There seems to be pretty much universal agreement among analysts heading into next week's NFL Draft that Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain is the choice for the New York Giants ... if he is there at 15. Which, really is the big question.
"If he (McClain) is on the board I think that he is hands-down the favorite to be that No. 1 pick for the Giants," CBS Sports Draft analyst Rob Rang said Thursday night on New York Giants Talk with Pat Traina (Inside Football) and myself. "He would make an immediate impact in my opinion. I think he would be a great fit.
"I just don't think it's likely he is still on the board at that point, and that's why the Giants might have to look elsewhere."
Rang says if McClain is gone, you could see the Giants do something "outside the box" in the early stages of the draft.
Rang's current mock draft is indicative of that "outside the box" thinking. He has Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews going to the Giants at 15 -- possibly the only mock I have seen with Mathews going to the Giants there.
"The Giants are intrigued by what Ryan Mathews brings to the table. I would make the argument that the Giants biggest area of concern is at linebacker, perhaps along the defensive line getting some young talent.
"The Giants have been anything but predictable in recent years. I think sometimes you have to look outside the box, and Ryan Mathews at 15, certainly a talent that I expect to go off the board somewhere in that mid-teens to early 20s I think it would be foolish not to at least consider the possibility that he might end up with the New York Giants."
"Not only do I believe that Ryan Mathews is absolutely in the equation I just think it would be wise to look outside the box when it comes to the New York Giants," Rang said. "It's certainly something that the club has done."
Continuing his "outside the box" theory, Rang would not dismiss the notion that has been whispered in some places that the Giants would go tight end with the first pick.
"If the team isn't happy with [Travis] Beckum's development don't be surprised again if they elect to go tight end in the first round," Rang said. "Jermaine Gresham of Oklahoma is a player I know the Giants have scouted very closely. He would fit in, as well.
"You're looking to be able to attack these defenses with the players they already have, and I think that you might see the Giants elect to go with some type of skill position player. Certainly some skill position talent in the second, third rounds at least," Rang said. "If the Giants are going to remain among the elite in the NFC East they have to get some more offense.
"The Giants primary need is at linebacker. I just think that when you look at what the Giants have done they have shown an unwillingness to reach for prospects and so I don't think you are going to see them reach and panic should Rolando McClain be off the board.
If the Giants are unable to get McClain, Rang said Giants' fans should not despair about filling the middle linebacker spot.
"The No. 1 need in my opinion is you have to get that linebacker. I think that they'll be able to do that if not in the first round with Rolando McClain then certainly in the second or third round," Rang said. "Historically speaking the easiest position on the field to fill is at the middle linebacker and running back position."
He also pointed to a couple of under-the-radar names to watch in subsequent rounds. Donald Butler of Washington and Jason Worilds of Virginia Tech, who is actually a defensive end.
Of Butler, Rang said:
"He's probably going to come off the board in about the third round, and probably has the starting potential but in my opinion is still a year away from being a significant contributor," Rang said
Of Worilds, Rang said:
"This kid is being looked at by many clubs as a 3-4 rush outside linebacker. but I've spoken to some teams who feel that he is athletic enough to make the conversion to inside linebacker," Rang said. "He's very athletic, he's very instinctive, he's absolutely stunning people in team interviews. So, he's a player on the rise. He might be one other player to keep in mind."
Rang summarized his thoughts on the Giants' draft this way.
"When it's all said and done the majority of the picks are going to be on the defensive side of the ball," Rang said. "Keep an open mind that this team is not going to walk in and take nothing but defensive players."
[Rang had much more to say about the Giants' needs in several areas. Listen to the full interview on Blog Talk Radio.]