Mar 312015
 
Eli Manning, New York Giants (October 19, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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Giants.com senior writer Michael Eisen interviewed Eli Manning for a story on the quarterback’s thoughts on the upcoming season. The 34-year old Manning will be entering his 12th season, and second under Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo’s West Coast Offense-based system.

Manning finished the season with 4,410 yards (second-highest total in his career and in franchise history), 30 touchdowns (one shy of his career-high in 2011), and 14 interceptions (13 fewer than he threw in 2013). Manning’s completion percentage (63.1) was a career-high. His passer rating of 92.1 was the second-highest of highest of his career (93.1 in 2009).

“I’m excited about this upcoming season,” said Manning. “Last year during the offseason, I was coming off an injury and going into a situation with new coaches. And the way the (Collective Bargaining Agreement) works now, you don’t get much, if any, communication with the coaches. There were a lot of uncertainties and I didn’t know how quickly I would heal. I had to learn a new system and new mechanics. There was a lot of anxiousness.

“This year I feel great about the system. My body feels good. I am excited about coming in and knowing what I need to improve on and make strides in, rather than learning a complete new system. I have been working hard and looking at some stuff from last year and keeping the plays fresh and in my head. I’m trying to keep it all fresh in my mind and I am excited about getting back.

“This year will be a much easier transition, knowing that we have been through so much of it already. It’s definitely a different starting point. I feel good about it. I feel that I have a good understanding of it, but there is still room to grow and that is why I try to keep it as fresh in my mind as possible. Looking at old game-plan sheets and calling plays in my head – throwing routes with receivers trying to call out plays to myself, so you don’t let it slip away. It was new last year and it wasn’t something I have been doing for 10 years, so you want to keep it fresh and go through your reminders and all your checks. So when we come back I haven’t taken a step backwards and have to re-learn things. It is still all there. There will be new stuff and we will be taking it to another level.

“I’m not pleased with the amounts of wins (last year). That is the important thing. There are still some situations that we need to get better at and that I need to improve on and, as an offense, we need to improve on. (We need to make sure) we are taking care of what needs to be done during the course of the game to put us in a situation to win, or if we got opportunities in the fourth quarter, to be at our best and win our games in those situations. There is definitely still some room for improvement, but I feel good that I can play at a high level in this system and can definitely make improvements and we can win a lot of games and play a lot better this year.”

Manning also addressed the following topics:

  • How he physically approaches the offseason: “Your arm needs rest and your body needs rest. I didn’t start throwing again until mid-February. Just to keep the arm in shape and making sure it has all the strength and everything that it needs when we get back in April. As I get older, I take less time off, especially from my workouts and my conditioning (because) it is harder to get back into shape. It takes a little longer to get your strength back up. Take two weeks off, but even then I still enjoy the workout part of it. It is still exercising and moving around just to keep loose.”
  • How he reviews his play from the previous season: “I look at everything. I look at games to see situations we need to improve on, whether it is a two-minute before a half or it is a red-zone or try to analyze certain games (to see) if there is a common trend we need to improve on from aspects of circumstances of the game. Then look a lot of cut-ups of the same play. If it is a play you ran 20 times in a season, you’re seeing trends, what coverages it worked well against. Why it had success or why it didn’t have success. So you can learn from those and get a great feel for it going into the season.”
  • Wide Receivers Odell Beckham and Victor Cruz: “The good thing about having guys that are smart and versatile is that you can move them around in different positions. Victor and Odell can do a lot of the same things. The more guys you can have that are great athletes, the more you want to try to get the ball in their hands. You can change up formations, you can move them inside or outside. Victor can play outside, he can play in the slot. Odell can do both of those things, so I think that is an advantage to us. You can run similar plays or the same play, but having different guys do it disguises things.”
  • Running Back Shane Vereen: “I have talked to Shane a little bit and I have seen him play over the years in New England. He is very versatile. He can catch the ball well out of the backfield, run routes very well (when he is) split outside and he runs the ball well when you use him as a running back. I think it gets you excited because you can use him in a lot of different ways and move him around and create mismatches.”
Mar 312015
 
Kerry Wynn, New York Giants (December 21, 2014)

Kerry Wynn – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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Giants.com Player Q&As: Video clips of interviews with the following players are available at Giants.com:

Article on New York Giants Chairman/Executive Vice President Steve Tisch: Giants co-owner Steve Tisch optimistic, but on board with the win-or-else mandate by Jordan Raanan for NJ.com

Article on the New York Giants Offseason: Giants free agent takeaways: What to surmise from the 13 signings by Jordan Raanan for NJ.com

Article on RB Shane Vereen: How Tom Coughlin and the Giants envision Shane Vereen fitting into the offenses by Jordan Raanan for NJ.com

Article on WR Victor Cruz: Uncertainty surrounds wide receiver Victor Cruz and the Giants by Jordan Raanan for NJ.com

Article on WR Dwayne Harris: Overpaid? Why Dwayne Harris may be worth every penny for the Giants by Jordan Raanan for NJ.com

Articles on the 2015 NFL Draft:

Mar 302015
 
Maxx Williams, Minnesota Golden Gophers (February 20, 2015)

Maxx Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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New York Giants 2015 NFL Draft Preview: Tight Ends

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

*Below are my published, abbreviated reports via Ourlads Scouting Services, LLC

**A note about Pro Upside Comparisons: These are comparisons that are based on the player reaching his ceiling. It does not necessarily mean I believe the player will “be as good as”.

CURRENT TEs ON THE NYG ROSTER

Larry Donnell – 27 years old – Signed through 2015

Daniel Fells – 32 years old – Signed through 2015

Adrien Robinson – 27 years old – Signed through 2015

Jerome Cunningham – 24 years old – Signed through 2015

WHERE THEY STAND

One could argue the tight end group is the worst on this roster. Donnell showed signs of being a rare player with his ability to get up and after the ball. There is some wide receiver type ability to him and he has the tools to be a dominant player but he will need to enhance his skills and consistency. He was a major source of frustration on different occasions in 2014 and his big plays don’t overshadow that. Behind him there are a bunch of guys that can easily be replaced by better talent. While you could be worse off than Fells at backup, he doesn’t do anything particularly well. Robinson has been a complete non factor his entire career after somehow being labeled the infamous “JPP of TEs” by Jerry Reese. There isn’t anything about his game that warrants him being on this roster. As a matter of fact, Cunningham can likely do more for this team than Robinson. This team is really hurting at the TE position and it’s a spot that could make a significant impact on the hopeful resurgence of this team.

TOP 10 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1 – Maxx Williams – Minnesota – 6’4/249 – 78

Pro Upside Comparison: John Carlson/ARI

Strong Points: Fast and agile player with a great blend of tools and skills. Long with wiry strength. A weapon after the catch that shows the ability to gain yards using a variety of avenues. Can break tackles and fall forward but also wiggle his way out of contact and run away from defenders. Excellent ball skills. Sees the ball in and shows no hesitation in extending his body for the ball. Tough over the middle and in traffic. High points the ball. Can turn and adjust his body in the air with ease. Consistent mechanics as a blocker. Gets his hands inside and keeps his feet chopping. High effort down the field as a blocker in space. Can handle speed and power.

Weak Points: Rounds his routes when turning laterally. Slow to get his head around. Average movement in and out of breaks. Light in the pants, doesn’t generate a lot of strength or power from his base. Doesn’t make a big, physical impact as a blocker.

Summary: Third year sophomore, early entry. 1st Team All American. Son of former 1st round pick Brian Williams, whom played center for the New York Giants for a decade. Williams led the Gophers in receiving both seasons he was on the active roster. He lines up all over the field and has showed the ability to wear every hat a tight end could potentially wear in the NFL within any system. He excels as a down-the-seam receiver where he knows how to use his size, speed, and ball skills in traffic. He is a weapon near the end zone because of the matchup problems that his talents presents. He needs to get stronger to handle life in the trenches, but he has the potential to be a big piece to any NFL offense.

*I don’t see Williams as a first round caliber talent but with this TE class being overly weak, he could sneak in there somewhere. I think he is a tough kid that can make a lot of touch catches, but he isn’t the kind of TE that scares anyone. We aren’t talking about a supreme athlete here and really, he isn’t that good of a blocker. Weak lower body. That would bother me if I brought him in to be a starting TE unless we were talking about an elite athlete and pass catcher.

2 – Ben Koyack – Notre Dame – 6’5/255 – 77

Pro Upside Comparison: Anthony Fasano/TEN

Strong Points: Every down player that was mostly a blocking tight end until 2014. Squares defenders up and locks on to their numbers with knee bend and active feet. Has the strength and power to handle defensive linemen, but also the quickness and body control to stick with linebackers and defensive backs. Has big and strong hands. Easy catcher of the ball, swallows it on contact. Will come down with a lot of passes in traffic. Hard nosed, shows no hesitation over the middle. Can take hits and keep going. Smart route runner against zone, finds the vacancies and shows his numbers to the QB.

Weak Points: Limited athlete. Lacks the top end speed to factor downfield. Won’t get behind a secondary. Struggles to separate from athletic cover men. Limited route tree possibilities with him. Won’t get up over the defender in jump ball situations. Needs to be in proper position to make plays, won’t create on his own.

Summary: Fourth year senior. Played behind some very good tight end prospects throughout his career. Koyack didn’t really receive an opportunity to be the every down tight end and passing game asset until 2014. He took advantage of the throws made his way though, proving to be much more than just a very good blocker. Koyack has some of the most natural, easy catching hands among tight ends in this class. He looks the ball in and consistently shows minimal struggle in doing so. He lacks some of the top tier athletic traits that you look for in a receiver, but his plus ability to block any kind of defender plus his sure hands can get him a starting job in the NFL soon.

*Probably the most overlooked TE in the class. This guy can be a starter and I think he is just a step below Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas. His ball skills were put on display at the combine and Senior Bowl and we all already knew he was a positive factor in the run game. I think NYG could grab him in round 2 or 3 and get the perfect compliment and even backup option to Donnell should he not work out. The improvement needed in the run blocking part of the offense doesn’t end with the linemen. They need more presence out of their TEs.

3 – Nick O’Leary – Florida State – 6’3/252 – 76

Pro Upside Comparison: Garrett Graham/HOU

Strong Points: Does all of the little things exceptionally well. Shows a pop out of his stance when blocking, setting his feet and timing his initial punch to the defender well. All-out hustler no matter what his role is on the play. Can pass block very well when asked to with his quick feet, proper hand placement and strong upper body. Reads the defense with ease and can run the option routes correctly. Can run himself open with consistency. Locates the ball and can alter his body position when going after the ball. Strong and consistent hands. If he can touch the pass, he will bring it in. Accurate ball skills when it comes to timing and location of his hands. Effective in traffic. Knows how to use his body to shield off defenders in traffic. A bruising runner with the ball in his hands. Breaks a lot of tackles. Plays hard through the whistle.

Weak Points: Shorter than ideal. Lacks the size and runaway speed that most are looking for in a top tier tight end. Routes tend to be rounded when running to the outside. Struggles to get behind a defense. His deep speed is average. Doesn’t run away from a lot of defenders. The effort is there as a blocker but his upside there may be limited. Very short arms.

Summary: The former high school #1 tight end recruit and grandson of Jack Nicklaus is favored to with the Mackey Award. An old school football player that shows a complete and versatile style. O’Leary is an all-out hustler that does all of the little things well. His less-than-ideal size and speed rarely show up on tape. He has elite ball skills and might be the most dependable blocker of any tight end in the class. A gritty gamer with the ability to fit in to any scheme right away as a starter.

*The biggest disappointment I’ve seen with O’Leary since the season ended was at the combine. I’m not huge on measurables but they are part of the process. He has the shortest arms among all the tight ends in this class by a wide margin. It’s not a huge deal but it hurt his grade by a point or two. Otherwise, O’Leary is one of my favorites. He is a blue collar guy that you just know will find a way to produce. Maybe he makes a move to H-Back type, possibly even a pass catching full back type. But all I know about him is he is a football player in every sense of the word and he will help a team. Limited upside but he is one of the safest bets in the entire class.

4 – Jeff Heuerman – Ohio State – 6’5/254 – 75

Pro Upside Comparison: Jason Witten/DAL

Strong Points: Tall with long arms and a powerful frame from head to toe. Excels as a blocker in the trenches. Fires out of his stance hard with good knee bend and heavy hands. Gets those hands inside and control the defender upon contact. Can swing his hips in to the hole and keep his feet chopping. Can move defenders, makes the effort to drive them out of the play. Understands body positioning to maximize his presence as a blocker. Has sneaky speed up the seam. Can get past that second level and turn his head around. Soft and big hands, can swallow the ball. Shows the ability to get up in traffic and come down with the ball. Tough as nails. Consistently puts his body on the line.

Weak Points: Lacks an explosive element to his game. Won’t run away from defenders the ball in is hands. Doesn’t miss tacklers or show ability to break free after the catch. Won’t turn in traffic with quickness and precision as a route runner. Wasn’t used a lot as a receiver, limited route tree experience.

Summary: Fourth year senior and three year starter. Heuerman is one of the top all around tight ends in this class. He has top notch blocking ability, showing the potential to move defensive linemen and completely overwhelm linebackers. His technique and strength are both NFL ready right now. Because of the Ohio State scheme, his role as a receiver was diminished. However he produced well when given the opportunity, showing glimpses of being a difference maker downfield and in traffic. He can be a much more productive pro than he was in college while providing a reliable blocking presence at the point of attack.

*There is a high amount of the unknown with Heuerman because of what his role within the OSU offense was. He has upper tier ability to block at the point of attack and in space but when he was asked to run the seam and display ball skills, he consistently delivered. He is a better than advertised athlete and could be a say one starter in the NFL. NYG appears to be ready to give Donnell the long term starting job but even his strongest supporters need to admit he has only showed glimpses. Heuerman, at the very least, presents an every down backup and credible run blocking presence to aid the process of improving the rushing attack.

5 – Clive Walford – Miami – 6’4/251 – 74

Pro Upside Comparison: Dwayne Allen/IND

Strong Points: Big, thick bodied all around tight end that can be on the field every play. Strong upper body with a powerful punch. Good hands catcher, swallows the ball and controls it upon contact. Sneaky acceleration and speed in space, can outrun linebackers and some defensive backs. Reliable and tough in traffic. Good ball reaction. Will put his body on the line over the middle. Shields defenders from making plays on the ball. Good body control and balance. Very stable as a blocker, able to maintain his center of gravity.

Weak Points: Slow out of his stance. Doesn’t have explosive change of direction or agility. Won’t split the seam against a Cover 2 defense. Rounded routes, can be slow in and out of his breaks. Does not live up to the billing as a blocker that his strength suggests he should. Won’t overpower defenders or keep his feet chopping. Lacks the flexibility to bend at his knees and while keeping his chest up. Tore his right MCL late in 2014 but is expected to be out for just two months.

Summary: Former basketball player that played just one year of prep football prior to joining Miami. Walford really started to come in to his own in 2014, proving to be one of the more productive tight ends in the nation. He moved with more speed and quickness than his previous years, showing that the light may be turning on for him. He needs to work on blocking technique and consistency, but the tools are there to be an all around, complete tight end. Teams will need to spend some extra attention examining his knee, but he is expected to make a full recovery.

*Walford has the natural length and thickness to factor as a quality three down tight end in the NFL. He isn’t fast, but he’s fast enough. He isn’t quick, but he’s quick enough. He isn’t a great blocker, but he blocks well enough. He isn’t a big time receiving threat, but he catches the ball well enough. There is a limited upside here but he can work his way in to a starting role down the road. He is still evolving as a football player more so than some of these other tight ends. NYG could be a good spot for him because he won’t be needed right away on an every down basis and he could use the extra time to improve the finer points.

6 – Rory Anderson – South Carolina – 6’5/244 – 71

Pro Upside Comparison: Ladarius Green/SD

Strong Points: Explosive from a standstill. Quick acceleration up the seam and forces the defense to react to him. Shows the ball skills to come down with the pass in traffic. Balanced and full of body control when turning and twisting his body. Aware of where he is on the field in relation to the sidelines and first down markers. Shows the instincts to find the vacant lanes within a zone defense. High effort blocker that shows more presence than his body type would lead you to believe. Shows the mechanics and flexibility to factor in the run game.

Weak Points: Inconsistent pass catcher, will drop easy balls. Let’s the ball in to his body, needs to improve the consistency of hand usage. Doesn’t run crisp routes, will round his lateral turns. Takes too long to come back to the football. Needs to increase leg power so he can be a better in line drive blocker. Has had issues staying healthy and missed some as a result of different muscle-related injuries.

Summary: Fourth year senior and two-plus year starter. Anderson shows athletic-based flashes of being a big time player. With his height and ball skills, he can be a tough matchup for defenses to deal with. Anderson is too fast for the average linebacker, but his size can be too overwhelming for the average defensive back. While his ability to catch the ball is at the top of his resume, he is a better than average blocker. He shows effort and initial pop but will need to get stronger to play in the NFL trenches. His number one issue revolves around both of his triceps being torn and forcing him to both miss games and play hampered in others. If that checks out and he can start his strength training without hiccups, Anderson has very high potential.

*If it weren’t for the two separate tears of his triceps and lingering hamstring issues, Anderson is a top 4 tight end in this class at worst. He has better movement than everyone outside of Williams, and shows enough promise as a blocker to not be labeled a receiving-only player. If he can be had late day three, NYG would be smart to at least give him a long look based on what he can do right now and what he could become down the road.

7 – Jesse James – Penn State – 6’7/261 – 71

Pro Upside Comparison: Levine Toilolo/ATL

Strong Points: Good body awareness in traffic. Can position his large and lengthy frame to shield the defender from making a play on the ball. Reliable and tough in traffic. Willingly puts his body on the line. Strong and reliable hands. Can use his size to get over a defender and come down with the ball. Good leaper that times it well. Quick acceleration when running up the seam. Savvy with the ball in his hands, good vision and tough to bring down for a lone defender. Fires out of his stance low and hard. Reacts to the ball well, adjusts his body and plucks the ball. Works hard as a blocker, takes pride in that part of the position’s role. Can bend well and get his hands inside. Willing to get downfield and make the extra block.

Weak Points: Slow to get his head around when running lateral routes. Doesn’t show that athleticism when getting in and out of breaks. Plays a high game as a route runner. Not a dynamic athlete that scares defenses over the top. Limited speed and won’t run away from defensive backs. Catches defenders when blocking rather than delivering the punch. Doesn’t get a push, won’t drive them out of a lane.

Summary: Junior entry. Long frame with great height and reach. Reliable underneath receiver that creates massive matchup problems. James is a weapon on third down and near the end zone because of his body awareness and ability to get open enough. He is a tough cover in traffic and has proven to be a guy that can come down with a lot of passes when surrounded by defenders. He may not have ideal athleticism but he can make up for it with a savvy and reliable style. Limited, but reliable starter potential.

*I want to like James more than where I have him graded. He is big, tough, and reliable. You know what you are getting out of James each and every play of each and every week. That’s not always easy to find. I just wish he had a quicker twitch to his game when running routes and after the catch. In addition, a guy with this size and strength should be a better blocker. I don’t want to look down on his effort without credible evidence, but I simply question it. If he is a day three option, I think he offers the upside of a starter down the road.

8 – Nick Boyle – Delaware – 6’4/268 – 71

Pro Upside Comparison: Alex Bayer/STL

Strong Points: Every down player with plus size and quickness. Explosive in short areas with easy change of direction and acceleration. Big and soft hands, can swallow the ball upon contact. Adjusts well to passes thrown away from his body. Can reach down, up, laterally for the ball. Shows toughness after the catch. Will run defenders over or jump over them, versatile athlete.

Weak Points: Top end speed is below average. Won’t be a guy that strikes fear in to the secondary. Struggles to work his way up the seam. Not the dominant blocker that a guy at his size playing at a lower level of college football should be. Will get good initial contact but doesn’t stick to his man, lacks consistent technique. Effort appears to be different as a blocker than what I see when as a receiver.

Summary: Fourth year senior. All time leader among tight ends in receptions in school history. All American in 2014 at a lower level of college football. Also has the ability to deep snap. Boyle looks the part and will surprise you with good ball skills and short area quickness. He can plant his foot and make quick cuts, showing consistent ability to get open underneath. He is a limited athlete, however. In addition, he needs to become more physical and play to his size. That transition to the NFL will be tough for him, this he will be a developmental prospect with starter upside.

*Initially this is a guy that is easy to like. He has the thick and long frame to go along with smooth ball skills and a surprising ability after the catch to gain extra yards. The more I watch however, the more I see a guy that really shouldn’t have been playing at a level higher than D-I AA. For a guy weighing nearly 270 pounds, how come he didn’t control defenders as a blocker? That was a little bothersome and factoring that he is a limited upside athlete pushed him down to the day three tier at best.

9 – Tyler Kroft – Rutgers – 6’6/246 – 70

Pro Upside Comparison: Gary Barnidge/CLE

Strong Points: Long and quick twitch athlete with an ideal frame for the position. Runs good routes up the seam. Can keep defenders off balance with last second commitments to his intended route. Runs well, comfortable long strider with the speed to outrun linebackers. Easy catching motion when he’s in space. High effort player. Shows the desire to mix it up in the trenches as a run blocker. Quick release out of his three point stance and from the slot. Can eat up a cushion to the safety fast.

Weak Points: Lacks a physical power presence. Doesn’t control defenders as a blocker, doesn’t give them the initial jolt. Slow reaction to what the defense throws at him. Does not have the speed to outrun defensive backs. Questionable toughness over the middle and in traffic. Doesn’t always extend his arms when going after the ball. Too much of a body catcher.

Summary: Kroft is an easy moving, smooth athlete with a lot of size potential. He has a long frame with good height for the position. That size combined with his speed and quickness when changing directions can make him a reliable short and intermediate receiving option for any offense. He has the leaping ability over the middle. Kroft’s main weakness revolves around his physical nature. He doesn’t control defenders while blocking, nor does he drive second level defenders out of the action. Too often he is found being driven back by his assignment. He needs to add a lot of strength before he can be relied upon as an every down threat. Until then, Kroft can help any offense out with his versatility to line up anywhere to create matchup problems for the defense. He has plenty of potential as a receiver but will need time to factor as a blocker.

*There are a lot of up and down views on Kroft, respectively. He surprised me by coming out early but I can understand why he did. There is a lot of physical talent here, as he may be one of the top 3 athletes at the position in the entire class. He is a developmental player for sure, though. He wont be able to hack it as a blocker early on in his career and we aren’t talking about a receiver that will scare a defense. You could do much worse on day three and NYG does have the time and situation to develop him the right way.

10 – Gerald Christian – Louisville – 6’3/244 – 69

Pro Upside Comparison: Delanie Walker/TEN

Strong Points: Physically gifted athlete. Has the burst out of his stance to gain separation right off the snap. Good change of direction ability. Balanced athlete with the consistent body control and awareness. Big and strong hands. Swallows the ball upon contact. Has eyebrow-raising movement ability with the ball in his hands. Physical and willing blocker that seems to enjoy mixing it up with defenders. Takes pride in owning his man at the line of scrimmage.

Weak Points: Does not run his routes as well as his athleticism says he should. Doesn’t get a push as a blocker. Gets too grabby and will allow the defender to get inside position. Doesn’t extend for the ball in traffic or over the middle. Effort and intensity levels are inconsistent.

Summary: Transferred to Louisville from Florida in 2012. Has the tool set to make his mark as a receiving tight end in the league but didn’t show consistency. Christian will make plays in every game that will cause coaches and scouts alike to think of what may be. He is a gifted athlete that needs to refine his skill sets. High upside prospect.

*NYG likes WRs and TEs with big hands, and Christian has the biggest mitts in the draft among pass catchers. I’m not sure what the deal is with him. He moves as well as anyone in the nation among TEs here and there every time I watched Louisville, but his effort wasn’t always there. And then he put out poor workout times. Maybe there is a motivation issue with him but I just can’t get away from this kid. I see things in him that scream high ceiling. Worth a gamble late in the draft for NYG.

TOP UDFA SLEEPER

A.J. Derby – Arkansas – 6’4/255

*Started off at Iowa as a QB then transferred to a junior college, then to Arkansas. Didn’t make the move to TE until 2014 and he became a highly discussed player among coaches in the SEC. Had be been there since the start of his career, I think Derby is being talked about as a top 45 overall talent. I’ve seen him outrun the Alabama defensive backs and I’ve seen him control the point of attack against their line. Derby has the toughness and awareness to expedite his progression quicker than most that make such a late position change.

NYG APPROACH

Similar to the QB group, this is the weakest I have seen as a whole since I have been grading players. However you don’t need to find an every down starter/contributor at the position for him to factor as a player that will help the team win unlike the approach with drafting a QB. So with that said, even though this class lacks some star power, there is a good enough blend of tools and skills here that can help NYG get more out of the position.

Last year I spoke of Larry Donnell as the lone guy on the roster with legitimate long term upside. He broke out in 2014 with a few solid games and displayed his tools and developing skills. He can do things physically that a lot of TEs in this league cannot. Because we are still unsure about how good of an actual football player he is, NYG would be smart to use a pick on someone that has some long term upside or a player that can take some pressure off Donnell as a blocker. There are some guys lower on my grade list that may be a better fit on this team than guys on the top. I would avoid the TE position for the first two or three rounds and then look for the value of a guy that drops. O’Leary and Koyack aren’t fits for every team, thus I could see them available on day 4 and it would present outstanding value. They could opt to wait until the end of the draft or even UDFA period and give a tools-rich and/or raw prospect a year to sit on the practice squad while Donnell gets another season to show progress, something he earned.

Mar 292015
 
J.T. Thomas, Jacksonville Jaguars (December 18, 2014)

J.T. Thomas – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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As discussed in our free agent spotlight on linebacker Jonathan Casillas, the New York Giants have been forced to upgrade the linebacker position in free agency because of their failed attempts to do so from the college ranks. After four seasons, the Giants decided to part ways with Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger and sign Casillas from the New England Patriots and J.T. Thomas from the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Giants signed 26-year old J.T. Thomas in March 2015 to a 3-year, $10 million deal that included $4.5 million in guaranteed money and $1 million escalators in 2016 and 2017.

Thomas – a three-year starter at the University of West Virginia – was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. He spent his entire rookie season on Injured Reserve after suffering a hip injury in the preseason. In February 2012, Thomas was arrested on a misdemeanor drug possession charge (marijuana). He played in all 16 games for the Bears in 2012, but did not start and finished the season with six special teams tackles and one forced fumble.

The Bears waived Thomas in August 2013. He was immediately claimed off of waivers by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Thomas played in 15 games with the Jaguars in 2013, starting two contests and finishing the season with 17 tackles (12 solo) on defense and six special teams tackles (third on the team). Thomas also blocked a punt that resulted in a safety.

Thomas remained a back-up at the beginning of the 2014 season, but started the last 10 games of the year at middle linebacker after Paul Posluszny got hurt. He finished the season with 84 tackles, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles.

“I really like J.T. Thomas,” said Jacksonville Jaguars’ Head Coach Gus Bradley after the Giants signed Thomas. “Really, the good thing about J.T. is flexibility. He played at all three positions for us. He can go in at all three positions at any time and play extremely fast, as far as knowing what he’s supposed to do.

“He took really good command of the defense. When (Posluszny) got hurt for us, we were scrambling a little bit. When J.T. came in he settled things down. It’s very important to him. I can’t say enough good things about J.T.”

In the week 13 match-up against the Giants, Thomas finished the game with 12 total tackles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Head Coach Tom Coughlin pointed to that game as a significant factor in the team’s evaluation of Thomas, who also had double-digit tackle numbers in games against the Colts and Titans.

Despite that productivity, the Jaguars still saw Thomas as back-up material as the team signed Dan Skuta from the San Francisco 49ers to start along side Posluszny and Telvin Smith.

“What his role would be for us, with a guy like Puz coming back, it would be more a role where he was a back-up,” Bradley said. “He saw himself more as a starter.”

Right or wrong, the Giants seem to think Thomas can be a viable NFL starter too, ideally at weakside linebacker to replace Jacquian Williams. On the surface, this does seem to be his best position given his size (6’1” and 236 pounds) and overall athletic ability (4.65 speed). The Giants also think Thomas will improve their special teams.

“We think Thomas can be a WILL ‘backer,” said Coughlin. “Casillas is basically the same kind of guy. Both are excellent special teamers. They’ll make contributions in both ways.”

Thomas lacks ideal size, but is a good athlete. In a nutshell, he is a run-and-hit linebacker who is at his best when he is protected and does not have to take on blockers at the point-of-attack. Thomas is intense, instinctive, and involved in a lot of tackles. While Thomas is not afraid to stick his nose into the scrum, he is not a strong or physical player. He won’t shock you as a hitter, and many of his tackles are of the down-the-field variety. Thomas is good in coverage and should help the New York defense deal with the plethora of tight end and running back receiving threats in today’s NFL.

In terms of intangibles, Thomas has some off-the-field issues in his past. Aside from the drug charge, in college, Thomas was arrested for being involved with a stolen laptop. On the flip side, he is known for his charity work with children with medical issues. Thomas also has the reputation for being a hard worker and team leader. His on-field personality is demonstrated when he was mic’d up in a December 7, 2014 game against the Houston Texans.

How does J.T. Thomas fit in with the Giants? He is probably the favorite to start at the weakside linebacker spot though he will face competition from Jonathan Casillas. At worst, he could be a valuable reserve as he can play all three linebacker spots and is a good special teams player. The big question with Thomas is what is his upside? Jacquian Williams was the heir apparent to Michael Boley but he couldn’t handle the job. Is Thomas another placeholder or can  he be a 4-5 year starter at the position? Thomas wanted the opportunity to prove himself, and now he has it. He seems to be a hungry player.

“I am an aggressive player,” said Thomas when he signed with the Giants. “Bang, bang plays, turnovers – that is my thing. I am good at getting the ball back (by) creating turnovers. I think that is what will help us win ballgames, and that is my goal.”

Mar 262015
 
Todd Gurley, Georgia Bulldogs (November 23, 2013)

Todd Gurley – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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New York Giants 2015 NFL Draft Preview: Running Backs

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

*Below are my published, abbreviated reports via Ourlads Scouting Services, LLC

CURRENT RBs ON THE NYG ROSTER

Shane Vereen – 25 years old – Signed through 2017

Rashad Jennings – 29 years old – Signed through 2017

Andre Williams – 22 Years old – Signed through 2017

Michael Cox – 26 Years old – Signed through 2016

Orleans Darkwa – 23 Years Old – Signed through 2015

Chris Ogbonnaya – 28 Years Old – Signed through 2015

Henry Hynoski – 26 Years Old – Signed through 2016

Nikita Whitlock – 23 Years Old – Signed through 2016

WHERE THEY STAND

From both numbers and roles perspectives, NYG does not have any need for an additional running back on the roster. Vereen is this year’s “big” free agent signing and I think he will perform well in a pass catching role. He has more talent than any other RB on that list and there is plenty of youth to him. Jennings is likely the every down back that will receive the majority of the carries barring injury. He is solid between the tackles. Williams is another inside bruiser with limited ability in space. He won’t ever be a big time pass catcher. He is an easy guy to like but I can’t say he impressed beyond the preseason in his rookie year. He will get his fair share of carries. Cox has been given more than enough opportunity and he hasn’t capitalized, he won’t be around much longer. Darkwa, Ogbonnaya, and Whitlock are guys that are here for training camp purposes and nothing more. Hynoski is an above average fullback but is still limited in what he can offer.

They are in good but not great standing. The committee approach is probably the safest way to go because of the amount of injuries RBs suffer on a yearly basis. If one of these guys goes down, there is enough depth without a huge drop off in talent to still be okay.

TOP 10 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1 – Todd Gurley – Georgia – 6’1/222 – 83

Pro Upside Comparison: Adrian Peterson/MIN

Strong Points: Elite blend of size, speed, agility, and power. Thick lower body that creates tremendous drive and power. Fires out of a cannon upon contact with the ball. Has that burst from a dead stop position to top end speed. Breaks tackles consistently and is almost always falling forward to pick up the extra few yards. Can drag tacklers with his strength but also makes them miss with late movement. Agile and quick when changing direction. Runs with great lean and a low pad level. Aware of where and when he plants his feet in relation to where the bodies are around him. Quality blocker and receiver out of the backfield, a true three down back.

Weak Points: Coming off a torn ACL. Played through a lot of minor injuries prior to the knee. Drags plays out with his aggressive style and leaves himself prone to extra hits. Pad level is inconsistent, exposes too much of his body and legs to defenders. Inconsistent receiving mechanics, will body catch the ball.

Summary: Junior entry. Bell cow back that doesn’t need to be taken off the field in any situation. Was suspended and injured in 2014, shortening his quest for the Heisman Trophy. Gurley has the size and movement ability to be a dominant three down back in the NFL. He can pick up the tough yards between the tackles but also break free in to open space and run away from defenders. Very smart running back that is aware of the defense and game situations. If he can return to full strength after tearing his ACL, Gurley can be an elite back in the NFL. All the tools are there.

*Gurley would have been a top 4 player in this draft class if it weren’t for the torn ACL. He fits on the NYG roster if he falls to the 2nd round pick. RB may not be a need but I don’t think this kind of player can be passed on if he is there unless there is another guy there at or very near his grade.

2 – Jay Ajayi – Boise State – 6’0/221 – 82

Pro Upside Comparison: Marshawn Lynch/SEA

Strong Points: Relentless runner that consistently breaks tackles and falls forward. Well put-together frame that carries a dense 222 pounds. Has plenty of lower body wiggle and flexibility. Can make the late movement to miss the meat of a hit and finagle his way in to space. Can see the action in front of and around him at the same time, making quick decisions and reactions. Shows elite balance in traffic, constantly able to change his path with a power presence. Excels between the tackles with his blend of movement ability and strength. Willing and able blocker. Will deliver a pop to the defender and mirror him. Reliable pass catcher on the move, natural to see it in and tuck the ball. Three down ability and skills.

Weak Points: Struggles to reach the edge against fast defenses. Will take too long to make decisions. Tries too often to cut his way out of traffic rather than putting his head down and gaining positive yards. Runs sloppy routes of the backfield. Has had issues with ball security after initial contact with defenders.

Summary: Fourth year junior entry. Has made several All American teams for his dominant performance this season. Finished second in the nation with 28 rushing touchdowns in 2014. Ajayi brings everything to the table that the NFL wants out of a running back. He has size and open field speed to runaway from defenders, but also shows a quick change of direction and smooth agility in traffic. Ajayi can break tackles several ways, consistently gaining extra yards. He is a true three down back that could be starting in the NFL his rookie season if the situation presented itself.

*Even though he has a close grade to the injured Gurley, the urgency to take him if he is there in round 2 isn’t as high. He would add another Jennings/Williams type runner to the backfield. I like this kid a lot though. If you want toughness in your backfield, you want this guy.

3 – Duke Johnson – Miami – 5’9/207 – 82

Pro Upside Comparison: LeSean McCoy/BUF

Strong Points: Complete back with the tools and skill set to play every down. Jitter-bug type quickness in a phone booth. Can be hard for a defender to touch, let alone tackle. Elite burst and acceleration, can go 0-60 in just a few steps. Always has his feet under him, good balance and body control. Can see what’s going on around him in space. Sets defenders up to whiff as they are closing in on him. Easy pass catcher with strong hands. Can make the acrobatic catch. Sees the ball in and can get going right away. Physical blocker that delivers a pop. Takes pride in protecting the quarterback..

Weak Points: Not a big back. Played at over 200 pounds for the first time in 2014. May not have the frame to take a lot of hits in the NFL. Vision in traffic as he approaches the line of scrimmage is delayed. Will try too hard to dance around defenders trying to break off a big run instead of moving north and getting the sure yards. Season ending ankle injury in the 9th game of 2013.

Summary: Junior entry. Former elite high school recruit delivered right away as a freshman on 2012 as a kick returner. His performance as a running back started to take off in 2013 before a season ending ankle injury. Johnson added weight and speed prior to 2014 and it paid huge dividends. He showed that he could handle every down duty with his versatile tools and skill set. He is an elusive ball carrier that can break off the big runs once he gets in to space. Just as important, his ability as a receiver and pass blocker are both NFL-ready from a physical standpoint. If he can continue to add strength while maintaining his ability to move, Johnson can be a back that never needs to come off the field.

*Like I said with Ajayi, Johnson grades out close to the injured Gurley and as much as I like his ability to catch the ball, I’m not sure he can warrant a 2nd round pick. If size concerns bump him down to round 3 however, I bring this kid here in a heartbeat and let him play his way in to the rotation while adding dynamic KR/PR ability.

4 – Melvin Gordon – Wisconsin – 6’1/215 – 81

Pro Upside Comparison: Jamaal Charles/KC

Strong Points: Tight skinned, well developed back that doesn’t need to come off the field in any situation. Top tier vision and instincts. Can see things around him that most backs cannot. Can create something out of nothing. Exceptional when running to the outside. Consistently makes guys miss in space. Will not hesitate to lower his shoulder and force the pile to move north. Can follow blockers through space and sneak through lanes. Has the extra gear in space to runaway from defenders. Can maintain his agility and body control while moving at full speed. High effort blocker that makes an impact. Tries hard and produces when it comes to protecting the quarterback. Easy hands catcher when he had the opportunity.

Weak Points: Will run with a high pad level when approaching the line of scrimmage. Will try to get cute too often rather than getting the sure yards. Lacks the lower body girth that most want out of an every down back. Had a fumbling issue late in 2014.

Summary: Junior entry. Doak Walker Award winner. His 7.79 yards per carry over his career is an all time record. Gordon’s statistical accolades have piled up over his career. His blend of size and speed to go with his instincts and vision have helped mold him in to a top tier talent. He can do everything a team wants out of a running back; rush, receive, and block. In an era where finding true three down backs can be difficult, the demand for Gordon will be high. He is a young kid that loves the game and has shown a tremendous work ethic during offseasons. While his body type and running style may not be ideal, his production and versatile game cannot be overlooked. This is an extremely high ceiling type player.

*This is a back that I would be slightly afraid to draft, but just as afraid to see a division rival draft. I don’t see NFL-type dominance here when it comes to his style of play but his talent cannot be denied. If the toughness is there and he can stay healthy, he has as much upside as any RB in this class.

5 – Tevin Coleman – Indiana – 5’11/206 – 80

Pro Upside Comparison: DeMarco Murray/PHI

Strong Points: Strong between the tackles, fast in the open field. Shows the power and leg drive to push tacklers back, consistently falling forward. Several big runs displaying the ability to run away from defensive backs. Reaches the line of scrimmage quickly, showing the burst to reach top speed with just a few steps. Cutback runner that shows good vision and the explosion to get through the open crease. Quality hands as a receiver with a smooth catching motion. Looks the ball in and tucks it before running upfield.

Weak Points: Upright running style that leaves his legs almost completely exposed. Suffered an ankle injury that forced him to miss three games in 2013. Does not have the late wiggle to miss contact from defenders, takes a lot of hits. Can be a better blocker in blitz pickup.

Summary: Junior entry. Finished as the number two overall rusher in 2014 with 2,036 yards, finishing behind only Heisman hopeful Melvin Gordon. Only the 18th player in history to breach the 2,000 yard mark and he did so with very little help around him. His record setting 2014 season includes a 300+ yard game against Rutgers. Coleman has ideal size and speed for the position. At his best in a north/south type running scheme where he can use his downhill speed and power. Some of the finer, more detailed aspects to the position need to be worked on. His routes out of the backfield, pass blocking technique, and ball security are raw around the edges. However when it comes to talent and big play ability, Coleman has the potential to be a star at the next level.

*Coleman wasn’t getting the attention he deserved throughout the season. He is big and physical but also shows elite ability to explode out of a cannon and run away from defenders. He can likely carry more weight on his frame without losing speed. I wish he ran with a more consistent pad level and would show more concentration and awareness. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit to see him out-shine every other RB in this class.

6 – David Cobb – Minnesota – 5’11/229 – 79

Pro Upside Comparison: Frank Gore/IND

Strong Points: Thick from the bottom up. Carries his weight behind his pads when approaching the action. Has the short area burst and quickness to accelerate through the running lanes with a short shelf life. Decisive and confident in his approach. Quick vision and reaction. Will consistently gain yards after contact, tough ball carrier for a lone defender to bring down. Can make himself low and slippery. Elite balance that can allow him to twist and turn his body on the move without losing much speed.

Weak Points: Lacks the explosive element to his game. Struggles to run away from defenders in the open field. Tight hipped and won’t move with fluidity in space. Doesn’t make defenders miss, will take a lot of contact. Doesn’t have presence or power as a blocker. Limited receiving ability and skills.

Summary: Fourth year senior that was a non-factor until 2013. Led the Gophers in rushing two straight seasons, including his school-record 1,626 yards in 2014. Cobb won’t wow anyone in workouts or on the highlight reel. He doesn’t have the long speed and he doesn’t shake tacklers out of their cleats in space. However Cobb can run between the tackles with quick vision and reaction along with above average power and force. Cobb is quick and efficient in short space. Keep him between the tackles and he can really produce. He isn’t an every down back and he may be limited, but put Cobb in the game when you need tough yards and he will earn them.

*I’ve been higher on Cobb than most of what I see out there. There are things about his game that will turn people off. He isn’t a superb athlete in space and his movement in traffic could be viewed as average. He lacks the “sexy” that a lot of people want out of a RB but plain and simple, I think he’ll be a gamer that can be relied on to get tough yards and keep chains moving. He is smarter and more aware than a lot of backs that have superior physical ability.

7 – David Johnson – 6’1/225 – Northern Iowa – 78

Pro Upside Comparison: Rashad Jennings/NYG

Strong Points: Quick off the snap, can eat up a 10 yard window in a blink. Natural feel with the ball in his hands, runs with good awareness and vision. Shows balance and body control in traffic. Can change direction with ease. Elite ball skills as a receiver. Can reach for the ball away from his body on the move. Has the speed to run away from defenders in space. Aggressive, physical presence as a ball carrier and blocker. Plenty of yards after contact.

Weak Points: Runs with a high pad level. Lacks the lower body thickness to take the amount of hits he will surely encounter with his height and running style. Will take a lot of extra hits. Doesn’t always fall forward, doesn’t drive his legs to move the pile inside.

Summary: Fifth year senior. Rushed for over 1,000 yards three straight seasons and leaves Northern Iowa with almost every school rushing record. He also caught 141 passes. Johnson is an upright runner with good speed and receiving ability. He doesn’t show the quick twitch and reaction between the tackles, but he has a high ceiling considering his tool set and ability to change direction with balance. His future may reside as a third down back and return specialist with the upside to be much more.

*Johnson is one of those guys I wish never got to play at the Senior Bowl because I had him on my radar before then. He performed well there and then all of the sudden everyone was all over him, almost to the point where it’s almost too much. I think he can be a really good third down back if he can learn how to block. An every down guy? Maybe down the road but his top heavy frame isn’t really built for it.

8 – Javorius Allen – USC – 6’0/221 – 77

Pro Upside Comparison: Chris Ivory/NYJ

Strong Points: Complete, every down back. Has the power, size, and running style to perform the role as a shirt yardage back. Can also catch the ball out of the backfield like a receiver and block oncoming pass rushers with consistent success. Strong and well developed lower body. Has the vision in space to create angles and take advantage of potential cutback lanes. Easy runner past the second level, has runaway speed. Equally effective inside and outside. Breaks a lot of tackles and will gain yards after contact on almost every carry. Relentless pursuit of more yards.

Weak Points: Inconsistent pad level when approaching the inside runs. Will leave his lower body susceptible to too much contact, some of which is unnecessary. Vision between the tackles doesn’t match his vision in space. Will be late to see running lanes on the straight ahead runs. Isn’t always as assertive as he should be. Will too often look for the big play rather than sure yards. Balance after cuts is inconsistent.

Summary: Fourth year junior entry. Put together a season and a half of very good, well balanced production. Allen may be one of the top all around backs in this class because his game really doesn’t have a standout weakness. He can run, catch, and block all at a high level. He is a hard nosed runner that will play through the whistle, but also has the finesse and vision of a space back. His frame will allow him to hold up for a lot of touches in the NFL, but even he needs to learn how to economically use his body. If he takes the amount of extra hits with his high pad level in the NFL as he did in college, he will have a hard time staying on the field. With that said, he has the upside to be a productive starter in the league.

*Hard guy not to like. He plays really hard and has a lot of talent, plain and simple. He can be a bruiser between the tackles but he’s one of those backs that can be faster than the guy chasing him. I always have an extra liking for those kind of backs. For where I think you can get him, he may be right up there with Cobb as the best value opportunity at the RB spot.

9 – Mike Davis – South Carolina – 5’9/217 – 76

Pro Upside Comparison: CJ Anderson/DEN

Strong Points: Short and stout with a low pad level. Hard target for the tackler to zero in on. Great quickness prior to contact with defenders. Misses the meat of a tackle and consistently falls forward. Savvy runner. Great vision and cutback ability. Dangerous in traffic and in the open field, can see things before they open up. Can set defenders up and plays a step ahead mentally. Good receiver out of the backfield. Effective in the screen game. Able to hide behind blockers and has the short area burst to accelerate past defenders in a pile. Breaks plenty of tackles several different ways.

Weak Points: Lacks the breakaway speed in the open field. Doesn’t have the extra gear after his initial acceleration. Doesn’t show loose hips to move laterally and miss defenders. Lacks experience as a blocker. Loses track of ball security in the open field.

Summary: Junior entry. Two year starter with proven ability to help both the rushing and passing attacks. Davis is a pure running back that is equally effective inside and outside of the tackles. He is a no-nonsense, very decisive runner that explodes through the hole with aggression and body control. He misses big contact often with his ability to shake and cut prior to meeting the tackler. He breaks tackles and consistently falls forward. He is a versatile offensive weapon that can be counted on to catch the ball and move north right away. A ball carrier with this kind of vision fits in to every system. He is built to handle the physical nature of the NFL. While the athletic upside may be a bit limited, he appears to be one of the most pro ready backs in this class.

*I’m not sure about Davis having the highest of ceilings but part of me is more confident he’ll be a reliable contributor than a lot of the guys above him on this list. He stepped in for Marcus Lattimore at South Carolina and just produced more and more. He may have the most natural hands and vision of all the backs in this class. He is a great mid round value if he drops a bit.

10 – T.J. Yeldon – Alabama – 6’1/226 – 75

Pro Upside Comparison: Arian Foster/HOU

Strong Points: Tall, big, and fast. Quick acceleration out of the backfield and good approach to the line. Shows the patience to allow the action to transpire in front of him. Agile hips and quick feet. Good body control. Anticipates running lanes and has good vision. Will run with a good pad level and lean, allowing him to get the most power out of his strong lower half. Has the last second change of direction to miss the meat of a tackle. Good runaway speed. Good pass catcher with soft hands. High effort blocker that will stifle the blitzing linebacker. Excels as an inside and outside runner. Understands game situations and when to pick up necessary yards, runs with altering styles.

Weak Points: Has a fumbling issue. Does not secure the ball high and tight. Will drag plays out and loosen the ball’s attachment from his body. Will get too indecisive with his approach the point of attack. Hangs out behind the line of scrimmage with the ball in his hands for too long. Will create a high target for defenders. Minor durability issues.

Summary: Junior entry. Productive career that showed the versatility to be an every down back in the NFL early on. Has the physical ability to wear a few hats out of the backfield. Runs hard and fast with the quick burst and open field speed. A weapon as a receiver with a lot of production in the screen game in addition to being a good blocker. Yeldon has all the tools to be a star running back in the NFL, but he will need to shore up his ball security, which has been his Achilles heal all three seasons. High upside, versatile back.

*If you asked me where Yeldon would be drafted last year and/or the year before, I would have said 1st round no question. I wouldn’t say his value dropped but this is such a stacked RB class and Yeldon also failed to really take his game to the next level. I still like his game but there are a couple things like a lack of assertiveness and ball security that bothers me. He is uber-talented though.

NEXT 10

11 – Tyler Varga – Yale – 5’11/222
12 – Ameer Abdullah – Nebraska – 5’9/205
13 – Marcus Murphy – Missouri – 5’9/195
14 – Josh Robinson – Mississippi State – 5’9/215
15 – Cameron Artis-Payne – Auburn – 5’10/210
16 – Jeremy Langford – Michigan State – 6’0/205
17 – Gus Johnson – Stephen F. Austin – 5’10/215
18 – Karlos Williams – Florida State – 6’1/230
19 – Thomas Rawls – Central Michigan – 5’10/217
20 – Malcolm Brown – Texas – 5’11/225

NYG APPROACH

I think the NYG backfield is in good shape, especially after the signing of Vereen. I can’t say I was disappointed in that signing but it did leave a sour taste in that it may force NYG to hold off on a RB in this draft. There simply may not be room on the depth chart to warrant a selection with one of their first 5 picks. Like I said, this is probably the best RB class I’ve seen as a whole since I’ve been doing this and I even think some of my grades are on the conservative side. There are a few guys with legit superstar potential and at least another handful of guys that can be every down starters.

I understand the notion is that RBs can always be “found in the later rounds” but nothing leads me to think that is any more true that other positions. Take some time and look at how many teams have spent a 1st or 2nd rounder on the RB position. It’ probably more than you think. And it proposes this question: Are the current NYG RBs actually good enough to warrant passing on a really good value at RB in this draft if the opportunity presented itself? I lean towards no. If RB is the right value when NYG is on the clock in round 2, I may have to bite.

Mar 252015
 
Tom Coughlin, New York Giants (July 22, 2014)

Tom Coughlin – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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Tom Coughlin Addresses Media at League Meeting: New York Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin addressed the media at the NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona on Wednesday. Some of key points made by Coughlin included:

  • On WR Victor Cruz’s recovery from knee surgery: “I think he will be back to the player that he was and hopefully better. Victor looks really good, he’s starting to run, I was in the field house watching him rehab, he’s coming along well… I don’t know (when he will be able to fully practice). I shouldn’t say this, because medically I really do not have a definite answer, but by training camp, hopefully. He will work his way through.”
  • On QB Eli Manning’s contract situation: “Eli knows he’s our guy. (As for) when these things get done, well, I think John (Mara) last week expressed it as well as it can be said. Yeah, it’d be great if it was done. If it isn’t done going in (to the season), it’ll be done during or shortly after or whenever… It’ll get done, I’m fully confident of that, and I think so is Eli. Why would he have any concern about that?”
  • On the safety position: “That’s an issue, no doubt. We do have one more access to bringing in personnel, obviously, the draft. And we have a couple of guys in the program including (Nat) Berhe, who we really liked as a rookie and a special-teamer. We have injured players (Cooper Taylor and Bennett Jackson) coming back that can help. But there’s concern, no doubt… (Moving Jackson to safety) is a possibility… a kid none of us know much about. He’s rehabbing. He’s doing pretty well.”
  • In addition to Bennett Jackson, Coughlin also said cornerback Chykie Brown might be moved to safety.
  • On S Nat Berhe: “(He can play free safety and) I think he can come down in the box, too. His special-teams play would lead you to believe that. We threw him into a lot of responsibility on special teams and I thought he handled it well. So he’s adaptable, he’s smart, he’s anxious and he’s eager for the opportunity, for sure.”
  • On RB Shane Vereen: “As a pass receiver coming out of the backfield, pass-protector, a guy who runs the ball in the three wide offense, the defensive run game if you will. A lot of the (Tom) Brady hook up with Vereen, the ball was almost automatically going to him. You know there would be certain first downs, if there was zone coverage, they would drop the ball off and he would scoot. So, we know that. Will we open it up to other parts of it? Well, we would like to make sure he can. He does very well at that spot. I really like the young man, he adds an experienced playmaker out of the backfield.”
  • On WR/Special Teams Player Dwayne Harris: “The idea that you have a guy of that ability — and you’ve seen the way he carries himself on the field, he’s physical — to have a guy who can kick return, punt return, cover kicks, gunner. In this day and age to have a guy at gunner who’s consistent and good, let’s face it, it’s been a while since we’ve had that. That is a very attractive deal… (David) Tyree would come in (on offense), he’d be a blocker, that’s what Harris does, but you see him on the field, you start thinking that way. And that part of it alone opens up possibilities, maybe you get back to that old fake ghost screen stuff again, maybe that becomes a better opportunity for it. Whether he’s the third receiver or fourth receiver or a special situation kind of a player, offensively he wants to contribute.”
  • On linebackers J.T. Thomas and Jonathan Casillas: “We think Thomas can be a WILL ‘backer. Casillas is basically the same kind of guy. Both are excellent special teamers. They’ll make contributions in both ways.”
  • On what he expects out of LB Devon Kennard: “A lot. If Jon (Beason) comes back and Jon is healthy and can play, then you have Kennard maybe in a stronger position and rushing the passer more, the whole deal that way. That is going to make you better.”
  • On DE Damontre Moore: “He has to make a contribution. He has the pass rush ability and special team play.”
  • On the defensive tackle position: “(Kenrick) Ellis is a big human. The young man on our practice squad, (Dominique) Hamilton, is a big human, so I am looking forward to seeing what they can do, too… We realized that big dominating guy in the middle is a good starting point for the D-Line.”

A video of Coughlin’s remarks is also available at Giants.com.

A video of an NFL Network interview is also available at Giants.com.

Giants Receive No Compensatory Draft Picks: As expected, the New York Giants will not receive any compensatory choices in the 2015 NFL Draft. Under the rules for compensatory draft selections, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks. The Giants were pretty aggressive in signing free agents for other teams in 2014. For a complete list of free agents signed and lost by Giants in 2014, see the 2014 Free Agency Scorecard.

Giants.com Q&A with OT Justin Pugh: A video of a Giants.com interview with OT Justin Pugh is available at Giants.com.

Article on RB Shane Vereen: Shane Vereen gives Tom Coughlin and Giants more options in passing game by Tom Rock of Newsday

Article on RB Rashad Jennings: Jennings: Giants offense can be “dominant” by Arthur Stapleton of The Bergen Record

Article on the New York Giants Wide Receivers: Do the Giants have enough wide receiver depth to protect against Victor Cruz being healthy? by Nick Powell for NJ.com

Article on LB J.T. Thomas: Why didn’t Jacksonville Jaguars re-sign J.T. Thomas and what does he bring to Giants defense? by Jordan Raanan for NJ.com

Mar 252015
 
Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, NFL Combine (February 21, 2015)

Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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New York Giants 2015 NFL Draft Preview: Quarterbacks

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

CURRENT NYG QBs ON ROSTER

Eli Manning – 34 years old – Signed through 2015

Ryan Nassib – 25 years old – Signed through 2016

Ricky Stanzi – 27 years old – Signed through 2015

WHERE THEY STAND

Could be it be that the NYG brass is going to let the 11 year starter enter the final year of his contract without an extension? That appears to be the case. I would put the heavy odds on him being here for at least another 3-4 years but even the most faithful of Manning supporters need to admit that the post-Eli plan needs to be thought about. Franchise QBs are incredibly hard to find, I get it. When you have one, you need to hold on tight and pay market value if not more, I get it. Manning had one of his best overall seasons in year one of a new offensive system, I get it. The issue here is a simple case of economics; is Manning worth a $20+ cap number as he enters the final years of his contract? With the amount of holes on this roster, a credible case could be made for either direction. Nassib hasn’t showed enough during preseason games to warrant confidence for down the road. Perhaps he shines during practice and we have no idea. Stanzi is a training camp body. But to say NYG needs a fresh, young QB on the depth chart is far from inappropriate.

TOP 10 GRADES

1 – Jameis Winston – Florida State – 6’4/231 – 80

Upside Pro Comparison – Ben Roethlisberger/PIT

The necessary talent is there. Winston has all the physical tools you want out of a QB. His size, presence, arm strength, accuracy, and mobility to warrant the first round grade. Would I consider him an elite thrower? No. An elite mover? No. However one thing he does have (and NYG fans will understand the importance of this) is the poise he maintains through tight situations. Winston proved he is a winner. He can have a horrid first half but his short memory allows him to come out firing in the fourth quarter and look unstoppable when the team needs him most. His off the field maturity issues are well documented, however. It may even cause some teams to cross him off their board entirely. When I see him play, I think a Big Ben type with less arm power. If his head is on straight, he can be a guy that teammates love, a guy that wins, and a guy that fans will cling to over time. The grade includes a few points off due to his character problems.

2 – Marcus Mariota – Oregon – 6’4/222 – 79

Upside Pro Comparison – Robert Griffin III/WAS

Last fall I viewed Mariota as an elite level (90+) QB prospect that I would want on the NYG roster as soon as round 1. I love his ability to move. He can change the game with his mobility. He is more than just an athlete too. He has some zip on his balls with a quick release and most importantly, his accuracy on the move is spot on. I’ve seen every 2014 game tape of Oregon and I have to admit I jumped the gun on him. He remains uncomfortable in the pocket and the simple throws were routinely missed. His mechanics as a pocket passer are flawed and his experience starting under center is as limited as it gets. There is something about QBs that rely on athletic ability that just screams “No” to me as well. Mariota doesn’t have the Cam Newton body type. I can’t see him taking an extra 10 hits per game and lasting, a la Robert Griffin. He’s a mature kid and he does make plays, but there is more development that needs to occur here thus a larger margin for eventual error. I would still take Mariota on this team but not before round 2, he’ll be long gone by then.

3 – Brett Hundley – UCLA – 6’3/226 – 74

Upside Pro Comparison – Cam Newton/CAR

Another spread formation, shotgun-only signal caller that has the athletic tools to be the guy in this class. Hundley has a thicker body type than Mariota and has just as much ability to make a difference running the ball. His inconsistency is maddening, however. He is a good thrower short and intermediate but his accuracy throwing the ball downfield is poor. He is another guy that needs to sit at least a year. Is there upside here? Sure. But I would put odds on him being the backup type that will bounce around the league but disappoints.

4 – Garrett Grayson – Colorado State – 6’2/213 – 73

Upside Pro Comparison – Matt Moore/MIA

Really good athlete, underrated speed and quickness. Some QBs have that sixth sense in the pocket and have the extra level of quickness within the tackle box. Grayson has that. He can throw deep with power and accuracy. There is a WR from Colorado State that will be draft eligible next year…some are labeling him a top tier prospect. He’s good, but Grayson made him look a lot better. He can throw guys open, throw to a spot…etc. If I have a void at QB when it comes to youth, I think Grayson is the mid-round value I am going after.

5 – Jerry Lovelocke – Prarie View A& M – 71

Loved what I saw out of him at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. He has a really smooth, quick, strong, powerful release and arm. A guy this big can be worked with when it comes to a dual threat player. Lovelocke is and always will be a passer first/runner second, but his size and presence makes him a dual threat. He is likely a practice squad guy because of how raw his footwork is and he didn’t play in a complicated system in college, but for where you can get him I like the value.

6 – Sean Mannion – Oregon State – 6’6/229 – 71

Upside Pro Comparison – Mike Glennon/TB

Illustrious career including 45 starts, leaves school as the Pac 12’s all time leading passer with over 13,000 yards and 11 OSU passing records. The 3 time team captain shows all the intangibles you want in a Quarterback. Loves the game and works hard on and off the field to make himself better. The fifth year senior received a 3rd round grade from the Advisory Board last year after his record setting Junior campaign. He took a step back in 2014, playing with less talent around him. This classic pocket passer has the tools and intangibles to be a starter or primary backup at the next level but he is a limited-ceiling type player. The lack of athletic ability is certainly troubling and you know it’s only going to get worse as he gets older. You don’t need to be a superb athlete, but Mannion looks stuck in mud sometimes. That’s tough to accept out of such a young player.

8 – Bryan Bennett – SE Louisiana State – 6’2/211 – 69

Upside Pro Comparison – Tyler Thigpen/CLE

Was at Oregon for awhile but once he figured out that Marcus Mariota was….well Marcus Mariota…he left for SE Louisiana to pursue the NFL dream. He played well there but didn’t dominate the way you want a small school QB to. With that said, Bennett is a very good athlete and has the strongest arm of any QB in this class. He can really spin it. Hits guys on the move. I like how Bennett looked for extra work at the Combine. He was always the guy getting extra throws in. His accuracy on the move and downfield is poor and some guys say that can’t be corrected. I’d take a chance on him in the later rounds.

9 – Bryan Bennett – Baylor – 6’3/230 – 69

Upside Pro Comparison – Rex Grossman/RET

Petty comes from a spread-style offense, always in the shotgun, minimal reads…etc. Every year these guys are becoming more and more common. It’s not a huge deal. But I really didn’t like what I saw out of him at the Senior Bowl and it matched a lot of what I don’t like on tape. He misses a lot of easy throws. He gets overly-trigger happy under pressure. He loses sense of his throwing mechanics. What I do like here is the blend of toughness and leadership, however. Coaches/Players/Support Staff and the scouts I get the opportunity to speak with all rave about his daily approach to the game. I want that out of a young QB. He doesn’t lack talent at all. He can throw, he can move. I just hate that I see the same mistakes over and over again with him. Still worth a late round pick if NYG is looking for a QB and he falls.

10 – Anthony Boone – Duke – 6’0/231 – 67

Upside Pro Comparison – Tarvaris Jackson – SEA

I’ve been wanting to like Boone for over a year now because he shows glimpses. One of the strongest arms in the draft. Has easy arm power, can put that ball on a line for 20+ yards with little effort. Drives the ball downfield, generates a lot of zip from his lower body, fluid throwing motion. Can throw the ball well from unorthodox positions. Good runner, shows the ability to see the action around him and make proper cuts to pick up extra yards. Struggles to make multiple reads. Too quick to tuck the ball and scramble. Accuracy is woefully inconsistent, doesn’t hit his target often enough on the run. He is so inconsistent and its bothersome but man, he has talent that a lot of good QBs simply do not possess.

NYG APPROACH

This draft class has the weakest group of QBs I have seen since I’ve been doing this. There isn’t an elite prospect. There isn’t a lot of depth. And there aren’t any guys in the later rounds that I can say with confidence will far-exceed their draft slot. Drafting QBs in the middle to late rounds is more of a crapshoot than anything, however.

I don’t think NYG is going after a QB with one of their 8 picks. Could they go after an UDFA to have in training camp? Sure. But when it comes to where this team is and where they are heading, unless a great value falls to them they should opt towards using their selections on other positions. Put me in the camp of people that thinks this team should NOT give Manning a blank check. Yes it exposes long-term risk at a position that makes or breaks success in this league, but it is going to happen soon anyway. Ideally Manning signs a 3-4 year deal at the same level he is being paid now, and the replacement project gets put in motion in another year or two.

And if Mariota falls to #9 overall….final answer is no. I’ve been back and forth a few times, but it’s just not worth the risk of passing on guys that are graded higher.

Mar 242015
 
Dwayne Harris, Dallas Cowboys (November 23, 2014)

Dwayne Harris – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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When the free agent period officially opened on March 10, the New York Giants moved quickly to sign five players. Wide receiver and returner Dwayne Harris of the Dallas Cowboys was one of the five. And surprisingly, Harris’ 5-year, $17.5 million deal was by far the largest in terms of the number of years and overall value. Harris also received the largest amount in guaranteed money ($7.1 million with a $4 million bonus).

On the surface, that appears to be a lot of money for Dallas’ 4th wide receiver/back-up slot receiver and punt/kickoff returner.

The 27-year old Harris was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Cowboys. In four seasons with the Cowboys, Harris has played in 52 regular-season games with three starts, catching 33 passes for 418 yards and three touchdowns. Harris finished 2014 with just seven catches for 116 yards and no touchdowns, down from nine catches in 2013 and 17 catches in 2012.

Harris also averaged 9.2 yards per punt return and 24.7 yards per kickoff return in 2014. Those decent but not stellar figures were 9th- and 13th-best in the NFL last year.

So why the big bucks for a guy who has been only a good role player to date?

“Harris is a well-kept secret to a lot of people, except the teams in NFC East,” said General Manager Jerry Reese. “He is one of the top all-around special teams players in league and a solid third or fourth receiving option.”

Harris indeed was far more impressive on special teams in 2013 as he averaged 12.8 yards per punt return and 30.6 yards per kickoff return. Those figures were 3rd- and 2nd-best in the NFL that season, helping him to earn “NFC Special Teams Player of the Week” twice, including once against the Giants.

Harris also won another another “NFC Special Teams Player of the Week” honor in 2012 against the Philadelphia Eagles. That season, Harris averaged 16.1 yards per punt return, 2nd best in the NFL. Harris returned punts for touchdowns in both 2012 and 2013. Bringing him on board strongly suggests that the Giants do not want to risk Odell Beckham on punt returns.

On the downside, he Harris six career fumbles on punts, including four in 2014. Ball security has been an issue for him going back to his college days at East Carolina.

Harris’ contributions on special teams are not limited to the return game. Harris is an excellent coverage man on special teams. Indeed, it was Harris’ coverage work against the Giants on opening day in 2013 that earned him the “Special Teams Player of the Week” award. In that game, Harris made three special teams tackles and forced a fumble that was recovered by Dallas. In 2014, Harris was credited with 18 special teams tackles – a very high number.

“I am a physical player,” Harris said. “I think all of the Giants fans are going to find that out soon. I am a physical player and I like the physical nature of the game. I like being the guy who hits players. I take a lot of hits during the game. It is always fun to return the favor.”

But $17.5 million with $7.1 million in guaranteed money still seems like a lot of money for a special teams player. Could the Giants see Harris as a bigger contributor at wide receiver than his 33 career catches to date indicate?

Assuming everyone stays healthy, the top three receivers on the Giants should be Beckham, Victor Cruz, and Rueben Randle. Since Harris is experienced playing the slot receiver position, the Giants may consider Harris to be an insurance policy if Cruz struggles or re-injures himself. Preston Parker was the reserve slot guy in 2014, finishing with 36 catches for 418 yards and two touchdowns. Parker also returned both punts (6.6 yard average) and kickoffs (24.2 yard average) for the Giants in 2014. The Giants might see Harris as an upgrade over Parker not just as a returner, but as a receiver.

Heading into the offseason, the Cowboys felt they could re-sign wide receiver Cole Beasley or Harris, but not both. Harris provided more special teams value, but Beasley is the primary slot receiver for the Cowboys. Dallas re-signed Beasley with a 4-year, $13.6 million contract that included $7 million in guaranteed money and a $4 million signing bonus. As soon as that deal was done, Harris was sure to sign elsewhere.

Harris has flashed at receiver. While he is not a big (5’10”) or exceptionally fast (4.5 range) target, Harris is a solid 202-pounder with good quickness and run-after-the-catch ability. He is tough and physical and an excellent blocker for the ground game, something repeatedly mentioned by those who followed him in Dallas.

“This was just a perfect fit for me with what (the Giants) do,” said Harris. “They are going to give me a chance to play my old team, the Dallas Cowboys, twice a year.”

Mar 232015
 
Eli Manning, New York Giants (February 5, 2012)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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Right now, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning ($19,750,000 in base salary and bonuses) and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul ($14,813,000 franchise tag) take up over 24 percent of the team’s $143,411,883 adjusted 2015 salary cap. That’s two players taking up almost a quarter of the franchise’s cap space. Most teams facing such a situation would look to re-structure or extend the contracts of players placing so much pressure on the cap.

However, with the free agent market drying up and the Giants still roughly $9 million dollars under the 2015 salary cap, the team appears to have the option or “luxury” to carry these two huge cap numbers, allowing both Manning and Pierre-Paul to play out the final year of their contracts. Why would the Giants do this?

Both Manning and Pierre-Paul have proven to be inconsistent players. After having a career season in 2011, Manning was on a downward spiral for two years before bouncing back with a strong 2014 season. The 2013 season was particularly alarming as Manning arguably had his worst season as pro. Pierre-Paul also had his best year in 2011 and was also trending downward until bouncing back in 2014. And although Pierre-Paul had his second-best season as a pro last year, he did not make a big impact in games until the Giants’ post-season hopes were already dead.

Before the Giants extend or re-sign Manning and Pierre-Paul, they may want to see how both perform in 2015. The odds are Manning should do well as he will be in the second season of Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo’s quarterback-friendly offense. Odell Beckham is arguably the best wideout in the game. Victor Cruz may not be the same player after his October 2014 knee injury but he should be back. And most of the surrounding offensive talent base should be better, including the offensive line, a running back corps that now includes pass-catching back Shane Vereen, and a more mature Larry Donnell and Rueben Randle.

But what if the 34-year old Manning has a bad year in 2015? Signing him now to a contact similar to Ben Roethlisberger’s new 5-year, $99 million deal could sabotage any rebuilding process.

Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (November 17, 2013)

Jason Pierre-Paul Returns an INT for a TD – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The same set of circumstances applies to Pierre-Paul, who is looking to become one of the highest paid defensive players in football despite only accruing a combined total of 8.5 sacks in 2012 and 2013. If the Giants pay Pierre-Paul a huge, long-term contract and he remains an inconsistent player, the team would be severely limited in what it could do to improve the overall state of the defense.

In short, and to be brutally frank, if the Giants extend Manning and Pierre-Paul with mega-contracts, and both do not perform like impact players, then the team’s future would be bleak. The contracts would prove to be an albatross, making it difficult to not only retain and pursue other talent, but probably even preclude the option of releasing either player in a worst case scenario.

Of course, there is a risk here for the Giants. If Manning and Pierre-Paul play extremely well in 2015, the Giants may be faced with the daunting prospect of their franchise quarterback and one of the league’s best pass rushers hitting the open market next offseason at the same time. The Giants can only use the franchise tag on one player per offseason. If the Giants cannot re-sign Manning before free agency begins, they would have to franchise him (over $23 million). Pierre-Paul would then likely hit the open market. And once a player hits the open market, it is a 50-50 proposition on whether he returns.

Nevertheless, right now, it appears this is a gamble the New York Giants are prepared to take.

“There are no guns to anyone’s head, no ticking clock (with respect to Manning),” said team Chairman and Executive Vice President Steve Tisch on Monday. “I have not heard he has been putting any pressure on us. So I think let’s just wait and see.”

As for Pierre-Paul, Tisch said, “A lot depends on how he performs this season.”

The New York Post is also reporting that team President and CEO John Mara said on Monday that an extension for Manning is “preferable” but the Giants are willing to let him play out his contract.

Of course, this could be all negotiation posturing, a way for the team to encourage Manning and Pierre-Paul to reduce their respective contract demands. Without new contracts, there would be a lot of unpleasant pressure on Manning and Pierre-Paul to play well in 2015 for their own financial welfare. Some players do not respond well to such pressure, as we saw with Hakeem Nicks in 2013 and Antrel Rolle in 2014. Both Manning and Pierre-Paul cannot discount the fact that the team appears to at least have the financial option to force them to play well in 2015 in order to get paid well.

For two players taking up nearly 25 percent of the 53-man roster’s cap space, this is indeed high-stakes poker.

Mar 222015
 
Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 28, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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Report – Giants Willing to Let Eli Manning Play Out Final Year of Contract: According to ESPN, the New York Giants “recently had another conversation” with representatives for quarterback Eli Manning about a contract extension. Manning is entering the final year of his current contract, with a cap hit of nearly $20 million. ESPN reports that two unidentified sources say the two sides are not close to a new deal, and that the Giants are willing to let Manning play out the final year of his contract. ESPN says that an extension this offseason “doesn’t seem likely unless there’s a major change in one side’s negotiation position.”

According to ESPN’s sources, the Giants are not willing to make a larger commitment to Manning than the 5-year, $99 million deal that Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger signed recently.

ESPN says the Giants still believe in Manning and “their primary goal is to keep him a Giant for the remainder of his career.” But ESPN claims that the team has no big incentive to complete a new deal in the near future as the Giants do not currently need the additional salary cap space that an extension would create.

ESPN speculates that if a new deal is not completed this year or before free agency next year, the Giants could place the franchise tag on Manning.

This past week, team President and CEO John Mara said that a contract extension for Manning is not currently in the works but “obviously something will be done at some point.”

Giants.com Q&A with DE George Selvie: The video of a Giants.com Q&A with DE George Selvie is available at Giants.com.

Article on Former Giants TE Kevin Boss: Long-term concussion fears haunt retired former Giant Kevin Boss by Bob Glauber of Newsday