2015 NFL Draft

Check out my big board here.

For the past few years, the Giants have scrambled to piece together an offensive line that could merely resemble the consistency and strength of those during the super bowl runs. The 2010, 2011, and 2012 drafts didn’t produce any starters on the offensive line — not surprising, considering they were only selected in rounds 4-7 — which led to [OL] investments in the 1st round in 2013 and in the 2nd round in 2014 (Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg, respectively). The Giants still need one more anchor to sniff that consistency they covet, and I won’t be surprised if they use more than one pick on some maulers this year.

Additionally, we watched NYG commit to rebuilding last year by placing a heavy emphasis on drafting leaders (team captains) and special teamers. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues, or if there’s enough comfort to gamble on a character risk or two. Remember that questions surrounding Damontre Moore’s work ethic were the only reason he was available in the 3rd round in 2013.

One trend that I expect will continue is the priority placed on defensive linemen. In particular, the Giants selected a defensive tackle in the first 3 rounds in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014. The belief is there’s no such thing as too many defensive linemen, and it’s more true now than ever with the emergence of such high tempo offenses. The depth at both [DT] and [DE] need to be addressed, and considering the value NYG places on these positions, expect an early round selection to go toward the defensive line.

Conversely, I don’t expect to see a [HB] taken. The Giants spent fairly big on Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen over the past two free agency periods, and the depth appears to be in place led by 2014 4th rounder Andre Williams. I don’t think the Giants will invest any picks into a [CB] either; this class of corners is missing a real top tier, which will likely cause a shift of teams overvaluing the position. NYG is also fairly comfortable with their [CB]s, and although they always spend picks on the secondary, it’s safe to assume that safeties are getting the bump in value on the Giants draft board.

Here are a few names I’ll be keeping an eye on for the Giants. They are somewhat ordered from unlikely best players available to need-reaches in each round:

ROUND 1
[WR] Amari Cooper – Alabama
[OL] Brandon Scherff – Iowa
[DE] Vic Beasley – Clemson
[DT] Danny Shelton – Washington
[OL] Ereck Flowers – Miami
[OL] Andrus Peat – Stanford

ROUND 2
[OL] T.J. Clemmings – Pittsburgh
[DT] Jordan Phillips – Oklahoma
[WR] Phillip Dorsett – Miami
[DE] Owamagbe Odighizuwa – UCLA
[OL] Donovan Smith – Penn State
[S] Eric Rowe – Utah

ROUND 3
[DT] Mario Edwards Jr. – Florida State
[DE] Hau’Oli Kikaha – Washington
[OL] Ali Marpet – Hobart
[LB] Stephone Anthony – Clemson
[DT] Henry Anderson – Stanford
[S] Jaquiski Tartt – Samford

ROUND 4
[DE] Za’Darius Smith – Kentucky
[OL] Tyrus Thompson – Oklahoma
[OL] Jarvis Harrison – Texas A&M
[OL] Rob Havenstein – Wisconsin
[OL] John Miller – Louisville
[S] Adrian Amos – Penn State

ROUND 5
[LB] Jordan Hicks – Texas
[LB] Jake Ryan – Michigan
[DE] Markus Golden – Missouri
[TE] Jeff Heuerman – Ohio State
[OL] B.J. Finney – Kansas State
[DE] Max Valles – Virginia

ROUND 6
[S] Josh Shaw – USC
[LB] Mike Hull – Penn State
[OL] Andrew Donnal – Iowa
[TE] Ben Koyack – Notre Dame
[OL] Andy Gallik – Boston College
[S] James Sample – Louisville

ROUND 7
[S] Donald Celiscar – Western Michigan
[DE] Cedric Reed – Texas
[DT] Kaleb Eulls – Mississippi State
[DE] Lynden Trail – Norfolk State
[OL] Greg Mancz – Toledo
[S] Jordan Richards – Stanford
[DT] Ellis McCarthy – UCLA
[OL] Tyson Chandler – N.C. State

Off-season Kickoff, Part II: Offense

In the first year under new coordinator Ben McAdoo, the Giants offense had it’s fair share of struggles early on in the season. As with the defense, major injuries played a role in the lack of consistency, but the saving grace was undeniably the week five return of rookie first rounder Odell Beckham Jr., who has risen to super-stardom seemingly overnight. Recently awarded the PFWA offensive rookie of the year (and soon by the AP as well), Beckham was able to salvage a bottom-tier offense (in the wake of Victor Cruz’s season ending knee injury) and likely save the job of head coach Tom Coughlin. If a healthier year is in store for the likes of Cruz, Geoff Schwartz, and Rashad Jennings, the possibilities are intriguing — but there are still plenty of holes to be filled, especially concerning depth. Here’s a look at the upcoming off-season by position:

QUARTERBACK

  • LOCKS — Eli Manning, Ryan Nassib

For now it seems as if Manning will play out the final year of his deal, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Nassib remained the sole backup for yet another season. The possibilities are numerous … Manning could sign an extension at some point, a third QB could be drafted or signed, Nassib could be let go … but my money says things stay just the way they are. Boring, but understandable. Moving on.

HALFBACK

  • LOCKS — Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams
  • BUBBLE — Peyton Hillis, Orleans Darkwa, Michael Cox
  • UFA — Henry Hynoski, Chris Ogbonnaya

Jennings and Williams will make a strong one-two punch moving forward, as both backs demonstrated ability to be workhorses throughout the year. But they also have similar running styles, which is why I think veteran Peyton Hillis should be let go. His pass blocking has been useful at times but there’s no room for him anymore. Darkwa seems the most likely bubble contract to stay on the books, as he did good work on special teams and provided a receiving look out of the backfield that Jennings and Williams do not. Don’t be surprised if a smaller speedster is added to the stable over the off-season to round out the backfield.

I expect the Giants to keep a fullback on the roster, and I expect it to be Hynoski. His price tag should remain relatively low, and he undoubtedly helped the running game through some of the offensive line struggles. It’s possible that McAdoo has plans to eventually lean more heavily on tight ends and h-back types in his packages, but there is a severe lack of those players on the roster at the moment. A two year deal for the Hynocerous seems appropriate to me.

WIDE RECEIVER

  • LOCKS — Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle
  • BUBBLE — Preston Parker, Corey Washington, Marcus Harris
  • UFA — Jerrel Jernigan, Kevin Ogletree

I’m actually very interested to see what happens at the wide receiver position. The three top guys are locked up, and the way Preston Parker contributed both on offense and special teams ought to earn him at least a short term deal. Corey Washington and “Soup” Harris were both very impressive during the preseason, and if they are able to develop over the off-season it will be hard to let them go. That’s already six WRs who are in the system that are worth keeping. Jernigan’s injury may have prevented a break out season, and all signs have indicated that NYG believes he has a role as a slot receiver. Will he earn another contract here? I have no idea. And while it’s easy for fans to point and holler for more depth at this position, how many WRs does NYG really plan on carrying? This will be fun to watch.

TIGHT END

  • LOCKS — Larry Donnell, Adrien Robinson
  • BUBBLE — Jerome Cunningham
  • UFA — Daniel Fells

I should note that the term “locks” is used in a lighter fashion with regard to tight ends. Although Donnell showed flashes of being a receiving threat, his inconsistency not only blocking but also catching makes me worried moving forward. He doesn’t currently have a contract, but the Giants have exclusive rights, so there should be no problem bringing Donnell back on a reasonable deal. Adrien Robinson was supposed to be our starter this season, but instead he barely saw the field. Why is he a “lock”? Because he was a fourth round draft pick, and still has another cheap year on his rookie contract. NYG doesn’t ditch their draftees very often.

Fells provided solid in-line blocking and a red zone target, so it would make a lot of sense for the Giants to bring him back. The only thing that s hould work against him is if there are bigger plans at the position this off-season. Like a bona-fide starter, perhaps? Someone we can rely on every down? Who will play for us more than one or two seasons? Will that ever happen?!

OFFENSIVE LINE

  • LOCKS — Will Beatty, Geoff Schwartz, J.D. Walton, Weston Richburg, Justin Pugh
  • BUBBLE — Brandon Mosley, Eric Herman, Troy Kropog, Rogers Gaines, Adam Gettis
  • UFA — John Jerry, James Brewer, Charles Brown, Dallas Reynolds, Adam Snyder

The starting offensive line has almost taken shape, and J.D. Walton is the only guy who should be bumped into a backup role over the off-season. Drafting or signing a starting [RT] will allow Pugh to move inside, and Richburg to move to [C]. It has been made clear that the Giants intend to do exactly that. It’s even possible that someone else emerges as a better [LT] candidate than Beatty, and he can then swing over to [RT] where he may be more comfortable.

Mosley has shown ability to play, but was awfully inconsistent this past season. With the benefit of that experience he should provide value as an emergency starter. We haven’t seen much of the other four depth [OL], so it’s tough to say whether or not their contracts will hold. I’d say it’s likely Herman gets to stick around, considering he was a draft choice.

Unless Jerry wants to come back on a minimum deal, I’d let all the UFA’s walk and bring them back in the preseason if they haven’t found a landing spot and we haven’t found better alternatives.

Off-season Kickoff: Defense

The big news we were waiting for came down yesterday afternoon, when defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and defensive backs coach Peter Giunta were both fired. Coughlin was quick to absolve Fewell of any blame for the defensive struggles, and did note that the situation was tough, undoubtedly in reference to the stockpile of starters who landed on injured reserve. There’s no reason to start pinning down candidates for the job yet, but I do think this should indicate an overhaul that will allow big name starters to leave in free agency. Here’s a look at the upcoming off-season by position:

DEFENSIVE END

  • LOCKS — Robert Ayers, Damontre Moore
  • BUBBLE — Mathias Kiwanuka, Kerry Wynn, James Davidson
  • UFA — Jason Pierre-Paul

Although the future pass rush looks bleak without JPP, I’m pretty sure the Giants won’t offer the same kind of money that another organization will. Paul’s numbers this season were so inflated by the final stretch of meaningless games, and his inability to stay healthy is a red flag that has traditionally marked the end of Giants tenures. It’s difficult to find pass rushing talent like this, but the price tag is too high here.

Ayers and Damontre will definitely be back, and I expect Wynn and Davidson to get their fair shots in training camp. But Kiwanuka is a guy who shouldn’t stay on the roster much longer. After taking a pay cut last year, Kiwi’s cap hit spikes back up to a whopping $7.45 million in 2015. Cutting him would result in $2.625 million in dead money, but only for this year, which clears up almost $5 million in space. I don’t even think taking a pay cut is an option here. Time for both sides to move on.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

  • LOCKS — Cullen Jenkins, Johnathan Hankins, Jay Bromley
  • BUBBLE — Markus Kuhn, Dominique Hamilton
  • UFA — Mike Patterson

Nothing too interesting going on at defensive tackle, as any movement will likely be concerning depth. Hankins is a bright spot on this side of the ball, and Jenkins provides versatility with his pass rush ability. Hopefully Bromley is brought along and is ready to contribute in a bigger role next season, not unlike Hankins was able to do in his second season. Patterson did provide solid depth at the position, but he may not be a worthwhile investment if Bromley is on pace developmentally.

LINEBACKER

  • LOCKS — Jon Beason, Devon Kennard
  • BUBBLE — Jameel McClain, Paul Hazel, Terrell Manning
  • UFA — Jacquian Williams, Spencer Paysinger, Mark Herzlich

The key names to watch will be Jacquian and Paysinger, because both have flashed potential at times but haven’t been able to show the consistency needed for a long term contract. The Giants will definitely need to add starting caliber linebackers one way or another, but the future will depend on who lands as the next defensive coordinator. There is speculation that NYG could move to a 3-4 front with a new coach, but in order to pull that off, a ton of linebacker talent will need to magically appear. In this scenario, Damontre Moore would probably have to slide out to a 3-4 OLB.

Herzlich is a good special teamer, but he is horrific when playing defense. I don’t see room for a player who will hurt the team so much if called upon (as he was this season). Beason has a big cap hit, north of $7 million, but he is the best MLB we are going to find and we’ll have to pray he can stay healthy. If cap space is tight, Jameel McClain may be the more logical cut, as his $2.65 mil only leaves $300 thousand in dead money.

CORNERBACK

  • LOCKS — Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Prince Amukamara
  • BUBBLE — Trumaine McBride, Jayron Hosley, Chandler Fenner, Travis Howard
  • UFA — Walter Thurmond, Zackary Bowman, Chykie Brown
  • RFA — Mike Harris

At the very least, our dynamic duo of corners should be ready to be among the top shutdown pairs in the league. Moreover, Thurmond should be retained for a very reasonable price after getting injured on his 1 year “prove-it” deal. Beyond those three, there are interesting choices to be made. Bowman played admirably in his drastically increased role throughout the season, and would provide some of the best depth in the league if the Giants found a way to keep him cheap. McBride is also one of those serviceable fill-in / top depth types, but his $1.55 million cap hit could actually be cut for a mere $50 K in dead money. That could be an easy $1.5 mil in space, if the Giants decide McBride’s depth isn’t worth that much.

Fenner is a nice young player who is exclusive rights, so there’s no reason he should be let go. While everyone (including myself) was hollering about Hosley needing to be let go, his cap hit is only ~$800 K and his cutting would leave ~$670 K of cap space. I’m starting to feel like it’s worth it to give Jayron his last year of his contract, and hope he can contribute on special teams and as a backup slot corner better than he’s shown so far. Whether or not the Giants staff will agree is another thing. Hosley is probably gone, considering his suspension to start last year.

SAFETY

  • LOCKS — Nat Berhe
  • BUBBLE — Cooper Taylor
  • UFA — Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, Quintin Demps

This is obviously an area in need of attention, as Berhe was awesome as a special teamer but didn’t really see the field on defense. Rolle just finished his massive contract (highest for any safety in the league), and would have to agree to much less money for the Giants to bring him back. While his value is unquestionably diminished, there should still be suitors out there willing to shell out more than NYG. Again, with a name this big, whoever comes in as defensive coordinator will have a large part of this decision.

Stevie Brown struggled so much coming back from his ACL that Demps took over his starting job for more than half the season. Brown eventually reclaimed his starting role, but it’s tough to say whether he found that form he was in pre-injury or if Demps was just struggling himself. Working against Demps was his inability to provide value as a kick returner, which is part of the reason he was brought in. I’d say that Brown has a better chance of being re-signed, but nothing would be surprising with regard to these two.

Peyton Hillis to IR

  • [HB] David Wilson
  • [S] Cooper Taylor
  • [WR] Marcus Harris
  • [OG] Geoff Schwartz
  • [CB] Walter Thurmond
  • [WR] Jerrel Jernigan
  • [WR] Victor Cruz
  • [CB] Trumaine McBride
  • [MLB] Jon Beason
  • [CB] Prince Amukamara
  • [HB] Michael Cox
  • [HB] Peyton Hillis

That is a list of 12 players who would be contributing for the Giants if they weren’t on IR. There are more, too: [OT] Troy Kropog, [OT] Rogers Gaines, [CB] Travis Howard, [S] Bennett Jackson. Every team has to deal with injuries along the way, but the amount of top-end talent sitting on the Giants injured reserve is indicative of the struggles they have had (and will continue to have) throughout this season.

Schwartz is designated to return, and has been practicing for a couple weeks, but hasn’t been activated yet. Whether or not he will bring consistency to the offensive is another question, because in the limited amount of time we saw him on the field the offensive line was having problems. Still, Schwartz was one of the big off-season pick ups in free agency – signed to a 4 year, $16.8 million contract – so I imagine he’ll be reinserted into the starting line immediately.

The depth issue at wide receiver has been masked by the emergence of Odell Beckham Jr. There were plenty of skeptics – including myself – when the Giants invested their first round pick in the LSU wide out instead of Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin, and perhaps rebuilding the trenches would have still been a safer long term decision, but every week the grumblings get quieter as ODB plays like a superstar. Looking at next season, Rueben Randle will continue to solidify his role in our offense if he keeps his production steady. The question will be whether Jerrel Jernigan earns a new contract, if Preston Parker has carved out a depth role by performing on special teams, or if the Giants will continue to bring along the younger receivers such as Marcus Harris and Corey Washington.

Cornerback becomes an interesting situation behind the outside starters – Walter Thurmond and Zack Bowman were brought in on one-year deals, and Thurmond especially was hoping to turn a solid season into a sizable contract. Now he sits on IR. So does Trumaine McBride, who had replaced Thurmond as the starting nickel back Chandler Fenner, Chykie Brown, and Mike Harris were all brought in when injuries wiped out the secondary, and it’s possible they’ll be able to earn an off-season deal with inspiring play down the stretch.

Injury Pile Up

One week removed from feeling a huge surge from a surprisingly healthy Giants squad, the team has a harsh reminder of the early couple weeks of the season and injuries are beginning to mount. The biggest loss has to be star [WR] Victor Cruz, whose torn patellar tendon will end his season and could seriously affect his future productivity in the league. Cruz’s absence is impossible to fill entirely, and will change the way defenses approach the NYG offense. If there’s any bright side at all, it could be that Odell Beckham Jr. is forced into a prominent role at an accelerated rate. 13th overall picks must turn into cornerstone players for a franchise, and we’ll start to get an idea soon whether or not Beckham will be able to live up to expectation. Preston Parker will slide into the slot role for now, and remember that while Cruz was #1 there, Jerrel Jernigan (also on IR) was #2. It’s unlikely that Parker has even practiced much in the position and Coach Coughlin hasn’t been shy admitting he has ball security issues. It’ll be tough to have confidence in a passing game that has struggled behind an inconsistent line, now without their one proven NFL weapon.

On the other side of the ball, the Giants secondary is starting to disappear. After losing nickel [CB] Walter Thurmond early in the year, next-man-up Trumaine McBride is now also going to miss significant time (possibly the season) with a broken thumb. To make matters worse, [CB] Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is ailing with hip and ankle injuries, and will struggle to make it through any given game healthy. What was once the strongest and deepest unit on the team has been reduced to relying on an injured starter and an inconsistent-at-best backup in Jayron Hosley. I expect practice squad [CB] Chandler Fenner to rejoin the 53 as part of the upcoming flurry of transactions, and I wouldn’t be surprised or disappointed if he saw snaps on defense ahead of Hosley. Another possible fix to the defense is rotating Antrel Rolle back into a nickel role, and having Stevie Brown get back onto the field in a larger capacity. It’s possible Brown has found a bit more in his legs after riding the pine, and we could certainly use any help we can get at this point.

The other injury to keep in mind is the sprained MCL on [RB] Rashad Jennings. Rookie Andre Williams didn’t quite get a fair shake during the blowout in Philadelphia, but he wasn’t able to get much going with his opportunities either. If Jennings doesn’t get back to 100%, a struggling interior line is going to cripple any hope of a run game which we know has catastrophic effects. There is never need to panic after one bad game, but it’s a little too easy to see the paths to disaster with injuries to key players piling up.

Roster Movement

Here’s the recap of how the Giants adjusted their roster in the past week:

  • [LB] Dan Fox waived from roster
  • [CB] Chandler Fenner called up to roster from practice squad
  • [CB] Chandler Fenner waived from roster
  • [WR] Julian Talley waived from roster
  • [CB] Jayron Hosley added to roster, coming off suspension
  • [HB] Michel Cox called up to roster from practice squad

Fox was brought in as an emergency linebacker (and special teamer), but with Beason and Kennard on the mend his services were no longer required.

The Giants brought Fenner in to help the depth at [CB], but ultimately opted for Jayron Hosley fresh off his shortened suspension. This depth could become very important with Rodgers-Cromartie dealing with an ankle and hip and Bowman nursing a quad. Both players insist they’re fine, but injuries don’t tend to go away while remaining on the field. I’m surprised that Fenner – who looked promising in preseason – was kicked to the curb for Hosley, who struggled more than any other player through preseason and seemed to only stick around due to his suspension and NYG’s ability to postpone their decision. It may not be long until Hosley has a chance to prove himself, which must be a nerve-wracking situation for the Giants.

With Odell Beckham Jr. playing, impressing, and coming out the other side healthy, Talley no longer had a place on the 53. Additionally, the injury to Rashad Jennings left an unsettling situation in the backfield, and Cox helps shore it up although he’s unlikely to see any offensive snaps. Jennings is now the only significant injury NYG will have to work around.

Giants Turn It Around

After a week 2 loss to the Drew-Stanton-led Cardinals, the forecast for the NYG 2014 season was awfully gloomy. Some early season struggles were expected – with the installation of a new offense and nearly half a roster of new faces – but the mental errors and turnovers that plagued the disappointing 2013 season hadn’t gone away, and it wasn’t easy to spot improvement on the horizon. If that wasn’t enough, important pieces to the puzzle such as free agent splash [LG] Geoff Schwartz (on IR/return), first round [WR] Odell Beckham Jr. (yet to practice), free agent slot [CB] Walter Thurmond (season ending IR), and [MLB] Jon Beason (re-aggravated foot injury) were dealing with health problems and wouldn’t be able to contribute. All signs pointed to disaster, save for the high 2015 draft pick that felt increasingly probable.

In between weeks 2 and 3, Tom Coughlin stressed the importance of turnovers to the whole team. But coach wasn’t pointing a finger at our giveaway-prone offense; instead he was calling out our revamped, high profile secondary. Coughlin wanted more takeaways, believed we could force them, and believed that would go a long way in flipping L’s into W’s. Consider that message received. Loud and clear. Since then, the Giants have 6 (six!!) interceptions, along with 2 fumble recoveries for 8 takeaways. Amukamara and Rolle each have 2, DRC has 1 and Quintin Demps (who started for Stevie Brown this week) grabbed the other. Fitzpatrick and Cousins aren’t exactly the cream of the NFL QB crop, but our [DB]s are flying around and attacking the ball. We know there’s plenty of talent back there, and while 3 INT’s a game is an unrealistic pace, as long as that unit plays aggressively and confidently opposing quarterbacks are going to pay for every mental lapse. Also contributing to the recent success is an uncanny ability for NYG to rotate in Trumaine McBride and Zack Bowman whenever Amukamara or Cromartie need a rest, even if it’s only a handful of snaps a game. Keeping those top guys fresh with very capable stand-ins is a luxury that most teams cannot even consider.

Coughlin’s other key was to stay positive. A lot was made of his un-Coughlin-like decision to let the players listen to music during practice the Friday before week 3, keeping things loose and trying to demonstrate his confidence in the team. This was very, very important for a new offense that could have easily spiraled into a panicked abyss. The offensive turnaround has more to do with the interior (G-C-G) line than anyone else. Weeks 1 and 2 proved to be too difficult too soon, with Detroit and Arizona sporting some of the best interior D-Linemen in the league. Richburg, Walton, and Jerry had a mere preseason half-quarter of snaps lining up together. Richburg is a rookie, and neither Walton nor Jerry had played football in a long time due to injury. There will be ups and downs all season long, but the most important thing for these guys is to stay positive. All that can be reasonably asked of them is to avoid compounding errors, and to focus on improving game to game. Geoff Schwartz is set to return from IR week 8, and I have to imagine he’ll be reinserted into the line no matter what. Who knows how that situation will be handled when the time comes, but right now the arrow for the O-Line, the D-Backs, and the whole Giants team is pointing straight up.