The Giants finished in the top ten in both yards per game (385.1) and points per game (24.6) in 2011, thanks mostly to Eli Manning—who can now lay claim to one of the most impressive 20-game streaks of quarterback mastery in NFL history. Oh yeah, it probably bears mentioning that he won his second Super Bowl.
Eli threw for 4,933 yards, 29 touchdowns and just 16 interceptions, nine fewer than the 25 he served up in 2010. It was arguably the best all-around season put together by a Giants quarterback in franchise history. No small feat, of course. But some credit must go to Eli’s weapons on offense, as well as the 300-pounders guarding the line of scrimmage entrusted with his livelihood on every three, five, and seven-step drop.
A host of defections from that unit has left the Giants without three key contributors from last season: running back Brandon Jacobs, right tackle Kareem McKenzie and wide receiver Mario Manningham.
How will Big Blue atone for these losses in tomorrow’s draft? Here are 10 names that general manager Jerry Reese may consider.
1) Coby Fleener—TE Stanford. Round projection: 1
Even with the recent signing of Martellus Bennett, both Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum are coming off knee surgeries, so the tight end position could use an upgrade.
Fleener is one of the main reasons why Andrew Luck was able to lead Stanford to a BCS bowl last season despite working with one of the worst receiving corps in the Pac-12. He was Luck’s number option on most passing plays, compiling 667 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
At 6-6, 247 lbs, Fleener is a load for both opposing dbs and linebackers, and he’s even more difficult to catch. He ran a 4.5 40-yd dash at Stanford’s March 22 pro day and hit 27 reps on the benchpress at the combine. With his size, speed and strength, Fleener would give the Giants the type of dynamic pass-catching tight end that can dominate in Kevin Gilbride’s scheme—the likes of which Big Blue hasn’t had on its roster since Jeremy Shockey.
2) Doug Martin—RB Boise State. Round projection: 1
While Brandon Jacobs wasn’t the Giants’ number one back last season, his tough running and leadership will be dearly missed—not to mention his nonexistent trash talk filter that so often lit up the New York media. Without the 6-4, 240-lb bruiser, Big Blue’s RB depth chart is thin, to say the least.
After Ahmad Bradshaw, the Giants are left with D.J. Ware, Da’Rel Scott, and Andre Brown, who will miss the first four games of the season after violating the league’s substance abuse policy. All three have talent, but is any of them ready for an increased workload?
Martin gives the Giants a reliable backup option, which Big Blue will almost certainly need next season as Bradshaw continues to battle foot and ankle problems. Martin could also be a potential No. 1 back for the Giants in the future, if and when Bradshaw’s injury problems relegate him to a secondary role.
3) Jonathan Martin—OT Stanford. Round projection: 1
The Giants picked up former Redskins and Seahawks offensive lineman Sean Locklear as a possible stopgap solution for McKenzie. James Brewer, last year’s fourth round pick, could also slide in at right tackle.
Martin represents an upgrade over both options. He’s arguably the quickest tackle in this year’s draft, which will be beneficial against guys like Trent Cole, DeMarcus Ware, and Brian Orakpo.
Martin may not be the sexy pick in round 1, but he would solidify the right tackle position and could possibly switch over to the left side if William Beatty doesn’t return to form after suffering a season-ending eye injury last season.
4) Rueben Randle—WR LSU. Round projection: 1
Both Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill and Baylor’s Kendall Wright figure to be gone by the time Big Blue makes its first round selection. Randle is the next best option. He’s 6-2, 210 and ran a 4.55 in the 40 at the combine. He also played in all 40 games during three seasons with the Tigers, so the durability issues that have plagued Giants receivers in recent years won’t be a concern here.
With Manningham gone, Big Blue could use a reliable third option at receiver. Jerrell Jernigan and Ramses Barden have failed to prove that they are deserving of consistent playing time, and it would be foolish to think that Domenik Hixon—coming off of season-ending knee surgery—can step in and make an impact right away.
Food for thought: With the possibility that either Nicks and Cruz will be gone within the next two seasons, Randle could step up and be a No. 1 or 2 receiver in the future.
5) David Wilson—RB Virginia Tech. Round projection: 2
At 5-9, 206-lbs, Wilson is a bit undersized. But what he lacks in bulk he makes up for in speed. The former Hokie ran a 4.49 at the combine and made a name for himself in the ACC by outrunning dbs downfield, with those long runs often ending with him celebrating in the endzone.
Wilson isn’t an exceptional between-the-tackles runner, but he’s near impossible to bring down in the open field. The Giants haven’t had this type of explosive, shifty back in the Gilbride era, but with his speed and big-play ability, he would give them a new dimension on offense.
6) Mohamed Sanu—WR Rutgers. Round Projection: 2
Sanu led the Big East with 115 receptions last season, all of which came despite being limited by Greg Schiano’s run-heavy offense as well as the maddeningly inconsistent quarterback play produced by the Chas Dodd-Gary Nova platoon on a weekly basis.
The former Rutgers star has good speed (4.41 in the 40) size (6-2) and above-average ball skills. He visited the Giants earlier this month and would be an immediate upgrade at the No. 3 receiver spot.
7) Isaiah Pead—RB Cincinnati. Round Projection: 3
He broke two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin’s high school rushing record, and continued his dominance at Cincinnati, where he compiled a combined 2,288 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns during his junior and senior seasons.
Pead is quick, elusive, and surprisingly tough to bring down in between the tackles. He’s also a pass-catching threat and possesses that big-play ability that the Giants lack within its current group of running backs.
8) Orson Charles—TE Georgia. Round Projection: 4
Charles’ stock took a hit when he was cited for DUI in March, but no need to worry: he was a team captain, a member of Georgia’s student-athlete leadership academy in 2011, and scouts rave about his work ethic. Which all means that we probably shouldn’t worry much about his off-the-field character.
After Fleener, Charles may be the best pass-catching tight end in this draft. He’s also one of the strongest—Charles led all tight ends at the combine with 35 reps on the bench press—which is a big help when it comes to blocking and breaking tackles.
Of course, this pick makes no sense if the Giants grab Fleener in round 1, but Charles is the type of hard worker that would thrive both on and off the field in the Big Apple.
9) Brandon Washington—OG Miami. Round Projection: 5
A bit undersized at 6-3, but Washington has the makings of the next Kevin Boothe. He has starting experience at both guard and tackle, but fared better inside. Big Blue’s immediate priority on the O-line is right tackle, but Washington—the versatile, hard-working masher that he is—would help its overall depth right away.
Mitch Petrus showed last season that he’s a reliable starter at guard, but Brewer is yet to prove himself. Washington would push both of them for playing time right away.
10) Chris Owusu—WR Stanford. Round Projection: 7
I know what you’re thinking, this is the third Stanford guy on my list. It’s a credit to Jim Harbaugh, who seems to have this whole head coaching thing pretty much figured out—both at the college and pro level.
If Luck had one decent receiver last season, it was Owusu, who led all receivers at the combine with his 4.36 time in the 40. More importantly, he plays to that speed on tape, as Luck often hit him for deep plays downfield.
The one concern here is durability. He tore his MCL in 2008 and played in just 15 games combined over his last two seasons. Those health concerns—more specifically, fears of his 3 concussions within a 13-month—have hurt his stock, but if Owusu stays healthy, his speed and good hands would be put to good use in Big Blue’s aerial attack.