During his pre-draft press conference last week, Giants GM Jerry Reese used the phrase "best player available" nine different times. He made it clear, as he does every year, that will be the Giants' philosophy when they make their first-round draft pick.
And this year, he might really mean it.
Normally, "best player available" is a bit of a myth. The Giants, like most teams, almost always make their selections with "need" in mind, especially in the first round. They've done that with almost every first-round pick over the last two decades, to at least some degree. Even Reese admitted "You're always trying to tie 'best player available' with what our needs are."
The problem is that this year, one team source said "We don't have a ton of needs" -- and definitely none that match up well with the players who'll be available when they make the 23rd overall selection. They know they need help on the offensive line, but most scouts believe this is the weakest class of linemen (especially top of the class) in years. They know they need a play-making tight end, but the best one -- maybe even the best two -- might not reach them.
And so they are left with building their draft board, trying to decipher what will happen in the first 22 picks, and not really being able to zero in on a target. It's unusual for them. They haven't picked this low since 2010. And in each of the last three years -- when they picked between 9 and 12 -- they had targets in mind long before Draft Day (though they weren't always able to get them).
This year? A team source said it was "wide open" when asked for a guess on whom the Giants might select.
With that in mind, here's some insight into their thinking as they begin their final draft meetings and finalize their draft board this week, from various interviews with sources in the organization and around the league:
- They are not in love with the offensive linemen at the top of the draft class. All of them have issues. Cam Robinson (Alabama) has the experience and the size, but not the strength. He's had off-field issues too and shoulder surgery. Garett Bolles (Utah) has a bad track record too, plus he's already 25. Ryan Ramczyk (Wisconsin) doesn't have much experience and some scouts think he might be a guard. That's not to say the Giants won't take one of these at 23. They might. But this is why Reese talked about an offensive line "experiment" and spring "tinkering" with the lineup. They don't believe any of these guys would provide an immediate upgrade over Ereck Flowers at left tackle.
- A big, play-making tight end would be a nice addition to Ben McAdoo's offense, but they are convinced that O.J. Howard (Alabama) won't make it to them. There's a chance he goes in the Top 10. That leaves Miami's David Njoku as the only other tight end possibly worthy of a first-round pick. He might be in the mix for the Giants at 23, though there are mixed signals on that. The Giants were supposed to host the Cedar Grove, N.J., kid on a pre-draft visit last week, but they cancelled at the last minute -- which may or may not mean anything. Njoku, in a visit to SNY, said he expects to be gone by the time the Giants select. He believes he'll be picked somewhere between 8 and 20. That seems high, but you never know.
- We've had a few false alarms over the last few years, but this might turn out to be the year the Giants finally go linebacker in the first round, by default. It hasn't happened, of course, since the Giants took their future radio analyst, Carl Banks, third overall in 1984. Some believe the best available players at 23 will be a linebacker like Florida's Jarrad Davis or Vanderbilt's Zack Cunningham. There could be a 'tweener defensive end like Missouri's Charles Harris or UCLA's Takkarist McKinley there too, and the way the Giants overused Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon last year proves they could use one more pass rusher, at least.
- It seems unlikely the Giants will take a quarterback in the first round. I wouldn't rule out a quarterback on Day 2, maybe in the third round. No one will rule it out in the first round, but it doesn't sound like they're sold on any of the top quarterbacks as Eli Manning's heir apparent. They seem serious about at least looking for a possible successor, though, so if there's a second- or third-rounder they see with potential they might grab him. I still think that's crazy, though. A Super Bowl-ready team shouldn't use a Day 1 or Day 2 pick on a player they hope won't play until 2020. But again, they won't rule it out.
- Reese has never traded up in the first round and this won't be the year -- not without a clear target for the Giants. He's never traded down in the first round (or any round) either, but don't be shocked if that happens. This could be reminiscent of the 2006 draft -- the last with Ernie Accorsi as GM, but one essentially run by Reese as the scouting director. The Giants were supposed to pick 25th, but had a handful of players rated relatively equally at that spot. The Pittsburgh Steelers called because they wanted to move up for WR Santonio Holmes, and they offered a third- and fourth-round pick to the Giants if they'd switch and take the 32nd pick instead. The Giants did and landed defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, who was among the players they were considering at 23. Their phones could be ringing again, especially if quarterback Patrick Mahomes is on the board and teams want to jump ahead of the Houston Texans at 25. It would seem un-Reese like to trade out of the first round, but would the Giants be willing to slide to, say, 27 (Kansas City) or 32 (New Orleans) if one of those teams want to move up? Perhaps.