You want an "outside the box" thought for what the New York Giants could do with their first-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft next Thursday? How about grabbing Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith with the 19th overall selection?
Among the "need" positions the Giants have, cornerback really isn't discussed that much. Maybe, though, it should be.
Let's start with this. The Giants' cornerbacks simply might not be as good as many Giants' fans would like to believe they are. In ESPN's recent rankings of the top 10 cornerbacks in the NFL neither Corey Webster nor Terrell Thomas made the list. Webster, in fact, got the only vote, a 10th-place one that placed him 21st in the voting.
An ESPN list, of course, is not gospel when it comes to ranking players. In this case, though, I believe it's justifiable that neither Webster nor Thomas is ranked among the best in the league. The Giants have surrendered 20 pass plays of 40 yards or more the past two seasons. Some of that is because of poor safety play, but the honest truth is that some of that is also because neither Webster nor Thomas has proven to be a real "shut down" corner in one-on-one situations.
In 2010, Pro Football Focus rated -4.1 in coverage, 73rd among corners who played at least 25 percent of their team's snaps. Thomas was rated -8.5, 92nd in the league. Third corner Aaron Ross was -4.6, ranked 76th overall. The Giants need better play from those guys in 2011, or they need better players.
Some people cling to the notion that Webster is an elite corner. In truth, he had one elite season (2008) and has been mostly ordinary otherwise. Thomas looked ready to become an elite corner after 2009, but regressed last season. He is a sure tackler and a great run defender, but he has yet to show that he can lock down receivers consistently in one-on-one coverage.
Aaron Ross has to be considered a disappointment. A first-round pick in 2007, he was a big part of that Super Bowl run. Largely, though, he hasn't lived up to that first-round status. At this point, it's doubtful he ever will.
One other thing to consider when thinking about the Giants and cornerbacks is that both Thomas and Ross are, under current NFL rules, entering the final years of their contracts.
Smith has the size at 6-foot-2, 211 pounds that Giants GM Jerry Reese seems to like. He has sub-4.5 speed. His work ethic and character have been questioned, which is the primary reason Smith is not considered a guy who will be taken among the top 15 picks, and why he had been dropped completely out of the first round by most analysts a while ago.
A player with these types of character concerns is not usually the type of guy the Giants spend an early draft choice on. I'm not advocating for it, either, just tossing it out there as an idea worthy of discussion. Whether it is Smith or someone else, don't be surprised if the Giants invest in a cornerback fairly early in this draft.
Jimmy Smith Draft Profile (via ProFootballWeekly)