In the seven years since the Giants traded their first-round pick to San Diego in the wow-that-worked-out-pretty-well Eli Manning deal, they've drafted a defensive player with their first pick every year except 2009, when they took Hakeem Nicks. None of those draft choices can be qualified as busts, as Corey Webster (2005), Mathias Kiwanuka (2006), Aaron Ross (2007), Kenny Phillips (2008), Nicks (2009), Jason Pierre-Paul (2010), and Prince Amukamara (2011) have all been contributors on at least one of Big Blue’s two 21st century SuperBowl title teams. (Note: Webster was technically a second round pick, but the Giants’ first pick of the 2005 draft nonetheless.)
Although defense has been the norm in recent years, predicting what the Giants will do with this year’s first-round pick is no easy task. Jerry Reese tends to stray away from addressing immediate needs early on in the draft. He is a strict believer in the “best player available philosophy”, preferring to stock talented players for the future--even if those players are not ready to make an impact right away.
There are some obvious areas to address as the Giants prepare for this year’s draft, chief among them the offensive line, running back and middle linebacker. But they will not settle for a lesser talent--especially in round 1--in order to fill one of those needs. Reese’s first-round decision will be based upon not where the Giants need help in 2012 but which player will provide the most value long term.
That said, it would be foolish of me to predict which side of the ball that Reese will address in round 1. But here are some of the factors that could impact his decision:
Eli’s brilliance in 2011 overshadowed a run game that ranked last in the regular season in yards per game (89.2). Bradshaw and Jacobs improved in the postseason, but Jacobs’ departure along with Bradshaw’s nagging foot injury will lead to an increased workload for D.J. Ware, Da’Rel Scott and Andre Brown. Are any of these unproven backs ready to step into a larger role?
Both Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum were sidelined with knee injuries in the Super Bowl. The Giants signed Martellus Bennett in the hopes that he can develop into a reliable downfield target for Eli, but the former Cowboy has yet to show that he’s capable of being a No. 1 receiving tight end.
The Giants managed to overcome several injuries on the offensive line last season, not the least damaging of which was the detached retina of then-starting left tackle William Beatty. Beatty played well when healthy, but can he be trusted to protect Eli’s blindside in the future? Also, with Kareem McKenzie’s status uncertain, is James Brewer ready to be a starting NFL tackle?
The Giants will miss Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham, and rookie Jerrel Jernigan failed to prove himself as a reliable slot guy. Is Ramses Barden ready for an increased workload?
The Giants ranked 27th in pass yards allowed per game (376.4) and 25th in points allowed per game (25.0) in 2011. Perry Fewell’s DB-heavy schemes did just enough in the playoffs, but improvements are needed in order to lessen the burden on Eli and the offense.
The loss of Dave Tollefson hurts, not only because of his hard-nosed, never-say-die attitude but also his close relationship with the fans. Marvin Austin will be ready to go in 2012 and JPP only figures to improve, but it wouldn’t hurt to bolster the d-line—the Giants’ biggest defensive strength.
Jacquain Williams paid immediate dividends as a sixth-round pick last year and Michael Boley continued to prove why he’s one of the Giants’ best all-around players. But Jonathan Goff is a maybe at this point--he visited with the Miami Dolphins yesterday--and adding a bigger linebacker would allow Fewell more flexibility when mixing and matching schemes.