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Jason Pierre-Paul: The Reaction

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Well...that happened. They say bad things come in threes, and my draft watching story seems to prove that. I was at a bar last night, watching my nightmare first round play out in seemingly slow motion. I told my friend (a Dolphins fan) that there was only one person in this entire draft I would be disappointed if the Giants took. "Honestly", I said, "they can take literally anyone eligible for the draft and I won't be as annoyed as if they take Jason Pierre-Paul." Obviously it was hyperbole, but I don't know how far off it was from the truth. When the Giants were on the clock, I sat, transfixed, staring at the screen. When ESPN flashed an image of Pierre-Paul talking on his cell phone, tearing up, I started to lose it. "No, this can't be happening...anyone but Pierre-Paul. Maybe they're on the phone telling him 'sorry, but we went another way.' Please give me some good news, Roger" Just as Goodell started to announce the name I had been dreading, our attractive young waitress spilled about a quarter of a pitcher of beer into my lap. The Dolphins fan joked that it was a pretty terrible minute for me. It wasn't over. Before Goodell was done speaking, another friend across the table reached for his glass and knocked it into a small cup of barbecue sauce, which of course also landed in my lap. Within a minute, the Giants had drafted Jason Pierre-Paul and I had ended up with a lap full of beer and BBQ sauce. At least the beer has dried and the BBQ sauce can come out. I'm afraid we're stuck with Pierre-Paul for a lot longer.

I have to be honest with you, Giants fans: I hate this pick. I've been following the Giants since 1990, and I don't remember ever being this disappointed in a first round pick. I should mention that I loved the Ron Dayne pick, so what do I know? But this pick seems stunningly bad to me on early reflection.

It's easy to overreact to a draft pick, especially now that the NFL (in its infinite wisdom) has divided it up so that the first round stands all by itself. The reaction from Giants fans, both on this site and on some others I've looked at, fans has been overwhelmingly negative (except for those cheering fans at Radio City Music Hall - I can only assume they also were USF Alumni or had won some kind of bet), and a lot of it has been kneejerk. My initial reaction was kneejerk. I hope this post ends up being something more than that, but I can't promise anything.

Who is Jason Pierre-Paul? According to Wikipedia, "Jason Pierre-Paul (born in Deerfield Beach, Florida) is an American football defensive end for the New York Giants of the National Football League" (let that sentence sink in for a few seconds). He "amassed 49 tackles, 14 sacks, 19 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles, one interception and one fumble recovery as a freshman at College of the Canyons and earned First-team All-WSC and All-America honors." He also "played at Fort Scott Community College (Kansas), where he 70 tackles, 10.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries and earned First-Team little All-American honors." That all sounds great, except that I have never heard of the College of the Canyons, or the WSC, or Fort Scott Community College (Kansas) and I have no idea what "little All-American honors' means. I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume that his competition was something slightly below the level of the SEC.

Pierre-Paul then transferred to USF and "played 13 games with seven starts and totaled 45 tackles (16½ for losses) 6½ sacks one interception (returned 18 yards for a touchdown), three passed broken up and two forced fumbles. He was name First-team All-America by Pro Football Weekly for his efforts." Ok, that sounds decent for a junior, so what did he do as a senior? Wait, he's skipping his senior season? A guy who has only played one season of D-1 football didn't stick around for his senior season? And he was drafted in the first half of the NFL draft? And not by the Raiders? Huh?

He must have at least been the best defensive player in a fairly weak Big East, right? No, that was Greg Romeus. Hmm...he must have at least been the best player left at his position, and it must have been a position of need for the Giants, right? Wait...Derrick Morgan, ACC Defensive Player of the Year, consensus #1 DE was still available? And the Giants still have Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora (who they insist they're not trading), and Mathias Kiwanuka? Did Al Davis and Jerry Reese have some kind of Freaky Friday moment recently?

There are enough knocks against Pierre-Paul that I'm having trouble keeping this post concise. I'll start with the obvious, as mentioned above: he was not a dominant college player. A good player? Sure, I guess. But dominant? Not even close. He put up mediocre stats in a mediocre conference. College performance isn't the be-all, end-all, but I tend to trust guys who dominated in college and be skeptical of guys who didn't. Pierre-Paul falls in the latter group.

Second, there's the analysis by FootballOutsiders, and their "SackSEER" system. Basically, this system measures four variables to determine how good of a pass rusher a prospect will be: vertical leap; short shuttle run; modified sack rate; and, most importantly, missed games worth of NCAA eligibility. This system would have pegged Aaron Schobel, Mario Williams, Andre Carter, Shawne Merriman, DeMarcus Ware, and Terrell Suggs as no-doubt prospects had it been around when they were drafted. By contrast, it would have pegged first rounders such as Erasmus James, Robert Ayers, Jarvis Moss, and Jerome McDougle as busts. Pretty accurate system, no? Well, according to SackSEER, Pierre-Paul is one of the most overrated pass-rush prospects of the decade. He is projected to have 3.8 sacks through 5 seasons in the NFL. That's beyond atrocious. I'll let them take over from here:

However, even if we removed the missed games adjustment [BBV note: the most important factor], Pierre-Paul would still have the worst projection in this class. Although Pierre-Paul's "handflips" video has earned him the distinction as the 2010 NFL Draft's consummate physical "freak," he put up poor numbers in all of the workout metrics that matter to SackSEER[...]The ability of Pierre-Paul to translate his particular brand of athleticism to pass rushing success is speculative at best. Overall, the general manager who pulls the trigger on Pierre-Paul better be very confident that he has something special -- so special that it will completely buck the historical trends.

Third, there's the factor of team need. The Giants defense had a lot of problems last year, and certainly their defensive lineman didn't do a good enough job of getting to the quarterback. Mathias Kiwanuka seems to be a very solid all-around end, but he's not an elite pass rusher. Justin Tuck was injured and had a down year by his phenomenal standards. Osi, while still a force in the pass rush, was terrible against the run and had to become a part-time player. Despite these facts, the Giants still have a lot of talent at the defensive end position, probably more so than they have at any other defensive position. Osi was coming off an injury last season, and still did a decent job getting to the QB. Tuck should hopefully be healthy and back to his normal disruptive self next year. Kiwanuka, though he doesn't put up big numbers, does just about everything well. The Giants don't need another pass rusher the way they need a good linebacker, or even a good all-around defensive lineman, be he a dominant tackle or a run stopping end. Unless the Giants are going to trade Umenyiora (which, again, they insist they aren't), this pick doesn't make a whole lot of sense, unless the Giants were going BPA and had the misguided opinion that Pierre-Paul was that.

Finally, there's the question of team expectations. The Giants won the Super Bowl 2 years and 80 days ago. They made the playoffs four straight years prior to last year, when they were a monumental collapse away from a fifth consecutive appearance. The Eagles, probably the primary rival in the division, have signaled a youth movement (and, dare I say, a rebuild), with the trade of Donovan McNabb and the release of Brian Westbrook. The Redskins are still the Redskins (i.e. overpaid and underproducing) and the Cowboys are still the Cowboys (i.e. inconsistent and evil), until further notice. The Vikings have a 41 year old QB who has to break down eventually. The Saints have lost a few key players from last years Super Bowl team. The Giants have as good a shot at a return trip the Super Bowl as any team in the NFC, and with Big Brother a year older, Big Ben suspended for 6 games, and the Jets (the Jets!) looking like one of the best teams in the AFC, the road to ring #4 looks pretty wide open for the Giants this upcoming season. With a pick in the first half of the first round for the first time since they took Eli Manning, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to find a guy who could be an impact player right away, who could help them in their quest for another Lombardi Trophy. Instead, they take a guy who, best case scenario, won't be an impact player for two, maybe even three years, if he ever is.

Look, I don't want to be too harsh on this pick. I love Jerry Reese, and up until about 9:15 last night, I've agreed with pretty much every move he's made since taking over for Ernie Accorsi in 2007. I thought his moves in free agency last year were brilliant, even if they didn't quite work out. I was disappointed when he passed on Rey Maualuga to take Clint Sintim in last years draft, but it was easy to convince me that it was the right move. This year, I can't be convinced. This was a bad move. Until Jason Pierre-Paul turns into an all-pro (which should really be the minimum expectancy for the #15 pick), I won't be convinced that this wasn't an epic mistake. I can't emphasize enough how much I hope that someday, when JPP is leading the league in sacks or is lifting a Super Bowl MVP trophy, somebody will shove this post in my face and make me look like a fool. I will root for JPP to prove me wrong every single Sunday from now until he is out of the league. I just fear that I'm correct.

I hate making comparisons to the Mets, but in 2006 the popular coined the phrase "In Omar We Trust," and even started selling t-shirts with the slogan. When things fell apart in 2007, most Mets fans thought it was a fluke. When they fell apart again in 2008, many of us convinced ourselves that the mistakes were easily correctible, and Omar could fix it. When they fell apart completely last year, it became obvious that our trust had been misplaced. I haven't come to that point yet with Jerry Reese, and I hope I never do. But for the first time since the Super Bowl run, I don't feel entirely comfortable with the phrase "In Jerry We Trust."

On the bright side: the guy we all wanted ended up getting drafted by the Raiders. Maybe it's a good thing the Giants didn't get him. Also, I should point out that despite everything I wrote above, Jerry still has 6 more rounds to play with. That's plenty of time to salvage this draft, especially for a guy who's had so much success with later round picks. Pick up someone like Sean Lee tonight and Toby Gerhart in the third round, and I'll be wearing my "In Jerry We Trust" pajamas again in no time.