Before the 2014 league year got started and free agency opened, general manager Jerry Reese talked about multiple waves of free agency, and the New York Giants holding their water through the first wave.
Though the Giants were more active in the early stages of free agency than they usually are, they did an admirable job of restraining themselves and not handing out any unreasonable contracts. Rather than make splashy moves, they have made measured moves to fill holes with young talent on reasonable deals.
They've added guard Geoff Schwartz, linebacker Jameel McClain, running back Rashad Jennings, potential center J.D. Walton and safety/kickoff returner Quintin Demps to bolster units of ... questionable depth.
At the same time the Giants have also suffered losses, losing stalwarts Hakeem Nicks, Linval Joseph, and Justin Tuck.
All along we've been saying that the Giants draft board won't look the same after the start of free agency as it did after the NFL Combine. So, seeing what moves have been made, what players have been added, and which players have left (so far), let's take a look and see what the target list might look like now.
Right now the Giants have three receivers (Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, and Jerrel Jernigan) and two tight ends (Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell) on their roster for a total of five pass catchers, three of whom are largely unproven. The last time the Giants' receiving corps was this thin was 2008-2009, following the departures of Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer.
Jerry Reese has a strong track record of keeping Eli's armory of pass catchers well stocked with weapons, often using high draft picks to add talent (such as the 2009 draft when he added two receivers and a hybrid TE). The Giants already seem well stocked with "Y" and "Z" options, so we'll take a look at potential "X" options (and tight ends).
The likely receiving options for the Giants in the first round are rather limited: Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina), and Mike Evans (WR, TAMU).
Ebron's combination of size, speed, natural hands catching ability, and production in a pro-style system presents a unique skill set that is difficult to find in any round of any draft, let alone later in the draft. [Prospect Profile]
Mike Evans possesses an intriguing blend of height, weight, and speed himself. He has most of the physical tools teams look for in a true number 1 "X"-type wide receiver. However, his route running needs a lot of work, and teams will need to be sure about his mind-set.
This draft is incredibly deep for pass catchers, and receivers in particular, so talents that could normally be considered first round talents any other year could fall through the cracks and be found as far down as the third or even fourth round this year.
There are always players who fall through the cracks, who go far later than their talent level. Thanks to the rare depth of this draft, the potential for finding sleepers is much greater than in previous year.
Dri Archer (RB/Receiver, Kent State) - Archer was one of the most electrifying returners in the college football, and lit up the combine with blistering speed (enough to make Chris Johnson sweat) and quickness. Archer is small, but he is tough able to line up all over the field, and give special teams a much needed spark.
Cody Hoffman (WR, BYU) - Hoffman is a big, long armed receiver who is currently flying under the radar. His size alone (6-foot-4, 230 pounds, 34-inch arms) alone will earn him a look on an NFL squad, but his reliable hands, good quickness in and out of breaks, and surprising body control (which reminds of Alshon Jeffery), could well earn him a roster spot on game days.
The loss of Linval Joseph and Justin Tuck, along with the apparent decline of Kiwanuka, appears to have left a once formidable defensive line rather shaky. Both the defensive tackle and defensive end rotations can now be considered legitimate concerns.
Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh, [Prospect Profile]) is the only likely first-round option for the Giants have for addressing the defensive line. A trade up for Jadeveon Clowney is not outside of the realm of possibility, but also not terribly likely.
The middle rounds of the draft could be the sweet spot where the Giants find reinforcements for their defensive line.
Kony Ealy (DE, Missouri) [Prospect Profile] and Louis Nix III (DT, Notre Dame) [Prospect Profile], are two prospects who could, maybe even should go in the first round. However, there is the possibility that either one could slip to the Giants at the 43rd overall pick in the second round, and either would go a long way to filling the voids left by departed veterans.
Some other mid-round names to keep an eye on are DT's DaQuan Jones (Penn St.), Will Sutton (Arizona [Prospect Profile] ), Kelsey Quarles (South Carolina) and Dominique Easley (Florida, [Prospect Profile]).
On the outside, the Giants could be taking looks at DE's Scott Crichton (Oregon St), Kareem Martin (North Carolina), Will Clarke (West Virginia), or James Gayle (Virginia Tech).
The late rounds of the 2014 draft look to be a bit sparse when it comes to potential defensive line help. There are, however, a couple potential high-reward players to be found
Aaron Lynch (DE, USF, [Prospect Profile]) - As 'Invictus' covers in his profile, Lynch could be one of the highest upside players in the draft ... He could also flame out completely. He has all the tools to be a starting defensive end ... He needs to prove that he has the desire to do so.
Justin Ellis (DT, La Tech) - Ellis is an interesting defensive tackle. He looks like your typical mid-late round 0 or 1-technique run-stuffer. However, on tape he plays like a 3-tech pass rusher trapped in a nose tackle's body. He uses natural leverage, long arms, power, and surprising quickness and agility to be disruptive behind the line of scrimmage.
The defensive secondary is an area where the Giants made some moves during free agency by re-signing safety Stevie Brown and cornerback Trumaine McBride. The Giants' safety position seems stacked as of now, but with only three cornerbacks on the roster, Reese could look to add talent to the position where he traditionally has, the draft.
Note: With Dominique Rogers-Cromartie visiting the Giants today, a signing would certainly change the Giants calculations with regards to the cornerback position.
If they would rather look to add an "industrial-sized" corner to develop opposite Prince Amukamara and complement McBride and Jayron Hosley, they could look to Keith McGill from Utah or Stanley Jean-Baptiste from Nebraska.
There are a few sleepers who could intrigue the Giants at cornerback.
Aaron Colvin (Ohio) - Colvin isn't exactly a sleeper pick. He has, however, taken a sharp fall down draft boards after tearing his ACL during Senior Bowl practices. Any team that takes Colvin would have to do so understanding that they likely wouldn't get any production out of him his first season. However, when he was healthy he was an athletic, physical corner, who probably would have gone sometime on Day 2.
Ross Cockrell (Duke) - Cockrell has solid size, nice athleticism, and is surprisingly physical. In fact, he started to grab people's attention by frustrating and largely silencing Mike Evans when Duke played Texas A&M in the 2013 Chic-Fil-A Bowl.
Walt Aikens (Liberty) - Aikens is definitely an "under the radar" prospect. Though he was recruited by Clemson and Louisville, and went to Illinois. He wound up at Liberty after being kicked off the team at Illinois following an arrest for theft. He has prototypical size for an outside corner (6-1, 205), with long arms and fluid hips. He's physical in press coverage and shows good awareness in off or zone coverages. Scouts and GMs will have to investigate his character concerns, though.
The final position where which the Giants might -- probably should -- look to invest a draft pick (or two) is linebacker. The Giants did add Jameel McClain and re-signed Jon Beason, but they have long needed an infusion of youth, talent, and athleticism in the middle of their defense. An outside linebacker could be drafted by the Giants come May.
There is probably only one likely linebacker for the Giants in the first round, and that would be UCLA's Anthony Barr [Prospect Profile]. It is possible (although unlikely) that Buffalo's Khalil Mack could fall to the Giants as well.
As with with the defensive line position, there several mid-round prospects who, thanks to the depth of this draft, would likely go (much) higher in other years.
The first one may not even last to the Giants second round pick, and that is BYU's Kyle Van Noy, who is as well-rounded a linebacker as your are likely to find, able to play the run, rush the passer, and drop into coverage, and do them all well. Next up is Christian Jones (FSU [Prospect Profile]), who is just the kind of long, lean, and versatile defender the Giants love to take.
One more name to keep an eye out for in the middle rounds is Christian Kirksey (Iowa). Kirksey is a long, lanky, athletic outside linebacker who is explosive downhill and capable in coverage.
Tyler Starr (South Dakota [Prospect Profile] - Starr is largely flying below the radar (though he drew a "Bret Michaels" joke from Rich Eisen during the scouting combine). He has the prototypical build for an outside linebacker at 6-5, 250 pounds and has the long arms to match. His long speed isn't impressive, however his short area quickness is, turning in by far the best 3-cone drill time among linebackers (6.69, sixth-best in the entire combine), and fourth-best short shuttle. He has experience outside rushing the passer, defending the run and dropping back in coverage.
Khairi Fortt (Cal) - Fortt is definitely a "sleeper". His athleticism has drawn comparison to former Missouri (now Titans) linebacker Zavier Gooden. Fortt uses his arms and hands well, both playing off and shedding blocks well. He has very nice closing speed and appears comfortable dropping into coverage.
So, that's where the Giants could be looking in the draft, at least at key positions that they have yet to shore up for the future. Of course, they also still have roughly $10 million in cap space (as of this writing), and they are likely by no means done. A couple strategic signings could change a lot.