SB Nation Mock Draft: Akeem Ayers, Benjamin Ijalana To Giants

Our friends at the mother ship, SBNation.com, are out with their latest 2011 NFL Mock Draft. This one is a two-round version, and I absolutely love what SB Nation's Brian Galliford has done for the Giants in this mock.

What did he do, you ask? Galliford's choices for the Giants were UCLA outside linebacker Akeem Ayers (BBV profile) with the 19th pick in the first round and Villanova offensive tackle Ben Ijalana (BBV profile) in the second round (52nd overall).

Opinions of players can change between now and the draft in April, but if the real draft were being held today and it worked out this way for the Giants I would be thrilled. Let me tell you why.

How many years now have we talked about the Giants' weakness at the outside linebacker position? About their refusal to use a first-round pick on a linebacker? We know they have not drafted a great linebacker since Jesse Armstead, who was an eighth-rounder. They have not spent a first-round pick on a linebacker since taking Carl Banks in 1984. That, friends, is a loooooooong time ago.

Ayers, in account after account that I have read in studying for the upcoming draft, is the premiere 4-3 outside linebacker in this draft.

... he can start and play at a high level as a 43 SLB or a 3-4-rush guy and if he wants it bad enough he has the tools to be great.

Yes, there are questions about Ayers in coverage, but let me ask you this, gang. After all the kvetching that has been done about the linebacking corps of the Giants over the years, and the fact that they have passed on opportunities to take first-round linebackers in other years, how could anyone complain if the Giants were to grab the top 4-3 outside linebacker on the board? I would find that extremely hard to justify.

One other note about this pick before moving on to Ijalana. The other pick I see as a high-ceiling Jerry Reese type of pick here is USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith. In this mock, though, Smith is off the board -- having been nabbed by the San Diego Chargers one pick earlier at No. 18.

Now, let's talk about the Ijalana selection. Depending on what draft expert or experts you put your faith in you have seen a whole slew of offensive tackles connected to the Giants in the first round. USC's Smith, Anthony Castonzo of Boston College, Gabe Carimi of Wisconsin and Nate Solder of Colorado among them.

Many draft experts have Ijalana ranked right with Carimi and Solder as a prospect. In fact, the NFP's Bunting has him ranked fourth among tackle prospects -- ahead of Castonzo and Solder and just barely behind Carimi.

Here is Bunting talking about Ijalana:

He's long enough to play left tackle and physical enough to play guard. Either way he's one of the better offensive line prospects at this stage and in my view you let him get comfortable at guard in year one and see if he can make the move to left tackle in year two.

I love the upside, and also the positional flexibility. That flexibility seems to be something the Giants have come to value in their linemen, as well. As far as this mock draft is concerned, it is worth noting for those of you who want a running back that Mikel Leshoure of Illinois was still on the board here.

Ijalana will be one of the most intriguing players to watch at the NFL Scouting Combine later this month.

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