The talent available
As usual there is a handful of top end talent with depth lasting into the third day of the draft and likely to produce future starters fitting into all kinds of offensive schemes and different players appealing to different teams for different reasons.
The Giants have a ‘protoype’ for the position - preferring guys who measure up in excess of 6’4”, and 265lb’s with arms like tentacles and the quick first step with the ability to turn the corner and get to the QB. Those who can also rush from the passer from the inside are valued even more as they make it far easier to find them a role in the ‘NASCAR’ package without shifting young superstar RDE Jason Pierre-Paul inside to get them onto the field.
What do I think the Giants should do?
On paper, the Giants have the best set of DE’s in the league but there are salary cap issues upcoming due to the pending free agency of Osi Umenyiora and Matthias Kiwanuka after the 2012 season. Additionally, Justin Tuck had his least productive regular season in years due to injury problems before he returned to full health (and battering QB’s) in the playoffs and Umenyoira missed the first half of the year with a knee injury. Tuck is due to hit free agency after 2013 as well but with Eli due a big hike on the salary cap next year it is unlikely that even with a big bump in the cap from TV revenue that the Giants will be able to afford to retain all of them as to do so may make it difficult to meet the contractual demands of JPP when he becomes a free agent in 2014.
With 4th DE Dave Tollefson having moved on in free agency so I have no doubt that at some point the Giants will look to replenish the all important front line. Were that not enough Osi has expressed his displeasure at being a back-up at the age of 31 knowing full well there is sure to be a market for him with teams willing to pay him more money than the Giants can offer and give him the starting role he clearly covets. The big question is whether they will try to hold onto him for one more season or trade him. If they do trade him, will they look to replace him from within and shift the ‘Joker’ in our pack, Matthias Kiwanuka, back full-time to DE and look for another ‘Joker’ or draft another DE? Either way, if Osi isn’t with us next season there is a very good possibility that the Giants will use a high pick to fill the front row of the NASCAR grid...
How will things play out on draft day?
The NFL is in a ‘passing’ phase making players with the proven ability to rush the passer more and more important and with every team looking for them those that have it will see their value skyrocket even when they aren’t particularly good at doing anything else! As the NFL is also very much a copycat league with the Giants having one two of the past five Super Bowls with a hellacious pass rush sporting extra DE’s on passing downs you can all but be assured that other teams will look to follow suit putting even more value on the players look to follow suit.
There are a couple of ‘elite’ prospects in this draft and more than half dozen players who I really like as a fit for the Giants as either DE’s or in Kiwianuka’s ‘Joker’ position where the SLB is actually used a lot like an extra DL but from a two point stance. However, after the first 2 rounds I don’t see many who look like future starters, and there really aren’t that many guys who will be able to contribute as specialist pass rushers.I fully expect to see three of the top DE/Jokers come off the board in the top 15 picks with another couple gone by the end of the 1st round and the cupboard pretty much bare by the time the 2nd round ends. The message will therefore be that if we want a future starter rather than a depth pick we need to get one early or we won’t get one at all.
The top DE prospects
Quinton Coples, North Carolina (6’5 3/4”, 284lb’s, 33 1/4” arms, 4.71 speed, 25 BP Reps). - Top 10 (DE only)
Melvin Ingram, South Carolina (6’1 1/2”, 264lb’s, 31 1/2” arms, 4.71 speed, 28 BP reps). Top 15 pick (DE or ‘Joker’)
The best ‘fits’
Courtney Upshaw, Alabama (6’1 5/8”, 272lb’s, 32” arms, 4.76 speed, 22 BP reps) is one of my favourite players in this draft. Was the ‘Jack’ Linebacker on the Crimson Tide National Championship winning team and proved his ability to impact the game either from SLB in a 3-4 defense or with his hand down at either end spot in the 4-3. It’s role not unlike that of the ‘joker’ in the Giants system so you’ll understand why I see him as a fit. He isn’t fast and doesn’t have great ‘length’ but used as a LB he’s able to dominate the point of attack against the TE and doesn’t get outflanked even by speedy backs. Ferocious hitter. Driven competitor. Relentless. Can drop in zone coverage and be effective but isn’t the guy you want to match up with a speedy TE downfield in man coverage. You’d expect an LB to win pass rush battles with speed but that isn’t the case with him - he prefers to utilize brute force and leverage to get his man going back before making a secondary move to get to the QB. Had some OTF issues in ’09 but has steered clear of trouble since. Has had knee tendonitis so might need medical clearance. I rank him in my top 15 overall pick but it’s possible he could drift into the late 20’s if teams become more concerned with how he tests than how he plays.
Whitney Mercilus, Illinois (6’3 5/8”, 261lb’s, 33 7/8” arms, 4.68 speed, 27 BP reps) only really produced for one year in college before entering as a junior. Team Captain. Versatile - played DE on both ends of the line and saw some pass rush snaps at DT. Consistently productive on a game to game basis rather than dominant at any point in them. Big play specialist - has a real knack for causing fumbles when he gets to the QB (16 sacks, 9FF’s last year!). Quick off the ball and with long arms so if he gets the edge on his first step he’s able to fend off his opponents hands and get around them to hunt the QB. Needs to learn counter moves. He’s not a good run defender - all his power is up top and he has skinny legs. Doesn’t use his hands well to get off blocks - gets ridden a long way out of plays when OL’s lock on. Can be blocked one-on-one by the TE at times. Has questionable ‘football’ instincts - runs himself out of plays up field after beating blocks, doesn’t read ‘screen’ or reverses, etc. Is considered by some analysts to be better suited to a role as a pass rushing OLB in a 3-4 scheme. Has the type of ‘upside’ the Giants are typically attracted to and fits their ‘profile’ to a large extent. A ‘diamond in the rough’ I think he’s worthy of a top 25 pick.
Vinny Curry, Marshall (6’3 1/8”, 266lb’s, 32 3/4” arms, 4.73 speed, 28 BP reps) is another ranking high on my list of personal favourite players in this draft as every single time I’ve seen him play for Marshall he’s produced in a big way despite getting attention from more than one blocker a lot of the time. He may not be ideally built for it but he’s a very effective bull rusher as well as having the speed to beat his opponent around the outside and moves to get inside them. Team Captain. NJ product. Needs to get bigger to handle the run straight at him but he gives very good effort and makes plays through his relentlessness. Didn’t have the best Senior bowl practices but the game was a different matter - beat highly rated OT’s Mike Adams and Zebrie Sanders for sacks (one from each end of the line). Projects as well to LDE as he does to RDE in the 4-3 scheme. I’m not aware of the Giants being linked with him specifically but he fits the ‘profile’ as well or better than most of the others in the group. Borderline late 1st/early 2nd round pick.
Nick Perry, USC (6’2 3/4”, 271lb’s, 33” arms, 4.58 speed, 35 BP reps) is a guy I can’t really get a bead on. He’s a superb physical specimen and at times during his career he looks like he is becoming a dominant pass rusher showing a quick burst off the line, the agility to turn the corner from either end of the line as well as the power to jolt his opponent back and beat them to the inside. However, at others he looks no more than average getting stuck to his blocker . I’m not sure that he gives full effort on every play Inconsistent run defender - despite not having great size he can hold up at the point of attack but seems a bit slow disengaging, doesn’t change direction with great fluidity and gets outflanked too easily. Might be a bit of a workout warrior - his speed and strength don’t appear to translate to the field at this time. Having played some as a stand-up DE he might project to OLB in the 3-4 but I don't see him as a good fit for that. Has some ‘boom or bust’ in him. Borderline late 1st/early 2nd round pick.
Shea McClellin, Boise State (6’3 3/8”, 260lb’s, 32 3/4” arms, 4.66 speed, 19 BP reps) is a player I like and can envisage as an excellent fit for the Giants as a ‘Joker’ but don’t have a great interest in when evaluating him as a ‘pure’ DE. As a DE he’s quick off the snap, can turn the corner on OT’s at times, sees rush lanes well when stunting to the inside and is tough to outflank but as he’s not particularly strong and doesn’t have a great repertoire of pass rush moves he gets engulfed by the bigger tackles and doesn’t hold up that well when teams run the ball straight at him. Having started at DE but also played some OLB and MLB versatility is his best asset and combined with his speed, athleticism and relentless approach to the game it's possible to use him in lots of ways. Played LB only at the Senior Bowl and looked pretty good doing it, even showing some skills in coverage. Rating him as a DE only I’d say he was a 3rd round pick but as an OLB for a 3-4 team I can see him getting a late 1st round ranking. Splitting the difference somewhat I’ll hedge my bets and rank him in the top 40 overall.
The top prospects I really don’t want
Chandler Jones, Syracuse ( 6‘5 3/8”, 266lb’s, 35 1/2” arms, 4.83 speed, 22 BP reps) is a good player and 3 year starter but his skills simply don’t match our needs. Whilst he undoubtedly fits the Giants ‘prototype’ physically, he just isn’t much of a pass rusher - he’s slow off the ball, stiff, lacks pass rush moves, plays upright and is a long strider so not effective as an edge rusher. However, he has a frame that is nowhere near maxed out, does really well at the point of attack against the run, can push the pocket and get off of blocks so I think he’s projects far better as a DE in a 3-4 scheme than in the 4-3. Has had some injury problems. Much has been made of his trumpeting that the Giants spoke to him at his Pro Day but if they were really after him with the 32nd pick wouldn’t they be more secretive ? Top 40 pick.
Andre Branch, Clemson (6’4 1/4”, 259lb’s, 34” arms, 4.69 speed, 19 BP reps) scares me as he fits the ‘prototype’ for the DE position that the Giants have virtually to a tee, I just think he’s too one-dimensional as a player and I see some real ‘dog’ in him! Don’t get me wrong, he has talent - sports a great burst off the ball to run the arc and beat the OLT’s around the edge as well as the speed to track down a scrambling QB from behind - but I don’t see any other moves in his arsenal. Against the run he uses his speed to make plays down the line but gets blown away at the point of attack when ran at. More disconcertingly, there have been a few games where I’ve seen Clemson blown out and his effort appears non-existent long before the score is out of control. I expect him to be taken in the mid-2nd round regardless simply because teams will fall in love with his athletic ability and pass rush potential but he’s not one I have any real liking for.
A few mid-late round gems
Tyrone Crawford, Boise State (6’4 1/4”, 275lb’s, 33 3/4” arms, 4.85 speed, 28 BP reps) fits the Giants ‘prototype’ quite well for the position and projects as an LDE who can help against the run immediately whilst honing his pass rush skills. 4th round pick.
Jonathon Massequoi, Troy (6’2 1/8”, 264lb’s, 34 1/8” arms, 4.83 speed, 20 BP reps) is a good 20lb’s heavier now than when he made a huge impact as s sophomore and entered after a junior year where his big play production halved. Soft against the run - will be a pass rush specialist only in the NFL. ‘Boom or bust’ 4th round type.
Frank Alexander, Oklahoma (6’3 3/4”, 270lb’s, 35” arms, 4.82 speed, 24 BP reps) made big plays plays in all the Sooners games I saw over the last two years from his RDE spot. Last seen in the Insight Bowl beating heralded OT prospect Riley Reiff for a sack on a bull rush. Good run defender. Not that athletic or fast but I think he’ll make a good pro. 5th round pick.
Frank Bequette, Arkansas (6’4 5/8”, 274lb’s, 32” arms, 4.75 speed, 0 BP reps- injured pec muscle) tested out far more athletic than he ever looked in games. Productive, try-hard pass rusher who has zero ability to stop the run. 5th-6th round pick.
Ryan Davis, Bethune Cookman (6’2 3/8”, 259lb’s, 33 1/4” arms, 4.85 speed, 21 BP reps). Sack-artist at a small school. Has been checked out by the Giants as well as a host of other teams. Probable 6th round pick.
I have three scenarios playing out in my mind as to how things might go on draft day
Scenario 1: Trade Osi and leave Kiwi at LB.
I can see the Giants using the pick(s) acquired from trading Osi to try to move up to select Mercilus or even Coples were he somehow to escape the top 15 looking to hit the proverbial ‘home run’. Their ability to move around on the DL and be productive in the pass rush sets them apart from the others I like and both project well to the LDE spot. Forced to stay put or even if trading down a few spots out of the 1st round, I believe Curry will figure heavily in discussions when the Giants are ‘on the clock’ and were we to get him I’d be delighted.
Scenario 2: Trade Osi and move Kiwi to DE.
I think that the Giants may consider drafting McClellin with the 32nd pick but would secretly be hoping that Upshaw came within reaching distance via an inexpensive trade (provided he’s given a clean bill of health) as he offers greater power and big play potential.
Scenario 3: Retain Osi and keep Kiwi at LB
Once again I think Curry will figure in discussions when the Giants are on the clock simply because he could well be the ‘BPA at a position of priority need’, especially when you consider the recent injury history of Tuck and Umenyiora and departure of Tollefson. Later on any of the guys I’ve mentioned would be worthy of selection.