In this weekend's NFL Draft, the New York Giants made two things abundantly clear.
For one, general manager Jerry Reese stuck to the Giants' tried and true philosophy of drafting for value rather than need. Second, New York realized it had a dire need to add speed to all three phases of the game - offense, defense and, perhaps most significantly, special teams.
The selection of Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara in the first round was the absolute value pick, as very few people had cornerback as an area of need for New York. Amukamara was widely prognosticated as a top-10 pick, and having him still on the board at the 19th pick was ultimately too enticing for the Giants. Alabama RB Mark Ingram and Boston College OT Anthony Castonzo were commonly linked to New York prior to the draft and were still available at No. 19, but Amukamara still presented the most value. Now, the Giants have arguably the deepest collection of defensive backs in the NFL with Corey Webster, Terrell Thomas and Aaron Ross at cornerback and Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips and rookie Tyler Sash (see below) at safety. Amukamara also brings speed (4.43-second 40-yard dash at the Combine)), another welcome addition to the secondary.
The surprises continued with New York's second round pick at No. 52 as the Giants selected North Carolina DT Marvin Austin. Reese later called Austin a prospect with "top-15 talent," but Austin was also the central figure in the improper benefits scandal that rocked the North Carolina Campus last season. Austin seems to be the ultimate boom-or-bust pick, having not played any football last season (he was suspended by head coach Butch Davis and later dismissed from the program) and also ran into some other legal issues. Austin is the third player with character concerns that the Giants have drafted since 2007 - Mario Manningham and Ahmad Bradshaw are the other two - and given the success of those two, Austin comes to a stable, responsible organization that will provide him a strong foundation for which to build his career upon.
Reese said Austin was remorseful about his mistakes throughout the process, while head coach Tom Coughlin even refused to label Austin a "risk" given the tremendous stake teams put in all of their draft picks. At the 20th pick in the second round, Austin provided value at a position that was also another area of need. The pick also figures to indicate that DT Barry Cofield has played his last game for the Giants, but that's a topic for another discussion.
In round three, New York selected Troy WR Jerrel Jernigan with the 83rd overall pick. The Giants seem to picture Jernigan as a jack-of-all-trades player, which he was in college. Jernigan ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine in February (he's reportedly been clocked in the 4.3 range, as well), and his speed lends itself to his reputation as a dangerous receiver (outside and in the slot), returner and overall ball carrier.
After going defense in the first two rounds, this pick represented a turn of attention toward the offense - but not at the position that was widely expected. Given the Giants' aging offensive line, o-lineman figured to be an early pick. Yet, despite the recent success of the Giants' top trio of wide receivers (Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks and Manningham), the position still could benefit from added depth. Domenik Hixon and Victor Cruz are returning from injury, and while the remaining Giants' receivers are veterans, they haven't necessarily produced in New York. Drafting Jernigan ignored a pressing need, but it added an element of home run ability to both the offense and special teams. Jernigan could also factor in on special teams as a gunner.
The Giants finally addressed the o-line in Round 4 with Indiana's James Brewer. Listed at 6-foot-6, 323 pounds - Reese said he could be 335 "in a blink" - Brewer is more of developmental prospect, which raised further questions regarding how much of a priority the Giants were placing in adding to their o-line. Brewer was only able to stay healthy for one full season at Indiana (2009). After redshirting in 2006, he missed all of 2007 with a foot injury and played eight games in 2008 before suffering an ankle injury. Brewer played in nine games in 2010, and he started the final 21 games of his career. He was also an All-Big Ten honorable mention selection from coaches and media.
The Giants believe Brewer can play either tackle position - Reese said he has "left tackle feet for us" - though he played only on the right side at IU because the Hoosiers had current St. Louis Ram Rodger Saffold at left tackle. Perhaps most significantly, Reese said Brewer will not be an interior lineman. Reese also added that the Giants were impressed by Brewer's speed (5.27-second 40-yard dash, tied for 14th among OTs), long arms (35.5 inch) and strength (25 bench press reps).
Behind David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie, the Giants really only have Will Beatty at the tackle position. Jamon Meredith is largely unproven, and it seems like Brewer will take a while to be ready to play.
Two rounds later, New York returned to the defensive side of the ball with Michigan State LB Greg Jones. Pete Rossman of SB Nation's MSU Site, The Only Colors, posted a nice run-through of everything Jones has to offer, and I also got to see a bit of Jones when the Badgers traveled to East Lansing for the Big Ten opener. Jones was all over the place, finishing with eight tackles (three for loss) as the Spartans provided an early blow to the Badgers' chances at the Big Ten title (that turned out alright). For the season, he finished with 106 tackles (10 for loss), one sack, three forced fumbles and two interceptions. His most productive season came the year before, when Jones recorded 154 tackles (14 for loss), nine sacks and one forced fumble.
Jones is a middle linebacker and will likely continue to play the Mike spot for the Giants. In addition to his elite level of production, Jones is extremely durable, having never missed a game in college. He was also a starter every game from his sophomore year on (he started seven of 13 games his freshman year).
Again, the Giants' selection of Jones is an absolute value pick. Linebacker was one of New York's most pressing needs entering the draft (it was the most pressing for me), and while an outside linebacker might have gone farther in shoring up the weakness on the defense, Jones brings too much value and production too pass up - especially in the sixth-round. Jones could've easily been a mid-round pick, and as Reese said following the selection, "you respect production."
New York continued its run of Big Ten prospects (three consecutive picks beginning with Brewer, four overall counting Amukamara) with Iowa S Tyler Sash 13 picks later. Sash is a 6-foot, 211-pound strong safety that was an absolute ballhawk in college (13 interceptions in three years. His size favors his ability to initiate contact and play in the box to help in run support. He's not the most gifted athlete (only 11 bench press reps at the Combine), but he did run a 4.62-second 40-yard dash (tied for fourth among safeties).
After the Giants' safety position was largely a fiasco in 2009, Reese & co. remarkably upgraded the defense before last season. The additions of Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant were well publicized, and alongside a healthy Kenny Phillips, the trio was a much-improved unit in 2010. With Sash now in the fold, the Giants again have tremendous depth in the secondary. Now, both the cornerback and safety spots look to be deep enough to withstand the rigors of a 16-game schedule in the NFC East.
With their third and final pick in the sixth round, the Giants selected the relatively unknown Jacquian Williams, a linebacker from South Florida. Williams played some of his college ball with current Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul and is an athletic 6-foot-3, 216-pound linebacker. Williams played junior college football at Fort Scott Junior College before transferring to USF in 2009. He didn't participate in the Combine, but he did run a 4.63 40-yard dash on grass at his pro day. Reese touted the speed Williams will bring to special teams, where he seems likely to begin his career.
Williams projects as a weak-side linebacker, and comes from a defense that was strong in 2010. USF was 22nd in the nation last year in scoring defense (20 points per game) and 17th in total defense (318.3 yards per game). Giants director of college scouting Marc Ross also added after the draft that because Williams excels as a run-and-chase type of linebacker, he'll also factor in as a nickel cover linebacker.
Finally, in Round 7, the Giants addressed the certainty at their running back position with Da'Rel Scott from Maryland. The 5-foot-10, 205-pound Scott was the fastest running back at the Combine, running the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds. Scott split much of his time as a Terp with Davin Meggett, son of former Giants running back Dave Meggett. Scott's best season was his sophomore season (1,133 yards and eight touchdowns on 209 carries), but a wrist injury limited him in his junior year. Last season, Scott started all 13 games, rushing for 708 yards on 122 carries and five touchdowns.
After the pick, the Giants faced questions regarding Scott's dip in production. Coughlin refused to address them, but he stated that with Scott's pass-catching ability and work ethic, he was impressive.
With Ahmad Bradshaw a likely restricted free agent (pending the labor situation) and Brandon Jacobs coming off a season marked by frustration and inconsistency, Scott brings competition to the core of reserve backs that includes D.J. Ware, Charles Scott and Martell Mallett.