The Giants, for better or worse, had a very Giants-like draft. Jerry Reese and the rest of the draft-day decision makers selected seven players befitting of the team-first, no-nonsense Big Blue mold. Some of these players will be asked to fill immediate needs, make meaningful plays in meaningful game situations right away, while others can and will be excused should they not impact the Giants’ season in any sort of visible, tangible way this season.
By all accounts, it was good draft—or, at least we hope it was. That’s really all that we can do with these unproven players: speculate, conjecture, hype, criticize. Until the new draftees and new UDFAs prove themselves on an NFL field, the best we can do is fill our brains with cup-half-full projections and prognostications and assure ourselves that a bright future awaits each player.
Until we have a considerable sample size of evidence that demonstrates each player’s worth at the pro level, it would be downright unfair to predict with absolute certainty how each player from the 2012 draft class will fare as an NFL player. David Wilson’s blend of speed and athleticism could give the Giants a new dimension on offense, sure, and Jayron Hosley has the physical and mental tools to thrive as a physical bump-and-run corner in Perry Fewell’s DB-heavy schemes. We won’t know until it actually happens, in a real, this-one-counts NFL game.
Predicting the fates of newly drafted players is one thing. Reviewing and reflecting on previous draft classes is a completely different and altogether more logical course of action. The 2011 class—the group of players subject to the same type of scrutiny, projection analysis just one year ago—seems like the sensible starting point.
After just one year of NFL experience, the 12 players (including UDFAs) have all made their presence felt in one way or another, whether that be a game-winning, fumble-inducing special teams tackle or a season ending training camp injury—ahem, Mr. Austin. To judge these players on one year’s performance may not be the most fair, let alone the most accurate, strategy. In fact, some of the second-year Giants could completely reinvent themselves and start anew in 2012.
My assessments could be spot-on or they could be very, very wrong. Without further ado, here is my 2011 draft class review, with an eye towards which of these players will make an impact in 2012.
Prince Amukamara—1st round pick
Prince’s rookie campaign took a turn for the worst almost immediately, when he broke his foot in his second training camp workout last summer. The injury sidelined him until the Giants’ week 10 game against Philadelphia, at which point he was asked to learn the playbook, neglect his rookie anxiety as well as the massive expectations heaped upon any first-round pick and grapple with one of the league’s most explosive receivers, DeSean Jackson, right away. Prince responded with an interception, a perfect way to announce his arrival on the NFL scene.
Unfortunately, that early success was not something Prince could sustain. It was clear from the start that the former Nebraska star was never truly comfortable in Perry Fewell’s complex defense. While his size, speed and athleticism were more than adequate for dealing with NFL receivers, Prince struggled to grasp new concepts, coverages and other important defensive principles.
This came as no surprise. Few can make the transition from college to the NFL a seamless one, and Prince, clearly, was no exception. Quarterbacks picked on the rookie DB and his playing time dwindled down the stretch as a result. It wasn’t as much his inability to bear down, engage and shut down a receiver as it was mental ineptitude, a glaring weakness in route recognition and a lack of familiarity with basic, yet wholly important defensive concepts.
The good news is that there’s reason to expect Prince to take a huge leap forward in 2012. For one, he never seemed fully healthy last season and the fact that he underwent a second procedure on the same injured foot in March supports that claim. With a full—hopefully—slate of training camp under his belt, Prince will have ample time to refine his playbook acumen and learn from his more-experienced peers. For another, those massive first-round pick expectations—now bestowed upon David Wilson—have subsided, which allows Prince to focus not on things that he can’t control, but his responsibilities on the field.
Prince will begin to realize his immense potential and could make a push for a starting spot by season’s end.
Marvin Austin—2nd Round Pick
You have to feel for this guy.
Austin firmly established himself as a top-10 draft pick after a stellar junior season, one in which he dominated the ACC with his unique space-eating, pass-rushing abilities. Austin’s draft stock took a major hit when he learned that he—along with 13 other North Carolina players—would be suspended the entire 2010 season.
He entered the 2011 draft, hoping that scouts would look past his character and maturity issues, disregard his season-long suspension, see him for the dominant player he was in 2009 and draft him accordingly.
The Giants thought highly enough of the 6-2, 310-lb tackle to take him with their second-round pick. Before Austin could validate his top-10 talent, he tore his pectoral muscle in a preseason game against the Bears, an injury that kept him out for all of last season. Pity.
Austin hasn’t played a meaningful down in two years—unless you count the 2011 East-West Shrine Game, a college all-star game—and Big Blue is in no dire need of defensive line depth. If his ability bears any resemblance to what it was in 2009, though, Austin, needless to say, becomes a huge asset, another additive component in an already cohesive, well-oiled pass-rushing machine.
Jerrel Jernigan—3rd Round Pick
If not for Victor Cruz’s emergence as one of the league’s most explosive slot receivers, Jernigan’s abominable 2011 campaign might have been a much bigger deal than it really was.
Whether it was running simple routes or returning punts, it was long since clear that the skills Jernigan exhibited in college failed to carry over into the NFL. There were times when he looked disappointed and downright frustrated with his hopeless case of the dropsies. There were also times when he looked completely lost, like he had no business being on the field—or on the team, for that matter.
Jernigan will need to undergo a complete transformation, an about-face at the most basic level, if he hopes to contribute in some form or another this season. Problem is, the Giants have a bevy of wideouts—all who have proven more reliable in game situations—that could derail Jernigan’s hopes at a bounce-back season before it begins.
James Brewer—4th round pick
Brewer is yet to play a single down, but he could see some playing time this season. Will Beatty returns after sustaining a season-ending eye injury and should reclaim his starting spot at left tackle. Free agent signee Sean Locklear, a 31-year-old stop-gap solution, probably gets the nod at right tackle.
Brewer will battle Brandon Mosely and Mathew McCants, this year’s fourth and sixth-round picks, respectively, for playing time and—given the slight edge in experience and scheme familiarity—should win out.
Greg Jones—6th Round Pick (1)
For a defense that spent most of its time last season cobbling together an unstable LB core and relying on db-heavy schemes, Jones was a welcome addition. The speed, strength and high football IQ that he exhibited throughout his college career translated to the pro game.
He recorded 31 tackles in 20 games and developed into one of the Giants’ more valuable coverage men on special teams. This year, Jones can take his game to another level, but first, he needs to outplay a spate of talented LBs with a similar goal in mind, including Jacquain Williams, Spencer Paysinger, Clint Sintim, Adrian Tracy and Mark Herzlich.
As John wrote yesterday, the Giants now have a deep, talented group of LBs. For the defense as a whole, this is good news. For Jones, it means that every lifting session, sprint, position meeting and training camp rep becomes a battleground for playing time.
Jones has the physical tools and natural football instincts to be a starter, and a very good one at that. Having potential is one thing; realizing it, channeling it and drawing upon that potential during meaningful game situations are completely different ones.
Tyler Sash—6th Round Pick (2)
Most everyone criticized Sash for leaving Iowa after his junior season. I’d say it was a pretty good decision: get drafted by one of the most steady, functional franchises in the NFL, play for a no-nonsense, workman-like coach who demands excellence and resembles Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz in more ways than one, develop into a truly valuable asset on special teams coverage, and, oh yeah, win a Super Bowl. That’s more than most would ask for in their rookie seasons, I’d wager.
The Giants re-stocked at safety this offseason, plucking Jojo Nicolas and Will Hill out of the UDFA pool and agreeing to terms with veterans Stevie Brown and Chris Horton. Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle are the unquestioned starters, which leaves Sash as a viable third option, provided he builds upon his successful 2011 season and outplays his new competition in training camp.
I still can't get enough of this play.
Jacquain Williams—6th Round Pick (3)
There’s little doubt that Williams, at least in year one, was the prize of the 2011 draft class. While he often struggled in coverage, the South Florida product amassed 78 tackles, played with a relentless motor and was immune to the usual slow, and often painful, rookie transition process. More importantly, he may have saved the Giants’ season with his overtime strip of 49ers return man Kyle Williams in the NFC championship game.
With Keith Rivers joining the fray, Williams may see his playing time dip—especially if Mathias Kiwanuka, as expected, takes over at outside linebacker. His role this season, believe it or not, could hinge on Osi Umenyiora’s status with the team. If Osi returns, Kiwi, in all likelihood, plays outside linebacker; if Osi leaves (this is just a “what if” scenario—he’s given no indication that he will), Kiwi fills in at defensive end and Williams takes his spot at OLB.
Either way, Williams proved himself as one of Big Blue’s best LBs last season, so Fewell will find ways to put his talents to good use.
Da’Rel Scott—7th Round Pick
Speed has been Scott’s calling card throughout his football career. He proved it in the 2011 preseason, when he scampered for a 97-yard touchdown against the Bears and a 65-yard score on a fake punt against the Patriots. That big-play explosiveness didn’t manifest itself in the regular season, as Scott recorded just 16 rushing yards on five carries.
In a recent interview with John Schmeelk of Giants.com, Scott said that last year’s shortened offseason hurt his development and that he’s ready to take a big step forward this season. If Scott makes good on his word, benefits from a full slate of preseason workouts and recalls last year’s preseason success, he could be in for an increased workload.
Hynoski suffered a hamstring injury at the combine, which torpedoed his draft stock, stunted his physical and mental development and made him undraftable for all 32 teams. Before the injury, Hynoski was one of 2011’s top fullback prospects, and a player that filled an immediate and dire need for the Giants.
Not only did Hynoski provide the grit, toughness and mean streak required of today’s NFL fullbacks, he was a reliable target for Eli, and he proved it the final eight games of the season, when he caught 12 passes for 83 yards. Although the Giants were the league’s worst rushing team last season, Hynoski, a well-principled lead blocker and pass protector, was not to blame.
He improved towards the end of the season, and with a summer’s worth of OTAs and preseason workouts, Hynoski will develop a rapport with Eli and the rest of the offense.
The speedy former Oregon linebacker was a major contributor on special teams last season, where he tied for fourth on the team with eight tackles. He played just 50 defensive snaps and recorded five tackles.
With the Giants’ surprisingly deep LB core, Paysinger will be fighting for every snap he gets. He’s quick enough to make plays in space and has a knack for running down ball carriers. If he shows signs of improvement in camp, Paysinger could be in for some more work at OLB this season.
Herzlich’s inspiring fight against cancer is well-entrenched in his football narrative, so I won’t rehash it here. What you should know is that, prior to contracting the disease, he was a first-round talent. There were times last season when that talent was on full display, but a broken right ankle cut his season short.
The Giants resigned Chase Blackburn, and either Michael Boley or Keith Rivers could get the nod over Herzlich at middle linebacker. Either way, he will find a way to make impact plays, to influence the game in some tangible way—whether that be on special teams or on defense.
I can’t help but root for this guy and hope that his second NFL season goes more smoothly than his first.
Trattou registered just two tackles in six games last season. He was the scout team’s top pass rusher and will benefit from another year of training camp.