guard. We don’t know if William Beatty will be good enough to win a starting tackle position. Kareem McKenzie still played well in 2010 but only has one more year left on a big contract. He’s also getting up there in years. Shawn Andrews is due a huge roster bonus and continued to struggle mightily with career-threatening back issues. He might be cut soon after the new CBA is agreed upon.

The Giants are hoping they can build around Snee, Diehl, Beatty, and Petrus. But they need a lot of young, talented bodies here.

Draft Priority: Very high

Defensive Line: It’s not recognized by many fans, but the defensive line is about to undergo a pretty significant transition too. Last year, I said the defensive line was the #1 need area of the team and many fans thought I was nuts. Then the Giants drafted a defensive end in the first round and a defensive tackle in the second round. Guess what? Don’t be shocked to see history repeat itself.

You can talk about linebackers all you want, but a 4-3 defense is predicated on the defensive line. If your defensive line isn’t any good, then you won’t have a good defense. It’s the same with a 3-4 defensive and the linebacker position. If the Giants had a 3-4, they’d spend a lot more high draft picks on linebackers. But they don’t. Accept it.

You ask why the hell would the Giants need another defensive tackle? It’s a good question. Barry Cofield will likely be an unrestricted free agent and there is a good chance he will not re-sign with the Giants. The Giants likely see Chris Canty and Linval Joseph as their formidable inside wall. But Rocky Bernard is too expensive and Dwayne Hendricks is not a serious prospect. The Giants must have a quality 3-man rotation at defensive tackle. The third defensive tackle is critical.

End? C’mon Eric, the Giants have Umenyiora, Tuck, Pierre-Paul, Kiwanuka, and Tollefson!  Umenyiora’s contract situation could become Shockey-like and he’s had a lot of wear-and-tear on the lower half of his body. Kiwanuka and Tollefson will likely be unrestricted free agents. The neck injury could actually work in the Giants favor and scare off other teams, but at best, Kiwanuka probably only has one more year with this team. I see Tuck and Pierre-Paul as being the starting duo in 2012, but so much of this defense is based on having a super-strong 3-man rotation at defensive end that enables Tuck or Pierre-Paul to shift inside on passing downs.

Either in 2011 or 2012, the Giants will have to take another end high. If Cofield leaves, tackle is a big need unless the Giants want to keep Bernard around one more year.

Draft Priority: High

Linebackers: Everyone’s favorite need position on defense. And it is a big need area, but I just don’t get the sense that it is as huge of a need as many fans think.

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it 100 times – the third linebacker does not see the field all that much in today’s NFL. In the Perry Fewell’s system, we’re talking about Keith Bulluck’s and Clint Sintim’s weakside spot. Bulluck will probably not be back and Sintim has been a disappointment and is now coming off of a serious knee injury. I would not count out Adrian Tracy, but it is obvious that another body is needed for competition. But at this particular spot, we’re talking about a guy who will see less playing time than the third safety and/or third corner.

In the middle, much depends on what the Giants truly think of Jon Goff and Phillip Dilliard. My gut tells me that the Giants are likely to give both another year and deal with more pressing matters.

That leaves the strongside spot. Michael Boley did well in coverage, but he did not make many impact plays. He’s in the prime of his career and should be doing more. If the Giants draft someone high, I think it is a guy who they hope will replace Boley in a year or two – someone who can cover, play the run, and blitz (in that order). Depth behind Boley is shaky too with the disappointing Gerris Wilkinson.

Look for the Giants to draft at least one linebacker.

Draft Priority: High

Defensive Backs: Like the defensive line, this is probably a bigger area of need than most fans realize.

Let’s look at cornerback first. The Giants most likely still see Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas as their long-term starters. And Aaron Ross is a very good third corner. But both Thomas and Ross will be unrestricted free agents in 2012 and at least one of those guys will not be back. And regardless, teams need four quality corners in today’s NFL. The Giants have a lot of bodies on the roster after the top three guys, but they will be extremely fortunate if any of those other guys pan out.

Safety. In a big role reversal, Antrel Rolle was called upon to be an in-the-box safety and excelled moving forward but not making as many big plays in the passing game as has in the past. Still, he is a very athletic player in his prime. The big question here is whether Kenny Phillips is permanently-damaged goods or was 2010 the expected recovery year. While Phillips was solid, much more is expected of him.

It’s clear that the third safety in Perry Fewell’s defense is a de facto starter. In fact, I would argue the third safety is more important than the third starting linebacker. Deon Grant is near the end and is a free agent. Chad Jones was supposed to be the third guy before his career most likely ended with a car crash. The Giants did not even tender Michael Johnson.

If Grant does not re-sign, safety is a huge need.

Draft Priority: High

Special Teams: This area was a disaster in 2010. Much of this had to do with talent, but the Giants don’t seem able to block anyone in most phases of this important area of the game.

Lawrence Tynes had another good year and is entrenched as the team’s place kicker. Matt Dodge has a tremendous leg but struggled as much as any punter ever has in the NFL. He will be challenged in camp but that challenge will not likely come from another draft pick. Domenik Hixon’s return should help the return game. But the Giants may want to pick another return-type at some point late in the draft. Hopefully most of the guys who they draft will help upgrade the special teams units.

Draft Priority: Medium

Summary: Offensively, I see the major “needs” being blockers: offensive line, tight end, and possibly fullback. Defensively, the Giants could use help just about anywhere. Keep in mind that this team rightfully places more emphasis on defensive linemen and defensive backs than linebackers. If the Giants do go linebacker high, hopefully it will be someone who not only is physically talented, but someone with mental toughness and a nasty attitude. The Giants need more of that on defense.