John Mara has been widely quoted as saying that he wants to build through the draft. If the plan is to mostly upgrade the 2014 roster through the draft, is that a reasonable strategy?
Let's look at the holes in the current roster. I'm going to look at the number of key players that the Giants need to compete and the holes they have by position. This is a very rough analysis at this point in the year especially given question marks about certain key players (e.g. Beatty, Hill) but I think that it should prove useful.
QuarterbackAs I've noted, I believe that the Giants' problems on offense were largely driven by the poor performance of their offensive line. Eli Manning is a good to very good quarterback.
Fennelly: After the win over Washington, Eli's consecutive start streak was in danger. Lucky for him (and the Giants) the season was over. He was in a walking boot and needed crutches to get around. Very doubtful he could have played the next week. Moral of the story: he's human and they need to get better behind him soon, or else.
Running BackI think that the Giants will have decent production from some combination of Cox and Wilson (if he returns) plus a likely reasonably priced Brown if he re-signs. The Giants run game was severely impacted by the poor performance of the offensive line and should improve if the line is rebuilt. John Conner was solid at fullback and is signed for 2014. While I'd love to see better backs, this is not a gaping hole.
Fennelly: Disagree. This is a gaping hole. Wilson is not an every down back. Cox is average and Brown, if re-signed, has not played a full season to date. They are actually in the market for a No. 1 back.
Tight EndAdrien Robinson can't be counted on; he hasn't played. Brandon Myers is a free agent. Bear Pascoe is not a real receiving threat. The Giants need a tight end.
Fennelly: Correct. They need a 6'6" TE, too. Myers is too small and not physical enough to be a true Giant TE. We have no idea what Robinson brings to the table because he's never been to the table.
Wide ReceiverRight now, Cruz and Randle are the starters and Jernigan is the 3rd wideout. Nicks is a free agent and I have no idea what will happen to him. I'm not sure if I should care. Teams need 4 wideouts in this day and age but the 4th can be picked up off the scrap heap, if needed. Given the likely 1-11 picks in the draft and the talent available, I would not be at all surprised to see the Giants draft a stud wideout this year but this is not a glaring hole at present.
Fennelly: Cruz is better in the slot, so putting him on the wing weakens two positions. They need a presence on the outside to spread the field for him. Whoever that is - Nicks, Randle, even Jernigan - but Cruz should remain in the slot. Picking WRs off the "scrap heap" is not a viable strategy. See: Louis Murphy Jr.
Offensive LinePugh was very good in his rookie season. Let's be optimistic and assume that Beatty will recover and be decent in 2014. Snee is done. Diehl is done. Baas better be cut. Boothe stunk and is a free agent. The rest of the guys are backups. The line stunk in 2013 and it killed the offense and the season. Eli had no time to throw and threw early often, leading to incompletions and interceptions. Or he got sacked. The Giants rushing attack was 3rd last in the league in yards per carry in 2013. I could go on but what's the point? Holes: 3
Fennelly: No question. It's hard to get stud lineman cheap in free agency, so they need to get o-line help in the draft. I will assume Beatty will recover from his broken tibia, but I'm not going to assume he's going to play better in 2014.
Defensive EndJustin Tuck had 1.5 sacks in the first 10 games and then realized he was going to be a free agent. He had 9.5 sacks in the last 6 games. He was great against the run (as usual). JPP was hurt and ineffective as a pass rusher. Mathias Kiwanuka was ranked as one of the worst defensive ends in the game (Pro Football Focus). Damontre Moore is a question mark. He simply didn't play enough. The Giants are a team built on pressuring the quarterback. They need to acquire a very good defensive end. I'm being generous – it might be 2 if JPP is done (which he might be).
Fennelly: The Giants will bring Tuck back, but that won't solve their problems. Kiwanuka may be asked to take a pay cut to stay. If not, sayonara. JPP will have a full offseason and training camp, so he is likely to be better next season, barring any setbacks. Damontre is the key here. With one NFL season (and his 21st birthday) behind him, he may mature into a top pass rusher.
Defensive TackleThe Giants had a pretty good rotation at defensive tackle in 2013 with Jenkins, Joseph, Hankins and Patterson. Patterson and Joseph are free agents. Joseph will get paid in the $5 million per year range. That's pricey but given what happened in 2012 when the Giants couldn't stop the run, I can see the Giants potentially bringing him back. In any case, the Giants need at least 3 solid players in the defensive tackle rotation and there's a one man hole here.
Fennelly: No holes here, really. Markus Kuhn is the other tackle on the roster, and the Giants really like his toughness and motor. He'll be healthier in 2014, so combined with the others, there are no openings.
LinebackerBeason was decent enough in 2013 and captained a successful defense. Rivers was certainly adequate and good against the run. Both are free agents. I'd be shocked if the Giants don't re-sign Beason. My gut is that the strong side position will be filled by Rivers or an inexpensive Rivers lookalike. Williams and Paysinger make a solid pass/run platoon on the weak side. Still, 2 holes here at present.
Fennelly: Considering the Giants play five DBs most of the game, there's no need to bring anyone in. Beason plays every snap and Spencer Paysinger and Jaquian Williams split the other snaps. Rivers only gets about 15-20% of the defensive snaps. He has had little or no impact as a Giant. What the Giants needed was a productive leader at LB and they got it with Beason. Can they upgrade on the others? Sure, but I don't see them doing that. Paysinger had a strong season in 2013.
CornerbackPrince Amukamara was (according to Pro Football Focus) slightly below average as the primary corner after being fairly decent in 2012. Trumaine McBride, surprisingly enough, had the 4th lowest QB rating against (57.4) for all corners who played at least 50% of snaps. He's weak against the run. Thomas was woeful in 2013 and he's living on borrowed time with his injury history (and is a free agent). Jayron Hosley is a question mark. Webster is done (and in retrospect should not have been re-signed). He's a free agent as well. You need 3 decent corners in today's NFL and the Giants don't have them.
Fennelly: Agree with most of this. You can't have enough corners in this league, so automatically there's 2-3 openings every camp. Prince and Hosley are certain to return. The others will all have to convince Jerry Reese they are worth bringing back.
SafetiesRolle is an excellent safety and team leader. He's under contract and should be back. Let's be optimistic that Will Hill will be back and ganja free after his stellar season and that Cooper Taylor can contribute. My gut is that Stevie Brown comes back on a $1-$2 million prove it deal. The Giants should be ok at safety in 2014.
Fennelly: Rolle is going nowhere as far as I can see. Ryan Mundy, who wasn't mentioned, should be back, too. Brown has to show he is healthy for the Giants to bring him back. After this season, the Giants have lost their appetite for players returning from injury, so his return is not a slam dunk. Cooper Taylor is one of those tweeners that may or may not figure into the DB mix. The key variable here is Hill, who may be facing a stiff suspension from the NFL (possibly eight games) and the Giants may no longer be willing to stand by him this time around.
So, to sum up, here are the holes:
Tight End: 1
Offensive Line: 3
Defensive End: 1
Defensive Tackle: 1
That's a total of 10 holes at present. I can see some of these being filled internally:
McBride (likely, even if only as a 3rd corner)
So you are looking at 5-7 significant holes on the roster that need to be filled in 2014. If you look at the Giants' history of playing rookies, 1-3 of these spots will come from the upcoming draft class.
So the Giants will either have to rebuild over 2-3 years or they will need to make some significant free agent signings. I'm betting that the Giants will choose the latter course and go after some free agents at defensive end, corner and the interior of the offensive line. I would not be surprised to see some significant dollars thrown at these positions (i.e. $5 million plus per year). Can the Giants afford to do this? That's the subject of another post.