What do the New York Giants need to focus on in the 2017 NFL Draft?

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May 6, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants general manger Jerry Reese, 1st round draft pick safety Eli Apple (28) and head coach Ben McAdoo during rookie minicamp at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

The 82nd Annual NFL Player Selection Meeting (a.k.a. the 2017 NFL Draft) begins three weeks from today at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Because the draft is so close, it’s a good idea to see where the New York Football Giants are in terms of what their draft needs are.

We shall take a look at each of the team’s positions, where they stand currently, and how the draft may address a particular need.


AROUND COVER32

2017 Free Agency: Why Colin Kaepernick’s bad rap is undeserving

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2017 NFL Draft: Taking a look at an ideal linebacker target in each of the first three rounds

This Week in NFL History: This Week in NFL History: April 2 through April 8

Odell Beckham Jr.: Odell Beckham Jr. skipping Giants’ offseason workout at Duke University

Ben McAdoo: Giants head coach Ben McAdoo looks within himself for ways to improve on 2016


Quarterback

For most of his NFL career, Elisha Nelson Manning has been an enigma wrapped in a mystery. If certain aspects of his 2016 performance are any indication, No. 10’s skills are on the decline. After all, he turned 36 on Jan. 3 and hasn’t missed a game since becoming the Giants’ starter on Nov. 21, 2004. Father Time eventually wins, right?

His touchdown total dropped from a career-high 35 in 2015 to 26 in 2016. He threw more interceptions (16) last season than he did in 2015 (14). Manning’s quarterback rating fell from 93.6 in 2015 to 86.0 in 2016.

On the other hand, Manning did throw for 4,027 yards (his third consecutive 4,000-yard season and sixth overall) and 26 touchdowns. He also passed John Elway for seventh on the NFL career passing touchdowns list (320) and Fran Tarkenton for eighth on the NFL career passing yards list (48,214).

Most important of all, the Giants won 11 games and made their first postseason appearance since winning Super Bowl XLVI. This was accomplished despite an offensive line that was more suspect than Keyzer Soze and inconsistent play from skill position players not named Odell Beckham Jr.

The Giants let go of backup Ryan Nassib and signed Josh Johnson and Geno Smith in the offseason. Since he hasn’t missed a start, durability has never been a question with Manning. The Giants’ best chance at, in the words of head coach Ben McAdoo, putting a fifth (Lombardi) Trophy in the case is with No.10 behind center.

Running Back

To say the Giants’ running backs underachieved in 2016 is an understatement. The Giants’ ground game managed just 88.3 yards a game, only the Detroit Lions, Los Angeles Rams, and Minnesota Vikings were worse.

Shane Vereen was supposed to be a dual threat but he was lost to a season-ending injury as was Orleans Darkwa. Rashad Jennings, who signed with the Giants as a free agent in 2014, regressed and was eventually released.

Paul Perkins, a fifth-round pick in 2016, showed flashes of brilliance. He had the Giants’ only 100-yard rushing day last season and that was in the regular season finale. The only way the ground game will be respectable once again is if the Giants acquire a power runner to compliment Perkins.

The biggest question is whether the Giants will dip into the free agent pool or test the waters in the draft to find a power runner.

Adrian Peterson is still unsigned. He hinted earlier in the offseason that the Giants are a team he would want to play for. Peterson is 32 years old, coming off an injury that severely limited his Canton-worthy production last season, and his price tag is reportedly too steep for an aging running back coming off an injury.

LaGarrette Blount is still out there too but the word is that the New England Patriots are very much interested in bringing him back.
The draft may offer a solution in the form of Clemson’s Wayne Gallman.

Gallman (6’0”, 215 lbs.) carried the ball 676 times for 3,429 yards and 34 touchdowns in 42 games (37 starts) for the Tigers. He averaged 5.1 yards a carry over his last three seasons and had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in his junior and senior years. Gallman is Clemson’s all-time leader in 100-yard rushing games. The Tigers were 17-0 when he had 100 or more yards on the ground. Opponents had a difficult time tackling Gallman. He forced more than 150 broken tackles in his final three seasons. He is also proficient in catching the ball out of the backfield, with 65 receptions for 473 yards and two touchdowns.

Tight End

Jerell Adams, Larry Donnell, and Will Tye were targeted a combined 115 times in 2016. Collectively, they had 84 receptions for 609 yards and three touchdowns. They also weren’t helpful in the blocking game.

Donnell departed in free agency and the Giants added fullback/tight end Rhett Ellison. Ellison solves the blocking issue as he spent the first five seasons of his NFL career helping to create openings for Adrian Peterson. However, he isn’t a receiving threat with 51 receptions for 515 yards and three touchdowns in his career.

The Giants were enamored by Alabama’s O.J. Howard, considered the top tight end in this year’s draft. Unfortunately, he will most likely be off the board by the time the Giants are on the clock.

The Giants may turn to David Njoku, the latest prospect from the football factory that is the University of Miami, if Howard is gone. His size (6’4”, 246 lbs.) creates a mismatch against linebackers that can be exploited in open space. Njoku, a former wide receiver, had 64 receptions for 1,060 yards and nine touchdowns in just two seasons at the U.

Detractors will look at Njoku’s maturity. He will turn 21 on Jul. 10. He also had eight dropped passes in his time as a Hurricane and hasn’t yet learned the nuances of playing tight end. He is still growing into his body and has already drawn comparisons to another former Hurricane, the Carolina Panthers’ Greg Olsen.

Wide Receiver

The addition of Brandon Marshall in free agency makes the Giants’ receiving corps one of the NFL’s best.

Marshall provides the size (6’4”, 230 lbs.) and skill set missing from the Giants’ receivers since Plaxico Burress wore No. 17. His 2016 season with the Jets was below his standard but he still managed 59 receptions for 788 yards and three touchdowns. Now he doesn’t have to worry about being The Man or who his quarterback will be (The Jets started three different quarterbacks in 2016). Marshall will become the mentor and elder statesman for the Giants’ receiving corps. The biggest benefactor of Marshall’s presence on game day will be Odell Beckham Jr.

Speaking of OBJ, it was business as usual for him in 2016. He became the fastest player in NFL history to reach both the 200-career reception and 4,000 receiving yard milestones. Beckham was the lone offensive player selected to the Pro Bowl as well the AP All-Pro teams. Now that Marshall is a Giant, he won’t see the double-teams in 2017 that he saw last season…not it really mattered much (101 receptions for 1,367 yards and 10 touchdowns).

Marshall, Beckham, and an improved Sterling Shepard will only add to their quarterback’s confidence and make opposing defenses think twice about double-teams. If the Giants were to add to this group, which includes Dwayne Harris, Tavarres King, and Roger Lewis, it wouldn’t necessarily have to be through the draft because they have more pressing needs.

Offensive Line

This group was the subject of the most criticism in 2016.

The only positions that have no question marks attached are center (Weston Richburg) and left guard (Justin Pugh).

Ereck Flowers, a first-round pick in 2015, had another rough season. He led all offensive tackles who played in at least 75 percent of their team’s snaps in disruptions (sacks, hits, hurries). Flowers’ technique was called into question all season long. Despite that, the team is not ready to give up on him.

Co-owner John Mara said that Flowers has spent his offseason in the weight room. This is a positive as Flowers’ work could include exercises that will aid in his center of gravity, which will help him with his technique.

The Giants re-signed John Jerry. They also brought in D.J. Fluker from the Los Angeles Chargers to compete with Bobby Hart for the starting right guard and right tackle spots. Adam Gettis, Khaled Holmes, and Brett Jones provide the backup at guard and center.

The Giants need to bring in another offensive tackle, preferably one who is versatile enough to play guard. Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp is such a player.

Lamp has the athleticism needed to handle interior rushers while being able to fit into the rushing attacks asked of centers and guards. He has the ability to play at the tackle, guard, or center positions. One executive said of Lamp, “He’s the real deal. If he can snap, you could get away with playing him all up and down the line. Great feet, strong, smart.”

Defensive End

Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon kept opposing offensive coordinators awake all night throughout 2016.

When they were on the field together, it was pure havoc. The only time the defensive end position was truly an issue was when Pierre-Paul had surgery on a sports hernia that caused him to miss the final four regular season games and postseason. All of a sudden, Vernon saw double-teams he didn’t see when offenses had to account for No. 90.

This makes depth at the position very important. Earlier this week, Owa Odighizuwa sent some cryptic tweets that question whether or not he wants to continue his NFL career. Romeo Okwara, an undrafted free agent a year ago, surpassed Odighizuwa (a third-round pick in 2015) on the depth chart with flashes of brilliance.

The Giants don’t need the draft to add to this group, especially since JPP got the long-term contract he wanted and Okwara came in undrafted.

Defensive Tackle

The Giants got delicious production from Damon “Snacks” Harrison in 2016. After him, the position is a question mark.

Johnathan Hankins chose to test the free agent market and, thus far, has no takers. Jay Bromley will be the team’s starter if Hankins doesn’t return. Robert Thomas, who was claimed by the Giants last season and played in eight games, would be the backup.

It would be a great idea for the Giants to add a defensive tackle. That player’s mistakes would be neutralized by having Harrison (as well as Pierre-Paul and Vernon) around him.

Alabama’s Dalvin Tomlinson is player who has, by all accounts, flown under the radar in this draft cycle. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban said, “If everybody on our team was like Dalvin, we wouldn’t have many problems, I can you tell that.”

Tomlinson plays the run extremely well with lower body strength that makes him very hard to move. He’s equally adept at the holding the point of attack against double teams as he is at working his way through stunts and twists. He has a non-stop motor that allows him to make plays others won’t make.

Tomlinson’s biggest weaknesses are he’s not explosive off the snap, is not as effective in passing situations, and is limited athletically. He also has two ACL tears in his history. Despite that, Tomlinson is a high-character player who will make a difference at the next level.

The Giants could also look to Washington’s Elijah Qualls, UCLA’s Eddie Vanderdoes, or Tulane’s Tanzel Smart.

Linebacker

The Giants need to pay special attention to this position. Jonathan Casillas, Mark Herzlich, Devon Kennard, and Keenan Robinson are not under contract beyond this season.

This leaves B.J. Goodson as the only the linebacker they will have beyond 2017. McAdoo already said Goodson will compete with Robinson for the middle linebacker position. The Giants might bring in a player who will be ready to start in 2018 in case Kennard and/or Casillas leave/are released.

Illinois’ Carroll Phillips has first-round talent that may fall to the second day. The Giants, however, may not want to deal with the questions that may come with drafting Phillips, the nephew of rap mogul and University of Miami booster Luther Campbell. Florida’s Alex Anzalone had a good 2016 season before it ended with a broken arm. Anzalone, according to some NFL executives, should have returned to Tallahassee for his final year of eligibility.

The Giants may also look to LSU’s Duke Riley, Kansas State’s Jordan Willis, or Alabama’s Ryan Anderson.

Safety

Landon Collins had an outstanding 2016 season. It took a monster effort by the Oakland Raiders’ Khalil Mack to keep him from getting the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. As long the Giants have Collins, the strong safety position is in good hands.

The free safety position was another matter altogether.

Nat Berhe (concussion), Darian Thompson (foot), and Mykkele Thompson (knee) are all coming off season-ending injuries. Both Berhe and Mykkele Thompson had season-ending injuries in their first two NFL seasons. Berhe had multiple concussions. The Giants may want to move on from Berhe and Mykkele Thompson.

Darian Thompson, on the other hand, was the starter at free safety before he was lost for the season after three games. He is ahead of schedule in his rehab. Andrew Adams played well enough in his absence but Darian Thompson will be the starting free safety in 2017.

Cornerback

The Giants’ cornerbacks were stingy in 2016.

The Giants allowed 15 receiving touchdowns in 2016. Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Eli Apple just didn’t give up a bunch of big plays. They were a huge reason why the Giants allowed the second fewest points (behind the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots) in the league.

Trevin Wade and Leon Hall will not be back with the team. Donte Deayon and Michael Hunter will be back along with the recently signed Valentino Blake. As long Jenkins and DRC stay healthy, there won’t be a reason to go into the cornerbacks’ depth chart.

Specialists

The Giants still have the services of long snapper Zak DeOssie and punter Brad Wing. The kicker currently on the roster is Aldrick Rosas.

Rosas, 22, kicked collegiately at Southern Oregon. He is listed at 6’2”, 195 lbs. The word is his kicks have range but he must work on his accuracy and consistency. This is not good news for Giants fans who got used to seeing Robbie Gould out there.

The Giants signed Rosas under a futures contract. Futures contracts enable teams to claim the rights to a player whom they believe will be able to contribute during the upcoming season.

If Rosas doesn’t work out, he’s not locked in as the Giants’ kicker. If he’s the next Sebastian Janikowski, the Giants already have his rights.

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